Eighteen years later I realize how naive, how innocent that line of thinking was. Innocent like the young woman I was and the baby I was carrying. I believed then, and continued to maintain for many years, that a woman had the right to decide if “now” was the time to have a baby. It was her body, after all. Her life. Her future.
I was a young woman when I sat in the waiting room. A girl fixing a problem. Having a surgical procedure done. However, that morning, I stepped out of the shower and said to myself in the mirror, “You’d better make this worth it”. No matter how young I was, in the back of my psyche, from the depths of my femininity and my connection with God, I knew what I was doing was wrong. Yet in my own mind, I had no choice.
It is only now, eighteen years later, that I see the contradiction. Women must have the right to “choose”. Yet, I felt my only choice was to have an abortion. Where was my “choice”? I was a teenage girl from a middle class family. My parents were educated and well respected in the community. Girls in my situation, my social status, did not have babies.
During the procedure, as tears ran down my cheeks, a nurse held my hand. I felt unutterably sad. In my head and heart I was apologizing to my mother and God. I remember the sympathy on the nurse’s face, how tightly she gripped my fingers as if she knew how this “choice” was tearing me apart. And then in the “recovery” room, where I was to rest for a set number of minutes and was fed cookies and juice, there was another girl – younger than I. It was not her first abortion. I was horrified that someone would do this “thing” twice.
Eventually, after a stop at the arcade for my boyfriend to release some stress, I went home. I was tired. I was emotionally numb. I was bleeding, but not abnormally. I hurt, but could tell no one. I had been through something traumatic – I was a child, still – but could not draw comfort from my parents. I needed my mother but could not reach for her. Because I had made a “choice”.
Surveys of women who have gone through the process of abortion indicate a number of things: high levels of guilt and sadness, nightmares, flashbacks. They apologize to and talk with the deceased child. Women report trauma. They report that they believed it to be wrong, but still they did it – because it was the only “choice”. Most women never have a second abortion and I have never heard of a women who has had one recommending it to a friend.
I am the most liberal kind of Lutheran there is. Still, within one year of the abortion I had seen my Pastor and confessed. He formally forgave my sin, much like a Catholic confession. Two years later I entered post abortion counseling. Five years later I had a memorial service for the child I now admitted I had “lost”. Sixteen years later I returned to my home pastor as my marriage failed and my family fell apart, wondering if God was punishing me for having had an abortion.
Abortion is a dirty word. The waiting room is grim. The operating room is an emotional nightmare. The recovery room is full of grief, numbness and despair. It is a funeral with no service. It took the courage of a close friend voicing her feelings to me, who had also had an abortion, for me to admit – to myself, even- that I believed what I had done was wrong. For eighteen years I silently damned myself.
American society calls the abortion issue part of a political or religious agenda. It considers it to be an ideological issue. The religious right speaks for the babies being aborted. The left stands for a woman’s right to “choose”.
Who speaks for the millions of women who have abortions? Who speaks for the women who remain quiet because they are so weighed down by guilt that they refuse to judge themselves or another for making the “choice” to terminate a pregnancy? Who speaks for the women who remain silent because of guilt, remorse or shame? If over 60% of women who have abortions experience these feelings and believe abortion is wrong, but cannot say so because they made a “choice”, who exactly is running our lives? Politicians? Lobbyists? The Leftist Groups? The Right Wingers?
I have two daughters who are 13 and 14. Until recently, I never advocated one particular answer to an unplanned pregnancy. I simply said that no matter what choice a woman made – be it abortion, keeping the child or adoption – that woman was forever changed. She would never be the same. Equipped with this message, my daughters, without my input, both clearly state that they are anti-abortion. I gave them the right to choose. I equipped them with knowledge, which no one was kind enough to equip me with: pregnancy changes you. Abortion changes you. Raising children changes you. Giving a child up for adoption changes you.
I was given the impression, as a young woman, that I could have an abortion and everything would go back to “normal”. Now, I am much older and I believe that for most women, once you have carried a child in your womb, there is no going backwards, no matter what the “choice”. Once you conceive you give up control, you give up your “choice” and are suddenly a mother. No one, save women who have had an abortion and right-wing anti-abortionists understand this – and usually they will not acknowledge commonalities.
Looking back, I wish that I had carried that child to term. I do not know if I would have chosen to raise it or place it up for adoption. But I would have had hope instead of - or perhaps in combination with, grief. My child would be approaching her 18th birthday. I know girls who gave the their daughters up for adoption and have already been reunited with them.
I must wait until I die to see my child.
Abortion is wrong. It is not a political issue. Not an ideological value. Not a “choice”. It is simply wrong. We are, literally, as women, as mothers, sacrificing our children for ourselves. As a mother of three vibrant, living children, I cannot ever imagine doing that. I would die for them in a heartbeat.
Yet no one told me this as a young woman. No one explained that the fact that I was thinking about my pregnancy in terms of a baby, my baby, a child, indicated a moral stance and a belief that I had already become a mother. What I was told, instead, was that most women looked back later in life and reminded themselves why they made that “choice”.
How incredibly lame. Had I been more mature, less frightened, or felt like I had a “choice”, I might have been able to see through that statement. I wasn’t and I didn’t.
Abortion is not a “choice” for women who are taught to respect their hearts, their souls, and the part of them born to be a mother. Abortion is the antitheses of “choice”. It is an ending. A brutal ending, whether for the unsuspecting mother or child. It is irreversible and damaging. What a far better thing to endure nine months of pregnancy than 18 years of self condemnation and a life-time of grief that never completely goes away.