My Mom’s Abortion

Willow Gray @_willowgray

The people who raise us spend the entirety of our lives getting to know us. From the time that we’re infants, they learn our favorite foods, our fears both rational and irrational, our hopes, our dreams, our allergies… They pepper us with questions like “How was school?” or “What movie do you want to watch?” They see us at our dance recital best and our snot-soaked worst. My mom remembers events in my life that have long escaped my memory, but I didn’t start really learning about her until a couple of years ago when I first interviewed her for Killer and a Sweet Thang. 

I can’t recall exactly what prompted me to ask my mom if she’d ever had an abortion, and to be honest, I thought I already knew the answer. She seemed a little taken aback by the question, but she answered honestly.

My mom had an abortion when she was 22. Over a decade later, she went on to have one beautiful daughter and one human fruit basket (me). We had a discussion about abortion a few months ago (you can read it here if you’re interested). At that point I already knew about hers, but she asked to keep it private. A few months later when legislation was passed in Alabama that effectively banned abortion procedures, she decided to share her story.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.


When I first asked you to do this interview, you said no — 

Mom: Well, I said I would talk about abortion in general, but I didn’t want to share my own experience.


Right. How did you come to that decision? 

I think it was because it is such a personal experience, and I hadn’t talked about it [before]. Almost nobody knew and that’s the way I [had] wanted it. 


And what made you change your mind and want to share your story?

What changed my mind was the speed with which that right has become endangered. I want to do what I can to speak out against the very distinct possibility that you and your sister and anyone who needs to access abortions may not be able to.


How old were you when you found out you were pregnant?

22 — same age as you.


Wow, that’s crazy to think about. What were the thoughts going through your head?

I was very, very scared and panicky. I thought “This can’t be happening,” and I knew right away [I was going to get an abortion]. It was never a question. I did not want to be pregnant.


Can you talk about what fueled those emotions? Like [was it], “Can I afford to take care of a child?” “Am I ready?” “What will my family think?” 

I didn’t even get that far. My specific thoughts were, “I’m twenty-two, I’ve just started my professional life, this is not something I want, my parents would freak, for sure.” We’ve talked about how Catholic they were.

It wasn’t something I could ever go to them about. I couldn’t say, “I’m pregnant and I don’t want this, I don’t want a baby.” They would not have been supportive.


Even just the fact that you were pregnant would that have upset them?

Yeah, they would’ve still loved and supported me, but it would’ve been very upsetting for them because Catholics don’t have premarital sex.


No they don’t. Ever. None of them.

*we both laugh* Nope.


So who did you tell first?

I only told one person. I told a very good friend of mine who lived a three-hour drive away at the time. I felt I could only confide in one person, and I did and she came down when I needed her.


And how did she react when you told her?

She was nothing but supportive. Gentle and caring and supportive. She took care of me. And looking back on it, I realized that it may have been a hard thing for her to do, because she was a born-again Christian. She was very religious — not when we were in college but later on. But she never ever judged me. She never made me feel like I was doing something bad or anything like that.


She was a great friend.

Yeah, she was.


Were you living in Maine at the time?

Yes, I was living right in Portland. It was 1981, I think. Or 1982. It wasn’t very long after Roe v. Wade was decided. What was that, ‘72? ‘73?


It was ‘73 I think. [Editor’s note: It was 1973.]

So less than 10 years, but abortion was available. It was not hard to access.


Where did you go?

Well, this was back before you could take an at-home pregnancy test, so I went to Family Planning — which was like a Planned Parenthood — to have the test. They told me it was positive and that’s when I freaked out. I made the arrangement right then and there. This was like a Tuesday or a Wednesday and they said, “There’ll be a clinic on Saturday and you can make an appointment now and have an abortion in a few days.”

And I said, “I’ll do it. Sign me up.”


Did they tell you how far along you were?

I think they said six weeks, so just barely [pregnant]. I called my friend and we went that morning to the clinic. There were maybe ten or twelve other people all there for the same thing.

It didn’t take long. My friend drove me home and she stayed with me and I went to sleep. Then a couple of hours after that, I woke up and we went out for pizza. And that was it.


How did you feel physically afterwards?

I don’t remember any discomfort. Maybe there was a little bit of cramping, but it wasn’t enough that it stayed with me as something that was painful or hard to get through physically.


And how did you feel emotionally?

Relieved. Just relieved. I never looked at it with any kind of regret. I never felt, Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Never, never.

And as time went on it just got farther and farther from my consciousness. I didn’t think about it at all. I mean, I didn’t have to think about it. It was done and it was my choice to do it, and then I moved on.


You were with Dad at the time, right?



Did you tell him before you had the procedure?

No. Like I said, I panicked. We were in a long distance relationship. I felt like it was my decision to make and it had to be done right away, so I took care of it. And then after the fact I told him.


How did he react?

Oh, he was very supportive, very kind and thoughtful. I guess I’m afraid that it’s going to sound like he didn’t want to be there, or to be involved or to have a voice in the decision. I didn’t really give him that.

I still have a little bit of guilt about not telling him before I made the decision, but it doesn’t change anything about the fact that I needed an abortion. I was able to access it, I could afford it… it was in a safe, professional environment, and it was my choice about what was happening in my body.


Are there other people you’ve talked with about your abortion since?

No. Like I said it happened and it was done and I put it behind me and moved on. I mean, I’m not saying I never thought about it but I never dwelled on it.


I know you feel secure in your decision to terminate your pregnancy, but can I ask was there ever a time where you weren’t so sure?

No. Never. Your sister asked me that, too. She said, “Was it something you thought about when you were trying to get pregnant and couldn’t?” And I said no. I never thought about it as, “Dang, I hope that wasn’t my only shot,” or anything like that. I’ve always been glad that I did it. It was the right thing to do for me at the time.


I think that’s really admirable. It makes you a really good role model.

Really, how so?


Well, I think your story shows that A) you don’t need to be in dire straits to get an abortion, B) you can have an abortion and go on to have children later, and C) that it’s not something that you have to feel guilty about.

I think I want the message about my experience to be that it wasn’t unusual. It was just an ordinary unplanned pregnancy that I didn’t want. I was able to end it rather than not having access [to an abortion], not having that freedom, that control.


I think there’s so much shame around abortion because the current government of this country and anti-abortion activists do so much work to bring shame upon people who do decide to have [them]. I think the fact that you’ve gone through it and never once doubted your decision and never once felt shame is really inspiring.

Well thanks, honey. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but I like thinking of it like that.


Did you always wanna have children?

Um… you know, I think in some sort of abstract way, yes. But I didn’t want to have children before I was ready. That’s for sure. I mean… who does?



Photos (in order of appearance) by Willow Gray, Lucia Rosenast, and Nikki Burnett