Lynn Beisner responds to the scores of commenters who had plenty to say about her recent controversial piece, “I Wish My Mother Had Aborted Me.”
A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article called “I Wish My Mother Had Aborted Me.” In it, I explained that anti-choice crusaders have been using the stories of people whose mothers did not have abortions as a way of backing pro-choice advocates into a rhetorical corner. The premise of those stories is that the person who was not aborted has a life so wonderful that she or he is living proof that abortion is wrong. The anti-choice folks frequently ask people, “Aren’t you glad that you or your spouse or your best friend wasn’t aborted?” The only permissible answer has always been, “Of course, I am glad that you were not aborted, that I was not aborted and that no one that I care about was aborted.”
My point in writing the article was to say that I believe our discussion would be more productive if neither side used individuals’ stories, if instead we debated using fact. But anti-choice crusaders have already crossed that line. To enter a rhetorical battle with facts when the other party is bringing compelling narratives is not like bringing a knife to a gun fight. It is like bringing brass knuckles to a gun fight. And so we need to counter the powerful narratives told by anti-choice crusaders with equally powerful narratives of people who are not ashamed to say that they wish their mother had aborted them. I further wanted to disabuse us of the idea that if a fetus is aborted there is a giant sucking hole in the universe where that fetus was meant to be. Despite the prevalence of abortion, our world is still filled with plenty of people who achieve amazing things and who have become our loving partners and our good friends.
I did not think that this was a shocking concept. I assumed that this was something that was already discussed in pro-choice circles, that we understood that there are people who are able to say objectively that they wish their mothers had aborted them. I assumed that people would feel this way even if they had not had particularly traumatic childhoods simply because they recognized that their birth had limited their mother in a significant way.
I am still in shock at the attention that the piece has received. It has been reprinted or discussed on countless websites, and I was even interviewed by BBC radio this past Sunday. Coping with all of the attention generated by this piece has been unlike anything that I have experienced before. At one point, blocking trolls on my Twitter account and answering kind messages from supporters was taking 16 hours a day. I received hundreds of messages from people explaining why the piece had touched them. Their stories were beautiful and often heartbreaking. I am grateful to those who got in touch with me.
I think the reason the piece generated so much intense attention was that people are not accustomed to talking about ideas such as non-existence. By far the thing that has been the most difficult for people to understand or to believe is how I could wish I had been aborted and still love my life. For many people, those two things seem completely contradictory. I acknowledge that it can seem that way, and even my husband had a hard time wrapping his brain around it. One of the best ways that I know of explaining how I can hold these seemingly contradictory ideas simultaneously is to use the power of narrative and to tell a story told to me by my friend and fellow contributing writer here at Role/Reboot, Hugo Schwyzer.
Hugo loves his two half-sisters dearly. But they exist in this world only because Hugo’s father divorced Hugo’s mother to marry the young woman with whom he had been having an affair. Does Hugo wish that his father had not had an adulterous relationship with a student that hurt his mother deeply? Yes. Does Hugo wish, for his own sake, that his parents had remained married? Yes. If Hugo’s wishes were granted, his sisters would be winked out of existence, and yet he loves them very much.
My wish is much the same as Hugo’s. I love my life, but that does not mean that I cannot wish for something better for my mother. In fact, I wish I had been aborted precisely because I love my life. I have the kind of education that led to work that I enjoy and find meaningful. I have a marriage where I am loved and treated as an equal. I thoroughly enjoyed raising children and we continue to have a good relationship as they are entering early adulthood. My mother has never had any of these things. And when I compare the richness and joy of my life to my mother’s, it breaks my heart. The anti-choice crusaders who believe that my writing is the result of deep unhappiness could not be more wrong.
There is only one criticism that I would like to answer because I can understand where people are coming from. There are those who have said that the story of my childhood is false or that I am feeling sorry for myself. The reason that those charges are understandable, though false, is that we are unaccustomed in our country to hearing stories about what really happens to children born into severely disadvantaged circumstances. Of course we hear the statistics, but because most people who grow up in these situations never rise to any level of society where their voices can be heard, we do not hear many of their stories. It is easy to dismiss the few that we do hear as aberrations, sob stories, or even transform their stories into heroic tales not unlike rags-to-riches stories. What we do not hear are the millions of stories of children who are abused far worse than I was and suffered greater deprivation but who end up in jail or living anonymous lives of misery hidden from our view. Most of us live in neighborhoods, drive on roads, and work in areas where we never see the faces or even the abodes of the poor and desperate. If we never see them, how on earth would we hear their stories? And so most people consider stories like mine far-fetched or they dismiss the tellers as “whiners” because they feel so uncomfortable hearing them.
What I find truly telling is how many people cannot believe that I wish my mother had aborted me. In the BBC interview, the interviewer explicitly asked if I really believed what I wrote, given how my life has worked out. It seems that the idea of wishing that you did not exist so that your mother could have a better life is utterly inconceivable to some people. Lauren O’Neal, who wrote a positive response piece in Slate saying that she too wishes that her mother had aborted her, was similarly accused of lying about what she wanted.
Based on the criticism heaped upon us, Lauren has informed me that we are now considered Avatars of Death. When I first heard this, it struck me as funny, and I could not stop laughing. My family informed me that Avatars of Death are not allowed to giggle.
But in all seriousness, those of us who advocate for women to retain control over their reproductive health are not, in fact, in favor or proponents of death. We are proponents for life in its most meaningful, beautiful, and fulfilling sense. We love babies and we want them born to mothers whose lives are not dictated by obligation and scarcity, but who can parent from a place of love, joy, and stability.