30 Years and 40 Years

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It comes 8 days after my birthday. I didn’t know that growing up. In fact, I don’t honestly remember the first time I learned about Roe v. Wade.

My birthday this year was a quiet day, as I prefer it. I like to spend the day reflecting on the past year and the one I’m about to dive into, setting goals and giving thanks. It’s also a day that I find challenging, for a lot of reasons, some of which will unfold in this blog post.

I celebrated the Roe v. Wade anniversary this Tuesday night at a wonderful gathering I helped facilitate. Doulas and other reproductive rights allies came to share stories and discuss the ways in which doula care intersects with abortion.

There was talk of rights and legality, financial obstacles and lack of providers. We explored language and stigma and the ways in which stories continue to be silenced. We shared hopes and visions for new directions in the reproductive justice movement…and fears that access to safe abortion care will continue to slip away, one state at a time.

All week I’ve been reading. Oh, so many articles and blog posts, rich with perspective on the challenges that we face as supporters and advocates for empowered decision-making around abortion and pregnancy. I’ve been especially relishing the Strong Families series Still Wading.

But there’s been a story brewing quietly this week in my heart, one which intersects in ways perhaps at odds with the national conversation about abortion. The seeds of this post actually stretch back to those weeks last fall when Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock opened their mouths and made awful, untrue comments about pregnancy and rape. I couldn’t write about it at the time, I was so livid. But I’m ready now.

The story is this:

I am an adult adoptee. I was born to a woman who, if my adoption files are correct, was raped. And I am the result of that violence. My birth mother could have chosen to have an abortion. Although it was illegal in Korea at the time (and still is), she could have found someone who would have been willing to do it for her. But she did not. Instead, she carried me for nine months, gave birth to me, and then relinquished her parental rights.

All my life, I have heard people argue that adoption is a way out of having to have an abortion. It’s the morally superior option to dealing with an unintended pregnancy that one cannot parent. I have been told, to my face, that I should be grateful that my birth mother didn’t abort me, but chose the gift of life instead. She made the ultimate sacrifice, they say. You are lucky to be alive.

And I can’t argue with that. I am grateful, grateful beyond words that I am alive, that I am loved and able to love. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and send gratitude.

But I continue to hold firm to my belief that everyone should have access to safe, legal abortion if they should want it, without regard to the reasons why. I don’t care if someone’s been raped or not…if they do not feel ready to carry a pregnancy to term, they should not have to. Period.

This will undoubtedly make many, many people feel uncomfortable. It is perhaps the defining paradox of my life. I am here on this earth, moving towards my dream of becoming a midwife and potentially abortion provider, because a single woman choose not to have an abortion. People will ask me why.

I’ve already answered that in a previous blog post…but this month, as I celebrated my 30th birthday and then the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade a week later, I find myself coming back to this singular question:

What if my birth mother could have truly and freely chosen a different option?

Which of course, leads to others: What if she really wanted to have an abortion? What would it have meant for her to have access to safe, legal abortion. And not just safe and legal, but compassionate, understanding abortion care? Or, what if, in her heart of hearts, she had desired to parent? What would it have meant for her to live in a country that supports single mothers instead of shaming them?

In my heart of hearts, I could never begrudge a woman the right to choose to end a pregnancy, after rape, or in any other context. Nor can I pass judgement on a woman who decides she wants to parent, even if the circumstances are difficult. As an adoptee, I can embody these paradoxical truths: that I love my life and that I would have supported my birth mother in having an abortion if she wanted one.

When I think about why I’m doing this work–as a full spectrum doula, as a pregnancy options counselor, and future midwife–it is in part because of my life-long connection to my birth mother and the choices she lacked. I have this vision of her at age 18. Young, pregnant and without any support. What if there had been a compassionate midwife there to hold her hand, wipe her tears, and tell her about all her options? How might her life have been different?

I want to be that midwife. I want to hold those hands, wipe those tears, and provide compassionate care that helps people live the lives they want to live. I pray that this is a legacy that would make her proud.

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