I live in a country where abortion is illegal and at a young age, I got pregnant. But this is not about that. This is not about access to abortion or the lack thereof, nor is this about sex education. This is about what most sex education misses - the trauma that can come after an unplanned pregnancy.
The moment I learned I was pregnant, my first thought was, just like in any unplanned teenage pregnancy, holy sh*t. But I told myself I would move heaven and earth to become the best mother I could be. Since I felt like I’d failed at being a responsible teenager, I figured the very least I could do was become a responsible mother.
Sounds pretty straightforward. And for the most part, it wasn’t that bad. I had a solid support system. I quickly learned who my real friends were and they let me lean on them. Generally speaking, I was doing just fine.
I unconsciously subscribed to celibacy. Between motherhood, finishing high school, and figuring out what job I could do, there was no time or energy left for anything else, much less the rollercoaster of a love life or sex life. Plus, I knew I did not want to repeat the same mistake. So, celibacy it was.
What That Trauma Looks Like
Nine years later, I found myself in bed with someone I didn’t plan to have sex with. All my life I’ve had friends that I feel comfortable just sleeping next to, so when I found myself saying yes to spending the night with this man, I really didn’t think about sex. I actually thought about staying awake the whole night, talking about anything and everything under the sun. After all, we hadn’t seen each other in months and were the kind of people who enjoyed deep conversations.
The sex wasn’t bad. I was actually okay with it. It felt good to be held like that again.
But given that it wasn’t part of the plan, we didn’t have protection. Gotta say, I got lucky this time. I was back to my 16-year-old irresponsible self but thankfully, he was more responsible and careful. After that night, we saw each other again and he kept telling me, “you’re not alone in this.” We talked about a plan of going to Cambodia for a legal and safe abortion, just in case. Actually, it was his plan. I was just a lost girl so consumed by fear that I couldn’t think straight. I was okay with his plan. I was more than okay, if we’re being honest. I was grateful he had that sense of responsibility. But the assurance of me not being alone in this, and having a plan just in case, wasn’t enough. Heck, even having my period again wasn’t enough. Trauma has a weird way of sneaking up on you. And it’ll find a way to grow.
I needed the nine months and the total lack of contractions to confirm I was not pregnant. Maybe the baby is just so tiny my belly isn’t growing? Maybe I am pregnant despite Google saying you can’t be pregnant and have a period at the same time? These thoughts were practically consuming me. I was too scared to visit my OB-GYN. I was too scared to buy a pregnancy test kit. It was paralysis like I’ve never experienced before. Nine months of paralysis and worry. And then I was finally able to breathe again.
Months later, for reasons I’m not ready to share yet, I found myself in the same situation again, but with a different man. Well, not exactly the same situation but you know - man, woman, alone in a hotel room. He wasn’t the same as the first guy; he wasn’t that caring. Probably because we didn’t have that strong of a foundation. But sex-wise, this was better. At least it should have been. We had contraception. But, like I said, trauma will find a way to grow.
I bought a scale to keep track of my weight and make sure there was no other human growing inside me. I rushed to an OB-GYN the following morning and asked for emergency contraception. I double-checked the condom after he left my condo unit to make sure it had no tiny holes. Despite what my eyes were seeing - no tiny holes on the condom, periods back on a monthly basis, numbers on the scale looked fine - I found myself high on worry again. Whenever I missed eating a particular food I’d think it was pregnancy craving. Whenever the weather was too hot, I’d wonder whether it was the increased amount of blood in my body due to pregnancy. The cycle began - another nine months of worry and fear.
You know how cancer cells just grow inside you and you don’t realize it until it’s bad enough that you’re showing undeniable signs? That’s what this trauma looks like. You don’t really know it until it knocks your mental health around. Years of celibacy protected me from worrying about unplanned pregnancy but now, nine years later, I’ve realized I have problems staying calm after sex. I discovered the new heights my anxiety could reach.
Above All Else, Trust Your Body And Love Yourself
I think anxiety comes from the knowledge that you cannot control certain things. We’re so obsessed with taking control that when we find ourselves in situations where we practically have no control of what’s going to happen next, it scares the sh*t out of us. It revives memories and mistakes and paralyzes us.
And an even scarier truth is, you cannot really erase anxiety. The more you fight it the more exhausted you will be. And at the end of the day, you’ll lose. I knew I’d lose if I kept going down this path. So I have learned to give it space. To talk to it and understand where it’s coming from. Where the trauma is coming from. I have learned to navigate through the whirlpool of thoughts and emotions and wild imagination so I can still think straight.
It takes a good amount of courage to admit trauma. It takes a lot of time to rebuild your relationship with love and sex. More than these things, teaching yourself to trust your body more than your wild imagination is an everyday practice. It’s also an everyday practice to trust that this time, you are more responsible and more capable of handling your body and whatever happens to it, as well as your thoughts and wherever they may bring you.
Tammy Danan is a freelance storyteller based in the Philippines. She reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers film, photography, and sustainability and how they intersect with our everyday life. Her words have appeared in Al Jazeera, VICE, Ozy, ZEKE Magazine, Audubon.org, and others.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash