Who Gets the Lifesaver?

When my grandmother told me that she had an abortion back in 2003 (Mor-Mor's story ), I was still too caught up in my own shame to think much about her experience. As I have studied abortion and learned just how many women are already mothers when they have an abortion, I began to think more about this fact (abortion statistics). Why is it that a mother would choose to terminate a pregnancy?

One possible answer comes from understanding my grandmother’s life experience. Shortly after she died, my mom wrote all of her grandchildren a letter, telling us the few details of Mor-Mor’s life that she knew. My grandmother was very private and quiet about her life, and none of us really knew much about her past. 

What I knew already was that Mor-Mor’s father died of pneumonia when she was nine years old. From reading my mother’s letter, I learned how hard her life had been after that. Her mother, a first generation Swedish immigrant, worked as a housekeeper, had many jobs and moved frequently. Sometimes, Mor-Mor would be left with cousins for periods of time while her mother sought work without the encumbrance of a child. She became a nanny at age thirteen, working for a family on Long Island, while also holding down a job as a waitress. She never finished high school, instead taking secretarial courses during her sophomore year so that she could develop business skills to help provide for the family. She began working for the New York Telephone Co. when she was just fifteen years old, although she claimed she was really seventeen in order to get the job.

Her childhood was fraught with hardship, loneliness and scarcity.

My grandfather emigrated from Sweden also, and they met shortly after he arrived in America. They married young and had my aunt during the Depression. My aunt was often sick, afflicted with asthma and other medical problems. As I think about what it might have been like for her to live, how her own childhood experiences informed her decision-making, I feel deeply for her.
It must have felt a lot like watching two kids drowning and having only one lifesaver. Who can she save? 

I have met many women over the years who have also had childhoods filled with scarcity, others with abuse (Childhood Experiences ). I suspect they feel a lot like my grandmother must have felt – tired, fearful, overwhelmed and alone. No woman wants to have an abortion. It feels like a choice born of necessity. 

I hope that the stories I share will help other women know that they are not alone and there is no shame in their choice of an abortion. As we bring our stories to the light, forgive and heal ourselves, maybe we can change the experience of the generations of women to come.
Maybe we can change the question from “who gets the lifesaver?” to “how can we support the life we that already exists?”



Who REALLY has Abortions?

I was 29 years old, married and using birth control when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. 

For several reasons, my husband and I quickly decided to have an abortion. Although I did not already have children, I had some idea of what it would take to raise a child, and I knew, given the circumstances of my life, I was not ready to be a parent.

At the time, I thought most people who had abortions were teenagers. I would find out that teenagers are NOT the majority that chooses abortion. Surprised? I know I was. Research by the Guttmacher Institute indicates that in 2008, some 61% of abortions were performed on women who already had at least one child. In 2009, presumably due to the recession it is projected (numbers are not yet final) that the number of abortions performed on women who already had at least one child rose to 72%. (Guttmacher Statistics

And it makes some sense that women with a child already would be the larger percentage of women who choose abortion. Those of us who are older and/or more experienced with the realities of daily life know that life may have romance in it, but it is far from romantic on a daily basis.

What is unromantic about having a baby with the person you love? For me, it revolved around financial practicalities. I had married a man I adored (romantic) who was carrying high levels of credit card debt (unromantic). For the first two and a half years of our marriage, daily life involved constant sacrifices at a time that should have been the happiest years of my life. We couldn’t afford a honeymoon (unromantic), we rarely went on dates (unromantic) and we spent a great deal of time negotiating how to spend our money (super unromantic!). To top it off, there were familial stresses that included caring for a parent with a serious illness. 

Then I found out I was pregnant.

What to do? I was tired, stressed and to top it off, I was vomiting every day. I had been using birth control, so it never crossed my mind that I might be pregnant. After several successive days of tossing my cookies, I found myself in the hospital receiving forced hydration through an IV. That’s when I got the news of my pregnancy. 

I considered my circumstances. After 30 months of marriage, I knew life could be harder than I’d imagined not very long ago. Add a child to the mix and I couldn’t see an up side for anyone. I terminated the pregnancy as I was entering my eighth week.

This past week on the hit CBS show “The Good Wife,” the episode “A Precious Commodity,” included a storyline with a young woman hired as a surrogate for a couple who had found out their fetus has fatal birth defects (The Good Wife on CBS). The couple already had experience with loss: their first child had died at six months old after suffering a congenital heart defect. That experience informed their wish to terminate the surrogate’s pregnancy. The young surrogate, however, finds their choice untenable, despite the certainty of two doctors’ conclusions. In many ways, the conflict between the two women comes down to innocent/romantic versus practicality/familiarity. Very much like my own observations, experience, and the statistics. 

Who is it who really has abortions? It could be any of us . . . . the girl next door or the MOM next door. We may be your grocery store clerk, your tax accountant, your child’s favorite teacher. . We are mothers, daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters ( are sisters and BFF’s. Who are we? You might be surprised.



An Unexpected Moment of Connection

In June 2013 I attended a writer’s conference that featured a speaker who was a well-known female memoirist, and most of the attendees were female. I sat at a table with an exceptional group of women, our ages spanning four decades.

Through writing prompts and group exercises, we got to know each other in personal ways very quickly. I shared my purpose in helping women heal from abortion, explaining that I knew from experience how needed this work was. The responses around the table were positive. 

Until Kathleen spoke. 

Kathleen told her story of being a pregnant teen. Her parents had taken her baby away from her and put it up for adoption, deciding for her that she was not capable of being a mother. She was devastated. She vented anger at them and her sister, who also became pregnant as a teen, but who had made a different choice. She exclaimed both angrily and proudly, “Well, at least I had my baby. My sister aborted hers!”

No sooner had she said the words when she realized it and shot a look across the table at me. She didn’t want to hurt my feelings, and she apologized. 

I understood, and I told her so. Before my abortion I had always sworn I’d never have one either. And I’m used to negative reactions around this issue. When I tell people my experience, I hear things like, “I have nothing against abortion, but I would never choose it.”
It’s funny how God likes to teach us humility. 

We were not in a position to speak privately, but at the end of the workshop we ended up next to each other in line for the author’s autograph. It was a long line and we had over thirty minutes together. She apologized again, opening the door to more conversation on the subject. In the past, her words would have triggered me into a downward spiral of negativity. But having worked on my own feelings of self-judgment and self-worth over the years, I was able to step back from her comment and not feel it personally. As it turned out, I was able to provide a safe place for her to share deeply her buried feelings of loss and sadness. She had felt shame over her pregnancy and the loss of her child.
She, like myself, had lived much of her life feeling isolated.

Despite the noise and commotion around us we forged a special bond in those thirty minutes. By the time our books were autographed, we did not want to say good-bye. We realized we shared the same experience — having an unplanned pregnancy — no matter how different the outcome. After living in shame and self-loathing for many years with our buried secrets, we discovered that we were more connected than we could have dreamed at first meeting. We lingered a little longer before exchanging contact information and finally releasing each other.  

I believe it is these baby steps, taken one person at a time, that will change the world perspective on abortion. Kathleen and I discovered how much more we had in common than we’d thought. Once we were able to set aside our judgments, a beautiful moment of grace and connection unfolded for us. 

I wish you a moment of unexpected grace and connection in your life today too. And a loving release from judgment, of yourself and others.


Why I Write About Abortion - My Inspiration, My Confession

I was pregnant with my youngest child in the summer of 2004 when my grandmother died.

The hard, personal truth she revealed the last time I saw her changed the course of my life completely.

I doubt either of us knew how those few moments laid the foundation for who I am and what I do now. We shared a moment of grace that I did not recognize at the time, but which now gives me great strength of purpose.

Mor-Mor, Swedish for mother of mother, was 93 years old that summer when she fell, knocked unconscious. When we heard about this fall, my sister and I - the East Coast contingent of our family -  drove the five or so hours from Massachusetts to New Jersey as quickly as possible.  

We must have been a sight to behold waddling in to her hospital room to visit her. My sister and I were both pregnant, her second child, my third, and due with our babies in just a few months.

The news was good: Mor-Mor was resting comfortably.  She looked well, spoke clearly and intelligently. As relief settled in, we began playing gin rummy and chatted.

As I sat on the bed snuggling with her, my grandmother started to rub my pregnant belly. My baby boy did not disappoint. He gave little kicks here and there to let us know he was indeed present.

Without a change in tone or demeanor, Mor-Mor then shared with us a story I had never heard from her before.

"I want to tell you girls something," she began, still stroking my tight belly. "It was a long time ago, before your mother was born. It was after your aunt was born, and I found myself pregnant. Times were hard. It was the Depression, you know. Your aunt was sick a lot, and well, I had to make a choice.. . . . . " Her eyes were dimmed as her voice faded and she stared into the corner of the room. She seemed distant, removed, alone.

I did not know what to say. I felt her sadness, fear and anxiety. I did my best not to show the surprise I was feeling. I snuggled tighter and tried to reassure her. "It's okay Mor-Mor, it's okay." I hoped my words made a difference for her these seventy years later. I knew she needed to tell her story as she prepared for the end of her life. It never crossed my mind to share with her my own experience - I was still stuck in my own shame and fear. And then, I never had the chance to.
My grandmother died three weeks later. That hospital visit was the last time I saw her.
Years later, I would realize that moment changed my life.

My grandmother was probably reaching out for assurance in part because she was afraid of death, afraid of what awaited her on the other side now that she was so close to being there. And I, rather than tell her about my abortion, rather than tell her she was not alone, had chosen to hold tight to my truth and merely mumbled words that at the time, I myself did not believe. How was having an abortion ever okay? Still deep in denial about the truth of my own experience, I failed miserably at helping a woman I dearly treasured.

How did my life change? I do everything I can to let other women know what I never told my grandmother, what I wished I had told her. I shared my story in the anthology Pebbles on the Pond Wave 2 ( I write this blog. I want to let women know they are not alone. There are millions of us who, for different reasons and at different ages in our lives, have had abortions. As we grow older and review our lives, we may have new questions, as I suspect my grandmother had. Did I make the right choice? What will happen to me when I die? Can I be at peace with the choice I made?

I write about living well after abortion to honor my grandmother and to remind women that one moment from our past does not define who we are and what our life means. My grandmother lived a hard life, but she showed strength and courage in living it and loving those around her. Her sharing that painful part of her past only deepened my love for this woman I will always cherish.

Why do I write about abortion? Mor-Mor.