My Good Abortion
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.
46 replies on “My Good Abortion”
Wow! What an amazing piece. Breathtaking in its insight and honesty and bravery. Really great essay.
Beautiful and important. We need more such voices. And I bet it was a bitch to write – thank you for the nerve and the grace.
Thank you so much, Ericka. THis essay is moving, honest, heartbreaking, and then it ends with a ringing statement of principles and love for the ideals of this country. I am proud to be your neighbor and your sister-in-writing-and-motherhood.
…..in the visualisation, your child did what you wanted him to do… you never asked him whether he wanted to live.
You are brave to share your story – thank you. All these abortion stories matter, regardless of the circumstances around them. It’s shocking how this country continues to slide back to the dark ages, but your voice, along with those of others, keep the fight for human rights alive.
I am very conflicted about this issue but appreciate reading your perspective. I had an abortion when I was 18 years old. At the time, all I felt was relief that I would be able to continue college and with my life. I guess I was glad for the choice back then.
Now I find myself not being able to have children due to my husband’s infertility. I have made my peace with that but, had I realized that my first pregnancy would be my only chance to have a child, I would not have gone through the abortion. Women who undergo this procedure may take it for granted that they will be able to have children at a later time, but that’s not always the case and they need to consider that possibility when making a decision on whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
I regret having had my abortion – not so much because I can’t have children now, but because, at 42, I am much more empathetic and I appreciate my life and how it has turned out. I now feel that those clump of cells is a life – not a potential life, but a life that deserves to be born. My child would have been 23 at this point and I feel remorseful that I did not extend this right to life to my child. At 23, she may have now been married with a college degree or maybe not. However, I denied her that privilege – that gift of life.
At 18, when I had my abortion, my life was very dysfunctional. I was still dependent on my drug-addicted abusive mother. At the time, I didn’t think that life was all that. However, now my life is wonderful. I have a great, kind husband who has given me everything he has. I am financially secure and have traveled a bit. I fully appreciate life now and wished that I could have given that gift to my child.
The only thing which relieves me is that the child would have likely had had a rough childhood had she been born. My mother probably would have raised her for the most part and she was a horrid mother to me. I had no financial resources at the time either. However, I wish that I had known back then that my life would have been a happy one after I hit 30. I would have never have had the abortion had I known that I would create a good life for myself in the future. The same would have been for my unborn child – maybe her initial foray into life would have been sad but she would have had the possibility to forge a good life for herself.
Fortunately, I don’t ruminate on this issue all that much. I try to focus on the blessings that I do have. However, I am torn on this issue. I can’t deny a woman’s right to an abortion because that would be hypocritical of me but, again, I would not place myself in the pro-choice position because I can’t now understand how anybody could deny themselves the gift of a child. So I stand on the sidelines just watching what develops.
This is not a criticism of your action by any means. Please don’t take it this way! I just wanted to provide another perspective on the matter. Good luck in your future endeavors!
Thank you for sharing such a wrenchingly beautiful story. How true that this issue needs a more “normalized” human face; I admire your boldfaced honesty, and hope other women find courage and truth in it.
Ericka, I firmly in believe in the right to choice. I made a choice myself, when I was pregnant and unmarried and in the middle of college. However my choice was to place my child in an adoptive home.
What interests me is that you stated that you had no regrets. I think, really? Not even a pang of sadness over how it all turned out?
I’ve faced the choice of abortion more than once and have always chosen to continue with the pregnancy. I firmly believe, though, that if I hadn’t had the freedom of choice, I would have had an abortion because I don’t know that I could have endured a forced pregnancy.
Freedom of choice is more important to me than almost any other freedom in our country. The present climate sometimes scares me.
Wonderful article, btw. You wrote beautifully.
Ericka, thank you for your courage, your honesty, and for adding your voice to the chorus of women who have made this difficult choice. It’s not easy at all. It DOES hurt. But sometimes the hardest choice is also the right one. Sending support and hugs.
Just last night I asked my 13-year-old daughter to research abortion and present it to the rest of the family. We’re (me, the 13-year old and her sister, who is 15) doing a lot of talking right now about “consequences.” I think my daughter’s generation often thinks, “well, if I did get pregnant, I’d just have an abortion.” I like that your story has the agonizing piece as well as the relief. Very real. Thank you.
Thank you for writing such an important article. I know how difficult penning such personal prose can be.
It’s funny, we two seem to be in topical sync once again, as my essay on late term abortion just went up on “The Fat Lady Sings” blog this morning:
Take care my friend,
Thank you so much for writing this.
Wonderfully direct and thought provoking. What more could one hope to find in such a piece than to face personal things, deeply reflect, and think? Thank you for what has come to be a pretty standard fare in your writing: constant agitation.
This was beautiful. Thank you so much for writing it. So many women are afraid or embarrassed to tell their stories (and with good reason, seeing how society treats them), and I appreciate your bravery. I’m sure that you’re going to get a lot of flack for writing this (it looks like you’ve already got a bit), so I want you to know that after reading this, I admire you.
Breathtaking. Thank you.
Here from feministe. Thank you for writing this and sharing your story.
“…..in the visualisation, your child did what you wanted him to do… you never asked him whether he wanted to live.”
Go bother the people framing orders to drop bombs on children who actually exist, and definitely do want to keep living.
Thanks for telling your story like this. I have privately talked to women who have said similar things, but I have never read such an honest account.
Love this post.
I`m a pro-choice Catholic whose never had an abortion, but I once “dodged a bullet” — I miscarried an unwanted pregnancy, and felt nothing but overwhelming relief. I can fully relate to that feeling of, “I got my life back.”
All the best to you.
Thank you for speaking out. Too many women have been intimidated into silence about their stories and their rights. Thank you for your eloquence and courage!
Thank you for this beautifully written and difficult story.
I’ve never had an abortion and will probably never need to. But the Supreme Court decision effected me, in one of those unintended consequences that always occur around rulings that limit freedom. Basically, it meant the end of any hopes I had of having another baby.
I’m nearly 40, had a technically normal but difficult first pregnancy, and have a family history of pregnancy complications. Given all that, I don’t feel like I can risk a pregnancy that might blind me, give me a debilitating stroke, destroy my pancreas or kidneys, or send me into a potentially lethal depression–but probably not kill me–without the option to terminate if any of these potential consequences starts to look probable instead of mostly theoretical. Nor do I think I could survive the psychological torture of going through a pregnancy that would end with a dead baby. Enduring people’s congratulations and well-meant inquiries about due dates, knowing that there would be no joy at the end of the pregnancy, only more pain sounds to me like the lowest possible pit of hell.
So I simply won’t risk it. If I become pregnant (which is unlikely given my age and birth control habits, but these things do happen), I’ll simply have an early abortion.
Thank you. It’s hard to share, even when it’s not something you regret, even when it’s something you feel no guilt over. It’s still a deeply personal experience, and to spread it open for strangers to pick and query and criticise takes courage.
I also had an abortion and it was one of the worst and best days of my life. An hour after my abortion my husband and I pushed our one and a half year old daughter in her stroller around the St. Louis Zoo. I was so relieved I felt like falling on the ground and kissing the earth.
This is beautiful and honest. Many, many women I know have struggled with this decision, most of them secretly.
I’ve been pregnant twice, both times unexpectedly, both time despite the most careful use of the most reliable birth control technologies available.
The first time, having a baby seemed like an awful idea. It was nothing I’d planned, nothing I was ready for in any way. I made an appointment. I left work that morning, walked to my car, and just kept walking, around and around the block, suddenly filled with joy and excitement about letting that little spark of life inside me take hold and blossom. At that time in my life I had no obligations, no allegiances, no reason NOT to let fate or God or biology choose for me. I have never regretted that decision, I can’t even imagine life without my daughter
The second time I was pregnant, I DID have obligations and allegiances. There was no way I could reconcile what I knew about the experience of being a single mother of an infant and toddler with my desire to participate in my daughter’s teenagehood freely and joyfully. I could feel that second tiny spark taking hold of my heart, my mind, my curiousity, just like the first. The decision to terminate that second tiny life was heartbreaking, I cried for weeks, before and after. And I’ve never regretted it.
I’m male, with no female SO, I don’t think it’s quite meaningful for me to thank you for writing this – but it was a moving piece, and a brave thing to write it.
Blessings on your head for writing such an important piece, Ericka. My mother worked for Planned Parenthood for years, and was always talking to impoverished, abused women about their choices and their right to birth control and to have a life without being forced to be pregnant.
I deeply appreciate you being so open and honest about your abortion and your feelings.
“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.”
For real? It’s wonderful? I can’t even imagine ever thinking that. Wow. . .
“And I would never birth a child I wouldn’t raise. So the decision, while painful, was also painfully clear. Termination.”
Right there.. even thought I’m pro-choice I thought . . How incredibly selfish. Just because you couldn’t or wouldn’t raise that child doesn’t mean that some other mom or dad wouldn’t have. I feel so sorry for you.
I must say that your writing was well done. Certainly worth my time to read even though I don’t agree with the content.
Thank you. I’m going to send this to my husband in hopes that it will give him a real look at the kind of experience we (I) could be facing he continues to delay the vasectomy he agreed to! I hope you don’t mind if I use your bravely-written story to prompt some action.
Thank you for this piece. I had an abortion when I was 34 and married. I don’t have any children and neither me or my husband ever wanted to. I had been on birth control pills for over 8 years at the time it happened. At some point I started getting very irregular periods even though I was on the pill, so I could never complete a cycle. My gynocolgist said that nothing was wrong and the pills were working just fine. Obviously, she was wrong and she’s my ex-gyn now.
I, like you, have never had any regrets about the decision. I experienced no pain or even discomfort during the procedure, because I had a manual aspiration that required no sedation. I know a lot of women who have experienced terrible pain during their abortions, so I know I was very lucky.
So thanks again for sharing this, I hope it inspires more women to come forward with their own stories.
P. S. To Tanja – no I didn’t ask the mass of cells if they wanted to live. I don’t ask the skin cells on my face how they feel about being scrubbed off every morning either. If this was some how so much different because it was a “potenital life” then ezch month we go unfertiziled and have a period we’re guilty of squashing a potential life.
Bravo, Ericka. It takes courage to speak out on this subject. Far too many are silenced. That is the great story of our times you know; the silencing of voices. We need to really hear what everyone has to say – with an emphasis on the word ‘hear’. Far too many ears remain closed, causing unnecessary pain for far too many women; not to mention the men in their lives. The word ‘abortion’ has become a catch-all descriptive term for many differing medical procedures – and as such is inadequate to that task. Some of these procedures save lives – some save sanity. All are medically necessary – and therein lays the connection between your story and that of Julia and Baby Thomas. Life and the living of it is a messy business. It does not divide itself along crystalline lines. There are complexities that never seem to be discussed – especially when it comes to emotional topics like abortion. Abortion has in fact become a brand, like a scarlet ‘A’. By demonizing it, those voices I spoke of become fearful and are thus silenced. As a result, we never have a chance to discuss and understand everything that word encompasses. So thank you for adding in your own unique voice. It’s nice to know there are those who will not keep quiet – no matter how great the pressure to shut the fuck up and go away.
Thank you for writing this. It was well and bravely done. As was your choice.
Thanks for writing this. I also had an abortion with no regrets. It bothers me how much people seem to *want* you to feel guilty and have regrets, or you must be a monster.
I was 19 years old, in college, and there was not a chance in hell I was going to have a baby. I always feel the need to justify it by saying, yes, I did use birth control, and yes, I was in a loving, monogamous relationship (the man and I later married, though it didn’t last). But really all of that is irrelevant. There was no way I was having a baby, and if abortion hadn’t been legal and easy to obtain, I would have taken matters into my own hands. I shudder to think of the possible results of that.
I am now 39 and married to a man with grown and nearly grown children. I’ve been a stepmother for 11 years and believe that this suits me better than having a child of my own. If I have any regrets, it is that we were unable to conceive a child back nine years ago when we did try. But on the other hand, I don’t know that I was really cut out to be a parent anyway. I have never regretted the abortion. It was simply the only choice.
Erika, this is a brave and beautiful piece. I, like so many, have a similar story. Reading it made me feel understood. Thank you for standing up for the crucial right to choose.
Mine wasn’t even that rough (getting a referral out of Planned Parenthood was the tough part, PP of NO seemed to do its best to block business to Black owned clinics … and of course my health insurance, the best in the state, wouldn’t pay for it, and my regular physician was horrified to even be asked for a referral) … but the experience itself wasn’t nearly as rough as yours even though yes, that exact moment when they are taking the fetus is odd, and I had cramping afterwards, apparently because the fetus had been pretty small.
Then I went walking in the park and it was a beautiful day, and the bran muffins and cappuccino I had at the cafe were so well made I can smell them now although it was years ago.
Abortions can be gut-wrenching, sad, yet somewhat matter-of fact. I’m glad I read your piece, and you brought tears to my eyes although I still feel the immediacy of mine, the ‘self-blame’ as you so appropriately call it and, most of all, the regret. I will always be pro-choice. But will I ever have one again? That I can’t be so sure about.
Wow. Thank you.
You said this: “We didn’t know if we were done with each other but we both knew we were done with having babies, with raising children.”
Sigh. So, his vasectomy failed? Your tubal failed? What? I hope so, because common sense dictates that if you KNOW you’re done having kids, you get sterilized! Jeez.
A good abortion? Having had 3 abortions when I was much younger..old enough to give consent, young enough not to realize lifelong implications, I feel qualified that your remark about a “good” abortion is that there is such as thing as a “good” killing. How selfish to say if you’re not gonna raise it no one else gets to. The only reason it was good for you is the blood is not as directly on your hands, but on the doctor who violated his oath to do no harm. If you could look into the eyes of the person you had murdered, could you still do it for the sake of your own convenience? If so, you would have to be more heartless than Lady MacBeth. I sure hope you’re not one of those folks who rally to save mere animals while destroying your own human offspring.
To Cat Carter:
You’ve had three abortions? Then how dare you judge this woman for her one. How dare you. It’s like ringing the doorbell and running away. It is the pot calling the kettle black.
A person? If you’re so concerned with persons look at the woman as a person. Look at all the children in fostercare as persons.
Look here: http://www.imnotsorry.net
Ah yes, clump of cells that comes out with other icky stuff during menstruation. Clump of cells that is rubbed off the back of a heel with a loofah. Clump of cells that make up the hair left on your brush every morning, and those that make up the tooth the dentist wrenched off, and those in your nail clippings. Life when that clump of cells is a fertilised ovum.
“I was turning 40. Bill was 52.”
And your point is? Seventeen years ago, after 10 years of infertility, I had my first baby at 36. My husband had just turned 50. Our 2nd child was born three years later. Face it, you considered a baby at that age an inconvenience. What a shame!
And for anyone who wonders why we didn’t adopt, we tried going that route. Twenty-three years ago there were so few babies available for adoption, thanks to abortion, that they placed an upper age limit for the parents. My husband was considered “too old” for us to adopt an infant. Social services would not even consider us.
You said this:
“Twenty-three years ago there were so few babies available for adoption, thanks to abortion, that they placed an upper age limit for the parents.”
Women are not brood mares for infertile couples.
Sounds to me like you just wanted a baby. Wow. How all those children in foster care must feel when they read stuff like that.
A great line from “Like Mike” from the foster child: “We are dogs; people just want the puppies.”
Again, women and girls are not brood mares for infertile couples. There are over 100,000 children in the USA alone who need permanant homes, and I’m sure it wasn’t different 23 years ago.
People often fail to recognize that when a woman has an abortion, there is a loss involved, but that loss also saves something even greater. Just like being on an airplane – you’ve got to put your own oxygen mask on first in case of emergency.
Ericka–A wonderful essay that illuminates many sides of what we, sadly, refer to as an “issue.”
Yet–I wonder about the use of the phrase, “my abortion.” Perhaps–no matter what one’s stand on the issue–a better way to put it is: “our abortion.”
Keep up the good work…as always.
How brave of you to write these experiences! So rare to read about. Thank you. I had an abortion at age 30, as a graduate school student studying in a foreign country (where RU 486 was legal). I had crap insurance, no job, and the “father” made it clear he would have nothing to do with the child, should I choose to have it.
I had a mandatory week to think about it, which I’m eternally grateful for, and emerged from that week after many tears, many conversations with friends, and much prayer, even more certain that termination was the right thing to do. I got right with my God, right with the baby, and went forward – to this day, no regrets.
I’m still single with no kids (now 38). It breaks my heart to hear of how anguished women are who made the choice to have an abortion. It doesn’t have to be that way. It was perhaps the toughest decision I ever made, and I didn’t take it lightly, and still don’t now. All that being said, I’m certain it was the right thing to do, for everyone involved.
Quite frankly, having the baby could’ve been the ‘right’ decision; terminating could’ve been the ‘right’ decision, in my case. This was a true example of ‘choice,’ perhaps rare.
It’s such a personal journey, and spiritual beliefs (as opposed to religious) lead to healing.
I am glad I found this site…..I hope that I can tell my story and not be judged too harshly, even though I harshly judge myself every day. I regret to say that I had multiple abortions in my life (4)…I am now 42. I had one at age 24. I had sex with a condom with one partner (the condom stayed intact i believe), and in the same month broke off with that one and had a sexual encounter with no penetration or anything with a new partner. When I found out i was pregnant, I was unsure who the father was, in a new relationship, just starting to put myself through college, and living in a boarding home in a large city….too afraid to bring a child in the world. At age 27, still with the same partner at that time, I became pregnant again. He and I were going through a terrible time in our relationship. He actually took me to get the abortion, so it seemed clear to me that he did not want me to continue the pregnancy. The 3rd abortion occurred at age 35. I had met a man and after a few months carelessy became pregnant. I had just accepted a new job in NYC and was relocating for it…and I decided to terminate. I later broke off the relationship with that partner. My last abortion is the one I regret the deepest in my heart. It was when I was 38 years old. I had reconnected with a former boyfriend (who I had the second abortion with), and found thought I was pregnant. I was very scared b/c it had been around the Christmas holidays and for the first three weeks of the pregnancy, I had been binge drinking at holiday parties (about 3 or 4 parties a week for three weeks). So I was afraid that I had put the fetus at risk b/c of all the alcohol (fetal alcohol syndrome), my advanced age, everything. The relationship with the father was initially going okay. I wanted to get a pregnancy test and find out together…for some reason, he went ballistic and didn’t want to do it..I don’t know if he was scared or what. We ended up having this HUGE argument while he was driving the car on the highway. He even threatened to pull over and leave me on the highway…it was so awful. I just couldn’t believe it….everything scared me —the arguments, especially the drinking, my advanced age….I ended up terminating. I told the father the pregnancy test had been negative. He said, Oh, I guess I can return the toy that I bought…and never called me again. THAT is the abortion that I regret. I remember going to the clinic, and the anesthesiologist asked me if I had any children, and was I sure I wanted to do it. It was so gutwrenching, but I still said yes. I wish that I had waited at least a few weeks to get prentatal testing and see where things stood–I was just so frightened that I had already damaged the unborn child. I also always envisioned that I would meet a wonderful man, and we would get married and maybe I could have one child and have a happy family …a dream that will not come true for me. Now I am in a relationship with a wonderful man, who already has a 13-yr old child and does not want any more children. Not even sure if I could still have a child and carry it to pregnancy. I think I will need to go into therapy, b/c of not being able to have a child now that I am 42. I wish I could go back in time….Thank you for listening to me.