I had a client once who was deciding if she wanted to have a baby or not (she was not pregnant at the time). She was concerned that I could not support her in this deliberation because she had seen (through social media and public speaking) how much I valued my role as a mother and how important parenthood and family was to me—she thought I would be biased towards her having kids.
She could not have been more confused. It is because of how much time and energy I put into mothering and family life that I would be one of the first people to say to her, “Motherhood is a massive undertaking, it requires all of your resources on every level. You are must deeply consider if you are up for this, and be open to the idea that you are not. This decision will last the rest of your life. It is the biggest decision you may ever make.”
I have every privilege you can imagine as a mother, and I have deeply struggled at times with the way having children has impacted my life.
Mothering is too important to be expected of anyone—let alone forced on us.
The new world we are facing has brought us back to a horrible reality that we thought had been settled (at least legally) for women and children— women do not get to choose.
When I was working for five years in a therapeutic residential treatment home for adolescent girls in the late 90’s, I remember eventually learning what our biggest aspiration was for the girls in our care. While we had them for a few months and provided academic education, life and relationship skill building, health education and practices, and worked on every level to empower, support, and provide much needed therapy to the girls and their families, their success came down to one thing: preventing them from having babies.
All the statistics confirmed that the most important variable when it came to these young girls climbing out of poverty and intergenerational cycles of trauma and all that comes with that (addiction, incarceration, being abused and abusing self and/or others, and major physical and psychological health problems) was keeping them from getting pregnant or having a baby. Despite all the help we were providing to them and their families on so many levels, the odds for a decent life were hugely stacked against them if they became mothers—and then of course, to their children as well.
Of course, at some point in life they could choose to become a mother. But if that happened without planning, without having made a near heroic journey to climb out of their current situation and obtain education, financial earning capacities, adequate healthcare, and supportive relationships, they were destined to rely on their family—people that already had shown they could not support them, let alone them and their child. All while being subject to a society that still offers little to no maternity leave, healthcare, and childcare options.
As a therapist for nearly 20 years, I can attest to the statistics that 1 out of 4 women receive an abortion at some point in life. That definitely aligns with my experience of my female client population. The clients of mine that have obtained abortion have also sought out therapy to cope with the layers of trauma that coincide with abortion. Even though abortion was legal since 1973 (the year I was born) women have been judged, stigmatized, alienated, rejected by family and friends, and struggled to cope with complex and painful emotional and relational repercussions of choosing to not complete a pregnancy. Women seek therapy before and even decades after having an abortion, as the mental and emotional impact of the abortion process and procedure alone, plus all the social stigma and relational fallout, create an enormous toll on their mind and body.
And this was when abortion was legal and safe to obtain.
Also, remember the awful truth that children are routinely abused, neglected, and traumatized by parents who willingly became pregnant and chose to have them. What do we think will happen to unwanted children? What choices and options do those children have?
As a therapist, I also notice that I have never had a male client reach out about the traumatic process of abortion that he experienced secondarily by having a partner go through one. I’m guessing that may happen, but I have never experienced it.
To me, that says that women are bearing the overwhelming brunt of the physical, emotional, and psychological burden that two people should be sharing when it comes to a pregnancy. Gender disparity is apparent in even the most privileged and resourced families, like where the mother does the majority of the emotional and physical labor for the family. Despite most people wanting to share power and responsibility for their marriages and families, with generations of inequality behind us this is extremely difficult to change, even for the most resourced and well educated.
Abortion is sitting in the middle of extremely outdated, racist, and misogynist social values. Abortion should be about giving women a safe and legal option to make a difficult choice when the reality of our society is such that women bear far too much responsibility for pregnancy, marriage, and family life as it is, with no socially structured support. Women and girls are routinely sexually abused, raped, and incested, and abortion has spared them the lifelong trauma of having to bear these pregnancies. Women and girls also have been spared death, or the trauma of bearing an unviable fetus to term, with the help of abortion. Women and girls who are wise and know they cannot complete a pregnancy without significant psychological, financial, or physical risk to themself or that child have obtained abortions. Abortions are awful for all of these girls and women, yet without this choice to have an abortion, we are saying to women and children that we don’t value, care, or respect them. We don’t care about how much trauma they unnecessarily—because we have the ability to safely help them with abortions—endure.
I will always support women and continue to support them in having adequate access to relationships, education, healthcare, abortion, and so many aspects of life that affect our well being and capacity to function on the most basic of levels. Having the choice to end a pregnancy should be every woman’s right, and having safe and legal options to do so also should be every woman’s right. I grew up with this right, it has always been there for me, and I intend to do whatever I can to see it reinstated for all of us.