The first and only time I got pregnant, I got pregnant twice at the same time because when I do things, I do them BIG. It was a Time. (Big things deserve big letters.) I had been sick for a while. No one seemed ready to admit it: no doctors, no family, no friends. For years, I’d been “I can’t come to your party because I’m in anaphylaxis” sick, but it must’ve been easier to put the blame on me:
“Sara is a flake,” “Sara is unreliable,” “Sara, you told me you were coming!” were typical responses.
And so, when the Time came — when I got pregnant — no one was there. I was 3,000 miles away from what still felt like home, existing in the house of the man I loved and had married three years prior but had never lived with. Pregnant with a baby after a wonderful night of reconnecting with a man who'd essentially become a stranger after nine months at sea, I was displeased.
Being sick and pregnant irritated my self-identity. Before pregnancy, I was the woman who pulled herself from poverty; I was the woman who made it from a shit neighborhood in Philadelphia to a hipster neighborhood in San Diego; I was the writer, the editor, the young woman who’d had a dream, and actually made it come true. Then suddenly, I was pregnant at age 23 by a man I’d only seen a handful of times since our wedding day.
Being sick and pregnant also irritated my uterus. The doctors didn’t know I was sick then, so they said stupid things to me like, “How could you know you were pregnant already?,” and “Maybe your uterus is just expanding very fast to make room for the two of them.”
I was four weeks along when I found out about the twins. I was sore tits, I was vomiting up the smell of flowers, I was dreaming about kittens with fleas. Worse, I was muscle spasms, I was my stomach feels likes it trying to crawl out through my belly button, I was sobbing with the rejection of my body.
And then, when I said I didn’t want to have them, the doctors and mandatory counselors said even worse things to me, like, “Have you given them a name? You know, for when you meet them in hell?”
Being pregnant and then not being pregnant happened fast. It was, perhaps, the fastest part of my chronic illness diagnosis — and maybe that was the saddest part, learning that lives that did not yet exist were considered more important than my own. It was very simple; pee here, pee there — congratulations, despite religiously taking your birth control, you have created two human beings.
The only available hospital was the pro-life, on-base hospital. When they confirmed the pregnancy, I cried. My husband tried to soothe me, and the ultrasound technician tried to dissuade me, and all of it felt like crap. The technician ripped the freezing cold, foot-long wand from my vagina to sob when she heard me ask my husband if we could schedule an abortion appointment for the next day. We sat next to each other crying for very different reasons. She did not hand me tissues to clean the jelly out of myself when I asked for them.
The next day, I called the place I had been going to for OB-GYN health since I was a teenager, and they were as kind as any person could be.
“Hi, I’m pregnant and I don’t want to be.”
In my memory, this conversation is a big show of neon flashing lights and signs. “Well, come on down!”
In reality, it was many fraught calls over two days hunched over Hershey bars with a trepidatious lover, so unsure if he should pull them away from me or feed me more. It was a simple visit to a clean clinic, a soothing voice, a small vacuum, and a cloud of fentanyl. It was being uncomfortably high and eating Fritos in a hospital bed, wearing a pad the size of my head, asking the nurse if I could see the fetal tissue for some kind of closure and being told no.
And then I went back to the house.
Suddenly, it was a home. It was the right size with the right people. It was a place to reconnect with the man I had been passionately in love with since 15 and ask him fully about his travels. It was a place to rediscover who I was on the other side of the country, to grow my career, to find real friends, and a place where I felt comfortable enough to say, “This isn’t what I want.” There was — and is — unending sadness for the circumstance, but far less irritation of the identity. Pieces of who I am, pieces of people who could be, were literally sucked out of me. I mourned for them, but I remained a cohesive whole. The alternative— splitting this chronically diseased body between three— was not an alternative at all. Would I have survived? If I had, would there have been any of me left just for me? It made me feel selfish to put myself first, but I knew then as I know now: Of all the things I am, a mother is not one of them. What I didn’t know then was this: We all deserve to put ourselves first if that is what we want.
My initial response was guilt and grief. In response, we adopted a cat, and a couple years later, another. The best and cutest cats to ever walk this planet or any other. We created a family of our very own in exactly the way we wanted.
Well, almost exactly the way we wanted. After my pregnancy, too long after to squeeze into a sentence, I was officially diagnosed with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD). Every time I see my rheumatologist, she reminds me that my anticardiolipins are high, and she reminds me that pregnancy will mean death for my children or for me. The first time she told me this, I almost laughed, but instead I told her that I knew that already. I’d sensed it. Even so, clinical confirmation of what my body had been screaming all along was validating. I chose not to be pregnant. I chose to put myself first.
Now, my life is quiet. No neon signs. I sit in my apartment with my loves: my husband and our two cats. We’ll celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary soon. I can afford to feed my cats salmon occasionally. I can be who I want to be. I choose this over and over again, because this is what I want. Every part of my life is so much a Time; my hourglass is quickly filling. At the very least, I should get to decide what I spend it on. There are no tears when we pass a baby aisle, there are no thoughts of alternate timelines or lost potential. There is only unending love for the pieces of my life that I have fought so hard to maintain.
Sara Watkins (she/her) is an editor, author, UCTD-haver, and editor-in-chief of Spoonie Press, which is devoted to publishing work by chronically ill, disabled, and neurodivergent creators. She is also a big fan of deviating from the norm for her own comfortability and entertainment. Her writing explores themes of disability and autonomy using wry surrealism and general weirdness to champion the idea that, despite our differences, we are not alone. She is the winner of the 2022 MASKS Literary Magazine Story Award. Recent publications include work in Wordgathering, Vast Chasm, and Bitchin’ Kitsch. Contact: www.sarawatkins.net or @swatinseditor on Twitter and @swatkinseditorial on Instagram.