I remember getting my period for the first time. It happened one evening, in a hotel bathroom in Vegas. I had been uncharacteristically? whiny walking the strip on the way back from dinner. All I knew was my back ached like it had never ached before (I was twelve, I actually don’t know if my back had ever ached before at all) and I was having what I would later know were cramps, but at the time I thought they were stomach pains. We got back to the room and I went immediately to the toilet. After I finished I stared down in disbelief at the red swirls. In that moment I felt bewildered, freaked out, and incredibly unprepared. I remember sitting there shivering for what was probably minutes, but it felt like hours. A little while later I pulled my mom aside, away from my dad and brother, and told her the news. I begged her not to tell my dad. I BEGGED her. But sure enough, early the next morning, from my camping spot on the Circus Circus floor, I awoke and could hear their whispers. I squeezed my eyes tight and tried not to cry.
Some six years later I would find myself in an eerily similar situation; again in a hotel (maybe even a motel) bathroom, again with my parents right outside. This time I was in North Carolina, this time it was later at night, this time my parents were sleeping, and this time I was sitting there, not because I had my period, but because I had missed my period. I don’t remember what the white plastic stick said, whether it was 2 blue lines, a YES, or something else, but the feelings were intensified a hundred times from the bathroom in Vegas. I felt bewildered, freaked out, unprepared, plus straight up scared, frantic, desperate, ashamed, and pretty close to despair. The crazy thing is, I wish I could say this was the worst moment of my life but in the months to come there were so many really bad moments, that I can’t single this out.
Like in Vegas, sometime the next morning I told my mom what was going on and I begged her not to tell my dad. This time though, I know she did as I asked because a couple days later she flew back home with him to Honolulu and I was on on my own. I was on my own to figure out what to do, and on my own to settle into my new dorm and my new life at Davidson College.
Knowing my incredibly loving, incredibly supportive, do-anything-for-her-kids mom, it must have killed her to be so far away from me. But neither of us wanted to know the repercussions of telling my dad. We still don’t.
In order to try to minimize her apprehension and distress, I called (this was before I had a cell phone) and checked in with her as infrequently as I could. I also didn’t tell a single other person except for my ex-boyfriend back at home. I felt too much shame to even utter the words over the phone to my closest friends. I spent the first pivotal weeks of my freshman year of college forcing myself to go to class, and making painfully lackluster attempts to get to know all the new people around me in between laying in my top bunk and running to the bathroom to throw up (as discreetly as I could).
More than anything I felt utterly alone. Alone.
I did look for support from my ex. He was an ex, yes, but just barely. There was still what you might call love, most definitely attachment there, (hence how I had gotten myself into the situation in the first place), but he was unresponsive and vacant, and also stoned more often than he was sober. At one point he told me he just couldn’t deal with me calling him, so eventually I pretty much stopped. And so. . .after the trip to the clinic with Georgia (I think she was the sex-education and health counselor) there was no one for me to talk to. There was no one there to hold my hand, there was no one there to tell me if the crazy cramping and the clots were normal, and there was no one there to breathe a sigh of relief with me when the hemorrhaging finally stopped. Worst of all, there was no one there to tell me it would be ok, and to tell me I wasn’t a stupid, terrible human being.
And that’s my story.
And I am a lucky one.
Because I have the mom that I have, a mom who told me I was brave for speaking out publicly about my experience, and a mom who loves me and doesn’t judge me in any shape or form for what I did. And though I tried to shield her from what happened, I knew if I really needed her to be there she would have been there in an instant.
Because I had Georgia. Perhaps she doesn’t even remember me, but I will always be thankful to her, because I don’t know if I could have made it to the clinic on my own.
Because I was able to have an abortion and move on with my life in the way I wanted to.
It breaks my heart to the very core that any woman should ever feel the way I felt. We should not. We should not feel guilt. We should not feel shame and self-loathing, and we should not feel like we did something wrong. We should not feel like we have to hide a secret and we should not feel like we need to explain ourselves. And EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US should be able to freely choose to have an abortion.
I do not accept legislation made on our bodies by men (and women too) who will never understand what it’s like to be 18, or 16, or 12 or 35 and know that you cannot and/or should not bring a life into the world for whatever reason, large or small.
It is our body, and so it is our choice. That’s the bottom line. Abortion is a basic human right.
20 years ago I made the hardest decision of my life. It hurt, it was painful, and I regret it not one single ounce.
You know me. I am your sister, I am your mother, I am your best friend. I am roughly 1 in 5 women in the United States. I own a business that brings rainbows to people’s lives every day and I have two beautiful children and a loving family who support me in all things. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not had the opportunity to make the choice that I made. Everyone should have that choice.
This is why I was spurred to share this story:
This past March I went to Birmingham and spent a few interesting, introspective , wondrous days mostly by myself, in a place that felt foreign to me in a way I had never experienced. Then just a couple months later, on May 15th, Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, signed a near total abortion ban into law— a victory for a conservative agenda dead-set on overturning Roe v. Wade, and also setting a dangerous precedent for other states to do the same.
After these occurrences I became increasingly uncomfortable knowing I had a story to share but still felt shame about it. All of a sudden I felt like I was perpetuating a stigma by keeping it inside. It’s not that I think everyone should be forced to share their private stories, but for me, I felt compelled to speak up about this issue, and if I chose to speak up, it didn’t feel right to keep my own abortion a private matter. I hope that makes sense, and I hope if you feel similarly, you will share your story too.
To help keep this conversation going, I created a special papaya tote. It will also support the fight to keep abortion legal with 20% of all sales going to Planned Parenthood, an important non-profit organization that provides reproductive healthcare in the US and around the world.
Jana Lam is a Honolulu, Hawaii based design company that focuses on products and accessories for an endless summer. Lam's beach front home once served as the production house of her handmade in Hawaii line of one-of-a-kind, hand-printed and sewn apparel and home accessories. In Fall 2017, printing and production move out of the home studio, and the Jana Lam Studio + Shop was opened in Kaka'ako.