an After abortion

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Naaman writes about Don't apologize for abortion, an article by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser in Thursday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

Buttenwieser has had two abortions and tells her nine-year-old son:

I took one moment to consider whether I was going to get into this with him. I took one deep breath. Then, I told him that I have had two abortions. Of course, he wanted to know all about what happened.

As I started to describe my senior year of high school dilemma (baby or college?), he leapt in: "College."

I told him about being 20 and having had a birth control failure. I told him I wasn't at all sad about those choices because I had the family I wanted all along: a loving papa with three wonderful kids, something that would not have been possible had I become a mother before I was ready.
Try though I might, I can't find anything in this article that suggests that she told her son about these abortions for his sake. She seems to have told him because she wanted him to embrace abortion as a good choice and a good thing, and figured he'd be more likely to do that if he knew that his mom had chosen two abortions. Kids feel an intense loyalty to their caretakers and a resulting pressure to adopt their important worldviews, because sometimes it feels like mom and dad might not look on us quite so kindly if we fail to adopt their worldview. In some families, the consequences of not adopting mom and dad's worldview can feel potentially catastrophic.

It concerns me that in this mom's explanation to her son of why she wanted these abortions, she includes as a reason, "It was them or you, kiddo." It would have been impossible, she explains to this child about his aborted siblings, to have had our happy family if I had mothered those other children.

Would you want to know that your happy existence was brought at the expense of aborting two of your siblings?

Also, note the black-and-white, either-or, thinking: It was college or the baby; those babies or a good marriage and three other children.

It doesn't seem to occur to her that her son might be thinking to himself, "Impossible? Why would that have been impossible?" Or "why can't someone have a baby and go to college?"

It doesn't seem to occur to her that her lack of sadness about these two lost children might feel problematic to a nine-year-old. It doesn't occur to her that her lack of sadness won't automatically transfer to her son. It doesn't occur to her that he may wonder about these lost siblings, even if she doesn't.

Enmeshment is a word psychologists use to describe a situation when one family member unthinkingly assumes that every other family member will have just the same ideas and feelings about events and choices as she does. The people in the family then have a hard time telling whether a particular belief or emotional reaction is truly theirs, or is just one they are expected to have by virtue of belonging to that family. Enmeshment with the views of a powerful parent especially occurs when a young child fears abandonment unless he adopts the outlook of his powerful parent.

I hope this mom will allow her son to have his own feelings and attitudes about her abortions, and that he will be allowed and encouraged to share them with her. But from this article, I don't gather that this mom is up to that task.

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