I was one of those super careful pregnant women. I drank no alcohol for months before I conceived. I sent back salads that arrived with unpasteurized gorgonzola that wasn’t mentioned on the menu. I sipped the water leftover from steaming my organic broccoli because hey, why let all those vitamins go to waste. I did prenatal yoga, and took classes on staying fit during pregnancy, which I did. I felt amazing. I had no morning sickness. If I had known how kickass of a pregnant lady I’d be, I’d have done it many times over.
I loved getting pregnant, I loved being pregnant and I love being a mom. I love my daughter more than I can possibly describe. And I’m late to this party, because there’s one more day until the votes are counted in this first post-Roe election, where my state banned all abortions with no exceptions within minutes, but here is what I have to say about abortion. (I don’t have time to get this to an editor, so forgive any clumsy language on my part).
In the summer of 2015, Jim and I started talking about having another child. Our firstborn was 3. Those memories of dirty diapers, sleepless nights and a painful c-section incision were far enough in the rearview mirror that we could look at each other and say “let’s do it all again!”
I made an appointment with my gyn to make sure I was in tip top shape to get pregnant, but we also decided to just stop using any birth control. We figured time was a-wastin and after all, I was fine. Nothing is ever really wrong with me. At that gyn appointment I got an all-clear, until I showed my doctor this little hard spot on one of my breasts (if you know me, you know how this part of the story ends). She sent me for some tests a few days later, which began with an ultrasound that showed something very disturbing that I would later learn was a tumor slightly smaller than a tennis ball, one of three currently growing in my breasts.
Immediately, they readied me for a mammogram. Everything was moving quickly. I didn’t fully understand all the activity around me. I gathered I was going to have to go into a different room. I realized I was probably going to be late getting back to work. They perfunctorily asked me a question that made me stop cold: Any chance you could be pregnant?
Yes. There was.
A small chance, but it was there. And I wanted to be pregnant. And suddenly I wanted to not be pregnant very, very badly.
After consulting some calendars, it was determined that I would need to wait until I could confirm whether anything had adhered to my womb in the last few weeks.
People can, and do, go through breast cancer treatment while pregnant. It’s not impossible. However, as soon as the possibility of having cancer hit me, I had only one goal: survive for my three year old. That was it. Everything and everyone else was unimportant. I needed to survive for the child that ran screaming through my living room and not for anything that might exist in something barely past a theoretical stage.
People can and do go through cancer treatment while pregnant. I know that my oncologist has treated pregnant women for breast cancer, although I don’t know if they had my exact cancer profile. However.
I felt, and still feel, that my primary obligation is to the living, walking, running breathing child I have. The one who I brought into the world entirely on purpose when I was damn good and ready. The one who spread out the contents of her bookshelves on her mattress and went to sleep on them because she “wanted a book bed.”
If I was going to get myself and my family through this, I wanted nothing limiting my ability to get treatment. I needed to make my decisions based on their ability to improve my survival alone. For the people in my life. And also for my life. I do feel that I count, after all.
And then there’s the matter that making someone go through cancer treatment while also being pregnant sounds unspeakably cruel. If I hadn’t had a child already, I may have had different feelings.
But back to those days waiting for my mammogram. I prayed that I was not pregnant, but any pregnancy would be extremely early. I’ve read the anti-abortion rhetoric. People are going to read this and say that if I didn’t consider this to be a baby then I had no business being a mother. But here’s what that argument misses:
My emotional attachment to a pregnancy at that early stage does not reflect the scientific reality that I do not currently have a fully formed person inside of me.
When would that become a fully formed person? I honestly have no idea.
And I know that some people will read this and say that I should have accepted the good with the bad, the blessing with the tragedy. And if someone feels that way about their own situation, then I support them in making that choice. I will supply their family with a lifetime of casseroles, do their laundry and drive them to as many appointments as I can. I support someone’s right to not have an abortion, which is why I also support affordable childcare, paid family leave and universal healthcare although those are all rants for a different time.
Meanwhile, because I am a planner, I researched. I looked up abortion services in my city and state, and they were few and far between. I looked up abortion services in Illinois, which sits just across a river that I can bikeride to from my house. They were much easier.
And as I write this, votes have already been cast in an election that will have drastic impacts on a woman’s right to make that decision for many decades. Many of you have probably already cast your ballots. But just in case you have not:
If you’ve read through this and you’re a pro-choice voter who supports pro-choice candidates, then….thank you! Me, too.
If you are anti-abortion, and you read about my experience and had no sympathy, no empathy, no equivocation, no sense that maybe, just maybe a woman facing cancer should be able to make decisions about her reproduction based on her own healthcare needs, then go in peace. I expect you to vote your conscience and I know that I am unable to change your mind. Also … fuck off.
But if you vote against abortion, and you’ve read through this, and you’ve thought “well, I mean…” or “I can see how in that situation…” or “You know, I can see….” or even just “um….” then I would like to inform you that you are actually pro-choice. When people say “Abortion is healthcare,” this is what we are talking about. It’s me. It’s my daughter. It’s the family that I have. It’s my survival. You might go to an anti-abortion church, and you might support anti-abortion candidates and you might have an anti-abortion bumper sticker. But you are actually pro-choice. And now is the time you need to vote for it, because my situation could be any family you know.
If you’ve read this far, I should tell you that I wasn’t pregnant and I didn’t need an abortion, but it could have easily gone the other way.