Seven Questions I Asked My Parents About My Abortion

This is a guest post by Natalia Koss Vallejo. Natalia is a feminist activist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2011 she appeared on a television program called No EasyDecision, broadcast internationally by MTV, on which she spoke about the importance of de-stigmatizing abortion and supporting women through this common experience. She is currently working on an undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. In February 2013, Natalia and 4 other Pro-Voice Fellows shared their abortion story at universities across the country.

This summer, I did something that I’ve been putting off for eight years: I sat down and talked to my parents about how they handled my abortion. We’ve talked about my abortion before, a sentence here or there, but usually it’s in the context of a larger conversation about something that’s going on in politics or the news. The most we’ve ever talked about it is when I’ve talked about my feelings about my abortion. I have never given my parents the space to talk about how it affected them, never gave them a platform to talk about their own feelings. I think this is because I had been carrying a load of resentment for a long time.

You see, I had an abortion in 2004 when I was 17-years-old and they found out about it nearly a year later when my mother read my diary. They confronted me about it, and while we eventually got past this rough spot in our relationship, we didn’t really ever discuss all our feelings with one another. At the time, I was so furious that my privacy had been violated that I had absolutely no regard for their feelings. In fact, I didn’t even think they had a right to have feelings. It was my abortion and my secret and it had been shared without my consent. If they were sad or upset then well, that was their punishment.

It has been eight years since that all happened, and while I can still relate to the teenager in me who was so enraged, I have come a long way in forgiving my parents and finally understanding that the friends, family, and partners of women who have abortions also have complex reactions to the abortion and deserve an outlets through which to process them. What you are about to read is the raw conversation I finally had with my parents this week.

Me: Think back, when you first had children, did you both discuss what part of raising children sex-education would play? Was it assumed that mom would talk to us about it because you had girls? In general, what (if any) planning did you have throughout my childhood and adolescence regarding my education about sex and relationships?

Dad: Regarding your sex education, I thought it would be awkward for me to take a leading role, although your mom and I did talk about it.

Mom: We didn’t discuss sex education when we first had children. Through your growing up, we emphasized the importance of close relationships, and values related to it: respect, kindness, love, faithfulness. I believe you grew up in the midst of our living by those values. We agreed I was the one to talk to you regarding sex, as the mother of two girls. I spoke about having sex when you love someone and having kids when you are committed to that person and married. I don’t recall having a formal conversation with you about pregnancy prevention. I left the sex education to the school. They explained their curriculum and we authorized your participation in that class.

For me, I think I didn’t handle the sex education and I didn’t talk to you about teen pregnancy or abortion because of my own upbringing. I grew up very conservative and very privileged. When I was growing up most of my friends probably were virgins through high school and that [sex ed] just wasn’t part of my life experience at all. In a Catholic all girls school in Colombia, there was no birth control available at that time. I mean it just didn’t exist. I graduated high school in 1969, and even if it existed, we didn’t really know about it in Colombia because everybody was Catholic there. I literally didn’t know anybody growing up who wasn’t Catholic…I mean I remember one maid of my aunt’s who wasn’t Catholic, and they fired her. That was the only person.

Me: So, you think part of the problem was our cultural difference?

Mom: Well, I thought I just needed to teach you the values of being good, of not having sex with someone that you didn’t love, of not having sex before you get married.

Me: I don’t remember you ever saying that…

Mom: Well, I didn’t explicitly tell you not to have sex before marriage but I tried to instill high standards in you. I KNEW you wouldn’t live by them, but I thought I would try to teach you those ideals anyway. I mean, I also had sex before marriage! I knew you would have sex before marriage, but I wanted to at least teach you those ideals as much as I could. And maybe that’s the problem, I taught you about my ideal and not actually preparing you for the reality of life. To me this is a sad conversation because, you know, I really wish I had done it differently. Well I just hope that whether you have a son or a daughter some day, I hope you do it differently than I did. I would have started talking to you about it by 13.

Dad: If I had known that your mom was unable to talk to you about it, I would have stepped in and gotten someone else to talk to you about it, one of my female family friends or one of your aunts…someone that is less inhibited about talking about it.

Mom: I could have even asked your doctor when I didn’t feel comfortable telling you about it. I could have asked her for help, or asked her to step in and talk with you herself.

Dad: The thing that I think parents really can and should help their kids through more is the connection between emotions and sexuality. The kids might be getting that information from popular culture or love songs, and I think what’s going on mentally and not just anatomically is something that parents also need to focus on, not just pregnancy and STD prevention. And simply reinforcing the message “trust me.”

Me: So, what was it like finding out that I had been pregnant and had an abortion?

Dad: You know I never grieved myself for the “unborn,” but I grieved for our relationship and what we went through. I had hoped that you would have understood that we would be behind you when it might be difficult, as well as when it might be easy. Instead you told your story to a judge instead of telling us. This made me really sad. (Here my dad is referring to the fact that I kept it a secret from them, and in order to circumvent the parental consent law in my state, I went to juvenile court to seek permission from a judge to not tell my parents. This is called a Judicial Bypass.)

Mom: Well I found out long after you had the abortion. I read your diary about the struggles to get to the Planned Parenthood clinic, get out of school, get a ride to go to children’s court, get permission from the judge to have the abortion, gather enough money to pay for it all, have the abortion, fake that you were going to your prom, and learn that you sold your ticket to save the money, etc, etc. I was devastated, not about finding out you had been pregnant or had an abortion, but about learning how much you faced and struggled by yourself in order not to tell us about your pregnancy. Your father was on a vacation in the Amazon. There was no way to reach him. I just talked to you and told you I had read your diary. You were so angry about my reading your diary and we argued about it. I told you I respected your decision, but it made me very sad you went through so much alone. I don’t know if you remember it the same way I do. It’s very sad for me to talk about this.

Me: I feel like we have grown closer from it, and I’m not sad anymore. I really hope that you won’t be so sad one day, mom.

Mom: I will ALWAYS be sad because of the way I read your diary and I found out about how you sold your prom ticket after we had set up a limo for you and your friends, and that you went through all of the motions just to pretend that everything was fine for us, and it wasn’t. You were supposed to go to a dinner and go to a dance with your friends, with the limo we rented, and I thought that was just such a special night, and it was not. And how you went…my little girl stood in front of a judge all by herself. You escaped from high school and managed to find a ride all the way to Wauwatosa, and you have never been to a court before. You know, you did that all by yourself, and that will always make me sad. And also, when I found out I was all alone…I remember one of those days I ran into a woman from my book club at the grocery store and I just started crying. She was really nice and supportive, but I mean, this was a conversation at the food store.

Me: Did you reach out to anyone else or ask anyone for help?

Mom: No, I waited two weeks until your father came back from vacation and then I told him. And you know? I’m REALLY GLAD I read that diary. In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t always read your diaries. And that’s advice that I would give to any parent.

Me: Mom, no! That’s incredibly unethical! You cannot say that!

Mom: One thought that I had was that, if Natalia had that baby it would have been a beautiful baby. I mean your boyfriend and you were both so beautiful, and he was a sweet person and so are you, and that baby would have had a wonderful disposition. I used to think about that. Now I don’t. But I used to think about it all the time almost wishing that you had had the baby because I would have loved that baby. And your boyfriend has always been very nice, and I have a lot of affection for him still. There is that connection, that he got you pregnant, and I will always have some affection for him because of that. Because it COULD have happened and I will always think differently about him because of that. Maybe that sounds weird that I think like that…

Me: No, it’s not weird. I almost feel more sympathy for you at the time than I do for myself. I thought about it, too, as a hypothetical, but maybe with less sentimentality than you did. Those are reactions that people think of as typical of the girl who has the abortion, but in reality lots of people, family and friends, go through significant emotions like that.

Mom: I did think about what the baby would have looked like, and that is a part of grief. That baby would have been a great dancer! Maybe someday you’ll have a baby and I would be very happy about that.

Dad: You would be a good mother, too. One of the things that I miss most about my mother having died at a young age: she was a teen mother herself, she was 19 when I was born, and I believe that I was conceived before wedlock. If my mother was still alive, you would have had a real grandma who could have lent a little bit of perspective on this.

Me: So dad, what did you think when you came back from vacation and mom told you about all of this?

Dad: When I found out about this it was already old news, so I felt like I couldn’t possibly have any input. My feelings about it are fairly simple. The most important thing that I remember about that learning experience…the most important thing is that you didn’t come to us for anything that would resemble support. Even though I thought you should have felt comfortable doing that.

Me: Can you understand why a young person wouldn’t want to tell their parents?

Dad: I assume that it means there’s a lack of trust. Even you said that you felt that you couldn’t come to us. And I…I can’t understand another reason. So I think it has to be from a lack of trust.

Me: Wow. you couldn’t be farther from the truth! I trusted you both so much. I can see why you would think that, and why that would hurt your feelings, but it was something other than that. It’s like I couldn’t imagine a reality where we talked about it…I was struggling with a lot of denial at the time…it was all I could do to admit to myself that this was really happening to me, and I very literally couldn’t fathom a world where I talked to you guys about it. I don’t even know how I would start that conversation. It’s not that I thought that you’d react badly, it’s that I couldn’t bring myself to even think about talking to you about it period, I didn’t want to disappoint you guys.

Dad: It’s really important for people of my generation, and those in the future, to be able to communicate with their teenage children that we are aware of sex at that age. Many of our friends engaged in it. We basically all knew girls that got pregnant when they were teenagers. All children need to know this: that their parents have known people that were teenage mothers. And it’s important that they can learn, not necessarily from their parent’s direct experience, but the experiences of the people that they knew. I mean, all of my stepsisters were teen mothers, so it wasn’t a foreign concept to me. I was very well aware that it happens. And there was a lot that you could have learned from me. But you were a girl and I was your father, and there’s something about that that made me not want to talk about sex with you, because I think teenage girls think that’s kind of creepy. I probably could have told you some things about people that grew up in my household when I was a teenager, because they were getting pregnant all the time. At least that might have taken the edge off of you being ashamed of it.

Me: Exactly, I feel like I didn’t have a notion of that reality because no one in my middle class high school ever had babies. I mean, there must have been other girls who got pregnant, but they either had abortions or they moved, or something. But, I didn’t grow up in an environment where teen pregnancy was a visible reality. It made me struggle a lot with denial and made everything about it hard, and telling you both was just something I couldn’t fathom. I just couldn’t.

Dad: Many girls who didn’t grow up in a nice suburb with high achieving families all around them would be handling this situation very differently from you, and more like my step sisters did.

Mom: It’s just normative to have teen pregnancy in a lot of communities.

Me: Yeah, and for me, as much as people would think that growing up in an area without teen moms would be a good thing, for me it meant that I was completely void of any examples of this happening.

Dad: Yeah, you crawled in your shell.

Mom: Yeah, it was unreal for you.

Me: This is why we need more narratives about this out there. Normalizing and respectful narratives would be ideal, but I mean that we need more narratives, period. This can be in the form of TV shows and movies, stories, ANYTHING. I just can’t stress enough how much I wish I had heard more stories about this happening, because the utter shock and cognitive dissonance that I went through almost ruined me. Narratives create a platform from which to have a conversation about the topic, and then you go from there.

Dad: Right.

Me: How do you feel our relationship changed directly after you found out about the abortion? How do you think it has affected our family in the long run?

Mom: I developed a lot of respect for you as a person. I realized the strength of character you had, at 17 managing so much on your own. Initially, I felt you distanced yourself from us. I tried to not put pressure on you but assumed you were working it through. In the long run, we all have become very open in discussing our position about women’s rights and abortion.

Dad: I felt there was a little more distance, but later I was proud of your work with Planned Parenthood and Exhale. I mean, I remember when I’d be waiting for you at home or picking you up from school, and I used to think that we were really close. I remember driving you to ballet and having talks in the car, and teaching you about the blues, and music, and politics. I remember saying those things to you and thinking that we were really close…and after that happened I understood that we might not actually be close in the way I thought we may have been.

Me: I feel like in the long run it’s made us a lot closer, but I understand that at the time it might have made you feel like there was distance. I feel really bad about that, really guilty actually. I think it’s one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever done to you guys. But for me, I was just so wrapped up in my own feelings that I didn’t even have space to consider your feelings. I was too busy handling my own mess and being resentful of you guys. In some ways I wish you had handled it differently, but I also sympathize and understand that there’s no manual for how to deal with these things. Is there anything you would have done differently either before the abortion or in the aftermath of you finding out about it? Is there any advice you would give to teens and parents who are finding themselves in the exact same position right now?

Dad: Kids have to understand how much love and loyalty parents have for their children. Parents have to understand that communication in families is often hard but easier for adults, and because of that, parents bear more responsibility to keep the channels open. It doesn’t even have to be about pregnancy, but kids should know that in almost any situation, their parents or someone their parents knows has probably been in that kind of trouble, as well. My brothers, and sisters, and friends, we all knew people who committed suicide, we all knew people who got arrested, we all knew people who had to come out of the closet. Kids have to know that there is a lot of experience that the people raising them have that they can draw on, and that they’re not the first person in the world to get into trouble. You gotta be able to ask for help sometimes.

Mom: Maybe instead of everybody emphasizing sex education, we should say that parents should talk to their children about their experiences with all taboos of society. That means suicide, depression, abandonment, abortion. But the emphasis is in talking about just sex education, but you need to share with your kids more about the stories of other people’s failures, the challenges, and the horrible difficult experiences of other people…

Dad: …the challenges of growing up, because parents grew up too! They were kids once! We know this stuff! You know? My brother grew up as a gay teenager in rural Wisconsin, and although he didn’t share with me everything he was going through, we all know these things or know someone who has had these hardships. While we don’t want them to happen to you, they’re not foreign concepts to parents.

Me: Any last words?

Mom: There are families where it’s not only culturally acceptable to have kids, but it is in fact expected, and then there are families where that’s not the case. And that context will change the experience of the abortion for not only the girl having the abortion, but the couple and the whole family having the experience. Their experience depends entirely on the community that surrounds them, and the stories they see, and the people that they know who have either gone through that or not.

Dad: This may sound kind of peculiar, but you may have heard it before too. I believe that it’s actually important to understand that the experience of my mother being a teen mom and my stepmom being a teen mom and her kids being teen moms…that was ALL NORMAL. Until very recently in human history, teenage girls were getting pregnant, although normally getting married too, all throughout human history. When young women got pregnant in years past, there were jobs for young men that could support a family. When they got pregnant in years past, they would be a part of a larger family that would help out, you know? Teenage girls were not ALONE. Not just for my generation, my class and race, but also when girls were getting pregnant in the 1500s. When the Virgin Mary got pregnant, you know, she was a teenage girl. I think that young mothers need more support from the rest of society, and I think that young fathers who would like to stand up and be fathers, there should be a way for them to do that. There should be a path to adulthood that’s well marked out and that people can pursue, and right now we really don’t have that.

I’m so glad that I finally got a chance to clear the air with my folks. As it turns out, they’re pretty insightful people, and I learned a lot from what they had to say. I also got a chance to apologize for being defensive and resentful when they needed love and support. I guess children sometimes forget that their parents are humans too. I definitely did.


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39 Responses to Seven Questions I Asked My Parents About My Abortion

  1. Alexandra says:

    This was great, a really lovely piece of writing. I had a conversation with my father the other night about how, when he was thirteen, he ran away from home, hitchhiked a thousand miles to Florida, and worked his way north again, to escape from his parents finding out he’d got caught selling dope. I was sitting there in shock to hear my father telling these stories of vulnerability and resilience and total lawlessness at that age, and telling stories of all of the friends he’d had who had died at that age pulling the same stuff…

    You never know what you don’t know about the people you love. You can live with someone for thirty years and still be shocked by the stories they tell you. You wouldn’t know it from my father now, but he came up really rough and sometimes he’ll tell a story that isn’t so funny about his childhood and I realize that he spent his teenage years balancing on the edge of a knife: which way would he turn out. I just have to listen to him recite the names of his cousins, and their epitaphs: dead, died in jail, in prison, dead, Jehovah’s Witness…

    What I’m saying is, your writing moved me, and seemed very true to life. This is how families are.

  2. pheenobarbidoll says:

    I know this will not be the most popular opinion by many here, but I agree with your mom about the diary thing. Teenagers can shut you out pretty easily, and their judgement on what should be secret is not always the mature decision. I read my daughters journals, not to be invasive but to make sure her secrets weren’t of the ” I’m being molested” kind or ” I’m an addict”. There was fortunately never anything in it that was a real problem, so her little admissions of what I consider average teenaged stuff were never brought up. I know she tried pot, I know she got drunk (but that was because she called me claiming to be sick and I made her come home because I’m not an idiot and can hear you’re drunk, kid)

    When she’s had serious sex stuff, she’s come to me. And I am thankful for that. I couldn’t to my parents, and it’s not because they would have reacted badly, it was because I didn’t want to disappoint them or have it change our relationship. Turns out, for me, that was totally in my head. And I was stupid enough to believe my parents didn’t know. They did. They simply waited until I brought it up.

    Parents are human. Sometimes, we’re deeply scared and feel like we’re so out of our element that we will read diaries. I’m 40 years old and I still sometimes wonder who the hell gave ME a kid. We can bullshit better after having a kid. We don’t want to disappoint YOU either.

    We also know how we acted as teens. And frankly, some of the things I did, now that I look back, are so soul grippingly terrifying to me that I don’t know how my parents survived me. The idea my daughter would do half of what I did makes my stomach clench up. Even now, and she’s 21 (today!) and soon to have a daughter of her own (that’ll learn her lol).

    No one tells you how much worry there is with raising kids. They sorta cover it, but not really. You do the best you can, just like your kids do the best they can.

    It’s fucking hard to be a kid. It’s also fucking hard to be a parent.

    I’m glad you cleared the air with yours. I’m sure there will be many a thing my daughter will eventually want to clear with me. It won’t be the diary thing though because I already copped to that and she just arched a brow and snorted. She’s more like me than she’ll admit.

    • Alexandra says:

      Congratulations on your kid’s 21st birthday!

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Thank you! I am now dealing with ” a grandmother? I’m not a fucking grandmother, grandmothers don’t say fuck and I just said it so see?”

      • Fat Steve says:

        Thank you! I am now dealing with ” a grandmother? I’m not a fucking grandmother, grandmothers don’t say fuck and I just said it so see?”

        My fucking grandmother did…and she was born in 1919!

    • Computer Soldier Porygon says:

      Suppose it depends on the parent – you had the ability to handle the journal info. My mother found out I was having sex by reading my diary (I think my grandmother was the one to actually find it) and the resulting fight was ugly and physical. I mean, I know bad parents are gonna be bad parents but I have really intense privacy issues as an adult because of the actions of my caretakers, i.e. always going through my room and punishing me for things they found or just disappearing things (a lava lamp, a Sabrina the Teenage Witch book – whatever was full of demons that day)

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Well, I can’t say I wouldn’t have taken something full of demons. Who could resist having their very own demon?

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Seriously. I now want a lava lamp full o demons to torment until I bend them to my will.

        tink tink tinktink tink (pause)

        tink tink tinktink tink (pause)

        tink tink tinktink tink (pause)

        (that’s the sound of me tapping shave and a hair cut onto the glass)

      • Computer Soldier Porygon says:

        Those were MY demons, mom! God – you just don’t understand how this feels. [runs away crying, slams door]

        #expentecostalproblems

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        or just disappearing things

        Oh. I am familiar with that. When parents have a problem with something (in my case mostly books), and just throw it away. Without telling you, or explaining what it was they found objectionable.

      • Computer Soldier Porygon says:

        Oh yeah. So many books just vanished. The most maddening thing I think was when I could tell something was gone, but was like unable to remember what it was? Like… I know that shelf used to look a little more crowded, but I can’t remember.

      • Angie unduplicated says:

        Wow. I thought my sis and I were the only people who had personal possessions disappear. That sis kept this and other, far worse, abuses from her own daughter, out of fear of retaliation, until the abuser’s death a couple of years ago. Her daughter was similarly shocked.
        Great post.

    • Fat Steve says:

      I know this will not be the most popular opinion by many here, but I agree with your mom about the diary thing. Teenagers can shut you out pretty easily, and their judgement on what should be secret is not always the mature decision.

      I agree with your position but I don’t think it applies to this situation. If Natalia was 17 and she says her mom didn’t find out about until it a year later (her mom says ‘years later’,) then she was snooping in the affairs of an adult, and as such, not analagous to you reading your daughters journal. Unless you’re saying you did it when she was age 18+.

    • Donna L says:

      some of the things I did, now that I look back, are so soul grippingly terrifying to me that I don’t know how my parents survived me. The idea my daughter would do half of what I did makes my stomach clench up. Even now, and she’s 21 (today!) and soon to have a daughter of her own (that’ll learn her lol).

      Happy Birthday to your daughter! My son is 23 now, and I feel the same way. Although I’ve always tried to be open with him about all the ways in which I fucked up, and all the dangerous things I did, when I was young, so he wouldn’t think he has to conceal things like that from me. I have many faults as a parent, but at least as to that, I’m reasonably sure he’s been open with me. Other parents I’ve spoken to have been very surprised at some of the things he’s told me. I’m glad he has.

      And Natalia, that was a great piece. Your parents are definitely very insightful. I wish all parents could be as supportive, even retroactively.

    • Fat Steve says:

      I should add that my feelings about reading your daughter’s diary are largely colored by the fact that I have a friend who was ‘outed’ at the age of 16 by her very own words, as her mother read her diary. This led to her mother committing her to a mental institution (I should add it was rural Georgia, during the early 80’s, when the only thing the mainstream media printed about gays was ‘OMG AIDS’, and her Mom has changed greatly in attitude since then.)

      Thus, it’s hard for me to be objective on this one, so my opinion perhaps is a bit skewed.

      • Donna L says:

        I know exactly what you’re saying, Steve. It’s not a coincidence that an estimated that one-third to one-half of homeless teenagers (at least in New York City) are lesbian, gay, or trans. Not all parents are fundamentally supportive.

        My son didn’t keep a diary. But I confess that I did look at his livejournal and xanga accounts a few times when he was in his early teens. And I’m glad I found out some of the stuff I did — not anything he was doing, but what some other kids were doing to him and saying about him.

      • Bridget says:

        Yes, I have a family member who was outed in a similar way and sent to “therapy.”

    • Radiant Sophia says:

      Growing up, I didn’t keep a diary for exactly this reason. My mother could have read it. In the end, I don’t think it mattered. I haven’t spoken to my parents in 13 years, and my mother still wishes I were dead. If I had kept a diary when I was growing up, my mother would have read it, and I would have been kicked out when I was 14. Long before I was able to survive on my own.

      Also, loved the article.

      • Donna L says:

        I’m sorry, Sophia. One story like that is too many, and I’ve heard a lot of them.

      • Yeah. My mom was pretty snoopy too. And while I didn’t have to worry about being kicked out of the house or physical violence, god the emotional bullshit was not worth it. My parents are fantastic in many ways, but…yeah.

        Thanks for the article, OP; it was thoughtful and clear and well-done. I’m going to bookmark this for future conversations with The Spawn, who is at the age of relevance for all this. And I have to say, this is exactly the kind of trauma my wife and I were worried about when we told The Spawn that we would 100% support her if she needed an abortion and to please not hide it.

    • aldonza says:

      I had a fake diary and a real one. I used to write some entertaining stuff in the fake one to fuck with my Mom just in case she read it. I’d had so many friends to told me their parents read their diaries and how shitty it was that I was too paranoid to keep my real one in the house.

    • BabyRaptor says:

      Yeah…No.

      The quickest way to make a person not trust you is to ensure that they have no privacy. I know this because I lived it. My grandmother did the same thing you’re saying you do, with the same justification. And it taught me that I had no reason to trust her at all, because she didn’t trust me at all nor did she respect me.

      Teenagers don’t make the best decisions. So what? Neither do adults. Teenagers are still people. And they’re often smarter than their parents will give them credit for, especially in situations like the OP’s where “immature decision” means “not a decision that I like.”

      Personal boundaries are necessary for all people, not just adults. And actively snooping in a person’s private writings shows you have no respect for that. Do they know you do it? Because if not, now you’re also a liar, and lying is yet another reason to refuse to trust people.

      I’m all for wanting to know about your kids. But don’t take the easy, assholic way out and then justify it. Be someone your kids would actually trust.

      • Katerina R. says:

        Thank you for this.

        My perspective is a bit different to that of many posting in this thread, being a childless 21-year-old student, but the number of people here justifying intrusions into privacy (not even in situations where risk is suspected, but as a *general routine*) unnerved me a little. That sounds like the kind of solution that addresses the symptoms of a larger problem while ignoring its roots, the problem here being the upbringing attitude in general. If these kids did not feel like they could trust their parents with important things, there was likely something very very wrong with the approach to child-raising already, of which treating your child like they have no rights and are thus essentially subhuman was only a small part. It particularly smacks of the kind of authoritative approach that involves a lot of ‘I’m your [parent] and you’ll do as I say’ that means the child would have felt like their opinions and feelings wouldn’t be respected or even considered if they did come forth with a problem and that things would be decided for them… which is the exact opposite of the kind of person whose support you’ll want if you have a serious problem.

        My parents never tried to intrude my privacy that way, but it was also explicitly understood that I would be able to come to them with any concern and they would support me with it. For the most part, I felt (and still feel) that I could trust them, and that is largely a result of them taking me seriously as a person even when I was little and not using ‘I know better’ as an excuse to not have to explain themselves to me.

    • theLaplaceDemon says:

      I cannot speak from the perspective of a parent, but as a former teenager who lived with her parents until she was 19, I am extremely thankful that my parents never read my diary as a teenager. I appreciated (and still appreciate) that they trusted me and respected my privacy. And it’s not just about hiding the “bad” teenage stuff I did so I wouldn’t get in trouble – it’s about having a safe space to put down thoughts that make you feel vulnerable, that you aren’t ready to let out into the world. I have a reeeally hard time processing just in my own head, so my journal felt like an extension of my brain.

      I was an extensive journaler from 15-19 – it was pretty much how I processed and worked through what was going on in my life. It was a place where my thoughts could be a little more organized, a little easier to piece together. I cannot imagine how it would have felt if my parents had taken that away from me by disrespecting that privacy. I also can’t imagine what it would have done to my relationship with my parents. It would have killed pretty much any chance that I went to them in a time of crisis, unless I absolutely had to.

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Didn’t work that way with my kid. -shrugs- But I wasn’t out to nail her for her behavior. Asked her last night if she felt her privacy was violated and she laughed, said no and said she knows I was just looking out for her. It was me and her against the world for about 15 years, her dad was a drunk and didn’t involve himself much in her life. So our relationship wasn’t and isn’t anyone else’s. YMMV.

      • Fat Steve says:

        It was me and her against the world for about 15 years

        I would imagine that it makes a world of difference that you’re not doing it in an adversarial way.

  3. Computer Soldier Porygon says:

    That was great to read. It seems like such a healthy and productive conversation it kind of blows my mind – I would love to have a similar one with my parents about some things but I just can’t see it going very well.

  4. Elaine says:

    This is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read on this subject. It should be required reading for any sex-ed curriculum.

    When I think of a teenage girl going through this convoluted routine (courts, lying, pretending, making this long trip out of town and back, scrounging for money, etc.) vs. telling the parents, I’m reminded of that old comic strip The Family Circus, in which the mother tells the child to deliver a note to the next door neighbor, and you see the child going through the backyard, over the fence, around the block, through the playground and eventually arriving at the neighbor’s house a half hour later, while the mother is picturing him simply walking ten steps to the next house. In hindsight, one thinks how simple it would have been to just walk up to Mom and/or Dad and say “Can you help me? I’m pregnant and don’t feel ready to become a parent.” The parents in this piece insist they would have handled it without going berserk, and based on what I read here, they (probably) would have. But — the sad fact is, so many other parents are conditioned by their own upbringing, their peers, their extended families, their churches, the media, etc. etc. to react as negatively as possible. Some of those people get elected to office and we end up with a Congress like the one we have now. Until this situation changes, daughters like Natalia are going to put themselves through exactly this type of insane routine — or worse, like hiding the pregnancy and then leaving the newborn in a dumpster or killing it. If we want this to be the last generation that feels they have to resort to such desperate and tragic measures, we need to bring the reality of abortion out into the open and stop letting it be stigmatized.

  5. Bridget says:

    This is a great article. Seems like there’s a lot of love in your family.

  6. I just want to say, on a reread, how awesome your dad is for being willing to discuss these things at this stage. I grew up with a similarly awesome dad, who’s really gone the distance to get over his internalised homophobia/racism largely for my sake (oh yeah, the coming out + foreign wife was not easy for anyone), but where other things are concerned… all through my teenage years I was always struck by how unwilling other fathers were to discuss things openly with their daughters, particularly reproductive/sex/relationships stuff. I really do think it makes all the difference in kids’ lives if their male caregivers (if any) are as able and willing to discuss these things in a positive and non-condescending way as their female ones. I’m glad your dad got there eventually at least.

    And gods, gods, how incredibly difficult it must have been to go through all that to get an abortion, iwthout even parental support. You’re very strong and inspiring, OP.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Natalia, thank you for this honest, probing, and insightful piece. I am astonished and humbled by your family’s grace and understanding for one another.

    I also terminated a pregnancy without informing my parents. In my case, the pregnancy was ectopic. I felt guilty for years afterwards. I rationalized it by saying that I didn’t have a choice in the situation; ectopic pregnancies are by their nature unsupportable. I now think that I did have a choice; there was possible death on one side, and life – my life – on the other, and I chose the latter.

    It makes me sad that the burden of dealing with your pregnancy fell so entirely on your shoulders. What I remember most about my own experience is how alone I felt; my boyfriend refused to come to hospital until the next morning, and I finally understood, in my bones, what it would mean to live in a society that would deny me reproductive treatment and care in my most vulnerable moment.

    I was raised by conservative immigrant parents and am also a doubting but practising Christian. I felt certain that my parents would have disowned me over the pregnancy, or at the least, that I would lose their trust and respect. I could not bear the thought of damaging my relationship with them. I sometimes wonder, though (especially after reading this piece) whether I misjudged my parents, whether the trauma of going through this experience alone (and having to cover it up afterwards) did not in fact outweigh any shame and disappointment I would have felt by informing and including them.

    I think my parents expended a lot of energy during my adolescence and young adulthood trying to push me onto a certain life path and restrict me from engaging in practices they considered immoral and damaging (e.g. sex before marriage). Their control took a toll on me physically, mentally, emotionally. On the other hand, once they saw (some of) the damage, they made an earnest effort to change their values, thought processes, and cultural practises. I life my life with extraordinary freedom now, and none of that would be possible without the guidance and financial support my parents provided me with early on.

  8. Josephine.e says:

    I jumped through similar hoops when I had an abortion at 18 (without the parental consent thing of course). My mom found out the day I had it, though because she decided to visit me at work (where I wasn’t). She had a similar reaction to your parents. Sad that I went through it without her, sad I didn’t feel like I could tell her….

    But something in what your mom was saying about the hypothetical beautiful sweet baby made me think of another reason for teenagers not to share this kind of information. A year after my abortion I was pregnant again (yeeeeaah. That happened…. O.o). This time I told my mom and she was so excited and so enthusiastic about helping me be a great mom. She didn’t react badly at all, but she definitely got overwhelmed by her own perception/experience of what was happening… And, although now, almost ten years later, I -am- a great mom and so happy with my life, I do think that I might have taken a different road had my mom’s excitement and sentimentality not played such a role in how I handled this pregnancy. I was definitely eating up the attention and approval that I was craving from her, which is a pretty ambiguous place to be when making that kind of major life decision, at best. Something I feel very strongly about is that my kids lives should be about -their-feelings, desires, needs and decisions. It’s so easy as a parent to let our overwhelming feelings overshadow that basic right to autonomy. I think that’s something parents need to acknowledge and really think about when having these conversations with their teens. Of course we parents have a right to our feelings, but it’s our responsibility to find an adult support system to help us process them instead of bringing them into our kids lives in a central way.

    • Bridget says:

      I think you make an excellent point. The parent-child relationship is so intense, and parents’ emotional reactions tend to be so important to kids. I think with abortion (and other issues), parents don’t realize how kids worry so much about disappointing them or making them sad or whatever. It’s not just about “will my parent support my choice?” but all the exhausting emotional conversations that the kid may not feel prepared to handle.

  9. Pingback: Growing Down | Clarissa's Blog

  10. nilbogboh says:

    A lovely piece! Thank you.

    I told my both mother and my sister about my abortion a few years afterward (but not my dad. We’ve never spoke about anything related to sex). When I talked to my sister she expressed frustration with me that I hadn’t felt like I could talk to her at the time. I tried to explain that I wanted to, and I knew that she would be supportive but she was going through some difficult things herself at the time and I didn’t want to burden her with more. I had just turned 18 when I had the abortion and I was very much the kind of person who wanted to prove that I was an adult and I could handle everything myself (neither of which was really true for me). Overall my sister was wonderfully supportive. My conversation with my mom was very odd. On the one hand it was great because she was not judgmental and never expressed any disappointment or frustration. On the other hand, she couldn’t understand why it was still an issue for me or why I wanted to talk to her about it in the first place. She is the kind of person who thinks that the only correct way to deal with difficult things is to put it behind you and move on. She assured me that I made the right decision, but she kept insisting that there was no reason to continue to think about it. I don’t regret having an abortion, but I have always been the kind of person whose emotions are fairly close to the surface and I need to process difficult things, which can be a long and drawn out process. During our conversation my mom also shared some very personal information about her life that I didn’t know, but she only did it to show me how it is possible to “get over it.” I am glad that I told her, but I’m not sure that it was great for my long term emotional well-being. Getting over something for me doesn’t mean pretending it never happened and pushing it out of my mind; it means recognizing the complexities of the situation and acknowledging the difficulties.

    When I had the abortion, I only told my roommate. My boyfriend told a bunch of his friends, which I found very frustrating. The friend that I told was outwardly supportive, but a year or so later she was out of the house and had left her journal on the table. I knew that I shouldn’t look at it (and I still feel guilty about it), but I did. She had written several entries about how she thought I made a rash decision and never even considered the potential life of my child. She took it upon herself to think about my potential child because she felt that no one else was. I felt crushed by this. She had no idea how I felt about anything because I didn’t talk about. I felt like she didn’t trust me to make my own decisions. I felt betrayed, belittled, and enraged. I have never spoken to her about it (it’s been well over a decade) and I probably never well. It still frustrates me to think about other people co-opting my experiences for their own emotional journeys. Ultimately the lesson that I took away from this (besides not reading your roommate’s journal) is that I can’t control other people’s emotional responses to my choices and I can’t expect everyone to share my sentiments. It also reminded me that choices are not made in a vacuum and the consequences extend beyond ourselves. That doesn’t mean I think that others should have a say in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but it is naive to pretend that other people won’t have an emotional investment, no matter how upsetting and frustrating it might be.

  11. Natalia says:

    There’s a reason why Natalia is a “cool girl” name! ;)

    And this is a great post. It reminded me, very painfully, of all the things I can’t talk to my mother about – because she is judgmental and doesn’t usually mean to be, but isn’t willing to change the way she speaks to me either. It’s great that you were able to have that conversation with your parents, to go into so much depth and detail, and to have it remain mutually respectful. I’m jealous – in a good way. :)

  12. amber p says:

    I literally cried reading this–especially the part about not being able to imagine having the conversation with your parents. This was the exact reason I never had sex as a minor. There was plenty of sexual contact in my high school dating relationships, but I always drew the line at a penis getting anywhere near my vagina because even though I knew my parents would support whatever choice I made about a pregnancy (they have always been very openly pro-choice), I couldn’t imagine talking to them about it. They were even open with me about an adult cousin’s abortion while I was in high school.
    When my sister got pregnant at 18 (and was out of high school and living with her boyfriend) she didn’t feel like she could tell them and she kept the pregnancy. My nephew was born in January 2002, but my sister didn’t announce the pregnancy to my parents until November 2001. It was very obvious by that time, but she just couldn’t handle telling them because of the disappointment factor. I think that’s something a lot of parents don’t take into consideration.

  13. JA says:

    Thanks so much for Feministe for posting Natalia’s piece. I noticed in the comments that a few women have shared their experiences–very powerful. If Natalia’s story resonates with you and you’d like to speak with someone about your abortion experience, Exhale offers a talkine for emotional support, resources, and information. More information is available here: https://exhaleprovoice.org/after-abortion-talkline

  14. Athenia says:

    Mom: Well, I thought I just needed to teach you the values of being good, of not having sex with someone that you didn’t love, of not having sex before you get married.

    Me: I don’t remember you ever saying that…

    Story of our lives. Thank you for sharing!

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