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Abortion: The Parenting Decision No One Talks About

Three mothers share their stories of getting an abortion before and during motherhood

Published on: December 27, 2016

abortion

What is abortion doing in a parenting magazine? Ask a mother. Six out of 10 women who undergo abortions have a child or children at the time they have their abortion, according to reproductive health research organization the Guttmacher Institute

That statistic doesn’t surprise Andrea Starbird. Starbird is a doula who volunteers with Full Spectrum Doulas. This Seattle-based organization of volunteers “supports every kind of pregnancy experience,” including abortion, says Starbird.

“The people I’ve served individually, I would say at least half of them have been mothers [with at least one child at home],” she says. “I’m thinking of how much an act of parenting having an abortion was for them.”

Such clients, she adds, are often taking their child’s experience and welfare into account when making the decision to have an abortion. “Folks who have a child [or children] at home … they might already be right on the edge of comfortably supporting [that family],” Starbird says. “They know having another is going to somehow make that child not as comfortable or can even endanger their ability to support him or her.”

Of course, there is no one story when it comes to abortion. In fact, promoting certain stereotypes — that only one “type” of woman gets an abortion — is a tactic frequently used by opponents to abortion rights. “The anti-choice movement frames those who choose abortion as selfish women with shaky morals and no willingness to take responsibility for their actions,” says Amelia Bonow, founder of #ShoutYourAbortion.

Launched in September 2015 from Seattle, the hashtag “#ShoutYourAbortion” has been used over 250,000 times to empower individuals to discuss their abortion experiences. It’s still in use with SYA’s website actively collecting abortion experiences from all around the world. Through her work, Bonow has met thousands of women and, like Starbird, seen a wide variety of stories.

“Unwanted pregnancies happen to every kind of woman: rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, devout and secular. A third of them choose abortion for all sorts of reasons,” she says. “By the numbers, the idea that there’s only type of woman who has an abortion is preposterous.”

Meet three women who’ve experienced pregnancy and, at some point, abortion. Each is a mother from the Seattle area who decided an abortion was right for her. Read about their experiences as shared with ParentMap, about the parenting decision no one ever talks about.

Chelsea, 34

Had abortion at 20 | Yoga teacher | Mother of two daughters, 7 and 4

“I was 20 years old. I was living in a punk house in the U District with, like, nine other people. I was working part-time making coffee and interning for a nonprofit and playing in a band, and I got pregnant by my live-in boyfriend. I was basically still a child and so was he, and there was no way we were going to be able to support a kid. Our relationship wasn’t that stable, and my mental health wasn’t that stable, so I got an abortion at Planned Parenthood.”

“I don’t remember that much of the procedure except that it was a lot less painful than I’d been led to expect, and the women at Planned Parenthood were sweet and supportive and really present with me. I was so grateful to them that I ended up volunteering in a Planned Parenthood clinic several years later . . . I wanted to give back because I didn’t have the money to pay at the time.”

It has often been my experience that being open and honest with my life has led to more connections with people and just more joy in general.

“[My abortion] was actually . . . what’s the word I was looking for? ‘Painless’ isn’t the word.  . . .  Physically it wasn’t that big of a deal. I was very aware that that was the right decision for me, and there wasn’t a lot of hand-wringing. There was no way that I was going to be able to support or raise a child. There was no way I was going to get myself through an entire pregnancy [to get to] adoption. The only way forward for me was to have an abortion, [and] I’m endlessly grateful that my 20-year-old self was wise enough and had the resources to pull that off.”

“I didn’t really talk about my abortion. I think that I had kind of taken in the general cultural stigma. I think there are a lot of issues like that [for women]. We don’t talk about our sexual assault. We don’t talk about our birth stories. We don’t talk about our periods. We don’t talk about our bodies. We don’t talk about female experiences.”

“I don’t know if I have any advice other than it’s been my experience that when you tell the truth about your life, the people who you want around will love you no matter what, and the people who push you away because they’re uncomfortable with your life and your story you don’t really need anyway. It has often been my experience that being open and honest with my life has led to more connections with people and just more joy in general.”

Tess MacDonald, 36

Had abortion at 33 | Florist and small-business owner | Mother of one son, 8 months

“My husband and I found out we were pregnant for the first time promptly after returning from our honeymoon. In my second trimester, we found out that we were having identical twins. It was a moment of overwhelming joy for us. But at 22 weeks gestation, we found out that they had developed twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Disbelief washed over us. The viability of the pregnancy, as well as the potential for quality of life, was in doubt. I’ll never forget sitting in a room with three doctors going over the facts with us.”

Motherhood is intertwined in my experience with abortion, grief and the strength it takes to have another child.

“My husband and I walked Seward Park daily from the time we found out the twins were in distress to when we checked into the hospital a final time. It was a very insular period with quiet discussions and our families waiting by the phone. After an unsuccessful procedure to stabilize their growth, we made our decision. The next steps were very daunting but intentional. I can’t relay details of the three days in the hospital; it is too painful. But as their mother, I decided I wanted to give birth to them and hold them. I had worked so hard to grow them, and craved an intimate good-bye. My husband and I cherish this time; it was when we found out they were girls. Two days later, in a fog, as my milk came in, I called local funeral homes to arrange their cremation. We spread their ashes in the San Juan Islands.”

“Motherhood is intertwined in my experience with abortion, grief and the strength it takes to have another child. I haven’t always associated the word ‘abortion’ with our choice to terminate the pregnancy for medical reasons. Perhaps it’s the connotation, or the fact that I never thought I would be a woman to go through it. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it happened at all. However, we feel it was our first decision as parents.”

“Our son had the same due date two years later, and I believe that [my daughters] helped bring him into the world beautifully. He has two tiny spots on his skin that the doctor told us are temporary birthmarks called ‘angels’ kisses.’”

Karen Hartman, 45

Had abortion at 42 | Playwright and senior artist-in-residence at the University of Washington | Mother of one son and one stepson, 9 and 21

“In a way, my story is really kind of simple. When my son was born, I was 36, my husband was almost 50, and my stepson was 12. When my son was a toddler, my husband and I made a really difficult decision over a period of a couple of years not to have any more children. Then, when I was 42 and my husband was 56 and my stepson was 18 and going to college, I got pregnant.”

“It was a really difficult decision [to have an abortion], but it came down to just deciding to stay with the decision we had made in the first place. I’m not a magical thinker. I don’t think everything happens for a reason. I especially don’t think pregnancy happens for a reason. I mean, I felt like, ‘God, if I were to believe that this happened for a reason, then I’d have to believe that my friend who had five miscarriages that that happened for a reason’ and that didn’t happen for a reason. You know what I mean? Pregnancy does not happen for a reason. It’s pretty obvious that it’s not assigned on who needs, deserves and wants children.”

Nobody knows that everybody knows someone who had an abortion. Nobody knows that most families contain someone who had an abortion.

“At the time, I was living in Brooklyn and in a super-progressive circle, but I still didn’t feel I could talk about that abortion with my mom friends. … In retrospect, I’d have to call that shame, but I wouldn’t have thought of myself as a person who was carrying shame . . . [yet] there was a shame and an isolation around that experience. . . . In my imagination, I didn’t know anyone who was also a mother who chose to have an abortion for family planning reasons.”

Editor’s note: After reading the book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt, Hartman decided to share her story publicly. In January 2015, she wrote an essay about her experience for The Washington Post. She also founded a Facebook group called #TalkAbortionRights.

“[After sharing my abortion publicly] I went from telling eight people to telling something like a million people in one day. It was a great feeling. It was really liberating . . . I started hearing from women, including some of the mothers of my son’s friends whom I had known, saying, ‘Yeah, I had an abortion when my youngest was 6 months old, when my youngest was 2 years old.’ I started hearing from all these people in my community and I was like, ‘Wow. I was in an illusion of being alone, and that illusion is based on shame and not based on reality.’”

“Nobody knows that everybody knows someone who had an abortion. Nobody knows that most families contain someone who had an abortion . . . We can’t protect [the right to have an abortion] if we don’t talk about it.” 

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