We feel shame when we violate the social norms we believe in. At such moments we feel humiliated, exposed and small and are unable to look another person straight in the eye. We want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light.
I came upon the powerful graphic above yesterday and felt there was more that I could personally say about it. On my Facebook profile page yesterday, I shared – I have owned up to this before. I had an abortion at the age of 23 or so – mid 1970s. I am glad it was safe and legal. I was not being reckless. I was driving an 18-wheeler with a partner. Our dispatcher didn’t get us home to where my pharmacy was in time and I ended up pregnant. Neither he nor his family were the kind of people I would be glad to have been tied to through a child today. At the time, I had breakthrough bleeding. My ex-SIL and ex-BIL had a child with serious birth defects. I just felt the pregnancy was not progressing normally. Also, to be honest – I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support. I’ve never regretted it but pro-Life propaganda has definitely haunted me. In writing this, I searched my memory for all of the reasons why I chose that course of action.
The mothers and women in my family, and to whom I am genetically related, chose other courses of action. Back in the 1930s, the mothers of both of my own parents, chose to carry their pregnancies, spent the first few precious months with their babies, and one way or another lost that first child to adoption. I wrote, and it was true, “I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support.” In some people’s minds I was simply being selfish and I will accept that judgment, though in truth I have no regrets about doing what I did and for the reasons I did it at the time.
Yet, I felt enough shame for having chosen a different path (both of my sisters carried unplanned pregnancies to term but also gave their babies up for adoption) that it was a long time before I admitted to anyone what I did earlier in life. It was my private decision which no one but the circumstances influenced. Maybe influenced in no small measure by the legality and safety of the choice at the time. Only as Roe v Wade has come under increasing opposition have I started sharing my own story of what it was like to have made that choice and my gratitude that I had it available to my own self when I felt I needed that.
The father of my own conception made it clear he would not stand by me if I chose otherwise but I don’t think that was my major motivation. In reflecting on my statement that I would have had to “go it alone” above, I also know my parents supported one of my sisters throughout the pregnancy and then, remarkable to me now that I know more about adoption in general, my own adoptee mom coerced my sister into giving up the baby she wanted to keep and then, encouraged a lie to me that the baby had died. Intuitively, I knew it had not and concocted fantastical stories about what had actually happened to the baby believing it had been stolen and taken into Mexico (my sister had delivered at a hospital in El Paso TX very near the national border). Because of this, my mom finally admitted her truth regarding the whole situation to me.
Many women bear a cross – maybe they suffer their whole lives knowing their child is out there somewhere out of their own reach. Many of these original mothers suffer a secondary infertility and never have another child. Many struggle as single mothers to keep and raise their child. Our society does nothing to help them. My sister actually sought financial support during her pregnancy but was denied it based upon our parents financial condition. It was not my parents seeking financial support but my sister and not in increase my parents financial condition either.
After I divorced the father of my first child, I had to go to work and that meant child care. When one “family style” child care that she loved at first became a tearful battle, I left work to check on her and discovered through the window of a half door, an older child bullying her and no adults in sight. I pulled her out that day. I often had to go to my mother to beg $20 to make it through to payday. She never denied me but financially it was always difficult. At the time I divorced her father, he told me he would never pay me one cent of child support because I would just party with the money. Such a horrible perception he had of my own integrity and ethics. I didn’t want to spend my life in court fighting him for it even though the judge insisted in awarding me $25/mo “in case” I changed my mind and wanted to seek an increase. I never did. Instead, I left my daughter with her paternal grandmother while I tried to build a financial nest egg for the two of us by seeing if I was capable of driving an 18 wheel truck cross-country.
I always intended to return for her and would have never given her to her father to raise but his mother did that. He remarried a woman with a child and then they had a child together. Unintended consequences of financial desperation. And now, in a sense my story has come full circle, my shame – not even listed above – is that I gave up raising my child for financial reasons. Back when she was in day care, I couldn’t hardly answer the pediatrician’s questions, because she was away from me all day. After her father and step-mother raised her, I struggled to find birthday cards for her that reflected the lack of a daily, physical relationship I had with her. There were no role models for an absentee mother back in the mid-1970s, even though the absentee father was a standard reality.
Shame. Oh yes, I am well acquainted with it. As my daughter knows, I have struggled to find peace with not having “stuck it out,” as my own mother said to me that she would have done, to do the right thing by my daughter. It is a work in process. Recently, I reflected on all the things I did right by her in the brief early years she was physically under my care. I told her, I realize that when I was mother to you, I was a good one. And the abortion ? I atoned for it, by giving up my own genetic connection to have two egg donor conceived sons (same donor both times), that my husband might be able to have the children he desired, even as we both realized I had gotten too old to conceive naturally. Even so, they are now almost 18 and 21 years old. They have proven to me that I can “mother” children 24/7 throughout their own childhoods. At least I have no shame in that. I even breastfed both until they were just over 1 year old. I also have the knowledge that I didn’t put adoption trauma onto the fetus I aborted early in that pregnancy.