If you knew me in real life, you'd say I was a nice girl. I'm the kind of girl who would give you the shirt off my back if you needed it. You'd say I was warm, caring, driven and smart. You would say I was going places in life.
In reality, you don't know me. I am some distant person typing letters on a keyboard. For that reason, it's much easier for the world to judge me. People will call me a baby killer and a murderer. While I wish they wouldn't, I don't expect everyone to understand.
But I hope they'll at least try.
A couple of months ago, I got into a heated feud with a friend over abortion. When you know women who have had them, the subject becomes much more personal. Unbeknownst to myself, I was four weeks pregnant while I was passionately defending a woman's right to choose. I was ironically saying that an abortion was something I might never even have, but it should always be available if I so choose to.
The first thing I remember from my friend's argument was her saying there were too many other forms of birth control for women right now for them to resort to abortions. That comment, in particular, resonated with me. My own situation arose from a broken condom.
Plan B didn't work. According to my health care provider, this is very unusual. How many other women had been responsible during sex, but despite their best efforts, had gotten pregnant anyway? It felt a little unfair.
Complicating the matter further, Plan B and first-trimester pregnancy share many of the same side effects: nausea, appetite change, tender and swollen breasts and fatigue. Many friends told me it was even normal to miss my periods after I had taken Plan B.
I waited and waited. But after a second missed period, I was finally ready to admit to myself that I needed to take a pregnancy test. "This was never supposed to happen to me," I thought with panicked tears as the two red lines appeared. "Maybe it happens to other women, but this was never supposed to be me."
It's a mentality many women share. You think the issue belongs to someone else until it happens to you.
By then, I was seven weeks along. I immediately called my boyfriend, but there was nothing to discuss. If he had asked me to keep it, his wishes would have influenced my decision. The baby was, after all, half his. But we have always been in agreement on what we would do in such a situation.
With both of us in student loan debt and the fact that we make $50,000 a year between the two of us, starting a family seemed out of the question. Even though my parents had faced similar odds, these were different times. I wanted to be realistic. I thought of the insurmountable strain this would put on both myself and my boyfriend, economically and emotionally.
Any way I envisioned it, it seemed unfair to bring a child into the world and risk the fact that his or her parents may break up. I didn't want my child growing up with single parents, or feeling like a burden in the way I sometimes used to. Parenthood runs the risk of failure in even the best circumstances, and this was anything but ideal.
This brings me to one of the hardest aspects of this situation: I was trying to make an adult decision, despite not feeling like an adult.
My parents were able to buy a home and start a family with no student loan debt. They had decent-paying jobs as a mechanic and a nurse. Not everyone in my generation has that ability.
The time-sensitive nature of the decision also made it harder. After 10 weeks, the procedure becomes surgical instead of medicinal. For me, there was a huge psychological difference between the two. In hindsight, perhaps I had acted reflexively. But at seven weeks, I was pushing the limit of what I was comfortable with.
Within an hour, I was making calls to clinics. The first one was completely booked, and therefore referred me to another. This was alarming because medicinal abortions are time-sensitive. I wondered how much worse the wait would be if they continued to close clinics, as recently passed legislation sought to do in other states.
The clinic also cautioned me that if I were to go one state over for my abortion, that clinic would require me to watch a video and wait 24 hours before performing the procedure.
I had already notified my employer that I needed the two days off that were required for a medicinal abortion. I was disturbed to think that just one state over, where women potentially had to travel long distances to get to their clinics, they would be further burdened by a patronizing video and mandatory wait period.
Would their employers be as understanding as mine had been? Could other women afford that many days of missed work? These are the facets of restricting women's rights to reproductive health, but they don't alarm you until it's you in that situation.
After the procedure was done, I felt guilty, but not for the reasons you might think. The first two months of pregnancy are hard on your body. It felt good to want to eat again. I liked the fact that I didn't feel nauseous throughout the day.
My acceptance letter to an Ivy League university arrived the next day, and I felt like I had my life back. That is what made me feel guilty.
But the more I thought about it, the more I began to reflect on something else my friend had said during our argument: Women who got abortions needed to learn to take responsibility for their actions.
After going through it, my response to her would be, "I know just as much about responsibility as you do." Responsibility is not wanting to bring a child into a world where you feel ill-equipped to care for it.
Responsibility is having to walk past protesters at the abortion clinic. It's knowing they have the legal right to be there, even at the cost of your privacy and dignity.
Responsibility is sitting for five hours at an overcrowded clinic, in a dark waiting room with the curtains drawn, feeling like you are engaging in some sort of back alley, criminal operation.
Responsibility is taking four pills that make you vomit, bleed and writhe on the floor in pain for hours. Responsibility is bleeding for weeks.
Responsibility is being reminded of your decision every day through offensive posts on the Internet, by people you've never even met who call you a baby killer and murderer.
Responsibility is going to baby showers, holding your friend's newborn and feeling a sting because of the life you chose not to have. Responsibility is not being able to convey that complex feeling to your friend on her happy day.
So, to answer my friend, yes. I feel like I took enough responsibility for my decision. I atoned enough.
I can admit to myself that I made the best decision for myself, my life, my boyfriend and my unborn child, even if others think that I shirked the moral high ground. Sometimes, making the right choice for yourself seems like the wrong one to others. But at the end of the day, it's still your choice.
Watching the slow erosion of women's reproductive rights across the country has galvanized me into writing this. While I am writing this, I have some things I would tell the people who don't know this defining secret about me.
To my parents, I would tell them I hope they can still look at me as their daughter: the one who they raised to lead a self-determined, fulfilling life.
To women who are as undecided about the issue of abortion as I once was, I would say that even the most responsible and conscientious woman is just one misstep away from being in the position I was in. So please employ compassion.
To the life I decided not to have, I am sorry I will never get to meet you. I love your father. You would have had his long lashes and my eyes. I know in my heart that you would have been perfect.
I'm sorry I felt like there was no good option for your future that would give you the life I wanted you to live. I am sorry. I am doing everything I can to be the person and mother you would have needed me to be.
To the world, if you live your life and your beliefs in black and white, you will miss the whole swath of human experiences that fall in the gray area. I would tell them that whatever else happens, I am still human too.