‘This Is Us’ Actress Milana Vayntrub: My Abortion Story
In May 2020, I injured my ankle so badly that I couldn’t move a toe. The slightest jolt sent a crippling flash through my leg, like microphone feedback that knocks you back and plugs your ears. This is what back work was like, but in my spine.
My baby was “sunny” – a vaguely appetizing term that meant her head was pushing against my spine. Every time I had a contraction, it felt like my back was breaking. The pain was unfair, like an injustice. Surely that must be against the law! I thought, followed quickly by, I have to call the head of the hospital! As the pain intensified, it became, I have to call the police! Eventually I landed on the President. In fact, scratch that. Kamala. She would know what to do.
Madam Vice President, if there’s a way to call my womb and ask this kid for his ETA? See if he would consider assuming a more comfortable position? I’m sure you have friends in high places, soooo…
I had been in labor for so long that I really forgot I was in the hospital having a baby. The pain had taken over and I thought my life was going to be about dealing with it. The doctors had already tried to give me an epidural, but it didn’t work, so my options were limited: I begged the doctors to try the epidural one more time. (They couldn’t.) I begged my husband to squeeze my hips every time I had a contraction. (He did.) I begged Siri to activate my “Breathe & Chill” playlist. (She said I had to unlock my phone first. We haven’t spoken since.)
Just when I thought I was at my wit’s end, the nurse told me I was ready to push. And I did. For two glorious hours, I pushed like a champ. Between flare-ups, I made jokes. I told the nurses that was how I was supposed to tape my stand-up special. When else would I have such a captive audience? I was sweaty, exhausted, and hilarious, even if it was just me.
My baby arrived slimy, half covered in her own poop and heavy as a bowling ball. As the nurse rested her noisy little body on my chest, I remembered why I was here and why I had gone through all of this. I remembered that was what I had chosen to do. I wanted to create a family. I knew this was the first of many gigantic sacrifices I would make in my son’s life.
For me, the birth was bearable because I had chosen it. I could only handle the nausea, pain, and expense (financial and emotional) of pregnancy because I wanted a child. Now that I’ve gone through a full-term pregnancy and given birth, I find myself thinking how imprisoning it would be to go through this if I does not have choose it. If I was forced into it because the laws gave me no other option.
Sadly, what’s terrifying isn’t some distant dystopian thought experiment. In 2021 alone, 600 abortion restrictions were introduced nationwide; 90 have been enacted. That’s more than any year since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973. And right now, the Supreme Court is deliberating on a case that could overturn Roe vs. Wade.
“I find myself thinking how imprisoning it would be to go through this if I *didn’t* choose it. If I was forced into it because the laws gave me no other option.”
This is not a drill, people. All of us who have a womb may soon be deprived of the constitutional right to abortion. Forced pregnancy and childbirth seem medieval – as medieval as secret, dangerous abortions. And yet, here we are.
My life as I know it, and my motherhood as I know it, have been shaped by my right to make choices about my own body. In this way, my birth story is inseparable from my abortion story.
Ten years ago, I was pregnant for the first time. I was living in an apartment I could barely afford with my first boyfriend out of college. We did whatever it took to get by. I would babysit randomly, work at a smoothie shop, and improv in tiny Los Angeles theaters as often as anyone on stage would let me. I accidentally missed a day or two of my birth control and my period was late. So I did what countless women have done since pioneer days: I bought a pack of two pregnancy tests, took them to the drugstore bathroom, and buried the positive results in the trash can under damp paper towels.
I immediately knew the right thing to do was to have an abortion. There was no twist, no confusion, no sleepless nights. I’ve always had a strong moral compass – the kind that triggers howling sirens and flashing red lights in my chest if I feel like I’m doing something wrong. In this case, everything was silent. My compass pointed very clearly in the direction of not having a child I didn’t want and couldn’t take care of.
“I immediately knew the right thing to do was to have an abortion. There was no twist, no confusion, no sleepless nights.”
Within two weeks, I had a safe procedure in my doctor’s office, and it was no big deal. My abortion story is simple and straightforward, based on a decision that was mine alone. I understand it’s a privilege. I also understand that access to abortion should never be a privilege; it should be a protected right.
For the past decade, I’ve barely thought about my abortion except when I think of those who may not have access to it. Abortion restrictions disproportionately harm our nation’s already most vulnerable people — from black, Latino, and Indigenous communities to youth, immigrants, people living in poverty, and rural areas. This is no surprise. Marginalized Americans have always been the most affected by racist and classist reproductive policies throughout history.
I am haunted by the prospect of what we all stand to lose. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, half of the US states could control our personal reproductive decisions by summer. More than 36 million people could be forced to give birth.
Becoming a mother has made me even more adamant about access to safe and legal abortions. I now know how difficult it is to bring a human being the size of a bowling ball to fruition. I know the grueling willpower it takes to give birth to a baby. I know the toll of sleepless nights and a torn body, the need for support, the pause it puts on your career, your relationships, and your goals. I can’t imagine the cruelty of enduring all of this plus a lifetime of raising children if you don’t want to.
I wouldn’t wish on anyone the labor pain I experienced. Alright, except maybe the politicians who keep using their power to try to strip us of our rights. But I wish them well. Perhaps working would increase their empathy for those of us whose bodies they use as talking points in their re-election campaigns.
It has never been so clear to me that the abortion “debate” is not about life or even politics; it is a question of power. And even though I don’t have the power to vote in the Supreme Court case, I do have the power to raise my voice as one of the nearly 25% of women who will have an abortion during of their life. Thus, as the 49th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I’m telling you all these personal details because I believe in the power of our stories to provide perspective. And more than that, the ability of our actions to create protections for all.
Deep down, I think most Americans understand that we should all have the freedom and power to make choices about our bodies, our lives, and our future. We are in 2022! I want to scream on my newsfeed. How could we live in a country where people are forced to do something so upsetting, so personal? But screaming only wakes the baby up and does nothing else.
Instead, we must act. The Senate will soon vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). This is essential legislation that would protect the right to abortion nationwide. I call on my senators and urge them to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. I hope you will join me. We need to get their attention by every means we know how: emails, letters, calls, protests and, of course, that precious vote that we each have.
For many reasons, I am grateful for the beautifully annoying abortion I had and the essential health care I received. Mainly because today I can show up for my little self with open arms knowing that I chose our life together.