My Secret Abortion
This week's Roe v. Wade news hit me in a tender spot.
On this Mother’s Day, I want to talk about a child I chose not to have.
I was pregnant in the picture above.
I was married. My lover, too, was married and had a family.
I terminated this pregnancy.
I was filled with shame. I was ashamed in front of my gynecologist, so I just sped through the conversation making it clear I didn’t want answer any questions. I mean, here I was this person seemingly at the top of my game…but so clearly at the bottom. But mostly, I was ashamed that the stain that I thought I had escaped, the stain of the sexual abuse of my childhood had caught up with me despite my best efforts. I was not really the successful media “It Girl” that the New York Times portrayed me as. I was still that little dirty girl with an embarrassing sexual secret. A liar who left work early one day for a “routine procedure.” I didn’t have to feign tiredness when I got home to my husband that evening. I was exhausted: Physically, emotionally and spiritually. I didn’t tell my therapist. Only my best friend and the baby’s father knew, and even then, it was just the facts. We never spoke of it again after the procedure…including the procedure. I never spoke about it to anyone. My heart aches for this younger version of me, all alone and terrified in her suffering.
I left my job as Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen within months.
That fetus or child…however you prefer to define it according to your beliefs – gave up its life for me.
The Pope would say that I should have had this child. That at the height of my Atoosa-ness which coincided with the height of my being an emotionally unprocessed adult - when Gawker was writing about me daily…I should’ve really give them something to write about. That I should’ve destroyed my husband…my lover’s wife and family. Certainly, I’d have needed to be replaced at Seventeen because what kind of a role model was I, really? I didn’t think that far ahead at the time, but for sure, by terminating the pregnancy, I took the easy way out. But was it really easy? Getting an abortion wasn’t like getting a pedicure. It was one of the most awful experiences of my life. At the time, like all the trauma I’d experienced earlier in my life, I tried to bury it and move on. To be totally honest, I tried to bury it until today…until this week’s Roe v. Wade news.
Ironically, one of my colleagues unknowingly used the picture above in a Reel she made to promote my TEDx talk, so I was haunted by this covert reminder of my pregnancy for the whole week preceding the Supreme Court leak. So when the news hit, it touched me in a very personal place. A place I didn’t even feel comfortable sharing with my closest friends. This week has been spent privately grieving. I grieved for the budding life that was lost. I grieved for my own life that led me to that point. I grieved for my husband who didn’t deserve such a broken person. I grieved for my then-best friend who had to hold the enormity of my secret all those years ago.
I didn’t realize until just today the impact this pregnancy and subsequent abortion had on my disappearance from public life. This secret that I thought I would take to the grave with me. This experience that drew a line in the sand, showing me I could no longer dodge the trauma of my childhood without continuing to replicate it in one way or another. That I needed to stop my life as I knew it, to let my heart break wide open because, as my teacher – the great Frances Weller says, it’s the broken open heart that is the medicine for the circumstances we are facing. Until today, I had still armored myself against this last unsavory detail was that the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back all those years ago.
I am speaking about it today because I wonder if we are contributing to the precariousness of our right to choose by making it a scientific debate and holding these terrible losses in secrecy. Does it hurt all of us that we do not mourn the loss of these souls in community? Is that why pro-lifers feel these losses must be stopped because they are gratuitous…in vain. Perhaps if we share our stories, it can be clear that these beautiful martyred souls were grieved. That they, too, had an impact. That they, in some instances, saved lives or like mine, directed others toward a better future. That these ephemeral souls touched us. Their arrival and loss changed us.
For sure, it changed me. Each one of the children I ultimately did not give birth to changed and impacted me as much as the ones I did feel prepared to give birth to. There was nothing throwaway or disposable about these angels. But we have, understandably, because these are not easy conversations to have, hidden their significance in our lives and hidden the work of grief after their losses.
So, I for one, want to make transparent that on this Mother’s Day, I carried three babies to term and three others that I chose not to. I continue to have so much gratitude for the three I never met…and gratitude for my ability to make the choice. I realize 3 probably sounds like a lot. Maybe you’ve had one…if that at all. I don’t judge myself. It took a long time for me to build sound judgement. I had to learn from scratch. And in the same way that I do not judge myself, I don’t judge the people who want to take this right away from me…from us. Because their personal journey, too, brought them to this place. We all value life. I think I valued life too much to bring a baby into the fucking mess I was living in when I got pregnant. Everyone has their own story. But I know for sure we all value life. And we all grieve every pregnancy that is terminated, whatever the reason. I just wonder if with more open grieving, we can all see that no one is taking this lightly and we can also provide loving support for each other as we walk difficult paths like this particular one. Perhaps it’s not such a black and white debate and the answer is somewhere in the shades of grey. I believe it’s in those spaces that Choice lives.
Today I’m somber. I can’t lie. I’m really sitting with the ways in which my childhood trauma has impacted my life and the lives of those I love so I can’t tie this letter up in a bright pink bow. But I will invite my grief in for tea and work with it. We often feel discomfort when grief comes knocking and we armor up with any variety of easier-to- feel emotions like righteous anger or denial. But the only way out of grief is through it in conversation, writing, ritual and even dance (ahem, not dance for me! At least you got one joke out of me this week!). As Denise Levertov wrote in her poem, To Speak: “To speak of sorrow works upon it, moves it from it’s crouched place barring the way to and from the soul’s hall.” Thank you for helping me work through my personal and collective grief here. I’m always ready to return the favor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS - Oh and hey, comments are open below. Would love to hear where your heart is at.
Soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤️: