In 1997, on New Years Eve, I found myself staring at a second line on a pregnancy test. I was 20 years old, living with a schmuck, not quite divorced from the other schmuck I’d left after a enduring lot of abuse in our on again-off-again high school relationship, working part time at a bookstore, and taking time off from college, which I had started at 17.  Life had moved pretty fast since I’d turned 17, and it wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. 

I knew immediately what my choice was, looking at that stick. I’d been told a couple years earlier that I’d probably never have children (HA! I know). I’d never had a positive test before. I took a deep breath, looked at schmuck number 2, and said “Well, it looks like we’re having a baby.” He looked back at me, and promptly replied “You’re having an abortion.”  The next day, we went to Planned Parenthood. I took another test there to confirm that I was pregnant.  It was most certainly confirmed. They gave me a bunch of prenatal vitamins to take and told me to make sure to sign up for WIC, so that as my next step. Schmuck was not happy.

Two weeks later, after my first OBGYN appointment, after hearing the fetal heartbeat, he still insisted that my choice ought to be to end the pregnancy. When I refused, he picked me up, and threw me into a wall, trying to cause me to have a miscarriage. Needless to say, I left him. I was much stronger then than I was with schmuck number 1. I had made my decision, and that was to carry that fetus to term. That fetus is now 18 years old, is graduating high school, and will  be attending a private college on multiple scholarships in the fall. 

That was my choice. My choice isn’t for everyone. I chose to be a single mom. I chose to have a baby that would be raised without the presence of a father-figure.

Pregnancy transforms you, whether you wind up staying pregnant or not. In 2000, I sat staring at a second positive test. I was in the middle of a semester after having finally returned to college. I was in a decent relationship with someone who probably values-wise was not the best match, but that wasn’t really apparent at the time. I made the same decision – to continue the pregnancy. I was torn. It was very emotional for me. I was embarrassed that I once again wasn’t married and that I was pregnant.  However, I did not wind up carrying that fetus to term. Instead, I went through the heart-wrenching experience of miscarriage when a pregnancy isn’t exactly being celebrated.  

Both experiences changed me. Two children and a fifth pregnancy later, I still wonder “What if” when it comes to the miscarriage. 

Kassi Underwood was faced with a similar decision when she was nineteen. She was in a much different situation. She was struggling with alcoholism, she did not live close to family. She did not have a good support system. She was lost and afraid and struggling. She chose to go to the abortion clinic and end her pregnancy. Once she went through it, she too was transformed. 

Underwood chronicles her transformation in the book, May Cause Love. She endures a downward spiral – drinking more alcohol and talking about her pregnancy with anyone who would listen. She wound up falling into a depression sparked by guilt and the birth of her ex-boyfriend’s baby with someone else.  She does so with a frankness that I think is important in a story like this. As I read, I could really feel how her decision affected her, every day, through re-living it as she went about her daily business, through her attempts to move past it, through her interactions with those having babies. She talks about the hard stuff – the stuff people tend to veer away from in conversations about choice. She writes about what it’s like to both know that she made the decision she felt was best for the situation she was in and to be deeply affected by that decision long after the fact.

And then, she sets out to do something, anything, to change how she feels and to move past the abortion and pregnancy. Her story is gritty, it is real, and it shows the depth for healing that we have as humans. It “goes there.” At times, the book was hard for me to read, but I kept reading. The voice and style she uses to communicate her transformation is engaging and rich.

And I suggest this book to all – even if her decision was one you may not feel was the right decision. We learn empathy and about the inner stories of others through listening to them tell us their stories. And while her choice was not my choice, it was a choice that transformed her – and it was a choice that ultimately led to love. And it’s a story told as if you are sitting across from the author in a cafe. 

About May Cause Love

• Hardcover: 352 pages
• Publisher: HarperOne (February 14, 2017)

In this powerful memoir, a fiercely honest and surprisingly funny testament to healing after abortion, a young woman travels across the United States to meet a motley crew of spiritual teachers and a caravan of new friends.

At age nineteen, Kassi Underwood discovered she was pregnant. Broke, unwed, struggling with alcohol, and living a thousand miles away from home, she checked into an abortion clinic.

While her abortion sparked her “feminist awakening,” she also felt lost and lawless, drinking to oblivion and talking about her pregnancy with her parents, her friends, strangers-anyone.

Three years later, just when she had settled into a sober life at her dream job, the ex-boyfriend with whom she had become pregnant had a baby with someone else. She shattered. In the depths of a blinding depression, Kassi refused to believe that she would “never get over” her abortion. Inspired by rebellious women in history who used spiritual practices to attain emotional freedom, Kassi embarked on a journey of recovery after abortion-a road trip with pit stops at a Buddhist “water baby” ritual, where she learns a new way to think about lost pregnancies; a Roman Catholic retreat for abortion that turns out to be staffed with clinic picketers; a crash course in grief from a Planned Parenthood counselor; a night in a motel with a “Midwife for the Soul” who teaches her how to take up space; and a Jewish “wild woman” celebration led by a wise and zany rabbi.

Dazzling with warmth and leavened by humor, May Cause Love captures one woman’s journey of self-discovery that enraged her, changed her, and ultimately enlightened her.

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About Kassi Underwood

Kassi Underwood grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. Her work has been published in the New York Times, The Atlantic online, The Rumpus, and Refinery29. She holds an MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University, where she taught on the faculty of the Undergraduate Writing Program. She has been a guest on MSNBC and HuffPost Live, and a speaker at colleges, comedy shows, and faith communities nationwide. Kassi lectures about personal transformation, social justice, and the spirituality of abortion. She is a student at Harvard Divinity School and cohost of the podcast Spiritually Blonde.

Find out more about Kassi at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.