I Used To Hide My Abortions – Not Anymore

By Isidra Mencos

The United States Supreme Court has overturned Roe Vs Wade, which could lead to complete bans or severe restrictions on abortions on many states. The fact that conservative legislatures have thwarted women’s freedom to make this difficult and often necessary choice, enrages me but also galvanizes me. I suspect many people around the U.S. will open their homes for pilgrims seeking abortions in states that still respect a woman’s right to choose. I know I will, because someone did the same for me.

I was 24 years old, broke, and living alone in my hometown of Barcelona when I first got pregnant. I had dated the baby’s father for a few months, but he was a traveling salesman from a different country and only came to visit occasionally. Once I discovered he traded in drugs, I cut all ties with him. I found out I was expecting two weeks later. 

I wasn’t emotionally of financially ready to be a mother, even less a single mother. I couldn’t take care of an infant when I struggled to pay the rent and keep the house heated. A pregnancy would also jeopardize my part-time job and the likelihood of getting another, not to speak about the shock that a child out of wedlock would cause in my very Catholic family. 

Had my life been less messy perhaps it would have occurred to me to keep the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption, but it wasn’t an option you heard about in Spain in the early 80s and the thought didn’t cross my mind. 

Abortions were illegal at the time, but a friend of mine had a sister in Amsterdam who offered to put me up for a couple of days. Like thousands of Spanish women I made the pilgrimage to a Dutch abortion clinic, after borrowing money for the plane ticket. Many women in the U.S. today will not have the privilege of getting such financial and logistical help; they will instead endure illegal and dangerous abortions or birth an unwanted child that may wreak havoc in their lives. 

After the procedure, I tried to push the abortion out of my mind, but it wasn’t easy. It’s not that I regretted my decision, but I sometimes found myself calculating how old the child would be and feeling a pang of guilt. These contradictory feelings increased as I was faced with abortion again, fifteen years later.

I’d been married only a few months when I found myself at the OBGYN office for an ultrasound at eight weeks of pregnancy. My husband couldn’t come with me. When I heard the heartbeat, I sighed with relief. A few years before—I was dating someone else at the time—I’d been devastated when I got pregnant and a sonogram found no fetus; the embryo had stopped developing, it was reabsorbed, and it left behind an empty sac. The galloping heart this time around reassured me.

“Please take a lot of pictures, so I can show them to my husband,” I asked the technician. I suspected something was wrong when she said she wanted the doctor to take a look. The OBGYN confirmed it; he explained that the baby had a genetic condition, and it was not viable. I would either have a miscarriage or, if I made it to term, it would be stillborn or die immediately after birth. A late miscarriage would put my life at risk, so he recommended an abortion.

I couldn’t accept it. This was my second pregnancy since I’d gotten married. I’d had an early miscarriage with the previous one. I was 39 years old. Time was running out. I said I’d take my chances. The doctor suggested that I talk to a genetic counselor and seek a second opinion. 

 The geneticist and the second OBGYN concurred. I still wasn’t convinced. My husband and I spent a week trying to decide what to do. In the end, the prospect of leaving him alone, without a spouse or a child, tipped the balance towards termination. 

 I fell into a depression that lasted a year. I hated going to the doctor and filling questionnaires about how many pregnancies, children, miscarriages, and abortions I’d had. I lied. I buried what had happened and called it a miscarriage. I told myself it was justified because if I hadn’t had the D&C, I would have lost the baby anyway. In reality, it hurt too much to admit that I’d had something to do with the end of its life. 

My mother understood it better than anyone. She believed terminating the pregnancy was the right thing to do, but she wrote in a letter that she knew how much more pain it would cause me, when I’d wanted this baby more than anything in the world. 

 I think most women feel conflicted about abortion and don’t take the decision lightly. Abortion can leave a mark—sadness, guilt, even shame. I carried complex feelings for years, but I eventually made peace with the truth: I hadn’t been able to welcome these two beings into the world, and it was the best I could do at the time; I would have been an unfit mother for the first, and I needed to protect my husband and myself from a bigger loss with the second. 

The next time I’m asked those painful questions at a doctor’s office I’ll tell the truth: Pregnancies: 7. Children: 1. Miscarriages: 4. Abortions: 2. I may feel a lingering sadness, but I am not ashamed. It’s my life, it’s my body, and it is nobody’s business what I do with it. 

Isidra Mencos was born and raised in Barcelona. She spent her twenties experimenting with the new freedoms afforded by the end of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, bouncing from man to man and job to job while immersing herself in books and dancing. She freelanced for prestigious publishing houses, traveled the world as a tour leader, and worked for the Olympic Committee. In 1992 she moved to the U.S. to enter a PhD program on Spanish and Latin American Contemporary Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. After a ten-year stint in the corporate world, in 2016 Isidra quit her job to dedicate herself to writing creative nonfiction in English. Her debut memoir “Promenade of Desire—A Barcelona Memoir” will come out October 2022 at She Writes Press.

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