At 10 years old, I had two rules about life: I would never get married and I would never have babies. I have broken my first rule twice. I have never wavered about the second.
I came close to becoming a mother once. Not by choice, but in an entirely brutalized way. I was 24 and breaking up with a man I had been with for eight years. We had met when I was 16 and he was 20. He had been a tremendous part of my formative experience, romantic and otherwise. When I was 24, we were engaged and were planning our wedding when I realized through a series of events that I did not love this man and did not want to marry him. I realized that the life I would create without him would be so much fuller, wilder, freer than the life I would have with him.
My fiancé did not want to break up. He cried, he threatened suicide. He called my parents and my friends at all hours of the night weeping and asking them to convince me to return to him. He told my parents he had lost his job over pining for me. It was a lie, one of many that kept me trapped in a crucible of guilt and shame. Who was I to hurt someone so deeply? Who was I to destroy his life as he said I was doing? As a South Asian woman, how dare I choose a man so easily and then as easily give him up? I knew that breaking up with him would ruin my reputation in my communities both in LA and back home in Sri Lanka. He too was Sri Lankan. But as the woman, the breakup would cast a certain taint on my character, not his. I didn't care. I had tasted freedom, and I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. It was a desire so sharp and clean I could feel it in my body like an ache.
In that final chaotic month, my fiancé begged me to go on one last trip with him and stupidly, I gave in. In the neon wastelands of Las Vegas, he begged me to have sex with him one more time. That crucible I mentioned before had become a vice. There was an added ingredient: pity. I slept with him one last and final time. I had stopped using birth control. He promised he would not come in me and then immediately he did and I knew with a gutting fear that he had impregnated me. I rolled over and wept while he showered. It was 1997, I had never heard of the morning after pill, even if it existed then. I took a pregnancy test two weeks later and it was positive.
When I told him there was a spark of glee in his eyes. I realized that he believed this meant I would stay with him, that I would bear his children and live in his house for the rest of my life. I felt the bars of a prison closing around me. South Asian women are not supposed to sleep with men. We were not supposed to get pregnant outside marriage. We are not supposed to get abortions. But I "failed" on all counts.
Getting an abortion was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. There was a girl volunteering on that day, and I held her hand so hard I think I could have broken it. I stared into her green eyes and I think she saved me. I wish I knew her name so that I could thank her. A few weeks after my abortion, my fiancé revealed to a mutual friend that he had planned to get me pregnant. He had thought this was the way to get me to stay. If I had the baby, we would be a happy family. If I decided to get an abortion, he would stand by me and prove how supportive he was and win me back that way. I broke up with him and I've never seen him again. This feels like a blessing.
I deeply regret the circumstances that led me to get pregnant and have an abortion. I wish I could have talked to that younger version of myself and told her that her body belonged only to herself, that she did not have to please the man or the community. I wish I had the inner resources to walk away at the first sign of danger but that only came with time and experience.
I do not, however, regret the abortion. I am deeply grateful that I had the privilege of choice. I am grateful that my younger self had the intuition to follow her own path, to remain childless and claim the life that she had only glimpsed then.
In the almost two decades since, I've never felt those deep maternal urges other women talk about. I've never felt that painful desire for my very own baby. Still, I think about her every now and then. The daughter I might have borne. She's always a girl. Of this much I am convinced. I calculate how old she would be now. It astounds me that in a parallel life I could have been a mother to an 18-year-old. I am thankful that I was not forced to be her mother. These days, I am learning compassion, for the naïve young girl I was, for the baby girl who was never born and perhaps even for that tortured man who committed this sin.
On Mother's Day, we are always reminded of our own mothers and extolled to call them, to appreciate them. But I am also always reminded of the mother I never was and never will be.
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