I woke up with night sweats, disoriented. It took a moment to realize the walls weren’t blue, the bed wasn’t a twin. This wasn’t my high school bedroom. The man next to me wasn’t my high school boyfriend and my senior year wasn’t starting in September. My chest was so tight, each breath a struggle, my pulse racing. Did my mother know yet? Had I told her? I would miss the first month of my senior year. How would I pay for a baby sitter while I was at school? What if breastfeeding was difficult? Could I afford formula? My breathing must of woke him. “You’re okay”, he mumbled from his sleep, reaching over to hold me and baby. Confused I asked, “we have money? You’re happy? You want this baby?”. “Yes”, he mumbled pulling us closer.
Despite my wakening moments of clarity that I am 32, gainfully employed and married, I couldn’t fall back asleep. The nausea wouldn’t subside. Mom’s happy I kept telling myself. Everyone’s happy. Everyone has a job. But the unsettling realness of my dream was inescapable. I felt some burning desire to return to the dream and un-trap my 17 year-old self by providing a master plan. Maybe I could tutor her all summer so that senior year was a breeze. Or maybe I’d advise her to take all AP classes so that she could have 1 year of college credit and shorten the four-year process to three years. But how with an infant would she do this? For the next hour my mind raced erratically from Debbie on Shameless, to my favorite pregnant GED student.
At 18 weeks of pregnancy, never have I felt more pro-choice. When I found out I was pregnant in January, I was surprised and nervous. We had discussed actively trying in March, and so January was a surprise but good news. At 32, married with a master’s degree and a good job, a pregnancy 2 months earlier than planned still evoked surprise and anxiety. My sister 7 months pregnant, laughed at my reaction. She couldn’t understand how I was so surprised. Her own pregnancy had been planned almost to the day. Everything remained a surreal notion until the 7 week ultrasound. We heard a washing machine like heartbeat and saw a peanut proclaimed to be our baby. It didn’t change much for me except to perhaps increase my interest in biology and anatomy.
At 13 weeks we saw another ultrasound. This time our peanut had all her parts. Her knees were bent with her foot placed against the uterine wall. She was sleeping. After minutes of pressing and poking she woke up. Her hand equip with tiny fingers moved several times from its resting position at her waste toward her head. Was she waving at us? “There’s no consciousness of motion yet, not until about week 20”, the ultrasound tech informed us. “All movement is involuntary.” My interpretation…this is still biology. Albeit, really human, life like looking biology. Around week 20 was also when the baby could hear sound. I’d once read somewhere that around week 20 was when God gave the baby a soul. I’d decided this was when life began, when peanuts became more than biology. Week 20 was also the cut off for some states for abortion. I found great comfort in instances of scientific and religious overlap, or at least when I could interpret the two to do such.
In week 17 I was laying in bed alone watching American Crime when I felt the first flutter. I texted my husband who was traveling on business. “I felt a flutter! It was weird.” He texted back, “it’s not weird, it’s our peanut.” Disgusted by his response, I turned back to television. I knew he meant no harm, but his response further emphasized that “we” weren’t pregnant. I hated when couples said “we” are pregnant. Even with the most supportive of husbands, I was the one that was pregnant. And another human moving inside you, does in fact feel weird. Alien vs. predator weird.
On American Crime, the 17 year old character Shay had just revealed she was pregnant. Regina Kings character was explaining to her that she needed parental consent for an abortion. An ex-prostitute, homeless runaway, living in an overcrowded shelter with a wait list, needed parental consent from her former abusive mother in order to get an abortion. What the f*ck? What better case for abortion was there? Shay asked why she needed consent. In D.C. she hadn’t needed consent, she’d gone to Planned Parenthood. I googled. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/overview-abortion-laws
Apparently, some 26 states required one or both parents consent for women under age 18 and 11 states required one or both parents be notified. Illinois the state where I grew up required notice. I never knew. Most states set a cut off of 20-24 weeks. Iowa and Virginia set the cut off at third trimester (28 weeks). Weren’t Iowa and Virginia pretty religious states? Lastly, I googled this word “viability” that filled the chart?
“As the word is used in United States constitutional law since Roe v. Wade, viability is the potential of the fetus to survive outside the uterus after birth, natural or induced, when supported by up-to-date medicine.”
I thought about my friend’s baby, born at 5 months. He was three years old now and filled her Instagram page with his chubby cheeked smiles.
I’ve never been more pro-choice than I am now that I’m pregnant, but things were a lot simpler before. I will always believe in the constitutional right of Roe vs. Wade, that a woman should not ever be forced in carrying out the sacrifices of pregnancy and birth. Every day of my pregnancy I think wow, I need to get my mom the best mothers’ day gift ever this year and every year. The psychological, physical, and emotional changes that occur throughout the weeks of pregnancy elude my linguistic abilities.
My situation is ideal and I am beyond words grateful, yet still excited and worried in the same breath, enamored and terrified by every washing machine sounding heartbeat. This is my baby. The first vow, til death do we part was intended with permanency, but bound only by intentions promised before God. Intentions. This is my baby, til death do we part. No intentions, just permanent indefinite fact. If the entire world falls and fails, I am still responsible. Thank God I’m 32 and not 17. Thank God senior year doesn’t begin in September, the month my babies expected.
Yet still the word viability plagues me. I saw her wave in the ultrasound. I don’t know her gender but as her mother, I just know. I’ve started to consider names. I look forward to the distanced ultrasounds when I can see her and know that she’s okay. Every morning, I wonder if she’s okay; if she’s still there; if she’s swimming or sleeping, or absorbing my negative energy when I’m way too amped up. I wonder if she’s annoyed by the cookies I need to stop eating. I wonder when she’ll be at viability.
I wonder why anyone would wait until week 20 – 24 or worse yet until viability to execute an abortion. I know why. Parental consent at 17, parental notification, parental “terrification”. Or maybe emotional distress, indecisiveness about the most difficult decision of one’s life, medical problems, four- hundred and fifty one dollars, the list goes on. I won’t be pro-choice with heavy judgement. I won’t debate the ethics of when life begins scientifically speaking. I won’t because I can’t. As best said by Tupac, “only God can judge me”.
What I can and will do is learn more about organizations in my community that support mothers in need. I can support funding and curriculum design for sexual education in schools, after school programs, and community organizations. I can read more and gather a stronger understanding of the law. I can be grateful for good circumstance and empathetic to challenging ones. I can love and support my fellow woman indefinitely.
To my readers, abortion law is a very heavily debated and controversial topic. I am eager to read your perspectives however, I encourage you to consider the delicacy of the topic and speak with open-mindedness, grace and love. All of your opinions matter so please share, share, share!