I'm the mom I am today because I chose an abortion at 19 | Opinion
It’s peculiar timing that a few days before Mother’s Day, the draft opinion of a Supreme Court ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade gets leaked. But perhaps that was intentional considering that the ruling would force motherhood on women who would otherwise not have chosen it. I know that I am the mother I am today because I chose not to be a mother when I was 19.
Make no mistake, this ruling, when it happens, will not end abortion. Some states will still provide the service. If it proceeds the way Justice Samuel Alito’s draft suggests, people of wealth and privilege will travel to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Only the poor will feel the harsh cold shoulder of this inequitable law.
For a pregnant person without financial means, abortion costs are already a hardship. My father threw me out of the house shortly after my high school graduation. It was 1993, and I lived in a northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati.
Dad could no longer deal with a rebellious teen. My mother had died when I was young, and my dad had recently gone through a divorce. Neither one of us recognized my cries for help and though I tried to for some time, I cannot blame Dad for my choices.
It is not his fault that I bounced from friend to friend and job to job. Nor is it his fault that when I ran out of friends I bounced from bed to bed to keep warm. At the time, I didn’t think there were any other options for me.
Pregnant, desperate, without options
To quote my father, I “always have to learn the hard way.”
That hard way came when I found a warm bed named Randy. A few weeks later I approached Randy with the news that I was pregnant. His message was clear. This was my problem.
How could I possibly be a mom? I was not yet finished being a child.
But there I was, suddenly desperate and without options. I hoped I would miscarry. I didn’t. Instead, I received an $830 insurance settlement for being a passenger in a car that crashed. I had given a friend’s address to the insurance adjuster. One of the many couches I had slept on while going from friend to friend. As luck would have it, she knew where to find me.
With car-crash money in hand, I called a nearby clinic from a payphone. I hung up when someone answered, shuddered a deep breath, and then called again. This time I made the appointment. I was 13 weeks along when I walked into the clinic for the procedure.
It is the decision that changed my life. After the abortion, I called my dad from yet another payphone and confessed. I was officially out of options, in a lot of pain and not supposed to be on my feet. He picked me up and took me home. Home! I had been unhoused for almost two years.
I cannot speak of abortion in terms of “sin” or “murder,” though I do not deny that what was growing inside me was a potential life. I have two biological children. I know what it’s like to hear a pulsating heartbeat for the first time and to feel the first movements like popcorn popping in your womb.
Nurturing a pregnancy to birth isn't easy, and the parenting that follows is hard. But so is an abortion. I think that’s the most misguided criticism I’ve heard of abortion rights – that abortion is supposedly the easy way out. Or that it’s somehow selfish.
The years of therapy that followed my abortion would prove to me that I needed much more time to recover than the few days I was told to take it easy.
Perhaps we can all agree that abortion is a tragedy. A culmination of unfortunate and sometimes horrific circumstances that lead to a heart-wrenching decision to not bring a child into this world. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as lonely as I did when faced with that choice. It all came down to me. What was I going to do?
Under other conditions and with more support, perhaps I would have made a different choice. That’s why it’s called a woman’s choice. Not a woman’s desire to terminate a pregnancy.
Key to motherhood is having a choice
I’ve always wanted to be a mom, a good mom. That wish didn’t go away because I was unhoused. I still had the desire to be a mom and part of me worried that at 19 years old, it would be my only chance. And how could I possibly be a good mom if, when given the chance, I didn’t follow it through?
My situation bore no resemblance to what I envisioned motherhood to look like. I didn’t have a home or a job or a support system. I was still couch-surfing or worse, sleeping in cars. I couldn’t take care of myself at the time, much less a child. The $830 arrived at exactly the right time, and it felt like my lifeline to the only choice that made any sense.
I would get my chance at motherhood a few years after I reunited with my Dad and found my footing in life. My daughter was born in 2000 and my son was born in 2015. I have also had the privilege of raising my stepdaughter, who is the same age as the child would have been, had I gone through with my teenage pregnancy and survived. When I look at my 26-year-old stepdaughter, I feel so strongly that the universe somehow returned my child to me.
My three children got the best version of me possible because I waited to become a mom. I am not arrogant enough to think this means that my way was the only way. Women who decided to have their children and face parenthood head on will also tell you they made the best decision. Others will tell you, placing their child for adoption was the right choice. They are also right. We are all right. There’s room for gratitude in every path. The key is having the choice.
Every woman deserves support in making her choices for motherhood. That is what we should be celebrating this Mother’s Day.
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp (she/her) is a Kentucky native who has lived in the commonwealth for most of her life. She is the opinion editor at the Louisville Courier Journal, a part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow her on Twitter: @writerbonnie