For an entire summer, I wore the same earrings. They were small, fake, gold-painted depictions of the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. I bought them on Amazon for six dollars but enjoyed pretending they were from an eclectic antique shop. In Egyptian mythology, Ma’at represents the embodiment of justice, truth and fertility, and while I spent that summer between community college and university pouring bottles of Prosecco and serving lemon-crusted snapper to the bourgeois, women would coo as they sipped their chilled Sauvignon blanc. “Those are interesting earrings,” they’d say. “Which god is that again?”
I explained the virtues depicted in my earrings but never mentioned the fertility concept. After being coerced to take birth control since the age of 15, I had this unconscious idea that I was permanently infertile. As if the years of birth control had convinced my eggs to refuse procreation. As if my eggs were raging feminists who denied the oncoming advances of semen as an ideological stance. I had chosen to stop taking birth control a year earlier when I realized it was the culprit responsible for my loony mood swings. When customers asked me about my earrings, I didn’t mention the virtue of fertility because I thought saying it out loud could make it more possible.
I never thought becoming pregnant was physically viable, but I pushed the option far from the realm of possibility. Sometimes in life, it seems like the ideas we hinge our beliefs on dissolve before us. The universe has a special way of dealing with stubborn people. The summer before I went to university was tenuous—I needed to save an outrageous amount of money and find a living situation in the city I was moving to. Both seemed impossible. Becoming pregnant at such a delicate time loosened the already weak grasp I had on my situation. But when my co-worker became pregnant at the same time and our worlds quietly intersected, I observed the dynamics of choice that played out through our very different realities.
My Colleagues All Had Their Own Issues
In the summer of 2018, I felt like a surging ball of energy and motion, propelling in an uncharted direction. It would be my last summer in the place I attended community college before attending university. My transient upbringing had led me to fall in love with the stability that two years allowed. But that rush of energy had manifested for one reason: I was falling out of love. I was ready to untangle myself from my first adult relationship.
At the restaurant, my colleagues and I were all around the same age—most of us were going to school and working long hours, trying to balance the priorities of life. We transformed from studious, motivated pupils to silver-tongued public servants the hour we got out of class. In our 20s, sharing the hostile hardening experience of the customer service industry, we were all very different. Kyle liked taking pictures of his balls in the bathroom and sent them to his co-workers, constantly talking about how important his beard was. Mandy arrived at each shift with a worse hangover than the day before and babbled about how wild her night was while she applied a new coat of bright lipstick—as if that was going to disguise the reek of Jameson and anguish expelling from her pores.
Chelsea was young like me but had this wise grace about her that came off as comforting and dignified. She wasn’t in school, but we had deep conversations about philosophy, astrology, family and culture that convinced me of her intuitive awareness of the world, something that isn’t taught in school. Chelsea would arrive for work each day with a soft, charming smile and fierce, iridescent blue eyes. Her gaze was stunning, with penetrating eyes that edged on intimidation—her radiant smile that followed allowed your heart time to resuscitate. We would often discuss our complicated relationships with our boyfriends in the break room on scathingly hot summer days while troops of flies struggled to break up our intimate exchanges.
Chelsea never revealed anything explicitly negative about her relationship with her boyfriend, but I picked up on a deep sorrow that reflected in some of her stories: An affair that resulted in a child, a DUI that cost him a job and an undertone of neglect for the compassion and care she brought to the relationship. My inferences were only that. The dense, thorny, complicated corridors that relationships contain have no need for speculation from outsiders. Chelsea had a spunky sense of humor and would tease the men that hit on her, and as she walked away, their gaze would follow—wistful desire in their enthusiastic eyes, a playful distant flicker in her crystalline gaze. We were both millennials, came from loving families and understood the industry's conundrum that could squash an ego and praise it at the same moment.
I Discovered I Was Pregnant; My Colleague Was, Too
My period was supposed to arrive while I was on a backpacking trip in the beginning of the summer. I begged Aunt Flo to delay it for a week because backpacking without a shower would be the least comfortable experience. Every time I’d feel a potential cramp in my stomach, I would inwardly sigh, knowing it had arrived. But when I returned home, it still hadn’t come. Nothing happened for a couple of days, so just to be safe, I took a pregnancy test. It turned out positive.
To be sure, I took three more. All positive. My brain couldn’t think about it, so I bathed in gloom. Biology had taken its course, and my sensibility couldn’t adjust. The climactic drama that I had witnessed in movies was nowhere near my despondent melancholia. The inevitability of my future action repulsed me in the present moment. I made an appointment with hasty anxiety, not wanting to acknowledge the reality of the situation. The lady at Planned Parenthood explained that I would have to wait at least a week for the fetus to form in order to abort it.
My thoughts were drenched in the ethics of murder. My mind was absorbed in the emotional ambiguities behind the procedure. I went to work expecting to use it as a distraction, but it seemed that all my tables were pregnant mothers or families with small children. I was in a daze, engrossed in trying to understand my feelings and working on accepting them.
Chelsea noticed my distance and inquired; I deflected by asking her if she had any news. She actually had incredible, life-changing news: She was seven weeks pregnant, exactly the same as me. I looked at her youthful smile and shuddered in awe and disbelief. It was as if we were accidentally representing the yin and yang of the world. I felt as if my eyes were brimming with the truth that was inside my gut, and if we held eye contact for long enough, she would be able to tell.
I looked down, trying to collect the cataclysmic thoughts surging in my head, and then glanced back to her sparkly cobalt stare. Chelsea’s energy surrounding the conversation was warm with excitement. She had resigned to the idea that this was going to be her life. It was as if she had almost been lost before this moment and now she had a purpose.
My Abortion Was an Isolated Experience, Unlike Chelsea’s Pregnancy
I felt like an imposter in my own skin as she stood right next to me with such comfort and pleasure. It felt blasphemous to look at her; we were secretly in the same situation, but our choices were worlds apart. How could the label “mother” fit so naturally on a person who was just my co-worker moments before? Considering that label for myself felt like an intrusion, an offense of the most serious kind.
We worked together that entire week, riding the tidal waves of interpretation. Chelsea would arrive at work basking in her cloud of prospective mommyhood, while I wallowed in this awkward space of denial and guilt. My mental physics would traverse back and forth between feelings of acceptance and chronic self-hatred. Chelsea would disclose her new discoveries in mommy research as I listened, intent on observing the differences between our internal reactions. Why did the shape of this identity adorn her in such a natural way when I recoiled at the thought of trying it on?
I went through with the procedure as I expected, the most disheartening part. My body took months to recover; my mind recovered when the procedure proved successful; but my soul has never released the thought. As the hot and busy summer months continued, Chelsea told more people, and eventually management. I watched her create a support system at work, and everybody got excited with her. People started suggesting names at the espresso counter and doula references at the ice machine. I even witnessed our co-workers doing a little extra work to eliminate some of her strain. She placed her vulnerability in the hands of colleagues, and people rose to the occasion with deep reverence. Many days, Chelsea would arrive at work with severe exhaustion exuding from her movements, yet she would light up when someone asked how she was feeling.
I Loved That We Both Could Make Decisions That Fit Our Lives
The division between our worlds made me tremble with admiration. Admiration for the choices we made that allowed each of us to continue our lives in the way we deemed fit. Admiration for the brutal integrity and incredible vigor Chelsea displayed while working a laborious job and navigating through a pregnancy. Admiration for the dynamism that both life and death encourage in different arrangements. The manner in which two seemingly similar-positioned women internalized a biological fact. It was extraordinary.
The summer of 2018 was sweaty, busy and unfolded in ways I only began to understand as time passed. I continued wearing my goddess earrings to work each day, except with a deeper reverence for their symbology. As I would gently place them in my earlobes while staring in the mirror, I’d think about Chelsea and her capacity to adorn the values of truth, justice and fertility with a fierce honor.