I Told My Mother About My Abortion

And the world didn't end

When I was 20, I had an abortion.

It wasn't that long ago, actually. 2006 was the year Facebook opened to the public, The Pussycat Dolls were a huge thing, and the day I found out I was pregnant, I was wearing a dress over jeans.

We were three decades removed from Roe v. Wade, and I still couldn't say the word out loud. When I conferred with the clinician about my options, I used phrases like "take care of it," "get rid of it" or just "you know"; sometimes I didn't use words at all, and instead held lengthy conversations about the subject at hand by only moving my eyebrows, in that way that women so often do. Given that I could not bring myself to plainly say the phrase "I'm going to have an abortion" to the doctor that would eventually perform the procedure, how the hell was I supposed to say it to my no-nonsense, hyper-religious West Indian mother?

I was and still am confident that I made the right choice for myself and my health, both physical and mental. Still, I was concerned that my mother wouldn't understand the decision in its own context. She came over from Trinidad as a teenager in the 70's with no money and hardly any family, started popping out babies almost immediately, and moved mountains to raise the three of us on her own. She was also pretty staunchly religious, and though her beliefs were cherry-picked from several different places and mixed up into something all her own, she'd made it clear that her social stances were largely Catholic. She eventually learned to quietly tolerate my romantic relationships with women, but I knew an abortion was and always would be off the table, so I kept quiet until enough time had passed and it no longer seemed relevant enough to share. With anyone.

Fast-forward to now. We are currently facing the fight of our lives, working overtime to protect ourselves and our rights from an administration with no respect or regard for people of color, immigrants, or women. I've been to demonstrations, I've handed out literature, I've signed protests, and done just about everything else in my power to resist and hold these men and women accountable for their atrocities. What I haven't been able to do is shake the feeling of guilt gnawing away at my stomach. Who am I to fight for rights that I've treated as shameful, kept tucked away for twelve years like a hideous secret? Am I a hypocrite, living life one radical lie at a time? Does my voice even count? Or am I a sleeper agent for the other side, donating by day and burying those dead cells deeper and deeper every night? I made myself sick thinking about it, obsessing over this heinous old ghost that had come back to eat me alive, and figured out there was only one thing to do: I went home to New York for the weekend.

I felt terrible for visiting my mother under false pretenses- I told her I "just missed home"- but I couldn't stomach the idea of telling her over the phone, or saying I "had something to tell her" and leaving her to worry while I made the flight from Nashville to New York. I left work early on Friday and got to my mother's house in time to help her with dinner. My family has never been one to mince words, so I didn't: we were both chopping vegetables when I blurted out my confession, as plainly as I'd just described the weather. My mother, for her part, reacted as hysterically as I'd expected. She cried, I cried, and when she told me I'd done an awful, awful thing, that I was terrible, I couldn't disagree. Not because we were in agreement that the act was awful, but because I'd lied about it to both her and myself. I'd pretended it didn't exist, and in doing so, I'd robbed myself of grief to which I was and still am entitled, and in its place lived only guilt, embarrassment, and hypocrisy. I stayed with my brother that night, and the one after.

My mom was still livid when I returned to her house on Sunday, but to her credit, she didn't scream at, smack, or try to exorcise me like I expected. She was quiet, so I was quiet, too, and looking back, it's like we were sweeping it back under the rug, resetting everything to the way it's been, and letting my shitty, shameful secret remain just that. I haven't had to formally apologize to my mother in over a decade, and it wouldn't have been genuine if I did, because I wasn't sorry about the choice I'd made. I'm still not. I'm sorry I waited, and I'll never stop being sorry that I upset her, but at some point, in order to progress, both my mother and society as a whole will have to stop waiting for women to apologize for protecting themselves.

Eventually, my mother did talk to me. Not that day, or the next, or the one after that. I'd been home almost a week when I heard from her, and I was so angry that I almost didn't answer the phone. Almost. She was still upset and disappointed, and she told me that she wasn't sure when she wouldn't be, but that she would pray for me and for us, and that she loved me. And because she's my mother and I love her, I said okay. I made a quiet agreement with myself that we would unpack the many other issues she'd unearthed- my right to choose and her lack of respect for it, the idea that prayer would fix our problems- another day. By confessing to my mother, and accepting the way that she reacted, despite it not being at all favorable or fun, I'd accomplished what I needed to do and absolved myself, and that was what mattered.

I was 20, in college, and alone when I had an abortion. I got a fifteen minute procedure, and I let the ensuing compunction eat me alive, slowly and carefully, for twelve fucking years. I am not of the mind that every woman who's had one needs to wear it on a t-shirt or talk it up over dinner, but I do encourage you to tell your mothers, your sisters, your daughters, your friends. The people you care about, and who care about you. We should share our stories because we they can heal others who have had similar experiences, educate women who may go through it themselves, and take the stigma out of something that should never have had one in the first place. We should talk about abortions because there's no point in us fighting for women's reproductive health if we can't embrace everything that it entails, even the ugly parts. Most of all, though, we should talk about our abortions for ourselves, because one out of three women in this country will have one, and any woman who feels guilty about or ashamed of it is one woman too many.