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I had an abortion when I was a sophomore in high school. I had another when I was a sophomore in college. Before then and since, I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life—some great, some terrible, and most somewhere in between. Those two decisions, however, were two of the best decisions I’ve made in my 34 years. I didn’t regret them then. I don’t regret them now.
Today, I share two children with the love of my life—an 11-year-old son and a 9-year old daughter. Not too long ago, I shook with anxiety and fear when they asked me about having an abortion for the first time because of something we saw on TV—I can’t remember what. They jumped immediately to saying things like, “Oh, my God! That’s horrible! Why would anyone ever do that?” I responded, “You should be careful not to make those kinds of assumptions, especially when you don’t know much about something. I’m sure some women who’ve had abortions had bad experiences, maybe even terrible, but many have not. I think it’s important that you know that it’s more complicated than just good or bad, like most things are.” Our daughter responded, “But mommy, you didn’t have an abortion with us!” Her brother co-signed, “Yeah!” So, I responded, “Of course, I didn’t! You’re here! But guess what? I have in the past…and I don’t regret it at all. I wasn’t ready to have children then. So, I did what I had to do. And it’s important that you both know that I don’t feel bad. I don’t feel guilty. And you shouldn’t either. In fact, had I carried those two pregnancies to term, you two most likely wouldn’t be here, because I wouldn’t want four kids.”
I told them that our conversation reminded me of when my mom had an involuntary abortion before she gave birth to me. It’s sad to think about it, yes, but she only wanted one child, so I just have to be grateful that I’m here rather than be paralyzed by my sadness about what happened before me. I also told them that abortion isn’t a decision that everyone makes when they’re faced with unplanned pregnancy and that it’s not what I would call ‘easy,’ but it’s definitely an option I support, and I’m thankful I had the opportunity to have a safe abortion available to me. I also shared a bit of the history of abortion with them, especially concerning safety and accessibility. Then, we dialogued for a few more minutes before I decided to let it go— at least for the time being. When I get in my mode, I try to be careful not to overwhelm them so they continue talking to me about things that we adults tend to make much more difficult than necessary. They understood, though, and they asked questions, and I did my best to guide them through their thinking.
Before I “go,” let me take a moment to “dig in the crates”—as I often do—and remind us that our thinking about abortion must remain complex, especially considering the ways in which abortion discourse, advocacy, and practices have been infected with white heteropatriarchal capitalist supremacy. As Angela Y. Davis points out in Women, Race, & Class (1981), “During the early abortion rights campaign it was too frequently assumed that legal abortions provided a viable alternative to the myriad problems posed by poverty. As if having fewer children could create more jobs, higher wages, better schools, etc., etc. This assumption reflected the tendency to blur the distinction between abortion rights and the general advocacy of abortions” (205). She also notes in that same text that it has been “assumed within birth control circles that poor women, Black and immigrant alike, had a ‘moral’ obligation to restrict the size of their families. What was demanded as a ‘right’ for the privileged came to be interpreted as a ‘duty’ for the poor” (210). If we lose sight of this, then we run the very-real risk of perpetuating these injurious theories and politics about family-planning and reproduction.
Since perpetratin’ is not my bag, I must admit that I had as much fear and anxiety about writing and sharing this as I did talking to my children about my abortions. But then I remembered that I have shoulders to stand on due to the fierce love and generosity of those who came before me and that it’s my responsibility to provide another set for those who come after me. I can only hope, then, that sharing this brief part of my story saves another from lifelong debilitating guilt and shame. So, if you’re out there, and you’re like me, #ShoutYourAbortion.
Heidi R. Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Feminist & Gender Studies at Colorado College and an Associate Editor for The Feminist Wire whose work primarily focuses on Feminist Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Critical Media Studies. Her essay “An Examination of the Kanye West’s Higher Education Trilogy” is featured in The Cultural Impact of Kanye West, and her article “Let Me Just Taste You: Li’l Wayne and Rap’s Politics of Cunnlingus” is forthcoming in the Journal of Popular Culture. She is also the author of forthcoming essays that examine FX’s The Shield, VH1’s Love & Hip Hop franchise, and Bravo’s Married to Medicine, as well as a full-length, single-authored manuscript tentatively entitled “Let Me Just Taste You: Media, Black Sex, and Resistance.” Heidi has given talks at Kim Bevill’s Gender and the Brain Conference, the Educating Children of Color Summit, the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, the Gender and Media Spring Convocation at Ohio University, and the Conference for Pre-Tenure Women at Purdue University, where she earned a Ph.D. in American Studies (2011) and a Certificate in Women’s Studies (2008). She has also been a contributor to Mark Anthony Neal’s NewBlackMan, NPR’s “Here and Now,” KOAA news in Colorado Springs, and KRCC radio (the Southeastern Colorado NPR affiliate), Bitch Media, Racialicious, and Act Out. Heidi and her husband, Antonio, live in Colorado Springs with their two children, AJ and Chase, and their cat Max. Learn more by following Heidi on Twitter at @therealphdmommy and by visiting her FemGeniuses website.