Fifteen Years Later

I’ve always felt things cyclically. In the spring I have a mild cough from the memory of croup. Each fall I feel a small anxiety that my family will lose itself again. The first anniversary of a friend’s death hits harder than the first day after they die. Each passing year brings me back around to who I was before, but from a spiraled distance where the echoes of feelings I didn’t get to feel at the time have to beat hard against me in order to be felt. I don’t mean to be this way, but I don’t know how to change.

Fifteen years ago I would have given birth, except that I didn’t. Some years I barely remember what happened to me and some years it’s too surreal to think about, but this summer I imagine myself as a thirty-one-year-old parent and for the first time it doesn’t feel so strange. I don’t feel so wrecked and hollowed out with grief. For most of my life I have never been given enough space to experience my own feelings, to treat them as though they mattered, and so they live on inside me, nudging me to get my attention.

At fifteen I did not have the space to grieve the death of a fetus I was going to abort. I told myself I didn’t care, because it was absolutely true that on my list of Fucked-Up Shit to Deal With as a Fifteen-Year-Old the miscarriage was pretty low. And what I grieve now is not that miscarriage, exactly, but myself at fifteen. I grieve that my fifteen-year-old body went through such hardship, alone.

I found out the summer between tenth and eleventh grade. My best friend from grade nine was over with her boyfriend. She’d left home that year, refusing to call her parents and taking pliers to her braces because she couldn’t afford the orthodontist. She held my hand while I waited for the test to tell me because back then they took longer. “Is that a line?” I asked her. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “Okay,” I said. And that was that.

The summer I got pregnant I didn’t have many adults around me. My mother was happy to drop me off at my grandparents’ so she could continue her dramatic relationships with my stepfather and his various baseball teammates – one of them would sometimes come to the house so he and my mother could go on long emotional walks – and my grandfather was dying, so mostly he and my grandmother were at the hospital. My father was increasingly distant and my other stepfather just wasn’t around me much, I don’t remember why. At the time all this inattention felt like a boon.

When I got pregnant there was no question of anything but an abortion. I have always been fervently pro-choice – even the conservatives in my estranged, extended family who can’t abide queerness are pro-choice. I was fifteen with no money, not much in the way of stability – emotional or otherwise – and no sense of family. More importantly, I’d never wanted to be pregnant, never wanted to be a mother. I had no interest in performing any parental role I saw played out around me and I was fierce about my own autonomy. I was pregnant and I didn’t want to be. And that was that too.

I called the boy who wasn’t going to be a father and told him. He panicked, told me he was sterile; I hung up on him; years later I saw pictures of his children on Facebook, when we became friends again. With time and distance I can see why – we were in Calgary, Alberta; he is Black and I am white; he was seventeen and I was fifteen; my mother already suspected him of being a drug dealer simply because he was Black; we were dealing with pressures that were far too heavy and neither of us could rely on the other.

I made the arrangements for the abortion myself, calling hotlines listed on old business cards I’d pocketed from the week I’d spent in a group foster home the year before. I wasn’t allowed to have internet at home so I squirreled away any information about adults who might help me get out of my life and into a different one. I used payphones at the mall and the phone at work during my breaks, because I wasn’t allowed a cell phone. This took a while, because sometimes I’d be on hold and then have to hang up and try again on my next break.

One of the crisis workers I talked to told me I sounded very competent, very adult. “I’m fifteen,” I told him. “Well,” he said, “I just want you to know you sound more together than most adults and I know this is hard but you’re handling it so well and someday you’re going to be okay.” I carried this with me, a talisman behind my ribs where no one could see it and tell me how wrong he was, how I was a fuck-up who would never be well, never be able to take care of myself. I still carry it, because the idea of myself as strong, as competent and capable, goes against so much of the messaging I heard growing up. I still carry it because this stranger on the phone saw something in me I cannot see myself, but I want to. I want to.

I think I was about two to three months pregnant when I miscarried. The details are foggy in my memory, but I remember I was at work and suddenly I was bleeding and I sat in the bathroom for a while until I could put on a fresh pad and get back to work. I was completely numb. For a moment I felt a flicker of something, some emotion, but I told myself sternly that I wasn’t allowed to be sad for something that I was going to do anyway and that this was the best possible outcome. I told myself to go back to work and say nothing. So I did.

Lots of my friends have children now. I can hold my friends’ babies and bounce them and blow kisses on their cheeks without that painful knot in my lower abdomen, the clutch of grief that tells me I’m not done with my sorrow for what I lost. This is the first summer I’ve been able to do that. Fifteen years after I didn’t give birth, I finally have the space to hold the grief my fifteen-year-old body locked away, the grief at being so profoundly alone.

I am thirty-one and in the sixteen years since I got pregnant and miscarried I have experienced many things: love, heartbreak, grief, heartsickness, expansiveness, betrayal, sorrow, anger, comfort, safety. And in each of those moments I carry forward that fifteen-year-old self, who didn’t get what she needed but made it through anyway. Look, I tell her. This is what you have made of your life. This is who we are. This is where we are. We made it through, and you took that grief and you made it shine. Somewhere in the crevices of my heart, I think I hear her smiling.