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My Primary Emotion was Relief

Written by Jessy Brainerd

When I was in eighth grade at Catholic School, in my Religion class, we had to take part in a mock debate project. I felt incredibly lucky to get to argue the “Pro-Life” side of the abortion debate. It was simple to me – abortion is murder, and anyone who had one was a murderer, and, unless they were a cold, hard psychopath, would obviously regret it for the rest of their life. I still have a photo I snapped of the two other kids who were on my side of the debate, grinning and holding this accordion fold pro-life brochure with photos of aborted fetuses.

Fast forward to my learning to think for myself, becoming a parent at 19, and starting college at 20. By this point, I had definitely become pro-choice, although I still remember very clearly thinking that I was pro-choice for “other” people, and knew it was never a decision I would make for myself.

At one point, when I was in college, I was visiting with a neighbor, a woman in her forties, and another woman her age was visiting. Somehow we got on the topic of abortion, and the other woman shared that when she had been in her thirties, married with two small children, she had learned she was pregnant, and knowing that her family couldn’t afford it, had made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. I can remember very clearly how uncomfortable her story made me. I made polite and understanding comments, but can remember thinking VERY clearly that she had “taken the easy way out” and wondering how someone who already had children could possibly decide not to have another. It just didn’t make sense to me.

Fast forward again to the fall of my senior year of college. I had been casually dating someone for a few months – nothing serious, we had been friends for years, and the relationship had evolved. My daughter was four, and I was working part-time in an administrative office on campus, and going to school full time, consistently making the Dean’s list. I have never, in all my life, had a regular menstrual cycle, and it was not at all notable to me if I wouldn’t get my period for months at a time.

The night of a big winter “semi-formal” party/dance put on by one of the fraternities, I was getting ready with a friend, who was concerned because her period was late, but didn’t want to go to the store to buy a pregnancy test. I ran out to the drug store, and there happened to be a deal on a two-pack, so I decided that since I’d not had my period in a couple of months, and was sexually active, that I might as well take a test with her.

I can’t describe the level of shock I felt when I saw an almost fully darkened “plus” where I was quite sure a “minus” should have been. I decided that the sign was too ambiguous, and went out, occasionally breaking down in tears between drinks and dancing. The next morning, I went with my Mother and my daughter on a little road trip, and between the stress, and the previous night’s drinking, ended up having to ask my mother to pull over on the side of the road so I could throw up.

When I returned to my house, my mother taking my daughter out for the afternoon, I ran into the bathroom to take another test. This time the plus sign was unmistakable, fully dark and accusatory. I immediately lit a cigarette and started to sob. Mom came back in, as she had forgotten something, and asked what was wrong. I sputtered out that I was pregnant, and started crying again. She was silent for just a few seconds and then said “It’s going to be fine – you need to either put out that cigarette, or we need to call Mabel Wadsworth.”

I knew, right away, that I couldn’t continue the pregnancy. I suspected I was probably about eight weeks pregnant, and hadn’t been treating my body in a particularly healthy way. I was working, taking a full load of classes, with the necessary amount of studying and homework, along with taking care of a four-year-old. I was on track to graduate in the spring, and knew that would be impossible with a pregnancy, and with another child to take care of. I was so close to getting out of the need for food stamps, low-income housing, and Medicaid, and the idea of putting my daughter through years more of that struggle was unconscionable; we had struggled enough.

Before I called to make an appointment at Mabel Wadsworth, I called the guy I had been dating, putting a movie on the TV for my daughter, and taking the phone in the bathroom. I explained the situation, and as soon as I mentioned having an abortion, I could hear the relief in his voice as well. Neither of us was at a place in our lives for a child.

I made the initial appointment for an exam, and after the pregnancy was confirmed, made the appointment to terminate the pregnancy. Because it was December, and I had no idea how I’d feel afterwards, I bypassed Christmas, and made the appointment for the week of New Year’s Day.

My sister went along with me to both appointments. I remember being so incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to walk through the awful protesters holding signs like the ones I had used in my “debate” back in eighth grade. My sister held my hand through the entire process, and brushed my tears away when I started crying due to discomfort.

I remember before I went in for my abortion, being absolutely terrified that I would immediately be filled with regret, and that this would be a pivotal moment in my life, from which I could never bounce back. On the contrary, while I did feel a bit sore afterwards, my primary emotion was relief. I was feeling back to myself by that afternoon, and spent the day with my daughter.

Since that day, twelve years ago, I have not regretted my decision. There is no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision. This is not to say that I haven’t had those “what if?” moments. Just a couple of months later, the friend I had taken the test with did get pregnant. She continued the pregnancy and has a gorgeous daughter now, she was also engaged to a wonderful man at the time, and they have since had another child.

I graduated on schedule that spring, and am incredibly happy with the path my life has taken. As my daughter is sixteen now, teetering on the cusp of adulthood, I have shared my story with her, and want her to know that, if she is ever in a situation where she has a difficult choice to make, I will support her.

I don’t think anyone makes the decision to have an abortion lightly, it’s not like getting a haircut, it’s a decision that affects your life on the basest level. I wish more women felt comfortable sharing their stories, because it can easily feel like you are absolutely alone in making the choice you have, which is pretty crazy considering that one in three women in the US will have an abortion.