No One's Going to Bring You Cake
by S. Taylor
My story begins with soymilk. I was not vegan or vegetarian at the time, but the craving was strong. I woke up in my college apartment, a tiny, cramped place with only one cupboard and a refrigerator so old and small that I called it the “icebox.” I was a budding artist with a full-time job as an assistant at a drug and alcohol rehab facility.
It was Christmas break. I woke up in the morning and walked to the kitchen in my pajamas. I was running water for the kettle to make coffee in my French press (we were poor, yes, but I was not a barbarian). Suddenly, I was overtaken with a wave of nausea so intense that it knocked me to the floor. I caught my breath and managed not to throw up. It was gone as suddenly as it came. At the time, I did not think much of it. I had Things to Do. A Job to Go To. Friends to See.
I typically bought milk at a farmer’s market. Like I said, I was poor - not a barbarian. But the next time I went to the grocery store – after work on a Sunday, when it was quiet—I bought a carton of vanilla flavored soy milk. I drank the whole carton in one sitting.
It was normal for people at my job to ask the nurses for medical advice and to swipe the occasional box of Band-Aids or ibuprofen. Many of us were young and underpaid. Each patient with a uterus was tested for pregnancy when they were admitted. So, on New Year’s Eve, I asked the nurses for a pregnancy test, though I was certain there wasn’t a chance I could be pregnant. My body had acted in bizarre ways before. I once had my period for an entire summer; my doctor attributed that to stress. I figured my body was decompressing after a stressful semester. Or something.
The plus sign was faint. The horizontal line was pronounced, but the vertical line? Not as much. I showed it to the nurses. They both agreed it looked positive. I was incredulous, so they suggested we put it in the refrigerator because that sometimes makes the results clearer. The lines darkened.
A few weeks earlier, I’d hosted a Festivus party at my apartment. Officially, the party may still be going on - I’m not sure anyone pinned the host, as the rules dictate. I remember buying two cases of beer and a few bottles of wine. It was snowing, all my friends were there, and we had a great time. I don’t remember going to bed. There was a guy in my room. I am not sure what happened. I only remember tiny flashes of darkness. I woke up alone with someone else’s pubic hair in my underwear, glad that it was Friday, and I did not have to go to work.
I did not tell my boyfriend what happened that night. He was not someone I was comfortable talking to about discomfiting events. Rather, I told another male friend I had a weird memory from the night of the party: there was some guy in my bed and he was on top of me. My friend was puzzled. He said, “Was he an asshole about it, though?” He meant, did I have bruises? Was I sore? Do I remember being forcibly held down? I did not. I never called it an “assault” or a “rape,” because the things I did not remember far outnumber the things I did remember. I didn’t tell anyone else about it for a long time.
When I finally told my boyfriend that I was pregnant, I know that, on some level, he disapproved. He was a quiet, reserved sort, brought up the same way I was, in the Bible belt, by less outspoken, although perhaps even more staunch conservatives than my own parents. We had grown up together, dated for a long time, and everyone assumed we would get married. Our relationship was characterized by the hiding of feelings. It was volatile. We broke up a lot. I did not want to have a baby with him. I did not want to have a baby at all. I did not open the discussion for alternatives. I said, “I want to schedule an abortion as soon as possible.”
Now might be the time where you, dear Reader, might be tempted to judge me. You may be tempted to ask if I was promiscuous? Did I sleep around? That’s fair. I am putting my personal business out into the ether. I am not afraid of judgement anymore. The fact that a woman’s sexual history comes up during these discussions is deeply troubling. For years after my abortion, I felt that judgement. I felt like I needed to be exceptional, I needed to be special, to justify it. There needed to be extenuating circumstances. I was often frustrated with how ordinary I was. I don’t know if the pregnancy and the assault were related. I was not equipped to find out.
If the pregnancy was a direct result of the assault, would you see me as sympathetic? Would you forgive me? Let me ask you: Do you sympathize with men who sleep around? Do you forgive men for being promiscuous? Would it be easier for you to read about a man who financed an abortion, instead of the woman who had the procedure?
The truth is complicated. It has layers. Was I sexually active? Yes. I also was careless when it came to birth control. I used it most of the time. I was an art student and a writer. Both of those fields were and still are a man’s game. When men drank and wrote about their drunken exploits, they were behaving as men should and were considered funny and genuine. Women are not given that luxury. At the time, I did not respect myself enough to establish healthy boundaries in my relationships. I felt that the assault was the rent I paid for playing with the big boys: I could drink beer and do shots like they did. I could write stories about my drunken exploits.
The person who assaulted me was known in our circle as the kind of guy who would hang around and then offer to walk home the drunkest girl at the party. None of us questioned it at the time, because that sort of predatory behavior is normalized among college students. Had I been a better feminist and a healthier person, I would have warned other people about him. As it was, I just did not invite him over anymore.
I have an agenda. I want to normalize sexuality and I want to normalize abortion. I want the world to understand that abortion is normal, usual, and necessary. I want to create space for people who have had an abortion to be able to talk about their experiences. I am also aware of the fact that writers are typically told not to state an obvious agenda in a piece of work. I am not supposed to do that, or even write about this story at all. I have an agenda and a story and the knowledge that stories are the most powerful things we have.
I was a Women’s Studies minor. I knew the statistics. I read Our Bodies, Ourselves the previous year, during winter break, on the sofa of a professor for whom I was house sitting. I read feminist writers, and I listened to feminist music. And yet, the only personal accounts of abortion I’d read or heard at that time were from Gloria Steinem and the folk-punk musician Ani DiFranco. They were exceptional women in their respective fields, and I felt they were doing a great service by speaking up. Now, it’s my turn to speak up.
In my head, I imagined all sorts of scenarios. I imagined going to my classes pregnant. I imagined the judgement of the other students, and people shaking their heads that I had ruined my bright future.
I imagined driving the baby to spend time with my boyfriend’s parents. I imagined telling them I was pregnant, and everyone assuming we’d have a shotgun wedding. I knew that if I carried this pregnancy to term, that the responsibilities of parenting would be mine alone - co-parenting was not an option with him. I knew at the time that if I married him, I would eventually have to divorce him. I imagined being irritated with the baby for looking like or acting like him, or worse, looking like or acting like the guy who assaulted me. I was not prepared to do any of those things. It was not the life I wanted.
My boyfriend drove me about an hour and a half to the clinic. I did not go to a local facility. The closest one was an hour away, but I was afraid of being recognized by protesters. My parents are hardline evangelical Republicans. Mom volunteered at an anti-abortion clinic; she’s a passionate anti-abortion advocate. I do not ask her about it. She does not ask me. I was not raised to be the woman I became. I was not raised for the world in which I live.
My sister had her first baby in 1995, when she was a Junior in high school. I was in sixth grade and just excited to have someone in the house younger than I was. My brother, who was a year older, wanted her to have an abortion. She would not hear of it. She lived through the agony of judgement. Women stopped her in the grocery store to tell her how sick her teenaged, pregnant body made them feel. Her high school English teacher refused to meet with her tutor because of religious convictions, whatever that means. The “pro-life” members of our community treated her abominably.
My sister gave birth to her second baby when I was nineteen. I don’t remember being particularly supportive of her at the time; I do remember witnessing the strangeness of childbirth and its raw, visceral pain and realizing it did not appeal to me, though I love children and was thrilled to be an aunt for the second time. I helped with the baby; rocked her to sleep when my sister worked night shift, and woke up with her in the mornings. I took my nieces to carnivals, I took them swimming, I read them stories. Part of this telling is for them.
I got up early that morning and took my dog out. It was a Monday. I wore a red shirt with black stripes on it. We went to the ATM machine first, because payment needed to be cash and paid upfront. I had health insurance at the time, but I did not check to see if it included elective abortion care. I did not trust HR. The $900 fee felt insurmountable, though I made my boyfriend pay half. I am not sure how I paid my rent that month.
There were no protestors outside the clinic that day, thankfully. I cannot imagine the pain of scraping together the money, the support, and then being shouted at and judged and shamed and humiliated on the way to get the care you need. The women in the lobby were kind and helpful— after they counted the money. It made me uncomfortable. I was not used to having to pay more than a small copay to see a doctor. I did not understand how those things worked. I was privileged and sheltered.
From a downstairs lobby, we ascended stairs to the clinic itself. We sat silently in a beige waiting room; a television played a cooking show, and several other anxious people tried to avoid eye contact.
I opted for a pill abortion. I was only four weeks, confirmed by an ultrasound. I did not think that the ultrasound was necessary, and I did not look at the picture. I don’t remember the ultrasound technician, but the doctor who looked at the picture said, “Four weeks, three days.”
From there, I was shown to an office where I was given Mifepristone and Misoprostol. The Mifepristone had to be taken in the presence of a staff member. I remember taking it like a shot, to show that I was confident. I probably looked like a fool. The Misoprostol was to be taken 48 hours after the Mifepristone. Once I had taken the pill, I was free to go.
I wanted to talk about it, I still do. I did not see why I shouldn’t. Obviously, I wasn’t going to tell my family, but I wanted to talk about it with my friends. No one specifically told me to stop, but I could sense their discomfort when I brought it up. I stopped talking about it.
I wrote a prose poem about having an abortion in a poetry class the next fall. I wrote about the feeling of my body being exposed, being on display, and I shrouded it all in food metaphors. The piece was called “banquet,” and I felt like it was a good piece of writing. On the day of the critique, my class was caught up in tiny details. In particular, the speaker of the piece points out that the sheet she is under is scratchy, probably only 100 thread count. The class was incredulous that this woman, who is obviously poor and ignorant because she’s in the position to seek an abortion at all, knows what thread count is. I did not know what to say about that. I wanted to point out that it is not only the poor, the ignorant, the (insert pejorative here), who seek abortions. One in four women in the United States will seek abortion care before she is forty. Many of these women have children already. But the stereotypes persist. For years after, I only spoke about it with my partner. I did not tell new friends, or my colleagues, or anyone. I am not even certain I told my therapist.
In my thirties, I decide I want an IUD. I go to the gynecologist’s office. During my intake, the nurse asks me if I have ever been pregnant before. She is a medical professional, so I am honest. I say, “I had an abortion in 2005.” She does not have to speak for me to feel her judgement. She inhales sharply and moves on to the next question. When this happens, I am astounded. I am being judged by a nurse who works at a gynecologist’s office. When I visit the next time, and the same nurse asks me if I have ever been pregnant, I just say, “No.”
Later, there was a woman for whom I cleaned house. She was a poet who worked at my university. Her husband had recently died. She told me about her abortion. I also had to interview a woman who was older than me for a women’s studies class project. I interviewed an art professor who shared that she had been pregnant in college. Her sex partner was a medical student, who got a doctor friend to give her a pill. She said that she did not know what the pill was, but that she got her period a few days after taking it. These stories were helpful to me, especially because of the mystery and secrecy that typically shrouds abortion conversations. Recently, I went to see a writer give a talk with a friend. I mentioned casually that I once had an abortion. She replied that she had too. I found comfort in knowing. I hope that she did too.
In 2019, Amanda Palmer, an artist I admire a lot, released There Will Be No Intermission. The record speaks about abortion openly and frankly. When I heard the song “Voicemail for Jill,” I was driving home from work. I pulled my car over to on the side of the road, sobbing. I went to see Palmer’s live show, just before statewide bans on abortion swept across the United States. In the show, Palmer tells stories, and a few of them are about her personal experiences with abortion. When she spoke, I felt less alone. I knew I needed to join the conversation.
I never expected to be writing about this. I never thought I would have to. The necessity of this story is something I underestimated again and again. I also recognize the privilege in all of this, although there are probably layers of privilege that I am not yet aware of. I am a white, cisgendered woman in a rural area of the United States. I had an abortion in 2005, when I was in college. The fact that I had access to higher education, a car, the money that I paid to put gas in that car, and the money that I paid for the care I received speak to my privilege. The fact that I took a day off work for my procedure speaks to my privilege. I am aware of these things, and I am aware that if I were a different person, this story would be even harder to tell and the ending might look very different. However, this is my story. My white bread, Bible- belt story that I’ve carried silently with me for far too long.
The future I want is one where we rally around and support those who need abortion care. We sip tea and order pizza and shed tears and comfort one another. We bring each other heating pads and cake and surround those recovering from a necessary medical procedure with love and care. I hope that sharing my story brings us another step closer to that reality. When I look back at my former self, the frightened young woman who needed an abortion, I know that she was doing her best to care for herself. She deserved to have agency and a life she wanted. When I look at the young women in my life, I see her. I am them; they are me.
About the Author
S. Taylor is an MFA candidate at Wilson College and an English teacher. They write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. When they are not writing, they read and nap with their 12 pets.