Whether you consider yourself a pro-life or pro-choice supporter, the fact remains that the option to terminate an unplanned pregnancy is available to any woman who has access to the procedure. A lot of women already have and are making this choice; regardless of political persuasion. It’s time to deepen the conversation to discuss the impact abortion has in our lives.
As much as abortion is hotly debated it’s still rare for us, whether as fellow women or just as fellow people, to talk with one another about the abortions we have.
– Aspen Baker
The effects this relatively recent social development has had upon existent and future generations is still being integrated into the status quo. For the past four decades, surgical and medical terminations have been legal in much of world (though more traditional methods have existed for far longer); about 60% of the world’s population lives in an area with permissive abortion laws. According to the Guttmacher Institute one in three American women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
Aspen Baker, presenter of the TEDx talk A better way to talk about abortion, started an organisation called Exhale, 15 years ago.
The first thing we did was create a talk-line, where women and men could call to get emotional support. Free of judgment and politics, believe it or not, nothing like our service had ever existed. We needed a new framework that could hold all the experiences that we were hearing on our talk-line. The feminist who regrets her abortion. The Catholic who is grateful for hers. The personal experiences that weren’t fitting neatly into one box or the other. We didn’t think it was right to ask women to pick a side. We wanted to show them that the whole world was on their side, as they were going through this deeply personal experience. So we invented “pro-voice.”
– Aspen Baker
Is abortion still taboo?
Cultural norms are constantly shifting. The controversy around unmarried parenting has lessened significantly since the 50s, there is now far less prejudice associated with being a single parent than there was before. Whilst it’s understandable that the moral and human rights debate surrounding abortion has overshadowed the general impulse for sharing personal insights about it; if we continue to avoid talking about how having abortions has affected us our omission may leave future generations struggling.
Regardless of whether you approve of abortion in principal, there are many people who have gone through them. The emotional impact of having an abortion could, for some, be comparable to separating from a relationship, losing a loved-one or having a serious illness. Yet emotional support that could come from friends and family during challenges such as these, is unavailable to women who don’t admit to having them in the first place.
Pro-voice is hard because we are talking about the things that everyone is fighting about, or the things that no one wants to talk about.
– Aspen Baker
Breaking through the communication barrier
I recently mentioned Aspen Baker’s presentation to my acupuncture therapist. My therapist’s generation, who are now in their mid-fifties, were among the first to have access to legal abortions. While I lay there, acupuncture needles in place, we discussed the difference in exposure to the abortion issue, comparing her generation, my generation (I’m in my early-thirties) and her daughter’s generation (early-twenties). From my therapist’s perspective, making a point of informing her daughter about the pregnancy she didn’t carry through with was vital. She described her personal belief that there are three degrees of existence: “non-carnate” – prior to conception; “carnate” – conceived but unborn, and “incarnate” – born. Seen as such, her unborn child could still be considered an “older sibling” of her subsequent children. For those who believe in the existence of souls – the opportunity for the “carnate” souls to be acknowledged by their family carries with it spiritual significance.
As enthusiastic as my acupuncture therapist has been herself in breaking through the communication barrier, I personally felt there wasn’t much support or transparency from that older generation, when I made the decision to have a termination in my early-twenties. Very few women ever admitted to having made the choice to have an abortion, and whilst I was capable of telling some close friends (of my own age-group) what was going on at the time, I avoided ever discussing it with my family members or older friends. Why didn’t the generation before me speak freely about this issue? I know first-hand of the grief, shame, guilt, blame and confusion they may have felt. I understand that keeping such an emotionally-charged experience secret can seem like a necessary defence against other people’s projections of pity, drama and opinions concerning your actions.
Real stories of real people
Would I have been more open to the idea of speaking with family and older friends if I had been told more stories about abortions and their consequences? Probably. Would it have made any difference to the process I underwent as I grappled with making the decision to terminate? I’m not sure… There are a number of contributing factors at play when we choose not to reveal such private information, as many reasons as there are individuals. I examined my own closely whilst writing this article; and as exposed as I make myself by sharing this with all of you, I determined that it was necessary for me to present my genuine perspective of the pro-voice issue.
Empathy gets created the moment we imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes, it doesn’t mean we all have to end up in the same place. It is not agreement, it is not sameness that pro-voice is after; it creates a culture and a society that values what make us special and unique.
– Aspen Baker
When I found out I was pregnant I had just returned from a holiday with my boyfriend, who took longer to get back than me. Since I didn’t want to tell him about it over the phone, I spent a whole week waiting for him to return, marvelling at the thought of having a baby together and completely surrendering to the idea. When he did return however, his reaction wasn’t anywhere near as accepting as my own. We were both young, broke and unprepared for family life, but whereas I figured that everything would be ok, my boyfriend just couldn’t come to terms with it. It brought up all sorts of unresolved issues and apprehension in him. I felt like he thought having a child right then would essentially ruin his life.
As I struggled with this reaction I asked myself whether I was prepared to raise a child on my own; questioning whether I could bear to do it against his will; whether I was willing to bring a child into the world unwanted. The friends I spoke with about having an abortion for these reasons emphasised that it was my choice, and not up to the baby’s father… I wondered whether I was being ‘un-feminist’ by making my choice based on those considerations. By the time I really had to decide what I was going to do I was already feeling so wracked by all the emotional processing, so pained by the turmoil of my circumstance that I couldn’t bear the thought of the baby inside me starting his life like this. I vowed to myself that if and when I did have children, they would be conceived with conscious intention; be a cause for celebration and eager appreciation.
It is like I was being shown the power of my womanhood, in one hand I held the power of the creatress, in the other the power of destruction. I swallowed the bitter truth that I was choosing death over life, in doing so I found in myself a murderess. I went to the clinic and had a surgical abortion while my boyfriend was in the waiting room. I remember waking from the general anaesthetic and feeling so strange that I suddenly had underpants on under my gown, since I hadn’t before the procedure.
Reconnecting to my story
The healing that followed was aided by many things. My closest friend conceived at the same time as me, and by attending her birth and being the godmother of her son I was able to see for myself the sacrifices involved in being a parent. That helped me let go of running through the fantasy of how everything could have been perfectly fine, when I saw women pushing baby-strollers in the street. I rarely mentioned my abortion to anyone, but every time I did I noticed that I was deepening my integration of this private, life-changing event.
Now, more than a decade later, I am ready to start a family with a partner who is so eager to that I am sometimes startled by his enthusiasm. I had a session with a Conscious Connected Breathwork facilitator, with the intention of clearing any unconscious obstacles I may have carried about conceiving and birthing children. I didn’t expect the session to go into my emotions around my abortion, but it’s fairly unsurprising that I had some residual trauma to be released.
Deeply immersed in the breathwork state I was encouraged by the facilitator to speak directly to my unborn child, a baby boy whose soul I had connected to in meditations when I found out I was pregnant, all those years ago. In doing so I was able to explain to the child my reasons for not having brought him into the world, how I felt that he deserved to be welcomed and truly wanted by his father. In this receptive state of psychic awareness I was able to understand the reasons why that soul had been conceived at that time. Even though he wasn’t born, he was still able to connect to the world through his physical connection to me. I felt I was shown the relationship between his soul and the soul of my godson, and sensed his gratitude for me being such a big part of my godson’s life. I then became aware of all the souls who are ready to incarnate but have been waiting to be consciously conceived by their parents. The main message from my unborn child however, was for me to realise that I am still his mother, that I will always have a child in the spirit-world and to know that he is looking over me and those in my life with love and support.
My breathwork session ended with a profound sense of peace. I reconnected to my sense of wholeness and returned to feeling that ‘I am ok’; and that it is ok for me to feel ok about what has happened in my life. It’s my story and it is choices like this that have made me who I am.
In sharing my personal story with you I may have let you know something of what I have learned. By breaking the silence surrounding our deepest, most heart-wrenching truths we break down the shame that perpetuates human disconnection.