Because of the recent Supreme Court decision banning “partial birth abortions,” which politicizes a personal, medical decision. Because of the newest ban on abortions in North Dakota. Because pro-choice activists are now forced to say that abortions are terrible things in order to defend a woman’s right to one. Because we still have freedom of speech in this country, and I’m so afraid that we won’t always have that freedom.
Because we need to keep a human face on abortion, let me tell you about mine.
Abortion is not just the woman who will suffer a stroke — or die — unless her deeply wanted pregnancy is terminated. Not just the rape victim. Not just the 15-year-old girl whose father haunts her bedroom at night. Yes, these women desperately need safe, legal abortions, but six years ago so did I, and so do the thousands of other “normal” women who have straightforward D&C or chemical abortions every year.
Yes, I too am the face of abortion: I, the married mother, the step-grandmother, the internationally-published writer whose books on parenting have sold tens of thousands of copies. I am a mother by choice. I have done the reproduction Trifecta — miscarriage, childbirth, abortion — in that order, and I had my abortion because I didn’t want another child. And I have never felt a moment of regret or guilt. Regret implies self-blame, and I didn’t do anything wrong.
My abortion was a good thing.
In the fall of 2000, Bill and I had been together 14 years, my stepchildren were pushing 30, our daughter Annie was turning eight, and our marriage was at its lowest point. I didn’t want to leave Bill, and he didn’t want to leave me — we loved each other deeply — but we didn’t know if, or how, we would make it through. Bill and I talked and talked. We fought bitterly. We cried. We went to therapy. We agonized. Some nights he slept on the couch. Some nights we clutched each other and wept and made love — desperate for connection, to save us.
And one of those nights we conceived. I was turning 40. Bill was 52. We didn’t know if we were done with each other but we both knew we were done with having babies, with raising children. And I would never birth a child I wouldn’t raise. So the decision, while painful, was also painfully clear. Termination.
My abortion hurt.
This is what hurt:
To experience morning sickness, sore breasts, food aversions, and remember my overwhelming joy at being pregnant with Annie.
To hear from my doctor that I’d likely conceived because my hormones were beginning their slow shift to unpredictable, marking the beginning of perimenopause. And to know fundamentally that this was my last pregnancy. In my entire life.
To know that the medication for chemical, at-home pregnancy termination was still months away from FDA approval, so I needed to wait another three weeks, pregnant, miserable, symptomatic, until the fetus was large enough to abort with a D&C.
To sit on my couch and visualize the infant, child, person this cluster of cells mightmaybepotentiallycould become — a small boy with my dark eyes, Bill’s long limbs — and have to say “Goodbye, I’m so sorry, Little One, this is not the right time for you, I’m not the right mother for you,” and watch in my mind, weeping, as my potential boy stared, then nodded, turned, and walked away.
To shout my medical needs: “I need a referral for an abortion!” through a Plexiglass window at Oakland Kaiser Hospital to a bored administrator, while strangers stood in earshot behind me in line.
To enter the clinic through an unmarked door in an unmarked building, a clinic I’d stood guard over years before when it was under bomb threat by anti-abortionist forces.
To sit in a small room, TV blaring, with three terrified and sullen sixteen-year-old girls and wait for the valium to take effect, worrying about the girls. Did they have anybody in the waiting room to take them home?
To lie on the table, holding the hand of a woman who murmured “Squeeze as hard as you need to, you can’t hurt me”; to greet the doctor and watch the approach of the instruments, and, even as the doctor said, “You’ll feel some pressure now,” to admire her bravery at providing abortions in this hostile climate.
To experience — despite the valium, the local anesthesia, the soft music on my earphones — sharp pain and, worse than the pain, the sudden wrenching black chasm of yawning nothingness, of DEATH! NOW! NOW!
To stagger to the recovery room where all the other women lay. In shock, the hand-holding woman supporting my weight, crying, crying, dizzy, my blood pressure too low, bleeding, the pregnancy nausea still raging through me, ginger ale and soda crackers, stupid body still thinking I was pregnant; to wait and sleep and wait; my husband going crazy in the waiting room as the door opened and opened and it wasn’t me.
What didn’t hurt was the relief and gratitude I felt. My abortion gave me my life back.
Because of my abortion, I was able to heal the tattered pieces of my marriage without suffering a conflicted pregnancy at the same time. Because of my abortion, I’ve had the time, money, ability to follow my dreams and ambitions, to become the person I aspire to be. Because of my abortion, my husband, who has raised children since he was nineteen years old, will someday have an adulthood without kids in the house.
I’m so grateful I had that abortion, that I could have that abortion.
I grew up in a deeply patriotic family of American leftists who believed in the freedom of choices for all people. We fought for civil rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech, the freedom to love who we wanted, to marry who we wanted, to live where we wanted, to be who we wanted — we fought for all people to have the rights and abilities to choose their lives, not have them chosen by economics, politics, race, sexism. The right to have children. The right to not have children. The right to continue a particular pregnancy at a particular time. And when I was twelve years old, the Supreme Court deemed abortion a fundamental right.
I believe fiercely in that right, and my abortion only strengthened my conviction that abortions need to remain legal and available to all women. Abortion is never easy. Nobody wants one. An abortion is a deep emotional wrench and an uncomfortable medical procedure, but it is not a terrible thing. Unpleasant, yes. Wonderful — absolutely.
Because the choice to have a child or not to have a child cuts to the very core of Freedom. And Freedom, Mr. Supreme Court Justices, is what I was raised believing this country stands for.