It was barely 12 hours after the birth of my daughter when a social worker entered my hospital room inquiring about my family’s circumstances; assessing what I can only assume was my maternal fitness. My angel of a mom stayed close by, letting me unreel from an arduous 19-hour labour and a baby who was completely healthy but born colicky (read: If she was awake she was wailing, for the first four months.) The social worker coldly suggested my mother go home and let me face this new reality, “She’s going to have to change a diaper eventually,” she snorted. As soon as the words left her lips, they pierced directly into my chest. I wanted to snap back and ask if that was her professional opinion based on being there for all of five minutes. Or tell her to have a seat because I’m the oldest of four children and have been changing diapers since elementary school. Except, none of those retorts materialized. I was silenced by a tightness that got more suffocating with every breath I took to fight back tears. I cried and cried, right along with my daughter. I was shaken—and rightfully so—but my shock at the whole thing was probably naïve. This was just the beginning of the assumptions; society saw me as a baby having a baby.
Motherhood at 17 was a journey steeped in judgment for me. Teachers questioned my ability to reach academic milestones, I broke up my small family after catching my boyfriend cheating—falling in line with the single teen mom statistic I tried hard to avoid. And complete strangers loved to tell me I wasn’t feeding, teaching, dressing, and soothing my baby the right way. Developing into a confident woman and parent took time, but it happened when I realized internalizing the doubts of others was self-sabotage. I graduated from university, got an amazing job in my industry, and raised a daughter who is fiercely intelligent, empathetic, and kind.
But two years ago, at 26, I got pregnant again. And this time, I chose to have an abortion.
The decision wasn’t a moral bind for me. I’ve always supported a woman’s right to choose and thought I should be married before having my second child. So I took a day off work, went with my partner to the clinic, and terminated the pregnancy. It wasn’t until I was lying in the recovery room that I was hit with the weight of my decision. I paced mentally to find new justifications for the procedure—none of the reasons I had come up with before seemed like enough. I was certainly better equipped to have a child now than I was as a teen, so was my decision purely self-seeking? A quiet hysteria enveloped me for the following days; I went from hiding my growing belly behind my book bag at 17 to internalizing my post-abortion contrition at less than ten years later at 26.
In the messages we receive starting at childhood, fertility and femininity are so impossibly intertwined. Getting married and having children was always a part of my imagined trajectory. My guilt didn’t come from having an abortion or being a teen mom, it stemmed from not adhering to the narrative that’s been sold to me as my responsibility.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have another child. Or another abortion.
But what I do know is that the relationship between my 10-year-old daughter and me is unique; not despite being a teenage mother, but precisely because of it. I will support her most intimate journeys, whether they include having a nuclear family, an abortion, unplanned pregnancy or infertility. I will encourage her to break away from gendered expectation.
And I’ll tell her what I wished I learned years ago: that stories of fertility aren’t linear. That there is no prescribed path for ultimate womanhood—or true happiness.