Growing up one of five Irish Catholic kids, becoming a mother just seemed natural. When I married my husband, also one of five kids, we agreed we would have a family.
I got pregnant, as easily as I expected. I miscarried. We spent a nervous year trying to get pregnant again. Again, I miscarried. The third pregnancy was the charm; our son was born healthy. I was, and always will be, tremendously grateful to be a mother.
Remembering how long it took to become parents, we skipped birth control. I was pregnant on our son’s first birthday. Our two sons are twenty months apart.
My husband and I thought about a third child, and decided to again skip birth control. I was 34. We knew that older moms and their babies face more complications. We made a plan: If I wasn’t pregnant again by 40, our family would be complete. Two parents. Two kids.
I turned 40, and ran my first marathon. Our family was set. I turned 41, and became pregnant. For years, I had wanted a bigger family, a daughter. Now, I — the third of five children– didn’t want a third child. I told my husband I wanted an abortion.
He paused. “Are you sure?”
“I’ll support whatever you want to do, and I know it’s your choice, but are you sure?” he asked, looking at me, waiting to hear what I was thinking.
Even now, fifteen years later, I remember the conversation, the two of us, a stable middle-class married couple, standing in our walk-in closet, getting ready for bed, talking. Our sons asleep in the bedroom next door.
“Yes,” I said, “I’m certain.”
I did not want this fifth pregnancy. My mind flashed through scenes of diapers, high chairs, potty-training, playgrounds, pre-school, all the stages we’d walk with another child. I would be 47 years old with a kindergartner; 59 years old at high school graduation. It wasn’t the family I wanted. I knew what being a mother means, and knew I didn’t want to do the work of parenting a third child.
The next day, we booked an appointment at Planned Parenthood.
At our local clinic, by the library we frequented with our sons, my husband and I sat quietly in a modest waiting room. I went through the initial check-up and tests. We scheduled the abortion before we left.
The same month, we went back to the clinic. Men aren’t allowed in the medical rooms, so my husband sat in the waiting room, watching a movie, Remember the Titans. I don’t remember the actual abortion. The clinic visit went quickly, smoothly. Afterwards, we stopped for lunch, then spent a peaceful afternoon playing and reading with our sons when they came home from school. I remember looking at our boys, thankful for our family. Two parents, two kids.
Over the years, my husband and I embraced the family we have. We are complete. I began volunteering for Planned Parenthood, outside the clinic where I had my abortion. With fellow volunteers, I greeted and escorted patients, buffering them from protesters, just as others had done for me.
This year, once again I stood outside Planned Parenthood, a more modern Saint Paul facility that replaced the small clinic that helped me. On a brisk winter Saturday, I marched amid hundreds of other pro-choice women, men, and their children, many clad in pink, a cheery and vocal counter to a much smaller, muted anti-abortion protest.
Amid the multitude of pinks, I spotted my 25-year-old niece, smiling and bright-eyed, walking with her boyfriend and other friends. I thought about her, wondering if in a few years, she and other women will still have the right to choose when and whether to have a family.
Abortion is often a private decision. By being public, I’m exposing myself to potential criticism, and perhaps, worse. At 41, I trusted myself to make the right choice. At 56, I trust myself to share this story, hoping it might help others– my niece, maybe women my sons will love– to have the choice I had.
Becoming a parent is an immense responsibility, too significant to leave to chance. Parenthood should be an intentional decision. I had a choice.
Every woman should have that choice.
The next time you think of abortion, maybe you’ll think of me, a married mother who loves her children, and chose not to have another.