Within days of my 24th birthday, I had an abortion. It was an easy decision and one that I've never regretted-not once. Exercising my right to choose allowed me to achieve my goals and lead an adventurous life. It also empowered me to become the good mother I am today.
I was young when I found myself staring down a positive pregnancy test, but I wasn't naive; I knew I wasn't ready to take on the responsibilities of carrying or raising a child. I wanted to establish my career, travel the world and build meaningful adult relationships. Having a baby would make it extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to do those things-especially with no support system in place.
My then-partner was (is) a lovely person, but it takes a village; I feared my conservative family would alienate me for having a child out of wedlock and I couldn't tackle young motherhood alone. Of course, they also consider abortion an abomination, so I knew I'd face judgment either way. I chose the best path for my future and largely kept it a secret.
As it turns out, my abortion-which, until now, I've never publicly disclosed-didn't just paint a bright future for me, but for my kids, too. I am now the mother of two young children, and my abortion experience inspires the way I parent. And we're all the better for it.
Because I was able to live my 20s child free, I accomplished more than I ever thought possible, which in turn enabled me to decide when I was ready to become a mother. My children were planned and very much wanted (that's not to say unplanned pregnancies are never wanted), and that helps me appreciate them in a way I otherwise might not. Facing an unwanted pregnancy created a powerful contrast for my planned pregnancies; against the backdrop of my abortion, I'm reminded of how badly I wanted my kids, and I strive to be a more loving and patient mother as a result.
And while I'm sure I would still be a caring, affectionate mother without having had an abortion, I truly believe the experience set my future family up for success. Not only do my children reap the benefits of having an educated, financially stable and well-traveled mom, they get the best version of me, emotionally speaking. When I had them, I was ready to embrace all that motherhood entails-the good, the bad and the ugly-and am much better equipped to handle challenges (like little children with big personalities) than I was twelve years ago.
There is also something to be said about experiencing a fundamentally life-changing event alone, all because you fear a vitriolic response from loved ones. The few tears I shed over my abortion weren't because I felt guilty or selfish (I felt neither of those things then, nor do I now), but because I was incredibly lonely. It was the first time I felt like I couldn't turn to my parents or other family members for advice or support and that was soul crushing. It was the only downside to terminating that pregnancy and something I'll never forget-in a good way.
I never want my children to feel as though my love is for them is conditional upon their adherence to my ideals. To that end, I make every effort to create a compassionate environment in which they can come to me about anything. I also reinforce the importance of respecting others' personal choices even if you don't agree with them, and of offering love and support in lieu of judgment. It's my way of turning old, bitter lemons into lemonade.
So why tell my story now, especially in such a public manner?
For starters, we are living in an aggressively conservative climate that isn't just dismissive of women's voices and experiences, but actively disrespects them. This holds particularly true when it comes to reproductive rights: we see this in legislation and in rhetoric, and the resulting impacts on women's lives are dangerous.
It is my patriotic duty to speak up, to help in whatever small way I can to fight the anti-woman, anti-choice ills plaguing our country. Silence from me-especially as an outspoken abortion rights advocate-is complicity, and I refuse to be a part of the problem for one more minute. I'd much rather contribute to the groundswell of abortion-positive stories that are reframing the conversation around abortion in order to help destigmatize it. (Stigma is a key factor in the social and legal marginalization of abortion care, and helps drive our stories underground-where they don't belong-and worse, it fuels anti-choice violence.)
Besides, I need to set an example for my children-to do the right thing even if, or especially when, it makes you uncomfortable. While they're too young to understand the concept of abortion and the politicization of women's bodies, they will one day. And when that time comes, I want them to see that their mother used her voice to fight for women's bodily autonomy. This is an opportunity to lead by example and to build the foundation for a pro-choice family.
While I still worry that my familial relationships will suffer from this public disclosure, it's a risk I'm finally willing to take. The stakes-by which I mean abortion rights for this and future generations-are simply too high to stay quiet any longer. My abortion was a positive experience with multigenerational benefits, and there is no shame in admitting it.
Contributing Editor: Maureen Shaw
Maureen Shaw is a multimedia journalist, activist and proud mama of two. Her writing has appeared widely online, including Quartz, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Rewire, ThinkProgress, Parents.com and more. She has also contributed to OURS Magazine, an international cultural magazine, and her essay on triumphing in the aftermath of rape is featured in the book Making Out Like A Virgin: Sex, Desire and Intimacy After Sexual Trauma.
Maureen tweets prolifically at @MaureenShaw.