Have you ever pondered what you would tell your younger self? I do. I think back to specific moments, and I want to whisper to my young heart, “You will be okay. This is not the end of the world. You will get stronger. You will grow resilient and empowered under the weight of this current shame, failure, disappointment, loss, and hardship. Have hope. Have faith.” I imagine that my younger self would have ears to hear this message.
I took off time after college and planned to get a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate. I was managing a high-end men’s store, studying for the GRE test, and partying very hard. In 1992 I joined a Super Bowl party already in progress after a long day at work. I started out drinking beer, moved onto flaming Spanish coffees (in the plural) and returned to beer when we ran out of booze. Mixing hard liquor and beer regularly caused me to black out, but that didn’t slow me down.
I don’t remember anything about the Super Bowl game that year; it was simply an excuse for the party. Some of my last memories of that night are right after the beer run. But that night changed my life forever.
At some point, I ran into my new neighbors. They were a young couple with a baby and the baby put them outside my social circle. But a few weeks prior to the Super Bowl I had knocked on their door to see if I could get a diaper from them to line the bottom of a cage to ship a Devon Rex cat to my parents in Germany. Not wanting to be rude, I ended up sitting around and chatting with them and a new friendship started to bloom.
I clearly remember helping my neighbor put her son Kai to bed on that Superbowl Sunday. They were not part of the Super Bowl party, so I don’t know why I was at her house. But I watched as she gently placed Kai into bed with motherly love oozing from every pore. I did not plan on having kids. I firmly believed that kids smelled like dirt and maple syrup–and not the good kind. I never felt comfortable around kids, and I’ve always been firmly against bad smells. But, as we exited his room together, I turned towards her and said, “Now that I’ve met Kai, I wouldn’t get an abortion if I ever got pregnant.”
And that is it. I don’t recall parting ways with my neighbors or a single moment forward. I woke the next morning to my alarm going off signaling that it was time to get up for work. I had no memory of the rest of the night, but I awoke feeling life inside of me. The feeling was foreign to me. I had been dead inside, but suddenly from the depth of my soul I could feel life.
A seismic shift took place within me from just the inkling of knowledge that tinged my senses as I stood in the shower trying to remember the night before. I knew with certainty I was pregnant. I abruptly pulled the brakes on the party train. Within hours I chose to stop drinking for the good of this life inside me. And that feeling of life and motherly protectiveness were completely foreign to me. But I was instantly converted from being pro-choice to being ready to sacrifice everything to guard this particular life. My future plans became meaningless to me.
About a week later I took the bus to the grocery store to buy a pregnancy test and a bottle of wine. I decided one or the other would be my future. The test came up positive, so I gave the bottle of wine to my neighbors. The next day I went to confirm the test at a women’s clinic. But it came up negative. I insisted I was indeed pregnant. The nurse administered a more accurate test which came back with a very faint positive sign.
She turned to me and said, “Don’t worry. It is early enough we can get this taken care of before you even know you’re pregnant.”
I suddenly realized the women’s clinic I had gone to for help was, in reality, an abortion clinic. I flew out of there never looking back. I walked down the streets of Portland, Oregon muttering and cursing–repeatedly. Panic, fear, and shame accented my every step as my curses reverberated down the streets.
The biological dad and I had been friends since childhood. I felt safe when I told him, “I am pregnant.”
He turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, I will be there,” after a long pause, “for the abortion.”
“I am not having an abortion,” I plainly stated.
“I didn’t sign up to be a dad,” he replied.
In that moment I realized I had been playing Russian roulette with my life by making choices that caused the creation of a child. My resolve to protect this one grew.
Those around me pressured me daily to have an abortion with arguments like, “Having this baby will ruin your life,” and, “It would be better to have an abortion than to live with this mistake forever. At the very least, consider adoption and get on with your life.” I settled in for a battle as pressure to abort my child continued to come from every direction.
Someone close to me said, “But you don’t even like children.”
To this I answered, “But I love this one.”
I was awakening to the kind of love that made my mother willing to risk her life for me during her pregnancy. When she was pregnant with me, the hormones that fed my growth also nourished her Hodgkin’s Disease. The doctors wanted my mother to have an abortion. They told her she would die if she did not abort me. The Catholic Church gave special permission and absolution for her to end her pregnancy. It was 1967. My mother refused.
She also declined all treatments while she was pregnant with me. As soon as I was born, she went straight into surgery. She then fought to survive long enough to raise my brother and I. She lived another 44 years and watched her grandkids grow up. She died when she chose not to fight the eventual cancer caused by the side effects of her earlier treatments. She lived and died on her own terms.
As a child I had believed that I had a memory from all the way back to when I was in the womb. I could recall a scene in which I hid behind a boulder while people with bows & arrows and shotguns hunted for me. In my memory I felt the solidness of the boulder as I pressed my little body against it. I wonder if I somehow sensed the war raging in my mother’s body and her mind.
In the 44 years I had with my mother we laughed, cried, argued, and experienced a life with the most fantastic of highs. But also, she helped me battle a deep dark abyss of brokenness inside of me for many years. Life hurt. People hurt me. Moving every few years hurt. Saying goodbye hurt. Starting over hurt. Being the perpetual new girl hurt. And experiences as a victim wounded me deeply–nearly fatally–those hurt too.
I became undone when we moved to San Antonio my Junior year of High School. I used to call that period of time the years we don’t speak of, but I’ve healed since then. In those years I wrestled with suicidal thoughts. As I sped by trees, I remember trying to identify ones that would surely do me in if I just turned the wheel slightly. Drinking became a daily occurrence. I had a vodka bottle hidden in my laundry basket for solo drinking and I never had trouble finding a party because I told myself that social drinking meant I didn’t have a problem.
The consistency from the fundamental sanity of my parents, their love, and their investment into much therapy helped me find my way out of suicidal ideation. And their belief that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to was transferred to me. I called upon those reserves as a pregnant terrified young woman.
I didn’t know how, but I knew this child was a life preserver. Despite that I did take the time to contemplate adoption, but to my core I knew that having this baby would save my life. I never wrestled with choosing abortion because I knew I would never recover from it. I was willing and able to let go of the future I had planned for the sake of this child.
With this love solidified in my heart everything changed. There were no visions of unicorns, ponies, or rainbows. In truth I sobbed through the whole thing. Big snot bubble sobs with carpet fibers going up my nose as I gasped for air prostrate on the ground.
Every. Single. Day. For the entirety of the nine months.
As the baby grew my sobbing accommodated my growing belly, but the overwhelming sense of fear kept me on that ground. I did not feel equipped. I knew I was going to be alone day-to-day. My parents lived in Germany and my brother lived across the country. I was broke, alone, and young. Every catastrophic event that I could possibly imagine played havoc on my hormonal emotions.
Shame was still deeply sewn into the fabric of single motherhood in 1992. I wrestled with that shame, and disappointment, and fear — so much fear, and how to recalibrate my life goals. I focused on my sobriety, my health, earning a living, and planning for the day I would meet my son on the outside–and oh what a day that was! The sobbing subsided. Fear was tamed. Disappointment evaporated and love bloomed.
A few months after my son was born, I decided to tackle the shame and walk right into the place that I thought was its source – the church. I was in search of hope, faith, and strength. And I wanted the community for my child. What I found was love, acceptance, forgiveness, hope, and support. So much support. I faced my pregnancy alone and discovered a love bigger than I ever imagined possible.
For a dozen years I battled with alcohol. I started drinking at 12 years old in Munich, Germany and on the Monday following Super Bowl Sunday in 1992 I was 24 years old. I never took another drink again. Today I celebrate that anniversary of another year of sobriety. I plan on celebrating one day at a time and one Monday after Super Bowl Sunday at a time.
Some stories might not ever get told. But, to my younger self I want to say, “See, I told you, it will be okay–in fact, it will be so much better than okay. Make sure you get here.”
The rest of my story can be read in Puffy & Blue: The Chronicles of Nine Lives Together.