Abortion After Motherhood
When There Just Isn’t Room For One More
I’ve always been pro-choice, but felt pretty adamantly that abortion was a “last resort” — it was that thing you do when you have no money, no partner, no means to raise a child — basically only in desperate times. So a year-and-a-half after my second child was born, after being 8 days late, and peeing on a stick — when I saw an immediate pink line — well, I was fairly certain that meant I’d be having another baby. I live a great life. I have a wonderful husband, a fulfilling career, a great lifestyle. Desperate times? Not in the least.
What I didn’t have? Well, I had no smile on my face, no joy in my heart, no remnants of the sparkle I recalled having felt when when I discovered I was pregnant the first time (followed by an early miscarriage), and the second time (which became my now six-year old son); and again, the third time, which led to the birth of my daughter (which wasn’t exactly planned but still felt right).
This time, I felt petrified and sad.
I didn’t feel like I had a choice.
As fate would have it, this unplanned news came over Memorial Day weekend, when all doctor’s offices were closed, and; barring an emergency; I really had no one to call. This road block forced me to sit with the news, and ponder the reality that had suddenly befallen me. My husband felt similarly — he was neither thrilled nor convinced in any way that this was part of his plan for our family’s future. But he did feel that perhaps we had some choices to make. As a mother, and a person who loved my children more than life itself, still — I didn’t feel like I had a choice.
I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, already feeling disgustingly nauseous with morning sickness. My husband and I decided to let our thoughts swirl around for the next two days. Let’s not overanalyze, we agreed. Since we can’t do anything or even make any calls to doctors until Tuesday, let’s allow this news to settle in, and imagine what our life would be like with a third little one.
And so I sat with it and I noticed a few things come into my head:
I stared at my children endlessly and thought about what I had to give them. Not what I hoped I could give them, but what my intentions were in the deepest parts of myself. I thought about the kinds of humans I wanted to raise on the planet. I watched their joy, their innocence, how their sibling relationship was blossoming, and the ways in which they rely upon me to guide them. I felt how deeply I take on that role. I felt a knowing — that I didn’t have enough of me to give to three — and that I wouldn’t do the job I wanted to do if I was split even more. I am aware, of course, that women have three children all the time, but this wasn’t about anyone else — this was about me.
I felt how much I didn’t want to give my body up again. Was that selfish? Maybe. But truly, I thought I had shut the door on that part of my life. After two times of not feeling like my body was mine for a solid two plus years, I felt angry at the idea of going back. Truth.
I felt resentful at the idea of again, having to lose my flow with my work. I’m an entrepreneur and I saw how my little ones zapped so much energy and time from my work. I made it work twice already, and I had grown from the process, but I was not willing to do the juggle yet again. (I had already been doing it with the two that I had signed up for!). I felt how much I wanted more for myself. I wanted to give to more than only my children. I wanted to help people — to write, to speak, to inspire, travel, to connect. I wanted to be me: All of me. Selfish? Again, maybe. But I felt how much, how deeply I wanted to be me. And it felt real and honest to admit it to myself.
I decided to have a few select conversations with women whom I trust and who’s wisdom felt useful. I spoke to my acupuncturist — it helped to ground me. I spoke to my Rabbi, who was happy to know that I was not basing a decision on something “religious” — in fact, she reminded me that Judaism always puts a woman’s well-being first. She told me that just because a door opens, we don’t always have to walk through it.
On Tuesday, I called my doctors for a same day appointment and returned to the place of so much joy and excitement. This time blood was taken and the screen was turned away from me for the first internal ultrasound. There was no need to see a little bundle of life if I wasn’t sure I was going to be keeping it.
My doctors lovingly explained my options. I listened and cried (finally), feeling the stark difference between my other moments in this position and the one I was currently in. My beloved nurse practitioner hugged me and said: “Honey, sometimes it’s just too much.”
That night, my husband and I talked about what we were prepared to do. I decided to let him go first. I’m not sure I ever felt more proud of him as a father. He explained how hard it would be to have another child — for his work, his travel schedule, and his overall commitments. I’ll never forget his next words: “I have the love to give if we have this baby.” And still — comforted with the knowledge of my husband’s infinite abilities as a loving father, I looked into his eyes and said what I knew would seal the deal: “I don’t want to do it.”
In some ways, I felt relief right then. Making a decision, and saying it, felt liberating. Like finally choosing myself, above all else.
And so I called my doctor, went back to the upper east side, and purchased the medication that would bring the abortion on in the privacy of my own home. One pill on day one. The one that stops the hormones that are growing the embryo. Those were a strange two days — with one foot in the world of pregnancy, and the other in the world of ending it. Knowing that I was depriving this budding life of exactly what had allowed it to thrive. I felt disillusioned.
I could almost forget happened, but then . . . there was the blood.
The second pill came next, and that was the one that began the cramping. I chose to accompany that one with a Percocet to ease the pain, and allow me to sleep. I timed all of this on a Friday, when I had the help with my kids, and a weekend to take it easier. I put on a thick pad, even before the bleeding began, and crawled into bed — my eyelids getting heavy. My husband sat in our armchair, working on his laptop, sitting with me most of the day. Just being there.
I’m not sure how long I slept, but at some point, I awoke with a “knowing” to stagger to the toilet. I sat down and the blood came. A funny plop sound from something landing in the toilet water — oh yes, my doctor told me about that part — that the sack that held the embryo would come out. There it went.
There was little pain thanks to the drugs but I was very sleepy and weak. That night at our Shabbat dinner, I sat with my children and watched their silliness as if peering out from a veil — I couldn’t help but think that their future sibling was no longer, and that I had chosen to make that so. You see, even if you know it’s right, it still hurts like hell.
Slowly, I got back into my life, the energy came back, the hormones began to balance out again, and the nausea went away. But the bleeding continued for almost two months. A not-so-subtle reminder of the whole situation, of the process — that on a busy day, I could almost forget it happened. But then . . . there was the blood. It really did happen.
Now about a year-and-a-half later, it’s hard to imagine that I would currently have an 8-month old, if not for my choice. That my youngest child would be a middle child. That I would be a mother of three. It seems like a dream I once had.
And yet I feel a sense of knowing, a conviction that at the end of the day, I love myself enough to have done something very, very difficult. To choose my health, my dreams, my self, above some idea I had about what is appropriate which circumstances make it so. That I hold my own dreams to be just as important as anything else that could be created. I know that at the end of the day, the children I have already brought into the world deserve the very best of me. And my commitment is to give them the woman who can give them that.