Pro-life , or anti-choice to give them a more accurate descriptor, campaigners like to cite the fact that many women who have abortions come to regret their decision. Despite evidence not supporting that claim, it’s reasonable to assume that for some women it may well be true.
Lives are often complicated and filled with regret ; we make our decisions based on where we are at a current moment in time, so can often look back on decisions made and wonder if it really was the right thing to do. Chances are it was. We know ourselves, what we are and aren’t capable of, or ready for.
Pro-life – sorry – anti-choice campaigners also purport that women who regret abortions suffer from mental health issues and depression. Again, despite evidence not showing this to be true , I suppose it may be the case, for some women.
But do you know who also experiences regret ? Do you know who also can suffer from depression and ill mental health based on their reproductive choices ? Women who have children.
If we’re going to bring abortion regret into this conversation, then let’s also include maternal regret. If we’re going to talk about mental health after abortion , let’s also talk about maternal mental health.
Anti-choice supporters like to tell people that there is no trauma that cannot be relieved by birthing a child. No matter the circumstances of the pregnancy, all will be well once the baby has arrived. This must certainly be true , because we all know what an absolute cake walk motherhood is.
For centuries women have been sold an idealised version of motherhood which bears little or no resemblance to the lived experience of most mothers. On becoming a mother, you become subservient, not only to your child, but to all of society. The work you are doing in raising your child is at once deemed to be ‘the most important job in the world’ whilst it is simultaneously devalued and ignored. It doesn’t really matter if women regret having children, because who really cares? As a mother , you are at the bottom of the pile so too bad if you regret your choices, but no-one cares now the child is here. Oh, but don’t think anyone cares about your child either. Or that it’s anyone else’s responsibility but yours how that child develops into a responsible adult. Those pro-life people, they won’t be there to support the struggling new mam and her baby. It’s embryos they care about, not mothers.
Cliches abound that no-one ever regrets a baby, but in fact many women do, it’s just that previously mothers haven’t had the space to tell these stories. In the past, you might have whispered to your closest friend that you were struggling, that it wasn’t what you thought it would be, but you were probably thinking that there must be something wrong with you. Why were you finding it so hard? Why weren’t you fulfilled and constantly basking in the warm glow of the unconditional love you received from your child? So you kept quiet, and hoped it would pass, looking on enviously at the women to whom it all seemed to come so easily.
In part thanks to the anonymity granted by the internet, parents, mothers mostly, are now speaking to their regret at having children. (It is generally mothers who are expressing this regret, if a man regrets parenthood he generally just walks away. So says Andrea Reilly, motherhood academic, in an article on maternal regret in Macleans last year.)
It’s often said that when women express maternal regret, it’s the job they are complaining about not the children. It is motherhood the institution which causes the pain, and not the children themselves. This may be true, but the effects are real, whatever the cause. The strains of motherhood – its relentless repetitiveness, the isolation, the sleep deprivation, the self sacrifice – can, and often do, have a negative impact on maternal mental health. Why aren’t we talking about this ? If the pro-life campaign was serious in their claim to ‘Love Both’ they would be actively seeking to improve the conditions of motherhood for all mothers in Ireland. If the pro-life campaign wanted to consider ways of reducing the numbers of women seeking abortions , they would be actively seeking to improve the conditions of motherhood for all mothers in Ireland. But they are not interested in mothers, or motherhood. Just control.
Many of the activists campaigning in Ireland to repeal the eighth amendment are mothers. Many women who have abortions are already mothers. Women who know that motherhood is a challenge, even for those who enter into it willingly and enthusiastically. To force women to give birth and become mothers against their will is cruel in the extreme.
The truth is that some women will regret abortions, and some women will regret motherhood. Reproductive choices are as susceptible to regret and ambivalence as all other choices. How do you know if you will be the person who regrets their abortion, or the person who regrets motherhood? We cannot know.
Which is why the answer is to trust women. Trust women to make the best decisions for them at the time they are making them. Trust women.