For most people who choose and/or have an abortion, there's at least one decision to make after all is said and done: who do you tell your story to? Some people keep their decision to have this common medical procedure to themselves, while others feel compelled to tell close friends or family members. And some go on to be vocal activists, proudly sharing their abortion story in solidarity with the one in four women who will have an abortion. Since moms have abortions too, I asked a few to share how they explained their abortion to their kids. Because while you don't owe your story or an explanation of your medical decisions to anyone, discussing abortion can help eliminate the stigma that has remained attached to the procedure.
My son hasn't started elementary school, so his understanding of the world if fairly simplistic and, well, involves a lot of Hot Wheels cars. So the fact that I had an abortion a year after he was born simply hasn’t come up. Eventually, though, I plan to tell him about the experience. I want him to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that his mother believes in a pregnant person’s right to choose. I want him to know someone, first-hand, who can talk about abortion, and who doesn't regret her positive experience. I want him to know that if he should ever know someone who is in need of an abortion or considering one, that I can be a trusted individual and, moreover, a resource. I want him to grow up acknowledging everyone’s bodily autonomy (something we already practice via lessons in consent). And a conversation about my abortion experience will help me facilitate all of these messages and lessons.
I might wait to have this discussion until he asks a question about abortion himself, or if it doesn't happen organically I might just bring up the topic myself. Because, for me, it’s extremely important that my son understands why people choose this legal and safe option, and why it’s more often than not the right choice for them. I spoke with a few moms who have had abortions, and they each talked about the way they’ve either begun telling their kids, how they plan to, or what these particular discussions were like. If you’re on the fence about whether you’ll ever tell your own kids about your abortion experience, here’s how other moms handled the topic with their children:
“When I told my kids about my miscarriage, one of them claimed to have nightmares for weeks about dead babies, so that scared me off mentioning the abortion until they are older. They know what abortion is, and that I work in advocacy. I'm not positive I'm being true to my work values by not telling them, but I am being true to my mom values.”
“My daughter is almost 10, and I explained abortion about a year ago, around the time my husband and I started trying for another baby. She asked what would happen if I got pregnant and got really sick, so I told her I’d have another abortion. I explained that sometimes people end up getting pregnant when they don’t want to be, or circumstances change that make them have to reevaluate a wanted pregnancy. And if that happens, they go to a special doctor who helps end the pregnancy by taking the embryo or fetus out of the person’s body. She asked if that kills the fetus, and I told her, ‘Yes, because the fetus needs a human body to grow in. But fetuses aren’t people yet; they don’t have feelings or thoughts or experiences, and sometimes it’s kinder for everyone involved to end a life before it has a chance to begin.’
Then I told her about how I had an abortion before I got pregnant with her because I was very young and not ready to become a parent or put a baby into foster care. It also gave us an opportunity to have another discussion about contraceptive use and safe sex.”
“We did the Women's March with my 6-year-old. We just talked about body autonomy and the rights of women to make choices that are right for them if they want to have babies. We didn't get into specifics, but I'll be age-appropriately honest with her when it comes up.”
“So there was a discussion on the radio of a court ruling on abortion rights and my son asked about it. He was only about 5 at the time and I just described it as, ‘When someone is pregnant and they don’t want to be anymore.’ That sufficed for the moment. I think I might have said something like, ‘They can go to their doctor to not be pregnant anymore if they’re not ready to be.’”
“It happened when my oldest daughter was heading off to high school. She'd been in an all-girls school for four years and was going to co-ed high school and eager to meet boys. I wrote an 'open letter' to them about sex that was published on Mommyish but, before it was published, I shared it with them so they'd know it was out there. One of the things in that letter was regarding mistakes I knew they'd make over the years, and letting them know that it was OK, that they could learn from them and move on. They asked whether I'd ever made any mistakes in that vein and I said yes. I let them lead with questions and gave them only as much information as they were seeking at the time (at that point, they were 14 and 12, so they were satisfied knowing that I'd had an abortion before I was married to their dad). Over the years (they are 16 and 18 now), they've asked additional questions from time to time, as has one of their closest friends, and I've been completely honest about the circumstances and how it affected me."
“My oldest was with me for many medical appointments with my youngest. She caught that I'd report four previous pregnancies and only three live births. She finally asked me at an appointment and I told her to ask me again after we left; it wasn't the time to go into it.
She was very sensitive about death as she had recently lost her father (from whom I'd separated a few years before). I explained (truthfully) that while I still had baby fever after having had her, I got pregnant at a time when her dad and I were doing really well and focusing on our own relationship. It was not a good time for us to have another child. And that her father was very supportive of my decision, but left it up to me.
She was 13 at the time and has been nothing but supportive. She's 19 now. It hasn't come up with my 8-year-old yet.”
“My daughter saw a protester outside a clinic with a giant fetus sign. She asked me what it was, and I explained that if you get pregnant and don’t want to have a baby, it’s not safe, or your baby is sick, you can have surgery or take medication to end your pregnancy. I told her that some people think pregnant people should not be able to make that choice, but that people should have control over their own bodies. It was actually no big deal. She was 6.”