Monica K. Sharp and I attended the University of Missouri together and were in the same journalism organization. Recently, I saw she wrote about her abortion on her blog. So I reached out to see if she would be interested in sharing more details about her experience and asked what she would say to Black women about abortions. You can read her story below.
NSNC: I have been trying to find somebody to talk about abortion for a long time, a long time. But I was like I don’t even know how to ask because it’s such a taboo thing and people have their feelings about it. But I know there are so many women who’ve gone through this and don’t feel comfortable speaking about it. But if people started sharing their stories, there wouldn’t have to be so much shame, so much taboo. So, when I saw what you wrote, I was like, I wonder if she will talk about it. And I was still even nervous to ask you.
Monica: A part of my story is that--and I know when you hear this you’re probably going to be like ‘Oh my gosh, she’s crazy.’ But when I first found out that I was pregnant, I looked in the mirror because I had gone to the bathroom and I was washing my hands and I looked up in the mirror and was like, ‘Oh my God, why me?’ And a voice that I have never heard before and still haven’t heard to this day-- and this is in 2010. Growing up in church, you hear that when God speaks to you, it’s a clear, still voice. And it was like, ‘You are going through this because one day your story will help someone else.’ So when you sent me that message, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I wasn’t crazy.’
NSNC: So where were you in life when all of this was happening to you. You had already graduated, right?
Monica: I had graduated. My senior year was when the bubble burst and the recession started. I graduated at the height of the recession in ‘09. It’s crazy that that was ten years ago. And so, I had moved back home for about a year and in August of 2010, I decided that I was going to move to D.C. to start a Masters in Public Policy program at George Mason University. So, I was here in D.C. for the first time when all of that happened. I was a student and I was just trying to find what I was supposed to do with my life. I was so sure that it had to do with policy. And even though I know that policy is somehow related to my purpose now, it’s not more focused in policy and politics. But at the time, that’s what I was doing.
NSNC: So were you in a relationship or was this someone you’d met casually?
Monica: The person at the time was a friend.
NSNC: What were the first signs that let you know you were pregnant?
Monica: Oh girl! So I went home for Christmas break. The crazy thing is I felt like after the sex happened that I was pregnant. I don’t know what it is about it. But something told me, almost immediately, like ‘I might...Maybe I...did I get pregnant?’ It’s really weird. So when I was home, I was really nauseous any time I thought about food or smelled food. Even when I was really hungry, I would get nauseous and sick. And my family didn’t know what was wrong but being that it was in December, people thought, ‘Oh, it could be the flu.’ So my family wasn’t alarmed in that way, in terms of thinking, ‘Oh, she’s pregnant.’ It could have just been a seasonal bug or something like that.
And then I was about a week late. My whole life I’ve had irregular periods. But something was different about this one. And I knew that I ran out of birth control in November. And the act had happened after that. So I knew that it could be a possibility. I thought, ‘I’ll just go ahead and take this little test.’ I went to the dollar store to get the test. I think I knew I was [pregnant] but I was in denial. So, I was like ‘I’m not spending twenty dollars on a test because I know I’m not pregnant.’
True to form, I did my research on the dollar store pregnancy test. I called the store. I did my research to see how accurate they are. And they are accurate. So if anybody wants to find out whether or not they’re pregnant and you don’t have money for the e.p.t., you can always go to the Dollar Tree and get your pregnancy test.
I went and I took it. And what I think is cruel about pregnancy tests is that the minus sign shows up first. So I was like, ‘Oh God, thank you!’ That was a sense of immediate relief. And as soon as I saw that vertical line coming down, I remember sitting, looking at it and being just like, ‘Oh my God!’ Then I washed my hands and had that conversation in the mirror. And after, I heard, ‘One day your story will help others.’ I was like, ‘Ok, but why is it me? Why do people have to learn through my life? Why can’t I learn from somebody else?’ But this is your purpose. Your purpose is to live your life and tell your story so that others can learn.
Even after that, I knew immediately what I was going to do. There was never a question. There was never a question about whether or not I was going to get an abortion. What it was, was more like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to go to hell.’ And I’ve always been pro-choice my whole life. But I realized from that experience is that you can be pro-choice and still anti-abortion.
NSNC: It wasn’t a choice you wanted to make for yourself.
Monica: Exactly. And now I look back on myself, years before, and I’d say, ‘Oh if I was ever in that position, I’d just go ahead and have the baby because that’s my responsibility.’ Just, so on my high horse. And again, it’s one of those things. You never know what you’re going to do until you’re actually faced with the decision.
But there was never a question. I knew this is what I needed to do; but at the same time, I thought I was going to go to hell. I called my best friend and I’m like in tears. And she immediately-- to this day, I don’t know what told her. Because I didn’t say hello, nothing. I’m just crying. And she hears me crying and she said, ‘What’s going on? Are you pregnant?’ That was the very first question she asked me. And I said yeah. So she’s talking me through it. And I said, ‘But I’m going to go to hell if I have this abortion.’ And she said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re not going to go to hell.’ She calmed me down.
But being that I was at home at the time, this was something I had to keep from my family. So what I did was--I knew Planned Parenthood would give you a pregnancy test. I scheduled an appointment with them. Of course, I couldn’t go to my doctor because I was still on my mother’s insurance. And she would get the information that I went to the doctor and she’d ask, ‘Why did you go to the doctor?’ Because my mom loves me. So I went to the Planned Parenthood and ironically, I went to the same Planned Parenthood that my mother went to, to find out that she was pregnant with me. And she told me that when she went, there were protestors outside and they thought that she was there to get an abortion and she had to be escorted into the facility.
But fortunately, there were no protestors there. I just went in and got the test. They confirmed that I was pregnant and gave me the paperwork and everything. At the time, there was no Planned Parenthood in the Kansas City area that offered abortion services. The only one that did was out in Kansas. But I would be back in D.C. Then I’m thinking about ‘How much does it cost?’
I talked to the guy and told him what was going on. That wasn’t great.
To this day, I don’t know how he got the money for it and he never told me. But he got the money. And I scheduled my appointment for almost as soon as I got back. Because I was at home for a month and if I had waited maybe a week longer, I wouldn’t have been able to have the abortion.
NSNC: You were that far along?
Monica: I was that far along. So that’s why with Georgia and this heartbeat bill and everything--I know that the day I went for the procedure, the baby inside of me had a heartbeat. And I would not have been able to go through with it. Because I was almost right there at the cut off anyway, legally without a medical reason.
NSNC: What is the cut off?
Monica: At the time, it was 12 or 13 weeks. At least that’s what I was told. And I had my abortion at 11 weeks. So, almost through that first trimester. I didn’t even find out that I was pregnant until I was almost a month along. And that is very telling, that’s dangerous. I keep going back to that heartbeat law. Because I do believe that a baby’s heartbeat is detected within that first month. And I was almost a month pregnant before I even realized I was.
It was in January. January 2011. In the days leading up, I can say I bonded with the baby. I would talk to the baby. I never changed my mind, I will say that. I did ask God for forgiveness. I asked the baby for forgiveness. I wrote a letter that I still have, to the baby. I know exactly where it is. I can go and grab it right now. I really don’t know if there’s a day that I won’t know. But I wrote a letter and felt good in my decision after that initial shock. Once everything settled, I felt ok with the decision. I didn’t feel like I was going to hell. I didn’t feel like I was a bad person. I didn’t feel that women who decide to have abortions are bad people.
And I found out that a lot of the information that we’re given about abortion has to be inspired and paid for by pro-life lobbyists. At the time, I haven’t done much research of abortion since. But at the time, everything I found was, ‘I regret it. I’m depressed. My abortion led to suicidal ideation.’
Media training. We went to school together. So I know that when something is so completely one-sided, I know to question it. Like you said, there are so few Black women who talk about this. There could be women in my family who’ve had abortions and I wouldn’t know.
NSNC: I know women in my family have had abortions. But I don't know if they would ever speak about it.
Monica: We just don’t share that information and I think that harms us and our future, with the girls coming up. Black women, we don’t deal with it. We keep it hush because it’s something to be ashamed of. And a lot of that is rooted in religion and bad theology.
NSNC: I’m really interested in the fact that you said you would talk to the baby and wrote a letter to the baby. What was it in you that made you feel like that was the thing to do to maybe process your decision?
Monica: Well, writing helps me process. It helps me cope. And I--I don’t know if I can answer that. But in the letter, I told the baby, ‘If you promise you’ll come back to me, I promise I’ll be able to give you the type of life that you deserve.’ And I felt at peace. That’s the best way I could explain it. I felt at peace. I didn’t feel like I was going to be punished for this. I felt like the baby understood. Even though, I know that’s not the case. I felt like the baby understood.
NSNC: But I think that’s a possibility. And like I tell people all the time, God knows every decision we’re going to make. He knows what we’re going to do. I don’t think anything takes him by surprise. And still, He felt that you were worthy enough to be on this planet at this time. So I don’t know why people feel like it’s going to send you to hell.
NSNC: So, what was the actual procedure like for you?
Monica: I wanted it to be over. When I got there, there were protestors outside. I was in D.C. There are protests every day in this city. I just ignored them and went on in. They take you back in phases. So the first one was to come back and basically-- I think the point of it was to make you think about if this is what you really want to do. The first phase, they did the ultrasound. I did ask to hear the heartbeat. They would not let me hear the heartbeat. I asked to see the ultrasound because the monitor was facing the nurse or the medical assistant. When I asked her to see, she said, ‘Oh, well you don’t need to see. It just a bunch of tissue anyway.’ But I know as far along as I was, I would have been able to make out a fetus. And of course, I understand why they do that. They might have been protecting me from my fool self. And every step they’re asking you, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do? Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ Every time was yes.
You go back out after phase one, wait for them to call you again. In phase two, they give you a pain killer. And that’s when things got interesting for me. When they sent me back to the waiting room after the pain killer, all the other girls--first of all, all the other girls were considerably younger than me. They were probably in their teens. They were crying or it was obvious that they’d just been crying. Girls were in shock. Whereas me, these drugs had hit and I’m giggly. Everything was funny to me. I went into a giggle fit. Then passed out and went to sleep. I was woken up when it was time for me to go back in for the procedure.
When the procedure was going on, I felt better that the doctor and the nurse were Black. I don’t know why but something about that gave me more comfort. But at the same time, it also made me feel judged a little bit. They asked me if I had anything to distract me. If I had a book to read or music to listen to. I had my iPod because 2011 and I listened to Mya’s “Lock U Down.” I listened to a few songs but I remember that one. And I was singing the entire time. They told me to. They said, ‘If you’re listening to music, sing.’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry if my voice is bad.’ They were like, ‘No, that’s alright. Keep singing.’ The machine looked like the machine they use for ear infections in little kids.
After that, it was over. There was pressure but no pain. I relate it to like a Pap Smear. There was some jerking because they have to pull in and out. After that, they were like ‘Okay, go sit in recovery.’ They gave me a Sprite or Ginger Ale. And I sat in recovery. This was another time when I felt like I just did not belong. Because the other women in recovery looked so depressed. And so a part of me felt like maybe something was wrong with me. Because I just wanted to go home. But they make you sit in recovery for a certain period of time, to monitor you, to make sure you don’t have any complications. And there are other women and girls in there who are still crying or they’re sleeping or they just look doubled over in pain. And I’m looking around and I’m alert. I’m looking at my watch and as soon as that 20 minutes was up, I was like, ‘Can I go?’ I’m actually not a good patient though. So that factored into it. I never have been because I just want to be around my comfort.
So I was taken home by my friend. And she just held me and was there for me afterward, during recovery.
Now, I will say, what they said was supposed to happen, in the recovery stage, didn’t happen for me. And every woman is different and every woman will experience it differently but for me, there weren’t periods of heavy bleeding. It might have been the amount of a regular menstrual cycle. And that was only the day of. I had a little bit of light cramping.
NSNC: So, your family still doesn’t know?
Monica: Unless they read my post. They do not. I’ve been waiting ever since I posted that to my blog. I know my mother has read it but she has not said anything to me. I don’t know if she’s waiting for me to bring it to her. She hasn’t been different but I know that she’s read it and maybe she’s processing how to react or respond to it herself.
NSNC: Did you tell future partners about your decision. Not that it’s their business but did you feel like it was something you should disclose?
Monica: Yeah, I have actually. And I think a part of it is because I want to know how you feel. I think that that will give me a good gauge on if we’ll work and how compatible we are. Because, to double back a little bit, I don’t know if you watched “The Game” or not but the same time I was pregnant, Melanie and Derwin were trying to get pregnant and Derwin found out Melanie had had an abortion and he treated her like that was the reason why she couldn’t get pregnant because she’d had an abortion. So overall, I haven’t been shy about sharing that. So every guy I’ve been serious with since then has known.
NSNC: How did they respond to it?
Monica: Most of them responded like, ‘Okay.’ And the funny thing is most of them said, ‘I’ve been in that position before where a girl I was dating had an abortion’ or ‘We had a pregnancy scare where the idea or the topic of abortion came up.’ I found that interesting.
NSNC: Yeah, cuz they don’t talk about that either.
Monica: They don’t. Men don’t really talk about how abortion effects them.
NSNC: Since then, have you had any regrets.
Monica: No, I haven’t had any regrets since then.
NSNC: And do you still want children?
Monica: Yeah! I do. Me being almost 32, I know that even with the advancements in science, I know that my time is starting to wind down, genetically and everything. But yeah, at least one.
NSNC: What would be ideal circumstances for you when you do have a child?
Monica: I would like to be able to have a child and not have to struggle financially. I don’t want any of my children to know struggle. I’ve been married and divorced at this point. So as far as making sure that I’m married, that’s not as much of a requirement for me now as it used to be.
The requirement is more that if there is another parent--like say I decide not to get artificially inseminated-- if there’s a father, are we successfully co-parenting? To me, that’s what’s most important not that we’re married or in a relationship. Because you can have both of those things and not successfully co-parent and not give the kid what they need. So those are some things that have changed over the years for sure.
NSNC: So many people bring kids into a family and believe the kid will be alright because it’s a two-parent house. And I’m like but you’re bringing this kid into so much dysfunction that is going to play out in their lives and in their relationships. I wish people really thought about that more.
Monica: And honestly, when the time came for me to get a divorce or think about divorce, I was grateful that we hadn’t--because it wasn’t for lack of trying that we didn’t get pregnant. I don’t know what it was. We didn’t necessarily prevent it but I’m grateful that that never happened. One, we would have been in a marriage that wouldn’t have been happy because we both would have felt like we needed to stay. And that’s not good for the child to see two unhappy or unsatisfied people. That also creates a warped sense of relationships.
NSNC: What would you say to Black women who’ve had an abortion and maybe still feel shame around it and Black women who have maybe been too judgy about abortion in their past or present?
Monica: To those who may be a little judgy. You don’t know what you would do unless you’re in that position, period. Abortion is never easy, even if you’re like me and it was a decision you never wavered in. Even when it’s something that you’re sure about, it’s still never easy. And the women who--especially Black women, who have had abortions or are facing that decision, we need support. Not judgment. I don’t know how long I would have felt that I was going to burn in hell if I hadn’t talked to my best friend and she wasn’t the support that I needed in that moment. I don’t know if I would have experienced some extreme amount of guilt. I don’t know. But because she offered that support. That helped me process and that helped me cope and that helped me deal.
And my friend who came to visit me later, the day of. She was there every step of the way. Not having that support, I don’t know. I would have felt even more alone than I already felt. Because I already felt that I couldn’t talk to my mom or tell any of my aunts or my cousins. And my family is very close-knit, extremely close-knit. And I felt that I couldn’t tell them. So I would say to Black women who are quick to judge, that’s not what’s needed, sis. Offer your support. Remove your personal feelings and help that woman process what she’s going through so that she can come up with a decision for herself.
And to the women who have faced that decision, hopefully, they found out, like I did, the community is there. There are a lot of us who have had abortions. Even if you have to speak anonymously to tell your story to get it out there, we have to get it out there. We have to remove the stigma around Black women having abortions. Because again, during that time with the Melanie and Derwin thing, a commercial came on and --this was BET-- a commercial came on immediately afterward talking about how abortion kills more Black children than...What’s being said to us is one, inaccurate and it’s not helpful. So we have to speak out. And of course, once you’ve processed and are comfortable. What is it 2019? And I had the abortion in 2011. This is the first time I’ve spoken publicly and shared my name and my story. I did something for Cosmo online in 2015. But that was completely anonymous because I didn’t feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey this is me.’ So, of course, once you feel comfortable. This is a normal procedure. This is a medical procedure. There’s no shame attached to this. You have your reasons for doing this.
I think some times we can let other people’s voices get in our heads. You know, ‘We were being irresponsible.’ And ‘If we had just protected ourselves....’ No, it’s an experienced decision. It’s a difficult decision because you have a lot tied up in that, especially if you were raised in the church or you have some sort of religious foundation.
So to the women who have gone through it, like me, or are facing that decision, we’re here. You have friends, you have sisters, you have aunts, you have cousins who have been in your shoes. You’re not alone.
NSNC: And what’s so interesting to me is that, if you had a baby and weren’t able to take care of it, there would still be people judging that. You can never really escape people’s opinions. So you have to ultimately do what’s best for you because people are going to have something to say regardless.
Monica: Exactly. And it’s no one else’s decision but yours. And frankly, it’s no one else’s business but yours. Do I think that if you’re with the father, you should tell him, out of courtesy? Yes, because I do feel like that’s also his kid. Still, he cannot make that decision for you because it’s your body. That is your body that will be affected. And no one has a right to make that decision for you or make you feel guilty.
NSNC: Because they’re not going to carry the child.
Monica: Nor are they going to take care of the child once the child gets here.
NSNC: You mentioned your friend and the support that she gave you. What would you suggest to women who want to support other women who are having abortions?
Monica: Listen. That’s first and foremost. My friend who came to see me the day of the procedure, she told me a couple of weeks before that she wished that I wouldn’t do it. But she reiterated that it was ultimately my decision. So, listening first. Not doing what you think is best for that woman but letting her tell you what is best for her and her situation. And not offering your opinion until you know that it is safe to do so, that what you have to say won’t alter or affect any decision that she’s made. And don’t judge her, even secretly. Because we can feel that.
I don’t know if I had shared my decision with family members and friends if I would have had that same peace. I think part of the reason why I had the peace that I had was because I didn’t have so many voices and opinions going on. Because I don’t know if you know this about me, I don’t know if you could tell in college but I struggled with being a people pleaser my entire life. So while it sucked not being in Kansas City, being in D.C., where I was virtually alone, was a good thing. My family would have said, ‘Well, you can move back here and we can help you take of the baby.’ You know every reason not to do it. Looking back on it, that isolation I felt, did help.
You can read more of Monica's musings on her personal blog, Monica K.