By Susan Lehman, Exhale Counselor & 2010 Rachel Falls Compassion Award honoree
As the mother of grown children, I have basked in the annual glow of Mother’s Day recognition for a long time. Both my family and my community offer me blessings and praise for raising and providing for my children. But one of my most deeply maternal choices, my abortion, does not warrant the same recognition.
Data from the Guttmacher Institute states that one in three women will have an abortion at some point in her life, and that the “reasons [women] give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life.” Even more significant as we approach Mother’s Day and as we celebrate strong families, Guttmacher reports that 61 percent of women having abortions are already mothers.
At Exhale, the pro-voice organization creating a more supportive and respectful social climate around abortion, where I serve as a counselor on our national multi-lingual talkline and as a moderator for our online community, I hear from women of all ages talk about abortion and parenthood. I hear some young women speak quite longingly of motherhood, and who wonder if they have lost the opportunity to be mothers. Women who already have children speak of what they have lost, and a few worry if they have failed as mothers. Others call to feel supported for doing what they know to be a responsible, parenting decision.
Across the range of experiences that young mothers have with abortion, they deserve unconditional love from their families.
Many women who call our talkline reveal they have kept their abortions secret out of a deep concern for their families. A woman will frequently speak of her parents, in particular, saying that she fears worrying them, or possibly offending their beliefs and causing them pain. Yet, a family that can fully demonstrate – in words and actions – that a woman who has had an abortion is respected and supported can give a woman what she needs to be well after an abortion.
I’ve had opportunity to consider what I would have wanted at the time of my own abortion; as well as the support I would want to give my own daughters. The greatest reassurance to me would be to know that my loved ones trusted and believed in me, and that I had a safe haven in which to talk about and process my experiences. The safety and normalcy of my family would feel empowering, even if the time felt strange and confusing.
Recently, Jamia Wilson wrote about the critical role loving, strong families play in fostering the “health and well-being of African American women who have abortions.” Jamia reminds us that in all communities, strong families are ones in which each individual is respected, decisions are trusted, and experiences are validated.
Strong families are made up of people who have learned to care for each other, and who share a genuine interest in each other’s dreams and well-being. Strong families embrace their members who have had abortions and give their love unconditionally and without judgment.