I stood in my room, surveying the damage. My closet had been ripped apart. Clothes were strewn all over the floor. My mattress was also across the floor. My makeup and hair tools swiped off my dresser, scattered across the carpet. It looked like I had been ransacked and robbed.
But it was just my father.
He stood in the doorway, still wearing his army flight suit, dark with anger. He’d gone through my closet while I was out and found birth control. It was just before my sixteenth birthday. He clutched the pills and condoms in his hand and demanded, “Where did you get this?”
Looking at the floor, I muttered, “A clinic.” I was then informed me that I was grounded, indefinitely. Not just from TV, telephone and going out, but also from wearing makeup, doing my hair or wearing contacts. I’d be relegated to wearing my glasses and “being a kid again”.
I lived in Alabama with my father. While Mom and I had had talks about sex, Dad preferred to largely ignore it in regards to his kids and kept the household very strict. Meals were eaten with family at the same time each night. I made my bed with hospital corners and could bounce a quarter off of it. Curfew was 10 p.m. sharp on weekends and no socializing during the week. I called everyone “sir” or “ma’am” and always said please and thank you. And…I had floor-to-ceiling windows in my bedroom I’d sneak out of to see my boyfriend. I would describe him as a decent looking redneck football player. He introduced me to drag racing, Hank Williams Jr, four-wheeling and a few recreational drugs. I don’t think I even liked him that much. But he had a car, which got me out of my oppressive household of drinking, violent mood swings, early curfew and a strict military upbringing.
A few months later I was so tired, I could barely stand up. I had been granted the privilege of wearing makeup again, but began skipping it, because I barely had the energy to get to school. Normally a sugar fiend, I lost my craving for everything except protein. I’d scavenge our refrigerator for all the meat and cheese I could snack on between meals. I was nauseous all day long and dropping weight. I thought, “I don’t know what’s wrong, maybe it’s mono, but maybe I should take a pregnancy test just to make sure.” I dragged myself down to the nurses office, and when she came back with a “you’re pregnant”, a flash of hot terror sliced through me. FUCK. Fuck, fuck, fuck. What the FUCK will I do? My dad will KILL ME. He thought nothing of completely trashing my room over just finding condoms. This would be my end.
I now know that kind of severe sickness is called hyperemesis gravidarum and women usually end up in the hospital due to extreme dehydration for most of their pregnancy.
I needed to think. The clock was ticking. Every day that passed, I was running out of time to make a decision, as I was already past the two month mark and hurtling towards last call. Twelve weeks was the cut off for termination.
The sheer panic and stress over making this decision is unlike anything you can ever feel unless you yourself go through it. To this day, I’ve never experienced that same kind of gut-twisting panic. The boy and I had been seeing each other for 2 years. We talked and were on the same page as far as deciding that neither of us was in the position to take care of a child at this point. Our only option for abortion underage was to get married or tell my parents. I was so terrified of my dad, we decided to get married, but we’d have to do that in Georgia, since Alabama didn’t get underage kids get married. We planned it and I felt even sicker and what a fucking mess my life had suddenly turned into. I had ten days left.
I was stuck between a two very bad options, but I didn’t think I could go through with marriage at age 16. I knew I had to tell my Dad. It was the only way. I sat there, sick to my stomach with cold sweat for hours, trying to work up the courage. I casually walked by him sitting on the couch and said, “Dad…when you have a minute, can you come into my room? I need to talk to you.”
I sat on the bed and waited. My heart was pounding in my throat; my palms were slick with perspiration. He appeared in the doorway. I looked at him, took a breath and blurted, “I’m pregnant.”
He stared at me and didn’t say anything for a full minute. Then, he started to cry. I had NEVER seen my father cry. I was horrified. Through losing friends after Vietnam to a terrible divorce, he had never cried in front of me. Gutted, I realized how bad I was hurting him. Worse, I’d disappointed him. He turned his back to me and went into his room. I just sat there. He returned to my room and said, “Tomorrow. 8 am. Be ready.” He’d made an appointment at a clinic in Montgomery, a distance from us. Clearly, he didn’t want anyone to know about the trouble I’d gotten myself into.
“Okay.” Relief washed over me.
“I want more for you than this.” He stood in the doorway, tall and intimidating. “You’re too young and way too smart to waste your life. You can go places. But not this way and not tied to this guy. You would be tied to him and tied down for life. For LIFE. And I am not raising another kid. I raised mine.”
I didn’t have the courage to say, “Well, you’re the one who took away the birth control. I was being responsible. Any idea how hard it was to get that being underage, with no job, no money, and no car? Not fucking easy. I think it was pretty goddamn resourceful of me. What did you THINK would happen?” I just sat there, saying nothing. I probably didn’t have to say anything. He knew.
Early the next morning, it was a near silent drive up to Montgomery from Enterprise. It was an all-black clinic. I’d never really been exposed to many other races before except Koreans on the military base. He paid the extra fee for a local anesthetic. A big Jamaican nurse sat down next to me, and patted my hand. “Look, chile…it’ll be ok. You’ll be fine. You have plenty of time for this later, after you live your life first.” I went in to a sterile, bright white room, got on the paper covered table and the doctor inserted a cold speculum. I heard the sound of suctioning. In less than 5 minutes, it was done. I got up; they put me in a cold recovery room with Cheezit crackers and a soda. I found out I had an extremely tipped uterus and was RH negative. The reason I was so damn sick is because my body was trying to get rid of the fetus naturally, and it was likely RH positive. They gave me an injection to change my RH factor. I was told to wear a pad and how to avoid infection. I was given birth control pills and told this procedure would not affect any future pregnancies. (It didn’t.) I made the judgment that all black people were kind and nice.
It was a surprisingly not unpleasant experience and the very first time I didn’t feel sick, stressed and wound up with anxiety in weeks. It was in Dad’s hands now and my stomach finally stopped churning.
On the ride home, “I’m sorry.”
I felt better the next day. Human. The weight had been lifted. It was not a decision I’m either proud of or ashamed of. It just was.
Some of my friends have had children very young. They love them dearly and their kids add much to their lives. However, the story is usually the same. “I wish I could have waited longer.”
You wouldn’t be reading this blog if I’d chosen to have a baby. You’d have never seen me wrestle. You’d never see me model. I don’t know what I’d be doing, but it wouldn’t be this. No one has to live with the decision except me…and probably my parents, because they WOULD have had to step in. I went on to go to college, travel and do interesting things people pick my brains about (usually in awe) all the time. I wouldn’t have seen a lot of the world or experienced life as I’ve been able to.
For me, it was the right choice. I wouldn’t change a thing. And I’m grateful that I had a choice to begin with.
This was a hard blog to write. I know some will be offended, but again…no one lives with my decisions except me. I later found out I have rapid cycling Bipolar disorder, which is genetically passed on. My father had it. I would never want anyone else to have to live with this. It’s a hard, hard thing to manage.
The old boyfriend emailed me several years ago. He said he was doing random construction in Mississippi and has had a “shitty life”. My friend back in Alabama said he’d been in trouble several times for beating his wife. This, I know is true…I’d been on the receiving end of it a few times. It made me think that despite what we think of our parents when we’re young – or how much we THINK we know, that maybe, just maybe they really do know what’s best for their kids after all.
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Photo – Chris Freeman Photography