That was someone else, not me
January 20, 2011 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I had an abortion a five years ago, and I want to completely let it go and forget it ever happened.

I'm very liberal, have always been extremely pro-choice (interned with Planned Parenthood in college, told my partner that if there was ever an unplanned pregnancy, I would get an abortion), and I know there was no way I could have actually had it. I'm not brave, I don't like problems, I'm deeply sensitive to how other people think of me, what I think they think of me, and my mind knows it would have been madly foolish and not at all pleasant to have a kid. Also, when I accidentally got pregnant, I was on Accutane, and there was a huge chance that that could have turned out with severe birth defects. I was not financially stable, neither was my partner.

I tried to talk to a counselor about it, but whenever I do try to talk about it, all these assumptions are brought in (I don't even know if I really wanted it and I don't think I would have if it was up to me). My partner (who I love very much) and I tried to talk about it a few times after I had the abortion, but it was too painful for me (I'm not really certain why, I suppose because I was acting all jokey, like it was no big deal immediately after, and having feelings about it later makes me seem attention-seeking) and I felt stupid (my mind was telling me I was being weak and girly). He always says all the right things that he's supposed to say, but he acknowledges that it doesn't bother him. He doesn't think about it.

I think it bothers me because I'm in love with him, and was so then, and having an abortion didn't gel with my hopes and feelings. Because I'd always said (in a very definite, jokey way, believing I'd never end up accidentally pregnant) I'd get an abortion, he had automatically reassured me that we could get an abortion that week upon my telling him I was pregnant. When he said that (I forgot about the Accutane), I went along with it (I didn't really process it, but I remembered feeling passive aggressive about it ("Fine, you want me to have an abortion? Fine!") inside.

I don't really understand how I feel. I find myself wondering why he wouldn't have wanted to have a baby with me, even though the answer is obvious. Somehow, I got into some self esteem spiral where I find myself wondering if I let myself be treated like a garbage can, or if there's something about me that is being punished or isn't good enough or meant to be treated badly (which I'm not at all, but I find myself worried that I'm marked in some way such that (and I know this sounds crazy) I'm meant to be punished or that I was always meant to be punished).

I feel bad when I read articles that say that someone is going to ban abortion, I feel bad when I read that abortions causes or doesn't cause unhappiness among women, I feel bad when the cynical part of me wonders that, "If he was in love with you, he'd have really wanted to have children with you." I feel bad when I think I might want to have children and when I think I might not want to have children. I feel bad at having been so rigid and judgmental five years ago. I feel bad that I don't know how to process how I'm feeling. I feel really dumb at the energy I spend wishing that all my emotional fantasies of feeling peaceful and warm and secure and happy would just come true. I feel extremely stupid at how guilty I feel, because I intellectually accept it and I know I didn't want it. I feel guilty because I know I'm not ruined and it's a disservice to all women who have had an abortion to even think that maybe I'm ruined (and I don't even know what I mean when I say "ruined" and that's stupid too). I feel bad when my brain (which is intensifying its urge to make me want to have a baby now, in my 30s) keeps barking thoughts that make having a baby a solution (which it couldn't be). I feel sad and envious when I hear of men who really want to have children with their wives and partners, even though it's not what I want or think I want. I briefly considered leaving my partner so I could forget about it all, but I don't want to leave him. I love him and he loves me, and I don't feel any anger or resentment towards him at all.

As much as I've written, for some reason, I can't process or articulate what my problem is, and why something that happened five years ago is still burdening me. I feel like if I just understood it better or could some how add up and explain my feelings to myself, I would be able to feel better. I'm not interested in therapy over it because I think continually admitting how stupid I feel to an actual person is going to feel worse, and after years of trying therapists, I don't like or trust them. If there's a way to just pretend it never happened without feeling like I'm a loser for not handling having an abortion as well as other women do, I would be willing to learn that.

The rest of my life is fine. I'm happy when I'm not dwelling or fighting the urge to want to beg for a baby (I think it's the wanting a baby feelings that really bring on the dwelling, actually). I have lots of hobbies and school and am fairly busy in long cycles.

What's wrong with me? Is there a way to forget this?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want a baby?

You should talk about this with your partner. Be honest with him and stop worrying about what kind of person you are or how things look.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:38 AM on January 20, 2011

Also--I hear a lot of judgment in what you're saying. Judgment of women who are girly, weak, who seek attention--there's nothing wrong with being weak. We're all weak sometimes and trying to avoid that or act like weakness is a punishable offense only makes your life more difficult.

Have compassion, for yourself and for others.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:43 AM on January 20, 2011 [31 favorites]

As much as I've written, for some reason, I can't process or articulate what my problem is

I don't think your problem is the abortion, or only the abortion. Your problem is that you feel like you deserve to have the feelings you have, and you're not able to express yourself freely to your partner.

It's this part that in my opinion is the problem: "I'm deeply sensitive to how other people think of me, what I think they think of me." It's ok to be sensitive, but it's not ok to squash your own feelings and experience because of it.

It's ok that you had an abortion. It's ok that you feel sad and guilty about it. It's ok that partly you don't feel sad about it. It's ok that you're confused and may always be confused about it.

Own your feelings, no matter how weird!
posted by yarly at 10:44 AM on January 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

You have posed an interesting and complicated question. You tell us that you don't want to have a baby, yet you have "wanting a baby feelings" which is another way of saying that you do want a baby. What this really means is that you have reasons both for and against having a baby (just as there are reasons for and against most of the things people want or do; simple actions such as eating a donut also have lots of reasons both for and against doing it).

Having a baby is actually a tremendous gamble. There is no guarantee that you will like your child or that your child will like you. There are many cases in which parents and children get along so badly that it results in murder. It is, of course, also true that many people consider their children to be their greatest joy, and the crowning accomplishment of their lives. Your children might grow up to be happy and successful people, or they might grow up to be disgusting drug addicts or to have any number of other inexcusable failings, and indeed, they may not even grow up at all.

Even aside from the many uncertainties that surround children as individuals, there are further uncertainties regarding the future of the world itself. We cannot say if anybody's children will have a livable world in the decades that are to come. The world faces terrible challenges which may well be beyond the ability of the human race to solve. If that is the case, it might be kinder and more socially responsible to refrain from adding yet another person to the already overpopulated world. But on the other hand (there is always another hand) it is at least theoretically possible that your hypothetical child will make the world better in some way, maybe even in some important way. Maybe the world needs this additional person. But we don't know and can't know what the future brings. So it is a gamble.

What, then, can you do? It is the nature of life that we have to make decisions (about having or not having children, and everything else that we choose to do or not to do). Make your decision and stick with it. Accept your own decisions and don't worry about them. You may never know for certain if the decision that you make is the right decision, but you still have to make decisions, since the alternative is to be paralysed by indecision.

All well and good, but what if you are still worrying about your decisions? You can always review your decisions if you think that they may need to be revised, but if you think you have made the right decision, let the matter go. And if you can't let it go, perhaps a therapist can help you.
posted by grizzled at 10:50 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

it sounds like you might be ready to start a family now, which is wonderful and positive and requires a non-jokey, serious conversation with your partner. try talking to him about the future of your family rather than your past abortion.
posted by katypickle at 10:52 AM on January 20, 2011 [12 favorites]

It not unusual to have conflicted feelings toward a loss. Even if you know the abortion was 'for the best,' it doesn't mean that you can't experience grief about it and I think that's the emotion you're feeling but denying. You can't 'forget' this because it happened and it mattered to you. You need to try therapy again and maybe take what you've written here. And don't say you feel stupid, say you feel pain and conflicted and angry and sad and relieved. You are not other women, you are you.
posted by shoesietart at 10:52 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow you are being SO hard on yourself.

There are many women who have bad feelings about having had an abortion, even though they rationally understand the choice. You know that? You know that you aren't alone?

You aren't endangering women's rights by feeling this way. All you are doing is grieving and processing something that was definitely a loss for you. That is fair enough, and normal.

Given that you say you don't want therapy to work through this, you have to figure out some ways to work through it on your own. I have a friend who got a tattoo after her abortion, something that would be with her always--I think not as penance, but as a marker of something in her life that was really not trivial. Along those lines, maybe you could talk with your boyfriend and tell him about your lingering feelings; maybe you could have a little memorial service, just the two of you, to remember this decision that is plaguing you so much.

And then--why are you fighting the urge to "beg" for a baby? You don't say it explicitly, but it seems your partner doesn't want a child? Talk to him! Have a baby! This is a perfectly normal human impulse, and you seem to be beating yourself up over it. Please stop doing this, and memail me if you want to talk. Your post is heartbreaking.
posted by torticat at 10:54 AM on January 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I feel bad when I read articles that say that someone is going to ban abortion, I feel bad when I read that abortions causes or doesn't cause unhappiness among women

In the last five years, have you read *everything* with "abortion" as a keyword? I went through a period where I did this. Tip: AVOID these articles/stories/etc. for a while.

I'm happy when I'm not dwelling or fighting the urge to want to beg for a baby (I think it's the wanting a baby feelings that really bring on the dwelling, actually).

Hmm... are you now more stable physically/emotionally/financially and able to have a child? Have you discussed this possibility with your partner? People and situations change. Sure, in the beginning unplanned pregnancy = abortion. That was five years ago. What would happen if you were unexpectedly pregnant now? What about planning a pregnancy?
posted by MuChao at 10:56 AM on January 20, 2011

As others have said, it's ok to have feelings. It's ok to have Contradictory feelings. But it's not ok to condemn yourself for having feelings, or to let the negative ones Rule your Life.

Being jokey was my favorite defense about everything until my therapist cured me of it - I feel you. You can't just forget, but you can do as torticat mentions above and come up with a ritual for yourself to memorialize it and let it go. Then you can work on communicating well with your partner about the fact that you're thinking now about having children.
posted by ldthomps at 11:01 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, I see now that your question says you want to forget this ever happened, so my answer didn't really address that. But I think you need to own that it DID happen and that it matters to you. That is perfectly okay. You don't have to undo this thing; you need instead to integrate it with your understanding of who you are and who you want to be.

(I'll stop with the armchair therapy now.)
posted by torticat at 11:02 AM on January 20, 2011

It is OK to feel regret, or even grief, for an abortion. Feeling regret doesn't mean that you think you should have made a different choice, it means that you regret that the choice was necessary. It doesn't mean that you have gone all pro-lifey, or that you have Post Abortion Syndrome, or that your principles have been compromised, or anything. It means that sometimes, it is sad when the best choice is to let this pregnancy go, is all.

And it may definitely lead to choosing to pursue pregnancy, and that's OK too, and it still doesn't mean the abortion was a mistake. Having to let this pregnancy go because things weren't right in your life to have a baby can be the touchstone for an epiphany, that you want things to be right in your life to have a baby. That's not a conflict, not any hypocrisy.

It is OK for you to want to have a baby. It really is. It's OK for you to want to have a baby even if you didn't think you did. It's OK for you to want your partner's attention to your feelings; your feelings matter. I do think you need to talk to him about your ambivalent desires for children; you can't squash those, even if you feel like they're irrational. At any rate, talk to him. Or to a therapist, or a pastor, or someone. Maybe to all of those people.

It's OK, and good and right, to be confused and to contain multitudes. Any feelings you have are the right ones. Please, please be gentle and loving with yourself. What would you say if it was your best friend feeling this way?

I'm firmly pro-choice. I have two children and four miscarriages, and every pregnancy made me even more pro-choice. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we assume that just because abortion is (or should be, imho) a black and white issue legally, that it should be a black and white issue ethically, personally, emotionally. It isn't. It's OK to be sad. It's OK to have an abortion make you think about having a baby. Just sit with it, and talk with yourself, and be honest.
posted by KathrynT at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2011 [15 favorites]

I think one of the major points to remember is that you were on accutane. Given the severity of the birth defects that would have been present in your child it would have been unethical not to get an abortion.

In fact, most health-care providers who prescribe accutane or other teratogens are required to have their patients adhere to the iPledge agreement which specifically exists to prevent the occurance of pregnancies while on accutane.

As many others have said, you are being far too hard on yourself. Getting an abortion was absolutely the right thing for you to do.
posted by sarastro at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2011 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry for what you're going through. I think there's a lot of pressure for women to act as if they're getting their teeth cleaned, and be jokey, etc.

I don't think you need to seek out news stories, Jezebel posts and comments about abortion, etc., and you're not the standard bearer for all women, everywhere.

feeling like I'm a loser for not handling having an abortion as well as other women do, I would be willing to learn that.

Certainly, there's no one right way to feel or respond to having an abortion, but if you felt sad and mourned what might have been, that seems a natural response to me. Listening to your own heart is far healthier than comparing yourself to others or what's portrayed in the media.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:06 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP - katypickle probably has it.
posted by jbenben at 11:14 AM on January 20, 2011

There, but for dumb luck, go many of us. Although I'm as pro-choice as they come, I can't imagine any choice that's more difficult and heartbreaking, even when it's the wisest and most compassionate decision.

I would strongly caution against attempting to strike this experience from your memory, or labeling it as belonging to "someone else." You can't un-happen it and go back to who you were before. You might be totally different and better in every way from who you were then, but you are still the same person, and compartmentalizing the painful parts of your life discredits the strong and resilient person you actually are.

Would you consider, instead of therapy, a support group for women who have had abortions? Given the cultural climate, many women feel discouraged from talking freely about their experiences, and it's an easy subject for therapists to mishandle. Planned Parenthood could point you in the right direction here.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:33 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please take what I'm about to say with more than a grain of salt, and not as a judgment about you but perhaps some food for thought. I don't know you and all I have are a few paragraphs of information to work with.

As much as I've written, for some reason, I can't process or articulate what my problem is, and why something that happened five years ago is still burdening me. I feel like if I just understood it better or could some how add up and explain my feelings to myself, I would be able to feel better.

This somewhat strikes me as a form of cognitive dissonance that you've developed, perhaps as a defense mechanism. As others have noted it's not unusual to have regrets, grief, or ambivalence about an abortion. But part of me wonders if you're using the abortion to distract you from more deep-seated issues. I say that based on things like this:

I find myself wondering why he wouldn't have wanted to have a baby with me, even though the answer is obvious. Somehow, I got into some self esteem spiral where I find myself wondering if I let myself be treated like a garbage can, or if there's something about me that is being punished or isn't good enough or meant to be treated badly (which I'm not at all, but I find myself worried that I'm marked in some way such that (and I know this sounds crazy) I'm meant to be punished or that I was always meant to be punished).

These sort of statements suggest to me that a lot of the issues you have have less to do with the abortion itself and more to do with what you infer about your relationship, your partner and how he sees you. You realize that his response to the pregnancy may have had everything to do with the Accutane or timing, for example, but you seem intent on making it more about a referendum on wanting to have a child with you specifically, and a judgment about you. You are really extremely hard on yourself and I worry about this being a global issue related to self-esteem. I know I'm reading a lot into this, but I can't help but wonder about what your relationship is/was like with your parents and other family support. Do you think you have issues with abandonment or approval-seeking that might predate the abortion?

Moreover, have you actually talked to your partner about the abortion in hindsight, and the fact that you harbor some resentment about his response to it? You describe having a baby as "a solution." To what problem, I wonder? Is that a way around getting the validation you seek without having a potentially challenging conversation with your partner -- a conversation that you might be thinking will be much more painful than it actually will be.

Abortion is obviously a serious matter both on a personal, as well as moral and political matter, but your abortion seems like a lightning rod or focal point on which you have loaded lots of other issues you may have. Not saying any of this applies, but just things to consider.
posted by drpynchon at 11:45 AM on January 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't have anything to add in the way of experience, but it seems that you should talk to you partner. If having a baby is important to you, and you envy men who want to have a baby with their partners, then this issue will grow to be an elephant in the room even when you do move beyond your abortion. Likewise, if your partner does not want a child, it is only fair that the two of you communicate your wishes to one another. Having this talk may also serve to clarify your own feelings as to whether you really want a baby - which in turn may also ease your heartache.

Please don't be so hard on yourself. You did what you thought was best at the time, and no one is going to fault you for it.
posted by Everydayville at 11:48 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of correct decisions that can lead to feeling regret, the regret doesn't mean you made a bad decision, just that the situation was imperfect and there was no clear 100% right answer.

You may want to forget all about the abortion as if it never happened, but I can almost certainly guarantee that you will never achieve this state. Especially if you have worked yourself around into what seems to be an obsession about it.

You likely need to drop being jokey about it. You likely need to address this with your partner in an honest straightforward manner, and even though you seem to have great ambivalence about it you may well need to keep looking for a counselor of some type who will help you.

Frankly,it does sound like you really do want to have a baby. For many people that biological urge can be incredibility strong and can overwhelm any rational pre-decisions. I certainly wouldn't say you must fix your current problems before having a child... but I would gently advise making some progress on it.

The fact is, you need some form of assistance, and that is okay. It is unlikely you will solve the problem all by yourself, and indeed you may even makes things even worse in the long run, the more you bottle it up, and trivialize it to others the more influence it is going to have on you.

We can not help you very well here.
posted by edgeways at 11:52 AM on January 20, 2011

Is he saying that he doesn't think about it because he thinks that's the right thing to say? Throughout this, he seems to have been following your lead - you always said you'd have an abortion in the case of an unexpected pregnancy, so he assumed you'd automatically do that when it happened; you act jokey and nonchalant about it, so he says he's not bothered by it. But you two haven't actually talked about it. His actual feelings could be just as complex as yours. Talk to your partner, and be kind to yourself.
posted by Ruki at 11:52 AM on January 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

The NY Times had an article a few years ago about a Japanese tradition that women follow after an abortion. I've had people tell me it helped them to do something similar after an abortion/miscarriage.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:59 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think there is some pressure amongst pro-choice women (and perhaps we put it on ourselves, I don't know) to consider abortion as a political choice and nothing else. Like we can't be pro-choice and still be troubled if we are in that position ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that most women who are pro-choice are also hoping that they never are in the position of having to make the choice because it's between a rock and a hard place, particularly in your situation with the medication you were on. It's a serious decision to make and I think most women are troubled by it, regardless of their political thoughts at the time. Moreover, your opinion will likely grow and change as you age, just like it does with any other emotionally charged issue. What seemed like maybe an easy decision at the time has gotten harder for you as you've gotten older and started to think seriously about what having a baby would be like.

I lost a pregnancy with my now husband seven years ago. When it happened, we'd been dating three months, I was horrified to find out I was pregnant, and in a way relieved when the pregnancy wasn't viable. As time has gone on, that loss has bothered me more, not less. Now...rather than thinking of myself as knocked up by some guy I barely knew, I recall that I was pregnant by a man I love, with a baby who was just like the two children that we have together, and my heart breaks a little, thinking of that lost opportunity. I don't think this is an uncommon reaction.

So my point is...stop beating yourself up. It's okay to feel conflicted, to wonder what might have been, to be sad, and to feel like you need to process that grief in order to move on. Talk to your partner. Even if he doesn't feel the same grief (mine does not) he will want to know that you are hurting and why. Don't feel like just because you are pro-choice, you don't have the right to feel sad that you had to make the choice you did. And moreover, don't feel bad that you said before it happened that of course you'd have an abortion. No one who hasn't been in that situation can really know what they'd do and how that would feel. I think you need to do all of that to reach the point where you can move past it-I don't know that you'll ever truly forget it-it will always be a part of your history but at least you'll make peace with the decision you made and realize that it was the best one for you at the time.
posted by supercapitalist at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding yarly: while the abortion is tied up with what you're feeling, it's not the fundamental issue. So if you want to start understanding yourself and your feelings, you need to realize that the abortion is a part of the large whole that is you. That's not to minimize its impact, but it will probably be more effective to look at all of the things that are bothering you.

First, give yourself time and room to just be who you are. There's no on/off switch that will just make you okay with everything, or that will just make you forget this part of you. But with a willingness to slowly learn about yourself, you can make incremental improvements and feel just a little bit better each month/season/year. It's a long process. I have not gone through the same issues as you, but I've gone through my own and I would say that I've felt just a little better each year for the past decade. All of those "just a little betters" adds up substantially.

I think this is a big hint at the larger issues that have you feeling down: "wishing that all my emotional fantasies of feeling peaceful and warm and secure and happy would just come true." Here you have a very reasonable, positive wish ("feeling peaceful and warm and secure and happy") combined with self-degradation ("my emotional fantasies") and an unreasonable wish ("would just come true"). As you deal with your conflicted emotions, you must also recognize the distortions that so many of us apply to ourselves ("I'm just being emotional!") ("I wish it would just happen!") and start to tell yourself that those are just distortions, not reality. You won't immediately feel better, but over time you can begin to accept your feelings ("It's perfectly normal to want to feel peaceful and secure.
") while paying less attention to the distressing thoughts. ("I'm not just being emotional. This is valid." "It won't 'just happen' - it will take some work from me to get there, but I'm getting there.")

How does this relate to the original question? By unpacking your more general feelings about your desires for security, you'll learn to unpack and deal with your feelings regarding the abortion and slowly feel better about that by accepting the valid emotions and dismissing the distressing ones. You'll also feel less distressed overall if you're dealing with your other feelings, which are probably tied up with your feelings about the abortion.

I was going to recommend therapy - I've had good experiences - but if you are having a tough time working with therapists you might get Feeling Good by David Burns. Dr. Burns' writing style is very understandable and compassionate, and using a book will let you control the speed of the process.
posted by Tehhund at 12:06 PM on January 20, 2011

Oh, dear. I could have written huge parts of this question too.

I got pregnant five years ago too, and like you, I almost-reflexively went out and got an abortion the day after I peed on the stick and saw two stripes. There's no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice -- I was/am pretty much in the same place as you in terms of politics, financial situation, nasty-chemical-exposure, etc. -- but now it absolutely horrifies me that I did it without a second thought, like I was getting a tooth pulled or something. I got on a plane and went to a conference the very next day, and just pretended to forget all about it.

I don't want to talk about the abortion stuff to anyone ever, either. Especially because I trivialized it at the time to a degree that probably made me look really callous and shocking. I get really joke-y about the things that matter most and hurt me most, too, and I'm also really afraid of looking like an attention-seeker or drama queen. Really, you're not alone in this. Everyone has their own reaction to shitty things that happen in life, and yours is by no means uncommon. But I don't think it's possible to just forget about it, because that was something important that happened to YOU -- not to some previous self or something like that. You can't hide from yourself indefinitely, and if you don't confront the things that bother you, you can't move on and you end up stuck there. That doesn't mean that you should go around telling strangers in the grocery line about your abortion. But it does mean that looking to forget is usually less attainable and less healthy than looking to accept and move on.

And please, talk to your partner, at least about the baby fever, if not about the inarticulable emotional aftermath of the abortion and how it gets all enmeshed in there. You need to know, not necessarily that you're on the same page regarding kids, but at least whether or not you each have the same book -- it's kind of necessary information for you to figure out how to deal with your emotions. I'm not saying "OMG you need to tell your partner you want a baby and leave him if he doesn't agree," but I am saying that if you don't communicate about your feelings, even when your feelings are that you have no idea what you're feeling, there is no way that your partner can help you.
posted by kataclysm at 12:21 PM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

People change over time. When I was younger, I would have gotten an abortion because I would have thought it was the 'right thing to do,' like you did. If I were a guy, the equivalent would have been to offer abortion as an option. Now I might want kids. Like me, is it possible that your partner's feelings have - or might- change?

Since you've tried therapy and it hasn't worked out for you - I hear you on that one. I tried it once and the person tried to focus on my relationship with my mother, even though that wasn't what I was there for at all. However, talking things through is incredibly important. If you can't do this with a therapist, and your partner can't relate, perhaps you could talk with other people who have gone through an abortion recently?

Abortions can be very traumatic for a lot of women. I have seen a lot of it in my close friends. Not being able to talk about it magnifies the pain. There is more emphasis in the pro-choice world on the ability to have an abortion than on dealing with the emotional pain that I've often seen come afterward.

One song that you might appreciate is called "Reprieve" by Ani DiFranco. There is a good version available here.
posted by lover at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2011

Yes. Exactly what katacylsm said. (Also what tyr-r said about having compassion.)
posted by lover at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2011

One of the things that stands out to me is that how you always told your partner you would have an abortion , and then, when your partner was immediately supportive of that, it makes you sad now. I think that Ruki is right. You partner's feeling may be as complex as yours are, and having really not talked to him about it fully, you don't really know what's going on in his head. Maybe he felt slighted because you always assured him that you'd get an abortion; that you'd never even consider having his child. A lot of really great guys think the only thing they can do when faced with an unplanned pregnancy is support the woman's decision, and I agree with that to some extent.

In a moment of honesty, I would hand him the print out of your story. Talk to him, figure out this stuff. Because this is really about how much you trust him. I hear you feeling sad because your partner may not even consider you a possible mother? But I think you'll find that many of your assumptions aren't accurate.

And I agree with katypickle an jbenben--it sounds like you may be feeling the family-starting desires.

And to answer your real question, you can't forget it, ever. You've just got to reshape your memories of it. And that task should be much easier after some real talking with your partner about this event.
posted by Kronur at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2011

I think that you need to talk about all your complex feelings about your abortion with your partner before you'll be able to get over it. And getting over it is not the same as forgetting, but ultimately more useful.

It may help you to know that I also had an abortion in the past and want to have a baby now. I have the same partner now as I did then, and now we're trying to have a child together. Our lives changed, and now we're ready. I do feel twinges of regret that we didn't welcome that earlier opportunity, but I still believe our lives would have been less good if we had - because we have done a lot of growing up in the intervening years. We will be better parents because now we have jobs, a home, etc.

You and I are lucky enough to have relatively safe access to abortions, but that doesn't mean it's an easy thing to talk about. Even if we organize or advocate for the right to have one, it's rarely the sort of decision we loudly proclaim or celebrate. When I quietly, awkwardly, talked to my closest friends about my abortion, many said they had also had them. You might be surprised at how common it can be.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2011

Regarding your feelings about your partner - I want to point out that he was in a bit of an impossible position. Image he didn't support your decision to have an abortion. How would you have felt? I think men are in a very difficult position even though as a women, I imagine I would feel similar to you.

I also think he's in an impossible position when he says the abortion doesn't bother him. Maybe it does other him. If he acknowledges to himself that it does bother him, what can he do with those feelings? He might think that if he tells you it bothers him that you will feel like he's upset with you.

My suggestion is to explore whether you want a baby or not. It's OK if you decide you want a child. No one is going to be harsh on you for changing your mind and wanting a child. It might be difficult to put your mind around the fact that you possibly want a baby. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind even if all of your friends and your partner always knew you as the one who didn't want kids.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:08 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wanting a baby, and having had an abortion, are not necessarily connected. One does not require or preclude the other.

Having said that, you should probably see a therapist to help you sort things out, as there seems to be quite a lot of confusion/internal conflict here. It can take more than one try to find a therapist who's right for you, so the fact that a prior attempt at counsel didn't work out perfectly shouldn't necessarily be taken as an indication that therapy in general is pointless.
posted by aramaic at 1:47 PM on January 20, 2011

You won't forget until you grieve. You won't grieve until you let yourself feel. You can't "think this out." I recommend finding someone you trust can offer permission and hold space for you while you let go of control and feel yourself, your grief, pain, relief, everything.

Good luck.
posted by andreinla at 2:09 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Abortions tend to get characterized as the lazy behaviour of immoral or amoral women who don't want babies. There's a lot of cultural emphasis on choosing to carry babies to term so you can give them up. Pregnancy is also a pretty major event, no matter how it ends. You also sound like you are very ambiguous about whether or not you want a baby, and the result being that you have a lingering feeling that you could have had one.

However, the truth is that the concept of the childless woman refusing a pregnancy is not the norm for most people who undergo the procedure. The majority of women who get an abortion already have one kid and one can infer it's actually a pragmatically sensible choice to not let their parenting be compromised by dividing their labour. So having an abortion then hardly precludes you from reproducing now- assuming your life is in a better place.

Beyond that, your ambiguity seems fixed on wishing you could have had the kind of relationship where you could have had a baby. This has nothing to do with abortion guilt and lot more to do with the psychological construction involving making a family. For example in this day and age, not even a marriage cements you more closely to a partner, legally- until it's 18 years old and even beyond, a baby ties two individuals together financially and via coordinating childcare.

It's very telling that when my partner got serious about our relationship, he went from joking about performing an abortion himself if I got pregnant to going "OMG, I'd have to get a JOB." A transient relationship had shifted, and it sound like you want that shift that we had, and you wanted it much earlier when you had your abortion. I think the number of people with miscarriages who are reporting your exact feelings about a pregnancy failure in a relationship should tell you that it's not really about the termination as much as the potential. It's half a marriage proposal that was rejected.

Nothing's "wrong" with you. Part of you wants a baby and the kind of family that facilitates baby making. If we didn't have these feelings, the species would have probably died out. Why don't you talk to your partner about potentially reproducing in the future? If you're on a different page, he should know.
posted by Phalene at 2:15 PM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sorry if I'm not getting this right, it's not clear to me from your question if you are still with the same partner. My advice is based on the assumption that you are still with the same partner.

Alot of your pain seems to stem from relationship issues rather than being purely about the abortion. I think you are somehow contorting in your mind that the fact that you decided so adamently to have an abortion before you even needed one meant that your relationship with your partner was some sort of casual sex fling and devoid of the bond necessary to raise a family together.

That is not necessarily the case.

Also you seem to be disappointed in the fact that your partner supported your decision without hesitation. Maybe you should talk to them about it and ask how they felt at teh time. I know that my boyfriend in a similar scenario would go along with whatever I wanted. It's possible that had you had a different outlook, like you were totally against abortion and were going to keep this child come hell or high water tha the would have supported you in that decision. In my experience, a lot of men aren't really hard wired to want "baby" and see it as a relationship expander. They are more hard wired to want "happy partner" and if that requires "baby" they go along (and of course once the baby materializes, that would be when they really form a bond). I know some couples who have had miscarriages and the women were totally besides themselves for months over the loss of the unborn baby while the men were more saddened by the grief and despair in their partner. Yes, these are generalizations, but so are your preconceived notions about abortions, so maybe these generalizations will help fine-tune your perception. You need to talk to your partner so that he can assure you he was there for support and not to illustrate that you were unworthy of having permanent ties to.

It also sounds like you need to talk to your partner about planning for a family. You sound like you want a family now and should start figuring out how to get there. Just because you had an abortion when you were not ready or able to carry a child safely does not mean that pregnancy and babies are off the table for you forever. Just the opposite, it means you have the intellectual override of the hormonal baby cravings to figure out when and what situation is best for you to start your family. It's always a gamble, but its totally ok for you to play the lottery any day you feel lucky.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:27 PM on January 20, 2011

There's so much going on here, but here's what I think is one small bit of advice:

You didn't promise your SO you wouldn't feel bad.

You never signed a contract that said you would be perfectly okay forever with the abortion.

Even if you joked about it before and after, even if you literally said, "I promise I feel fine about this!" at any point, and even if you tried very hard to convince him that everything was okay and perfect and exactly as you wanted it: feeling bad about this isn't breaking any promises to him.

You need to talk to him. Don't be apologetic about your feelings (maybe explain that you feel apologetic, if you do, but don't apologize for feeling what you do). Be willing to own up to your troubles. It's okay for you to struggle, and you owe it to both of you to admit to it. Let me resay that: it's okay for you to struggle.

What I want more than anything to do is give you a giant hug. From reading your post, it sounds to me that you're at the point where what you really need is for someone to give you a giant, unyielding hug, even if you're crying and sputtering and don't know how to express your feelings in words. Give your SO the chance to give you that hug.

And, of course, if he doesn't give you that hug... If he does try to throw in your face your jokey comments, or what have you, as if your relationship were a court proceeding and your comments were evidence that you had promised to be okay with this... Well, that won't be appropriate behavior on his part. If that's what happens, I'd advice you to find another loved one you can trust to respect your emotions, support you during a difficult time, and hug you in that awesome, big way you deserve.
posted by meese at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you try to ignore feelings and memories, they will never go away. You have to own what happened, own the decision you made at that time, and own the feelings you have about that. If you can't remember your state of mind and feelings at that time, you will never be able to have empathy with the past self that made that decision. All you can do is blame the past, or hate yourself in the past. And that affects the present.

To achieve peace of mind, you have to do the hard work of feeling all the feelings until that memory becomes numb. Once the memory becomes integrated with your present self, it will become just a memory and not a trauma you are trying to white-knuckle through.

It is going to suck, but it will be an emotional investment- instead of "The Thing That I Am Ignoring" popping up at every turn to haunt you, you can sit yourself down and just live the feelings. It is OK to have those feelings be conflicted. That is normal for almost anything. You might even have conflicted feelings about your conflicted feelings about your feelings in the past. The idea is to get it all out in the open, whether that's just in your head or with someone. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt- if you really can't remember why you did one thing or another, assume that you must have had a good reason for doing it, even if you can't remember what it was.

Think of it like untying a knot.

If you find yourself dwelling on something, or a chain of "what if, but if only, yeah but" kinds of thoughts- your mental tires are spinning in the mud- chances are there is some feeling inside of you that you have yet to remember or process. Try to remember those moments from different perspectives. Instead of that usual "comfortable" mental image that keeps popping up, try to remember other things about that day, or that week.

But ultimately, all you have to do is remember the serenity thing: you can't change the past. It is a thing that happened, and no amount of self-torture can ever change it. It might seem harsh to put it into black and white like that, but simply accepting that one thing frees your mind unbelievably.

Good luck and take care.
posted by gjc at 3:41 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's okay to have whatever feelings you are having. If those feelings include regret about your abortion, that's fine. You're not letting the side down by having those feelings. It's your experience and your feelings and we all need to honor that. Including you.

But it might (or might not) be helpful to think about where some of the static in your head might be coming from. Do you really think that everyone who loves everyone else wants to have children with them? Sit with that. I don't think my husband loves me any less because he doesn't want children (and nor do I love him any less because I don't want children).

See, to me, this:

I feel bad when the cynical part of me wonders that, "If he was in love with you, he'd have really wanted to have children with you.

isn't cynical at all, it's deeply credulous of a whole bunch of cultural programming that's based on pretty much nothing (well, nothing except sexism and Christian-centrism). I say this not to pile more blame on you, just to encourage you to think about where some of the stuff that's going through your head is coming from.

You may or may not want to have children. He may or may not want to have children. That isn't at all connected to whether, or how much, each of you loves the other. Babies are human beings, not "pledges of marital affection" as Victorian novels used to call them. People can have happy marriages and happy partnerships without having children, and people can happily become parents without having spouses or partners, yes?

I know that I always tell people to seek therapy, but I really think that a therapist could support you in sorting out these feelings. First you, and then maybe also the two of you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, would you mind posting a throwaway email?
posted by emkelley at 6:05 PM on January 20, 2011

You are never going to forget it. I'm not trying to be nasty, but you just won't.

I interned at Planned Parenthood, too. Because the clinic I was at had a long history of violent pro-life activity, they didn't allow friends and family in the OR or recovery rooms, so I was the support person. I was, if you will, an abortion doula. And I remember all those abortions that I didn't even have. I remember all the names of the women whose hands I held, and I remember their stories. It's not something you forget. Process, yes. Forget, no.

Look, I am about as pro-choice as pro-choice gets. I think there should be no legal restrictions on abortion, at any length of pregnancy, no parental notification, no spousal permission. That said, it is not a choice I would make except under very extreme circumstances. In fact, I don't think I could have an abortion even if the pregnancy was a result of rape.

I can hold these two things in my mind because they are not opposites: abortion sucks, and it should be legal.

You are sad. That's okay. You may even be feeling regret, and that's okay, too. You may feel like you don't deserve to get pregnant again, but that's not how things work, and you can get through those feelings, because in/fertility is not about what we deserve.

You are pro-choice. No one is going to take away your pro-choice card just because you are sad about your abortion. Because it's not abortion being a happy, fun thing. It's about women getting to decide for themselves, that's all. Choice does not come without feelings- you have these feelings, you are entitled to them. It doesn't make you weak, or pro-life, or anti-feminist, or attention seeking. You are not going to process these feelings by wishing to forget or beating yourself up for having these feelings in the first place. It's okay, you are allowed to not only feel this way, but to talk about it. It's okay.
posted by Leta at 10:21 AM on January 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

Another request for a throwaway email... or MeMail me.
posted by ladybird at 12:37 PM on January 21, 2011

There, but for dumb luck, go many of us. --Metroid Baby

Nthing you can see from so many responses, you aren't alone in your experience or torn feelings. But in addition to all those who actually had an abortion, there are so many more who are like me and would have done exactly the same thing in your situation. Through all those financially unstable years, I knew I could never go through with having a child and lived in irrational, unspeakable fear that I'd get pregnant and have to have an abortion. And have to deal with not only the experience, but the later thoughts -- I find all your feelings very logical. The only thing that kept me sane in this area of my life was constant regular check-ins with my boyfriend/husband. And the fact that he has always been supportive. You say your partner is supportive, so use him and help him, too.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:25 PM on January 22, 2011

« Older Abracadabra! I give you something that you'll...   |   Circles and nodes visualization software Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.