Julia’s Story

I became pregnant for the first time at the age of 27, in the first month of being married. Not that I was a virgin before marriage. On the contrary, I was sexually active from the age of 21 and had had a number of lovers. Those were the sexy, swinging, almost-STD-free sixties. But I was a graduate student, on the long road from a Bachelor’s degree to a PhD, and I was always very careful about contraception, using a diaphragm. Then I switched to a different method of contraception shortly before getting married, thinking that an IUD would be more convenient, and the IUD (a Lippes Loop) failed.

As it was, the thought of carrying forward the pregnancy was never a real possibility for me. As far as I was concerned, there was no baby in development. This unintended pregnancy was something that had happened to me, a bodily function, like catching a cold or having a toothache. The fetus had no more distinct a conceptual existence apart from my body, than it could have had a separate physical existence. And the abortion was less painful than a tooth extraction, and not any more emotionally traumatic.

The actual experience was remarkably easy, undoubtedly due in part to the recent legalization of abortion. The clinic was organized and staffed by folks who had probably been at the forefront of efforts both to make abortion legal and to assure the availability and safety of abortion before it was legal, and the process could not have been more thoughtful and supportive than it was. I made an appointment by phone and went in for an exam to confirm that I was pregnant, followed by a lengthy counseling session to confirm whether it was truly my choice to have an abortion. After that the procedure was fully explained. I was taken to the procedure room and shown the instruments that would be used, and learned what to anticipate. They even turned on the extraction machine and I heard the whooshing sound it made. Future contraception was also discussed. Then I was sent home, with an appointment to return a couple of days later to have the abortion performed. When the day came, everything went smoothly, and Ron was there to take me home when it was over. He gave me a lovely bunch of flowers and we had a meal at a nearby Japanese restaurant before going home. A few weeks later I returned to the clinic for a follow-up exam and insertion of another IUD. I think I may have returned for a further checkup. The entire service cost a little over $300, which was not a trivial amount for us those days, but we had the money and were glad to pay it.

The IUD worked very well. Years passed and there was no further pregnancy. It’s not that we had decided against having children, but we were busy with other priorities. We completed our PhDs, worked on our careers, did a good amount of traveling, and lived a relatively easy and carefree life. Then, past my mid-thirties, I began to think about the fact that if we did not make a decision about whether to have a child, my body’s functionality would make a decision for me in a few years. Ron and I discussed the matter and decided that we did want to have a child. Accordingly, the week after my 37th birthday, I had an appointment to have the IUD removed, and then hurried home to meet my husband and get pregnant. I was a little surprised three weeks later when my period came, and became very diligent about taking my temperature and determining the optimal timing for conception. Nevertheless, four weeks later, there was my period again, and the same again four weeks after that. I concluded that it was not luck all those years that I had not become pregnant again: something in my reproductive apparatus must not be working right, perhaps due to the abortion ten years earlier, although the doctor assured me there was nothing wrong. We stopped trying to make a baby. And of course – ta da – there was no period the following month, and a few weeks later a test confirmed that I was pregnant.

Our son Jake was born after a relatively easy pregnancy, very much a welcome and wanted baby. And in due course our marriage came apart. Ron and I had been a very intensely partnered couple, and there was no room in the relationship for a third person. There was little guidance or support available to us, and the stress of the changed relationship was overwhelming. We separated a couple of months before Jake’s third birthday and were later divorced, although our partnership has continued all these years, as co-parents to our son. Neither Ron nor I have remarried, and we live quite separate lives. Nevertheless the three of us are still a kind of family.

The early years of being a single mom were difficult, albeit with a respite half of each week, when Jake stayed with Ron. It helped when the going was rough that I was able to remind myself that there was nothing I would rather do with my life than be Jake’s mother, that Jake had been a planned and wanted baby, and that there was no fun or adventure or career path I was having to forego because of being a mother. That would not have been the case with the first pregnancy, and I shudder to think of how I might have viewed the burden of single parenthood under those circumstances.

I am extremely fortunate that I had the freedom to choose, both to have an abortion and to have a baby, when each of those choices was right for me. I’m not sorry about having had an abortion; I am grateful that I could have it. It’s that sense of gratitude that impels me to tell my story and provide support to pro-choice efforts, to help assure that the choice remains legal and available to other women. It is one thing for abortion to be legal and another to assure that it is affordable and that there are no other barriers to access. I worry about the issue of availability. I am a privileged, well-educated middle-class woman, and always have been. There is nothing that women such as myself have more in common with all other women, than the need for the right to choose in the course of our lives whether and when to reproduce.