My Body, My Choice, My History

It's Blog for Choice Day 2009, and I'm bringing the blog out of retirement to mark the occasion.

2008 was a big year for me: I gave birth in October to a perfect baby girl, and that choice is inextricably linked to the issue at hand on this 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The topic this year is "What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?", but before I tackle that question, I first need to tell a story.

Just over six years ago, about a month after my twenty-first birthday, I found out I was pregnant. I was working full-time at a stressful job, without health insurance, and living in a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and my brother, neither of whom were employed. My boyfriend and I both felt very strongly that we didn't want to have children, and even if we had wanted children, our situation was not a stable one into which it would be advisable to bring a child. So I had an abortion.

I kept it a secret. My brother and my boyfriend knew, but I didn't tell anyone else. On a Monday, I had to go to my vocally born-again Christian boss and ask him for Wednesday off so I could "go to the doctor," quietly willing him not to ask why I needed the whole day and couldn't come back to work after the appointment. He allowed me the day off, much to my relief, but I was too afraid of questions to ask for another day to recover, so Thursday morning I walked a mile to the bus stop, exhausted and in pain, and put in a full day at work as if nothing had happened.

Let me be very clear: I did not then, nor do I now, regret my decision to terminate the pregnancy. It was the wrong time for me, and the wrong partner, in the wrong place. I knew these things, and I was the only person in a position to know them; it was my choice to make, and I made the right one. I did, however, feel a great deal of shame. Not because I believed I had done anything wrong, but because I felt the weight of other people's judgment pressing in on me from all sides. From the protesters outside the clinic, whose vicious stares made my face burn as they marched around with their signs condemning me as a murderer, a sinner; to the vociferously pro-life aunt who parroted such anti-choice propaganda as, "You know, they say the babies scream when they're being torn apart inside the mother"; to my own parents, whose refusal to discuss the sensitive issue in our religious and politically conservative house when I was growing up made me too afraid to broach the subject with them later, when it was a very real and personal issue to my life. Though I believed strongly that I was making the right decision for myself and my life, I did not know how people would react to it, so I felt I had to keep it secret, and it was that silence that caused my suffering. My emotions swung wildly as the pregnancy hormones left my body, and I longed to talk about my experience with someone, but fear of judgment kept me silent, and my secret festered.

Though I felt terribly alone and isolated, I was not. I saw women of every age, color, and economic level in the clinic that day. I overheard one woman in the recovery room tell a nurse, "I'm 43 years old and my children are in college; I'm done having babies." The woman in the bed closest to mine was weeping openly, thanking any healthcare worker who wandered close enough to hear her. Most of the women already had children, and most of the rest would, like me, have them eventually. None of us was there out of a perverse hatred of babies or cavalier irresponsibility. The common thread among all of us was that we had each decided that this was not the right time for us to have a baby, and we did what we needed to do to manage our lives.

It boggles my mind that some people would take away the rights of fully half the population to control their own fertility. Certainly, if you believe abortion is murder, you are free not to have one. But for all of us who don't believe that-- for people like me, who don't believe in the existence of a soul, or who fear the slippery slope of granting personhood to a fetus-- we simply want to be free to make the choice for ourselves. Every woman who's ever terminated a pregnancy had her own reasons not to want a child at that particular point in time. Is it really so hard to trust that an adult woman is capable of making a wise decision regarding her own reproductive life? To believe that what she decides is best for her is, in fact, best?

Which brings me to my pro-choice hope: that Obama, and the pro-choice members of congress, will frame this issue as it deserves be framed-- as a matter of trusting women to make our own decisions regarding our own bodies. So often abortion is discussed as a purely philosophical matter, and the real lives of real people are obscured by the rhetoric of both sides. The anti-choicers claim their opposition is motivated by a reverence for "life" and saving "babies," while well-meaning pro-choicers delve into the problems of personhood and when, exactly, "life" can be said to begin; both of these approaches completely overlook the living, breathing woman who will be forced to spend the better part of a year physically supporting another life if a pregnancy is allowed to continue. Having recently experienced a pregnancy from beginning to end, I am now more pro-choice than ever. Pregnancy and childbirth were the most miserable physical experiences of my life, and I can't imagine forcing any woman to endure that if she didn't want to. We must trust women to know what is best for them, and we must always bring the conversation back to this point: that adult women are autonomous people, capable of making our own decisions about our reproductive health.

Obviously, there are many other facets to the abortion issue that I'm not going to address: availability, affordability, doctors who refuse to perform abortions or refer patients to doctors who will, religious motivations for anti-choice arguments and the problems inherent in enshrining those beliefs in law, on and on ad nauseum. The most powerful argument I have to offer is my own experience, and the way the politics of abortion have affected my life. Now that I have a daughter of my own, I can only hope that if she should ever have to make the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy, she will do it in a very different atmosphere from the one I faced. I want her to know my story, to know that above all it is a personal issue between a woman and her doctor, and to feel free to make her own choice without judgment from people who have no business meddling in her life.

I had an abortion in 2002, and I don't regret it. I made the right decision.

Posted byMJ at 4:52 PM  


MNObserver said... 2/19/2009 9:27 AM  

Thank you. This was wonderful to read.

Your baby girl has a wonderful mom.

Ala said... 2/21/2009 4:58 PM  

That was a very powerful post. I've never had an abortion myself, but I've counseled women who had, and I've seen how difficult it is, which is why it really annoys me when people paint abortion like it's some kind of sport some women engage in because they have nothing better to do. It's a tough choice, and clearly, very painful. But it is necessary sometimes, and it should always be available to all women who need it.

YW said... 6/18/2009 10:59 PM  

Oh. My. God! Did I know this about you and somehow, inexplicably forgot? No, I couldn't have....right? (I don't trust my own brain anymore.)

Well, I'm behind you 100%. Like granting same-sex partners the same legal benefits as heterosexual partners, I don't see why this is even an issue. Our bodies. Our choices. Simple as that.

What a tough situation to have been in and at 21! You are a trooper. I know others who have been in this situation and I have the same response to all: Thank god for those babies that the mothers made the choices they made. Who wants to be born to parents who aren't ready, who don't want the baby, who are with the wrong partner, etc.?

Wow. Very cool. You really are a fantastic writer, BTW.

Anonymous said... 11/18/2009 12:07 PM  

It was certainly interesting for me to read the article. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything connected to this matter. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

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