I’ve had two abortions and I don’t regret either of them.
Does that sound defensive? I don’t mean for it to. But there’s this unwritten rule about admitting you’ve had an abortion and it’s that you have to say you’re really sad about them.
I’m not, though, and I think it’s important to say that to balance out the prevailing message we always get that abortion is a tragedy and will leave you sad and guilty forever.
I don’t agree with that. Abortion can be a positive thing if it means an unwanted child is not brought into the world. It can also be a positive thing if it means a woman’s life is not derailed into poverty, depression and a dramatic limiting of the opportunities available to her.
Safe, legal, rare.
I’m totally on board with that philosophy for abortions and I’d like to add one more word, well two: sometimes necessary.
Neither of my abortions, it could be argued, were strictly ‘necessary’. I was young, yes. Eighteen the first time and 22 the second time. But choosing to proceed with those pregnancies would not have endangered my life. They would have wrecked it though. Not just because I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do back then but because the men I was pregnant to were utter knobs.
Thinking back on those relationships now that I’m in my 30s in a loving relationship and a mother of a little girl, I shudder involuntarily at the thought of being shackled to either of those idiots by virtue of a wayward sperm. You’re not a very good judge of character when you’re young, at least I wasn’t.
They say you learn more from your bad relationships than your good ones and I learned many important things from those two guys. I learned I didn’t want to be with a drug addict. I learned I didn’t want to be with someone who cheated on me. I learned I didn’t want to be with someone who was so insecure, he needed a very weak woman to make him feel like a man.
But back to the abortions. When I first fell pregnant, the first time, I suddenly felt very grown up. The weight of the decision I had to make felt impossibly adult and heavy in my hand. I knew deep down immediately what I would do but I still tried on the possibility of keeping the pregnancy and becoming a mother in the same way I used to try on my own mother’s high heels when I was a little girl and clomp around the house.
Except the clomping in this case was inside my head and involved a bit of a visual blank about what it would be like to have an actual baby when I still lived at home, had just finished school and was about to start my teaching degree at TAFE.
The second time it happened (I know you’re wondering how so I’ll tell you: the first time the condom broke, the second time it was withdrawal gone wrong – we thought he’d pulled out in time but it turns out not….), was much the same. Thought I was in love but suspected I may have just been in love with the idea of being in love rather than the actual guy.
Listen: Trump and abortion…
Both times, the week or so between weeing on the stick and making the appointment to have a termination were a tense time for the guys I was with. Their future depended on my decision for better or worse. While I imagined feeling hormonal changes in my body (probably imaginary because it was so early) and fantasised about being a young, cool mum with a cute baby on my hip, having it all, they were undoubtedly terrified. No guy wants to be a Dad when they’re a teenager or in their early 20s. Not any guy I’ve ever met anyway.
But both guys – to their credit, insisted they would support my decision, whatever it was. Looking back I feel like it probably wouldn’t have turned out that way had I decided to go ahead and have those babies. Looking at those men today, their lives are a mess and they would have been terrible fathers.
The abortions themselves were not the best days of my life but they weren’t the worst either. I’ve had far far worse days. I’ll admit they were a bit mentally taxing, a bit emotional and a bit painful with the cramping afterwards but without wanting to sound trite, I’ve had harder days at work and more painful experiences at the beauty salon.
I’m not writing this post under my name though. Not yet. It’s weird. In my friendship group of girlfriends we discuss everything. The most intimate details about sex and our bodies and our partners and miscarriage and mental illness and cheating…..there are no taboos. Except this one.
We don’t discuss our abortions. I can’t imagine any of my friends saying “Hey, Emma, how many abortions have you had?” It’s like this veil of shame or secrecy or something. The words that cannot be spoken lest we seem…..what? Heartless? Murderers? All my friends are staunchly pro-choice. We would all go on a march if we felt women’s fertility rights were under threat but we draw the line at being honest about our own experiences.
This baffles me and frustrates me. Because if the only dialogue about abortion is that it’s underground and something to be never mentioned in polite company, how are vulnerable women meant to know that having one will not be the worst thing they do in their life and may end up in fact being one of the best?
Life isn’t just about the experiences you choose to have it’s also about the experiences you don’t because they free up room in your life for different experiences that may ultimately be more rewarding.
I was prompted to write this after reading Hannah Rosin's excellent article provocatively titled "Abortion Is Great" where she starts off by admitting she'd had an abortion, not when she was a teenager but when she'd had two of her three children. She writes about a new book that argues we need to stop with the whole depiction of abortion as this terrible thing and embrace it as a social good.
After all, what's the point in forcing women to be mothers (and men to be fathers!) when they don't want to! Who does that benefit? Not the unwanted babies that's for sure. We have a big enough problem with child abuse and neglect in this country - and every country.
If a woman thinks/knows/feels that she doesn't want to be a mother because the timing isn't right or she can't provide the love or security or attention or care that every baby needs, then shouldn't we.....if not celebrate it then at least stop shaming her for it?
I hardly ever think about my two abortions. And when I do, it's with gratitude and relief that they were available to me. I can't even imagine who I would be with either of those men in my life. I know I wouldn't have achieved a fraction of the things I have and I probably wouldn't have met the man I fell so deeply in love with nor had the baby daughter I cherish with all my being.
Those little embryos made room in my world for the life I have now and I a profoundly thankful for that.
So to every woman of any age contemplating an abortion, don't let the scare-mongers frighten you into thinking you'll feel bad or sad or guilty about it forever. Maybe you will. Every woman and every circumstance is different. But maybe you won't. Maybe you'll look back from your future life and be grateful for the decision you made.
Editors Note: Penny Wilson is a pseudonym but the author is known to Mamamia and chose to remain anonymous because of the nature of the topics discussed in the post. Thank you for your respect of her privacy and your understanding.