This weeks Stories of Us post is controversial at best.
It is my desire to share this woman’s story WITHOUT a backlash of judgmental, harsh opinions and religious crucifixion.
Today’s story is about a woman who wishes to remain anonymous, so we will call her Jane Doe.
And it is a story about love, motherhood and loss.
When Jane was 17 years old, she got mixed up in the wrong crowd. She started drinking and partying a little too hard. Her middle class family and moral upbringing did not change the fact that she had wild oats to sow, regardless of how hard her parents tried to rein her in. One night, at the age of 17 (which according to CDC statistics around 3/4ths of all high school girls have had sex), she did just that - and found herself pregnant.
There she was 17 years old. Despite a support system in place, despite friends, despite sex education classes – her fears of being slut shamed and ‘ruining her life’ caused her to make a split second decision to have an abortion. She walked into the clinic with a good friend of hers, sneaking out one early Saturday morning, only to pass droves of protestors standing outside the clinic with graphic sculptures of fetuses in their hands, pawing at her shoulders, telling her that she was destined to go to hell.
At just a few weeks pregnant, she felt nothing of the baby, and instead felt terrified, alone, ashamed, and desperate to end what she perceived as a nightmare. When you are 17 – EVERYTHING feels like the end of the world.
The tears that streamed down her face that morning as she walked into the abortion clinic were not shed with sadness or regret. They were shed with fear. Fear of being exposed. Fear of being tortured at school if people found out. Fear that her parents would disown her. Fear of what she was about to feel. Raw, un-throttled and maybe unrealistic fear. And of course, fear that at her young age she was destined to go to hell.
Because she only had a little bit of money, she said, “she endured the procedure fully awake, feeling that she deserved the pain it would bring her for being such an awful person.!” “I sat there and did not move, and never once looked at the doctor performing the procedure.’
Back in those days, there were no laws in place that required parental involvement when a young girl sought an abortion. When she left the clinic just a few hours later, under the judgmental glares of the protestors, she felt empty. But mostly she admits that she felt relieved. A few days later, that experience – that she dealt with completely on her own in the sort of way a 17 year olds deal with things was filed way back into her psyche. Never to be thought of again. Over. Done.
From time to time, she would see a baby in the arms of a mother and wonder, but Jane did her very best to push any feelings to the back of her mind.
Fast forward a decade and a half later and this same woman, now successful and in love, married to the man of her dreams - became pregnant. When the paperwork at her OBGYN asked her how many times she had been pregnant, she lied and said that this was the first time. She spent the entire 9 months of that pregnancy paralyzed with fear that God was going to punish her by hurting her baby or killing her during childbirth. She felt undeserving of the baby that grew inside her. And she went to sleep every night feeling the cold abortion clinic table beneath her, as a doctor who had no name pulled a life from her womb. Even her husband did not know that she had an abortion at 17.
Today, Jane has 3 kids. 2 boys and 1 girl. She is a fabulous mother. An amazing person. And yet, she tortures herself for a decision that she made in haste so many years ago. According to the CDC, in 2009, there were 2.6 million Jane Doe’s – many of them young and others older, who chose to end a pregnancy for one reason or another. It is not up to me or you to decide what is right for someone else.
And these people suffer.
These people become Jane Doe, the PTA president, the CEO of a company, the parent of healthy kids, the wives of awesome fathers, the so-called ‘perfect people’ who carry a secret deep within themselves. Many of these women punish themselves daily for their decisions. Suddenly, when they become mothers and realize the love that they have for their children, they start believing that they are truly monsters for having an abortion – regardless of the circumstances that they were in at the time.
When Jane told me her story about her abortion, she heaved heavy tears of pain that shuddered through her body like thunder in the valley. We sat at a playground, watching our kids play – and her mind was on a child that she never met, and she felt blood on her hands. Even though she thought she had filed this away with the millions of other mistakes we ALL make as teens, she never realized the impact it would have years later.
Personally, my opinion of Jane did not change when she told me had an abortion at 17. I reminded her that walking around among us, some our neighbors, some our sisters, some our cousins, teachers, friends and woman we respect - also carry the same secret. I reminded her that we, as woman, change constantly. I remind her that at that moment in her life, she did the very best that she could do with the resources that she had. I reminded her that she deserved her children, her family – and that I did not beleive she was destined for Hell. I held her in my arms until she let go.
That day, as we left the playground to continue on to Chic-Fi-Le for lunch and some playland – Jane said, “He would be 21 years old this May?”
I have no idea why she said, ‘He” but I was glad that Jane trusted me enough to tell me her secret.
The reality is this.
We all have opinions about abortion.
And yet, there are millions of us – probably some of us reading this blog, that have had one ourselves. Our ‘shameful little secret’ that we hold deep inside ourselves because we live in a world that is so quick to judge and crucify one another. And while I will keep my opinions about abortion private - I will say, that whatever mistakes we make in our past, need to remain in our past. No matter what you did one day back then, no matter how awful you thought you were, you are a vehicle of change and growth. Our pasts do not define us, unless we allow them to. Our pasts make us who we are today. My parting words to Jane that day – and this was the last time we ever spoke of this, was the same parting words to you that I will end this blog with.
Forgive YOURSELF! In the words of Maya Angelou, when you know better – you do better.