Therapist Lyla Cicero recently met with an 18-year-old client who is pregnant. She is pro-life, but getting an abortion. Cicero shares her story, and why choosing not to have the child is truly better for everyone.
When I hear folks saying they are pro-life, I wonder for whom, and under what circumstances. You see, being pro-life is far from the black and white moral distinction pro-life folks typically suggest. On the contrary, there are many ways in which being truly pro-life can lead you into incredible gray areas. For example, when a choice must be made between a mother’s life and a child’s, choosing abortion is still being pro-life, isn’t it? Who decides that a child’s life is more important than a mother’s or vice versa? And what aspect of a woman’s life are we willing to give up for a child’s? Her physical body? Her soul? Her hopes and dreams? Her chances to better herself and her family? The well-being and potential of future, wanted children?
I recently met with a client who is about to age out of the foster care system. We’ll call her Alma. She is 18 years old and 11 weeks pregnant. I first spoke to her case worker who explained that she was trying to convince Alma to accept a placement where she could live with her baby. However, Alma revealed she decided to have an abortion. As a mother, when I heard those words it was like being punched in the gut. I had already seen Alma in the waiting room. I had already seen her baby bump, unusually large for the first trimester. In an instant, the image of that bump, the feeling of being pregnant, the knowledge of having a life inside me, the sweet faces of my twins, and the terror of ever losing them all flashed through my mind.
I sat down with Alma, who was guarded and quiet at first, but after a while she began to open up. She had a sweet, almost surprised smile. She seemed caught off guard that I listened to her with respect. Alma experienced physical abuse by her alcoholic mother and was placed with an aunt. She recently decided she wanted more freedom and is now living in a shelter. Alma’s story is nowhere near the worst I’ve heard. For kids in the system, it’s actually one of the better stories. Alma suffers no mental health issues, has an average IQ, a high school diploma, and while she is currently out of work, she has a marketable skill. As I sat with Alma, I had this wonderful feeling come over me that I’ve only had a few times in seven years of working with low-income and under-served kids. She can turn this ship around. Alma has a rare combination of the mental health status, intelligence, and drive to change the trajectory of her family’s life.
By the time we got around to Alma telling me why she made the excruciating decision to have an abortion, I got it. Alma is choosing life: her life. It’s going to be a hard road for her, but becoming an 18-year-old mother with no job and nowhere to live would transform that road into a dead end. Is Alma’s decision selfish? Sure, on one hand. But it is also smart. Alma has seen her own mother succumb to the stresses of being a young mother, having five children on her own, being poor and dependent on the government, and drowning her pain in alcohol.
But Alma has a dream. The dream is that she can do better. It includes going to college, getting her own apartment, and supporting herself. Alma is going to have to live with losing her baby, but the alternative is losing that dream, not only for her, but for her children. Perhaps the only pain greater than aborting that baby would be watching the child live the same life she did or an even worse one. Alma will grieve her baby, but she will not suffer making the same mistakes her own mother did, while lacking the support and resources to stop it. In all likelihood, Alma will have children. She will probably have less children than if she starts now. She will probably be living on her own, supporting herself, and ideally have a partner to share in their emotional and spiritual care as well as provide for them.
Alma’s choice is pro-life. It is creating a life for herself, her future children, her grandchildren, and ultimately life-enhancing to all of us. The politicians who so vehemently call themselves pro-life are the same politicians who would resent Alma’s living off the government. However, they would deny her the abortion that could mean the difference between Alma and her children being dependent for the rest of their lives, and Alma’s family being self-sufficient for generations to come. Should Alma have used birth control? Of course. But Alma is 18. While her mother should have been talking to her about contraception and monitoring her social life, she was passed out with a bottle of wine.
Pro-life doesn’t only mean saving Alma’s baby. It means saving Alma. And many of those who would fight, and in some cases kill, to save Alma’s baby will not lift a finger to save Alma, and would do little to nothing for her child after its birth.
Alma explained that she waited so long to have the abortion because of how difficult the decision has been. Alma is pro-life. She isn’t taking this lightly. At 18, she is wrestling with gut-wrenching, life-and-death, adult decisions. But they are her decisions.
In ten years, Alma will be in her own apartment, with a college degree, with a good job, with two adjusted, stable children, and a reasonable partner, none of whom will be receiving welfare—that is a life-affirming decision. And the only person who should be able to make that decision is Alma. Not politicians, not case workers, not cops, not therapists. Alma, and only Alma. To me, that’s true freedom.
Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger at UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @UndrCvrNSuburbs.