Ayelet Waldman, noted author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace; Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (I went to her reading when it came out and got a chance to celebrate with Ayelet and friends afterward); Daughter’s Keeper; and the Mommy-Track Mysteries, has had two abortions.
In a recent interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, she tells her story, and it is here that she reveals, for the first time, an earlier abortion. She speaks about her second one openly, honestly, and in great detail. She is ballsy. Her candidness floors me.
As I listened to Ayelet, I began to notice how different it is to hear someone speak from personal experience instead of just spouting off talking points about the issues that take up so much political space. In just 15 compelling minutes, Ayelet touched on topics that we only ever hear about being debated through their political and medical names, issues like Fetal Pain, Late Term Abortions, Repeat Abortions, and Psychological Impact. But, when spoken from personal experience, it sounds, much, much, different. Much better. Not easier, or good, but More Real.
We know that an abortion can affect people differently at different points in their lives, and Ayelet demonstrates this when she reveals how easy her decision-making was and how little her first abortion affected her emotionally, which is so different from the heart-wrenching decision and emotional impact of her second. She speaks about feelings of trauma and depression, and she tells how she told the doctor to make sure her baby was dead before the abortion, to make sure it didn’t feel anything. She named that baby – Rocketship – something that many women do. Her second abortion was at four months, which requires a different kind of procedure than most abortions which take place earlier and she describes it as gruesome. She describes the care and comfort her mother offered her, and yet also tells how her words fell short of what she needed. Ayelet worried that she “killed a baby because I was a coward.”
Ayelet’s story is unique, as is the story of each woman who has had an abortion. Other women who have had abortions may listen to her story and relate, they may feel like she is describing their own experience. Others may not, and find her reaction and feelings bear no resemblance to what they experienced. Ayelet is not trying to speak for every woman, though the very act of speaking, of telling her truth, and doing it with such emotion and brutal honesty, is a gift to every woman who has had an abortion.
Most importantly, it gives us an idea of what a new kind of debate might look like and sound like if it was being driven by the voices and stories of women who have had abortions, women like Ayelet Waldman.
On her blog, Ayelet writes:
I talked about things I never thought I would, in ways I didn’t expect. And the feedback/fallout has been equally intense. I’ve received hundreds of emails today, mostly from women thanking me for speaking out so openly about the abortion we had. I won’t betray their confidences by writing about what they said, but I’ve spent a lot of today crying over other people’s stories. So thank you for writing. It means a tremendous amount to me.
Thank you, Ayelet. Your story means a tremendous amount to all of us.