Third Place Writing – Features


Unexpectedly expecting

By Aly Van Dyke

Five months pregnant and Taé had never felt the baby kick until today, while waiting in a room at Planned Parenthood.

It kicks again. She smiles, places her hand on her slightly distended belly to feel where the kick came from. The baby kicks again. And again. And again.

She yells for a nurse.

“Something’s wrong. The baby. It’s going crazy.”

“Oh,” the nurse says from the door. “That’s probably the baby dying.”

The words crash over Taé, punching into her like the positive pregnancy test had five months ago.

Her baby was dying.

She hears the “Yes, yes, yes” she heard from family, friends, the baby’s father about getting an abortion. She remembers the “Never” she told herself.

Her baby is dying and it is her choice. Her choice to go to the clinic. Her choice to abort the pregnancy. Her choice.

She cries the tears she’s been holding back since she walked through the front doors with her dad two hours earlier. She cries for the decision she was backed into, the one she never thought she’d have to make.

She cries, alone.

Taé was alone in the waiting room, but she wasn’t alone in her decision. Every year in the United States, about 1 million of the 6 million pregnancies end in abortion. In 2008, physicians performed 10,642 abortions in Kansas – more than half to women ages 15 to 24, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Although nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, no two stories are the same.

Taé was conflicted about her decision to abort, but Katie did what she felt she had to do to keep an abusive ex-boyfriend from marring her entire life. Two years later, pregnant by another man at age 20, Katie had the baby but gave up her son for adoption.

Erin, at age 16, decided to keep a child conceived in rape.

Vanessa aborted five weeks into her unwanted pregnancy so she could provide a better childhood for her future children than she had.

These women all say they made the right decision for them at the time – a responsibility, they say, every woman must carry.

Taé’s story

The unborn child’s heartbeat sounds so fast and so loud coming from the speaker in the doctor’s office.

Aside from the image coming in and out of focus on the sonogram, you can’t tell she’s pregnant. She’s 16, 100 pounds and one hell of a first baseman ­— her stomach as flat as ever.

Taé smiles at her mother standing beside her bed.

In that moment, everything is OK.

It doesn’t matter that her ex-boyfriend, the baby’s father, had left her for someone else before she knew they were over.

It doesn’t matter that she has just finished her sophomore year in high school and is four months pregnant because, contrary to what her boyfriend said, pulling out doesn’t stop you from getting pregnant.

It doesn’t matter that her own father wants her to have an abortion.

“This is a pointless visit,” her dad booms from the other side of the room, where he’s standing, gritting his teeth against the sound of the fluttering heartbeat.

It’s an anti-abortion, Christian hospital, the nurse tells them. No help for them here, at least not if abortion is what they’re looking for.

“The Kleenex are beside you to wipe off your stomach. We’re all done here.” The nurse gives one more meaningful look at Taé and walks out.

Taé, her mother and her father have barely crossed through the sliding glass doors before her dad pulls out his cell phone, dials Planned Parenthood and schedules an appointment for an abortion the following week.

* * *

When they arrive at Kansas City’s Planned Parenthood, they walk past a pair of women holding anti-abortion signs on the sidewalk.

Taé fidgets in the waiting room, upset and confused by her father’s behavior.

A woman calls her name and she walks back for her appointment, alone.

Taé learns from the nurse that she’s too far along for the abortion pill. She has to have a procedure. A pill will induce contractions. Expanders will help her dilate enough for the extraction. All told, it will take about four days.

The nurse schedules the abortion for next week and is about to leave to get the pill when she hesitates.

“Is this what you want to do?”

A door opens in Taé’s mind. She shakes her head no.

The nurse puts down her pencil and looks Taé sternly in the eyes.

“It doesn’t matter what your dad wants. It’s your body.”

The nurse tells Taé she has to leave, that they can’t perform an abortion on an unwilling patient, no matter how young.

Taé walks out into the lobby, unable to hide her smile.

“She said it was my choice. And I don’t want to have an abortion,” she tells her father.

Her dad’s face turns a dark shade of red. He storms out ahead of her.

* * *

During the next few weeks, her dad brings in the cavalry. Her godsister’s mother. Her mom’s brother’s ex-wife. Anyone and everyone her dad can think of to dissuade her from keeping the child.

Her dad even takes her back to Planned Parenthood a second time. And for a second time, she leaves making the same choice.

Only her mother says she’ll support Taé’s decision, whatever it is.

After the second visit and a fresh round of pro-abortion lectures from family friends, Taé decides to give John, the baby’s father, one more call.

She puts him on speakerphone, her mother standing silently in the corner.

“What is it, Taé? I’m with my girl.”

“John, we need to talk about this baby. I need to know what you think. I mean, do you care? It’s part yours. You do have a say.”

Silence. Then…

“Fuck it.”

He says it so suddenly, so forcefully that Taé’s mom sucks in a breath through her teeth.

“Kill it. I don’t care,” he says.

This is new; he’s not denying it’s his this time.

“Fuck you. Don’t call me with this bullshit anymore. Just get it over with.”


Her mom steps toward her, but Taé dashes upstairs. She locks her door before she collapses onto her bed, heaving sobs so deep she can hardly breathe.

Her dad doesn’t want the baby.


The baby’s dad doesn’t want it either.


The decision is hers, but among those she loves, she’s the only one who wants to keep the baby.


But if she’s going to abort, she wants it her way. She wants the fetus to remain whole.

* * *

On June 30, Taé returns to Planned Parenthood for a third time.

She walks back to the nurses’ offices, alone, goes through the same questions and gives the same answers.

All except one.

“Is this what you want to do?”


The nurse silently leaves the room, returning just a few minutes later with another nurse, an IV and a plastic cup.

They start the IV to sedate her. Taé takes the pill.

In 20 minutes, the doctor comes in, and Taé puts her legs into the stirrups so he can have a better look.

She can’t feel a thing while the doctor inserts the expanders into her vagina – double the normal amount so the fetus can come out unscathed.

He’s done in five minutes, but he says it will be four days until it’s time to extract the fetus.

The nurses walk her into a waiting room, where she sits, alone, while the sedation subsides.

That’s when she feels the baby kicking and the nurse tells her it is a death spasm.

Taé is doubled over in grief, her tears creating a growing dark spot on her jeans, when her dad comes back to get her.

* * *

At 2:30 in the morning on June 2, Taé wakes up screaming.

Pain like she’s never felt before sears across her abdomen.

I am going to die, she thinks.

Minutes later, her mom helps her into the back seat of her dad’s Chevy truck. Her mom’s boyfriend rides shotgun. She slides in next to Taé and puts her daughter’s head on her lap.

Taé is still screaming.

Planned Parenthood is a half-hour drive from their home.


It’s the only word Taé can manage.

She rushes into a back room; the doctor and his team of nurses are waiting for her in their green scrubs.

They connect her to another IV — probably Fentanyl for the pain — and place her legs in the stirrups again.

The doctor numbs her cervix and the pain subsides.

She can’t feel anything, but she sees the doctor’s arm, scooping. She hears the suck of a vacuum.

It’s all over in five minutes.

“Was it a boy or a girl?”

“Looks like a girl,” the doctor tells her.

Taé passes out.

Her vagina is sore for the next two weeks, but it’s summer. No school. She stays home playing Skipbo and Rummy with her mom.

She has to take tiny white pills so her muscles can tighten and get back to normal. The pills make her legs and arms cramp up and spasm.

Throughout the summer, Taé thinks of that moment in the hospital, right before she passed out.

A girl. I would have named her Taé — the pseudonym she asked be used to protect her identity in this story.

* * *

Today, she has a 3.98 GPA as a KU sophomore with plans to attend law school after she graduates in 2012.

She spends her days juggling a 15-hour class load and her nights watching The Food Network with her boyfriend of four years. He doesn’t know about her decision, even though they started dating only a year after the abortion.

She doesn’t think about the pink lines or the waiting room or the pain very often. And when she does, she feels gratitude toward her father.

“If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have done it, and I’m really glad I did,” she said. “I wouldn’t have a successful life.”

Five years after the abortion, Taé has just one regret.

“The only reason I feel guilty is because I don’t feel guilty about it,” she said. “You shouldn’t regret anything you do in life.”

Katie’s story

First, a hairbrush strikes her square in the arm. Then he hurls a full can of baked beans – it hits her in the ass.

Running around the basement of his aunt’s house, Katie tries to dodge the onslaught of canned goods and blunt objects Drake throws at her.

Drake wants Katie to go out with him, score some crack, beg for money. Katie just wants a night off.

He picks up a butter knife and uses it to slice open her forefinger.

He grabs a jalapeño and takes a bite. He holds Katie down so he can squeeze the juice into her eyes.

It burns worse when she cries.

She’s trying to wipe the jalapeño juice from her eyes when he punches her in the jaw. Then the arms. Then the chest. He hits her everywhere, until Katie is a sobbing lump on the floor. He shuts the door quietly on the way out so as not to wake his aunt.

So ends another scene of abuse in the three-month barrage that has become Katie’s relationship with Drake.

In that time, he’s stripped her down and gagged her in search of hidden crack. He’s thrown a rock at her head, leaving a gaping gash in her forehead. He’s kicked her in the chest, sending her flying across the room and gasping for breath.

No matter what, she can’t pass out. He said he’d leave her there, wherever she fell, if she did.

She tells herself she can’t leave. He knows her phone number. He knows where she lives. He knows her adoptive father works nights — the perfect time for him to hunt her down and kill her should she abandon him.

She lasts three months in his aunt’s house. Forcibly prevented from taking birth control, Katie stops having a period within the first month.

One night, while working her way toward the house, begging people for money as she has at Drake’s insistence since August, she stops. In the middle of Kansas Avenue in Kansas City, Kan., during a frigid, early-November twilight, she stops. And she turns around.

Katie enters a nearby café and asks the waitress for a telephone. A customer sitting nearby lends her a cell phone. She calls her adoptive mom. She wants to come home.

In her childhood home, away from Drake, Katie can finally put the crack pipe down without fear of an attack.

Drake calls Katie two days after she escaped his abuse, his addiction and his rage. He declares his love for her, his regret for his actions and his promises for a better future.

Katie hangs up the phone.

She has an appointment at Planned Parenthood that day with her mom. She knows she’s pregnant and wants to see about getting an abortion.

She had decided long ago to have an abortion if Drake ever got her pregnant.

She would not bring a baby into an abusive relationship. It wouldn’t be fair to the child.

And she would not let herself be tied to Drake the rest of her life. It wouldn’t be fair to herself.

Katie and her mom walk into the clinic and wait 10 minutes before the assistant calls them to the back.

The doctor at Planned Parenthood is the man who facilitated Katie’s adoption into her new family as an infant. He administers a urine test. It’s positive.

As a favor to the family, he agrees to do the abortion right then and there, something that would become illegal two years later. Kansas now requires a 24-hour wait period before a woman can have an abortion.

Katie sits on the exam table and waits while the doctor sets up.

A few minutes later, she feels a small pinch in her stomach — the doctor tells her she’s feeling the vacuum sucking the fetus out through a tube. That’s all she remembers from an abortion that lasted only five minutes.

Her mom writes a $400 check while Katie waits in the lobby.

* * *

Katie doesn’t hear from Drake for seven months, until June 2006.

He calls, claiming that he is a changed man. He’s been to anger management and addiction counseling, and he wants her back.

Katie believes him. She moves in with him two days later.

He starts beating her within a week.

In the two months she stays with him this time, he puts a cigarette out on her left arm, tries hanging her with his T-shirt and punches her in the mouth so hard, one of her bottom teeth punctures her lip and breaks open his knuckles.

One day he takes her out by the railroad tracks. He thinks she gave head to a crack dealer for a score. He bangs her head, repeatedly, on the side of an old brick wall. He grabs a rusty rod iron and hits her over the head with it. He grabs a piece of glass from a broken beer bottle and places it at her throat, threatening to kill her.

It would be the last time Drake touched her.

The next day, campus police stop Katie for loitering and suspicious activity outside KU Hospital.

Her birth mother takes her to her birth father’s house.

It’s working alongside her father at a woodshop that she meets James. The two-month relationship leads to another pregnancy, a tumultuous break up and another choice she would make alone.

* * *

She’s been dreading this moment since she missed her period two weeks ago.

A trip to Planned Parenthood and two pink lines prevent Katie from denying it anymore. She has to tell him she’s pregnant.

James finally agrees to see her, despite their angry break up two weeks earlier.

They’re standing on his back stoop. She hasn’t seen him since the fight. She doesn’t miss the drugs or the pressure to do them, but she misses him, him and his wide, brown eyes. She catches herself staring and shakes her head to snap out of the memories.

“I’m pregnant.”

She holds out the pregnancy test and handouts from Planned Parenthood.

He takes them from her, slowly, in disbelief.

“What are we going to do?” Katie asks.


“Hell no,” Katie says.

“Well, what about adoption?”

It’s an option, but not the one Katie wants. She leaves, telling James to think about it.

James calls two hours later — he wants to keep the baby.

Katie is ecstatic. She loves kids. She still loves James. Maybe this time, being pregnant doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

But her phone rings the following day. It’s James, and he’s changed his mind.

“I can’t take care of a kid, man. I don’t have money for myself.”

The next day, he calls again.

“I want this baby. I want to be a daddy.”

He changes his mind several more times in the next four months.

Finally, realizing James wasn’t going to be the reliable partner she and the baby need, Katie makes the executive decision.

Four months into her pregnancy, Katie approaches American Adoptions to give her child the family she couldn’t provide.

As an adopted child, Katie knows the risks of relinquishing her baby to adoption.

Her mom, pregnant and unmarried at 21, gave her up for adoption to a couple that couldn’t have children of their own.

Five years later, Katie’s adoptive parents conceived, and Katie learned how to take the backseat to her younger sister — most recently when her parents opted to fund Ashley’s way through Washburn University. For Katie, they paid for only one semester’s tuition at Johnson County Community College.

Lacking money and motivation after meeting Drake, Katie dropped out after only a year. She was studying to be a high school teacher.

But Katie isn’t worried about her child taking second place with the couple she chose from St. Louis. They are young, in love and already devoted to the baby growing inside her.

* * *

Keaton Michael was born via C-section at 12:20 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2007. He weighed 7 pounds, 4 ½ ounces.

Four days later, the couple comes to get the baby boy, whom they rename Benjamin, from Katie’s arms.

Before they leave, they take Katie to dinner and give her a gold, oval locket with handprints and footprints on one side, a picture of Ben on the other.

It is only then that Katie breaks down and cries.

Although the couple agreed to an open adoption, promising to send pictures and letters and accept and save presents from Katie, this would be one of the last times she would hold Ben in her arms until — or if — he came looking for her.

She sees him again that Christmas, her last chance to say goodbye before Ben is old enough to remember.

* * *

Ben is 2 ½ years old now and, judging from the pictures and letters, he’s doing great in his St. Louis home.

He has big, blue eyes and plump, white cheeks. He looks a lot like Katie. A good thing, she says.

There are times, looking at the pictures on her Blackberry and on birthdays and holidays, that Katie regrets her decision to give him up. But the regret doesn’t last long.

“I think I did a great thing for him,” she said. “I couldn’t have given him the life he deserves.”

Now, with Ben in good hands, Katie is trying to get her life back on track.

After a three-year hiatus, Katie returned to JCCC last fall. But she could afford only one semester. Now she’s taking a break from school, working two jobs so she can move out of her adoptive parents’ home soon.

Katie rarely hears from James these days – just an occasional text message asking for photos of Ben. She’s sent him two and says that may be all he gets.

Drake is out of the picture as well. He tried to call in December, after his latest stint in jail for drug possession, but Katie ignored his calls.

Katie doesn’t think about the abortion much anymore. Now it’s only when she sees a picture of Ben that she wonders what could have been.

Distanced from the pain, Katie speaks freely about her experiences.

“For me, it’s kind of like closure,” she said. “The more I talk about it, the more I can put it behind me and not have to think about it as often.”

Erin’s story

It’s the middle of the night and it’s 95 degrees outside.

The Harmony House doesn’t have air conditioning — just windows that let in the muggy, Jamaican air that smothers the missionaries inside. The acrid scent of jackfruit trees fills the air.

Erin shifts on her mattress, trying to block out the smell, the heat and the growing discomfort in her stomach.

It’s got to be gas bubbles, the way her stomach is gurgling, churning and turning.

She looks down at her bare, flat stomach — she’s wearing a sports bra and shorts, sweating, the idea of a blanket laughable in the sweltering humidity.

And then she sees it.

A bump pushes out the right side of her abdomen and crosses to the other side.


She feels a pitter patter across her belly.

I can’t be.

She sees another bump.

You can’t get pregnant when you’re raped.

It happened in February.

He had said he was 22 years old, this friend of a friend. But he wasn’t. He was 36. She went to his house to confront him, and he raped her. He raped her right there on his bed.

And now, 17 years old in a foreign country with her church group, Erin is five months pregnant.

She doesn’t sleep that night. When the sun rises, Erin rubs her eyes like everyone else and prepares for one last day of work.

She’s there with Olathe Bible Church to build two houses in the slum of Harmon, Jamaica.

She tries to take it easy, scared she could hurt the baby already growing inside her, but it’s the last push to finish building. She spends the day pouring cement and hauling bags of sand up and down the hill where the houses stand.

The next day, she’s snorkeling with her friends in the Caribbean. The missionaries are there one more day.

She doesn’t want to board the plane — she remembers reading about how you’re not supposed to fly when you’re too far along. But she can’t explain her fears. Not to them. She buckles her seatbelt and prays.

* * *

It’s Aug. 5, 2008, and she can’t fit into her 1940s-style red dress for the jazz concert that night.

“Erin, how can you not fit into this? I just bought it last month.”

Erin looks to the floor for refuge from her mother’s prying eyes.

Her mom lifts her chin. They make eye contact. Erin sees the worry, the knowing. The floodgates holding back her secret break, and the tears she hasn’t cried flow down her cheeks.

Her father is in Colorado with her older brother. And it’s a good thing, too. He wants to kill someone, preferably his daughter’s rapist. Her younger sister is hysterical.

For Erin, the next three months are the hardest: It doesn’t take long for word of her pregnancy to spread around her Christian high school.

The kids are fine, even excited. It’s the parents who treat her differently, reluctant to look her in the eyes or even speak to her.

She wonders why. She didn’t do anything wrong.

She stays home for most of that semester, making it to one football game, her stomach already growing.

By that time, she’s already decided to keep the baby. Erin’s birth mother has told her what it was like to give her up, and Erin knows she isn’t strong enough to do that.

She worries the baby will look like the father, that she’ll be haunted by her attacker’s face her entire life.

She wonders about the life she had planned for herself — the college degree from the University of Kansas she’s been dreaming of, a career in music therapy. All will be put on hold to take care of a child she hadn’t planned for.

In the end, it’s her baby. Her baby. And she wants to keep it that way.

Erin applies for Women, Infants and Children, a social welfare program designed to help low-income mothers. She’s already worked out a deal with her parents to let her live there for free room and board — if she cleans the house.

She considers herself lucky.

* * *

Erin wants a natural birth — no medication, no pills.

When her water doesn’t break Nov. 16, the due date she’s been anxiously awaiting, she reads up on some labor-inducing tricks online.

She eats cantalope, watermelon and kiwi.

She starts walking everywhere to get the baby to drop.

But her baby doesn’t come.

She goes to the hospital with her family at 7:30 a.m. Nov. 21, a troupe of loyal girlfriends on the way to hole up in the waiting room until it’s over.

She’s connected to an IV of Pitocin to induce labor, which begins an hour later.

By 3 p.m., Erin loses her will to resist relief from the pain. She asks for an epidural.

Thirty minutes later, it’s finally time to push.

One. Two. Three. That’s all it takes — three pushes — and Erin’s baby boy screams his presence to the world.

Erin fills out the birth certificate.

Name: Isaiah Timothy Hettrick. Mother: Erin Marie Hettrick. Father: Unknown.

* * *

That was two and a half years ago. In that time, Erin has graduated high school, attended a semester of college and, as of April 15, become a certified nursing assistant.

She’s seen all but about 10 friends move on or away, although they were already distanced by the gap of their experiences — hers as a mom, theirs as young singles.

Her ideas of fun have changed from sleepovers, movies and the mall to knocking down empty boxes of Pampers and Huggies with Isaiah, scavenging for baby clothes and toys at garage sales with her mother and catching precious moments alone with her boyfriend, Claude.

Her money, which once went toward makeup, earrings and beads, now goes to diapers and baby toys.

She’s gone from being a left-midfielder in soccer and a football cheerleader to “momma” and a qualified professional. And her wake-up call starts at 7 now, with a muffled cry from Isaiah sleeping near her, not the usual 10 to noon mornings of her 19-year-old peers.

’Saiah, her dimpled, milk-chocolate skinned, hazel-eyed, curly-haired son, is ready for action early.

He’s trying to talk now — “Gaga” being the operative word in most conversations. He can sign, too: thank you, milk, music, please.

It’s only when Isaiah is lying down and Erin can see the roundness of his face that she thinks of her attacker.

Erin tries to forget the day she was raped, but she hasn’t forgotten that humid night in Jamaica when, after the shock of her pregnancy, she considered abortion.

“I hate to say that, but I did,” she said. “Because when you say, ‘I would never have an abortion. That’s terrible,’ that’s because you’re not really pregnant. Kind of in the back of your head you’re like, ‘I’m never going to be in that situation.’”

For that reason, she refuses to judge women who make that choice.

Some days, when she lets her mind wander while Isaiah is napping upstairs, Erin wonders how different her life would be if she had made a different decision.

Try as she might, she simply can’t picture her life without Isaiah.

And she doesn’t want to.

Vanessa’s story

The pink lines come 10 seconds after she pees on the strip. It’s supposed to take at least 60 seconds.

The same thing happens on the second test. She doesn’t bother with a third.

Those two lines tell Vanessa the weird feeling in her stomach isn’t from a bad burrito. She is pregnant.

How is this possible?

Every night at 9, like clockwork, Vanessa takes a little blue pill to prevent this very thing from happening.

She’s been on birth control for five years now – since 8th grade, when she and her fiancé, Cameron, first got together. She’s never missed a cycle. Until now, when she realizes birth control isn’t always dependable.

What are we going to do?

At first, Cameron is excited. He’s loved Vanessa since he first saw her in the halls of their middle school near Manhattan. And he’s marrying her in three months anyway. He knows they’ll have kids. It’s all right with him if they start early.

Vanessa, on the other end of a long-distance phone call, brings him back to Earth.

He’s a full-ride football player at a university up north with three years left to finish his degree in criminal law. She’s a 20-year-old KU freshman with five years of pharmacy school in front of her and will remain deployable with the Army for the next year.

The two take four weeks to decide, going back and forth from abortion to school transfers and night classes.

It isn’t until the last Thursday in January that Vanessa goes to Kansas City’s Planned Parenthood to carry out their final decision — a decision influenced by her own childhood.

Vanessa’s mother deserted her husband and two children while Vanessa was still learning how to walk.

Initially planning to abort Vanessa, her mother carried her to term as a junior in high school at the father’s insistence. She married Vanessa’s father and had a second child, a boy, by him before she packed up her things and left. Motherhood overwhelmed her.

So Vanessa grew up under the awkward but well-meaning love of her devoted father.

When Vanessa wanted pigtails, he tried his hardest to make that part straight. But it never was, and her pigtails never matched up.

When she wanted to go clothes shopping for six hours at a time, her father waited patiently outside the dressing room, holding her purse.

When it came time for Vanessa to get her first bra, he went with her.

Vanessa grew up wondering what she had done to make her mom run away.

Once she was old enough to understand, Vanessa vowed to never put her children through that, that she would be a better mother than hers.

So at age 20, facing the prospect of having a child, forgoing school and working full time to support it, Vanessa remembers that vow and decides not to continue her pregnancy.

Cameron, who grew up watching his parents struggle to make ends meet, comes to the same conclusion. He wants to earn enough money to provide for his wife and children — something he can’t do as a college student.

* * *

Vanessa waits in the lobby of Planned Parenthood with her two best friends, wondering why Cameron isn’t there.

Yes, he’s got football practice. Yes, he can’t afford a plane ticket and still afford to feed himself the rest of the month. Yes, she told him it was OK.

But sitting there, amidst other scared faces, she notices how few men are there with their women.

Damn. Why isn’t he here? He doesn’t have to deal with the pain. Nothing’s growing inside of him. Why isn’t he here?

The aide calls her name and Vanessa leaves her friends behind in the lobby.

Lying on the table, Vanessa waits as the nurse hooks up the equipment for a vaginal ultrasound — the embryo inside her is too small to be seen otherwise.

Vanessa looks to the screen and sees a tiny, gray dot just a bit larger than the other moving blurs that surround it. That dot is the five-week-and one-day old embryo.

She’s relieved: It’s still early enough to take the abortion pill. She doesn’t know if she could have gone through with an actual procedure if she were further along, despite reaching the decision she knows is right for her, for Cameron and for their family.

The nurse gives her a bottle containing four pills in exchange for $650, which Vanessa charges to her Visa card.

Back in her dorm, she reads the back of the box:

Put all four pills in your mouth at the same time, two on each side, between your gum and cheek.

They taste disgusting.

Wait 30 minutes for the pills to dissolve.

Instead of dissolving, they feel more like Winterfresh gum that’s been chewed too long.

Drink a glass of water to swallow the remainder of the pills.


Ten minutes later, Vanessa is on all fours, experiencing a cramping pain in her stomach she has never known.

Her three roommates, unaware of what’s happening, rush to her side.

“Vanessa! Vanessa! What’s wrong?”

“Are you OK?”

“Do you need anything?”

“No! Just leave me the fuck alone!”

They obey.

She can’t walk, let alone stand. For the next 30 minutes, she’s writhing on the floor, unable to think of anything but the searing pain in her abdomen.

The pain subsides. She starts to bleed.

She grabs one of the thick, extra large, front-to-back menstrual pads she hasn’t worn since she was 14 and afraid of tampons. The nurse had said the only way to be sure everything comes out is to avoid tampons.

She barely makes it back to her bed, she’s so tired. She sleeps soundly through the night.

In the morning, her pad is already soaked with blood, something she’ll have to get used to in the next four weeks.

But she feels fine — until she looks to her desk and sees the 4.5×6 inch black and white sonogram and the dot of the five-week-old embryo it shows.

In the aftermath, she drifts away from Cameron and cries daily.

She starts second-guessing herself and asking questions she’ll never know the answer to.

Would it have had its daddy’s smile? My almond-shaped eyes?

Would it have been a boy or a girl?

It takes her a few months, but she works through her depression, never once thinking to tell her father — she knows he wouldn’t approve. She never considers seeking a psychologist for help.

“I don’t think a psychologist will be able to help you with that,” she said. “It’s something you have to do on your own, something you kind of have to come to terms with.”

Vanessa returns to Planned Parenthood for a check-up on March 11 — the pill worked as it was supposed to.

The news comes just in time: Vanessa and Cameron are married in Lawrence a week later.

Vanessa says she doesn’t regret her decision, although before she got pregnant, she was against abortion.

“I was like ‘No one has the right to do that,’” she said. “‘If you’re woman enough to open your legs and do it, then you should be woman enough to take care of it.’”

But when she was confronted with her own unplanned pregnancy as a 20-year-old freshman, she gained a new perspective.

“You can’t judge. I judged before experiencing it. You can’t do that,” she said. “It’s not black and white. Everyone has their own reasons. Everyone has their own hopes for their children. Everyone has their own hopes for themselves. So you can’t draw a fine line. I used to think you could, but you can’t.”

Every night before bed, Vanessa walks downstairs to the kitchen and pours herself a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats for a bedtime snack.

Before the first spoonful, like clockwork, she takes a little blue pill and thinks about the mother she will wait to become.