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. Thank you so much for sharing this. Everyone makes the decision they think is right for them. My mother had me at seventeen, but later had two abortions, and then had another daughter. She never told my sister and me about the abortions, and I don’t think she ever would have because of the stigma that is so often associated with getting an abortion. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to make those decisions, but I can understand her rationale behind it. My father actually told my sister and me, but in a negative way, trying to alienate us from our mother. It didn’t work, but it made me appreciate my mother and what her life had been like.

    Kudos to you for being brave enough to share and for making the decision that was right for you.

  2. While I can’t say the same for the comments, I loved how unbiased the article was. As an adoptee, (who is probably only an adoptee cuz my biomom didn’t realize she was pregnant until way late in the game) it can be really hurtful when people sit there and talk about abortion like “It was the right choice” and “I have no regret” and such things. Logically, I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but it still hits hard. I have wondered to myself many a time if my biomom had known about her pregnancy earlier if she would be saying those same things. It just seems so callous. I sometimes wonder if the same people who say that would be able to say it to my face… something like, “Oh yeah, if your biomom had wanted to abort you then it would have been the best choice for her.” It makes me want to scream, “Well what about me? Damn it!” (uber selfish, but whatever).

    Anyways, off my rant-box, I just wanted to say that I loved how your post encompassed the emotions of the decision rather than the politics behind it. And I also wanted to say that I think we can all agree (pro-choice/pro-life/indifferent) that it doesn’t matter whether you had one or not, you can still be an awesome mom now!

    • i hear you. i also implore you to consider that most of us who have made this decision did not do it lightly, did not do it without love, will have the “ghost of potential” in our hearts for the rest of our lives, and when we say that we made the “right decision” do not in the least mean to be callous nor presume to feel anything about our situation applies to the choices others have made. i feel horrible about getting into the position of having to make that choice, and did the best *i* could. my mother was “not supposed to have me”, did it anyway, and left me at 15 months. eventually my dad checked out, too, my older brother was also removed from the picture (schizophrenic and dangerous), and i was raised by a stepmom that adopted me and was horribly abusive. there are many many ways all of this can turn out, and none of us know when we have to face down the decision what the long term outcomes of our choices will be, nor what the outcomes of the things we do not choose would have been. that is part of what makes it so profoundly agonizing and painful.

      i am very glad that the choice your biological mother made for you turned out well, that she had the confidence and strength to bring you into the world and let go sooner than she would have had to in other circumstances and trust that someone else would do right by you, and that you ended up in good hands to be here and speak your experience. i am also glad that all of us have the choice to weigh all of these potential scenarios and do the best we can to make a decision we can live with.

    • I think I’m a bit at the other end of the spectrum. I’m adopted and I don’t find those saying bother me in the least. I’m not trying to trivialize your feelings or anything, but rather add my own perspective about how an adoptee can feel. I’ve gone rounds on this with my mother who, while while thinking it should remain a safe legal option, thinks abortions is wrong on a moral level. (Not fighting, just thoughtful debate, mostly.) I know our difference stems from my agnosticism versus her belief in a higher power and a type of fate. It’s such a complex issue.

  3. Wow…I am so amazed at how right on this story (and a lot of the comments)is. I have a 2mo and I am so scared that something is going to go wrong because of the choice I made 3 years ago(which at the time was the right one). It’s hard to cope when you aren’t sure if you did anything wrong…

  4. All too often the mother’s life is forgotten when people make arguments about abortion. I worked at a facility with pregnant and mothering teenagers that were in the state’s custody. Many of them wished they had gotten abortions but were pressured by their families to keep the babies. Then their families didn’t help them and they ended up having multiple difficulties and coming to residential care to live. I watched their shame as people shook their heads at them in grocery stores, I watched them struggle to learn their baby’s cues, and I watched them suffer from depression and anxiety, raising children at 13 and 14 without a clue what they were doing. They only have a 50/50 chance of graduating high school. Their children are more likely to drop out, to become criminals, to go on welfare, and to suffer from depression and anxiety. But none of this matters, right? Because their children are alive and that’s supposed to be awesome, so say many pro-lifers. Yet you’ll also hear some of the same pro-lifers complain about paying for welfare, and you’ll rarely ever see them volunteering at places like I worked at.

    In short – great post.

    • I disagree. The most vocal pro-lifers are generally the extremists… aka it is about the baby, and only the baby. However, most pro-lifers you will come across that aren’t super vocal about being pro-life believe that abortion is a sign that something is wrong with our society. We aren’t taking care of one of our greatest “resources” – our mothers. I mean, when you speak to someone about why they have an abortion, many of them will say things like cost, wanting to go to school, not in a stable relationship so worried about how to care for child, etc. In many cases it isn’t that they don’t want the baby, it is that they are worried they can’t have a baby and still leave a productive life. And sadly, that is in many cases true unless they are willing to pursue adoption. I guess my point is that most people I know that are pro-life consider abortion as a symptom of a much larger societal problem.

    • You guys, let’s see if we can avoid turning this into a pro-choice vs. pro-life political debate. This article isn’t about politics — it’s about one woman’s very personal story.

      • I didn’t mean to be too political in my comment. The problem is that the politics are personal to me, and the article made it hard for me to keep my very passionate standing on abortion quiet. For me, just like the author, it’s a very personal issue and I feel obligated to be a voice for the young girls I worked with – on any platform that is relevant.

      • how can this conversation not turn into a pro-life and pro-choice debate? How can this NOT be political? Why are you shying away from political debate on a website that touts itself as being offbeat? Why is politicizing a personal decision wrong?

        • Joy, why am I “shying away” from political debate? Simply put: this isn’t a political website. There are puh-LENTY of places to debate online about all sorts of personal-as-political issues, but Offbeat Mama isn’t one of them, and never has been. I’m not interested in discussions that divide my readers. Have you read our mission statement and values? I respect that my focus on lighter, non-political parenting talk may not be a perfect fit for everyone — that’s cool. You can find plenty of other websites where you can get into debate about parenting politics.

    • I don’t think a mom’s life is forgotten like Kay mentioned. I just think we need to be able to make the right decision since the beginning. I had my son when I was 18 years and I’m a christian and pro-life. I actually had the father of my baby offer to pay for an abortion, but it was my choice to say no. I was nervous and scared and wasn’t sure exactly how to raise a son or how to provide for him. Certainly working at a macdonald’s with mimnimum wage wasn’t going to give me enough income to support both of us, but I had to try to do better for him and for me.
      My idea behind it (and please know that I’m not trying to be unsensitive or mean with this comment)was that if I was mature enough to have sex and to make the decision of having sex, then I should be mature enough to deal with the consecuences of the decision I made. I’m married and have two more daughters now and I tell them every day that everything you do in life has a consequence, if you are not ready to deal with them then don’t put yourself in a situation where you would have to.
      I know first hand how hard it is to raise a baby when you young, inmature and without a college degree. When all you wanna do is go party or go out with your friends, but first you have to make sure you have a babysitter. But I don’t regret my decision, it was my way of not taking the easy way out and respect life as it comes.

      • Babies should be much more than just ‘consequences’ though, right?

        Also, I respectfully disagree that having an abortion is by any means an ‘the easy way out’. It is a tremendously difficult and complicated decision (as seen from the mountain of comments on this post). No decision is easy, and I applaud the women here who have been speaking out about their experiences. Too often, women are shamed and guilted into hiding this part of their life journey. I think it is wonderful that you (and for the time being, everyone, hooray!) have the ability to make the best choice for themselves, their family, and their situation. When we tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body (or shame her into making decisions), we are sacrificing respect for the woman, her life, and her decisions (to ‘respect life as it comes’).

        Being mature enough to have sex does not necessarily equal being mature enough to have a child. Though one’s body may be able to physically reproduce, it does not mean that they are ready financially or emotionally, to raise that child. There are many different variables that come into raising a child, including that fact that some women may want to remain childless throughout their life (and in this case, should they abstain from sexual activity completely?). I think babies should be wanted*, loved, and much much more than just ‘consequences’ of sexual activity.

        *this is not to say that all children should be planned. In many cases, joyful accidents are just that, joyful, wonderful, accidents!

  5. My daughter is 2 years old. She is really awesome. When I was 19 and first started dating my husband, we had an abortion. I think about it often. Watching my daughter grow and becoming close with my friend’s older children, I’ve recently realized that I could have a 8 year old. Which might sound like a simple fact, but it’s not. It’s like lately that decision has floated back up to the surface and caused me additional pain, when I hadn’t thought much about it for years. This is a really excellent article, and I’m glad for all of the comments. Not many people know I had that abortion, I kind of pretend it didn’t happen. So reading that a bunch of other people have had to sort through the exact same bag of mixed emotions that I deal with is really refreshing.

    • “We had an abortion” – What an interesting phrase. In situations where the father is aware of the pregnancy, and the decision to terminate, I wonder what effects this has on his later decisions to parent?

  6. I sometimes have guilt over this, when I look into the eyes of my beautiful daughter…I felt her the moment she started growing. Last time,in college, I felt it, but I wasn’t…connected, somehow. I was in a very bad place and had to make a difficult decision that I promised myself I’d never regret. I worried all through my pregnancy that this would be the time I’d be “punished.” My husband knows, but I never told my family. Thank you for sharing.

  7. It really means a lot to me that everyone has felt comfortable enough to share their stories. It is a very hard decision to make, and I am still trying to deal with the guilt. But reading what everyone had to say really has helped me. So thank you, everyone.

  8. I am fortunate enough to not have had to make this difficult choice, but I always felt/knew that if I accidently got pregnant when I was younger (under 22) that I would absolutely have had an abortion. Just like you, I beleived its not a baby, its only a cluster of cells until after 3 months. There is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed for because it is not a person.

    Yet, now that my husband and I have concieved (on purpose), I felt amazingly connected the moment I saw the first ultrasound at 7 wks. Somehow this particular cluster of cells in my tummy *was* a baby and a person.

    I am still 100% pro choice, I still believe an abortion would have been the best option for me when I was younger (back in my anti-children days), but I too am amazed how one pregnany can be a clump of cells and another pregnancy can be a miracle of life…

    • “but I too am amazed how one pregnany can be a clump of cells and another pregnancy can be a miracle of life…”

      I’m really struggling with this- my abortion was 3 years ago and I’m hoping to have children in the next few years (trying to sort out some debts, housing things first, but if I got pregnant now, I’d still be thrilled, we’d cope somehow) I don’t regret my decision, but I have found it very difficult afterwards and I know that another pregnancy will bring all that up again. I spent so long repeating the “not a baby, bunch of cells” mantra, that I don’t think I can look at another early ultrasound and not feel like a hypocrite.

      Sarah & all the ladies who have shared their abortion stories, thank you!

    • It seems that it would be more because it’s an emotional attachment. It’s no more a “person” than the pregnancy you terminated, but because you anticipate carrying it to term and delivering it and raising it and loving it, you’re falling in love with the potential before the person that will be is realized.

      Just my take on the situation.

  9. Thank you for writing this. I had an abortion the day after my sons first birthday. I still struggle with it every day, but I knew I wasnt ready for another child as a single mom. That was 3 years ago, but I still ache for that baby everyday. I don’t necessarily regret my decision; I knew I needed to do it to be the best mommy i could be to the son I already had, but it was a heart breaking decision. My son’s dad is in no way involved in his life, and I knew this baby’s wouldnt be either. And I get all those paranoid feelings of something happening to the child I have for what I did to the other “sack of cells” uhg. So yeah, guess you could say I still have some therapy sessions to go through but, thanks for sharing your story!

  10. My abortion came when my daughter was 8 months old; her father and I had slipped up changing between types of birth control. I was fighting the deep depression that followed her birth, and recognized that I wouldn’t be able to keep my sanity, mother my child and hold my family together with another baby. I was resolute in my decision.

    The heart-stomping part came when months later, I received a newborn-size diaper in the mail. While crunching some numbers I put my last period day into an online calculator on a popular website, and they had my information.

    Now at a more stable point in our lives, our daughter is still our only. I wonder all the time if our family is complete. Or if it would have been, if only…

      • Oh dear. Thank you for everyone that was incensed on my behalf. It was oversight on my part that I had a box checked to receive samples; after my procedure I didn’t visit that website anymore but the settings stayed.

        It was just an unfortunate reminder that brought up emotions I thought I had properly dealt with when making my decision. I’m sure nothing but generic advertising was the company’s intention.

  11. Thanks to all the women who shared their stories. This is a topic that is so important to the physical and mental health of women, but it is so shrouded in judgment and guilt that a lot of women don’t get the support and knowledge that they need. Thanks again Offbeat Mama for providing a wonderful place of community.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your story; I have also had to make this decision – not once, but twice. The first time was as a result of sheer lack of thinking on my part; I was in a very self-destructive phase of life and all of a sudden, POOF. A consequence. After thinking long and hard, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing I had to offer a child. No job, no stability (I was living a lifestyle of waking up in Vancouver, partying that night in Calgary), no emotional stability – and I couldn’t even be sure that the amount of substances I had already ingested by the time I found out hadn’t done some sort of damage.
    The second time was years later; I was in an extremely unhealthy relationship. The type of emotional abuse we were in the middle of putting each other through wouldn’t have been at all appropriate to throw a baby into. Again, no stability, no emotional stability – I felt that if I had a child at that point, the cycle of abuse that I had been raised in would simply perpetuate itself.
    One thing I would like to point out is that I am extremely lucky to have been able to get access to an abortion not only quickly, but to deal with staff and medical professionals who were so caring, understanding, discreet and genuinely involved in making the experience as non-traumatic as possible. The nurse held my hand as they performed the procedure – and the first time, they let my best friend come with me to provide support. I wholeheartedly applaud the men and women who are so caring and non-judgmental at such a stressful and difficult time.
    I’ve now grown past my ‘junk’, am married to a wonderful, loving person and we’re going to start trying for a kidlet in the next year. I have the comfort of knowing that I’ve become someone who actually wants to have a child now – and can actually handle the responsibility without horribly messing up a poor kid in the process.
    Again, thanks very much for this article. Rest assured that the reasoning may have been different, but you are definitely not alone in making a difficult decision. Choosing ‘later’ is sometimes the most loving decision one can make.

  13. I’m a grad student and had an abortion a year ago. Personnaly, I struggle with the idea of fate applied to child-bearing, as in “this child was just not meant to be”. I’m an atheist and have a hard time believing that our destiny is shaped by anything else other than our own choices. I know very well that, had I kept the baby despite financial, educational and love-related problems, I would have been overjoyed by my little one and thought my decision was the best one I’d ever taken.
    Therefore I have no idea if my decision to abort was the best one. I only know it was a loving decision, for myself, for those around me, and perhaps for the baby-in-the-making. Today, I feel good thinking I still have time to figure out a life plan, travel and find a real home. Then my heart will be ready to be ripped out by a another tiny human looking like me.

  14. it’s really interesting that so many of you experienced the “it’s just a bunch of cells” feeling. i got pregnant immediately after our honeymoon. our decision to have an abortion took less than an hour to make (as we had discussed it before), and i called and made an appointment for 2 weeks later. the next week was very emotional and i became so attached to that little bundle of potential. it was like a whole universe of cells crammed together and just waiting to explode like the big bang. 1 week before my appointment i miscarried which was so hard on me–i think because i didn’t have the chance to end it on my own terms. my husband and i felt so shamed that we had chosen abortion at that stage in our life (like we were stupid or selfish) that we felt like we couldn’t tell anyone, so i felt that i had no one to talk to about it. i still felt the shame of an abortion because it was my decision AND my incomplete miscarriage necessitated a d&c. a few months later a close friend had an abortion, so i finally felt that i could talk about my experience with her. it took over a year for me to stop crying and feel normal again. now i am a few weeks pregnant (planned this time) and i DON’T feel that strong connection i did before. maybe i’m just worried about what could happen, or maybe i’ve spent the last 2 years thinking about it, or maybe the first pregnancy changed me (suddenly felt the biological clock turn on) but for whatever reason this one feels like a bunch of cells that i’m not yet connected to.

    • I felt the same way during my planned pregnancy. It was like, I wanted to be excited but I was too scared to let myself be in case I put myself through all those emotions again. It took me some time, and honestly I don’t know when everything started feeling like I was connected, but it was definitely later on. Just give yourself the time you need to get your head and your heart connected on a level that you’re comfortable in. Best of luck in everything!

    • I feel you, girl. I planned this pregnancy, I’m 10 weeks, and I want out. I don’t know if it’s because I got extremely sick so early on, or if it’s the way my husband has very surprisingly been treating me (noooot great), or latent trauma from my first HORRIBLE pregnancy and birth (from a relationship that was incredibly destructive and abusive), or probably all of them, but I am so done. Even when I look at pictures of what the fetus looks like at this stage, I just have a hard time caring. It was not like that last time, and I was 20 and so ill-prepared by comparison. Last time I was like, well, I’ve always wanted children, so whatever, the timing isn’t right, but I don’t see myself getting an abortion. And I suffered for that in ways that I could never have foreseen. And so did my son. So now, I really don’t know what to do with these second thoughts. It’s really, really hard.

  15. I am 31 years old. I have a 7 year old son who I wanted very much. My partner and I have been together 10 years. And recently I had an abortion. I don’t regret it. I know it was the right choice for us. But it dosent necessarily sit easily in the brain. It hurts. I feel bad cooing over babies, over cute little clothes. I feel like I have betrayed a little person who was relying on me to grow it and to love it. I feel like the hard time I had in pregnancy with my son, the horror each time I thought I was loosing him, maybe should have affected me this time. Why didn’t I want this baby? Why couldn’t I have felt so strongly? But it just wasn’t right. I hope that in some way, this tiny little 7 week old fetus knows that I care.
    But when you know something is for the best then you have to do it. It will play on your mind. But it doesn’t make you a bad person x

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