The decision to terminate a pregnancy is never easy, but it’s one millions of women have faced. Whether influenced by medical complications or personal reasons that range from emotional to economical, no two situations are alike. As women’s rights to govern their own bodies are debated in the public sphere, the need to educate ourselves and each other on what governance truly looks like, beyond the clichés we see in the movies, feels especially urgent. Below are three anonymous as-told-to stories that lend depth to just one subset of women who have chosen not to carry pregnancies to term: mothers.
An Unwanted Pregnancy a Year After a Wanted One
I have a three-year-old daughter and, at the end of February, my son turned one. After he was born, I was trying different birth control methods because I was having some hormone imbalances and irregular periods. I was also dealing with some postpartum anxiety and depression, so I was trying to get that all straightened out. I got on a pill for a while that I didn’t love and missed periods on, but I continued to take it consistently. At the end of May, when my period was late, I didn’t think anything of it, but I was at Target and grabbed a pregnancy test just to give myself peace of mind. It came back positive.
I was dumbfounded. I’m not sure I totally believed birth control failed. When I heard 99% effective, I assumed the other 1% must just not be using it correctly. I had some judgments there. Suddenly though, I was in that 1%. That was humbling.
I work full time, and I had also just been elected into a public position through a pretty high-profile election process. One of the reasons I decided to run was because of the November presidential election and what I would call an assault on women’s rights, as well as a number of other things. So with two promotions at work, plus this new public role, plus two kids under the age of three, it was just really overwhelming. My daughter was jumping on the trampoline and my son was demanding to be picked up and my husband was at a work dinner and I was like, Oh my god, what am I going to do? And all those things hit me at once.
I think when you’re already a mom and you’re looking at an unexpected pregnancy, there are two sides. You know what it feels like to love a kid and to see your baby for the first time. You know the amazingness of watching a child come into the world and start to grow up and learn new things. But you also have a very deep understanding of the cost of that additional person, from an economic, emotional and time standpoint. Obviously the actual cost is not insignificant — you’re looking at another $350 a week in daycare expenses in addition to what you’re already paying, plus all the food and everything else. But I think what it came to for me was I thought adding one more thing would break me.
I told my husband when he came home that night, and his initial reaction was, “I think we could be a good family of five.” He’s always been very pro-choice, like me, but he immediately went to that moral argument of: We don’t have a good enough reason to end this pregnancy, as if the financial or emotional wasn’t good enough. But I think I knew fairly early on that the right thing to do at this moment in our lives was not to have a pregnancy. We’d taken all the necessary precautions. So after my husband and I weighed the pros and cons, we sat with it. I had to reframe the “my body, my choice” — because we needed to make the decision together.
After a few days we came to the conclusion that it didn’t make sense for us to have another baby right then. A lot of it was about mental load and the capacity of our family to take that on. The impact on my mental health, my family, everybody, it was too much. The mental load you carry as a mom is such a weight to bear. The act of loving someone at that level and being responsible for other humans at that level is so significant. You can’t always make room for more. When you hear people trying to convince women to keep pregnancies by giving them free diapers and a stroller, I think: That’s nice, thats helpful, but taking on the lifelong responsibility for another human life is almost laughable in comparison to what two packs of diapers can provide. The mental load is huge.
I think in some ways my experience has taken some of the histrionics out of abortion for me. I’m much more in tune with the logic of it now, and the economic justice of it. We can’t lose sight of that: Women can’t have full economic justice without having access to choice. We will ultimately pay the price if we don’t have that access. This experience has christened that for me. For my husband, it’s made him much more vocal about being pro-choice. I think it’s important to have men be vocal.
The state I live in has some pretty bad laws, and people protest in front of our Planned Parenthood. Having people shout things at you and make judgments about you and your life is painful…but also very silly. They think you haven’t thought of these things already and that shouting, “YOU’RE A MURDERER,” at you will make you go back to your car? It’s such a hateful act to me. It’s not a decision anyone wants to make.
And then I contrast that to the care I received inside. I think the people who go to work there every day — nurses and counselors who have to give patients false information because the state requires it — are the most amazing, caring people. They walk in every day and face literal physical danger to make sure we have access to this service. I remember in the middle of the procedure, there was someone who said, “I’m just here to hold your hand if you need anything.”
In some ways in makes me feel like I need to stay here and fight the good fight, but I’m also like, Get me out of here.
Two Abortions, Two Very Different Circumstances
I had my first abortion when I was a teenager, 16. I wasn’t flippant about it — I put a lot of thought into it, but the decision to get an abortion was very clear cut for me. I knew what I wanted to do. I only told my boyfriend and my mom; they were both really supportive. My mom especially so, because she knew what being pregnant as a teen was like. She had me when she was 16, and I know that had a big impact on her life and mine, and that wasn’t something I was ready for. My mom is a hippie, and my entire life she taught me to know myself, be in tune with myself, follow my instincts, and so I really felt like I made the best decision. It wasn’t something that weighed on me.
A couple years later, I got pregnant again. I was 17 then, and still felt unprepared, but unprepared in a way where I thought I could step up and make it work. That felt different. There were moments of weighing my options; I was not in a great relationship at the time, and knew that I was going to have to raise the child alone. I was fairly responsible, but when you’re that age, there’s still so much to learn. I was lucky, though, in that I’d tested out of high school early, and that meant I had a lot of time to have fun experiences. I fit a lot into those years, and I think that was helpful. In the end, I felt like it was something I could do and be good at, so I changed my life around and had my son at 18.
By my mid-20s, I was married. By then I was working in fashion, and the hours were really demanding. When I got pregnant with my daughter, I decided I wanted to spend more time at home, stop traveling so much, and stop working such crazy hours. So I decided to leave my job. That ended up being kind of a perfect storm, though, because I had a lot of my identity tied up in my career. Also, my relationship with my husband changed really drastically when we had my daughter, and I think there was a touch of postpartum depression going on as well. I spiraled. I put myself on auto-pilot to take care of everybody else, but emotionally I was just in a really dark place.
That continued for a couple of years. I felt really isolated. I started questioning my marriage and my place in the world. I was really anxious, and during this time, because I had stopped working to stay with the kids, we had to make a lot of cutbacks to make it work. One of those was health insurance, and not having health insurance made it very hard to get birth control. The only kind I could afford were pills and patches, both of which I had negative experiences with in the past. My husband and I resorted to alternative forms of BC as a result. And then, in January of this year, I found out I was pregnant again. It was the first time in 10 years that my husband and I had an unwanted pregnancy, and we’re still not totally sure what went wrong.
At 16, it felt very cut and dry: I was not capable of raising a child, I would give a child a horrible life, this is just bad for everybody involved. This time around though, I was married, we had kids, we had a stable home. Not wanting the pregnancy felt selfish. It weighed on me in a different way; it was so difficult. But what it really came down to was the fact that I felt like my mental health was deteriorating, and I didn’t really know how to fix that, and I just thought: What if this gets worse? We also didn’t have the space, we didn’t have the money. I thought: If we tax ourselves further, is that something I can mentally and emotionally handle? I just didn’t think I could. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t just break down and leave everyone depending on me in the lurch.
My husband was very supportive. He said, “This is your body, you’re the person who will have to deal with all the changes and I respect what you want to do.” When I was pregnant with our daughter, we were ecstatic, but this time, we were both like, Fuck.
Deciding to ultimately have an abortion drastically changed my life. Going through that process of looking at my life and evaluating what made my life unfit to bring a child into really set forth some positive changes. I’d been going through the motions, not really thinking about what in my life was making me feel so fragile. After that, I did a lot of work on myself and have brought myself to a place where mentally, physically and emotionally, I’m a lot healthier.
If I’d had the child, I just don’t know how much longer I would have gone on feeling depressed and broken and not doing anything about it. It shook up my life. And I ended up finding out there was a program in my state that made a free IUD accessible to me. I had no idea it was there. It wasn’t publicized or I would have known I had access to that beforehand and I never would have needed an abortion in the first place.
Ever since, I’ve been looking into ways to help make people aware of what their options are. I’ve reached out and talked to friends about abortions and topics that I previously would have kept to myself. I think it’s something more women need to talk to each other about.
An Illegal Procedure in Exchange for Freedom
I was a medical student in Germany when I got pregnant. I was 24, I should have known better, but I was just very ignorant; I didn’t have anyone to talk to about birth control or anyone to confide in in terms of my sexuality. I was in a very insecure place in terms of my future, and was not in a good relationship at all. There was absolutely no question that I would not go through with the pregnancy.
I found a physician who performed abortions for women, in his office in the city where I was going to medical school. Everything went very smoothly, then I was discharged, went home and that was that. I never had any regrets about it because I didn’t want to have anything tying me to that relationship.
This was 1969. Abortion was still illegal in the United States and in Germany, too. Germany, at that time, was a much more liberal society. The fact that it was illegal was an imposition on what people really wanted. It was a law that was not respected.
I had children much later. I was the oldest of many children and my mother died when I was 14. I’d had a lot of responsibility to take care of my younger siblings and wasn’t really interested in having children until I was much older. My son was born when I was 39 and my daughter before I turned 41.
Not having a child at 24 meant I did not have to maintain a connection with a toxic relationship. It allowed me to move on. It allowed me to have my career and finish my education and to move about freely without any kind of inhibition or responsibility toward someone other than myself. That’s putting it in a self-centered way, but I never had any qualms about that being the right decision because I was able to be a much more productive and socially useful person than if I had been forced into motherhood.
I think any abortion occurs in a context, and the context is really what determines the ability or the need to keep or terminate a pregnancy, whether it’s a financial need, economic need, health need or relationship need. What are the actual conditions? What are the possibilities? And out of what kind of a relationship does the pregnancy happen? If you’re in a toxic relationship, keeping a pregnancy has an effect on you and the child for the rest of life..
The current debate around reproductive rights is disenfranchising women. It’s re-establishing patriarchy in the domestic realm. It’s disrespectful of a woman’s right to choose, which is a very difficult choice. I think abortion is extremely different from any other kind of medical procedure. There is a real moral and ethical challenge, but I think that responsibility and weight should be taken in context to how it affects a woman and her world, her relationships, her career, her life plan.
Collages by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.