Mommy had an abortion

Guest post by Sarah Tuttle-Singer
By: Hammerin ManCC BY 2.0

The first time I peed on a stick, I was a freshman in college. I did what many other girls in my situation would do: I chose dating. I chose parties. (Eventually, I chose a major.) I chose to move on with my life.

I chose to have an abortion.

And, just like that, I was lying on the exam table, my legs in stirrups where I stared at a picture of fuzzy kittens taped to the ceiling while the doctor prodded me with a transvaginal ultrasound dildo in order to determine just how far along I was so that we could plan the “procedure” accordingly.

Having seen so many romantic comedies, I had thought ultrasounds were all done over the belly while the mama beamed and the papa looked a little constipated. I remember wishing I had known that early pregnancy ultrasounds were more, involved. I would have shaved my legs and painted my toenails. I remember wanting to cringe and cry at the same time. I remember clinging to frivolous thoughts like a life preserver, not wanting to think about what this ultrasound really meant.

“Don’t look at the screen,” the doctor said as she turned it away. But I already had: I had seen a wriggling little blob with leg and arm buds. And a flickering heartbeat.

Still, it was almost too easy — after all, I convinced myself, this thing wasn’t a baby. It was just a clump of cells trying to take over my body.

I never wavered in my choice not to be pregnant. And that was that. The end. Period.

For the next several years, I was too busy boozing and bed-hopping to think seriously about babies, so I popped birth control pills like breath mints, and carried more condoms in my purse than chewing gum. Even though I wasn’t ready to become a mama, I could still hear the tick-tock-tick-tock of my biological clock, faint, but insidious, like a faucet dripping on the other side of the house.

And then I got a little older, and my biological clock got a little louder. I ditched the leather pants and halter tops, along with Dirk, and Chip, and Biff, for more appropriate clothes, and guys I could actually introduce to my parents without giving them a coronary. Eventually, I was domesticated. And that’s when the baby talk got all grown up.

“So, when do you think you guys will have kids?” someone asked about five minutes after my husband and I had drunk the wine from the ceremonial Kiddush cup and kissed under the traditional Jewish wedding canopy.

“Oh, who knows. I mean, we aren’t trying to get pregnant, but we’re not not trying either,” I said cavalierly, as unbeknownst to me, a teeny tiny blastocyst was burrowing deep in my uterus.

And then, a few days after celebrating a pee-soaked plus sign on a pregnancy stick, I started bleeding.

“So, I see you have some spotting,” the doctor said when I went in for an urgent-care appointment. “Is this your first pregnancy?”
“How many other children do you have?”
“Did you have a previous miscarriage?”
“Yeah. Back in 2000.” I didn’t elaborate.
“Hmm… ok. Well, let’s take a look.” He said. “Scooch all the way down…”

The doctor stuck the transvaginal ultrasound wand inside me, wriggled it around, looked at the ultrasound screen and said “Hmmm.” (“Hmmm” is not what you want to hear when your doctor is looking for signs of life in your uterus. Just saying.)

“Well, I think that’s your baby” he said pointing to a blurry grey bean floating in a sea of black. “There isn’t a heartbeat, but it looks like you’re just really early. Come back here next week for another ultrasound. By then, we’ll have a clearer idea of what’s happening.” He printed out a picture of the ultrasound image and stuck it in my file.

“Can I have one, please?” I asked. I tried not to cry as I traced my finger over the fuzzy grey blob that might or might not be alive.

I took the picture home and framed it.

After a week of excruciating uncertainty, my doctor discovered that my baby-to-be was, in fact, alive. And while I exulted over my baby’s twinkling heartbeat and danced down the halls of the OBGYN department, it hit me hard: How could I see one fetus as “just a clump of cells” and another as “my baby.”

There are a thousand different reasons why I do not regret my decision to have an abortion once upon a Freshman year. And I am grateful that I was able to make that choice in a safe way, under the auspices of a reputable doctor and not in the clutches of a back alley butcher or alone in a room with a wire coat hanger. And while I pray that no government in the United States will ever strip a woman of her right to choose, falling in love with my wanted first baby for the first time on the ultrasound monitor changed the way I feel about when life begins. It was the ultimate mind-fuck, and I spent the entire pregnancy trying to come to terms with it. Even now while I sit here with the laptop and watch my two and a half year old daughter sleep, I still can’t quite wrap my head around the enormity of this paradox.

And I don’t think I ever will.

Comments on Mommy had an abortion

  1. Wow. If I didnt know better I would have thought I would have written this myself. I had my “procedure” 5 years ago and I am now pregnant again with my husband. Things are more perfect this go around. I feel like I never felt like the first baby WAS a baby and I love this one oh so much already and im only 7 weeks. Its crazy.

  2. Thank you for this! I think that it is so rare that we hear the voices of women who have had abortions and aren’t mouth-pieces for the religious right! 1/3 of all women will have an abortion and yet it is like a brick wall of shame and secrecy keeps us from telling our stories unless we promise to tell a story of complete contrition and regret full of sobbing. I, like you, am part of that 1/3. I don’t regret my decision, in the sense that I know that I was not ready to be a mother, but I understand that it was not a simple, uncomplicated decision. Hell, it was one of the most complicated decisions of my life. But I am thankful that ultimately it was a decision I made without the interference of the state, but with the guidance of my God, my doctor, and my conscience. Perhaps, I made the wrong choice, but I thank whatever rules the universe each day that it was my choice to make.

    P.S. I wish I was as brave as you.

  3. I was hoping that someone would breach the wall of silence this week and I am so glad to read your story. I think there are alot of us out there that have been in your position, who don’t talk about it, ever. It is so hard because it is SO CONTROVERSIAL, I know if my mother ever found out, her heart would be ripped out, but I wish I could say it out loud, so that she would know because she is my mother. You are braver than I am a million times over. I’ve wanted to tell my story so I can stop thinking about it late at night when I can’t sleep, when I look at my daughter who has the love of three babies, one who wasn’t and one who was lost. I am just too afraid of the judgment that inevitably comes. We have hard and terrible decisions in life but we can only go forward knowing that we did what was best and being glad that there is a choice to be made at all. Thank you for giving us a voice!

  4. Thank you for writing this. It’s so important for people to realize that most women who have abortions do go on to have children – when they are ready (I forget the actual statistic, but I think it’s something like 80%). Or they already have children! My mom had an abortion after her first two children, and she said though it was a difficult decision, she doesn’t regret it.

    I had a scare when I was 17…I’m lucky that it was just a scare, but I had already decided what I’d do before I’d even peed on the stick.

    I’m fine with folks who don’t think they would ever have an abortion (although I’d argue you can never truly know how you’d feel until you were in the situation)…fine, don’t have one. But don’t make that decision for everyone else.

  5. A tough story to share and something many, many women go through, choosing one at one point in time and another at a different time. This is probably the hardest choice anyone ever makes, so thanks for talking about it. I wish women could talk about this choice with other women without being forced to wear the shame shroud. A related hard choice I’d like to see discussed is what to tell your children about the subject, do you tell them in effort to help them not have to make that decision? Do you share with them so they know if/when they have to make that choice, they know they can talk to you, because you have been there and you do understand. Or do you perpetuate the stigma in an effort to hide your own shame/discomfort with your decision.*

    *Note, not you, the poster specifically, I mean the general you.

    • My mom told me her story when I was a sophomore in college. Because of trauma in my own past, I was having a great difficulty with having sex for the first time. My mom took me to a Home Town Buffet and we sat there for two hours while my mom shared all the happiness and pain (of love and boys) she’s ever gone through starting from elementary school to after my dad. She was finally completely honest with me. Before, when I was younger, she had told me she had a miscarriage, but now I know she had an abortion. For her it’s the same sadness, having to give up a child that she loved.
      Having her tell me her story really changed our relationship. I was becoming an adult and our bond became much stronger. I’m very glad she told me, because when I did get pregnant, I was able to tell without fear. And I’m so happy to say, that since the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant, my mom has only shown me full support and complete love!

    • you’ve raised a very interesting question – and yes, i think i will tell my children the truth as a way of opening a dialogue. not sure how that conversation will go though — i mean, do i start off by telling my oldest, “believe it or not, you might have been a middle child?” (ok, not funny, but still…)


      • I think you’ll find it may vary by child. My mom was date raped when she was 16 and had an abortion as a result. Then in her early 20’s she had another after a careless one night stand.
        She has three daughters now. As her oldest, when I was a sophomore or so in college she told me about both of them. She only told my middle sister about the first. She was too afraid of her judgement. I think my youngest sister probably knows about both because she had one herself when she was 18 but I don’t really know.

        There’s a bumper sticker I’ve seen floating around a couple times that says “Thank God your mom was pro-life” and it makes me laugh every time I see it. I’m thankful she wasn’t. I know I wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t.

    • My mother told me about her abortion when I told her that I was pregnant and had an abortion scheduled for later that week.

      It didn’t surprise me that she had had one, since so many of us have, and I’m glad she shared with me. It helped me not to feel so alone in what I was doing or going through.

  6. “Proud” is the wrong word, but I’m certainly not ashamed of my decision to have an abortion. I feel like those of us who speak about our experience are always expected to do so with some sense of solemnity, even regret, and definitely shame. I appreciate your straightforwardness and your humor!

    And thanks to Offbeat Mama for having the guts to approach such a controversial topic.

    • i know exactly how you feel. proud sounds like the wrong word, but i can’t even describe how empowered i felt to be both in control of my own life, and to do so in a place that was SO pro-woman, supportive, and helpful. strangely enough it’s this sense of community i experienced with my own abortion that has led me to pursue midwifery as a career.. if i can help one woman feel as strong and safe as i felt that day, i can die happy.

      • Having the choice and facing the difficulty of that choice is something to be proud of. I don’t know if this makes sense to others who have not had an abortion, but having my child wouldn’t mean as much if it had been my only option.

  7. I… yeah. Some deep down part of me is terrified of getting pregnant, because I don’t “deserve” it after choosing once to not be pregnant. Having an abortion was the right thing to do and I wouldn’t change it if I could. But. Yeah. I think I need to do a lot of deep thinking on this one. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. Thank You! Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for the candidness of this post and thank you so much for sharing this personal story. There are alot of us women out there who have been through this; it is refreshing to be able to talk about an abortion with out feeling ostracized to point of keeping your feeling in so that you do not offend people with your decision. (That’s how I felt with my peers and people I chose to open up to about my situation) and to feel like you are not alone is so very nice. So again I thank you!

    • i too have really struggled with this concept of “offending” people with my decision. the biggest part of my healing was talking about it, but i became so enraged at the idea of offending other people with a choice of my own that will never affect them. or not talking about it for fear of politicizing a situation… what is political about my body? what is offensive about my right to be an individual? i really began to feel (and still do) that not talking about it just continues to keep it in the dark and perpetuates the idea we all have in our heads that we shouldn’t talk about it because it IS offensive, and then wrong. it makes me mad to even type it because it doesn’t just ostracize women who have had abortions; it ostracizes WOMEN. but obviously, in real life, we are ostracized further for expressing that outrage. grumble.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story so honestly. I had my daughter at 18, I was supposed to have a “procedure” too but i was much further along then they initially thought. When I look at my wonderful little girl…that still haunts me a little bit, i dont know what i would do without her.
    P.S. nobody told me about that first ultrasound either!

  10. Thank you for this! I’ve gone through all the choices, but in a strange order.

    First I got pregnant and gave my baby up for adoption. people always wanna praise this decision, and tell me that I did ‘the right thing’, which makes me really angry for multiple reasons not least because about two years after that I got pregnant again, same dad and everything (I think this happened because we were both so destroyed by the adoption that we just stayed stoned for three years, and so we slipped up… again) and I got an abortion. And I’ll tell you the abortion was way easier…. way… and I think that’s okay, and I don’t think I, or any woman should have to apologize for that. i think that getting the abortion was ‘the right thing’ to do.

    I don’t even tell myself that it was a sack of cells. I think it was a baby-baby that I decided that I wasn’t ready to hand my body over to for the next nine months, and I wasn’t ready to hand the rest of my life or my heart over to it either. I just couldn’t.

    My husband (new and different prospective baby-daddy) and I are going to start trying to conceive in December. I want a baby so badly… so so so very badly, and I too am terrified. what if I’ve effed up my reproductive system? what if now that I’m 30 and not 19 I’m not fertile anymore? what if I missed my only chances? All of this is possible. I’m just hoping that I actually get to be a mamma someday soon.

    • i had similar fears before getting pregnant. after extensive research (believe me, i have graduated from google medical school) i have learned that there is very little correlation between past abortion and trouble conceiving.

      that said, i understand that the fear will remain until you see a plus sign on a pregnancy test… i’m thinking good thoughts for you.

    • For me it’s also not about thinking it was a cluster of cells one time, and thinking of it as a baby the next.

      Regardless of what you think of it as being, it’s still my body, my life, and my choice.

      So instead of thinking of it as essentially different in form, I just would think of it as different in context and situation, if that makes sense.

  11. I loved this. My entire pregnancy has had a shadow of guilt about an abortion I had years ago. I call this “the myth” the idea that I can’t have a happy, healthy child because I had an abortion. I appreciate you writing this. Thank you.

  12. I’m so glad to see this up here. I am not a mother (yet) but someday I plan/hope to be and I too got an abortion when I got pregnant and was way too young to handle it (19.. eek). I feel sadness over my abortion but in no way do I regret it. It was an unfortunate choice I had to make and while I made the right one for me (and for my family in the future.. I feel like because I chose to abort I can provide my future children with the life they deserve) it doesn’t erase the fact that it was a painful one.

    I wonder what I will tell my children, or even if I will.

    Honestly though, kudos to OBM and to the author for putting this up. Given the large amount of women in the US who get abortions, and thus probably a large number who then go on to be mothers, this is a subject that there’s sadly too little dialogue about.

  13. I know what you mean about being an expert on everything that I was sure was going to go horribly wrong and checking on your kids (or in my case, kid) in the middle of the night. I will randomly wake up with this horrifying feeling that I’m going to go into my son’s room and he’s going to be dead, and I can’t think about anything else until I check. Luckily he snores really loud for a 4-year-old.

  14. Wow! I could never imagine being so brave to share a story such as yours.
    Although I’ve never had an abortion, we [me and my finance] contemplated the idea when we found out that we were pregnant. I ended up telling him that I couldn’t go through it, mainly because we were already planning our wedding and planning to spend our lives together. I couldn’t imagine getting rid of one child because we aren’t ready and then down the road having one when we were. However, I probably would of if we weren’t in committed relationship with one another.
    I have a friend who had an abortion three months before we found out we were pregnant [which made it extremely hard for me to tell her, but she was so excited for us!]. She decided to go through with it because she didn’t love the man she would of had the baby with, it was a one night stand. She wanted to be able to have a husband and a family later on in life without having to stay in contact with this other man because of there “one night stand baby”.
    I wish more people would talk about abortions. Its such a big decision and done for a lot of different reasons. I think most people think of it as something that is used as an excuse to sleep around without being smart about it.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

  15. I am one of those ppl who would “never have” and abortion…but thats because i’ve always had family support and now am married and have a wonderful 1yr old daughter and trying for another. I dont judge you for your desicion and commend you on being brave enough to share your story. Sometimes its just not meant to be. i definitely protest using abortions as birth control (ive known some who have), but as a once in a lifetime thing, i dont have the right to tell anyone. somtimes ppl just arent ready and adoption wouldnt be an answer. Good luck to you and God bless!!!

    • With respect to your views on this, it is important to remember that even women who have family support or are married or already parents opt for this difficult and extremely personal choice. My parents were completely behind my decision (they would have been there if I hadn’t chosen to terminate my pregnancy, too). At 17 years old, I knew I could not parent well, and I do not have regrets. And to be honest, I would imagine few women use such a life-changing decision as birth control. I really feel that is an argument perpetuated far too frequently and at the detriment of productive dialogue around this topic. I appreciate your comment, I just wanted to gently offer a different perspective.

        • I understand why people don’t like the combination of “birth control” and “abortion.” I understand that pro-life people use it as a way to negatively describe abortions, but I think it’s important to be honest about this issue, and honestly, abortions are a form of birth control, a very important form. It’s a woman’s final “control” over whether or not she gives birth. It’s probably the most important one, and unfortunately, the least understood.

          Thanks to all the women who have shared their stories on this article.

          • I guess what I don’t agree with is the air of judgement that goes along with people accusing others of using abortion as birth control. It’s not in the word choice, but the implications of the words.

    • Although I don’t think it’s a great idea to have abortion after abortion, I also don’t really think someone who makes the series of choices that lead to multiple ‘birth control’ abortions is in the kind of state where they would be a good parent.

      I don’t know that there are a lot of women who actually do use abortions as birth control, but I have known one in my time, and there would be a whole lot more broken little humans out there if she had gone through with any of those pregnancies. It’s no doubt done her a lot of emotional and physical damage, but it has saved a lot of innocent people from being brought into her destructive life before she was capable of turning things around…

      For what it’s worth, I’ve had an abortion too, and it was absolutely the right decision for me 10 years ago. I’m pregnant again now, in much better circumstances, and I don’t regret for a minute that decision of a decade ago.

  16. You couldn’t have put it better. Thank you for this. Its reassuring I’m not the only one. I’m 7 weeks pregnant now and couldn’t be happier but like you I have a almost obsession with karma coming to bite me in the ass. My abortion was over 6 years ago now and I stand by my decision. Glad I read this. Many thanks xx

  17. …I’m still waiting for the right time, the right place.

    In the middle of the night sometimes I wonder if that abortion was the only chance I was going to have, if that was it, if I’ve passed on what was to be the only one.

    Thank you for writing this, I feel less like the only one…

    • <3 hang in there, that time and place will come if you keep wanting it and making space for it. it may take a while, it will be worth however long it takes and however it ends up looking. i had an abortion when i was 24, yes when people generally think you are plenty old enough to face motherhood, i clearly was not and no way would i be able to let go for adoption, i know my limits. i was for sure getting worried as time marched on, but kept working on improving my life, and had my daughter at 37. she is amazing. i will never forget what i went through, and when i saw my daughter's 8 week ultrasound, i grieved a bit all over again (they didn't do that ultrasound when i had the abortion back in 1995, however i did demand to see what had been removed, which was apparently not a standard request). i have to believe the whole story from then to now has made me a stronger and better equipped mother.

      • Thanks so much for sharing this. I just had an abortion last year, at 24, and I’m married! I feel like people might have a lot of judgement about that since it’s not like I was 17 and underprepared in all the typical ways people think of first. And I definitely have felt that sense of “was that my only chance?!” – but I really believe now there’s no reason that it has to be, and reading your story only affirms that. Thanks again!

  18. My own mother was very frank with me about her abortion (years before I was born). She always said, “it was hard, but if I’d had that baby, I wouldn’t have you, and you were meant to be my child.”

    • That’s a wonderful way of putting it.

      When I was 20, jobless, broke, on the verge of homeless and 3 months into a new relationship, I had a termination…. now, I’m 23, doing what I want, living in a gorgeous house with the same guy on the verge of getting engaged. I always worried and wondered how I would explain to our future children about the one that couldn’t happen, but your comment said what I feel better than I could have. Thank you.

  19. I’ve had an abortion before, and I’ve worked in abortions clinics, and it is SO fantastic that you are able to share your story about abortion, and the ways the decision is difficult, and how it is the best choice for some people sometimes.

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