Sometimes the safety and privacy of a counseling room presents women with the opportunity to talk about things that they rarely discuss in medical settings. Whether due to lack of time, lack of trained staff or a perspective that emotional or psychological well-being are just “not a part of gynecological or obstetrical healthcare,” it's rare for women to have the opportunity to reflect on their sexual and reproductive lives with their medical providers. Recently, I've had the some amazing conversations with women that have led me to think about resiliency and survival in our sexual/reproductive lives.
Rayanna was quiet and almost
bashful when I asked her questions about how she had come to choose
to have her abortion with us today. She had given birth six times, indicating
that three of the children did not live with her currently. She and
her partner were caring for three of the youngest children. She was
taking good care of these three, she explained, but any more, that would
push them beyond their financial and emotional means. “I'm slowing
it all down,” she said, 'seven pregnancies—that's too many.” Her
current pregnancy was a result of a failed tubal ligation surgery. Complication
with surgical sterilization are rare, but they do happen and sometimes
you just don't know the surgery's failed until you find yourself pregnant.
Rayanna had indicated that
her family did not support her having the abortion and I asked her about
their relationship. “Most of them are in Mississippi,” she answered,
“so I don't have to see them that often.” Her mother, however, figured
large in her pregnancy history. “She does think that I'm going to
hell for this,” she answered, “but I have a hard time hearing that
from her. Back in Mississippi where I grew up, you know in small towns—in
my family—there was a lot of incest there. Everyone just made like
that was what happens. Like you go to hell for having an abortion, but
not for what she's done” (referring to her mother). Rayanna went on to describe her extended family
and how the uncles were given free reign over younger female family
members. “It happened to so many of us, it was almost like it wasn't
any big thing. No one talked about it and when I told my mom what was
happening, she didn't do anything, didn't stop it.”
As a result of the incest, Rayanna had been sexually active for most of her life—but not on her own terms, not with her consent. When Rayanna became a teenager, she said she longed for affection and attention. But, not yet understanding how to get what she needed, she became sexually active with partners she described as “no good, beating on me, cheating on me and never there when I needed them.” She got pregnant twice as a teen and her mother forbid her to have an abortion. Bewildered, she went along with this and the two infants were adopted by a relative. A third pregnancy two years later came as a result of a rape. Again, her mother forbid her to have an abortion and the child was adopted by a family friend. She had borne three children by the age of 20—again, not on her own terms.
When Rayanna moved away from home, she met her current partner. “It was like moving from the projects to Beverly Hills,” she explained, describing their relationship, and they had three children together. All her other children had been boys; this time she had two daughters. Something happened to her, she said, when the girls were born. She could recognize herself in them and before she knew it, she started talking about the abuse. “I just started talking and talking,” she said, “and no one could shut me up. I talked to my mother about what it felt like when she didn't listen to me. I talked to my relatives about what happened to me. I made sure everyone knew what those uncles had done and that all the children were aware.” This was not received well by older family members, she said, who were angry with her for stirring up “old trouble.” “Why would they think it would just stop?” she said, “They think because they're old men now that's gonna stop them? You do it to one child, you're gonna do it to another.”
Rayanna brought it into the light. Generations of incest, silence and abuse ended that day. Her children would be safe—she would see to that. It meant sacrificing her relationship with her extended family and straining her relationship with her mother, but it was a worthy price to pay. I didn't know what to say, other than to thank Rayanna for what she had done. “I feel like I'm sitting here with a woman of such amazing strength,” I said. “Do you realize what a big deal it was for you to speak up about that? You did it, you're keeping your family safe.” It was a hard road, but she was staking claim to her life, her safety, her sexuality, her fertility--this time on her terms.
“I'm slowing it down,” she said. “I had three babies born and given away before I was even sure what babies were good for. Maybe if my mother had listened to me when I tried to tell her about the abuse the first time and gotten me some help, maybe then I wouldn't have needed to have all those boyfriends who treated me bad. Maybe I wouldn't have got pregnant and maybe no rape. But that was then. I talk about it all now and no one's going to do that to my kids. It took years of counseling to understand what all happened and now, I'm slowing it all down. I've got my three kids and we're working on communicating better and better and I just can't handle any more kids today. That's why I'm here. I'm slowing it all back down.”
Note: Nell (not her real name) has graciously accepted our invitation to join us on abortionclinicdays.com. We are thrilled and honored to have her authentic voice and wisdom.