Blog, Social Justice

A Story in Many Parts – What Abortion Access Means to Me


a story in many parts - my reaction to the overturning of roe v. wade's

I – like many of you, like many of US – have been reeling about the SCOTUS decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In the 6-3 decision, writing for the majority the majority argued that Roe v. Wade (1971) & Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1991) were not Constitutional and no rights existed in the Constitution, or under the 14th Amendment, for a woman’s right to an privacy and, by extension, an abortion. Instead the decision is remanded to each and every state to make their own calls on what rights pregnant people should have over their body.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has an interesting map that I encourage you to look at which shows which states make abortion illegal (7 states), where abortion is likely to be made illegal (19 states and Guam), where abortion is not protected but also not illegal – gotta love a nebulous gray area right? (3 states and Puerto Rico), where abortion is protected (12 states), and where abortion access is expanded (9 states).

But this post isn’t about statistics, shockingly. This post is about me, and my story. Why? Well, because maybe it will help someone? Maybe I’m telling my story because screaming into the void is making me hoarse and I want to take a break.

CW: Sexual Assault, Rape, Suicide

Once Upon a Time…

…there was a little girl, me! I had a smile with dimples that have sadly gone away, a bubbly personality, and an insatiable curiosity about the world around me. I grew up a first-generation American with a mother who came from a deeply religious background and who tried her best to break the chains of her youth – but still carried some of that island mentality with her to the United States, for the better and for the worse.

Me, age 3.

We moved to Florida when I was 4 as my mother fled an abusive relationship in New York. My first memory of her with someone else was the man slapping her into the refrigerator. She packed up her two kids and a suitcase and landed in a random friend of a relative’s house. We found community in church and they – along with my mother’s natural ambition and ability to hustle – helped my mom get herself set in the sunshine state.

As Time Went On…

I grew up and became even more curious and more aware of things around me. We went to church every Sunday and Wednesday. It was a Baptist church where I heard the pastor talking about how women needed to be modest and submit to their husbands. How pants led to promiscuity. How asking questions was in direct violation of the Lord’s word because we should have faith. I internalized these messages, but didn’t really understand why it was ok for Alfonso or Moises to ask a question, or wear pants, but I couldn’t. Why couldn’t we question our faith? Also, what’s the deal with pants???

I learned to keep my mouth shut and not say anything. Instead, I wrote and wrote and wrote in a cheap diary with a terrible lock. I left it at church one day and it was opened and read by the pastor’s wife. She told the pastor. They held a meeting with my mother who didn’t know what I was writing about and, because she defended me, they asked her not to come back to the church.

She says that it wasn’t just my fault, that she disagreed with other practices of the church, but I don’t believe her. We were left with nobody and no community.

My guilt ate me alive.

And On…

I was 10 years old the first time I got catcalled.

An “early bloomer” I was in Dominican Republic walking to the bodega for some candy. I got pocket money when I spent my summers there and would hoard it to get paletas and tuttis and whatever I could find. My mom didn’t keep junk food in the house so it was my main focus every time I went.

He was a grown man who was sitting outside the bodega on a milk crate with his paunchy belly hanging out of his unbuttoned shirt. He had black and gray chest hair and was drinking a beer. I was 10. I felt disgusting.

“Don’t worry!” my aunts reassured me, “That just means you’re maturing. Just be careful and don’t say anything back. Also make sure you’re always wearing a bra and your clothing isn’t too suggestive. You don’t want to look like you’re asking for it.

I didn’t leave the house alone after that.

I kept growing up…

I was 12 when I had my first kiss. His name was Oscar. It was during a summer in Dominican Republic. He was 17.

He knew I was 12.

I didn’t think this was a bad thing and, in fact, reveled in my maturity and ability to hang with older men.

I didn’t tell my mother.

I was 13 when I got sexually assaulted for the first time.

We went to a new church, it was the son of one of the women who was active in the church. I was wearing this leopard print top and a pair of baggy shorts. We were going home from a dance? The details of the surroundings escape me, but it was the back of a car while his mom drove. He slid his hand up my legs. I sat, frozen in fear.

I never wore the top again.

Me, at 13.

I also stopped going to church after that.

I didn’t tell my mother why and instead blamed it on this and that.

I didn’t want her to think I was asking for it.

Next Thing You Know…

I was in high school. I had sex for the first time in middle school to someone who was 7 years older than me. I loved him. I didn’t think anything was wrong with this behavior. Because I was mature…and I asked for it. We broke up shortly there after. I was bereft. I didn’t consider getting pregnant.

I, miraculously, started dating a boy named Pablo (not his real name). I was 16, he was 16. The first time I ever dated someone my age! He had the most gorgeous curly hair. He started telling me that I was stupid. That I was fat. That I needed to dress in a very particular way. It was so slow, so subtle – I didn’t notice it. But I complied. Because the other alternative was getting yelled at. Or given the silent treatment.

One day, we went to the pool. He followed me into the bathroom and said he was horny and I – for once – looked good. He took me into the handicap stall in the pool house and pushed me onto the floor. I kept on trying to stand up and tell him no. I didn’t want to have sex on the floor. I didn’t want to have sex there. Please.

He didn’t listen to me.

He didn’t listen.

He didn’t listen.

I still can’t go into pool bathrooms without feeling panicked and anxious.

It takes me 15 years to put a name on what happened.

I was raped.

I didn’t tell my mother, because I wasn’t supposed to be having sex. Only girls who wanted to ruin their lives had sex. I had a bright future ahead of me. “Si me entero que estás en eso te mando a Santo Domingo a vivir con tu tia!” I didn’t want to go to Dominican Republic, plus – by virtue of having consensual sex with him once – I reasoned I didn’t have the right to say no again.

I was asking for it.

Taking Actions into my own Hands

Although I didn’t have the words to assign the experience, I realized that I needed to go to the gynecologist. He didn’t use a condom. I was bleeding. I needed help.

I tentatively asked my mother, as she was driving me to school, if I could get birth control pills to regulate my cycles which were all over the place. This, I figured, was my way of getting to the gynecologist with her consent and killing two birds with one stone.

She almost crashed the car and called me stupid. “Eso es para cueros Natalia, no seas estupida. Tu no necesitas eso.” It was the first (and last) time she ever called me stupid.

When I got home that day, I looked up a clinic in Boynton Beach – as far away from me as I could get – and asked a friend to drive me there. They saw me without parental consent. They promised I wouldn’t get a bill to the house showing what I went for. I got care. I had internal lacerations that were healing. I took a pregnancy test, but had to wait for the results.

I decided, at that moment, that if I was pregnant, I was going to kill myself. I couldn’t put my mother through the shame of me being a pregnant teenager.

I couldn’t be tied to Pablo.

I couldn’t watch my future go down the drain.

Abortion never entered my mind because I grew up in the church and I knew that was murder. Better to kill myself, I reasoned, than to kill a baby.

I got a call later that week, I wasn’t pregnant. I cried for days. I vowed to take my reproductive choices in hand and put myself on birth control that I could hide from my mom. I got jobs nannying after school to pay for it and my other expenses.

I was not leaving this choice to anyone else.

Fast Forward 5 Years…

I’m 20.

I’m two years from graduating college in the height of the Great Recession. I can’t score well enough on the LSAT to go to law school, I am experiencing my first major depressive episode. I move from Miami to Orlando where my mom relocated and we didn’t talk for18 months. I realized something had to change and started going to therapy, in the middle of this I meet my current husband.

We went to middle school together, he is charming and disarming. He breaks down all my barriers. I come home from our first date and tell my mother “I’m going to marry this man.” she laughs and says I shouldn’t make decisions so quickly but she’s happy for me.

September 2008 he asks me to marry him. We’ve been dating for 6 months.

December 2008 we elope two days before Christmas. Our reception is at Olive Garden.

May 2009 I graduate from college and get into graduate school.

December 2009 I find out I’m pregnant while my mom is helping us put a down payment on a house she found. We decide to keep the baby and that we’ll make it through. I drop out of graduate school.

Me, at 21 showing off my (non-existent) baby bump.

After an uneventful pregnancy, she’s born in August of 2010. We can’t afford groceries during my maternity leave because I didn’t understand how Short Term Disability worked, and he was making just enough to cover our house expenses. My mom helps us out. I am the most mortified I’ve ever been and go back to work as quickly as possible. We decide to not try again for a while.

4 Years Later…

We have worked our way up in life. He has a better job. I have a better job. I just got an equity raise because I was being underpaid compared to the market – this is a holdover from the Great Recession. We decide to have another baby and it takes us over a year to get pregnant.

Doctors can’t explain my infertility the second time around, we decide that we can’t afford IVF or IUI so we’ll take the pills they offered but the risk is a multiple pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy or…or…or…the day before I’m due to start taking the pills, I take my last pregnancy test out of habit. It’s positive.

Unlike my first pregnancy this one is awful. I can’t eat, I can’t drink. I lost 15 pounds in the first trimester. The baby is breech and is sitting inside of me, feet down. My pubic joints are so relaxed I can’t walk towards the end. They tell me I need a c-section, I have a pit in my stomach. I am sure that I’m going to die during this surgery. I start writing letters to my older daughter and husband. I don’t realize that this is anxiety.

Me, mid c-section. I have been weeping the entire time.

September of 2014 she’s born. In the middle of my major abdominal surgery I was asked if I wanted a tubal ligation. I resented the question and the timing. I couldn’t make the decision right now. I was told it was better while I was open then to do it later. I declined and the doctor clicked his tongue in disappointment. It was the first time I’ve ever been mad at him.

I experience postpartum anxiety, can’t sleep, and am halfway to a manic episode before I am put on medications to deal with it and go back to therapy. We decide she’s going to be our last child. She’s perfect.

Then…Georgia

I’m now 34 years old and moved to Georgia for a new job in the middle of the pandemic. My family is complete. I have an 11 year old and a 7 year old.

On December 23rd my husband and I go to our normal anniversary dinner. I am craving scallops. My cycle hasn’t been regular for years due to weight gain and stress, but a fun little quirk about me is that I only crave seafood when I’m pregnant. Christmas Eve I ask him to get a pregnancy test. It’s positive before I’m done using the bathroom. I have a complete breakdown. I can’t do this again. I’m going to get an abortion. I go to CVS to get my booster shot for COVID and inform them that I’m pregnant – like you’re supposed to – the pharmacist refuses to give me the booster because it could cause a miscarriage and she needs to “protect my baby”. I end up yelling at her and crying in the middle of the Target that I am trying to protect the baby, but that frankly it’s none of her goddamn business. She stays firm in her denial and when I escalate the complaint up to CVS Corporate they shrug their shoulders and say that pharmacists can deny services based on their religious beliefs. I have never gone back to that location.

January 2022 I test positive for COVID. I’m 10 weeks pregnant. Nobody will see me at an OB/GYN office because I’m a) COVID positive and b) not an established patient. I get told that if I really am uncomfortable, I should go to the ER. When I get there the doctor soberly tells me that they can’t predict what the impacts on the fetus will be. I have two vaccines at this point, but this is still new territory and COVID is a vascular disease. I could throw microclots in my placenta causing it to age prematurely and lose function. I could end up in the hospital because I’m immunosuppressed. They’ve seen many miscarriages in COVID + patients and warn me that it might happen to me.

My husband and I discuss abortion in depth and detail. We were happy with a family of four, and there are risks in being pregnant during a pandemic. After a lot of thinking, crying, and therapy sessions, I decide that I want to keep the pregnancy. The morning sickness is vicious and unrelenting and has extended my entire pregnancy. As a result of COVID, I have heart and lung damage that is causing an irregular heartbeat, they hope it goes away after pregnancy. My mobility is non-existent and my pelvic joints are about to bust open like a can full of biscuits. In order to engage in activities with my children that last anything longer than a Bob’s Burgers episode, I’m confined to a wheelchair.

My world is getting smaller and smaller.

Me, last week.

Doctor’s say everything should improve after birth, but they’re not sure. They recommended physical therapy but also advised that it may not work. “Just isn’t enough data one way or the other” they shrug. None of this is covered by my insurance and the first session is $325.

I chose to keep this pregnancy, but it was just that. My choice. Pregnancy is not a neutral condition and if things had gone south and I had experienced complications that resulted in a termination I would be facing the double whammy of losing a pregnancy that was wanted and have to deal with legal repercussions during my most vulnerable moments.

But my story is not unique. I’m one of thousands, maybe millions of people who have found themselves in situations where they face the possibility of getting an abortion. The paths chosen are not chosen lightly and are, in some cases, heavy enough without the added weight of legal scrutiny.

My entire life is based on legal protections decided on or by Supreme Court decisions. My citizenship. My ability to get the same education as my white peers. My interracial marriage. My ability to use contraception without my husband’s consent. And, until recently, my ability to access necessary medical care. But this is all in theory because I face the intersections of being a woman, a first generation American, a person of color, and (conditionally) abeled.

When you are already a citizen in a precarious position with respect to your rights, the loss of one aches all the more.

And maybe that’s the takeaway from all of this. We all lost something on Friday. Some of us, though, are losing what little we can’t afford to lose. That’s what the Dobbs decision, and Roe v. Wade, means to me. That’s my story.

Natalia Santana is a compliance professional by day, and an activist, student and parent...also by day. Interested in the intersection of activism and education, her joy in life is taking complicated concepts and distilling them into easy to understand Twitter rants. Favorite genres: science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction books.

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