I have often turned to your column for a healthy dose of common sense. I am writing to you because I think I am a strong, career-minded young woman and I want to make a good choice about my future.
I am in my twenties, and after working for a few years, I went back to school in 2011 and did post-grad studies in a highly competitive creative field. I have been working in that field for about a year, assembling a portfolio and generally trying to get my career off the ground. It is going well.
Over the weekend, I took a few pregnancy tests that turned out positive and on Monday, my doctor confirmed that I am almost 6 weeks pregnant. I am not currently in a relationship with the father. I was put on a new pill 3 months ago and we had been using condoms.
I have told the father. He is doing his best to be supportive but is overall very surprised and finds the whole situation surreal. I am aware that the reality of this potential being is forming with every passing moment but I am also trying not to rush through it. One site I came across suggested that I make a pros and cons list for each scenario. It is attached. I know that no one can tell me what to do in this scenario but I would appreciate any words of guidance that you can give me now. Thank you.
You know, anti-choice people often presume that pro-choice people just love having abortions. As though abortions are really fun and we can’t wait to have more in order to spite our opponents’ beliefs.
This, of course, is not true.
But on the other hand, the pro-choice side is so often put on the defensive (today, Texas — another day, another state) that all our energy is expended defending the right to abortion. Little energy is left for the “choice” part. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean that exercising that right is automatically the best decision for you.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was deciding whether to have an abortion. There were many difficult circumstances — she and the father had broken up. She didn’t have a lot of money. Our nation does not provide good maternity leave or childcare options. She had been struggling with serious depression. She had chronic health conditions and was on a great many prescription medications that were not advisable for pregnant women.
She asked all her friends. Everyone offered their support for whatever she chose to do. Many people, including me, offered to loan or give her money for an abortion.
She did have an abortion. She was quite relieved afterwards, but pointed out that, while she had many offers of cash, I was the only friend who also offered to babysit.
Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. It means you get to be an autonomous adult. It means you are not required to incubate anything you don’t want to. It means that no one has any right to get between you and your doctor. It also means we’re against women in China (and elsewhere) being forced to have abortions. It ought to mean that women are not economically compelled to have abortions when they’d rather not.
But that totally doesn’t answer the question of what you should do. And if we weren’t always having to hold the line against Republicans trying to restrict abortion access for the populations least able to travel to another county, to another state, to advocate for themselves, to dig up information, maybe there would be a lot more writing on this topic — how to actually make the choice that’s right for you, right now.
This article is intended for a pro-choice audience. You sent me a list of pros and cons (I’m kind of automatically friends with someone who has already made a list of pros and cons and attached it as a Word document), so that would be you.
Who you chose to ask for advice probably tells you what kind of advice you’re hoping to get
If you wanted to hear that babies are adorable and will show you that you can love more than you ever thought possible, you probably would have asked someone with babies. Instead, you asked me.
In Bullish Life: On Miscarriages, Goldfish, And Misunderstandings As The Price Of Freedom, I wrote something similar:
I’m assuming here that you know a lot of other people who say things like, “Cheer up!” and “It’ll all work out in the end, don’t you worry.” That’s probably not why you would write to me. I’m not known for saying either of those things.
I’m not anti-baby, but I’m not particularly pro-baby either. I think the most time-consuming thing in the entire world isn’t really for everyone, and that you shouldn’t make decisions based on your hormones or on the fact that you’re biologically wired to think small, squishy things with big heads and eyes are cute. We tell men not to think with their dicks; thinking with your breeding hormones isn’t any better. (That’s not the problem you have right now, of course.)
Maybe you asked multiple people about this? Surveyed a wide group of people? If so, maybe I’m one voice of many; maybe you’re hoping I’ll help make sense of a mess of anecdotes and competing values. But if your first or main thought was, “Ask Bullish!”, I expect that you were expecting a certain kind of answer.
Another question: You’re only part way into my answer right now. Pause. What are you hoping the rest of this column says?
Yep, it’s that old trick — flip a coin to make your decision, but when the coin’s in the air and you’re filled with suspense, you realize, “OMG I hope it’s heads!” Sometimes that works.
Seriously, stop reading right here. What are you hoping for in the rest of this article?
Here are some other thoughts.
There’s never a great time to have a baby (so, if you really want a baby, have one)
Penelope Trunk (also heavily quoted in my column on miscarriages) has had two abortions, two miscarriages, and two children, and thus a special kind of expertise, and has regularly advocated having children younger, if you want to have them at all. See Forget the job hunt. Have a baby instead, and Get pregnant at 25 if you want a high-powered career. From the latter:
You should not plan your life so that you work until you’re 30 and then have kids, and also have a huge career. Because you will be taking care of kids during the very time when all the men you worked with are working harder and longer hours than ever before.
So, there’s that. It’s also possible that this could be (um, as Miranda decided in Sex and the City) your big chance to have a baby. But probably not. From The Atlantic: How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby? (answer: longer than popular reporting usually indicates). I donated eggs twice, and it has occurred to me how ironic it would be if I then could not have children myself. That really doesn’t mean it was a bad choice, though. Irony isn’t an argument.
For a positive view of single motherhood, you might enjoy, Two kids, two fathers, no problem.
You might also want to just go read Mommyish for awhile, and decide whether that’s a club you want to join.
You called yourself a “career-minded” young woman
If you decide to have a child, a whole lot of things you wanted to do with your twenties and thirties — both career-wise and in your personal life — aren’t going to happen the way you wanted.
Sure, plenty of women have great careers while having kids. But they probably would have had greater careers without. And mostly those superwomen have supportive partners and access to resources. Sheryl Sandberg has said that the most important decision a woman makes is who she marries.
Also: why do you want the career? For its own sake? Or for the rewards? Because if you want a career for its own sake, you might be able to have that while raising a child as a single mother. But if you wanted the career for the rewards, ask whether those rewards are compatible with motherhood. Most of what I like to do with my hard-earned cash is to spend time deep in thought at the mostly-empty bar of a swanky hotel. I wish to live a life of increasing elegance as I age. Someone else in my field might prefer the rewards of home ownership, which are much more compatible with child-rearing. For some people, being able to provide for children is the reward.
There’s no painless way out, and that’s okay
Accept that, like many situations in life, there is no option where nothing bad happens. Every way out will cause some damage. That’s okay. Sustaining damage and continuing to move forward is perhaps the primary content of adulthood.
If you choose to parent, are you going to lean on your family a lot? Maybe that’s a delight for them, or maybe it greatly strains your parents’ much-deserved retirement. You and your ex will be tied together forever. He’ll have obligations he doesn’t sound very enthusiastic about. Don’t expect him to drastically change his mind or step up in some kind of noble and touching way. Your life will be greatly different from what you’ve planned.
My friend’s aunt gave up a baby for adoption and was shattered by it. Perhaps in response, she proceeded to have a couple more kids she couldn’t pay for or take care of. I’ve been hearing stories for years about how badly this woman’s life is turning out, how badly her children are turning out, and how she brought her latest baby home from the hospital and dropped it off at her own mother’s house without really asking first. The grandmother is a sixty-something lady who is recovering from cancer, in no shape to take care of a baby, and whose retirement has just been hijacked. This is not a pro-family situation.
Abortions are surgery. Like any surgery, there are risks. Also, there are very few other forms of surgery that involve possibly being shouted at by protestors, and possibly being treated by doctors and nurses who are worn down by having to press through those protestors every day, afraid for their own safety. (Although, of course, many doctors and nurses maintain an empathy that is no less than heroic in the face of very real death threats.)
If you have an abortion, you’ll need time to recover. Because of the taboo around abortion, it’s actually pretty hard to get information about this. How long can you expect to bleed afterwards? When should your periods return to normal? Is it normal for your hormones to go haywire? (Yes.) A friend of mine who had an abortion ended up on websites intended for people who’d had miscarriages, trying to find out how long it takes for the pregnancy hormones to finally dissipate.
For an honest account of abortion from someone who found it hard, but doesn’t regret it in the least, read Molly Crabapple’s Talking About My Abortion for VICE. From Molly:
Unwanted pregnancy feels like womanhood at its most hateful and cowlike—the broodmare inside the bombshell. You are yourself, full of wit and dreams and adventure. But biology is conspiring against you, to sicken and trap you. Nature cares nothing for individuals.
Molly has received many thankful letters since this article was published. Having an abortion makes you one of the many millions of women who have taken control of their own bodies. It’s a huge club, including women who go on to become mothers, women who already had children when they had abortions, and women who never wanted children.
You can certainly find pro-lifers who have had abortions in conflict with their own religious beliefs and who unsurprisingly have regrets. But those are a small number of voices in comparison to the millions of women who have simply had abortions and gone on with their lives.
Quoth Don Draper: “Peggy, listen to me, get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.” (And here it is as a meme.) Not that Don Draper, in general, is a good person to take advice from, but this was a good moment for him.
By the way, your list of pros and cons seemed to indicate that adoption wasn’t really an option for you. But I’d like to add a comment by one Renne Lynne Davies from the comments on Molly’s VICE piece: “Adoption is supposed to be about finding families and homes for children in need, not finding babies for adults who want.” You are not obligated to ameliorate the fertility problems of strangers.
And finally: a bad decision on one side is a lot bigger than a bad decision on the other: If you have a kid and regret it, that’s going to take over most of your life. If you have an abortion and have complicated feelings, those feelings probably won’t take over much of your life, and will affect you less and less over time.
You are going to feel ambivalent no matter what
You mentioned in a p.s. that your family is “devoutly” religious.
I’m sure there are ex-Hasidic women who both do and don’t feel bad about showing their hair, arms, etc. There are ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who feel healed and whole now that they finally get to celebrate their own birthdays, but who also wake up in the middle of the night feeling guilty about it. And then they wake up again a few hours later, have a cup of coffee, and feel excellent again about their life decisions.
If you’ve been told your whole life that something is wrong and then you do that something, you’ll never feel fully in the clear about it, no matter how much your rational, adult mind has dispensed with your childhood programming.
I’m sure that sometimes Socrates, when he was just waking up and his superego wasn’t yet pieced back together, thought, “I am a terrible person for not charring a whole lamb in offering to the gods during last week’s festival-time.” Socrates did not believe in those gods. But anything someone slipped into your psyche when you were pre-rational will never fully go away. This is one reason I believe that indoctrinating children before the age of rationality is an affront to the best in human beings: our thoughtfulness, our skepticism, our ability to use our powers of investigation to expand our knowledge about the world and to adjust our beliefs accordingly.
This doesn’t need to change your decision. But be aware: you probably have a pre-rational child mind somewhere in there that will rear up and repeat the dumbest shit ever, and will do so when you are off-guard. When this happens, remind yourself that this is the same child-mind that believed in the Tooth Fairy.
If you were raised with religious beliefs you no longer hold and you have an abortion, you may feel ambivalent for a long time. If you have a child you’re not prepared to raise, you’ll may feel guilt and doubt throughout that child’s childhood and adolescence, and perhaps even longer.
All of this is fine. Ambivalence doesn’t mean you’ve messed up. A lack of ambivalence often a sign of simple-mindedness or cult membership.
If you wrote hoping for “permission” to have an abortion, you don’t need it. A lot of women and men have already fought for you to have that.
You might also want to talk to someone who has kids and is happy. Unless you’d rather not, in which case you’ve already made a decision — the same decision that millions of women have made.
Whatever you choose, I think you’ll set yourself up for a better outcome if you realize that there’s no decision that will solve every problem, make everyone happy, and make it like none of this ever happened. Have realistic expectations. Make the best choice you can right now for a complicated life in a messy world.