Roar will publish a first-person story about abortion, “My Abortion: A Daily Story,” every day for at least 365 days.
If I’d waited one more week it would’ve been illegal to perform the procedure.
Dorri Olds, age 14.
Lloyd and I were in love the night his condom ripped. “Oh no!” he yelped, his eyes wide with panic.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I can’t get pregnant from one little tear.” At the time, I really believed it.
I was 14 and grateful to have a boyfriend. Lloyd was two years older and that made me feel so grown up. He seemed to have endless time to hang out. He’d dropped out of high school. Lloyd smoked lots of pot and showed me how to sink a basketball into a hoop. He sang love songs in falsetto and everything was better than the year before I met him.
At 13, I’d been gang-raped by classmates. Massive hands had covered my mouth, knees dug into my hip bones. I was pinned on the grass field of a local cemetery. The weight of the boys stilled me from thrashing. Finally, it was over. I pulled my jeans and panties up from my left ankle. After that I ran in a circle, around and around, picking up speed. I heard one of them say, “This chick is nuts. Let’s go.”
After that night, I didn’t stand still enough to feel anything. I kept secrets from my parents because I couldn’t bear the shame—they’d been right to say, “Stay away from those kids.” The humiliation of rape stayed inside. I bounced from one junior-high clique to another until I ran right into Lloyd’s arms.
The night our rubber ripped, we’d made love in the woods. Soon after that I began putting on weight. My breasts were filling out like my older sister’s and I thought, ‘I’m a woman now.’ One morning after a hot cup of cocoa, I felt queasy and ran to the bathroom. When I threw up, I figured it was the flu.
A week later, my mother and I went shopping for bathing suits. Each one I’d picked to try on was too tight. My mother was staring at me. “Are you pregnant?” she whispered.
I rolled my eyes at her and gave her a scowl. “Of course not!”
But it got me to thinking, so the next day at school, I told a girlfriend everything. She said, “It sounds like you are. There’s a clinic where you can get tested.”
When I told Lloyd, he teared up. “We’ll get married!” he said.
I began thinking about a cute baby girl. We’d dress her in pink dresses with lace, matching bonnets, and socks. I imagined her face — her father’s mix of Native American and Black, and my Russian Jewish heritage meant her skin would be the color of cocoa and her hair shiny black.
It only took a few days to realize we couldn’t afford the pretty outfits I imagined. I’d been babysitting for a year. Babies need cribs, toys, diapers, and food. My tiny income and meager allowance weren’t nearly enough. Lloyd lived with his aunt in the ghetto section of town. His mother was a chronic gambler and consistently absent from his life. He didn’t know his father.
That same week, my suspicious mother, tipped off by my expanding waistline, scheduled a doctor’s visit for me under the pretense of an annual physical. She had always made appointments for me, so I didn’t think twice when she said, “Tuesday is your checkup.” But unbeknownst to me, she’d requested a blood test to find out if I was pregnant.
The day before the abortion, I sat in math class so it appeared my hands were in my lap but really I held them to my belly. Through my fingers, I explained why I couldn’t have her. She’d wince with shame about her ninth-grade dropout mom. I couldn’t be sure she’d have a father. Would Lloyd stay when we fought over diapers? Would he stay through fights over money? Would he spend the little we had on beer and pot? Such serious thoughts for a 14-year-old but I’m glad I was smart enough to have them.
When I asked Lloyd to come with me to the clinic, he shook his head “no” and wept. He promised he would pay his half of the money. For my portion, I used what I had saved from my clothing allowance. I would have to forfeit the new shirt and pants I’d planned to buy from the boutique I always passed on my walk to junior high school.
After I found out where to go, I took a 30-minute taxi from my home in Port Washington, Long Island, to Hempstead, Long Island, to the Bill Baird Clinic. Everything there looked sterilized — white or metallic — even the receptionist’s coffee cup at the front desk looked shiny and new. Pleasant, smiling people led me around. I was given a thin, sleeveless, cloth robe, slippers, and a locker to put my stuff in. I took off my jeans, Keds sneakers, and orange T-shirt with an ironed-on Stevie Wonder. There were tiny cracks on Stevie Wonder’s dreadlocks from putting him in the dryer by accident.
The doctor said I was three months pregnant and if I’d waited one more week it would’ve been illegal to perform the abortion. Hearing that made me feel dizzy and sick. The nurse told me to lie down on the table and put my feet in the stirrups. She gave me a Valium. I felt numb but noticed goose bumps on my arms. I tried to block out the image of the baby’s face while I lay on a freezing cold table with my legs spread wide. The doctor said, “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt.”
It still hurts.
But even as the vacuum sucked out my insides and I imagined my baby screaming, I knew I was doing the right thing. My belly held only the fertilized egg; a fetus that might or might not become a little girl. If I’d let my pregnancy last full-term, I would never have been able to give her up. And even if she was pried from my arms and handed over for adoption, she would never know why her real mother hadn’t loved her enough to keep her. My life and her life would’ve been ruined. I would’ve had to drop out of school to care for her when I was only a child myself.
Our family physician called soon after with the results of the covert pregnancy test. I told her I’d already had the abortion and begged her not to tell my parents, but because I was only 14, she said she could lose her license if she didn’t. My mother was furious when she got off the phone and berated me for lying to her. My father yelled, “Which one of them was it?” My mother slapped him and defended me, “She only has one boyfriend!”
I had never even witnessed an argument between my parents and it felt like my world was exploding. Already so guilt-ridden, terrified, and depressed, I ran to my room. My relationship with my parents worsened after that, and wouldn’t begin to mend until more than a decade later. As the incident became a distant memory, we learned how to forgive each other.
As much as I hated having an abortion, I felt then — and still feel — it was the right choice for me. What if the law had said that wasn’t my decision to make? The terror of telling my parents, my desperation, and strong will, would have sent me fleeing to find another way to abort. A back alley? A wire hanger? I might’ve died. Thank goodness, I had a choice.
This essay previously appeared in Woman’s Day.
Dorri Olds’ work has appeared in many publications including Marie Claire, Forward, Tablet, The Establishment and The Fix. She is a long-term member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Author’s Guild. Her short stories have been included in 7 anthology books including the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She has been a guest on TV shows, including Dr. Drew, 7 on Your Side and NY1. She has also been on a number of radio shows and is a frequent speaker. Learn more about her at Dorri@DorriOlds.com