The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that seems poised to overturn Roe v Wade has dominated my thoughts over the past few days. In 2021, according to the WHO, six out of 10 of all unexpected pregnancies end in abortion. Around one in four women in the United States will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Let’s put a face to the statistics – my face.
As with the MeToo movement destigmatizing sexual assault, It’s time to destigmatize abortion. I’d like to add my name to the growing list of people sharing their abortion stories on social media and other venues.
Note: This post is a departure from my blog's regular fare with insights and inspiration for leaders. The lesson for leaders is to live life in integrity with one's values. I would not be living into my core values of community and inquiry if I kept my abortion story to myself in these times. I do not imagine my story will change anyone's mind, but perhaps, hopefully, maybe some reader will feel a sense of community and connection with my story. Perhaps, hopefully, maybe some reader will inquire a little deeper into this topic or into their own story.
My kids are IVF kids. The photo attached to this blog post shows two of my fertilized embryos that were implanted together -- one of which is now my teenage son. My kids are the glorious outcome of a massive investment of money, longing, hormone shots, blood draws, egg harvests, embryo implantations, and science. Plus a heart wrenching miscarriage in the middle of it all. My husband, Jason, and I joke that for each of our children, we bought our IVF doctor a Porsche. When we let our doctor in on our private joke, he grinned, blushed, then sheepishly admitted that he drives a Porsche.
Both pregnancies were relatively uneventful right up to the end when I went in for a routine check up. Protein was found in my urine and my blood pressure was too high – a clear sign of preeclampsia. It’s a fairly common, yet potentially dangerous complication where a pregnant woman’s body starts to reject the pregnancy. All my major organs and systems were shutting down.
With my firstborn, preeclampsia was detected early, just three days before my due date. Baby and I recovered quickly.
With my second, the preeclampsia appeared much earlier, five weeks before my due date, and it was much more serious. I had dangerously high blood pressure and poor kidney, liver, and spleen function even after delivery. It took several days for me to even be allowed out of bed which was heartbreaking because I wasn’t allowed to visit my newborn in the NICU. My daughter spent two weeks in the NICU before she could come home.
At my first postpartum check up, my doctor put on her most serious face and told me not to have any more kids because, with my history of preeclampsia emerging earlier and earlier with each pregnancy, it could be lethal.
That was fine by us. Two kids felt like the right sized family, especially after struggling so much to have them in the first place. We set aside all the reproductive angst and settled down to raising our kids. We even set aside birth control. I mean, what were the chances that after five years of trying unsuccessfully and needing to resort to IVF that I’d ever get pregnant unassisted.
Apparently, the chances were not zero.
Five years later, I had this weird bodily sensation that something was different. It wasn’t a headache. It wasn’t allergies. Was I getting sick? A few days later, I realized my period (which had always been unevenly spaced – sometimes 27 days, sometimes 32) was most definitely late. A home pregnancy test confirmed my suspicions. I was pregnant.
I told Jason and he said the most supportive, caring, compassionate thing, “It’s your body. It’s your choice. Whatever you want to do, you have my support.” Damn, I love him so much!
We booked an appointment with my doctor which confirmed that I was four weeks pregnant. My doctor recommended terminating the pregnancy. I could die. The baby could die. Or both.
Q & A
Q: Was choosing to have an abortion a hard decision?
A: For me, in this situation, not really. From a purely medical point of view, having an abortion was necessary for my health care.
Plus, I loved my life and didn’t want a baby now. My kids were both attending the school where I worked. They were thriving. I just barely had the capacity to give them the love and attention they needed. We had plans for a family gap year to travel the world in a few years. Even if preeclampsia didn’t dominate the conversation, I didn’t want to add an infant to the mix and neither did Jason.
I was lucky that abortion access existed at all in my small, rural, conservative town. That too made the whole situation easier. Even still, the next appointment for a simple surgical procedure was a few weeks out because there was only a single clinic with a single out of town doctor visiting once a week to support people like me.
Adding to the ease was Jason, who never pressured in any direction, who held my hand through every appointment, and always always let me know I was loved whole heartedly no matter what.
Q: Do I regret my choice?
A: No. I do wonder now and then what life might have been like if a surprise third child had arrived healthy and if I survived the birth. We’d struggled so hard to get pregnant the first two times. Children are priceless treasures to me and my husband. But no, it clearly wasn’t worth the risk.
Q: What are your thoughts about abortion rights?
A: My healthcare is for me and my doctor to decide. My reproductive system is mine to do with what I will – whether that’s growing a baby or choosing not to. When and how to build our family is for my husband and I to decide. I feel so angry that the ability to choose what’s best for one’s own health or uterus or family is not available to many people in America and around the world.
Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is common. Abortion is safe. Abortion is normal.
If you believe something different, then please, live your life in accordance with your beliefs. If you have a different story, I welcome it with all the love and compassion I can muster. All I ask is that you offer me the freedom to do the same.
If you want to read more personal abortion stories, take a look at any of the thousands of abortion stories shared on Shout Your Abortion and Abortion Out Loud. Stigma around abortion ends when we can talk about it like any other health care choice we make for ourselves – a surgery, a biopsy, physical therapy, a pill. Compassion emerges on both sides when abortion is associated with the faces and names of people you know, love, and care about. If you feel moved, consider adding your voice and your story to the collection.
If this resonates with you, consider sharing it with others. Or subscribe to my blog for more stories and insights. This is a rare, very personal piece. Mostly it’s insights and inspirations about living and leading with purpose and passion.
If you want to donate money to abortion rights, the Cut has a great list of Abortion Funds that help people access abortion services when they need it, or support Planned Parenthood or your local clinic.
If you want to say something to your representatives, here’s the copy of a letter I sent to mine (thanks to Dave Ball for the initial text that I adapted). Feel free to steal the language and make it yours.
Dear Asssemblywoman Dahle and State Senator Dahle,
It was with despair that I read about the Supreme Court's leaked draft opinion which threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade. Like many Americans, I witnessed the coordinated attack on my right to choose the forms of healthcare and family planning that are best for me and my family without truly believing that the day would come when those rights would no longer be available for all Americans. I am heartbroken for myself, my daughter, and all women – especially poor women, rural women like those in my community, and women of color who will be disproportionately affected by this radical abridgement of their rights.
Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is common. Abortion is normal. I have had an abortion myself and feel grateful that abortion access exists in my small, rural, conservative town.
My question to you is what concrete steps will you take to secure and safeguard abortion rights in our community, in California, and across our nation at the earliest possible opportunity. How will I know you are committed to this crucial question of my right to make my own healthcare choices and my right to privacy? How will California serve as a national model for the protection of women? I will no longer be supporting candidates who cannot make concrete pledges to act decisively on these issues.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Sincerely, your constituent,
Irene Salter, PhD
Palo Cedro, CA