14 Their Abortions
-by Kathryn Petersen
The elderly man sitting on the bench next to Marie in Washington Park smiled and gestured to Marie’s baby bump. It was all she could do not to roll her eyes. Besides for her usual inability to control her potty mouth and bad moods, the one thing Marie did not expect from her unexpected pregnancy was the constant empathetic look from strangers. Marie nodded at the man before drifting off in thought.
29 weeks, she thought, as she covered her face in her hands and thought back to the moment she found out about her pregnancy. She had felt hopeless, but she just couldn’t bring herself to get an abortion. She had blacked out at a New Year’s party with her New York University friends and had woken up next to her ex-boyfriend, Connor. Connor was smart and attractive, but those two qualities did not constitute a good father. She decided not to tell him about the pregnancy and to her relief, the two parted ways. Besides, how was Marie supposed to talk about her predicament with a guy she didn’t love, or with her accomplished father, or with her perfect roommate, or with…
“Dear, are you okay?” asked the elderly man on the bench. Marie looked up at the man from her hands and returned to reality.
“Oh yeah. I’m fine. Thanks.”
Bringing her head up, she noticed her father waiting in his black BMW on Washington Square West. She walked over to the car and threw her backpack in the trunk.
“Are you nervous? Have you decided if you’ll find out the gender of the baby? Have you talked to the boy yet?” Her father lowered his voice. “Marie, he should know what’s going on.”
Every time. Every time she saw him, he interrogated her.
“Yes to question one. No to question two. And you already know the answer to question three. Of course I haven’t talked to him,” snapped Marie.
At the OBGYN, the greeting of her overly enthusiastic doctor interrupted her frustration from the tense car ride.
“Good afternoon Marie!” sang Dr. Brunner. She turned to Marie’s father. “Hello Dr. Mueller! How are you both?”
Marie learned after her first two visits that Dr. Brunner’s voice would not tone down.
Dr. Brunner led Marie into an examination room and left her with a gown. Marie put on the gown and looked in the mirror. Turning side to side, she looked at her reflection. Looking at her short brown hair, brown eyes and olive skin, she wondered what her baby would look like.
She was a college freshman studying Journalism at NYU, and despite the sadness and disappointment in her dad’s eyes after telling him that she was pregnant, she drew strength from her independence. After all, her dad raised Marie on his own. She confidently claimed she could do the same. Marie smiled for the first time that day and sat on the table.
“Are you ready?” asked Dr. Brunner while gently knocking on the door.
“Yes,” responded Marie, confidently. She felt the strange jelly on her stomach and saw her baby on the screen.
Holy shit, it’s so much bigger than last time, thought Marie. Marie had the same thought every time, but the view on the sonogram monitor still caught her by surprise. Marie looked at Dr. Brunner, expecting to hear the usual enthusiastic report.
“Ummm. Just a moment,” she said in a shaky tone while flashing Marie an uneasy smile. Dr. Brunner scurried out of the room and returned with a man Marie didn’t recognize.
“Hiya Marie. How ya doin?” he asked in an overly casual tone. The doctor took the wand from Dr. Brunner and began to rub it on her belly. “Hmm. Okay. Okay. Yeah. I see,” he muttered to himself.
For what felt like an eternity, both Dr. Brunner and the male doctor excused themselves from the room. Marie sat anxiously on the examination table, unable to relax. When the two finally entered the room after knocking on the door, Marie did not give them a chance to speak first.
“What’s going on?” she blurted. “I might be young to be a mom, but I can very well understand when something’s not right.”
“So looking at these results,” started the male doctor hesitantly. “You’ve developed polyhydramnios.”
Marie nervously looked at the doctor.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“There’s a lot amniotic fluid in your uterus right now. And. Well. It looks like your baby can’t swallow it. It looks like he isn’t developing the ability to swallow in the womb. Which. Actually. It’s how he develops the ability to breathe outside of the womb. We’ll do more tests…but.”
“H-h-he?” stammered Marie. She sat up slowly and felt Dr. Brunner squeeze her hand. “It’s a he? I’m having a boy?”
Dr. Brunner and the male doctor exchanged looks. Dr. Brunner looked back at Marie and while maintaining her gaze, slowly said to the other doctor, “I can take it from here. Marie, yes, you are having a son. But he can’t swallow and there’s just too much fluid in your uterus. When you deliver,” she paused. “If you deliver, he will…well…he’ll suffocate to death.”
Marie viciously shook her head. Twenty nine weeks earlier this news would not have disturbed Marie. Now, the news was an emotional blow. For the first time after finding out she was pregnant, she felt weak and horrified.
The male doctor casually stepped in. “We can give recommendations for abortion, but not in New York.”
Her wet eyes widened. She looked down at her stomach. The empathetic looks that were so damn annoying now broke her heart. She didn’t understand. After accepting her fate as a strong, single mother, she now felt weak and helpless.
Without responding, she put her head down on the pillow, closed her eyes, and overheard Dr. Brunner in a faraway tone Marie didn’t recognize.
“Go get her father.”
Five years. It’s been five years. And on the anniversary of Gaby’s perilous and illegal journey to the United States at the age of 13, she stood in the bathroom of Don José Panadería during her lunch break, holding a positive pregnancy test.
“Gaby!” shouted her friend and coworker, Vanessa, as she knocked on the bathroom door. “Qué pasó amiiiga?”
“Um,” started Gaby. “Un momentito!” she forced. In a quieter tone, she said “just… give me a moment.”
“Mmmkay chica, well hurry!” responded Vanessa through the door.
Gaby looked down at the small blue plus sign on the test. After shoving it in her pocket, she splashed her face with water and looked at herself in the mirror. She was tired. The bags under her eyes reminded her of the early morning shifts at Don José’s and the late nights babysitting the children of the Peters familia. They reminded Gaby of her struggle to find consistency and stability in her life. Nevertheless, they also reminded her of what she escaped when she came to Presidio, Texas at the age of 13. Now, she was an undocumented 17-year-old in the United States, holding two jobs to make ends meet while sending money back to her mother.
Gaby dried her face, forced a smile, and ventured back to Don Jose’s kitchen. Vanessa looked at her strangely.
“Amiga. I know when something’s gone wrong. ¿Qué pasó?”
Gaby looked down at her old sneakers. It was exhausting to be positive all the time, but Gaby had no other option. She was lucky to have a job, to have Don José’s familia, to have the Peters, and especially to have Vanessa.
“I’m fine!” she said with a smile while picking up her lunch and heading to the patio. Vanessa followed. Gaby noticed Vanessa looking at her pocket. Before she could move, Vanessa pulled the positive pregnancy test out of Gaby’s pocket and gasped. It was unusual for Vanessa to stay quiet, but this time she was speechless.
Wide-eyed, Vanessa whispered, “Gaby. I’m so sorry.” And for the first time in their four-and-a-half-year friendship, Gaby was the one that started to cry.
“Listen, it will be okay!” Vanessa said. Clearly, her exclamation was not so much to convince Gaby but more so to convince herself.
“Cómo!” shouted Gaby.
Vanessa paused. This was new territory. For the first time, Gaby was in a sticky situation instead of Vanessa. Gaby was outwardly emotional instead of Vanessa. As Vanessa paused, surprised of this new dynamic, Gaby continued.
“Listen. I’ve worked so hard,” she sobbed. “And here I go, ruining everything! I’m 17 years old! How can I support a child if I can barely support myself…or…or take time for myself? How can I support a child when I can’t even fulfill my promise to send money back to my mamá? I can’t even take days off work and pay my rent. And what will she think? And I refuse,” she paused and wiped her eyes. Continuing in a softer yet shakier tone, “I refuse to tell him about this. So I’m on my own.”
Vanessa knew who Gaby referred to when she practically spat the word “him.”
“Mira,” responded Vanessa, cautiously. “You’re not alone. I’m here for you and we’ll figure out what to do. Let’s go over the options.”
Vanessa handed Gaby a napkin. Gaby wiped her eyes, blew her nose and stared down at the ground.
“I can’t have this child,” she sobbed quietly. “I can’t. I’m poor. I’m undocumented. I’m too young.” Vanessa rubbed Gaby’s back as Gaby put her face in her hands and weakly whispered, “I have no family here.”
Gaby thought for a moment while staring down at the cracked, dry earth. She lowered her voice to a small whisper.
“So,” she started to tell Vanessa, “the pharmacies in Ojinaga…in México…I’ve heard of people crossing the border and getting drugs without a prescription. I don’t think they are too expensive. Maybe, no sé…maybe…”
“Gaby!” Vanessa shouted. “You really think you can cross the border again without being caught?” The accusatory tone and the emphasis on “again” made Gaby cry again.
Vanessa put her hand on Gaby’s back, and in a calmer tone, said, “You don’t have to give birth to this child chica. We’ll find a way.”
Marie stared at her laptop back at home. Home, home. Not her school apartment. The 23 tabs open on her computer stared back at her. Abortion in New York read an article. Below the title listed the New York Senate Section 125.05 statute defining homicide. Maria read the statute for the eighth time. Homicide was the word that made this real. She was killing her child. Her baby boy.
Section three defined a “justifiable” abortional act as committed upon a female with her consent by a duly licensed physician acting (a) under a reasonable belief that such is necessary to preserve her life, or, (b) within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of her pregnancy.
“Unlike New York,” Dr. Brunner had said gently, “Colorado will administer abortions if it’s a threat to the mental or emotional health of the mother or if the baby would be born with birth defects.”
Marie flipped tabs on Google Chrome to her Delta plane ticket. Her dad’s credit card was on the table next to the laptop as she looked at the ticket taking her from JFK International Airport to Denver. Lucky her that she even had a dad that could afford the $500 last minute plane ticket, and then again afford the $10,000 shot to stop the baby’s heart. She couldn’t believe insurance wouldn’t contribute anything. Afterward, she would travel back to New York to induce labor per Dr. Mueller’s hesitant recommendation. Just not the labor she expected.
Marie bought the plane ticket to plan for her departure in two weeks and slammed her laptop closed. She heard a knock on her door. She turned her head to see her dad leaning against the door frame. Marie observed that he looked almost as exhausted and overwhelmed as she did.
“Do you need anything?” asked her father.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“How are you feeling?” he pressed.
“Tired. And I want to be alone,” Marie said shakily while fixing her gaze on the laptop. “This…” she thought about what word she could use to truly capture her grief. “This just…sucks.”
Instead of fighting her tone with his usual positivity, Marie’s father simply nodded and sighed.
“Connor should know about this.”
Marie turned her chair to face him and crossed her arms over her baby bump. “Dad,” she started, struggling to maintain a steady tone. “He wouldn’t care.”
She opened her laptop again and switched tabs from her plane ticket receipt to the New York Magazine article titled “My Abortion” and read a story of an older woman who resorted to the dangerous black market to receive an abortion.
Is this normal? she thought.
For the first time in 29 weeks, she thought about the bright side and compared her story to the story on her computer screen.
I have a dad who will pay for this. What about the girls who can’t afford it?
Two weeks after learning about her pregnancy, Gaby heard a knock on her door and lifted her face from her hands. She wiped her eyes, stood up from the couch and opened the door to the modest room she rented above the Panadería.
“What’s wrong? Did you change your mind?” Asked Vanessa as she walked into Gaby’s room and plopped down on the couch.
Gaby responded slowly. “No… I’m just trying to process everything.”
Vanessa rifled around in her bag. She pulled out a white box with a pink and black border. It read, CYTOTEC Misoprostol.
“How…how did you find it?” asked Gaby as she took the box and started to open it.
“Well they’re sold at flea markets closer to the border. My friend knew how to ask for it in code and bargained for some pills. They were fifty dollars.”
Gaby looked at Vanessa with wide eyes.
“Fifty?!” She exclaimed. Fifty dollars was excessive.
“Gaby, what was your other option? The amiga who got me this box from the flea market told me it’s 500 at a clinic here in the states. And you have to actually find a doctor and afford to miss work and make three consecutive appointments. You can’t afford that. And you need to be cautious. You’re still trying to get citizenship.”
Gaby was not used to Vanessa’s levelheaded thinking. Usually the roles were reversed. She still didn’t understand where the pills came from.
“There aren’t any directions on the box. What do I do?” asked Gaby as she dumped the contents on the floor.
“The man at the stall told mi amiga what he advises girls to do. He told her about eight or ten pills should get the job done if you’re nine weeks along.”
Gaby quickly turned her head to make eye contact with Vanessa. “This is common?”
Vanessa nodded. “It’s used for abortions, yes, but it was made to treat ulcers. That’s what mi amiga told me. I think it is safe.”
Gaby was scared for her life, but she had no other option. She broke the shiny foil and put eight pills in her hand. Thumbing the hexagon shaped pills, Gaby accepted a glass of water from Vanessa. Gaby winced, and Vanessa squeezed her hand for good measure as Gaby popped the pills in her mouth and followed them with several gulps of water.
“What would my mamá think? What if he knew about this?”
Vanessa didn’t respond. She squeezed Gaby’s hand and brought her a blanket and a pillow. Even in the Texas heat, Gaby curled up on the couch, covered her body and fell asleep.
Two hours later, she awoke in pain. Vanessa was on the floor reading a magazine Gaby left on the side table.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” asked Vanessa in earnest.
Gaby groaned and put her hands on her abdomen. “Cramps. Really, really bad cramps.”
Gaby got up to go to the bathroom. Propping herself up on the wall as she maneuvered herself around her tiny room, she reached the bathroom and looked back at Vanessa staring at the couch. Gaby followed Vanessa’s worried gaze to a deep red stain covering an entire couch cushion. Vanessa turned her head to look at Gaby and put her hands over her mouth.
“Oh my god,” she whispered.
Gaby looked down at her jeans to find them soaked in blood. She was speechless.
“Oh my god,” repeated Vanessa.
“What do we do?!” yelled Gaby.
Vanessa regained her confidence. “Okay, um, I’m going to call mi amiga. Siéntate. Sit on the toilet and I’ll let you know what she says.”
Gaby sat down and overheard Vanessa talking on the phone. Her panicked friend discussed with the girl on the other end of the line, who surprisingly picked up even though it was half past midnight.
“Okay bien. Muchas gracias,” Gaby overheard. Vanessa looked at Gaby. “Mira, this is supposed to be normal, I think it means it’s working.”
Gaby sensed that Vanessa not only trying to convince Gaby, but herself as well.
“Vanessa. I need to go to work tomorrow. I can’t afford to miss. You know I can’t afford to miss. I can’t afford it,” repeated Gaby, in between painful moans.
“That’s the least of our concerns right now,” Vanessa snapped.
Gaby got up from the toilet with Vanessa’s help and changed out of her jeans into her comfortable sweats. Before helping her onto the couch, Vanessa flipped the dark red couch cushion. The worn floral print of the couch replaced the dark red stain.
“I’ll stay with you tonight, and we’ll see how you feel in the morning. I’ll be right next to you,” Gaby heard Vanessa say as Gaby drifted off to sleep.
Two weeks after her stillbirth, Marie opened her laptop. The 23 tabs she had not yet closed greeted her. Staring back at her on the computer screen was the picture of a woman under the headline, “My Abortion.”
Marie opened up a word document and titled it, “Our Abortions.” She began to write.
One month after her abortion, Gaby’s phone buzzed. She looked down into the pocket of her apron and saw Vanessa’s name light up the screen. During her lunch break, Gaby read the message.
Vanessa: amiga i found this article/blog thing & the author is asking for submissions
Gaby clicked on the link and opened an article titled “Our Abortions.” She scrolled through stories compiled by a girl named Marie Mueller. Women from all over the country contributed to the blog, adding their stories and struggles. Gaby read stories of women like her, women who were undocumented or could not afford the days off work to visit a clinic and meet with the same doctor on three separate occasions, as mandated by Texas state law. She found stories of women who tried to become mothers and suffered pregnancy complications. The author, a young girl from New York, even shared her story of spending over $11,000 to travel to Colorado and receive a late term abortion. It amazed Gaby that someone could afford $11,000 when she could barely scrape together the $50 for her abortion pills.
She read even more stories of women who used the same hexagon shaped pills that Gaby used to abort the baby at home. They even got the pills at flea markets along the border. Immigrants desperate for income smuggled the pills that were over the counter in Mexico but required a prescription in the United States. There was not one story of a woman who used Misoprostol and did not bleed. In fact, many of the women went to the hospital because their uterus ruptured. The home abortion oftentimes did not work and instead resulted in birth defects. Gaby couldn’t believe it. She felt close with these women who shared her terrible experience.
Gaby put her drink down and wiped the tears from her eyes. On her small phone screen, she clicked on the textbox and reflected on her own abortion experience as a minor, as a Texan, as an undocumented immigrant and as a struggling young girl. She took a deep breath, and she began to write.
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