My period is never late. Instead, it favors the early and brutal style. In March, I landed in the ER by passing a blood clot the size of my fist. “You have an abnormally heavy cycle,” the doc told me. “It’s not normal to get your period every three weeks, either. That’s your anemia and hypothyroidism. Take some birth control.” It was a clever idea, but male doctors don’t understand that finding a GYN when you’re not pregnant is about as simple as DoorDashing authentic Mexican in rural Alabama.
My cycles spaced out when I treated my anemia, so I postponed that particular doctor odyssey. Six months later, four and a half weeks after my last period, I was cursing myself. In almost thirty years of cycling, I’d only been that late when I was pregnant. I hadn’t even started spotting. Insert string of unprintable profanity. I have three boys, ages 13, 11, and nine. All are neurodivergent; Covid left my nine-year-old wracked with anxiety and tending toward sensory meltdowns. After years of toting kids on my back and whipping out my boobs during tantrums, my parenting-focused writing had given way to science fiction and Southern gothic.
Picture books had ceded their shelf space to Warriors and Wings of Fire; my cloth diaper stash was repurposed for rags. I could drive up the East Coast without a small child wailing every hour, on the hour. Finally, I lived in a house full of breakable antiques and swallowable family heirlooms. No one was taking my dish full of marbles — not God, not my 90-pound German Shepherd, and certainly not a spacey-eyed, drooling toddler.
I didn’t want an abortion. No one wants an abortion, not really, but I really didn’t want one. I would keep a baby if I didn’t get both hyperemesis and gestational diabetes. Maybe. But I spent my last nine months on the pregnancy rollercoaster laying in bed, shooting up insulin like Stacey from The Babysitter’s Club, and gaining over a hundred pounds. That pudgy face left me looking like a teenage baby mama at age thirty-two, but almost ten years later, I had a life. This life involved not only bite-sized decor, but three boys who couldn’t live with their mother in a Zofran coma for sixteen hours a day.
Clearly, I needed an abortion. I cried. There’s always guilt there, and I had to message friends for support. I think I’m pregnant, I told Bridget. I haven’t tested yet but I’m never this late. I just need someone to tell me it’s okay to have an abortion. I know I want one but I feel bad about it.
You shouldn’t have a kid unless you’re 100% sure, she replied. It’s okay.
One of my best friends listened to me babble for over an hour. It’s okay, he told me. It’s always okay but in your case it’s especially okay. I bet you’re in perimenopause though. IDK, I said. It was a possibility, but I’d shown no other symptoms: no mood swings, no hot flashes, no sleep problems or mood changes. It could be a possibility, but I didn’t give it any credence.
Luckily, I live in Virginia, a blue state, at least for the time being. Planned Parenthood, I discovered, would provide me with misoprostol during a telehealth appointment. But more research told me that unlike Viagra, our insurance didn’t cover it — boners were always more important than legitimate reproductive health. Abortion pills would cost more than five hundred dollars, an expense that, unlike a hedgehog leg amputation (don’t ask), we couldn’t ask my in-laws to help with. I winced. This would hurt physically and financially.
I was pissed at my husband — his dick had gotten me into this — and I was pissed at myself. I should’ve waded through the red tape of finding a GYN. I shouldn’t’ve had sex in the first place. I was scared, but mostly, I was angry: angry at my insurance company, which would likely save oodles of money by providing pills rather than maternity care; angry at politicians, who were challenging the FDA that allowed misoprostol to be provided via Telehealth and after seven weeks gestation; angry I was a forty-two year old woman shoved into a teenager’s dilemma. I didn’t want a baby. I couldn’t deal with a baby. But the world was conspiring to give me one.
My husband swung by CVS and grabbed a pack of pregnancy tests on his way home from work. We were too old for that nonsense. I kept them in the bag, hidden from the kids, and tramped upstairs. He appeared a few minutes later. “Don’t stare at them,” he told me. “You’re not pregnant. Your period’s just late.”
“It’s only two minutes,” I replied,” and I’m going to stare at them.” He’d be an innocent bystander to any consequences, responsible only for financial and emotional fallout. I watched for the two little lines. I could’ve been a college student again. This wasn’t supposed to happen at forty-two.
They were negative.
I faceplanted on the bed. I wouldn’t have to walk a gauntlet of shouting nuns, at least that month. Finding out you’re perimenopausal shouldn’t be such a relief. But any relief was shortlived. I was safe that month — I started spotting three days later, and got my period after a week — but what about next month? If my period had become irregular, how would I know to test? If they banned the abortion pill after seven weeks, and I didn’t realize I was pregnant, I’d have to get a medical abortion.
My husband said we’d fly to Cancun if that happened. That was one white-privileged, middle-aged pact I never wanted to make.
At least we didn’t live in South Carolina anymore, where it’s now illegal to have an abortion after six weeks. It shouldn’t be harder to procure an abortion when you’re forty-two than it was when you were twenty, and I could’ve lived without that deep-dive into my moral code. I knew what I would name a baby. That didn’t mean I wanted one.
Welcome to perimenopause. Hope you’re stocked on pregnancy tests.
A six-year staff writer for Scary Mommy with pieces published in The Washington Post and Insider, Elizabeth Broadbent has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered, and BBC World News. Her short stories have appeared, among other places, in Tales to Terrify, Penumbric, Tree & Stone, and The Cafe Irreal; her novella, Naked & Famous, publishes with EJL Editions in summer 2023, and her poetry chapbook, Wrapped in a Burning Flag, comes out in winter of 2024.