This story is published at My Abortion, My Life.
‘Bitterness does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored…than the vessel on which it is poured.’
Why am I writing this? Perhaps to help heal the bitterness, the anger and the rage I still feel, and which very recently keeps making itself known. Things I’ve tried to lay to rest, to forgive. Am still. I've had two abortions.
They are years past now, but like any loss, it can be readily called back. I am dealing now with never having children—a great regret—and one that is colored more by having had two abortions in my life. They were the right choices. That is very clear, but as expressed elsewhere in this important movement to de-stigmatize abortion I deeply wish I had not been in the position to have to make them.
I wish I'd stood up for myself. I wish I'd chose for myself and responsibility instead of the pleasure of the moment or the guys—I wish I hadn’t been taken in so readily by ‘what I was supposed to be’—sexy, smart, together. The whole ‘bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan’ lunacy of 90’s feminism—thank goodness we’re moving on from that version. It was impossible and exhausting, and men weren’t accountable at all in it. I wish this so that I wouldn't have gotten myself into these choices. I wish I’d understood better that men will not look after you. You must do that yourself.
My first abortion occurred in my mid 20’s. In the 90's—well enough to know better, struggling with the birth control issue and the condom use. I had it at about 8-10 weeks. I was still stupid enough to put my partner before me, acquiescing when I should have been thinking more for myself. We weren't living together. I had in fact moved back home after a job change. My partner lived in the city. He held me as I cried the news that I was pregnant. Weeping in fear, knowing it was not the right time, knowing I couldn’t have a child then. We were engaged but I struggled in doubt over a future he wanted for himself but that truly didn’t mesh with dreams of my own. I remember having to face the consequences of telling my mother and father because of this, whereas my partner never faced them. He did not even accompany me to the clinic where the cluster of protesters was mercifully small. One called to my mother (bless her) who took me. They said 'you don't have to go with that woman' to me. I kept my head down. That I was having to put my mother through this.
I wept as they put me under. Threw up when I woke. Mom and I drove home in silence—but that was me, not her. I was so full of emotion and pain I didn't know how to express it. Numb. I believe my partner and I talked about it in subsequent months and remember clearly one time he shook his head and he said the statement 'it's just a few cells'. *I think* in exasperation about why I struggled. But it was also, I’m sure, frustration in dealing with it himself.
Although I don’t recall ever hearing about or seeing him experience any pain over it—not that he didn’t, or that it wasn’t there, just that I don’t recall seeing it now—but human memory is very subjective and unreliable. Regardless the way I’ve reconstructed it, it was as if it couldn’t be talked about after that. At the time I'd never thought about abortion before. Then it was all I could think about. I remember anger later with him, fury much later... so much later, and so delayed. Fury that he hadn't accompanied me to the clinic, nor cared for me afterwards, nor ever faced my parents, or his own family—like there were no consequences for him at all. To this day I don't know why I hadn't demanded that care, nor why he didn't try at all to give it. It took me several years more to leave that relationship.
My second abortion was even dumber. I hadn't learned the lesson of the first—that only I was going to be responsible. My stupid, stupid people pleasing urge. I had it at around 6 weeks. So when my partner could not have sex with a condom what did I do? Yep, you bet.
Luckily this one was easier in the sense that it was medical, no clinic, no nausea from being put under, no protesters—just a forced look at an ultrasound due to state requirements. The questions mandatory about 'are you sure' and 'did you consider other options'. This partner stayed with me that night and did his best to care. I could not face what had taken years to walk myself out of before—so I tried to pretend it hadn’t happened. We’d only been together a few months, didn’t really know each other—so we didn’t talk about it very much. I’d taken from my previous experience and my shaped experience with men who don’t talk about their emotions (emotions never help anything—learned that from the men in my family) that it was better not to. Ultimately, we didn’t last but as before it was a few years before we found we couldn’t make it work.
Fast forward years—married much later in life—running out of time to have kids. Trying and failing due to circumstance to do so. Being told there are age limits on any alternatives where I am, IVF too expensive. Also due to my age, insurance would not cover anything. Between 10 and 40,000 minimum for anything—plus an international trip to do it legally. Ran the odds of success—combined with circumstance—new job, challenging manager, housing situations, living in a foreign country—different rules. An older male obstetrician telling me my early menopause was 'normal' and 'natural' as I tried to discuss what options I might have available to me and certainly making it clear he found any artificial options should be out of the question for someone at the age of 45.
I am bitter as I see the pictures of their kids—these old partners of mine. They were never called sluts online or in person when I’ve tried to stand up for this right (something I am unaware if my ex-partners ever do). They never suffered any consequences. They have kids. I keep my distance because I don't want my anger and bitterness to infect them—I prefer to wish them well and be glad for them. But god. Oh god. I would just appreciate an apology, an acknowledgement—freely given of what that wrought, their role in it, how they behaved, and what they should have been—which was much much better men than they were. I struggle to see them as humans who were also caught up, young, and having no idea how to handle the situation either—which I know rationally they were and are. I do hope they are better men now and think of their wives more than themselves when warranted as opposed to how they were with me.
I also dwell on how I should have been a better woman to myself and for myself. I should have demanded more of them and stood up for myself. Not because this was a sin, not because I'm going to burn in some special hell, and not because these weren't smart and responsible choices. They were. Both of them. But because I was so eager to please and put myself in this situation twice, put my partners through it, and my parents, family and friends. I am not so eager to please anymore. I am striving to work myself out of bitterness—because it is harmful—all this shame and anger—and only serves to hurt myself and those around me.
I’ve had to give forgiveness to god at moments because I can’t seem to forgive myself or my old partners, or the cruelty of the anti-choice movement. I can’t forgive this movement because anti-choicers still make my freedom to control my own body something I have to fight for on behalf of other women who are likely in much more dire circumstances than I was. I was lucky really, to have access and ability (something many women don't). It makes it so I can’t let these experiences go. Like constantly pulling a scab off a wound. They hijack my experience and make it something to be ashamed of while the other 50% of the population get off scott free while participating fully in what created the circumstances (without the majority of men even standing up for women in it).
In my more irrational moments it feels like anti-choicers took god away from me and to this day I still struggle when I’ve found myself in church, like I don’t belong or am not welcome in that house. It took me years to enter a church after the first abortion and when I did I found myself weeping uncontrollably, and unable to stay. It’s a bit better now, but I’m still conflicted and it’s still a hard and alien experience compared to what it was being raised in the church and a Sunday School Teacher to boot—when I felt like I belonged. Driving down a sunny field somewhere and suddenly a billboard of dead baby parts with the words murder and baby-killer hurling at you at 40 mph realizing that billboard—that one you just passed—it was talking about you. This is stigma, and this is what it's like to have to live with it.”