Monday, August 13, 2018

Healing after a coerced abortion

Last week, Slate's parenting advice column featured a heartbreaking letter from a woman who had an abortion at the insistence of her boyfriend, only to see the relationship fall apart. 
My partner and I have been together for 2.5 years. We have built a very strong, loving, and committed relationship. My almost 5-year-old daughter has called him daddy, of her own accord, for the past two years. They love each other dearly. We do not live together, but spend most evenings/weekends together as a family. We were not officially engaged, but frequently discussed our two-year plan for work, school, living arrangements, marriage, and eventually a child together.
Four weeks ago, my partner lost his job and filed for unemployment for the first time. This was very difficult for him. I did my best to console him and also assure him that he would find a position soon and could use his time on unemployment to focus on himself, his career goals, and educational goals. Less than one week later I found out I was pregnant, despite birth control. Regardless of our rocky financial situation, I was very happy. I assumed we would both buckle down, save as much as possible, and move in together sooner than we planned. I was already a single mother through my first pregnancy and lived on my own. I know that where there is a will, there is a way. My daughter is thriving, and we live a blessed life despite my being a “broke student.” I understood that our financial situation was precarious, but not something we couldn’t overcome. I have had an excellent career in finance prior to going back to school and am more than confident in my ability to return to work and put my Ph.D. dreams on hold. That would obviously be a huge sacrifice, but one I would certainly make for my unborn child.
At first, we discussed plans in preparation for our new arrival. However, my partner “came clean” a few days later that he did not want to keep our baby. He repeatedly told me it was in everyone’s best interest to abort the child. I was heartbroken. How could killing our baby be in its best interest? We aren’t drug addicts, criminals, or homeless people. We are two able-bodied and educated adults with high ambitions. I told him that if he forced me to abort the child I would not be able to forgive him, and it would be the end of our relationship. He insisted. So, I had an abortion, and two weeks out I feel as if my life is over. I know I need to seek therapy to deal with my grief.
I want to know if I made the right decision in leaving the relationship. We argue constantly, more so me yelling at him. He is trying to be here for me, love me, support me, and I tear him down. I cannot stop being angry with him. I cannot stop feeling that he couldn’t love me or care about our future while simultaneously forcing me to abort the baby I wanted, knowing how I felt. I am the emotional one and he is the logical one by nature, this is fact. Still, I am not sure if my emotions are solely driving my decisions or if they are justified and logical. Was he selfish and wrong to force me to do this? Or did I make a mistake, and should I give him a second chance? When I try to imagine our future (post-abortion), a marriage to him, and eventually a child, it hurts so badly.
The response, by Carvell Wallace, makes some good points. He expresses sympathy for what the letter-writer is going through, tells her that recovery "is not a matter of weeks or months but a matter of years," validates her anger, gently pushes back against her "emotional one versus logical one" characterizations, and advises that "you cannot have a healthy relationship with someone for whom you feel this much seething rage. For that reason alone, it is better for the two of you to be apart." All of that is solid.

But Slate is a pro-choice publication, and that prevents any direct acknowledgment of the problem. Mr. Wallace writes in general terms about the "loss" of the child (I was pleasantly surprised he dared to say "child"), but he doesn't really treat the abortion as a death, let alone a killing. He locates the root of the problem not in the fact that letter-writer's partner pushed her to destroy their offspring, but in the fact that the letter-writer failed to adequately resist. He also frames resistance in terms of standing up for personal values, rather than for the child's life:
However: It doesn’t sound from your letter like your partner “forced” you to have an abortion. It sounds as though you made a decision to have an abortion in order to preserve a relationship in which you were otherwise feeling very happy and hopeful. And quite unfortunately you are finding that the pain of the lost child is making it impossible for you to be happy in that relationship. It is a tragedy in the very purest sense.
I mentioned that your recovery from this will take time, but I also want to talk about how it might take shape. It is a very specific kind of personality challenge to agree to do things in order to please other people, and then to resent those people for making you do those things. This is something you will need to slowly and methodically untangle if you are ever to have a healthy and working relationship, be it with this man whom you love, or with anyone else, including your daughter. There are 12-step programs like CoDA and Al-Anon that address this, and there are books like Codependent No More that do as well. This is also something you should explore deeply and openly with your therapist.
You deserve to follow a path in your life that is in line with your values. And there is no person, and no partner, who should have the power to keep you from that. This experience, though excruciating, can be life-changing. It can, if you let it, force you to examine the underlying issues that helped bring you to this point. You talked about being afraid of losing your partner. But I think what you should be most afraid of losing is any more years of your life spent pleasing people at your expense. You deserve better. My heart is with you.
Abortion coercion comes in many forms. Force doesn't always involve violence or the threat of violence; emotional manipulation is sometimes just as powerful. Mr. Wallace's approach here is victim-blaming. He has relatively little in the way of condemnation for the partner who precipitated the child's death, but wants the letter-writer to embark on a 12-step program to stop being a pushover. And naturally, recommendations for programs actually tailored for post-abortive regret are nowhere to be found in his response, because they are operated almost exclusively by the pro-life community.

How desperately do I wish that the letter-writer had sought advice before the abortion. Now one child is dead, another has lost the man she called her father, and a mother must grieve not only the death of her child, but also her involvement in that death and the loss of a long-term relationship, all at once. That is a tall order.

But hey, empowerment! Women's rights! Abortion is a family value! Right? Pay no attention to the devastation behind the curtain.

What advice to you have for the letter-writer? If you are post-abortive and your partner was coercive, what does your healing look like?

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