No Easy Decision


Many of you may know that I have a slight obsession with MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, which I watch online.  It’s a show just like it sounds — reality TV that follows teenagers through pregnancy, birth, and either initial months of parenthood or adoption.  It’s supposed to be a PSA of sorts for safe sex.

I got really into reading birth stories/watching birth story videos while pregnant with Nora and am now totally hooked.  I watch/read good stories, like those of my friends and those shared on blogs (like this great one), but also consume some contrary to my birth views too, like those on 16 and Pregnant, which provides sort of a voyeuristic view of mostly train-wreck births (lots of unnecessary induction before 40 weeks, almost 100% epidural rates, and c-sections that usually result from such interventions).  Very few of the teen moms even attempt breastfeeding, and those that do don’t have the support necessary to maintain.  It’s incredibly sad, knowing this is the education on birth that our next generation of mothers is receiving.  But, I can’t help myself from watching it and, birth culture aside, the show does provide a valuable look at the realities of teen pregnancy in America — realities of which many teen girls may be unaware.  One can hope that its strong advocating of contraceptive use and candid display of teen parenting outcomes will be helpful to reducing the U.S.’s teen birth rates, which despite being at the lowest rate in 70 years is still far higher than many other countries.

Until last December, MTV had never discussed abortion on the show; it was the elephant in the room, a reality too taboo to discuss.  Then, on December 28th, that changed with the airing of No Easy Decision which finally addressed the third option in a surprisingly good 40 minute segment.

The show was opened by a statement from Dr. Drew, the therapist who interviews and discusses events with the girls from 16 and Pregnant and its spin-off, Teen Mom.  He said,

“About 750,000 girls in the U.S. get pregnant every year. And although nearly a third of these teen pregnancies result in abortion, we’ve never shown this choice on ’16 and Pregnant’ up until now. It can be a polarizing topic, and there’s quite frankly no way to talk about this and please everyone. Although controversial to some, abortion is one of the three viable options, and it’s among the safest, most common medical procedures in the U.S., so we thought it was important for us to discuss.”

He went on to say that 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion in their lifetimes.  One in three. And that, “Having an abortion is not uncommon. But talking about it publicly is.” Lynn Harris wrote an excellent review of No Easy Decision on Salon, discussing how wonderfully the show managed to include:

medically accurate information about abortion procedures, the challenge of finding the birth control method that works for you, the positive presence of supportive family and friends, the compassionate voice of a clinic counselor (vs., for one, the cold depiction in “Juno”), the complex emotions of male partners, the cost of abortion ($750, in the case of Natalie, who sold her prom ticket back to school to help put together the funds), the cruelty of parental notification requirements (Natalie called the experience of securing an alternative judicial bypass “begging for permission to make your own decision”), the positive presence of supportive family and friends (in this case, African-American, a sadly rare portrayal), the normality of mixed feelings after the procedure (Markai says, insightfully, that she feels sadness but not regret), and the characterization of abortion as — in Katie’s words — “a parenting decision.”

There’s a new report out today in the Washington Post about the rate at which women are getting abortions and the total number of procedures being performed in the United States, both of which had been falling steadily for nearly two decades, but have now hit a plateau and, in some reports, are beginning to slightly creep up.  The survey cited in the Post article found that

the total number of procedures had crept up 0.5 percent by 2008 – from 1.206 million to 1.212 million. The abortion rate […] rose 1 percent in 2008, to 19.6 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. That’s after the rate had peaked in 1981 and had fallen nearly every year since until 2005, when it hit the lowest level since 1974 at 19.4.

In light of these numbers and the 1 in 3 statistic cited by Dr. Drew, the MTV special is definitely valuable to women and girls who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and considering their options.  While watching the show, I have often found myself wondering how my life might have been different if it had been around when I was in high school.  Because…I am the 1 in 3.

At 17, I found myself pregnant with an unsupportive boyfriend and the ultimatum that I couldn’t be pregnant and remain living in my house.  After a phone conversation to see if a family friend and her husband might be interested in adopting the baby resulted in a negative; with continual pressure from my boyfriend and mother; and though my dad told me he would be supportive, the logistics (he lived several states away) were too much for me to process, I ended up having an abortion at 5 weeks 3 days.  It was a dizzying, overwhelming experience that would have been a lot for any teen, but was magnified for me given my struggles at the time with anxiety and depression.    It took a long time for me to come to terms with the outcome and the experience completely shaped my views of parenting and motherhood.  Though I don’t necessarily regret the decision — how could I, knowing that I wouldn’t have Chris and Nora if things had gone differently — I will always be sad about it and will always wonder what if.

If 16 and Pregnant was around would I have not gotten pregnant?  Would I have felt more capable of making a different choice, knowing what that choice might have looked like from watching Emily or Chelsea who moved in with their supportive dads?  Would I have been able to more completely explore adoption?  Would I now have a eight-year-old child? It will be interesting over the next few years to see the impact of 16 and Pregnant on teen pregnancy and birth rates.  I hope that someone is tracking that;  I hope that the show will make a difference and be more than just entertainment television.

After watching this last MTV special and realizing how common abortion is, I feel compelled to add my story to the dialog.  It’s only since becoming a mother to Nora that I’ve really come to terms with this part of my past and have started feeling comfortable enough to share it with others.

That’s a big part of why Nora’s birth was so empowering for me,

and I want other women who might be struggling to know that it does get better.  Though I recognize this may be startling news to many of my family members and friends who read my blog, I’m hoping that it will encourage compassion when people think about abortion, as well as the many shades of gray that surround the issue and the aftermath of an abortion, which is never anyone’s first choice.

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11 responses

  1. Kristine K. Avatar
    Kristine K.

    Wow, incredible post Amber! That took alot of strength.

  2. Julie B. Avatar

    Beautiful and empowering!

  3. Amber, this is a great post and very brave!

    I too know all to well how it feels to be 17 and pregnant but was lucky to have very supportive parents that helped. I am still pro-choice and think that other young people need to know all their options equally. I watch this show way too often and wish that the girls could see how much can change in just a few years.

    I too have that feeling that life would have been completely different had I made any other choice – but these things are so personal. What is right for one is not right for the other. This is a great example of how both our choices were right even though they were so different.

    Very proud of you to share your story!

    PS: Thanks for linking Ava’s birth story. 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for your courage in sharing your story! The more women who talk honestly and openly about their experiences, the more support there is in the world for women of all ages who are facing a tough decision to make the one that is right for them. On a more personal note, it has been such a pleasure to get to know you better through your blog. You are an incredible thinker and writer – thank you for sharing!

  5. Laura Zurowski Avatar
    Laura Zurowski

    Amber, thank you for sharing such a personal and powerful story. This is a very courageous act, for as you say, so many people shy away from talking about abortion.

    This issue does have many shades of gray. At one time, 20+ years ago I was a fierce supporter of abortion rights with no restrictions. Then, 14 years ago my attitude softened slightly when my sister, who was 22 and unmarried, had an unexpected pregnancy that she decided to keep. I remember being so concerned about her ability to provide for herself and the baby, but in the end it was all for the best. My niece has brought such joy and happiness to my sister and our entire family. We would all be so different if my sister had chosen to terminate.

    However, my sister had family support and that made a big difference in ensuring that my niece grew up in a stable, loving home. If that hadn’t been available (and it’s not for so many) then deciding to abort may be the better choice, in the long-term, for the child and the mother.

    Once again, thank you for your story – you’ve given us quite a bit to think about. 🙂

  6. Sarah Ray Avatar

    You rock. You say it out loud and walk the talk, nobody is honest anymore. Refreshing.

  7. Lauren Relyea Avatar
    Lauren Relyea

    Amber, my heart breaks for 17 year old you and for all women who face unexpected pregnancies. Thank you for sharing your story. I often pray that Collette will never be in the position you were in at 17. Nora is blessed with a brave, thoughtful mother.

  8. It took a lot of strength to share that. Thank-you! Very interesting statistics. I learn something new every time I read your blog.

  9. Wow! Amazing post. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I’m so inspired by your strength and openness.

    My stance on abortion is that it is relied upon WAY too much and used as a contraceptive for some (in fact i know someone personally who has had four), BUT i am glad that it is legal, and available to people who really need it.

    If i had fallen pregnant within the same situation as you, i totally would have done the same.

    Lovely post, thank you for sharing.

  11. First of all, let me reiterate what others have said- this was an incredibly brave post and I commend you for having the courage to post it. I am going to be truthful in my reply because I believe that you are looking for honest discourse and I hope you will not find it condemning or judgemental.

    My issue with abortion is that people refer to it as a “choice.” To me, the choice is not whether to carry out a pregancy. The choice is whether or not to have sex. I understand that not every teen has a supportive environment and easy access to birth control, but it’s common knowledge that sex leads to pregnancy. And if you are not ready and willing to have a baby, you should not be having sex. Especially unprotected sex.
    Basically, I believe that when you choose to have sex, you choose the possibility of becoming pregnant. And once you are, the life inside of you is no longer your “choice.” I’ve always believed this, which is why I waited until I was a legal adult and out of high school to become sexually active.
    This reminds me of one of your earlier posts about marriage and divorce, and I find your views on abortion to be at odds with your views on divorce. You feel that when someone commits to marriage, they have a sacred responsibility to carry out that commitment, even if they find themselves unhappy. That’s the same way I view pregancy- even accidental pregancy, because you still made the decision to have sex. To me it just comes down to personal responsibility. We have to deal with the choices that we make.

    Again, I hope that this does not come off as a condemnation. One of my very dearest friends had an abortion as a teen and I understand that it’s an incredibly hard decision to make. And one thing we discussed in your marriage/divorce post was that perhaps the one “excuse” for divorce is when people marry too young and don’t quite grasp the depth of what they are undertaking. The same could be said for teens and sex. So, I agree that what we need is to better educate teens (and all women) about the realities of sex and becoming pregnant. Maybe 16 and Pregnant will help? Although I can’t help but wonder if making celebrities out of these girls and putting them on the cover of magazines is sending the right message. And if I had a teenage daughter, I hope I would have the courage to support her in carrying out a pregancy when abortion would be the “easier” solution. Personal responsibility is always easier to advocate when it relates to someone else. I can’t say for sure what I would have done in your shoes, and I don’t envy you for having faced that. Thank you for sharing.

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