My parents were pregnant when they got married at age 17. I was their third and final child, born when they were 21. They were high school drop outs and they were poor. We were terribly neglected as small children and we were exposed to some terrible things. My father was an alcoholic who ultimately committed suicide at age 29 after my mother left him. My mother had never worked and had no skills. She became a cleaning woman at a hospital and we were poor. She became more and more mentally ill, neglectful, and abusive until, at age 14, I became a ward of the county and was placed in the foster care system. From this experience I became determined not to have children until I could support them myself in case I was left on my own like my mother. I was also determined to get a college education and become completely self sufficient. I knew that I would never rely on a man to take care of me like my mother’s generation did.
After a couple of scary foster care placements, I was taken in by a family at age 15 and offered the first stable home that I had ever known. They were strict Catholics and we went to church every Sunday. They were young, only 28 when they took me in, and still having children of their own. They were very open about the fact that my foster mother had gotten pregnant before getting married and that the baby was still born. Her mother had been very terrible to her through the whole thing with the shaming and such. Indeed, her mother was a very terrible person who was very open about her contempt for me. She referred to me as “that girl from the gutter.” Even though I had had a rough childhood, I had never been in any trouble. I got good grades in school and I had goals for myself. It was very hurtful, and it made me feel threatened that she would somehow have me ousted from the safe haven of that family. It also made it crystal clear to me that pregnancy outside of marriage was not acceptable.
I felt very fortunate that once I graduated from high school, my foster parents did not kick me out. That was kind of unheard of since the payments for my care stopped coming. They were truly good people and I am still grateful to them for taking me in. I went away to college that fall using my father’s social security and government loans. I went home to my foster family on breaks. I started dating a guy that year and things got serious very quickly. By late fall of my sophomore year, I was pregnant.
As I already stated, I struggled with the decision, but I ended up having an abortion at 5 weeks. I did it for two reasons. First, even though we had become engaged and ultimately married, I still did not trust the father enough to have a child that I would not be able to support on my own. I still had no skills or education and I knew that having a baby would likely be the end of my chances to finish college. I saw visions of myself ending up like my mother. After all, I didn’t even have a real family to fall back on. Second, and most importantly, I could not bear to tell my foster parents that I was pregnant. I was so ashamed. I was so terribly afraid of losing that family or of even letting them down. The shame of being pregnant was by far the biggest factor in my decision.
At the time, as I struggled with the decision, I chose to confide in my best friend. I don’t remember her being judgmental or making me feel guilty. I do remember that we were both concerned about how the decision would affect me later in life.
Having the abortion was traumatic, but I got through it. I married the father right away so that if it happened again, we would not have to deal with the shame of pregnancy out of wedlock. I also got an IUD inserted so that I could finish my education without getting pregnant. I got married when I was 20, which was way too young. I know now that I did it for all the wrong reasons, but it still worked out. We are still married and have 3 adult children. I was a college graduate and had a steady career before I chose to have my first child.
Interestingly, this is not the end of the story. Last year, 38 years after that abortion, it came crashing back and had devastating effects on my life. I stayed very close to that friend that I had confided in and for some reason, during a heated political discussion, she chose to bring up that abortion for the first time since it had happened. She decided to tell me how wrong and immoral it was and then she tried to make me admit that I regretted it and that it had a lasting negative impact on my life. The truth is that it didn’t. I have never regretted it because I did go on to get an education. I had a great career. The three kids that I had were well cared for and always had a stable home. I always knew that if my husband left me or died, I would be able to care for them. I still believe that I had a much better life because of that decision. And as far as guilt, I don’t have much. I am not religious and I reject the guilt that comes with religion. I look at abortion scientifically. The fetus was a blob of cells that didn’t even know it existed. I think of it as it was, not as what it might have become. I know that some birth control methods allow an egg to be fertilized and not implanted. I don’t see early abortion as being much different. But I did end that friendship because of those comments. I never realized that I was being judged so harshly for something that had happened so long ago. And after I ended the friendship, my ex-friend made sure that my foster parents knew about what had happened. Now they have also cut off ties with me. Believe it or not, I am devastated by the loss of all of these people. I miss my friend of 40 years and feel very betrayed by her. I will always grieve the loss of my foster parents.
This experience serves to show how strong people’s beliefs about abortion are and what they are willing to inflict on women who have abortions. I am not sure that I would recommend telling people about having had an abortion. I think that even with formats like this one and an effort to educate people about the realities, the risks are still too high. I honestly think the stigma of having an abortion is getting worse.