When I was 20, I accidentally got pregnant. I’ll admit I wasn’t too concerned with contraceptives or preventative measures at the time. While I’ve always maintained that women should unquestionably have the right to choose, it wasn’t a choice I ever wanted to make.
I knew from the moment the doctor broke the news that I didn’t want to see the pregnancy through, but I struggled with the guilt of my decision from the moment I found out until well after it was over.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 21 out of every 1,000 women in their early 20s had an abortion through 2014. About 18 percent of these women were Hispanic.
Strong opinions tend to come from religious groups debating the morality of choosing to terminate a pregnancy, a prevalent problem in the Latino community.
I struggled with sharing the news with my Mexican mother because of her Catholic upbringing. I was afraid of how she’d react or that her feelings and behavior toward me would change. I was surprised and immensely relieved at her unwavering support. She never tried to influence my decision. Although, I must admit I still haven’t openly discussed it with my Nicaraguan father to this day.
I never doubted that I could trust my friends to have my back, but I recognize that I’m lucky. Not every woman is fortunate enough to have even a fraction of the support that I count on. At the time, my harshest critic was me.
When I arrived at the Planned Parenthood in Whittier, California on Dec. 6, 2011, I expected the protesters outside, but not how their judgement would affect me. It’s one thing to be outraged on behalf of someone else, and something totally different to feel that way in defense of yourself.
The mood in the waiting room varied from somber to excited. When I was called into the back room, I found myself sitting between two other patients roughly my age. One girl cried the entire time I sat next to her while the other calmly read a magazine.
I still wish I’d had the courage to offer comfort to the distraught girl.
When it was my turn, I couldn’t help the tears that started streaming down my face. I was mourning the death of the girl who up until then believed she was invincible. I was mourning the drastic change in my identity and self-perception. But mostly, I was just overwhelmingly disappointed in myself for allowing this to happen in the first place.
I’ll never forget the kind surgeon’s face. He wanted to ensure that I was there of my own freewill and that I felt safe, with zero condemnation. I wish I could remember the name of the attending nurse who held my hand until the anesthesia dragged me under.
My mom waited and drove me home after the procedure, where I curled up in silence all day. It took time to realize that I kept punishing myself because I thought I deserved it. It took even more time to understand that I was doing it because I thought there was something wrong with me for not feeling guilty over this life altering decision.
You see, there was never a moment that I doubted I wanted the abortion. Despite having the support of everyone around me, I knew a baby would prevent me from achieving lifelong goals, and I had no guarantee I wouldn’t grow to resent the child for it.
No one deserves to grow up under those circumstances—but no woman deserves to be attacked for making a decision that’s right for her. With our right to choose threatened, we can’t afford to forget this or be distracted by manipulative propaganda.
I didn’t immediately accomplish all my goals and I continued to make mistakes. But, this semester I’m finally graduating from El Camino with not one, but two degrees and will be attending a university in the fall to complete my first bachelor’s degree.
I’m in a position to start a new career doing something I love. I have the time and freedom to enjoy being young and explore the world on my own terms. It’s OK if you want the same thing.
But it’s also OK if that’s not what you want, or if you continue to feel guilty. You don’t owe me or anyone else an explanation unless you want to give one.
It took time to realize I had nothing to be ashamed of. At seven weeks, the embryo I carried had no concept of existence when it ceased to be. I hadn’t killed anyone, I simply chose the future I wanted over the one I didn’t.
It’s OK to make that choice and it’s important to know when to put yourself first. Having an abortion doesn’t make you selfish or a “bad person.” Try not to be so hard on yourself, because the only person you have to answer to is you.
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For more information, call the National Abortion Federation at 1-800-772-9100. They are available 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.
Update: New Photo added on Oct. 18 at 11:45 a.m.