Commentary Abortion

Oh, the Things These Socks Have Seen

Stigma Shame and Sexuality Series

It’s dismaying to learn that some of the most “dedicated” pro-choice supporters still subscribe to the idea that more than one abortion is irresponsible and that anything later than 6 weeks is cruel.

This post is by Lindsay Smith, and is part of Tsk Tsk: Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders and cross-posted with Rewire in partnership with Ipas.

During my recent move from my one bedroom apartment into my four bedroom house, a friend of mine made an interesting, and slightly amusing, discovery while emptying the contents of my sock drawer.

“You have abortion socks!” She exclaimed.

I turned to see her holding the teal, rubber-soled socks that I had received during my semi-secret visit to Planned Parenthood the year before. I smiled and laughed nervously. “Umm, yea. That’s exactly what those are.”

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She smiled and gave a small wink. “I have a pair of those too.”

The knowledge of my abortion in 2008 is practically a matter of public record, as I have never been shy about sharing my story. However, it is only those within my activist circle that are aware of my 2010 procedure; a decision made between my partner and myself for a multitude of reasons.

The decision to terminate my first pregnancy in 2008 was relatively simple. I was 21 years old, living on my own, working my way through school, and living off a steady diet of Ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese.  My relationship with my then partner had become rocky and unpredictable and I found myself living paycheck to paycheck, often times skipping electricity or water payments just to ensure that I had gas to get to work. It was clear to both us of that it wasn’t the right time for a pregnancy.

Two years later, with a wonderful new partner, I felt mostly the same. Cory and I knew that at 22 and 26, neither of us were ready for children. It was a topic that we had discussed extensively upon deciding to move in together. Yet during my career change and shortly after we celebrated our first year together, however, something inside me changed. After watching my friends and family begin to plan weddings and celebrate pregnancies, I felt my biological clock began to tick.

I found myself becoming teary eyed at the sight of babies in the park or children at the grocery store.  My heart ached and burned with jealousy over Facebook posts and pictures of new babies. I was literally sick with desire for a baby of my own. For months I tried convincing myself that we weren’t financially or emotionally ready, and that we were too young and naïve. I tried every excuse in the book, but finally, in a tear-filled confession, I admitted to Cory that I wanted a baby.

For six months, we tried diligently to get pregnant. For me, those months felt like eternity. I was convinced that I’d never get pregnant; I would never have children. I threw myself into my work and began writing again. I stopped tracking my periods. In essence, I stopped caring.

That’s when it happened.

It was an early Saturday morning and our air conditioner was broken. I had started to take a shower before deciding to take the pregnancy test. ‘Just out of curiosity’, I had told myself. The bathroom began to fill with steam around me as I stared, blankly, at the positive test in front of me. I stumbled into the bedroom and tossed the plastic reader onto the bed.

“You’re pregnant?!” Cory asked excitedly.

I nodded wearily. Somehow, during our months of trying, my focus had shifted. My passion for writing had been reignited. I had received two promotions at work in less than a year. We were making plans to move. The idea of having a baby now seemed ridiculous, and suddenly I was terrified of having to give up everything that I had just achieved.

For three months after our announcement to family and friends, I tried to convince myself that this is what I wanted, and that my life was only going to be better from here on out. I smiled through my all-day morning sickness and fiercely defended my right to a home birth. I read all the right books and watched all the right films. I feigned excitement by using too many exclamation points in emails and on Facebook and turned my nose up, indignantly, when close friends expressed disbelief in my wanting a child. I pretended to do everything right. I lied about how sick I actually was. I lied about being happy.

Everyone wanted this pregnancy, except, in turned out, me.

After weeks of crying, missed work, and sleepless nights on the bathroom floor, the rift between Cory and me had reached what I assumed was the point of no return. I was convinced that our relationship was over due to the stress the pregnancy had caused. During one particular outburst between us, I admitted that I wanted an abortion. To my surprise, he showed nothing but support and we made an appointment for the following week.  I was relieved to finally be able to say what I had been thinking for months, and felt embarrassed by the show that I had made up until that point.

Cory and I were both staunch supporters of a woman’s right to choose, no matter the circumstances, so it was uncomfortable to find ourselves discussing the possibility of keeping our abortion a secret. But the conservative nature of my work and the condescending looks and questions we knew awaited us, compelled us to ultimately tell everyone that I had miscarried.

When I got pregnant this time, friends and co-workers who knew I’d previously had an abortion made comments about how surprised they were that I was able to get pregnant, or made snide comments about how long I’d wait before “sucking this one out too.” How could I feel comfortable discussing the choices that Cory and I had made now?

While I thought I was fully aware of the stigma that accompanies having an abortion, I wasn’t prepared for the reactions that I received from people after learning that I had had two abortions. While many remained supportive when hearing me talk about my first abortion, I was surprised by the amount of opposition I received from other pro-choice supporters when talking about my second. Some advised me to ‘stop being irresponsible’ and letting men ‘have their way with me.’ I was also told by some pro-choice friends that the more abortions I had, the less easily I would conceive in the future, and that I shouldn’t disclose to audiences (when I give pro-choice lectures) that I have had multiple abortions, lest they think that “it is okay” to do that.

I have also been met with admonition upon disclosing that I was in my second trimester when I decided to have my second procedure.  It’s dismaying to learn that some of the most “dedicated” pro-choice supporters still subscribe to the idea that more than one abortion is irresponsible and that anything later than 6 weeks is cruel. Like most women in my situation, my decision was not made lightly, though the feeling that I experienced afterwards can only be described as extreme relief.

One of the things that I have learned over the past year is that while our voices may be temporarily silenced by abortion stigma rife within our society, it can be the smallest of gesture of support that speak volumes above the chants, the sneers, and the judgment. It can be a reassuring hug or a knowing wink shared over something as a simple as a pair of socks.

Lindsay Smith is a 24 year old writer and activist living in Houston, TX. She is the founder of The Houston Feminist Movement, an avid reader, video game player, and crazy dachshund lady (and you thought only crazy cat ladies existed!)

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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