Two years after the death of my beloved daughter, I became pregnant again. Here’s why I decided to have an abortion.

I was 19 when I first found out I was pregnant. I drank whiskey and cried in the woods at college parties and yelled at my boyfriend. We’ve only been together a few months. We were irresponsible children using unreliable methods. My friend called his dad who sent us $300 and a few weeks later we were at Planned Parenthood in Phoenix terminating the pregnancy. It was 1999.

After that, we got serious about contraception and used a diaphragm with spermicidal gel.

Still, six weeks later, as we spent the summer together in southern Maine, I feared I was pregnant again. When I saw two lines on the pregnancy test, I fell to the floor, a black and white checkered tile, in the tiny bathroom of our tiny apartment. I yelled for my friend. When he saw the test, he too fell to the ground. We said nothing. There was nothing to say. We both knew we were going to have this baby.

We quickly finished our summer in Maine and returned to Arizona to rent a house and become parents.

Antonia was born on February 3, 2000 at home in Prescott, Arizona after 12 hours of labor with the help of local midwives. Our parents tried to talk us out of having a home birth, but I did it to read “Spiritual Midwifery” and felt connected to a sacred feminine process. After Antonia arrived, the midwives ordered pizza, cleaned up, started a load of laundry and finally left to become family.

For two days, her father and I alternated awake in 24-hour shifts. I don’t know where we got this idea that someone always has to be awake. My friend was on the phone with his father one evening and was explaining to him how exhausted we both were from this routine when his father said: “If the baby sleeps, for heaven’s sake, you can both sleep!” We were young, foolishly confident and literally clueless.

We put together a life for the next year: tuition, working student jobs, babysitting help from friends and financial help from our parents. As the surprising first grandchild on either side of the family, Antonia was not short of adoration and attention. Giggling and chubby, she smiled easily and often. I carried her around in a sling and we slept together. We were carried by love and our youth. She was a miracle.

Four years and five months ago my daughter Antonia died at the age of 18. That was two weeks after graduating from high school. Relentless fevers and headaches had brought us to the emergency room three times before she was finally admitted. OWhen asked to rate her pain on a scale of 1 to 10, a few days ago Antonia said 15. A horrific medical accident and failed treatment for meningitis resulted in encephalitis and her death. She was my whole beloved world; my past, present and future.

The death of a child is an endless desert of emptiness, deprivation and torment. I was destroyed. I starved myself, cut myself, and drank copious amounts of vodka. But nothing worked. There were no more miracles. There was no good reason to live.

Antonia in Ireland, two months before her death.

Photo courtesy of Jess Healy

Two years in this hell I checked myself into an inpatient treatment program for trauma. Upon admission, a nurse asked, “When was the last time you hurt yourself?” “The last time I hurt myself was today.” Up until that moment I hadn’t been honest about what I was doing.

Once, at the beach, a friend saw the scabbed claw marks on my forearm and I said another friend’s dog did it. Nobody doubted me. Said, “Ouch!” And I said, “I know! Crazy!” Telling myself completely ended the chaos that had become automatic.

When I got back from my therapy program, I met a man who was 10 years younger than me. He was newly sober and severely depressed, but I figured we’d help each other heal; building a life together out of our respective misery and trauma. His mother died: test. My daughter died: test. Both hungry for touch after a year of the pandemic, we made out for hours, had sex, watched a movie and slept. Of course, when we woke up, nothing was healed.

It was the dead of winter on the gray coast of Maine. Icy, brown, muddy sidewalks and isolation from the pandemic had left me unsettled and hopeless. Antonia would never come back.

And then I found out I was pregnant. Even though I took Plan B, even though I thought I was too old to conceive, or too malnourished, or too broken. It felt like a cruel joke.

To say the man whose sperm fertilized that egg wasn’t daddy material is an understatement. He often fled, went dark for days, and eventually confessed to taking drugs again. I had a schizophrenic, drug-addicted father myself whose psychotic behavior shaped my entire childhood. I knew I would not sleep with this guy again, let alone raise a child with him.

Mall people believe that pregnancy after the death of a child is a “miracle”, regardless of the circumstances, but everything about this pregnancy felt wrong. I’d gone down the demoralizing route of food stamps and racked up credit card debt to find Antonia. As a single woman in the social sector, I could never work enough to be able to afford full-time care.

Also, I failed to take care of myself; In my traumatized, grieving state, how was I ever supposed to care for a toddler? I wanted my daughter back and that baby wasn’t my daughter.

I owe a lot to a friend who reminded me that I had a choice when I was stuck.

At seven weeks I decided to have a medically induced abortion at home through Planned Parenthood. I had told my mother, who was a nurse, at the time and had gone to her house for the procedure. The night was long and the pain worse than the contractions. At one point I squirmed in my mother’s bed and then threw up, just like Antonia’s headache had made her vomit the last few days in the hospital. It felt like I was tapping into her immense pain, her writhing and vomiting, all the things I couldn’t save her from, which plunged me straight into my PTSD. The pain haunted me and I cried and cried, wanting my dead daughter and riding the feverish peaks of the waves of pain. I took painkillers; I threw up; I bled more. At 5 o’clock I finally fell asleep.

The cessation of pain can produce bizarre euphoria. I woke up almost dizzy. My ship full of holes was no longer sinking. My coffee had just the right amount of cream. Compared to what I’d been through since Antonia’s death, a medically induced miscarriage, even a painful and debilitating one, was a small fish.

I was paralyzed in the weeks leading up to my decision, immersed in the patriarchal message that it is a woman’s duty to bear a child, even at the cost of her own well-being. I spent hours on the phone with my boyfriend until I realized I had a choice, that I could choose for myself. This revived something deep, like salvation of the self.

It took another year to start eating again and stop using alcohol and men for fuel. But by choosing to prioritize my own healing – to say no, I actually can’t; I lack the mental health and financial stability to ensure a positive, viable outcome for this pregnancy – I took the first step to save my own life.

Now, two years after I decided to terminate this pregnancy, I have sworn off men, vodka, and the other habits I used to distract myself from my pain. I will always be a mother without her daughter, but I’m still learning to choose myself. And while I still make mistakes sometimes, I keep trying. I think Antonia would agree.

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