Throughout the existence of Momotaro Apotheca, we have had the privilege of publishing poetry, art, journals, and creative media from first person perspectives. Seeing ourselves represented in the content we absorb and interact with empowers us to evolve. Be it race, religion, gender, socioeconomic position or sexuality, these tenants are inextricably linked to our reproductive rights, sexual health, personal freedom, and more than ever, our politics. Our individual experiences help us shape compassion and empathy for the world around us, so right now sharing those stories and holding space for the folks who may need support, share fear, confusion or internalized stigma is more important than ever.
Follow along as we share a story by Sarah Kelleher and her personal experience having two abortions.
Words by Sarah Kelleher (she/her) @psychandthecitybk
I have spent the better half of my twenties helping people move through internalized shame and stigma. I do this work in formal and informal settings - as a sex educator and social worker at an infectious disease clinic, as a private therapist, as the friend who secretly loves being called on for advice, and as the person who can be found at the corner of a table discussing in-depth psychological theory with a friend-of-a-friend they’ve known for five minutes.
Even as a green educator and therapist, I think I’m fairly good at what I do. And I try really fucking hard. Having said all this, that I believe my purpose and life’s work is to help others reach and live in self and sexual liberation, I feel deeply ashamed that I am a hypocrite in one area that I have left untouched.
I have had two abortions and have told almost no one.
Even now as a sex therapist, educator, and sex worker rights activist, who makes a living off of holding space for people to stand in their truth, their fears, their shame, their freedom, and understands profoundly the gift and importance of doing so - when it comes to speaking about my abortions, I feel unable to stand in mine.
And recently, more than ever, I feel it is necessary to acknowledge my own internalized shame and stigma.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I don’t think YOU are a hypocrite if you have chosen to keep safe and private experiences of your own. You don’t owe anyone information that you don’t want to share - ever. I, however, have a nasty little habit of holding deep compassion for others while only serving condemnation to myself. And while sharing my story of two abortions is not the end all be all in the war for bodily autonomy, it is, I believe, one way I can contribute to lessening, even by .0000001% the stigma that can come with having an abortion. And yet, sharing my story does not feel comfortable - my cognitive dissonance persists.
This dissonance exists for all the obvious reasons. A Catholic upbringing, a conservative parent, not knowing anyone who had one at the time I first sought one (most likely not actually true as 1 in 4 pregnancy-capable people will have an abortion in their lifetime), and living in a nation that often devalues consent, sex education, and accessible healthcare. Abortion stigma is also often linked to other forms of stigma in our society: stigma around sexuality, intimate partner violence, gender identity, mental health, drug and alcohol use, to name only a few. However, why the shame exists is not my primary concern. My interest lies more in how I can dismantle the systems that can lock shame in place. I no longer want to live in that shame, so I’m sharing my truth for myself, for the people that seek abortions, and for the ones that claim they never would. I don’t want to reinforce the dissonance any longer. I don’t want to be faithful to a secret that does not need to exist.
Shame thrives in silence.
When researching for this article, I couldn’t find statistics on how many people keep their abortions a secret, but I know I am not alone. Organizations like Shout Your Abortion and We Testify encourage people to unapologetically share their abortion stories in the hopes to break abortion myths and achieve broader acceptance. I am eternally grateful for the people who shouted before I found my voice.
So, I’ve had two abortions. There was nothing particular about them. I live in a state where I had access with little difficulty. I knew I wasn’t ready to be nor wanted to be a parent and I had no second thoughts about calling a clinic and scheduling a procedure. I had consensual sex that I enjoyed and I got pregnant. And then I got pregnant again. One experience was worse than the other - I attribute this to finding out I was pregnant a few weeks later the second time, although I am not sure.
My pregnancies occurred with different partners who had very different responses, and yet, the decision that got me pregnant was a decision I’d made many times before - to have sex with a person who produced sperm.
A condom was used with one pregnancy and the other time one was not. I’ve had condomless sex many times for many reasons. I’ve also used a lot of condoms and other forms of protection against pregnancy many times. I did not struggle with the question of “is this fetus a life?” I struggle more with living in a body that is able to get pregnant and how that impacts the expression of my sexuality and self. My dissonance about my abortions hasn’t had so much to do with morality as it has had to do with being concerned about what people would think, and what it would mean, practically, to be a person who has had multiple abortions. Turns out, it doesn’t mean a whole lot.
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