(This originally appeared on the Defending The Last Clinic blog September 5,2013 and my former blog The Intelligent Statistic Speaks-it has been edited since)
“It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them”- Alfred Adler
It was a day I never thought would happen. I thought I had done everything to guard against it. Yet several months ago there I was hearing that my 15 year old daughter was pregnant.
It all seemed so surreal. How could this have happened to us? As I stood listening to her tell me the test was positive I struggled with the strong desire to scream and cry. In my mind my daughter knew better. She is the homeschooled daughter of the president of the state chapter of a national feminist organization. The first time she ever spoke at the capitol was at a joint Senate and House hearing on teen pregnancy. She was 13 and spoke about the need for comprehensive sex education. She and I along with her sister are clinic escorts. She knows all about birth control, condoms, and Plan B. She has always had knowledge about and access to contraception (despite barriers) as well as being encouraged to wait until she is older to have sex.
This was one of those moments in life when I was faced with living my beliefs. I had always said if one of my daughters got pregnant as a teen I wouldn’t flip out and judge her like so many parents do. I would love her, respect her, and let her choose how to handle it. I would support her no matter what. Yet my mind immediately did judge and I wanted to shake her.
In that moment I took a deep breath put my arm around her and said “everything will be ok”. Then we traveled down the short hall to the counseling room at the clinic we escort at. I kept telling myself “stay calm, breathe, she needs to know you love her”.
You see I knew she was pregnant before she did. I asked her when I noticed her period was late and she flat out denied it was possible. When I asked her to take a pregnancy test at home she had refused. So I asked the clinic counselor to convince her to take one after we arrived to escort.
As we sat down all she kept saying was “I don’t know how this happened” over and over. The truth was in that moment she couldn’t remember having sex the one time with the young man she was seeing. She isn’t alone this happens to grown women all the time who find themselves faced with unplanned pregnancy. The clinic ultrasound tech peaked in with a soft smile and offered to take her back to see how far along she was.
Left alone with two staff members I broke down in tears saying “she knew better” and “I warned her”. It’s funny how all the rational things you know about teen sex and pregnancy go out the window in a crisis. The truth is my daughter was using condoms. Guess what sometimes they fail. Especially, when children who aren’t educated in their use like my child is are the ones placing them on their penis.
So there we were sitting, waiting. The clinic counselor said I was the calmest parent she had ever seen- so I guess there’s that. Even with that comment I couldn’t help feeling awful. Like I failed.
Like I suspected my daughter returned and said she was 5 weeks pregnant. I told her calmly and plainly she had three options she could parent, she could choose adoption or she could have an abortion. I also told her she had time to decide since she was so early in her pregnancy.
Let me tell you my daughter and I both LOVE babies! She loves kids. She is a great babysitter. She and her sister have a babysitting business. She wants to be a mom. She also helps me as a doula. None of this means she is ready to be a mother.
The clinic was closed the next week so we had over a week to be home before she could possibly terminate. A week filled with her being incredibly morning sick , unable to eat and asking questions about what it was like to be a teen mom. I was honest with her. I wouldn’t trade my children for anything but it was hard VERY hard. It is nothing like the fairy tale that anti choicers sell to girls. Yes you can get benefits but you have to tell the state all your business to get them. I had to work two and three jobs at a time often missing majors parts of my children’s lives. I wouldn’t have made it without my mother helping me every step of the way.
I made plans in my head for each options, if she chose to parent I thought it would be hard but we could do it. I’m a doula who works with teen moms I know the ropes. I tried not to tell her what to do and just gave her simple honest answers to her questions. It was about a day before we addressed the huge issue looming-the fact that my daughter has a illness that is managed by medication that is not compatible with pregnancy. The option for her would be to go off her medication and risk her health severely deteriorating during the pregnancy to the point of hospitalization. Those are a lot of factors to lay at the feet of a 15 year old girl but this was not my pregnancy or my choice it was hers alone. She spent hours curled up like a baby as I stroked her hair and after days of quiet reflection SHE settled on abortion as her choice.
I made sure she received religious counseling pre procedure from Faith Aloud. She read the stories of other women online on the I had an abortion Facebook page. I wanted her to know that there was no shame in what she was choosing to do. She was walking a well worn road many had walked before her. I wanted her to understand she had control. This was HER decision and she would have to be a parent, she would be the one relinquishing if she chose adoption and only she would be having an abortion, not me. I told her she could change her mind. She said nope she knew what she wanted to do.
Doing the work I do I already knew the extra hoops parents are required to go through to obtain an abortion for their child if they are under 16. Let me tell you that knowing something and living something are two different things. In Mississippi a girl under 16 has to have parental permission from both parents, a picture ID, and her birth certificate (which is redundant if she has a state ID since it was used to get the ID but whatever). It is the first time I was ever happy that Kayla’s father is not on her birth certificate because tracking him down wasn’t going to happen, we barely speak.
I had never even thought about having to go through the hoops of getting my daughter a state ID. We like many families in poverty who have moved often couldn’t find her birth certificate so I had to send off to her state of birth for that, priority mail. Then there was actually securing the ID. Our vehicle which like many low income families runs when it feels like it decided to break down when we were driving around to get the ID. Thankfully we have friends who could help us, not everyone does. We also live in the city were we can get all this done . We didn’t have to drive 30 minutes or more away like many women.
We are fortunate that when my daughter and I couldn’t get through on the NAF hotline for abortion fund help (medicaid only pays for abortion in very rare cases my daughter’s wasn’t one her pregnancy was not a result of rape or sexual assault and she wasn’t about to die), I was able to give a person a direct call to get her intake completed. We are privileged that we are surrounded by pro choice and reprojustice activist friends who were able to pitch in and help us with the cost of her procedure. We had a wide ring of non judgmental loving support unlike many of the families we see at the clinic. Not only was I there on that day but a close friend who is a therapist was there in case Kayla wanted to talk, had complex feelings she needed to process. We even had a plan in case she just changed her mind, wanted to go home and come up with a different plan.
The day of her procedure she insisted on volunteering as an escort. Which actually worked out well because when procedure time rolled around the protesters didn’t even notice her. They were too busy harassing the other women coming and going to notice a regular fixture especially since we had several camera crews on site and they were showing off for them. In fact we were in a group of patients whose feet were filmed receiving the state mandated pre procedure counseling for Nightline.
Since she is a minor she had the option to have me in the room for her procedure but she wanted to go alone. My daughter received excellent care. The doctor who performed my daughters procedure was caring and professional not only to my daughter but to me. He asked her again before he started if she wanted to go through with the abortion. Dr. Willie Parker talked to her through the whole procedure. Her procedure was quick and without complications.
She went home and rested. I felt relieved, she felt relieved. I was happy that she had access to all her options. She wouldn’t have to postpone or give up chances like I did. Happy that she wasn’t being forced to risk her health to give birth. Teen pregnancy is by far not the end of the world in fact teens can be and are wonderful parents. Yet no one of any age should be a parent when they aren’t ready.
Within a few days she decided she wanted to go back to the clinic and volunteer to escort. I thought she might want a break from the insults of the anti choice harassers or that they might bother her. Nope, in fact her resolve was greater than ever. I know that she never thought it would be her at the clinic. She always said she just wants to help and she does just that.
For me the hardest thing about this whole journey has been living up to the principles I say I live by. It is easy to say we are “pro-choice” or “reproductive justice activists” those are just words and titles if not put into action. It is hard to live them and honor that people we love and want to protect have autonomy and choice. It is hard to not only let go of control and the urge to save but to make space for our kids to exercise their rights to make their own informed decisions. Ultimately knowing that we must honor their decisions as theirs regardless of what we think and feel they should do.
I know there are people who want to know if I regret helping my daughter with her abortion NO I DO NOT! Frankly if she or one of her sisters were pregnant and asked me tomorrow I would do it again. Why? Their bodies, their reproductive futures are THEIR OWN not mine! They are my children-I do not own them. I guide them, I help them, I love them. That is my job. I am their mother NOT their owner.
I am proud of my daughter for deciding what was right for her and being willing to share her story with others and confront abortion stigma. There are plenty of people who wish to make her be ashamed and remain silent. She is rejecting that. She is refusing to be shamed by those who wrap their shaming in a guise of Christian love too (if she wants your prayer or thinks she needs forgiveness she’ll call you). As a mother and woman of color I will continue to strive to make sure no one ever has the right to tell my children or anyone else when, how, and if they procreate. As a people we have already been there done that and it didn’t work out well.
Below is a copy of the speech my daughter wrote and gave at the rally on 8/17/13. In case anyone asks I advised her against going public with her story but she said and I quote
“I want girls like me to know it’s ok and they will be ok”.
Since she has went public the libelous slurs against my daughter and our family have already started. Kayla says she doesn’t care she wants other girls to know all their options and that they don’t have to be ashamed. That is what she tells girls when they come to her for help. We then refer them where they need to go including if they need a doctor and a doula for their birth. That’s the thing about supporting women’s reproductive health and well being you have to support a range of decisions not just what you would choose.
“Hello my name is Kayla, I am 15 years old and I had an abortion. The day I found out I was pregnant I was scared and ashamed because I was 15 and pregnant. I had a big choice to make-should I stay pregnant, chose adoption, or have an abortion.
I cried because I want to be a mom one day but I was not ready for such a huge step at such a young age. So I chose to have an abortion. I was scared but I knew I was doing the right thing.
Did I feel sad? Yes. Do I regret it? No! Because I know that the spirit I named Mariah will go on to a woman who is ready for her. I love my mom for being so supportive of my choice- I love her for that.
For all the young ladies that might have been or will be in this situation- you are not alone. There are people who support you-always. Even when you don’t know it. Abortion is not a bad thing, it’s a lifesaver! I can now be who I need to be and I know God still loves me! Thank you.”
Clinic Escort, Young Feminist