When I was 40 years old I got pregnant with Mason. My partner and I were breaking up. I had literally just moved into my new “single girl apartment” after our two year relationship with so many ups and downs we were really finished. And God was I sad. I was 8 years older and in such a different place than him. He didn’t want kids, marriage, to be tied down.
We called it quits because it just wasn’t meant to be. But there was still love. We weren’t angry at each other. We had no feelings of not loving each other. We just were simply very different.
A few weeks later I found myself sitting in my car outside of @plannedparenthood sobbing because I had just been informed that I was positively-without-a-doubt pregnant.
“What am i going to do?” I asked the woman who delivered the news to me. I was in shock. I was scared. I was…actually pregnant at 40? How could this be possible? “I’m pregnant from a man I’m no longer partnered with. I can’t do this alone,” I told her. She told me not to think about that, but to take some time starting today to think about what I wanted. She was so gentle and kind and told me there were many resources if I chose to have a child and I could also make the decision not to. It was my choice. And she reminded me that there was no wrong choice. It would be ok no matter what I decided.
I had been in this place before and I was both mad and sad for myself. Hadn’t I learned by now my head was screaming at me!? I was 40 fucking year old! I knew better. But there was this nagging little feeling that I had willed this to happen. That I wanted this even though I was quite confident I didn’t really want to have kids. I was happy on my path and had lived an extraordinary life.
One thing I was clear about was in spite of the amazing adventures and the worldwide travel I had done over the last five years, I also knew that it had been a hard run. There was no way I felt up to having a baby alone at that moment. I also recognized that I was in a sad place with this fresh breakup and I still felt so much love for the man whom I was pregnant with. That didn’t feel like a healthy mental space to be in to have a child. I was quite sure we weren’t intended to be together, and a child wasn’t going to change that.
It took a few days for me to get my courage up to tell him, but I eventually called Mark and told him. I also said that I was prepared to have an abortion and I didn’t expect anything from him. Initially I wasn’t going to tell him about the abortion because I blamed myself for being pregnant. I had been the one who talked about it, thought about it, dreamed about it. My partner was clear he wasn’t ready. It was my dad who convinced me it was important and only fair to tell my former partner before I made any decisions alone.
The phone call was short. Mark didn’t know what to say so he told me he needed a moment to take a breath and he would call me back later. I don’t know what I expected from the call and to be honest, I didn’t expect much. I hung up and life went on. I began mentally preparing myself to move through the next steps. I looked at the calendar, thought about when I would have an abortion, reflected on my past abortions and how this felt different. Not different because I was opposed to this one, but different because I was 13 years older, had lived more, understood that this was probably the last time I would find myself pregnant.
The day before I had been with my sister and told her I was pregnant. We talked, and being that she was always very practical and realistic, she told me it was clear I was starting to feel I wanted to have a child, so I should probably abort this one, move on and start setting my life up and potentially looking for a partner who wanted to have a kid. She asked me if I wanted to have a baby alone. Having watched her struggle with two kids with a partner (she had twins) I knew that no matter how many you had, kids were hard. Her situation was compounded by the fact that one of her children had Down Syndrome.
That was another aspect that weighed heavily on me. I knew I was well past prime baby-making age, so there was a very distinct possibility I could have a child with genetic issues. What would I do as a solo parent with a disabled child? According to the March of Dimes your chanced of having a child with Down syndrome when you are 30 is 1 in 940. When you go up to 40 it’s 1 in 35. Was I ready to roll those dice?
There were many reasons for coming to my decision, but it was clear that even though I mentally now felt ready for a child, the complicated logistics of doing it alone at that point in my life didn’t seem clear. I knew I could make it work, but did I want it to work?
At 40 years old I had come to a much calmer place in my life. I had a little apartment I liked. A small office tucked into a cool old building in Northwest Portland across the street from a trendy neighborhood coffee shop. I could walk everywhere or take the street car. For the first time in many years my life felt like it was getting simpler. I didn’t have a lot of stuff. I didn’t owe anyone anything. I had no debt, but had no savings at the same time. I was genuinely happy after a fairly stormy ten years through my 30s. I didn’t feel ready to give that up.
That night I sat on my couch and cried. Part of it was probably hormonal due to the pregnancy, but part of it was a release and an acceptance of what would come next. I reflected on my past pregnancies. I hadn’t felt much with those. They were both necessary for me to move forward in my life. I was crystal clear that I wasn’t ready to have a child.
The first pregnancy had been when I was 24 and breaking up with my college boyfriend. I was moving from San Diego to Seattle. There was no question about that choice. The procedure was gentle and quick. The woman who performed it was a doctor and I was in her office in Seattle. The whole experience left me with zero trauma and a lot of relief as I looked out the high rise building window toward downtown Seattle on a sunny day. After the procedure she sat with me and talked to me about what came next with my hormones and what I could expect. I remember expecting to feel highly emotional and to have pain. I felt nothing more than a little tired the next day and the experience was similar to having a pre-cancerous wart frozen off my cervix when I was 21.
The second one when I was in my late 20s and was living back in Southern California. My boyfriend “liked” me, but was definitely not in love with me and was regularly cheating on me. I knew it, but didn’t want to admit it. When I found out I was pregnant I hastily got an abortion in a clinic in Costa Mesa, the heard of Republican California. That experience was very different. I remember feeling like a slab of meat on a conveyor belt. They rolled women through quickly and after the procedure I lay sobbing on a rolling table, with nothing more than a thin sheet separating me from a room full of women under glaringly bright fluorescent lights. It was probably the anesthetic that made me cry, but at the time I just remember feeling surprised that the experience was so different from my first abortion. I wasn’t sad about ending the pregnancy, but I felt alone and uncomfortable about seeing the man who was in the waiting room on the other side of the wall. Somehow I ended up continuing that relationship for another year.
While sitting on the couch thinking about all of this my cell phone buzzed. I looked at the incoming call and it was Mark. I picked up the phone and while didn’t want to be dramatic, I also didn’t want to mask that I was crying as I said hello. “Why are you crying,” he asked me. I could hear concern in his voice. “Because I am thinking about the abortion I am about to have,” I said to him. What I didn’t go on to say was I am thinking about the last 20 years of my life and all of the relationships I have been in and wondering why I keep repeating this habit of being with men who don’t want to be with me. I was feeling vulnerable and unlovable. I had picked wrong again or I had done something I often did which was just fall into a relationship and not look more closely at it and decide if it was right for me. Clearly I had done some reflection because we didn’t keep plugging on. I had moved into my own place and Mark and I were not together anymore.
“I want to have a baby with you,” Mark said to me. “I have been floating in my life and I need some stability. Maybe this is happening because I need this.”
I didn’t say anything, which is rare for me. Mark continued “You don’t have to have this baby with me. You can chose to have it alone and I will support you and the baby. Or we can try to have a baby together. Whatever you want to do,” he said.
There were so many thoughts racing through my mind. I didn’t want to have a “break up baby.” I didn’t want to be with a man who was with me just for the sake of a child. That never went well. I didn’t want him to feel trapped. I didn’t know if I wanted to be with him. The only thing I did know in that moment was I appreciated the option being there. It opened the door to possibility that maybe I would make a different choice here. I also liked that it gave me a choice.
While abortion had always been a “choice” in the past, it also felt crystal clear that I did not see the possibility in my previous situations. I was not emotionally ready and I was with partners who I did not feel were going to bring a good human into the world. It’s not that they were bad men, it’s just that the circumstances at that time was that I would have ended up alone with a child being another single woman statistic in a forced relationship with a man because we had a child together. That was never healthy for children. It left women bitter at their baby daddy and children feeling ungrounded because they were never sure of their father’s love because he was just a minor player in the child’s life.
I am just speculating on how this would have played out, but it seems to more often be the norm when I look at all of the men around me who aren’t with the women they had children with. Why would Mark and I end up any differently? There was no guarantee we would be different, but one thing I had experienced over the last few years with Mark was that he was a solid human. He was kind. He loved his family and his nieces and nephews dearly. He loved children. He was playful and often childlike himself and could roll around with kids for hours. He was financially responsible, much more so than I was. But most importantly was that when we were together I felt like he was my friend, which was a new feeling in a relationship for me. I felt like no matter what happened with this pregnancy, we would be friends and he would be a connected co-parent.
The biggest thing I felt in that moment is that I could envision us having a child together. The interesting thing was that vision wasn’t of us necessarily being partners, but I could see both of us raising a child together and that I had no fear of being connected to him for the rest of my life. That was a turning point for me and what ultimately helped me decide to move forward with the pregnancy.
Of course with every story like this, there’s a lot more to it and the path moving forward wasn’t easy. It’s still not easy today and there are definitely days when I wonder if Mark and I should be together. We both have those days and don’t sugar coat it with one another. The one thing I am still confident about though, even on those rough days, was that I made the right choice for myself at that time. But what I appreciate most today looking back on it was that I had the opportunity to make that choice. That Mark weighed in, but also made it clear that he was ready to respect the decision I wanted to make at that time. And when I did make the choice, he held true to his word and supported me in having a child.
There’s never been a more important time to support women’s choices in our country. The truth for many women who chose not to continue with a pregnancy is that they are looking clearly at their future. It’s not like they are making a spur of the moment rash decision. They know that they will end up alone, battling a system that favors men not taking responsibility for children.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau study in 2018, 80% of all single parent households are headed by women. Of that group 34% of them fall under the poverty line and 30% are struggling to feed their children. Those women make around $.79 to $1 that a single man with a child makes.
In Oregon, the state I was in when I had Mason, if I had been a single mother 55% of my income would have most likely gone to childcare and if I fell into the average, my partner would have paid no more than $430 toward our child. Full time childcare in Portland when I was living there last year was $1200 a month.
I am not trying to convince anyone that the reason a woman chooses to have an abortion is right or wrong. Most of you reading my post are “my people”. You will understand why I have made the choices I have made in my past and present life because many of you will have made the same choices. Many of you who have followed my family’s path will not have even considered for a second that Mason might not have been here today, but that’s part of our story and our reality. I think about it often.
Here’s the other thing, had I chosen to have an abortion, I would not be living with deep regret now. My life was very full and exciting then, and it would have continued in the same way. It’s who I am. I completely understand and respect women around me who are choosing not to have children by choice or chance or simply because it was not an option for them.
There’s no question in my mind that abortion is a choice that should be left to a woman to be made by her and with participation from others as she sees fit. I’m telling my story because #youknowme. I’m taking a strong stance here because it’s critical that we speak up now and share our experiences to help show that 1 in 4 women have had abortions. By sharing our stories of choosing to have a child or not, we can help put a real face on this deeply personal experience. And hopefully with this we will make abortion something more than another law in America signed without considering the ramifications for women everywhere.
Photo: Zion Adventure Photog