In the summer of 2015, I chose to have an abortion. I want to tell you what was and wasn’t hard about that choice, and why it’s important to talk about it now.

I was living in Tyler and just a year out of college. I was a single mom to a nearly four-year-old and was working at my first full-time salaried job. 

I was seeing a new doctor because my pap smear had come back abnormal. At the appointment, I was scheduled to have my first colposcopy, a procedure that helps prevent cervical cancer by detecting and treating precancerous lesions early on. 

Since it’s an invasive procedure, I had to take a routine pregnancy test. I wasn’t even 28 days past my last cycle, so I didn’t think twice about the 30-second formality.

The doctor walked in and said, “Looks like we’re not going to do the full procedure today, because congratulations, you’re pregnant! So normally, we would….”

Whoa, hold on. “You need to give me a second. I’m what? I’m pregnant?”

I asked for some space and for him to leave the room for a minute. I had just found out I had an aggressive form of precancerous cells in my cervix – and now this? Surely he read my chart that I’m a single mom, right?

At the end of my appointment, he rattled off a list of next steps. He insisted I set up an appointment with their insurance department to see how much my pregnancy would cost and to get prenatal care appointments scheduled. 

I had to stop him.

“I know you have your opinion, but I also know I have options I’m going to think about. I won’t be setting up any other appointments right now.”

They called again several times to schedule until I asked them to stop.

I instantly knew how I became pregnant. It was a close friend; not a one-night stand but someone I cared about. I was visiting Austin, where he had recently moved. We had drinks at dinner, and after, well – I thought he was being safer than he was.

After I found out I was pregnant, I was already scheduled to go back to Austin for a work trip, and I was able to discuss options with him in person. Immediately, he let me know he would sign over all rights and responsibilities. His callousness hurt, but I had already done a full analysis and knew I couldn’t continue with the pregnancy. His response made it clear that an abortion was the right choice for me. 

I wasn’t angry at the choice I made; I was confident in my decision to have an abortion. But I was angry for putting myself in a situation where I had to make that choice at all. All I could do was blame myself for not being vigilant enough and letting that mistake happen at all. 

I immediately called Planned Parenthood in Dallas, because that was the closest location that provided abortions, and I was able to get scheduled at their first availability two weeks later. In the meantime, I had to continue going to work and raising my child acting like nothing was wrong. I felt so foreign in my own body. Only one person at work knew. My boss didn’t know. My family didn’t know. My best friends didn’t know. 

Seven years ago, getting an abortion came with some complications. It cost $900, and I was already financially strapped with limited paid time off. Having to travel to Dallas twice – once for the consultation and then 48 hours later for the procedure, which was a Texas state restriction –  meant taking rare days off at a job where I was barely making a living wage. 

I wasn’t allowed to have a pill abortion, another state restriction, despite being so early in my pregnancy that it was difficult to detect the electrical signals during the ultrasound that pro-life billboards claim to be a heartbeat. I was barely four weeks along when I called to make the appointment. It could have been done at home. Instead, I had to leave town and have a more expensive, risky and invasive surgical procedure. 

Having an abortion wasn’t a moral conundrum for me for two reasons. Even though I never thought it was a choice I would have to make, I have always been pro-choice. But most importantly, it was the easy, right choice for me because of my daughter.

When I found out I was pregnant, I could instantly weigh what her life would look like if another human were brought into it. We were just getting started on our path to stability, and having another child would have upended that trajectory. I had gone from being a young single parent putting myself through college, working three jobs and barely making it, to becoming the first person in my family to graduate college. Finally, I was starting a nonprofit career I loved.

On top of that, my daughter’s early signs of autism, ADHD and hearing loss were starting to show. No matter how complex and challenging those are, I was intent on being the best parent I could be and giving my daughter the life she deserves. It was so easy to look at my budget and our life and know, “There’s no way having another child will work.” That was the reality that made having an abortion the right choice for me. She was the human in the story that I had to protect and care for. 

Even though I knew it was the right choice, I felt so alone. No one talked openly about having abortions. Even though statistics told me that roughly one in four women have had an abortion, no one I personally knew had disclosed that information to me. 

I reached out to a local queer activist for support who I knew could be trusted with this private information. At that time in my mid-20s, I was also accepting that I wasn’t straight but I wasn’t publically out yet. I didn’t have the right words for what was going on, but I was realizing there were more options than the binary I grew up in. I had always admired this friend, because she was the first publicly out and proud person I met in Tyler. I had previously confided in her when I started to question my own sexuality.

She made a Facebook post along the lines of, “Request: Single mom is having an abortion and is looking for support and community. DM me if you want to be connected to her or have advice.”

She ended up getting so many messages from people that wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t alone that she organized a dinner party for me. Yup, you read that right. She threw me an abortion dinner party. Guests knew it was fully confidential and phones and pictures were not allowed. There wasn’t a formal structure to the dinner, just a shared, safe space for people to tell their stories, what to expect, how I could prepare and what recovery looks like.

This community showed up for me, even though we didn’t know each other. As I looked around the table, I saw a group of people who had no obvious reason to come together. They were from totally different walks of life. 

One, in particular, stood out to me: an older white woman with a career, a loving husband and four children, three of whom were grown. She became pregnant at 50 when doctors told her it wasn’t possible. She knew it would be unsafe to continue with the pregnancy for a myriad of health reasons and spoke to her priest about it. He told her, “You have done the Lord’s work already.” That validated her decision. 

She told me, “I’ve never regretted my abortion. Not once. I’ve regretted the situation. Getting pregnant at that age. I felt pretty stupid.” 

Even though it was because of an unfortunate situation, that night was special to me. For the first time, I was in a safe space and was seen, accepted and validated for who I am. Not a masked version of myself that is trying to fit who people want me to be. 

I had spent my life searching for community and belonging. I never fit into typical East Texas spaces, like the evangelical church and private school I grew up in, but I never really knew why. The last place I expected to find community was around a dinner table of queer people and allies supporting me in my abortion journey. 

When you hear public stories in support of the right to choose, it’s usually focused on extreme life or death situations that cause a person to choose abortion. But that wasn’t my story. My health wasn’t at risk. I wasn’t raped. I wasn’t a 15-year-old who would get kicked out of my home and school if I were pregnant. Hearing their stories that night validated the importance of choice, despite the range of circumstances that lead to the choice. Hearing their stories made me feel less alone.

The older woman from the dinner party told me, “It’s okay to just not want another child, to just not want to be pregnant. You have that right.” And that’s the thing about choice. It’s not choice if and only if; it’s just a choice. Situations will vary from person to person. It shouldn’t have to be a dire circumstance for this choice to be honored, accepted or tolerated. 

I knew then most people in East Texas would never accept my choice to have an abortion. But I also knew they already didn’t accept me. I hear a lot of arguments against abortions, stating there are churches and programs out there that will support single mothers. But where was that when I had my daughter?

I was in a unique position with my choice because I had already been a single mom and saw what community was and wasn’t, in Tyler. In my early 20s, I revisited my relationship with organized religion. My daughter and I were guests at three different churches, and I felt so uncomfortable in all of those places. I was seeking community and acceptance, but all I found was judgment. It doesn’t take much to know when you don’t belong. It’s always in the subtle things too, like the looks I got for having a young child and no wedding ring. 

I quickly realized there was no support or community for us in local churches. Instead, Planned Parenthood was able to connect me with federal resources while I was finishing college: Medicaid since I didn’t have insurance, WIC to help with formula and Child Care Assistance to pay for a portion of daycare.

Fast forward seven years, and I am finally writing my story. It’s been a month since Roe v. Wade was overturned, and I really never thought this would be a reality. 

When I heard the news, I realized I’m not the hanging-by-a-thread 20-something I was when I had the right to choose an abortion. I am now in my 30s and on the other side of the stability I worked so hard to build and protect. I have an amazing nonprofit career, a loving wife and my daughter is almost 11 and thriving. We have built a beautiful home and community in Tyler, and I know that would not have been possible if it wasn’t for my ability to choose what was best for my life at the time. 

I’ve grappled for years with the best and most helpful way to tell my story. I’ve contemplated if my story has any value on such a polarizing topic. However, I’ve developed an appreciation for how important our stories are. And how important the stories from the dinner party were to me. 

I don’t want anyone to feel alone in their choice, no matter what the circumstance is. The small, underground community that came together for me still exists. And national communities are forming and getting more vocal to fight for anyone’s right of choice. 

And I choose to be one of those voices in hopes of making a connection and impact. 

By Lauren Carrejo

Lauren Carrejo lives in Tyler, Texas with her wife, daughter and a mini-zoo of rescue animals. Carrejo is a national media strategist for a nonprofit working to measurably end homelessness. She has led communications for nonprofits working on mental health and substance abuse prevention, early childhood education and food insecurity. Outside of work, Carrejo enjoys building community, playing board and card games and doing projects around her house.