• January 2009
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And Then The Condom Broke…

I am a 33 year old black woman who reads way too much literary fiction.  I live in New York City.  I subscribe to The New Yorker.  I campaigned for Obama.  I voted for Obama.  I have spent more than a few Saturday nights sipping red wine at moderately priced restaurants holding court with other black New Yorkers who subscribe to The New Yorker and read way too much literary fiction.  We talk and talk about world religion, the hypocrisy of fundamentalist christianity, Junot Diaz’s slightly misogynistic, yet brilliantly crafted fiction, the audacity of Prop 8, the absurdity that lies in a group of tax-paying citizens having to fight such a blatantly discriminatory law with such intensity (STILL?) in the 21st century.  We commiserate about how women like us seem to be still longing for something more even as we live lives our mothers could not even fictionalize in their most imaginative girlhood fantasies.

In other words: I am a liberal.  A black nerd.  Which automatically makes me a feminist.  Which automatically makes me tolerant.  Which automatically makes me “progressive.” Which automatically makes me a believer in certain “truths” that we tolerant progressives who still answer to that seemingly outdated label “feminist” defend with all of our might.

I not only believe in a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, but I also hold fast to the notion that it is a right that every woman has the potential to exercise if she is one of the lucky ones who has sex on a fairly regular basis.  Although I have never had to make the difficult choice of whether to abort a child or carry it to term, since I am who I am I do understand why it is CRUCIAL that the right to make that choice remains legal and unquestioned, don’t I?   Because I am a heterosexual woman who is an active member of the club,  it is likely that I could find myself faced with an unwanted pregnancy?  An impossibly difficult choice?

I assumed that I already knew, that I already lived the answers to these questions.  Yes and Yes.   Any woman who is of the child-bearing years lives with the possibility of pregnancy – wanted or otherwise.  Any woman of the child-bearing years, therefore, risks a “slip up.”  An unintended little fetus that she worked tirelessly for many years not to create.  In my logical, educated and tolerant mind, I knew that a woman who found herself faced with the option of abortion was no different than me.  Just another gal of the child bearing years whose body let nature take its course – without her consent.

And then the condom broke…

The condom broke exactly 11 days after the start of my menstrual cycle.

The condom broke while I was with a man whom I utterly adored, but whom I had only known for about 3 months.

A broken condom told me who I really was.  What I really believed.

It told me that I did not believe in the “accidental pregnancy” theory.  It was the excuse of careless women who did not truly understand the immensity of motherhood and entered into it with cursory indifference.  It was something that happened to silly teenagers who were so captivated by what their boyfriends’ inexperienced penises could do to them that they thought of nothing else when he offered up his “manhood” on prom night.  Slip ups didn’t happen to grown women.  “Ooops, the condom broke” was not a sorry ass response women who were over 30, happily childless and committed to strict birth control were even capable of uttering.  Yes, of course, abortion should be legal and unquestioned, even if some gals abused it.  It was a choice that I might have to make some day?

I could recount all the thoughts that scurried through my head as I sat on the toilet the night this abstract “right to choose” threatened to become something much more tangible.  There were many realizations.  Aside from realizing that I really did not have any desire to squeeze a wrinkly, screaming child from my special place, I also learned that I was a smug “feminist” who believed that women who actually exercised the right I was obligated to support were beneath me.  They were women who were flawed.  Reckless. Impractical.  And here is the kicker: dumb.  Not for deciding to get an abortion, but for ever getting knocked up “by accident” in the first place.  Besides Rachel Greene, what grown ass woman actually produces a baby by way of the broken condom?

“I’ve never been in this position before,” I looked helplessly at my pseudo-boyfriend that night.

He returned my helpless look with one of surprise.  “Really?  You never had one break?  Ever?”

I felt like a true nerd.  Having to admit yet again that I was so square I never smoked/lied/stolen/cheated…the list goes on and on.  What protocol does a woman follow when a condom breaks during sex that is taking place dead smack in the middle of ovulation?

Pseudo-boyfriend didn’t know.  He said we just had to wait and see.  Even though we did experience a birth control defect, there was still a very good chance that I could not be pregnant.  My gynecologist said the same thing.  He actually took a test that thankfully turned out negative.  He did reiterate that the real answer would come when my monthly “friend” did.

So, I waited.

And thought.  A lot.

Was I really embarrassed that this happened to me?  Was I really so self-righteous that I truly believed that I could never in a million years be a woman who really did find herself knocked up despite her commitment to the almighty condom?

I thought about Sarah Palin.

Did I really think of her as a hysterically funny idiot and not the dangerously conservative oppressor she was?  Was she really just perfect fodder for Tina Fey’s comedic brilliance and not potentially the next vice-president of the United States?  A vice president who did not believe I had the right to end this pregnancy, if there was one to end?  Suddenly, the possibility (one that was much more likely than liberals like to acknowledge) of Palin and McCain being in the White House frightened the hell out of me.  Even though Obama and Biden had kicked their asses only weeks prior.  Suddenly, it became clear to me:  Sarah Palin would make me keep this (could be) baby, probably chastising me for “being so careless” in the first place.

I thought about women whose thoughts were much more intense in this situation.  Women who made it pass the broken condom stage and had moved into the five-days-late stage.  How crippling this must be?  How consuming must this notion of “what to do if” be for them.  How can they function while they wait to see if they have to make a choice that can never be the “right” one?  The options suck.  Period.

Why did I think I was immune to this?  

And the most profound epiphany that came via the broken condom?  I. Am alone. In this.  The woman who is in her early 40’s and has a loving husband and two almost-grown kids is alone in this.  The teenager whose asshole boyfriend is not returning her phone calls is alone in this. I, who have a pseudo-boyfriend urging me to calm down and not be so hard on myself, am alone in this.  No matter there were two parties involved in this slip up, only one party will truly bare the weight of the decision that is made.  Even if that decision is to carry the slip up to term, again it is one party alone whose entire being will be transformed.  Her sacrifices will, no doubt, far outweigh his.

The condom broke two months ago.  I have not had to make any difficult decisions as a result.

I have had to think about how honest I am with myself, though.  Not only about the harsh judgments I make on other women, but also about the comfortable delusion I allow myself to live under.  This delusion that  if the world has, in theory, progressed over the decades, so, too, have women’s options.  No, we are not our mothers.  We only have a thin layer of latex separating our choices from theirs.

3 Responses

  1. Well, I have to say that I am slightly impressed by how well your pseudo-boyfriend handled the situation. He might be a keeper…

  2. Well said…beautifully written. As one of your single, childless, New Yorker-subscribing friends, I have to say, you hit the nail on the head, especially the part about feeling superior and a bit above-it-all for never having had a “scare.” Although I think your other great point–about knowing that we (women) are completely alone in such situations–probably helps fuel that smugness. I think the peril (in today’s world, yes, “peril” is the right word) that a “sudden” pregnancy can bring is so completely the opposite of everything that we single-New-Yorker-subscribers yearn for, that guarding ourselves warrants efforts beyond latex or pharmaceuticals. We put on our pyschological armor too. Our smugness is our own little Jedi mind trick to remind ourselves to be vigilant, to keep our eyes on whatever prize we’re striving for, to not be like “them.” Is it an admirable trait? Hardly. But I don’t imagine we–you, me, our friends, women of our “ilk”–will be giving up that armor anytime soon. Faulty latex or not. On a whole other tip: Is there not any situation that prompts men to simply urge us to wait-and-see? LOL! Keep on blogging.

  3. I’ve been saving money and looking for someone to go half on a baby with my crazy ass. And now I’m catching up on your blogs.

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