life after roe

Closing the Door on Motherhood

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: jdphotography/Getty Images

In the nearly two decades that I’ve had a period, it has rarely been late. Then in December, a week passed by without it, and I became convinced that I was pregnant. I was furious at my body for doing something I didn’t want it to. I was also terrified down to my bones, feeling trapped despite knowing I had the resources to get an abortion. Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, motherhood is no longer a path I’d even consider pursuing. So when I used the restroom at one of my favorite bars while out on a Friday evening and discovered blood in my underwear, a wave of relief and gratitude washed over me.

I’ve never been pregnant, and that has been my choice. For most of my adult life, pregnancy itself had frightened me: The body produces a miracle and tears itself apart in the process. I also wasn’t sure that I was well-equipped for, or even really interested in, being someone’s mother. But by the time 2022 rolled around, my hard no on children had been steadily softening—slowly and then, suddenly, all at once.

As I headed into the year, I was facing both turning 30 and marrying my partner of nearly a decade, a loving and supportive man whom of course I could see myself raising a kid with. We were financially stable enough that scrolling through Zillow and thinking about owning a house felt less like a pipe dream and more like an achievable goal. Several of my friends had joyfully welcomed adorable, chubby babies, some of whom had already grown into funny and curious children. I saw up close that the experience has been nothing short of life-affirming for them, despite the challenges and hardships.

I had some tentative conversations with my now-husband about our future in those late-winter and early-spring days, when we could still weigh our feelings around starting a family against the logistics and the risks of getting pregnant. To choose parenthood would be to jump into the unknown. I knew I wasn’t there yet — I wasn’t sure I’d ever be — but it was deliciously tempting to toy with the idea in a way I never had before. Perhaps I’d be ready soon, I’d tell myself while posing sideways in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to imagine what my pregnant belly would look like. In those private moments, I allowed baby names I liked to roll off my tongue. I tried to picture being called “Mami” by a baby, a school-age child, a teen, an adult.

But the image of a kid in my arms crashed against reality once the Dobbs draft leaked and it became clear that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe. I live in North Carolina, where at the time the anti-abortion movement was being held at bay by a few votes in the state legislature. After the decision came down, the possibility of a ban hung over me like a scythe; in the blink of an eye, the state could take the choice of whether or not to parent away from me. Laws penalizing abortion seekers could turn my body into a crime scene and put me at risk of prosecution, whether I intended to end a pregnancy or had a miscarriage.

For years, my reporting on gender issues, including the erosion of abortion rights, had informed my complicated feelings around choosing motherhood. What had felt like a calculated risk I could maybe assume, I now couldn’t see as anything other than life-threatening. Doing this work over the last 12 months has exacerbated that awareness and anxiety. Since Dobbs, I’ve been writing almost exclusively about abortion restrictions and how they have devastated so many lives, including those of people with much-wanted pregnancies. I’ve spoken with women who were denied critical care due to their state’s abortion bans and doctors paralyzed with fear for themselves and their patients. I know the so-called exceptions baked into these restrictions mean little in real life; if I were to face any pregnancy complications, there is no guarantee they’d apply to me. That knowledge keeps me up at night.

In hearing and reading these stories, I’ve thought a lot about a friend who nearly died giving birth a few years ago. She faced a series of complications completely devoid of logic, which is the breathtakingly beautiful and terrifying nature of pregnancy and labor: No part of the body is untouched, no one’s experience is the same, no outcomes are guaranteed. I also know being pregnant and giving birth have always been much more dangerous than having an abortion. The statistics make clear that people in states that banned abortion after Dobbs are up to three times as likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, or soon after giving birth. In conversations with my husband, whose ambivalence toward parenthood has always run deeper than my own, he emphasized that he wouldn’t be able to bear it if I lost my life. I wouldn’t want to risk it, either.

As part of my work, I’ve also spent hours talking — often, crying with — those who have experienced fatal fetal abnormalities and been forced to travel out of their states for a termination, as well as those forced to carry their pregnancies to term only for their children to die in their arms shortly after coming into this world. Their stories take my breath away. The grief of losing a child they wanted is a deep well, their suffering cruelly exacerbated by the bureaucratic, logistical, and financial barriers of trying to get care. I don’t know how they have survived such a nightmare — I’m deeply uncertain that I could if I found myself in their position.

To choose to become a mother, or not, is an intimate decision that has become more fraught as anti-abortion lawmakers reduce us to a collection of organs. Here in North Carolina, Republicans clinched a vetoproof supermajority this spring and subsequently rammed through an unpopular 12-week abortion ban. The law, which goes far beyond a simple gestational limit, is now in effect. Experts, advocates, and my own health providers have said the ban will complicate access to all types of reproductive health care. In Puerto Rico, where I am originally from, reproductive-justice advocates constantly say “la maternidad será deseada o no será.” I have never been sure that I desire to be a mom, let alone that I desire it enough to assume the risks. These days, however, that door is shut. I choose myself.

The Cut offers an online tool that allows you to search by Zip Code for professional providers, including clinics, hospitals, and independent OB/GYNs, as well as abortion funds, transportation options, and information for remote resources like receiving the abortion pill by mail. For legal guidance, contact Repro Legal Helpline at 844-868-2812 or The Abortion Defense Network.

Closing the Door on Motherhood