At first, I thought my peers were being cynical upon suggesting the current administration would enable our society to move backward in terms of reproductive freedoms. But a recent headline regarding a teen in Alabama who is suing on behalf of the 6-week-old embryo his ex-girlfriend chose to abort scared me. And the most painful realization is that the teenage girl whose reproductive decisions have been thrust into the public’s eye could have been me.
Nothing can prepare you for the emotional, and often physical, aftermath of an abortion, whether you feel like it was the right decision or not. No one deserves to have their story brought to the public eye for shame and scrutiny without their permission. You’re likely already dealing with enough in the shadows.
My story began with the reckless decision to have sex with a friend. It was over in a blur. I hadn’t considered that a three-minute encounter, interrupted by my brother’s knock at the door, could lead to a decade of emotional turmoil. But when my missed period motivated me to take a pregnancy test a few weeks later, I realized just how reckless that decision had been.
At first, romanticized images of parenthood — and deceptive messaging from a crisis pregnancy center — convinced me that my only option was having a baby. But coming to terms with my current situation as a teenage student and visualizing life as a statistic left me searching for other options.
But none of that mattered, because when I told my parents I was pregnant, they refused to entertain the thought of me being a mother at 17. They wasted no time arranging my appointment at the nearest clinic.
At first, I protested, and for years, I hid under the cloak of “my parents made the decision for me.” In retrospect, their adamance simply fueled what I already wanted. At 17 years old, and about six weeks pregnant, I walked into a clinic feeling panic towards the small gathering of people who made it their duty to remind me I was committing an unforgivable sin. And if that weren’t enough, them forcing me to look at the ultrasound definitely did.
It didn’t matter that I was one of the countless people who’d made that mistake; it only mattered that I’d been in the unlucky few who’d ended up pregnant.
Their condemnation prepared me for a life filled with pretending to be fine as friends and loved ones discussed the immorality of abortion. It also prepared me for years of internalizing hurtful messages about what having terminated a pregnancy said about me.
The aftermath of abortion impacts every woman differently. In my case, I felt unworthy of love and like I deserved to suffer for having committed such a shameful offense. But contrary to popular belief, for many women like me, that shame isn’t reflective of making the wrong choice; it’s shame knowing at any given moment, a large section of your loved ones believe you deserve a lifetime of consequences for a moment’s mistake.
It’s especially difficult in times like these when much of society debates what circumstances of abortion should be absolved of guilt.
But I’m here to say contrary to popular belief, nobody sets out hoping to find themselves n a situation where they will need/want an abortion.
What I did want, however, was a second chance.
I didn’t have time to think about how sex education had failed me. I couldn’t waste thoughts considering how my decision would mean the end of a friendship. And I had zero awareness that so many folks would think I deserved to experience lifelong guilt (or worse) for my choice.
Nearly a decade later, I can’t help but notice the inconsistencies. Our news headlines offer continuous accounts of sexual abusers who have derailed the emotional and physical health of women. The age and frequency of these offenses range, but there’s a common theme at play. For physical and sexual abusers, we’re often told that men can change. It’s suggested that for these people a “mistake,” particularly in the early years of one’s life, shouldn’t result in lifelong consequences.
In contrast, a lapse of judgment left me deserving of early motherhood and struggle. Interestingly, sexually active women are told to “consider the consequences,” but every day we suggest men of power are owed a fresh start.
Following through with pregnancy at 17 would have been an immeasurable gamble. I’d already taken a chance, in believing that a teenage boy could control his ejaculation. I wasn’t willing to take a second one and believe he would be a good father. I was also unwilling to chance the likelihood that I could live a successful life as a 17-year-old parent with only a high school diploma. I’d seen those odds play out many times.
Yes, there are women who were in positions eerily similar to mine, made other decisions and it turned out fine. But I’m not those women. I wanted to be a mother someday, but that day wasn’t when I was still a child myself.
I didn’t want the risk.
In recent years, the source of my shame has shifted. Instead of being disgusted at myself for getting an abortion, I’m ashamed of existing in a society with such rigid double standards. Women bear an unprecedented amount of responsibility in the realm of reproduction and care-taking despite men having an immeasurable potential for impregnating us. It’s true; I can select birth control, but the physiological consequences are many, and there is no shortage of accounts of women whose birth control failed.
As we navigate these sexual double standards, we possess the awareness that we can’t control others actions — although the world around us tries relentlessly to control ours.
Now, I have two children and a husband whom I love dearly. However, each day with them makes it clearer that I wasn’t ready for parenthood at 17 years old. An overwhelming imbalance of emotional labor rests on moms’ shoulders and workplace policies don’t accommodate the constant demands of being a mother.
Motherhood is beautiful, but it should be equally as much of a choice for women as it is for men to participate.
I’m still not done healing post-abortion. But I can’t deny that the experience led to many life lessons and taught me the importance of looking out for myself because no one else will.
Everyone has an opinion on what consequences women deserve for having sex. But despite opinions, abortion is the only one that allows us the “second chance” given to everyone else. It was the only choice that removed the gamble and suggested a few minutes shouldn’t dictate the rest of my life. But make no mistake, there will never be a reset for the stigma or the pain.
For nearly 10 years, I’ve been afraid to share my story. I was terrified at the names I’d be called. I’d think back to the protestors on site the day of my abortion. But I’m not afraid anymore. I’m done lingering in self-hate.
Besides, no one can call me anything worse than what I’ve already called myself. And, I know I made the right choice.