May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


JUNE 4, 2009 2:34PM

Unwanted Does Not Mean Thrown Away

Rate: 48 Flag

I have never had a medically induced abortion. I have, however, had a spontaneous abortion, otherwise known as a miscarriage. It is estimated that one in three pregnancies will spontaneously abort, which makes God--or nature--take your pick, the busiest abortion provider on the planet. June 7th will mark the 13th anniversary of that loss. At odd moments, I grieve it still.

Why, you may be asking yourself, is such an ardent feminist, a staunch defender of a woman's right to choose grieving the loss of a 14-week fetus? I had no intention of talking about this again. I've written about my experience, have published a short story about my experience, and talked in front of groups about it before. 

What has bothered me, nay, pained me, ever since the terrorist assassination of Dr. Tiller, has been the persistent use of terms such as "thrown away" or "waived away" or "irresponsible" or "selfish" when it comes to discussing the fetuses or the pregnant women who, for whatever reason--which is none of your business, by the way--who have aborted those fetuses. 

My first pregnancy was planned. That baby will be 18 this month, but that pregnancy involved 10 weeks of bed rest, and a labor that began at 4 pm on a Sunday afternoon and ended at 10 pm Monday night, after 3.5 hours of pushing. That's 30 hours of labor, 26 of which were endured without pain medication. 

My second pregnancy was wanted, but lost. 

And my third pregnancy resulted in a little girl who is now 12, but who, when she was born was "blue and floppy," and who for several minutes, we weren't sure was going to draw her first breath. 

Why am I telling you this? Maybe to re-emphasize that pregnancy is not easy. Even if you have access to the most modern of medical care, and you have insurance, pregnancies can result in fetal injury, fetal death, and maternal injury and death. (And if you want, I can pull out all of the blog posts I've done on rates of maternal mortality. But for now, take my word for it: pregnancy kills.)

Anyone who thinks that pregnancy is a risk-free stroll in the park during which time the angels sing you lullabies at night and everything is beautiful and you are enveloped by peace, love, and understanding has never been pregnant. 

After the birth of my first child, I was asked by those who knew I was pro-choice if now that I was a mother, I had changed my position. "Yes," I replied. "I am even more convinced that the decision to carry a pregnancy to term has to be a choice." No woman should go through a pregnancy who does not want to be pregnant. And no, it's not because she'll gain weight or risk varicose veins; in countries without access to medical care, she risks fistula, sepsis, and death. In the United States maternal mortality rates are shockingly high. And, much to our national shame, if she has no insurance, she risks financial disaster. 18 years ago, my first pregnancy cost $15,o00. I don't know what a pregnancy costs these days. 

"Well, she shouldn't be so irresponsible as to get pregnant then," some might argue. Okay. Let's talk about that. Can we talk about the past eight years and the government's attempts to limit access to birth control? Do we need to talk about right-wing groups' attempts to not only outlaw the Morning After Pill, (which they wrongly claim is an abortifacient), but also RU-486 and the IUD. RU-486 is a chemical abortifacient. The IUD, they claim, because it prevents implantation and not conception, is another abortifacient. Abortifacients are bad, according to their argument, because the washing out of a zygote is just as bad as a second or third-trimester abortion.

They have fought long and hard to prevent the teaching of birth control for teenagers, instead emphasizing a disastrous policy of abstinence only. (For information on how abstinence only has failed, Google the Waxman report.)

Many insurance companies refuse to pay for contraceptives. In New York state, for example, the government has mandated that insurance companies do have to pay for birth control, but currently, the monthly co-pay for The Pill is $25. (That's higher than for many other medicines.) 

The Morning After Pill, which is finally available over the counter, is only available without a doctor's prescription if you are 17 or older. 

I don't mean to drone on about this, but I assume you get the point I'm making: it's damn hard to take responsibility for your sexual activity when it's been made difficult to get your hands on birth control. 

Now, to this idea that women, who despite all of their efforts, do find themselves pregnant and don't want to be simply throw away their pregnancies. Yeah. Maybe there is a tiny percentage of unfeeling female jerks out there who don't care. (Just as there are unfeeling male jerks out there who never think about birth control in the first place.)

But abortion is not a pleasant procedure. It is not done with general anesthetic: it is done with a local. When I had my D&C after my miscarriage, I was fully aware of what was happening. I didn't just simply "wake up" and it was all over. I know very few women who would deliberately subject themselves to that kind of unpleasantness without a great deal of thought. For some women, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is made because she simply cannot afford to be pregnant. Maybe she doesn't have medical insurance, or a job, or any kind of financial support. Maybe she has just started college, or a new job. Maybe she has one of those many jobs in America that does not allow time for maternity leave. Maybe she cannot afford to pay for childcare (our childcare bill was $1000 per month). Maybe she's a teenager, and she knows that she is not ready to be a mother. Maybe she loves her partner so much and she knows that he is not ready to be a father, so perhaps she makes the decision on his behalf, even though it's her choice. 

One last thing. Maybe she doesn't want to have children. I know women who have tried to be permanently sterilized and who have had doctors refuse to do the procedure because "you'll change your mind."  But even if she knows she doesn't want to have children, finding yourself pregnant still requires a careful consideration of your options. 

And yeah. Maybe she thinks about it for two seconds and thinks, "fuck it. I'll get rid of it." But if you think that's what the vast majority of women who have abortions are thinking, I would suggest that perhaps you don't like nor trust women much. 

So, the next time you want to talk about a woman throwing away a pregnancy as if it were a piece of trash, I'd like you to ask yourself how much you really know about pregnancy. And then I'd like you to ask yourself, really ask yourself, what you think about women. Because if you think that most of us really think that way, then maybe (if you're a woman) you don't like yourself very much, and (if you're a man) you should make damn sure you never have sex with a woman.

After all, if you can't trust her, why on earth would you want to put your penis inside of her? 

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well said L.....
Excellent excellent!!! I believe you have pin pointed what lies behind all of the male-supported, and some female supported-anti-abortionists. I never could quite put my finger on it, but I think misogyny is rampant in our culture, and there is where the issue lies. Men who understand women tend to trust their judgement about this issue.

What if a man was prevented by law from getting an operation to take out a tumor?
As I approach thirty, I count my blessings almost every day that I no longer have to worry about a girlfriend having an unwanted pregnancy.

The best way to lower abortion rates is to increase the speed at which people get to the point financially and career-wise where, if they unexpectedly find themself or their lover pregnant they can have that wonderful reaction of either a) just being excited because that's what they were trying to do in the first place or b) thinking "huh, a kid, well I never really thought about that, but sure, why not, that sounds like it could be pretty great"

It's pretty crappy that 4 to 6 years of college is required just to get a living wage job in this country, and that 3 to 5 years of career experience is required to have a comfortable wage job.

I never think that any woman would "throw away" a pregnancy unless she's one of those types that believe in the suicidal genocide of the Child Free movement, otherwise known as institutionalized, capricious selfishness, but anyone silly enough to believe in that cult shouldn't pass on their genes anyway.
I'm very sorry to hear about your miscarriage. I understand that it can still hurt at times, even so many years later.

I appreciate that you emphasize the danger inherent in pregnancy, of which many people are not aware. I'm only too aware of it myself: my last birth came within a hairsbreadth of killing me. Just the risk of permanent injury and death that a pregnant woman runs should be enough to make it obvious that carrying the pregnancy to term should be her choice.
I've just added a paragraph because I remembered something. One o my students tried, the whole time she was in college, to have her tubes tied. No doctor would do it because they all told her she would change her mind. So, if she had become pregnant, my guess is she would have had to decide between adoption and abortion, but again, it would have been her choice, and knowing her, it would have been done with a great deal of deliberation.
This is great!! I like all the reality you put out here, which seems sadly missing often in these debates, which tend to focus on ideology rather than the cold hard facts of what happens in real life.

I'd have a lot more respect for the anti-abortion crowd if they were all also diligently working to provide safe, effective birth control to anyone who wanted it, accurate sex education including how to prevent pregnancy to kids before they are at the age to have sex (pretty young these days) and were adopting children as often as possible. I don't see that happening.

Most anti-abortion institutions are also virulently anti-sex ed and anti-contraception. They seem to have no desire to prevent abortion by preventing pregnancy. Some, such as the Catholic and Mormon churches, actually feel it is a woman's duty to get pregnant as often as possible.

The best way to prevent abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Preaching abstinence has been proven over and over to be ineffective, whereas providing good sex ed and access to contraception does work, as does encouraging young women to have other goals in life than getting a man and a baby, or pleasing God.

For some other interesting data, I did a post some months ago, "Christians and Condoms" on the data showing that evangelical Christians have higher rates of unwanted pregnancy, which also leads to poverty in many cases. Why so many pregnancies? Because they are having sex earlier and more often than kids in other religions that don't demonize sex, BC and abortion -- but they aren't using contraception. For more, you can find my post here:
I'll second C Berg's "Excellent excellent!!!" I am forever amazed that anyone thinks that women approach abortion lightly or without thinking. I am also appalled that the same people who claim to want to prevent abortions also want to block birth control, which I consider evidence that what they really want is to control women's fertility entirely.
I'm bowled over. My miscarriage was about 13 years ago (I don't know the date, just that it was early summer) and labor with my first child was 30 hours.

My miscarriage, of a planned, wanted, and hoped for child made me more pro-choice too.My miscarriage felt like a heavy, late period. Although I looked, I saw no evidence that it was different. Had I not had pre-natal tests and ultra-sounds, I'd never have been sure I was pregnant.

An early abortion has to be the same -- like inducing a late period. It's not much like a baby or a child.

I don't mourn my miscarriage. Every now and then I wonder whether there were actually 3 fetuses. My doctor wasn't sure and by the time the question came up, my pregnancy was already going badly and I was too worried about whether I was still pregnant than how many fetuses there were.

But the case illustrates the nature of the issue: In the early months, the fetus is more of a concept, an idea. How can you call it a child if you don't even know if it is one, two, or three?
Right. ON.

I am sorry for your loss, and I came to the basically the same conclusion after it happened to me. No no one should be pregnant if they are not ready for it or if they don't want to be.
I think for me, the reason I mourned the fetus was for a couple of reasons. One, I am small, so at 14 weeks, I looked obviously pregnant to the point where even strangers were commenting on it, so even though the fetus was a concept, the pregnancy was a reality. Second, I had an autopsy done on the fetus, and when the fetus passed through me, it was painful; I was aware of what was happening. Finally, because I had known I was pregnant for about nine weeks, I had started investing the pregnancy with my hopes for that child's future. I wasn't mourning a child I never knew. I was mourning a projection about a child. As it turned out, I got pregnant again within two months. If I had not had my miscarriage, I would not have had my amazing second daughter, so one never knows what's in store....
Excellent, articulate, eloquent.
i'm just echoing silkstone and thanking you for this much needed reality injection.
Thank you, L.

(And Contradiction? I cordially invite your judgy majesty to bite my childfree-by-design ass in the center of the town square.)
Yes, excellent! I had a miscarriage that threw me into the depths of depression so badly, that if I had not had my 3 yr.old daughter running around I do not know what I would have done. Then, into the hospital for a D & C (which, correct me if I am wrong, is the same procedure basically, as an abortion). If you are raped in Peoria, the Rape Crisis Clinic is at St. Francis Hospital... but if you want the morning after pill, you get to walk across the street to the Methodist Hospital.... crazy!

If men have a problem with pregnancy, maybe they should keep their damn dicks in their pants.
That's my honey.
Brava, sweets!
Everyone who thinks I'm insane for having 5 will just shake their heads to learn that there should have been 6. 26 weeks. Bloodclot in the placenta. Delivered dead because of the risks associated with removing it. The most horrific thing I've ever experienced. Thanks L ~ xoxo
excellent post. i had my tubes tied in my mid-30s because i just didn't want to risk passing on my genes to an innocent child and could not take a chance that i would be a parent anything like my own. life being life, i had to have a hysterectomy a few years later so it was all moot. thank you for pointing out the risks of pregnancy and the stats that show how dire it can be in this country. and what women go through when they do give their children up for adoption after carrying them for 9 months??? love love love and gratitude
Good post, nothing to add.
I echo rstiene here: Brava!

Abortion is a private matter but I believe that if more of us who suffered through the thought process that brought us to the decision to have one spoke openly about it, then consciousness might be raised. My first pregnancy occurred even though I was conscienciously using a birth control method considered 99% effective. There always is that one percent, after all. I went through the D & E wide awake, feeling everything that the local anesthetic didn't touch. And it didn't touch my heart, which was aching, nor my emotions which, although intellectually I knew I was in no position to have a baby, ran the gamut from agonizing sadness to grief to relief.

And subsequently, I gave birth (drug-free as a matter of fact) to three children, the youngest having turned 18 a couple of months ago. Has having and raising them changed my mind about choice? Not one bit. Having choice is just that: the ability for each individual to choose their correct solution.

Even though I chose to terminate that pregnancy, I mourned for years. Having an abortion doesn't make you heartless, after all.
As always, brilliant, concise and eminently sensible.
To all of you who had the misfortune to have a miscarriage, my deepest sympathies.
I'd have so much more respect for the pro life movement if they spent less time demonising women who choose to have an abortion, and more time improving the alternatives. I think providing affordable childcare, medical care and other forms of support for low income families would go a long way towards both reducing the number of abortions and improving the lives of women.
CBerg says it all, "Excellent, excellent"

rated for sharing a painful experience and having a clear view
Written with your usual skill and rare ability to communicate this most personal of experiences with both sensitivity and frankness.

This motherhood thing is, no matter how sensitive and understand a man is, a uniquely female experience. Inviting an alien being to share your body for nine months with the knowledge that this alone may kill you, not to mention the following twenty years, is an act of generosity beyond measure.

I admire my sisters who have chosen to give of themselves in this way, and those who choose not to. May their choices be honored, and this most personal of decisions be only hers to make.
Thank you, thank you, and thank you.-Jill
I'm sorry for your loss. You always teach us with your wisdom and passion.
L, I am so, so sorry for your loss. I am grateful in equal measure for this post and for you having the courage to use your own personal experience to help us better understand the tragedy of abortion.

Regarding your comments about radical right opposition to the IUD, they actually want to eliminate all hormonal methods of birth control - presumably on the grounds that they are abortifacients. However, while all of these methods change the uterine lining and so could work this way theoretically, in reality they actually prevent pregnancy through two primary mechanisms - first inhibiting ovulation; second by forming a mucus plug in the cervix that blocks sperm from ever reaching the ova. The "conscience rule" that the Obama administration thankfully reversed would have allowed pharmacists and doctors to refuse to give patients any information on both abortion and contraception on moral grounds.

The radical right's argument against the most effective and convenient forms of birth control on the planet is, of course, a canard. What they are really seeking, as C Berg notes and Silkstone alludes to, is the elimination of women's ability to control our own bodies. At 49%, we have the highest rates of unintended pregnancy in the industrialized world; it is not coincidental that women in the U.S. also have less access to reliable forms of birth control than those in any other industrialized nation.

Thank you again. Rated and reddited.
I'm an "extremist."

I don't care if a woman uses abortion as birth control. Her body, her choice, her money, her pain, her conscience. I refuse to judge. I don't care if the woman has had 20 abortions. It is not a baby. It is not murder. It is a legal method of birth control and a woman should not have to justify why she had an abortion to anyone.

All the people running around OS (and the world) saying abortion can be stopped or lessened through birth control and education forget one thing. Several things, really, but this is a profound thing in relation to Dr. Tiller's assassination. Late term abortions will never decrease. There will always be women in medical extremis who will need it. Statistically there aren't many, but that number will not go down. No matter how many doctors they kill. The only way to stop the need for late term abortion is for women to stop getting pregnant at all.

Men have no say in abortion, none. If a man is riled up about abortion, he can get a vasectomy and make sure he never causes one.
I have to run out to pick up my (once again) repaired car, but Change Agent, in terms of late-term abortion: I do not oppose late term abortion. How could I? It's a medical procedure, and I trust women to make that decision. From what I understand, as you said, it's done when women are in extreme circumstances, and the assassination of Dr. Tiller was a barbaric act done by someone who didn't understand that. I'm not saying this well at all, but you know how much I abhor with every fiber of my being what was done to Dr. Tiller.
You went so much deeper than I expected you to go at the onset of this post. You also found a voice that felt like we were siting down and having a meaningful and heartfelt conversation. I was moved.
Truly eloquent. It deserves to be on the front page of OS and Salon. I love your ending.
excellent excellent excellent!
and i too have had the issue of being told as a young woman (and still! at 40!) that i will change my mind and i really don't understand that sterilization is for life. it is a infantilizing and patronizing way of treating women as if we are children. they try to keep the information away from us, they try to keep the use of birth control away from us, and they try to keep the control of our procreation in their hands and out of ours and it pisses me the hell off.
Many convincing arguments here. Very good post.
This is just brilliant. Everyone should be made to read this so they'll really understand pregnancy and medical care and fear and pain and Women, whether they have children or not.

I've been there, too often, three losses and one abortion (ectopic pregnancy, I would have died), but even if I'd gotten pregnant too young to give proper care or without proper health care I'd have had one then too.

We MUST have the right to control our own bodies. Just as gays and Blacks and all so-called "minorities" MUST have the right to marry and/or receive all legal rights and protections offered to everyone else.

I am so sorry for your loss. Too many are at risk for similar losses. We are all at risk for the loss of our privacy and the most basic freedoms.
This was a phenomenally excellent and profoundly eloquent post.

First, I want to explain how sorry I am for your loss. I have never been pregnant so I cannot assume to completely understand what you have gone through though I appreciate the sincerity and depth of your grief.

Second, thank you for stating a truth which needs to be said. Women are actually capable creatures with the knowledge and insight to understand their own unique circumstances.

Those who promote a pregnancy as a woman's God-chosen gift to the world seem to not understand that there is no gift in giving when there is no right to withhold.

Our previous "Pro-life" president, who started two wars against terror (gotta love wars on adjectives), felt the need to cut funding for school lunches and deny insurance to needy children, in addition to cutting funding for scholarships and Head Start . I feel confident the utter hypocrisy in this went unnoticed by him. For some odd reason, government control of women's bodies is dictated by God yet government intervention for starving and needy children is an act of Communism. Who knew?

My personal belief, having seen the lack of care given for pregnant mothers and living children by "pro-lifers" is that they are more concerned with controlling women's bodies and providing an endless supply of cheap labor, war-fodder and inmates for privately-funded for-profit prisons than in actually encouraging a decent standard of living for the countless children who already exist. George Carlin said it best, "pre-born they love you, pre-school you're f*cked."
Excellently written, as usual. You never fail to hit the most important points dead-on. Thank you for this. Rated, of course.
Thank you. What an insightful and wonderful post. I agree with other commenters that this should be required reading for anyone involved in the abortion debate.
You are a gift, pure and simple. One of the most compassionate, well-reasoned, and empathetic women I have encountered ( even if only virtually). Thank you for your continued quest to educate through sharing some very heartfelt and personal stories.
I've been overwhelmed by the comments here. When I sat down to write this, I was just trying to exorcise my feelings about the phrase "thrown away." You have all made me feel as if I've written something worthy. I might submit this somewhere. Any suggestions?
May I say, once again, that I love this community?
This just plain excellent and on the money. I would defy anybody to be able to argue any of your well written, well made points with any degree of intelligence. I bow to you and this post. Every woman should be so lucky to read you.
I suffered a fetal demise with my first pregnancy, which is a miscarriage so late in the pregnacy the body can't spontanously abort. Instead I had a full labor, delivery, and stillbirth. This too deepened my conviction that "pregnancy has to be a choice."

At the time I thought the greatest irony was that the procedure that would have spared me having to go through labor and delivery was totally unavailable because of the partial birth abortion ban. Techinically it wouldn't even have been an abortion because there was no heartbeat, but nobody was trained in the procedure.

That's the collateral damage of treating abortion as an abstract philosophical debate as opposed to a conrete medical event, unique in each circumstnace.
George Carlin said it best, "pre-born they love you, pre-school you're f*cked


So true! You'd think the right wing would care enough about our incredible infant mortality rate to support, oh expanding CHIP, instead they fight it like they fight all health care.

Why do so many people, just asume that life is for making families? I dont. I do not ever wish to have children, its just not what i want. I want to go to university and get as highly qualified as i can. I want to live in a nice house that always clean and with artictick stuff that you cant have if you have children. I want a great caarer that takes up most my time, that i love and enjoy. I want marrige maybe i am not sure.
I am a young adult and i want to have fun, lots of parties, clubing, holidays and men! why should you worri about getting pregnat when your horny and not alone? becouse if you do do it without contreseption you can just take the morning after pill or have an abortion. well yes i do think we should think about it , why should we be so selfish to want to put our selfs in that position of going through pain like that. I have lots and lots of fun and sex and unfortunatly i didnt use any contresetive with one bloke, cous he said he could not have children, but he lied and i had to have a syrgical termination and fuck did that hurt! I wish that bloke was dead. I had the abortion cous i didnt want kids and i never wanted anything to do to this guy. I just dont care about the kid i care about what that would do to me, accidents happen and you learn from them, thats why i now have an implant. i see nothing wrong in people having babys and i do not see anything in the lest bit wrong with haveing abortions, cous their is nothing wrong with it, its great that they are able to do abortions cous if not id be very unhappy now.
FLWanderer: great and powerful storytelling about real life, which is not what anti-choice activists ever talk about.

Existence of Contradiction typed: "I never think that any woman would 'throw away' a pregnancy unless she's one of those types that believe in the suicidal genocide of the Child Free movement, otherwise known as institutionalized, capricious selfishness, but anyone silly enough to believe in that cult shouldn't pass on their genes anyway."

The description in bold is extremely similar to what homophobes say about gays and lesbians marrying, EoC. Is that how you feel about LGBT folk?

If you do, I guess you're a free-range bigot. If not, give a little more thought to that argument. Or, of course, you can talk to Verbal "bite my childfree-by-design ass in the center of the town square" Remedy. ;-)

ChangeAgent typed: "Men have no say in abortion, none."

Very shortly after I met the woman with whom I would, eventually, have a son, we had a pregnancy. This happened despite both a recently-fitted IUD and a diaphragm.

She wanted to have the baby. I felt, and told her, that I thought it was her decision, but I was not ready to be a father and could not promise to be fully-involved.

While there was no question for us that I would provide financial and emotional support to the best of my ability, I just didn't know how it would work out. After much discussion, she had an abortion.

I would consider that having a say. Not a final say, but one still.