Goodbye and Happy Birthday

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Goodbye and Happy Birthday
The story of a birthday that couldn’t be.

In my dreams, I’m celebrating a birthday. My son is turning one, and I’m throwing a party for him. There is cake and ice cream and streamers, and a household full of my friends, all of whom came to celebrate the first year of my son’s birth with me. It’s a happy time, smiles all around.

It’s a time that should be happening today, but it won’t. My dream is not reality. 

But it almost was.

For four months, I clung to the fantasy life of being a single mother. I imagined all the things my child and I would do together. Baking. Singing. Dancing. Bedtime stories. Library trips and bookstore finds that resulted in stacks of books to the ceiling. Beach trips and traveling. I’d have someone to take care of, someone to love unconditionally, become my whole world. I think I read just about every parenting book I could get my hands on during that four months, and if you look far enough back on my Pinterest, you’ll find thousands of pins on the topic of parenting and the love a mother has for her children.

I wrote poetry books, drew pictures, and dedicated songs to my baby before I even knew the sex. Getting pregnant was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had spent years being told it was impossible, being told I would never have children. My baby was my miracle, and I imagined a blissful life with just the two of us.

But my imagination wasn’t reality.

I hadn’t spoken to an old friend of mine, Destiny, in years, but for some reason, a week before I found out I was pregnant, I reached out to her. It was my twentieth birthday and I was spending it alone, rereading old letters from my memory box. One of those letters was from Destiny, written for my seventeenth birthday three years earlier. With tears streaking down my face, I contacted her and told her that the past was the past, that I was sorry I hadn’t been there for her, and could we resume our friendship? We had a lot of history, and I was extremely emotional.

I didn’t know it then, but I had a good reason for being so emotional. A week after we rekindled our friendship, I found out I was pregnant.

I was pregnant without a job, formal education, or any verifiable experience. The only thing I had was a place in my parents’ attic (the Texas equivalent of a basement), a car, and a hefty amount of credit card debt from my blind and naive use of invisible money that had the magical power of instant visibility. (Fyi: using your credit card to get cash to pay your deadbeat stoner boyfriend’s rent is the fastest route to credit card hell.) At the time I found out I was pregnant, I hadn’t spoken to the baby’s father (a.k.a. The Deadbeat Stoner) in almost a month. We hadn’t ended on good terms, and I wanted nothing to do with him.

My future as a single mother was only blissful in my fantasies, but I held onto those fantasies as if they were reality. I was going to keep my baby, no matter what.

After a series of intensely emotional arguments with my parents over the mistakes I’ve made in my life, I made an impromptu visit to Dallas, where Destiny was living, driving from midnight to eight in the morning just for a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Destiny was always great at distracting me from my problems, and for a three days she did. But after three days, the worried texts from my mother had turned into begging: If I came home, my mother promised she would be more understanding and sympathetic. 

So I did. And with her help I also came up with a business plan: a cottage bakery. Which is basically the legal term for a bakery that stems out of my own home and isn’t subject to health code checks so long as I provide proper documentation.

But in order for me to establish a bakery, I would need supplies. And a whole three boxes full of supplies were sitting in The Deadbeat Stoner’s apartment, waiting for me to knock on his door and pick them up. I couldn’t do it alone, and my father refused to see my ex as anything but a harmless jerk, my mother was a Type A workaholic, and my brother (who I could usually count on to have my back) wasn’t speaking to me. He didn’t agree with my choices either.

So I enlisted Destiny  and her latest military-bound boyfriend to help me retrieve my stuff from my former hell-home.

But The Deadbeat Stoner had backup too: his mother. She was there to make sure I didn’t enter the apartment. The Deadbeat Stoner carried the boxes out to me one by one while his mother stood guard at the door. I thought it was weird, but it also wasn’t unexpected. His mother was smart and had a sister for a lawyer, and she knew as well as I did that The Deadbeat Stoner kept all sorts of incriminating evidence to his illegal drug habit all over his apartment shamelessly. They wouldn’t want me to make an informed phone call to the local police station should I ever feel bitter enough to do so. Heaven forbid The Deadbeat Stoner actually clean the apartment (or himself, for that matter).

Unfortunately, they had good reason to suspect I would do such a thing. This wasn’t the first time I had tried to get my stuff back from The Deadbeat Stoner. I’d been trying to get my stuff back since our ugly breakup in late December, but he was constantly making excuses as to why I couldn’t come get my things. I was complaining about it so much that Destiny decided to take matters into her own hands. She got his number from my phone, and used hers to anonymously call him and pose as a lawyer, threatening to press charges against him if he didn’t hand over my things. Miraculously, it worked, but the whole conversation between Destiny-the-fake-lawyer and The Deadbeat Stoner nearly gave me a panic attack. Mainly because she had accidentally revealed that I was going to have a son, a fact I hadn’t yet mentioned to him. I had successfully been able to keep him out of both my fantasies and reality regarding my miracle baby. If it hadn’t been the right thing to do, I wouldn’t have even told him I was pregnant. We had tried to work things out between us for the sake of the baby a few weeks after I gave him the news, but those few weeks had only served to assure me my baby and I needed to stay as far away from him as possible. For good.

But despite the drama that led to me finally retrieving my belongings from The Deadbeat Stoner’s dreaded apartment, the exchange was mostly cordial. The Deadbeat Stoner and I didn’t speak a word to each other, and his mother and I exchanged nothing more than polite and friendly pleasantries. While her son and I were obviously a toxic combination, I was contented that at least his mother was nice. 

At least I thought.

I don’t remember what was said exactly, but I know I mentioned something to Destiny about my failed engagement, making some sarcastic comment about starting my baking business up in Dallas with her so that I wouldn’t have to hear how disappointed everyone was that I didn’t marry my ex-fiance.

The Deadbeat Stoner’s mother overheard our conversation and told him, and just as we were about to leave, he came storming out to confront me about my deceit. I hadn’t been honest with him about anything (he never knew I had been engaged…or his part in the engagement’s end), and I admitted that to him. But I also told him that it no longer mattered. We were over, done. And as far as I was concerned, he was only the sperm donor.

That’s when his mother stepped in to squash my fantasy.

“He’s not a sperm donor; he’s the father, and he’s going to raise this baby no matter what it takes. You’re not mature enough to raise that baby. That’s my son’s baby, and he’s going to raise it. I’ll make sure of it. My sister’s a lawyer, and based on your actions and behavior, she’ll have no problem getting custody of my grandchild.”

“My actions? What about your son? He’s a drug addict!”

“You can’t prove that.” 

And she was right. The Deadbeat Stoner was a mastermind of a criminal. He could get himself out of anything. I wasn’t and couldn’t. 

I had Destiny drive around town while I bawled in the backseat of her car as reality finally crashed down on me. I wasn’t going to be a blissful single mother with her own bakery. I was going to be miserable, fighting custody battles I couldn’t win. And even if I did win, who was to say I would be able to keep The Deadbeat Stoner and his family out of my life? Who was to say my son wouldn’t grow up and wonder who his father is, why he isn’t here?

I wasn’t ready to be a mother, or the monster having The Deadbeat Stoner’s child would turn me into.

It was time to take Destiny’s advice, and pursue my other options. Destiny was pushing for me to get an abortion. She knew people who had gone through it, and didn’t think it was a big deal. My family disagreed, pushing me to put my baby up for adoption instead. 

But I didn’t think I was strong enough to handle either. I knew I could never give my baby up to another family. I knew I definitely wouldn’t be able to handle that. But I also didn’t think I could murder my baby either. This was my son, my little darling miracle. I had his name picked out. I wrote poetry books for him. I loved him more than anything else in this world. Could I really take away his life before he even had a chance to have one?

I contemplated this for a few weeks. My parents were against it, and the people who weren’t (Destiny and my grandparents) had selfish reasons for wanting me to have an abortion. Destiny would have her reckless friend back, and my grandparents would have their innocent, unblemished granddaughter.

By the time I reached out to my wisest and closest friend for his opinion, I had more or less made up my mind. I felt trapped. I didn’t feel like I had any other option. I wasn’t strong enough to have my baby taken away from me, willingly or by the force of The Deadbeat Stoner’s lawyer.

The agreement of Mr. Wise, my life guru, best friend, and the son of a single mother, was hardly necessary, but valued nonetheless. He told me (in not-so-explicit terms) that I should take the chance at a fresh start.

“Don’t get me wrong.” He said. “I love my mother and I really appreciate the life she’s given me. But I realize that things have been harder for her, for our family, than they would have been if she wasn’t a single mom. It’s not like you’re never going to be able to have kids again if you get an abortion. You’ll still be able to have kids when you’re ready. But the choice is up to you. I know you. I know you’ll be fine no matter what you do.”

Three weeks later, I got an abortion.

I was very picky about the place. I wanted it to be Planned Parenthood because it was the only place I had heard of that guaranteed not to judge me, or make me feel even guiltier than I already did. My mother refused to take off work for my procedure, so my grandparents took me. The only Planned Parenthood remotely nearby that offered abortions was in Houston so we stayed at a hotel near my grandfather’s work in Houston, and my grandmother took me to my appointment. The first appointment was for the ultrasound. Governor Perry demanded every woman getting an abortion hear the sound of her baby’s heartbeat and see the baby growing in her tummy before she killed it with the hope the guilt will change her mind. To make matters worse, only one person is allowed in the waiting room and you must go to the actual appointment alone. My grandfather was forced to wait in the car while my grandmother and I sat in a crowded waiting room, reading magazines to pass the time. I couldn’t help but notice I was the only girl there sitting with another woman instead of a baggy-pants-wearing, tattooed boyfriend.

The psych evaluation came first. The doctors needed to be sure I was getting the procedure for me, not being forced to by a coercive or manipulative boyfriend or authority figure. I didn’t feel like I was getting the procedure for me, but I had enough common sense to make my answers seem like I did. My bleak reality covered the rest, and I was soon ushered out of my clothes and into an examination room for my required ultrasound.

I was expecting a guilt trip greater than a Catholic worship service to take place, but the reality was a quick, emotionless, thirty second procedure. The doctor came in, told me I was strong and brave and loved, and that she understood how hard this was, but the governor required an ultrasound three days before every scheduled abortion. Then, she quickly performed the ultrasound, and was helping me to my feet, reminding me of my strength and bravery and how much I was loved and understood.

By the time I walked out of the waiting room, I almost felt like I was making the right decision.

But I had a whole week to change my mind because of the three day minimum waiting period (another requirement courtesy of Governor Perry, meant to guilt women into canceling their procedures) and the limited amount of doctors able to perform the procedure. My mother again refused to take off work, so my father drove me up to Houston to take me to my appointment. My mother promised she would try to make it for the aftermath.

My procedure was scheduled for nine in the morning, but I was required to be there by seven. So my father and I woke at six, got dressed, and headed out. A cluster of protesters were standing outside, but they were unable to step through the fence we drove through. We walked through metal detectors and got patted down by security guards before I walked into the building. Again, I realized I was the only girl there who wasn’t there with a boyfriend.

The pre-procedure came first, which was basically a slightly painful insertion of a device meant to expand my cervix enough for a successful procedure. I experienced mild cramping and an intense bloating sensation for twelve hours.

Then it was time for my procedure.

I waited in a solitary waiting room, stripped of my clothes from the waist down, and read a stack of magazines until the doctor came to take me to the examination room. Then, I was directed into a stiff, reclining medical chair and given socks for my feet so they wouldn’t have to touch the cold stirrups meant to keep my legs spread wide.

“Are you ready, honey?” The doctor asked me. It was the same doctor who did my ultrasound. “I’m going to give you another ultrasound so I came make sure we have a precise procedure. Let me know if you feel uncomfortable at all, but you shouldn’t feel a thing. This is all going to be over soon, okay honey? You’re going to be okay, I promise.”

I don’t remember the procedure. 

The last thing I remember is staring up at the corner of the room, through a window, looking up at the sky and trying so hard not to cry. Thinking this is it. Goodbye my little miracle. I remember someone putting a cold hand on my thigh to comfort me, and then I was waking up in a different room, on a cot, and hurling into one of those tiny pink bile bowls. I was dizzy, and I could hardly keep my eyes open. I kept fading in and out of consciousness, but I was fighting so hard to look okay, to be strong, to just get out of there so I could cry and be in pain and hate myself for killing my baby, for not staying awake to say goodbye or even know what happened to him. Where was my baby? Where did he go? In my state of half-conscious delirium, I recalled an article I had read about the procedure not working, and I imagined my baby was still growing inside me, alive and happy, safe and well. The thought comforted me.

When I could keep my eyes open for longer than five seconds, they had me eat a packet of crackers and drink a cup of soda. I never understood how people could swallow their own vomit, but I learned how that day. I just wanted to get out of there. I was in pain, I was dizzy, but mostly I was devastated and filled with an intense self-loathing and a terrible ache of loss. My baby was dead. I killed him.

I kept up my strong and healthy charade until my mother, as promised, arrived to take me to the car. Then, I retched into the nearest paper bag. My stomach was on fire, my intestines felt like they were twisting into the tightest of knots, my head was pounding and felt heavier than a house, I was dizzy, and all I could think was how much I deserved this excruciating pain. I deserved to be in pain for the rest of my life because I had killed my son. 

The physical pain lasted for a few weeks, gradually tapering off in levels of intensity. But the emotional pain has yet to heal.

Time heals all wounds. Except for this one. 

It’s been over a year since my abortion, but it still haunts me. I still dream of my son in my sleep. I still think of him every day. I still talk to him in my prayers. And I dedicate my yoga practice to him, picturing him in my mind as I muster up the strength to hold a pose for one more breath. 

If my due date had been an accurate prediction (which I know they never are, but still), my son would be celebrating his first birthday today. But instead the celebration is held in my dreams.

And only my heart sings happy birthday.

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