When I was a senior in high school, I took a class in Public Speaking. Our final assignment was to deliver a persuasive speech from one side of a controversy. Never short on opinions, it surprised me that I struggled to reduce any issue to black and white, right and wrong. In the end, I spoke about the debate over abortion rights, a subject very much on my mind at that time. I was vaguely pro-choice, and secretly pregnant.
I don’t often think of the speech, though I recall clearly how I felt giving it: desperately trying to keep my face blank, my voice unwavering. If one tear slipped, everyone would know. So I tried not to think about what I was saying as I glanced around the mostly empty auditorium, at my bored, slouching classmates, and the teacher, with her pencil poised.
To this day, my short-lived teen pregnancy remains the most painful episode of my life, the first major crossroads in what, until that point, had seemed a straight-forward path to adulthood: graduate high school, go to college, and then, freedom.
Little did I know, adult life is fraught with difficult choices, where the line between right and wrong is not always easily drawn. Thinking back to my speech, I see the beginnings of this understanding: I never really took sides. All I remember talking about was common ground. That unplanned, unwanted pregnancies happen, and that they aren’t fun.
Home later, I locked myself in my bedroom to cry. On one level, I was thrilled to be pregnant, and wished only that the joy of this miracle was not so obscured by circumstance. I imagined I already knew my baby: a pensive girl, with her father’s big dark eyes. If I went through with the pregnancy, I knew I would not be able to give her up. I would love her, but I would also feel trapped. How could I bring a child into the world whose mother might resent her existence? I scheduled an abortion, and moved through the intervening days in a fog of shame and grief.
This year marks the 17th anniversary of that decision, the year my supposed daughter would have reached the age I was when she was conceived. It also marks several milestones in my own life: I finally finished college. I got married. I got pregnant again, this time on purpose. I had a miscarriage.
It would be easy for me to look back in regret, to think of my current path as the wrong one. Believe me, it’s tempting to think this way. The grass is always greener on the other side of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. But the belief that rooted in me half my life ago remains: there isn’t always a clear line between right and wrong. We live in a gray area. Doing our best to make hard decisions, finding beauty in the fog, is what being alive, being free, being an adult, is all about.