By Jen Jackson Quintano
The Pro-Voice Project, a stage production of personal stories of reproductive choice, hits the Heartwood Center stage on Saturday, Jan. 28. I invite you to attend and listen deeply. As an act of community. And empathy. And generosity. The area residents who submitted their stories to this project are courageous. I bow deeply to them. In support of their chorus of voices — to make it louder and stronger — I now add my story.
At the age of 25, I found myself engaged to a much older man. A controlling man. A man I believed was teaching me how to be an adult. With sharp words and judgments, he surgically sliced the youth out of me. I told him I was grateful. I needed to grow up, after all.
He was also a man not much into contraception — control of me being more enjoyable than control of his semen — so, in his infinite wisdom, he taught me about my body’s cycle of fertility.
I previously thought pregnancy was magic. The vagina was the top hat, the unprotected penis the wand. Tap, tap, tap. And, voila! A cute little baby gets pulled out by the ears. <Applause> Thank you, thank you, folks. Let’s come again soon.
The fact that pregnancy couldn’t happen any time, but just certain times? My 25-five-year-old, raised-with-abstinence-only-sex-talks mind was blown.
We charted my cycle for a few months. And then we unceremoniously chucked the box of Trojans. No one likes them, anyway. Especially men. Men hate the effing condom.
Soon after retiring the prophylactics, I missed my period.
Reproduction is a little bit magical after all.
Magical, as in, beyond the control of even the most controlling men.
And so I engaged in the distinctly female ritual of surreptitiously buying a pregnancy test, spiriting it to the bathroom unseen and peeing at the altar of the Clearblue oracle.
The lines appeared in a configuration not desired.
I emerged from the bathroom sobbing, holding the sodden stick in the air. As if it were a letter informing me of a loved one’s death. As if it were a dagger plucked from my heart post-duel. As if it were something far more painful than proof of new life.
It did, in fact, feel deadly. That test was a killer of futures.
My betrothed did not want me to be pregnant (not a fan of kids, that one). I did not want to be pregnant with him. There would be no escape with a baby. Though we were engaged, my survival instinct recognized the need for escape. Someday. Somehow. Perhaps when I was more mature.
Streaked with urine and tears, I approached my partner, sitting at his computer. He did not turn to me when my voice quavered with his name.
Bill? I’m pregnant.
Don’t worry. We’ll take care of it, he said, still facing his laptop.
End of conversation.
This man made a decision about my pregnancy while reading The New York Times online. That shining screen was more interesting than the rapid division of cells occurring just then in my uterus.
We’ll take care of it, he said.
Such casualness was made possible by the fact that this wasn’t his first rodeo. It was, instead, roughly his seventh. If Planned Parenthood had a customer appreciation punch card, he was well on his way to a free abortion.
This irked me. Shouldn’t he have known better? What’s the phrase? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me? When one’s inadequate contraceptive approach has fooled him seven times, causing seven women to endure a pregnancy’s termination, who’s the fool? Who should feel shame?
Fool me seven times, sterilize me, for the love of God.
But he wasn’t into vasectomies. They mess up a guy’s flow of chi, after all. Heaven forbid.
An abortion, I’m sure, has little effect on a woman’s chi.
I could have used that customer appreciation punch card. Abortions aren’t cheap. And I was flat broke. When it came time to pay, my beloved made a production of going to the nearest ATM, withdrawing the funds, pointedly counting all the 20s in front of his gut-punched audience of one, remarking that he didn’t really have the cash to spare and this was a hardship for him and we should really be splitting the cost of this procedure.
I marched somberly back to Planned Parenthood to pay the fee and get the pills.
Before the pills, though, there was the clinical visit. The one wherein it is ascertained that you really — reallyreallyreally — do not want to have this baby. Look at this state-mandated ultrasound! Look at this life! Look our counselors in the eye! Look, do you still want to do this?
I looked, and I managed not to cry. I swallowed the tears, along with the first round of abortifacients. I took the second round with me in a paper bag. I took them upon getting home. They took the pregnancy from me. It took a full day of cramping, a full week of bleeding.
My memory of the abortion — the actual passing of the embryo — is of a dark room, shades drawn, me curled against the wicked pattern of pain bludgeoning my insides. Me in a dark room alone. My partner is not part of that memory at all. I only remember his absence. I remember the lack of a protective and loving presence curled around me. It took two of us to get there, but I was in the trenches alone.
And then it passed.
And then we never talked about it again.
I don’t regret the decision. Not for a moment. That decision saved me from a much diminished life. A life as small as the confines of my partner’s distrust. A life wherein shame was my constant and freedom a distant land. A life with no real magic, only illusions. Like the illusion of love.
I don’t regret the decision. I only regret how we arrived at it. There was no tenderness. No ceremony. No heart.
There was no room for me.
He said we’d take care of it. And I simply nodded in assent.
Prior to the abortion, he told me, It’s a simple procedure. Just some pills. It’s no big deal.
I trusted him that it wasn’t a big deal. I trusted the man telling me that abortion wasn’t a big deal. Just like I trusted that man to tell me about my body and its cycles.
And now there are men — so many, all of them older and ostensibly wiser — in positions of power, telling me about my body. Telling you about your body. Telling us where our agency ends and theirs begins. They are masters of illusion, speaking for bodies they do not have.
Taking your rights… it’s a simple procedure, they seem to say, from courthouses and statehouses across the land.
This time, however, I will not nod in assent. This time, I have a voice. This time, I will be heard.
My body is beyond the control of even the most controlling of men. My body — my mind, my heart — are magical, after all. Magical, as in, free and ungovernable. Magical, as in, mine.
Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at sandcreektreeservice.com. See more of Quintano’s writing at jenjacksonquintano.com. For more information about The Pro-Voice Project, go to theprovoiceproject.com.
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