I Wish My Mother Had Aborted Me

This piece is originally published on Role/Reboot. Republished here with permission. Lynn Beisner explains the difference between the two phrases “The best choice for both my mother and I would have been abortion” and “I wish I had never been born.” If there is one thing that anti-choice activists do that makes me see red, it is when they parade out their poster children: men, women, and children who were “targeted for abortion.” They tell us “these people would not be alive today if abortion had been legal or if their mothers had made a different choice." In the past couple of months, I have read two of these abortion deliverance stories that have been particularly offensive. The first story is one propagated by Rebecca Kiessling, the poster child for the no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. On her website Kiessling says that every time we say that abortion should be allowed at least in the case of rape or incest we are saying to her: "If I had my way, you'd be dead right now.” She goes onto say, “I absolutely would have been aborted if it had been legal in Michigan when I was an unborn child, and I can tell you that it hurts [when people say that abortion should be legal.]" The second story was on the Good Men Project this week. In an article entitled, “Delivered from Abortion: Healing a Forgotten Memory,” Gordon Dalbey tells a highly unlikely story about his mother’s decision to abort him and her eventual change of heart. I say that the story is highly unlikely because the type of abortion he says his mother was about to have was not available until 50 years later. However, Dalbey claims to have recovered a memory of being “delivered” from the abortion because as a fetus he cried out to God. He claims that the near-abortion experience had caused him psychological suffering throughout his life. Since recovering the memory, he has experienced survivor’s guilt because he was saved when so many other fetuses have been aborted. In explaining how he overcame this guilt, he quotes a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who says that the purpose of surviving is to testify to the experience. What makes these stories so infuriating to me is that they are emotional blackmail. As readers or listeners, we are almost forced by these anti-choice versions of A Wonderful Life to say, “Oh, I am so glad you were born.” And then by extension, we are soon forced into saying, “Yes, of course, every blastula of cells should be allowed to develop into a human being.” Stories like Mr. Dalbey’s are probably effective because they follow the same model. First there is a woman facing the unplanned pregnancy that poses severe problems. In Dalbey’s case, his family is suffering from extreme poverty, and in the case of Kiessling, her mother is dealing with the aftermath of rape. The story shifts so that the mother has a divine or moral enlightenment and knows that she must carry the baby to term. We are left with an adult praising the bravery of their mothers and testifying that their lives were saved for some higher purpose. But the story goes on to tell us how even the contemplation of abortion was horribly scarring for the person. The moral of these stories is clear: Considering abortion is like considering genocide. Here is why it is so effective: People freak out when you tell an opposing story. I make even my most ardent pro-choice friends and colleagues very uncomfortable when I explain why my mother should have aborted me. Somehow they confuse the well-considered and rational: “The best choice for both my mother and I would have been abortion” with the infamous expression of depression and angst: “I wish I had never been born.” The two are really very different things, and we must draw that distinction clearly. The narrative that anti-choice crusaders are telling is powerful, moving, and best of all, it has a happy ending. It makes the woman who carries to term a hero, and for narrative purposes, it hides her maternal failing. We cannot argue against heroic, redemptive happy-ending fairy tales using cold statistics. If we want to keep our reproductive rights, we must be willing to tell our stories, to be willing and able to say, “I love my life, but I wish my mother had aborted me.” An abortion would have absolutely been better for my mother. An abortion made it more likely that she would finish high school and get a college education. At college in the late 1960s, it seems likely that she would have found feminism or psychology or something that would have helped her overcome her childhood trauma and pick better partners. She would have been better prepared when she had children. If nothing else, getting an abortion would have saved her from plunging into poverty. She likely would have stayed in the same socioeconomic strata as her parents and grandparents who were professors. I wish she had aborted me because I love her and want what is best for her. Abortion would have been a better option for me. If you believe what reproductive scientists tell us, that I was nothing more than a conglomeration of cells, then there was nothing lost. I could have experienced no consciousness or pain. But even if you discount science and believe that I had consciousness and could experience pain at six gestational weeks, I would chose the brief pain or fear of an abortion over the decades of suffering I endured. An abortion would have been best for me because there is no way that my love-starved trauma-addled mother could have ever put me up for adoption. It was either abortion or raising me herself, and she was in no position to raise a child. She had suffered a traumatic brain injury, witnessed and experienced severe domestic violence, and while she was in grade school she was raped by a stranger and her mother committed suicide. She was severely depressed and suicidal, had an extremely poor support system, was experiencing an unplanned pregnancy that resulted from coercive sex, and she was so young that her brain was still undeveloped. With that constellation of factors, there was a very high statistical probability that my mother would be an abusive parent, that we would spend the rest of our lives in crushing poverty, and that we would both be highly vulnerable to predatory organizations and men. And that is exactly what happened. She abused me, beating me viciously and often. We lived in bone-crushing poverty, and our little family became a magnet for predatory men and organizations. My mother found minimal support in a small church, and became involved with the pastor who was undeniably schizophrenic, narcissistic, and sadistic. The abuse I endured was compounded by deprivation. Before the age of 14, I had never been to a sleep-over, been allowed to talk to a friend on the phone, eaten in a restaurant, watched a television show, listened to the radio, read a non-Christian book, or even worn a pair of jeans. If this were an anti-choice story, this is the part where I would tell you how I overcame great odds and my life now has special meaning. I would ask you to affirm that, of course, you are happy I was born, and that the world would be a darker, poorer place without me. It is true that in the past 12 years, I have been able to rise above the circumstances of my birth and build a life that I truly love. But no one should have to make such a Herculean struggle for simple normalcy. Even given the happiness and success I now enjoy, if I could go back in time and make the choice for my mother, it would be abortion. The world would not be a darker or poorer place without me. Actually, in terms of contributions to the world, I am a net loss. Everything that I have done—including parenting, teaching, researching, and being a loving partner—could have been done as well if not better by other people. Any positive contributions that I have made are completely offset by what it has cost society to help me overcome the disadvantages and injuries of my childhood to become a functional and contributing member of society. It is not easy to say, “I wish my mother would have aborted me.” The Right would have us see abortion as women acting out of cowardice, selfishness, or convenience. But for many women, like my mother, abortion would be an inconvenient act of courage and selflessness. I am sad for both of us that she could not find the courage and selflessness. But my attitude is that as long as I am already here, I might as well do all I can to make the world a better place, to ease the suffering of others, and to experience love and life to its fullest.   Lynn Beisner is the pseudonym for a mother, a writer, a feminist, and an academic living somewhere East of the Mississippi. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.   Photo Credit lunar caustic via the Creative Commons License.

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  • Cindy

    I respect the honesty of this piece. However, I don’t agree with the cold, statistical view of it, as if every human being were just a number. I agree that reality is not ideal, and sometimes abortion is the more reasonable choice to save the baby from a difficult life. But seriously, better socioeconomic standing = better life? Like somehow, money and status bring give you more happiness than the family you might come to know?

    Part of being pro choice is that it is the woman’s choice whether or not to have the child. And as a child, I respect my mother’s choice no matter what my circumstances are. Parents are still human, and truthfully nobody is ready for their first child. Everybody screws up on raising their children, no matter the circumstances.

    Personally, I am a liberal Christian, and I don’t know everything about the scientific aspect of it, but I support abortion as long as the fetus is incapable of being conscious and feeling pain. If the mother is mentally ill and unable to get an abortion during that time, I believe it is the government’s responsibility to provide a home for her child. However, I would always respect my mother’s decision to raise me even if statistically speaking she “shouldn’t have had me”. What’s done is done. There is no use on dwelling on a past you were barely even present in. Each decision is different and difficult. There is no way of knowing the “right choice”, because it can’t be as simple and black-and-white as that.

    I go to a pretty decent university, UC Santa Barbara. My classmate is raising a baby and getting a degree at the same time. She has a very supportive family and our school offers good childcare facilities. I know that not everyone is as lucky, but I just remember feeling naive for believing the load of crap that they taught us in high school, if you have a baby now your life is over.

    There are women who have been raped who have chosen to have the child and are thankful that they did. There are also children who were born raised in very privileged households to wealthy and respectable and intelligent parents who seriously wish they had never been born (not in the pro choice sense either). I’m not saying that this is the case every time. I am just pointing out that sometimes, you can’t count on statistics to make the decision for you.

    I respect your opinion and I hope I didn’t come off as accusing you of being unappreciative of your life or claiming to know your mother better than you do. Obviously you respect your mother’s choice on some level because you have chosen to continue to live. I understand that sometimes you have to say something like this to prove a point. Understand that my opinion only differs from you by a little. However, I am a huge believer of living in the present and moving on from the past. Obviously, learn from past mistakes and the mistakes of others. But for now there is no debating your existence. Might as well make the most out of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopherjensen Chris Jensen

    Presumably, these people are also in favour of having sex all the time.

    After all, if my parents had not had sex the day I was conceived: I would not be here today.

  • Pcatling

    Adoption has strangely not been mentioned here by either the writer or any of the respondees – it too is a good response to unplanned/unwanted pregnancy.  Many an abortion takes place because the mother cannot face the idea of bring the child to term, and THEN  giving it up.  

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  • Guest

    If one believes abortion is the better choice because of the sufferings the child would have to endure, shouldn’t abortion be most readily available in third world countries?

    The author’s mother would have never considered abortion, and the author’s desire for to have been aborted comes from an “advancing” of society that has allowed abortion of the fetus a most convenient solution for mothers bearing unwanted children.

    I am very sympathetic towards the pain the author endured during her childhood, and it is inspiring to find that her pain had helped her grow to become a much stronger woman than her mother. Clearly, if her mother had never considered aborting her, the author would have been born regardless. I wish that the government had provided her with more competent welfare and child support. Of course, it would not have made up for the lack of emotional support from her mother, but, sadly, it is something that womanhood has been struggling since the beginning of time.

  • Natalie

    The author’s
    history and situation are heartbreaking, as were those of her mother.
    It’s important, I think, to consider seriously the fact that
    happiness and a good life are not guaranteed for anyone, regardless
    of what abortion laws are in effect or the choice of the mother (and
    that, in fact, unhappiness may be all but guaranteed in some cases). Certainly, not every woman who becomes pregnant is prepared to raise a child well (or at all). I am, however, horrified by line of argument that uses this as a justification for abortion.

    “The best choice for both my mother and I would have been abortion” -
    this statement, apart from the years of heartbreak implicit therein,
    reflects a reality that abortion must deny: that is, the potential for
    the eventual subjectivity of the aborted. The very “I” who
    can consider, years later, whether she should or should not have been born is a person with a
    will. The moment we consider the idea that the (future) opinion of the unborn with respect to his or her birth might be relevant, it
    becomes impossible to justify abortion, as that individual cannot
    possibly be consulted on this matter before developing the ability to
    communicate and self-reflect, which happens after birth. This article
    seems to present the position that it is, therefore, the
    responsibility of the mother to make this choice on behalf of the
    future “I” during a stage of development when doing so is
    still legally permitted. The fetus, were she aborted, could have no
    opinion in this matter.

    Obviously the
    idea of ethically-justifiable human abortion depends on this future
    subjective “I” being disconnected from the pre-born.
    Similarly, the “personhood” status of an infant, with its
    implicit capacity for rights, cannot be seen as beginning in the
    womb. It is only by affirming the non-personhood of the fetus that
    abortion can be justified. 

    Note, however,
    that this is not the nature of the argument presented in this piece:
    It presents, first, the idea that some human lives are objectively
    not worth living. This is a justification for abortion which has no
    basis in the non-personhood of the fetus (on which abortion bioethics
    depends), nor on the question of whether a woman has the right to act
    according to her wishes alone in circumstances involving her body
    (the basis of most pro-choice rhetoric). It suggests simply that some
    lives are objectively a waste, and that some people (not fetuses, but
    legally recognized people) ought never to have existed – indeed, the
    very fact that it is written by a woman who recognizes herself as an
    “I,” a self with subjectivity and desires, affirms the
    personhood of the individuals in question. It further states, in a
    sense that seems logically as well as ethically problematic, that the
    sole legal judge of the potential value of a person’s life (an issue about which the future person, which the fetus will
    legally become, is revealed as having a relevant opinion) is that
    child’s biological mother.

    It’s useless
    (indeed, it’s counter-productive) for anyone, pro-life or otherwise,
    to deny the immeasurable hardship that the author, her mother, and
    countless other individuals have undoubtedly gone through. But we
    have to stop and consider what it means when we argue, rather than
    that our society is desperately poor in terms of the resources it
    offers to mothers and children, that some people ought never to have
    been born – and, furthermore, that this evaluation is not to be
    made by the people who do or do not get to live, but by their (often terrified, often traumatized, often disenfranchised) mothers. I wish that, rather than this person’s life being
    used as an example to justify abortion, it could further inflame the
    people who are, in good faith and moved by compassion, responding so
    powerfully to it to focus all the more on ending domestic abuse,
    rape, and social inequality.

    I am, myself, pro-life, but this is my plea to the pro-choice community, with the understanding that you do act in good faith and driven by conscience: for the sake of human rights, for the sake
    of ethics, take the step of recognizing that this is a horrific and
    de-humanizing justification for abortion, the wider-ranging ethical
    implications of which are terrifying. Is each human life inherently
    valuable? We can debate this point; however, the idea that one person
    might have the right to make this judgment, preemptively, about
    another person’s life on his or her behalf should be profoundly
    troubling. There is no way to justify human abortion according to
    this line of argument; in fact, in its consideration of the fetus’s
    eventual agency and desires, it is a pro-life argument in disguise.

  • http://twitter.com/hackerguitar hackerguitar

    Another one here – my mother had an ovarian issue – a malignancy – which was removed while I was in utero, early term (first trimester).  She refused to consider abortion, which (IMHO) would have been a better choice – especially as she later died of a related cancer.  The initial cancer could have been dealt with far more aggressively had she elected to take care of herself first.   

    While I like existing, it doesn’t stop me from acknowledging how wrong her choice was, or the fact that she made it because she was a religious damned fool pathologically terrified of the potential for a bad afterlife.   

  • anonymous

    Each individual should have a choice to continue with the early stages of a pregnancy or not, yes it is the choice of the mother, whilst the fetus is within the earliest stages of development and doesn’t yet have consciousness and is dependent on the mother’s body. However the key point is it is her choice. The issue here seems to be circumstances. The life of a child brought into the world in difficult circumstances is of just much worth as that of a child who isn’t. In many countries, to make a choice to have a child at anytime is to bring them into horrendous circumstances. What about women and men who spend their entire lives in slums and refugee camps in Africa, if they ever want to have children, they have to do so in conditions that are beyond comprehension to most people in the developped world. Should they abort a child because circumstances aren’t perfect? no they should abort if the mother feels it is best for her as well as the child. The choice should be made based on all factors, emotional, psychological, social, biological, as well as economic and social support. Your life is of as much worth as every other individual in this world. Reading your article I’d say in relation to many you’re in a priviledged position – you’re intelligent, educated, have a high capacity for thought, have made a ‘success’ of your life,and have your own children… this is more than many in the world can wish for… should they ’wish they’d been aborted??’ to me, the impact of this is if you’re poor and in difficult circumstances, your children are a burden on society and shouldn’t be born…  backward, right wing and unhealthy and potentially highly damaging to many people who read it. Should everyone who has experienced poverty or abuse think tehy’re a burden on society, and wish they hadn’t been born? the effect is saying such people have no value. A very disturbing message!  I would focus as you say on your life, your value as an individual, and that of your children, and not look back.  Good luck.

  • anonymous

    Each individual should have a choice to continue with the early stages of a pregnancy or not, yes it is the choice of the mother, whilst the fetus is within the earliest stages of development and doesn’t yet have consciousness and is dependent on the mother’s body. However the key point is it is her choice. The issue here seems to be circumstances. The life of a child brought into the world in difficult circumstances is of just much worth as that of a child who isn’t. In many countries, to make a choice to have a child at anytime is to bring them into horrendous circumstances. What about women and men who spend their entire lives in slums and refugee camps in Africa, if they ever want to have children, they have to do so in conditions that are beyond comprehension to most people in the developped world. Should they abort a child because circumstances aren’t perfect? no they should abort if the mother feels it is best for her as well as the child. The choice should be made based on all factors, emotional, psychological, social, biological, as well as economic and social support. Your life is of as much worth as every other individual in this world. Reading your article I’d say in relation to many you’re in a privileded position – you’re intelligent, educated, have a high capacity for thought. I would focus as you say on your life, your value as an individual, and that of your children, and not look back. Good luck.

    • anonymous

      what I would add though is this. If you say that your life has less value than others because you were born in difficult circumstances, and had to rely on help from the state, it is saying the same about others. The effect is saying that such people’s lives have little value. Also, that those who need help from the state have little value. That is a very backward, dangerous and right wing message. It’s the opposite of asserting women’s rights. It’s oppressing the rights of all women who were born in difficult circumstances, or who’s children were. My heart goes out to you for the abuse and poverty you experienced and i wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But please think of others. Every life is of equal value. Every person is of equal value. Everyone takes and contributes in society. Everyone should rely on that.

  • Amy Erez

    Your story is bravely told. I appreciate your honesty and the profound self-evaluations that resulted in this insightful truth. My own experience with abortion is that there is a spirit that inhabits the physical body. I became pregnant, accidentally, during a time that was not good for having a baby and in a relationship that I thought was short-lived. With conscious exploration by myself and the father (now my husband of 23 years), we were able to communicate with the spirit who then willingly left the soon-to-be aborted fetus. We could feel the very perceivable shift when it happened.

    A few years later, when we were married and ready for children, we had our son. We knew from very early on that he was the same spirit that was trying to come earlier and, in fact, tell of our experience as part of his birth story. Without this spiritually bonding experience we may not have realized the depth of our feelings for each other and separated before getting married.

    Many people may feel my story would have ended the same if I had had the first baby. But knowing myself, I know that I was completely unprepared at that time for motherhood. Our relationship had not had the time it needed to deepen and develop the strength required to last through parenting together. Our commitment to our own relationship has enabled our son to have a lasting, stable family unity to grow in and I’m sure he will be able to reproduce that healthy experience in his own life.

    We are clear that the value of a strong, happy marriage can outweigh the “moral” decision to have an abortion. In fact, I too, was a mistake in my family and had I not been born could have been helpful on some level to my mother’s ability to find a longer lasting life. She committed suicide at the age of 52 (I was 16) after 10 years of continual pregnancy and birth experiences (5 live births, 5 miscarriages). The outrageous amount of hormonal fluctuations undoubtedly had a very strong influence on her depression.

    Again, thank you for courageously telling your story with such clarity.

  • minneapolisgirl

    My mother was a highly educated and intelligent Catholic woman who started having babies when she was 21 and didn’t stop until she was 40. She was a conscientious mother, but miserable, unfulfilled and deluded. Some of her children are permanently damaged by being raised by a woman who didn’t want them in her life. She told me that she contracted rubella when she was pregnant with me, and she used my presence on this earth as an supposedly unanswerable argument against abortion. Looking at it now, from the vantage point of my maturity, I’d take my theoretical non-existence over her misery. I have a happy life, I’m glad I’m alive, but so what? 

  • el_guest

    How about the second story is infuriating because it’s incredibly stupid?

  • Heather

    Dear Ms. Beisner, Thank you. Best regards, Heather

  • gvanderleun

    “For the record, “Lynn Beisner” is a pseudonym. The author is so proud of her thought that she refuses to take credit for it.” — Had Enough Therapy

  • gvanderleun

    “Unfortunately, Beisner is trafficking in what any psychiatrist or psychologist would recognize as suicidal ideation.” — Had Enough Therapy

    • http://PrimordialSlack.com/ Joan Of Argghh!

      Of course,if this sort of mindset spreads, the problem eventually solves itself.

  • Martha

    Wow–it takes tremendous courage to voice what you have told here, to the world. Thank you for your willingness to do so. Your story is thoughtfully written, and is thought-provoking too. I do hope that this can spark some willingness from the anti-choice folks to actually put themselves in another’s shoes before deciding that they know what is best for them.

  • thepoliticalcat

    I wish more women and men would speak out honestly as you have. My mother was one of those women who should NEVER have been allowed to have children. She was shallow, narcissistic, self-centred, spiteful, mean, negative, and altogether an unpleasant person. But she was born in a time when it was a woman’s *duty* to have children, and it was clear that my father wanted children, so she had five. She beat them, abused them verbally, emotionally, and physically, and scarred them ALL for life. And because she was a “respectable pillar of society,” she did all this without any repercussions whatsoever. In all fairness, her life must have been pretty damn traumatic for her to turn out as she did. But if her tubes had been snipped at birth, the world would have been a MUCH better place for at least 30-100 people. People say to me, “But your mother gave you LIFE!” as if it were some sort of gift. I’d like to have the power to reincarnate them in MY body at age ten when my mother was going on one of her screaming rampages, hurling furniture, crockery, and knives at us. We are all now approaching our own graves, and our degree of trauma may be gauged by the fact that we remain childless and only recently have most of us found partners. None of us has anything to do with our natal family. What a rousing success story!

  • TM

    Thank you for posting this. I have thought this about myself and my mother for years and nobody ever understood what I meant. It’s almost a relief that you were able to express this in a way that I have never been able to.

  • N

    I believe the same as you do. If I’d had a choice I would have told my mum to abort me. She has PTSD and is married to my dad who coerced her into having me and my brother. I saw how much she struggled as I was growing up and I was also subjected to dad’s psychological abuse. She was in no condition to cope. She is smart, educated and loves us, but she could have been so much happier without kids.

    Despite feeling like this I don’t feel any ill will to mum, I respect her and have even become protective of her. Even as a kid when I was being told by dad “your mum never wanted you, it was me that forced her to have you” I didn’t feel any self loathing for the burden I was, nor was I angry at her. I was sad for her and I still am. I wonder what she could have achieved without me. She could have broken up with dad, traveled the world and lead an easier life. I love my mum and I wish she could restart her time again and really live.

  • Carina

    Wow, thank you. We all want to value those who are here with us, and I’ve had the joy of having friends, co-workers, mentees who have been in your place, they have given me joy, changed and marked my life. But still, I want every child to be born into a good world, or as good as we can make it, any suffering is only the normal course of growing up/life as we all work through it, and sex does not determine a good life.

    I’ve just gone through the earlier comments after writing the above. I am teary eyed and impressed by all the stories, lives, thank you all for sharing.

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  • Melissa Cooper

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing a new light on why abortion should stay legal for all women in the U.S. I have often said I wish I wasn’t born or I wish my mother would have never had me. People do not know how to take this kind of honest statement. It is not a confession of self pity or a hint of possible commiiting suicide as some people interpret. Although, I have a happy adult life that was not awlays the case. My mother has schizoaffective disorder and has never taken medication or receieved treatment for a consistent period of time and my father is just a father of convienance. When you said ” I would chose the brief pain or fear of an abortion over the decades of suffering I endured.” that statement alone is what touched me the most. Although, I wasn’t beaten I was severly pschologically abused, neglected and molested. To a child there is nothing worse than knowing your mother resents you. My mother had five children and resented everyone of us. We were poor getting most our food from churches and food stamps. I have no interest in hearing about how the anti-choicers want to save a life and choose not to invest in programs and charitys of the many current children that live in poverty. Their religion does not govern moraltiy and the personal decisions of women.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sonya.E.Mann Sonya Mann

    Thank you for writing and publishing this. It was very poignant and the topic is an important one.

  • Scarlett Rosie

    I agree, born 2 years before roe V wade, at 45 now its easy to say it would have been nicer to have not been the unwanted baby that came along when it wasnt wanted or convenient, with no self pity in saying it. It wouldnt have been some sort of horrible tragedy, just a different world with one less person to breathe and eat antidepressants. The worst thing in the world is not to fail to be born.. no birth means no sadness and no pain, how many people who have lived have enjoyed that? I do envy those born after roe V wade, who can know that their parents decided freely to have them, and had a choice in the matter- what a treasure!

  • nancy Alfred

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