Written by Emily Hughey
Photo: Juli Kosolapova
Around this time six years ago, I met a shy, soft-spoken man for coffee. He was extra interested in me, and I was buzzing with butterflies, which is a nice euphemism for “anxiety.”
He was attentive; keeping me on the phone into the wee hours; texting me constantly, even while I was at work or visiting friends; and asking me tons of questions about myself like “do you like white gold or yellow gold?” “what’s your favorite ice cream in Chicago?” and “when was your last period?” I looked forward to the overnight he’d planned in a nice hotel a couple weeks later.
We had sex for the first time in that hotel bed, where he reached down to adjust the condom, came inside me and it felt like love. It was a culmination of a lot of things that felt like love to me at the time, fresh from a marriage to a good but detached man.
I learned moments after that he had not adjusted the condom. He had removed it. “I thought you were sterile,” he said. “I thought you knew I took the condom off!”
I did not want to birth any more kids.
I did not know he took the condom off.
I did not know what “stealthing” was.
Stealthing is when a partner secretly removes a condom during sex without the other person’s consent. Stealthing is a form of rape and punishable as such in some countries.
I believed his insistence that it was all a silly misunderstanding, so we marched to the drug store before breakfast to buy the morning-after pill. There was one box of Plan B left, we joked it must’ve been a wild night in Chicago, he opened the box and handed me a pill.
A couple of Fridays later, my period was late. The next day, he stormed out of my house in a fury because I was not paying attention to him at the patio party I was hosting for my dear girlfriend’s birthday. We were up all night that night fighting, trying to understand. I woke with puffy eyes and the awareness that whatever had just happened between us, it wasn’t healthy.
That afternoon, I found out I was pregnant.
When you vote to ban abortion, you empower the shy, soft-spoken men who get women like me pregnant without our consent.
Pregnant, separated but not even yet divorced from my kind ex-husband, struggling to build an infant career, living paycheck to paycheck at best, using my credit card to buy groceries and also existing with a knowing that THIS was the daughter I’d had the premonition about years ago.
Practically, I knew I should have an abortion. And I WOULD have, were it not for the glaring fact that, spiritually, I felt called to have my daughter. Financially, I could not do it alone. Physically, I was terrified of this man who said he loved me. Emotionally, and maybe it was the standard abuse dynamic, I thought I loved him, too.
Practically, I knew I should have an abortion. And I WOULD have, were it not for the glaring fact that, spiritually, I felt called to have my daughter.
And so, the relationship with this shy man got me pregnant without my consent escalated. He and his son moved into my apartment with me and my sons. We later rented a house together. He bought me a giant Mercedes and lots of jewelry and perfume I did not know he could not afford. That house, where I lived with him, his son, my boys and eventually my baby, was a portal to hell. The fighting, the crying, the eggshells, the adrenaline, the cortisol, the orchestrated sleep deprivation, the stomping, the police showing up at the door after the neighbors reported yelling, the forced sex even immediately postpartum and, eventually, the hurled objects and tightly gripped wrists…I kept thinking it would get better.
When my healthy, smiley, magical daughter was six months old, I got up the courage to call my friends to help me pack my stuff and, two weeks later, after sleeping with bedroom doors locked and bells on the knobs for fear he would hunt me in the night, I moved out, riddled with PTSD, 15 months in the making.Eventually, after we tried in earnest to coparent, he left, too. By then, she was two years old. I don’t know where he is, and I hope he stays that far away forever.
That house, where I lived with him, his son, my boys and eventually my baby, was a portal to hell.
Now, at age 5, my force-of-nature daughter has a bumper sticker she picked out at Women and Children First Bookstore in Chicago and stuck it to the headboard of her bed. “My Body, My Choice,” it says in bold black letters. She likes to point to it when we don’t agree on what she will wear.
..Is “my body, my choice” the only lie I’ll ever tell my daughter?
Sometimes in tender moments, she cries because she remembers that shy, soft-spoken man’s scratchy beard on her cheek, the applesauce she ate at his house and that he loved her. I watch her cry and sometimes cry myself as I hold her and tell her the truth: “Your dad will always love you,” I confess, because I know. “Also, it’s so much safer for you, for me and for our family that he is not here. I know it hurts. I will always be here for you and your brothers, no matter what. I love you all more than anything in the world.”
No lies. In our house, we believe if it’s mentionable, it’s manageable. She knows.
Today I look at her bumper sticker — as I read about an increasing number of white male politicians voting to ban abortion — and I think, is “my body, my choice” the only lie I’ll ever tell my daughter?
Thing is, when you vote to ban abortion, you empower the shy, soft-spoken men who get women like me pregnant without our consent. Instead of supporting us after we choose to (or are forced to) have the baby — no government-funded supplies, housing or stipends here — you strip good moms, great workers, diverse thinkers and model citizens of our agency, our earning potential, our capacity and our allegiance to this country, if, by this point, we had any left.