Update with Link to Podcast related to the Blog Post and a few edits of content.
A Triangle in a Round and Square World – Inventing Resilience
Trigger Warning: This post is the story of my own experience with abortion, the trauma, feelings and pro-choice stance. If you are unable to continue to read please stop, take a time, come back if possible or reach out. Be respectful in feedback and comments, abuse will not be tolerated.
I have tried writing this post several times in the last three years. I have started it many times, in many different ways, coming from many angles. I have stopped in tears each time, giving up, not being ready to share. I’m still not 100% ready to share or for the judgement but I believe it’s important to share our experiences, to share our stories so others can relate, understand or feel less alone.
I actually started this specific post the day that Texas came out with it’s new abortion restrictions and the U.S. Supreme decision not to strike it down. I wasn’t sure I could write it but then while driving to pick up my two oldest from school I saw a large truck with purposely graphic image pull up next to me at a light. I started writing when I got home and have come back to it several times in the last few weeks determined to finish this time, albeit a few weeks late but on the heels of the Woman’s March on Reproductive rights.
I can seem like an open book; I will talk about pretty much anything, at length and the more in depth the better. I try to have no secrets, although still some things are left hidden. Secrets are often rooted in shame.
The shame of having an abortion comes from the shame of unwanted pregnancy, the shame of having sex, the shame lack of control. I have cried so many tears trying to release this shame.
I do not regret my abortion.
The reality is that if I had made a different decision I would never have met my first husband. I would have been 8 or 9 months pregnant instead. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have my two oldest children whom are amazing humans.
I do not regret keeping my second unplanned pregnancy.
I have been pregnant twice unintended, once at 23 where I chose to have an abortion and once at 33 where I knew I had to try and make it work.
My hope is in sharing my story one can learn that choice is important. That this issue is not a simple matter of right and wrong. That pro-choice is not pro-abortion. Pro-choice is understanding that privilege and circumstance affect the quality of life and the variety of options. Different times in my life afforded me more and less privilege. Pro-choice is understanding that every woman and girl has the right to make the best decision for them, and that their lives, wants and needs matter.
When I was 23 I was working two jobs and in university. I was living in a house owned by the son of a coworker with two other girls. Rent was cheap, my roommates were nice and the location was awesome. I met the man that got me pregnant at work. I was working at a recently opened furniture store at a large mall, he came in to look at dining tables for his family home. I remember I had to crawl under the table to read the label and get the right sku, as all the tables kinda blended together a bit.
When looking up the table and the availability, he made the comment – ‘Looks like you have great tits to go with that ass.’ I didn’t know what to say. I mentioned it to my manager who laughed it off and said I should feel flattered, so I did; I put my value in my body. He came back to get the table and I honestly don’t know how I saw him again but I did.
He was separated, or so I thought, he had two young kids around 2 and 5. He was successful at work (that much I could look up) and lived in a great neighbourhood (meaning nice house/high income). We would go out decently often, I met a couple of his friends, only ever one at a time and male but that didn’t send any red flags at the time. A few months in he had to take ‘a trip’, is was to rehab for cocaine, I was floored. I was always very clear in my distaste for drugs. I was open with my family’s struggle with alcohol abuse and how much hurt it caused.
He didn’t respect my boundaries but I was so desperate to feel wanted, to be loved, that I allowed my boundaries to be crossed. I feel shame in that desperation, the need to feel wanted.
He called me from rehab, it is almost surreal to think about now, it feels so ridiculous since working on my self esteem. I had pledged I wouldn’t speak with him again, when one afternoon about 6 months afters his trip I was walking along a busy retail street in my city (17th Ave) and he drove by. He parked and chased me down; I caved agreeing to see him again.
I think back at it and can see it was my lack of self worth that led me to allow this person that was so ready to lie, to hide truths, to use me for their own comfort into my life. I was taking precautions, I was on birth control, I was being responsible, ‘safe’; I don’t remember when I figured out I was late. I do remember sitting waiting in Starbucks, waiting to tell him, half hoping he would say it would be ok.
I grew up knowing I was pro-choice, but not pro-abortion. Read that again – pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. I say it multiple times, it means that there are circumstances where it might be the best choice. It means providing grace and understanding that there are more factors at play.
When I was twenty I knew a girl that had given up a child for adoption already, and was considering her third abortion. I remember the judgement, the superiority I felt, that I would never be in that situation. I couldn’t imagine carrying a child to term and giving it up, for me, it would be too much of a loss. I couldn’t imagine having more than one unexpected pregnancy, that was my privilege at the time. My birth control had worked, condoms had worked.
I believe part of our judgement of others comes from two places, one, our desire to be better than, and two, our desire for clear expectations, clear rules and guidelines.
The first comes from our societal structure, the way we teach ourselves, our children that being better than another is a good thing. That our value, instead of being something innate in ourselves, is based on how we relate to those around us, in hindsight that’s an empty belief. Comparison is the their of joy, as the saying goes, and to that effect, pushing others down to lift yourself up is false greatness. We (as in the global We) need to adopt the belief that You matter because You do, I matter because I do.
The second comes from an inner need for calm and control. When you know what’s expected, you know how to achieve. It’s a black and white view, it’s simple, it can feel like it’s within control. Judgement coming to those that lack that control.
I saw him walk into Starbucks, and I got that pit in my stomach. Part of me wanted him to say that he wanted me to have the baby. That he would help me financially, so I could finish school. I even ran the idea of him not necessarily being a part of the baby’s life but just help me survive so I wouldn’t have to make the choice. He didn’t, he was very clear that there was only one option.
He had a wife and kids already.
I called the clinic in town that I knew performed the procedure (meaning abortion, even the need to call it a procedure is indicative of the shame). I called and although I was really early in gestation (around the 5 week mark), I wouldn’t be able to be seen until a physical procedure could be done. Meaning I couldn’t do a medicinal abortion; I couldn’t take a pill and induce it at home. I would need to go into the clinic and have a full d&c. I can’t tell you at how many weeks I would have been, I blocked it out. I knew a friend that had one and asked if they could drive me. I wasn’t able to tell anyone else, no one, the shame.
I had to wait about six weeks to get in, again I have mentally blocked out the exact length of time. There is a buzzer to get in and the administration staff are behind glass with a lock door into the waiting room. The first meeting is with a social worker that goes through every option again (they go over on the phone when booking), they provide some resources, outline the procedure and the recovery.
I remember this part because I had booked a solo trip to Mexico for three weeks after so I could cry, read, sleep and try to mentally recover. It was here where I learned I wouldn’t be able to swim, my favourite solace wouldn’t be available to me. I would need at least 6 weeks for my cervix to heal before going into a pool. I was a lifeguard and swim instructor for one of my jobs – I wasn’t going to be able to teach.
I wouldn’t be able to swim when in Mexico, to wash my sorrows away. I love to swim when I’m stressed or sad, it is my favourite, because when you cry while swimming, you get the physical and emotional release but no one is the wiser because red eyes in pools are an acceptable thing.
The next room they brought me into was for an ultrasound. They needed to ensure there is a heartbeat because if not, I could just pass the fetus in a ‘spontaneous abortion’ or better known as a miscarriage. You are required to listen to the heartbeat.
I remember climbing on the bed for the procedure, and them saying you aren’t meant to be 100% knocked out but what I remember most is lying back and tears rolling down the side of my eyes before passing out. The next thing I remember is my friend picking me up and going home; Just numb. I texted him to let him know it was done. He came over, I snuggled into him, all I wanted was comfort and all he thought about was sex.
I was not ok.
I remember as a teenager marveling at the idea of conception. The real magic of it, that the egg and a sperm meet – cells grow and there is a human. That this human could be part you and part the person you love most in the world is pure magic. That is the ideal.
I remember saying to a friend a couple months after that I wasn’t sure I should have kids anymore. I had wanted kids my whole life, my friend knew this and said I ‘had to have kids, I was destined to the next Noam Chomsky or David Suzuki. My child will change the world’. This is still my favourite compliment I have ever received.
I met my first husband in what would have been the month I was due. I probably would have never told him about my abortion but the guy decided to try and find me at work. He lived close to the Rec Centre I worked at, apparently he had been looking for me for a while. He approached me when I was walking off deck, he had found Jesus, he was back with his wife, he thanked me. This man still felt entitled to me, to my time, my care; he had no concept or care of the trauma that was caused.
I had a full breakdown, I sobbed, I had to have a shower to calm down and that night, I told my then boyfriend (would be first husband) about the abortion I had the year before
I felt shame, I felt grief, and I cried myself to sleep.
One thing you will notice is that I don’t refer to the pregnancy as a fetus or cluster of cells. The reason being is that when you want there to be a heartbeat, a baby, it doesn’t feel like it’s just cells. Having an abortion or having to make this choice is traumatic. I believe part of needing to think of it as a cluster of cells or fetus is a coping mechanism, one used to detach from the sorrow.
My first husband and I were married two years after meeting. He started his Bachelor of Education the year we got married. We had decided to stay in our home city because I had two good jobs and could support us through his school.
It was a few months after our wedding, around Christmas, that we discovered I was pregnant. It felt almost like a honeymoon baby, if we had been able to take a honeymoon. I hadn’t been paying attention to my period so we would need a dating ultrasound. I remember lying on the table excited to hear the heartbeat this time.
There was nothing. The technician said it was possible that it was too early in the pregnancy, maybe I had just found out too early, there was definitely a baby there though. We would come back in 3 weeks for the 1st trimester screen and we would see more then.
It was a couple weeks later when I woke up in the morning to spotting. I went to the walk in clinic where they informed me I would need to go to the ER. I was a Supervisor at the Rec centre now and most of my staff were away on a ski trip that weekend, something that was planned for a long time and I was meant to cover.
It was the Friday morning, I spent the better part of 8 hours in the ER without being seen. I had to call my boss and let them know where I was, could she try and find coverage that night for me. I had an internal ultrasound, it requires a rod to be inserted to get a better picture vs a typical abdominal version. It was confirmed there was no heartbeat, I had a ‘spontaneous abortion’, a miscarriage. I was sent home to pass the tissue. I had to call in, grateful for those already working agreeing to stay late and cover, I then worked the Saturday night and Sunday morning.
It was Sunday evening while watching the Oscars that I started to bleed, I bled through a pad in 12 minutes. I called HealthLink, they confirmed that I needed to go to the ER. We went back to the Rockyview where I was seen much quicker this time. I was hooked up to IVs and told they would need to do an emergency D&C. I remember having to call my boss at my second job while up on a gurney to explain I wasn’t going to make it to my morning shift.
Why do I keep bringing up work? I think it’s because the memories are so vivid and because it makes me feels like it proves I’m a responsible person. There is a misconception that only irresponsible people get pregnant by accident.
I remember thinking that this was my fault that I had brought the miscarriage on because I had made my choice earlier. That I was never going to have the magic of my own child with someone I loved.
My husband and I waited awhile before trying again. We did get pregnant in 2012 and welcomed my daughter in December that year. She is amazing, a true spitfire – even as a baby and toddler the girl knew what she needed and wasn’t afraid to demand it. She is exhausting and wonderful.
My biggest fear about having a daughter was that I wouldn’t be able to relate to her, that I would damage or hurt her the same way I feel my mother has hurt me. I describe my mother as a wonderful person to everyone but me. She didn’t have a great example of a healthy maternal support system and it passed down to me. I was and am terrified to do the same to my own daughter. So I have never told my mother about my abortion because I know the reaction would be judgement with no compassion. She has told me I was lucky that anyone would love me. She would tell me as a pre-teen that I would be an alcoholic and have an abortion. If I did tell her it would be confirming all her most negative beliefs in me; And she is my ‘stable’ parent.
I had another miscarriage between my first and second earth side children; it is amazing how cold some people can be. Aoife was just over 1 at the time when I went for my 1st trimester scan and there was a heartbeat, it was weak, and I was recommended to have another ultrasound within a couple of weeks. I was clearly nervous given what I had been through before. The silence of the Technician led me to tears before the doctor came in.
He said, and I kid you not, ‘Well I guess you know what I’m going to say.’ I wanted to scream ‘No mother f*er, I didn’t know, I was hoping against hope but thanks for making it seem like no big deal’.
I went to my GP for a referral to the early loss clinic, as with my previous miscarriage I required the emergency D&C, they confirmed they could send the request. After not hearing for three days I called and someone had forgotten to send the referral. Again I blamed my self, the shame.
I will not go into the loss of miscarriage in this post as it is a topic all in of itself, but know that it is heartbreaking. My trauma was exacerbated by my choice and the guilt around it.
My husband had seen the pain the experience caused and offered to get a vasectomy because I always said I wouldn’t be able to go through another miscarriage again. He wanted another child, a sibling for our daughter and I said I would be ok to try one more time.
We had our second child in March 2015, about 6 months after the due date of my second miscarriage. Two kids is hard, Life is hard and it took a toll on our marriage. I would say we drifted apart the whole first year of our son’s life. I was a mess of postpartum, the lack of sleep, discontent with my potential or lack there of professional life, just everything. We decided to split in May 2016.
I met my current partner while working and married, nothing untoward but we started off as friendly conversation. We had our first date the week my husband and I decided we would need to separate.
A lot of my self worth used to come from physical relationships. I lost my virginity at sixteen to a friend, someone I knew from swimming and went to high school with. I wanted to always like the first person I had sex with, that was important to me. He, as I imagine most teen boys, was always stoked to have sex. I remember describing his as a kid in a candy store when I took my top off.
Because this was the first time I felt valued, so much of my self worth ended up being tied up in physical relationships with others. So even with the timing so close to the dissolution of my marriage, I felt like I needed sex to feel value again, self worth again (again a whole other post is in this). Marriage doesn’t just end, it’s a slow burn – often starting with the lack of physical intimacy, combined with poor communication and stress.
My partner and I had to have dates late at night because it was the only time that worked. We would meet after work as I needed to be home for my kids during the day. We would meet between 9 and 11, when I was finished work and I would leave around three in morning to go home.
I remember going out for some drinks with a girlfriend the first Thursday in July (so about 6 weeks later), Stampede’s sneak a peek. I remember stopping myself after one because I just felt off. I waited a few days because I wasn’t yet late, but on the following Tuesday morning I took a pregnancy test and confirmed what I had already thought.
I was co-teaching a course at the time, I had called the clinic at lunch to see what appointments/options looked like. I cried a lot, I remember the class was heading to the pool and I sat in the classroom crying, when I came on deck my co-teacher asked if I was ok and jokingly said ‘Are you pregnant?’. At this point almost no-one knew I was even separated.
By the end of the day I knew I didn’t want to have another abortion. I asked my partner to meet that night, resolved in my decision. If my husband (ex-husband) asked me to have an abortion I would, to preserve that relationship, for my kids, but not for this new person. He was clear, he enjoyed my company but it was too soon and we barely knew each other. This time I knew I had the resources, although it would be extremely hard, could drain all my savings, and I would still have shame of the unplanned pregnancy – it would be possible to keep the baby. I was clear he wouldn’t need to have anything to do with it. I needed him to decide by the three month mark.
In all honestly a large part of me didn’t believe the baby would make it past the three months mark or to birth. I always thought a large part of why I miscarried was stress, and what could be more stressful than going through a divorce with two young children, not having a permanent income and additional family stress I had at the time.
My ex-husband was nothing short of amazing. It was the hardest conversation I have ever had. I never wanted to hurt him, I loved him, love him deeply. The shame of getting pregnant. The shame of lack of control. The shame of needing sex.
When I first started telling people that I was pregnant I was pretty far along, partly because I didn’t believe the baby would make it and partly because I wasn’t ready for the judgement. I was proven this was the right decision, as when I told a long time girlfriend that I was pregnant and the first thing out of her mouth was ‘Don’t you know there is such a thing a birth control?’. This hurt deeply because of course I knew, things out of our control happen.
The thing about both choices is if I had made the opposite choice in either case I would still be shamed. If I had chosen to keep the baby at 23, I would have been a gold digger and a home wrecker. My feelings and situation wouldn’t have been considered. The fact that he was so bold to tell me he had found God, to feel entitled to my care for him, even in the face of complete lack of care for me shows that.
The second time when I did keep the baby, had I not, it would have been the shame and pain associated with an abortion, already covered. The thing is I was still judged and shamed.
My sister just recently admitted to me that my mom asked her not to tell her side of the family that I was even getting divorced, I can only imagine the panic when she found out I was pregnant.
I had one coach tell me that I better not have gotten pregnant to ‘Trap’ my partner, as if it wasn’t at all possible that I was the one that would be or feel trapped. I pulled myself together, gathered enough courage to decide to leave a relationship I had intended on being in for the rest of my life. Knowing there would be no possibility of reconciling, little lone space for myself to grow or heal. I have also been told consistently that I am so lucky that he stuck around, that he ‘took on’ my other children, as if we ourselves have no value or worth, we add nothing to his life.
I only remember one friend asking me if I was ok.
I love my youngest, Cael, so much and my family would not be the same without him but I would be lying if I said the last five years have been easy. There are days in all honesty that I’m lucky to have survived.
The reality is that we humans, like to judge. We like to point fingers, lay blame and feel superior but we aren’t always to open to pro-active solutions.
I will say it again that Pro-choice is not Pro-abortion.
Why this distinction is important is because their are those that have no real choice. If you say you are Pro-life but don’t believe in Universal Healthcare, a robust education system including sex education, post secondary education and a national childcare program, than you are not Pro-life. If you don’t believe in Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Lives Matter, or that LBGTQIA+ Lives Matter than you are not Pro-Life.
If you don’t believe Gun control, Vaccines, Masks but do believe in the Death penalty. You are not Pro-life.
You are Pro-control. You are Pro-hierarchy, Pro feeling superior, not Pro-life.
When I say no real choice, I mean the reality of having a child and all the costs that come with it. The cost of childcare, diapers, food, possibly needing a new home, possibly needing a vehicle or having to stop schooling. The cost of being tied to someone you didn’t necessarily expect or that is healthy for you. The cost on your mental health on top of all of the above. If these realities mean little to you then you are fortunate to hold privilege that others do not.
We must acknowledge that Quality of life matters; Access to resources matters.
Another reality is that social programs are needed to support individuals that have abortions. Understanding the how and why unplanned pregnancies happen, the mental health support needed to recover and prevent more, and the how individuals can be supported to successfully raise their children. These programs cost money, money that would require funding from taxes to support all people. Programs through churches or organizations come with ties and are again more about control than support.
This is a complex issue with so many factors and it is overwhelming.
I do not believe abortion should be used as a form of birth control, it causes pain and trauma. I do believe the only way to prevent multiple unplanned pregnancies is through education of both girls and boys/women and men. To improve access to birth control and the changing of the mindset that the girl/woman is the only party responsible for pregnancy.
We need to shift so many things to create a world where girls and women are safe, where we aren’t told their bodies are where their value lies. Where if someone does get pregnant they will have unconditional support.
I hope that my daughter or sons never have to experience an unwanted pregnancy; the stress, the uncertainty and the pain. I hope my daughter never needs to make a Choice. I hope my children only choose sexual partners with which they are comfortable raising a child with. I hope that their self worth is not tied to their physical being. That if they ever do experience an unplanned pregnancy that they understand Choice is important.
That if they choose to see their pregnancy through or support their partner with their child that I will continue to love them and their child unconditionally. I will support them in any way that I can, whether financially, with childcare or emotionally.
That if they choose to abort I will continue to love them unconditionally and support their healing in any way possible.
I do not regret my abortion, I would not have survived being tied to a person that only used me for their gain, a narcissist, an addict, for the rest of my life; I would not have survived the judgement from my own family; my life matters because it does. I would not have met my husband and more importantly I would not have Aoife or Bowie, and to follow the line further I would not have Cael.
This post could be a whole book on all the factors to consider, the reasons why anything but Choice is hypocrisy but for now, know that Choice matters and Choice is a necessity.
My hope in sharing my story, as small and limited as it is, it might give perspective, to change the narrative, to open minds. My hope is to help others feel comfortable sharing their own story, to support loved ones and to view abortions and reproductive rights as the full complex issue that it is.