Mistress of the Mix: Making the Hard Choice

Check out the collage of photos above. Can you guess which one doesn’t belong? If you guessed the one on the bottom right, you’re correct. There shouldn’t be a man in the picture, at least when it comes to making reproductive health decisions for women. I’m not just bashing men. I don’t think anyone – man or woman – should be getting involved in making reproductive health decisions for a woman, except for the individual woman.

If I get cancer, nobody else gets to decide what kind of treatment I get, or whether I get treatment at all. That’s my decision. Because it’s my body. And if a man suffers from erectile dysfunction, women don’t get to choose which of the many treatments a man might pick from to get that boner back up in working order again, or whether he chooses to limp around without an assist from science. Yet here we are, in a world where the people making all the decisions about what a woman can and can’t do with her reproductive system absolutely cannot truly relate to a woman’s situation because they will never be pregnant. Ever. That’s what just happened in Alabama.

There are people I love who are deeply against abortion, and as such, they are supportive of the current renaissance in our country, and the politicians that are working overtime to severely restrict pregnancy termination options for women, or remove them altogether. For my friends and family who claim they would never choose to end a pregnancy because they don’t feel that it’s right or that God wouldn’t approve, to them I say that’s great, for you. Make that choice for yourself. You should have that right. But you should not have the right to make that choice for another human being. Kind of like gay marriage. Don’t like it? Don’t get one. But it’s not right to deny others the opportunity.

I actually think it’s an act of extreme cruelty for any person to try to exert that kind of control over the personal liberties of women. Even more so if the person exerting the control is someone who will never ever find themselves in the position of being pregnant. You know, like a man.

Like these 25 men who voted last week to pass the harshest abortion law in the country. Guys, you know it’s bad if even Tomi Lahren complains that it’s “too restrictive.” You have no idea how much it pains me to say this, but I agree with her 100% on this one point: a law like this “doesn’t save life, it simply forces women into more dangerous methods” when faced with the difficult choice of continuing or terminating a pregnancy.

In the past week or so after the Alabama vote to ban abortion, I have been astounded by the naivete of people – not just men, but women too, even nursing students – who seem to have no concept of how reproduction and birth control works – and doesn’t work. Or the great imposition it is to assume it’s no big deal for a woman to be forced to carry for nine months, give birth, and then give a baby up for adoption. Or keep it and derail her professional or education dreams.

At first I was shocked at how ignorant so much of the conservative population seems to be about the traumatic scenarios pregnant women routinely find themselves facing that lead them to the choice of ending a pregnancy. And then I realized that this is our fault. Us. Women. It’s our fault for not feeling more comfortable sharing our experience for fear of judgment, hate, or the trauma associated with dredging up our own personal horror stories. Nobody looks back on her abortion with fond memories. That would be like jumping up and down with excitement about a root canal. I haven’t met one woman who was proud of the day she terminated a pregnancy. But every single one was thankful for being able to make the choice.

There is a movement abreast, perhaps you’ve heard about it. Actress Busy Phillips is credited with popularizing the #YouKnowMe movement that is barely a week old, encouraging women to find the courage to share their stories publicly in the hope it will build a better understanding for those who would like to remove the choice of abortion as an option for women.

In just a few days, thousands of women have told their stories. Celebrities and other public figures, and regular women across the nation. But for every woman who has the courage to share her story, there are thousands upon thousands who haven’t, because they’re just not (and may never be) ready. And that’s OK. It shouldn’t be anybody’s business what a woman does with her body. But as we inch closer and closer to The Handmaid’s Tale becoming a reality instead of dystopian fiction, that’s where we are now. Making our most painful moments public because the men making the laws think women are using abortion simply as birth control, and not considering the potential of the life growing inside them. That’s not the case. It’s almost never the case. Every woman I’ve known who has had an abortion went through hand-wringing grief to come to that hard decision.

I decided to share the stories of four women who have had to make that hard choice, and have additionally made the hard choice of reliving the experience by sharing their story. These women are from our community. They are women you might see strolling across the Sundial Bridge, or standing behind you in line at Holiday Market, or dropping their kids off at school in the morning. You won’t recognize their names, but that’s just because I’ve made them up. They are brave women who are willing to share their unique journies through an unexpected pregnancy, and the impact it had on them. You know them, but their names are not important. Their stories are.

Growing up, I was never one of those girls who aspired to be a wife and mother. I had so many ambitions and plans of travel and things I wanted to do. Everyone thought I was way too independent to get married or have kids.  I got an education, and jumped into my career head first.

I found out as a teenager that I had lupus, a chronic illness with no cure. I had to make changes in my life to keep it in remission, but have always tried to not let it slow me down or stop me from doing anything.

A few years ago, I fell in love with a man who changed everything. He had a little girl that I bonded with immediately, and it was at that moment that I became a mom. I have always believed that biology does not make a family. We are a family.

I started to think I’d actually love to add a child to our family. But then a mass was discovered on one of my organs. While in the process of trying to figure out exactly what this mass was, I discovered that despite being on birth control, I was pregnant. I became increasingly sick over the next few weeks. Violently ill. I was hospitalized numerous times, lost over 10 percent of my body weight, and doctors were at a loss. I was sent to a hospital in a larger city. It was there that doctors sat me down and told me they believed I had cancer. And then they told me that with the already present illness combined with the cancer, that I would never be able to carry a baby safely or full term without risking both of our lives. They would hold off on cancer treatment until I had made my decision.

I was devastated. My husband made his opinion known from the beginning. That he chose me. He said we had our daughter, and our family was enough. So I made the best and only decision I could. The termination was handled by some very kind doctors and nurses and I am forever grateful to them. I am grateful that I live in a state where I had this option. Where my life was saved. I mourned and grieved and yet I know that I made the right decision. I am at peace with it.

I fully support women’s rights and reproductive rights. I would never question any woman’s motive or reasoning. This is never an easy decision. Every woman should have the right to choose what’s best for them. My story is unique, but so is every other woman’s. I know many Pro-Lifers will call mine an ‘acceptable exception’ while persecuting others, and that’s wrong. We shouldn’t be judging any woman on choices she makes with her own body.

I married young and had two daughters by the time I was in my early twenties. I was one of those people that said horrible things to women when I found out they had an abortion. I had even wished death on them.

I received a cold splash of reality when I found myself sitting in the clinic. After the birth of my second daughter, I was diagnosed with a tumor on my liver. It grew with hormones, so was cautioned not to have any more children, as pregnancy could cause my liver to rupture. Then, just before my 24th birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. My husband and I had just separated, and I was have a difficult time coping and was drinking heavily. I made the choice to terminate the pregnancy.

Six months later, I found myself pregnant again. This time I had done everything right, and birth control failed. This time I was emotionally in a better place and thought about trying to continue the pregnancy, but the reality was that I was gambling with my life, and I already had two little girls who need me.

It was really hard to go back through those clinic doors. But when I did, I saw so many terrified women in the waiting room. I shared with them everything that they were about to go through. I told them that they weren’t alone. That it was a difficult choice to make, but I did it for my children. Yes, I feel guilt, but I’m confident I made the right choices.

Right now women are being persecuted for making decisions about their own bodies. Every time I go on social media I see posts about women being horrible monsters for murdering their babies. To people that feel that way, I ask you: Have you ever asked a woman WHY she made the choice to terminate a pregnancy? Have you ever sat in a clinic and held a woman’s hand as she cries because she has to make an impossible choice?

I can tell you that women who go through with it after hearing all the criticism and horrible ignorance spewed at them are brave. I can tell you that it’s so difficult. It’s even harder when you have to do it alone. It’s scary, it’s painful, and most of all, it leaves you feeling ashamed when you shouldn’t.

After I recovered from my surgery, I immediately apologized to the women I had so ignorantly bashed and shamed. You can argue that a woman is being selfish and shouldn’t have the right to end a life, you can throw statistics and religion at me. But after what I went through, and after talking to the other women I sat with in the clinic, you can’t tell me that women who make this choice are just trying to take the easy way out. Not one woman left that office intact. They were broken and devastated, carrying heavy guilt.

Now the government is trying to make these decisions for us by taking away the right to choose. It is a disgrace that you can go to prison longer for helping a rape victim than you would for committing rape. I ask women to look past your differences and opinions and find some understanding and compassion. Don’t criticize someone when you have no idea what she is going through. You don’t want to an abortion? I support you. You want to have the baby and give it up for adoption? I support you. You want to choose to terminate? I support you. I’ll go with you and we will mourn together, and feel the relief together when it’s over. I choose to stand up for women and support them.

It was the second time I had found myself in this waiting room. Yep, you read that right. I knew how I got here. No one needed to rub it in my face. Especially not the protesters I had to walk through to get here, the ones who would rather shame me and tell me I shouldn’t be doing this, that I had made a mistake. No solutions, just shame.

I remember at the young age of 10 doing the same thing. My family had always been heavily involved in the church. We went at least 4 days a week, and back then it felt like our whole world. At 10 I was also outside picketing and shaming other women.

I had already chosen to have a child out of wedlock, with a man in the church who lied about so many things. He left. With my car. Then I got a call from the Montana troopers informing me that they had found my car, and it was full of drugs, and was driven by a man whose name did not match  the one he had introduced himself to me with. My innocence was spoiled, and at the time I vowed not to be led astray again simply because I wanted to feel connected and loved by someone. But the pull to feel loved is strong.

And so I found myself in the waiting room. My first abortion was on the tail end of my brother’s death, when I was struggling to find some kind of love and normalcy. I knew I was unable to care for another child as I was struggling to care for the one I already had. I was a single mom, going to school, working as a CNA in a care facility.

I told no one about my situation. The self-deprecating thoughts and shame ingrained in me all those years earlier rang so loud and fueled the fear and humility that was sure to follow if anyone else know. I was scared. Would I rot in hell, like everyone had said?

In that moment I realized that no one else was there but me. Just me. And it was time to make the decision that was best for me and the child I had already birthed. She needed me. She was the priority. It was then that I knew this was the right decision. The fear and doubt melted, faded into an assurance that I was taking control of my life.

The second time I had been in a relationship for two years, but there was no long-term commitment between us, and he didn’t want to be a father. I was still struggling to make it on my own as a single mother, trying to advance myself to a place where I was self-sufficient. I was working two jobs. I had a roller coaster life, but was a little older and a little wiser, and knew that I did not want another fatherless child.

This time I walked past the protesters without shame. I held my head strong and high, not out of pride but out of knowing that I would be the one living my life, not them. I knew what I wanted to provide for the child I had chosen to have, the life I was trying so hard to provide, the life she deserved.

If you’re reading this wondering if I feel bad for terminating these pregnancies, the answer is yes. I don’t expect you to understand or even agree. I expect nothing from you, not sadness, empathy, shame, judgement or approval, for the simple reason that this decision had nothing to do with you. As I look back on my life, I don’t regret those decisions. I have walked through hell so many times since these two appointments. I have graduated with two high level college degrees, I run a highly successful business. I have a fierce confidence within that is unshakable. I know myself so well that there is rarely a glimpse of self-doubt and a knowing that there is a higher power that lives inside of me that guides me and knows my heart and soul in the deepest ways.

I had a birth control fail when I was in high school. I was on the Pill and also got a bronchial infection that I was given antibiotics for, and this was just before the news came out that antibiotics can render the Pill useless. I was 17. There was no way. I had a long-term boyfriend that I thought I’d be with forever (however we broke up before the year was over), but I knew that having a baby would stop my entire life in its tracks. I had no money, but I borrowed it from a lady I babysat for, and my doctor kindly terminated the pregnancy. His nurse held my hand and told me that someday, when I was ready, I would have children.

Nine months later, I was in college, and was dating a new guy, Chris. It wasn’t super serious. In fact, we were making plans to split up to follow separate opportunities. He was heading to Virginia to transfer to a new college, and I was heading to Boston to be a nanny. We flew to the east coast together, and parted ways. We planned to stay in touch, but that was difficult, because he had no phone. But I could call the mini-market his brother worked at and leave a message for him to call me back.

It wasn’t long before I realized that I was probably pregnant. Another birth control fail (condom & spermicide). I called Chris and told him that I hadn’t taken a test yet, but my period was late. He sounded scared. As if HIS life was in jeopardy, not mine. Like my pregnancy might derail HIS life, not mine. He asked me what I planned to do. I said I wasn’t sure yet, but we made plans to talk again in the next few days after I knew for sure. When the pregnancy was confirmed, I called the market and left a message for him to call me back, and he never did. I was on my own.

In fact, I was completely on my own, living with a family I barely knew, my own family thousands of miles away, with barely a whisper of an income, and no insurance in a city where abortion clinics were on high alert. A clinic in Florida had just been bombed on Christmas day by a group of people who said it was a gift to Jesus on his birthday. A Benedictine priest in Alabama had just burst into a clinic and assaulted three workers, breaking the neck of one. Although my appointment was completely legitimate and the entire procedure was legal, I had to prove it by going to one location for a test to confirm I was actually pregnant the day before the appointment, give them my entire month’s salary, and only then was I given the location for the final appointment the next day at a clinic with no sign on the door. It was pretty close to back alley. I sat in a cubicle behind a curtain waiting for my appointment, terrified out of my wits that we were going to be blown up any moment, and the staff was too battle weary to show any compassion for their own clients. Nobody held my hand this time. Afterwards, in pain and traumatized, I went home and curled up into a ball for the rest of the weekend.

The experience was awful, but I have no doubt that I made the right choice. If I had not had the option to terminate my pregnancy, I would have been completely alone with no money, jobless and homeless in a city I didn’t know. I would’ve had to throw myself on the mercy of the welfare system in order to survive, and may never have been given the opportunity to crawl out of it, stuck in an oppressive cycle.

Instead, I had the time to get my life together, go to college and forge a successful career. Finally, I lovingly welcomed a beautiful baby into the world. This time I was ready, prepared with the resources I needed to raise a child correctly: a stable home, income and loving partner.  I am a self-sufficient woman who has made my own way in the world, although I had to make some hard choices along the way. But they were my choices to make, and that’s the way it should be.

So there you have it. Four stories of women you know. I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts (and a playlist, of course, because there have been a lot of great songs written on the subject).

I believe women should have affordable access to birth control and pregnancy termination options. I also believe that when lawmakers try to ban or put restrictions on abortion because they believe every life is valuable, that they’re putting the cart before the horse.

The current conservative political trend is placing more value on the life of a fetus than the life of the woman carrying the fetus. And once that fetus has been brought into the world by a woman forced to have it, we don’t have a decent system in place to nurture that new life, only a broken welfare, healthcare, education and immigration system that our government would like to…for lack of a better word, abort. Until we can do better, we are setting ourselves up for only a greater disaster.

I wish we lived in a perfect world where women didn’t suffer from rape. A world where birth control was always 100% effective. A world where being pregnant and having a baby doesn’t have the potential to derail (or end) a woman’s life forever. A world where there was a loving family ready to adopt every single baby brought into the world that a woman wasn’t ready to have. But that world doesn’t exist.

You can listen to the #YouKnowMe streaming Spotify playlist by clicking on the link, or on the play arrow below.

Valerie Ing

Valerie Ing has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.

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