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When Atheists Believe In God and Hell

So yesterday we talked a bit about the five stages of grief. For most people, these are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You would think that the progression goes something a little like this:

If you are generally a positive person, or if you have superhuman powers, you might hope for something like this:

The reality for most normal people, however, is more like this:

Only, the colors in the flowchart make it seem like a far more cheerful process than it actually is. It is gut-wrenching, agonizing, terrifying, dizzying, nauseating, insert-a-million-of-the-most-horrible-adjectives-you-can-come-up-with-here. If you are a pregnant woman considering an abortion, or have already had an abortion, then I don’t need to describe it to you, since you are likely going through the process at this very moment. It’s a good thing to recognize each of the stages (you might not go through them all). It won’t make your feelings seem any less painful, but it might help you to maintain a clearer head if you know exactly what you’re going through and why.

Denial: For me, the gravity of the situation didn’t sink in right away. I spent a couple of days being completely numb and in a daze, not really spending any time thinking about the decision ahead of me, or the consequences of what I would choose to do. It was a defense mechanism that allowed me to continue living my normal life without much upheaval. My sole occupation was dealing with morning sickness (morning, noon and night) and making multiple trips to the grocery store everyday in the hopes of finding something I could stomach.

Anger: This is where I started to blame the universe and its mother and its neighbor and its dog for the situation I was in. I blamed my boyfriend, because he wasn’t ready for the responsibility, and who isn’t ready for responsibility at thirty-five??? I blamed my parents, because they are still living in their conservative religious/cultural bubble where having sex outside marriage is something that can be enjoyed only by men and whores. Good girls have hymens. Unless they’re divorced or widowed, then they have cobwebs. I blamed my boyfriend’s parents, because they raised him to be the kind of man who wasn’t ready for responsibility at thirty-five. Thirty-five! I blamed the U.S. government for doing such a piss-poor job of running a country that I didn’t have health care and couldn’t get a job despite trying for months and months and months. I blamed God, and I don’t even believe in any gods. But it was convenient to have an imaginary being to aim all my anger at. And when all these people, institutions, and fictional entities were still not enough to spread the fury around, I began to blame myself. What kind of a failure was I? I was thirty and still had not established myself enough that I could bring a child into the world and provide for him. (I will always refer to my unborn child as a boy. Of this I was – for no rational reason – convinced.) Who doesn’t have a job or a savings account or health insurance at thirty? Thirty??? Me, that’s who. And who has all of those things but not the courage to take on adult responsibilities? My boyfriend, that’s who. It was like I was spinning in a circle with my accusatory finger outstretched, and whoever had the misfortune of standing anywhere near me was going to get some share of the blame. Not to say that I was throwing the blame around without any rhyme or reason… just that I was angry at myself and the world for the situation that I was in, and focusing on the anger was easier than focusing on the painful decision at hand.

Bargaining: This is where I decided that I would have the child no matter what anyone said or did or thought. This is where I imagined that I would somehow miraculously get a job with a hefty salary and ample benefits, all before I became visibly pregnant and therefore undesirable to employers. There was much delusion involved in the bargaining stage, as I sent out resumes to people I had already sent resumes to in the past year, thinking that somehow this time would be different. And I told myself, with desperation that I now realize was oh-so-sad, that if only I could find myself a secure job with a stable income, then I would keep the baby. And if I couldn’t find said job, I would do the right thing by my child and not bring him into a world where I couldn’t care for him. But the delusion continued until the very last day…

Depression: This was not a separate stage in my case, but rather a state I would enter into at various points every day, when I would realize that my anger was for naught, and my desperate job search was for naught, and all my hoping against hopes was for naught. This state involved lots of crying while in the fetal position. I have nothing remotely jokey that I can say about it.

Acceptance: This didn’t come for me until the very last day, really. On the day before the abortion, when I went in to get my sonogram and hear about the risks of the surgery (thank you, Rick Perry! May there be a hell just so you can rot in it), I was still hoping I would find a way to keep the baby. Seeing the little berry-sized blob on the sonogram monitor made me want to grin like an idiot, but I bit the inside of my cheek because I knew I wasn’t allowed to be happy yet. When asked at the end of my appointment if I wanted to make an appointment for the procedure, I made one for more than a week away, hoping to buy myself time. It wasn’t until I got home, saw an inbox void of job offers, and saw my boyfriend’s not-ready-to-be-a-father-yet face looking at me like I was crazy that I hadn’t made an earlier appointment that I realized I was defeated. There was no way that all the missing pieces were going to fall in place magically and allow me to raise a child. I picked up the phone, and feeling like a zombie, moved my appointment up to March 17th, and collapsed in tears, moaning from depths within me I didn’t even know existed. Acceptance isn’t always a graceful process.

I have no nuggets of wisdom to leave you with today. It sucked, that’s the summary. But I will leave you on this hopeful note: it gets better. I won’t say that I’m a shining ball of sunshine and rainbows these days, but I am certainly more at peace than I imagined I would be. It gets better, I promise. Hang in there. Remember the reasons for your decision, and be kind to yourself, and it will get better.

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