'I Prayed for a Miscarriage'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Here are two very different pro-life stories from readers. The first:

My birth mother was 18 when she gave birth to me and gave me up for adoption. She could have had an abortion—there were plenty of options for her in the area where she was from—but she chose life. Now I am married and have three children and another on the way. My family would not be here today if it wasn’t for her selfless, brave decision to nurture and protect me at my most vulnerable.

Our second reader, in contrast, went through a long series of traumas after choosing to carry out an unintended pregnancy:

Thank you for giving me a way to tell my story (the first time I’ve ever written it all out). I live in Texas and have closely followed the closures of women’s clinics. I’ve been following your abortion series, and although I’ve never had one, I feel there’s another aspect to the abortion issue that is rarely discussed.

Pro-life advocates often speak of women simply continuing unwanted pregnancies, as if it’s a simple matter of carrying to term, giving birth, and moving on. It’s the whole “accept the consequences of your actions” attitude: The woman did the crime (got pregnant), so she should do the time (carry to term and give birth). Anything less is “irresponsible”—or worse.

I’ve changed some details of my story, to stay as private as possible. I’m not ashamed of my reality, or my history, but the idea that any of my children might ever realize what my last unintended pregnancy set in motion ... that would break my heart.

I married too young. I married too quickly. I married someone who wanted “traditional” marriage, where I would be a full-time wife/mother. Having grown up in an abusive household, I clung to the idea of having that “Father Knows Best” kind of family. I was convinced if I worked hard enough and did things perfectly enough, I could stop the cycle of abuse in its tracks.  

Several years and several children into my marriage, we started seeing a therapist. I remember sitting in that first session and the therapist asking what each of our highest priorities were regarding therapy. His highest priority was fixing the marriage—that I be a better wife and mother—because there was this laundry list of things I wasn’t doing right, and he worked hard when all I had to do was clean house and raise kids. Everything that was wrong in the marriage was my fault.

She looked at me and asked what my highest priority was. I didn’t even hesitate: A tubal ligation. And I was dead serious. I remember saying that another pregnancy would cause mental, physical, emotional and psychological harm. And I needed help, because I was at my limit and about to shatter.

Our therapist backed me up, pointing out the things she saw in our brief time together that she felt put me in a “high risk” category regarding clinical depression/PPD/PPMD, etc.

My husband, however, refused to agree to a tubal ligation. When I continued to press for sterilization over several therapy sessions and he realized I wasn’t going to change my mind, he changed tactics: I’d done all the work and taken all the risk of going through multiple pregnancies and births, so it was his turn to sacrifice! He’d get a vasectomy!

We continued discussing it and I offered to book an appointment for him. (He refused.) I asked every night if he’d remembered to call the doctor. (He hadn’t.) I bought a box of condoms and explained that we could not risk having sex without protection. (He grumbled.) I continued to explain that an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy would have devastating consequences. (It continued to go in one ear and out the other.)

We continued therapy. I kept bringing up the vasectomy; he kept giving it lip service. I finally said no vasectomy, no sex. He kept saying there was time. We had condoms in the house; everything was taken care of. No rush; he’d take care of it; stop nagging.

Eventually, we had sex—except he didn’t use a condom like he said he would. I remember saying something about it, as soon as he was done ... I can still hear him: “Wait, you were serious about that?"

Of course, I got pregnant. When I saw the test results, I fell apart.

At the time I was very pro-life, but I remember thinking about the children I already had, and what another baby would mean, and doing math in my head trying to figure out how far along I might be ... but as soon as I realized there was already a heartbeat, I knew I was doomed.

I think I called our therapist, before I even told him. I remember being instantly afraid for my life. I wasn’t sure I could do this, again. It was a death sentence, but I didn’t have the luxury of death, because I was a mother.

We continued marriage counseling the entire pregnancy. I added individual therapy, to make peace with the pregnancy. My doctor knew the situation and was an amazing support. I prayed for a miscarriage.

I went through the motions, taking care of myself, eating properly, going to all my prenatal checkups, going to weekly therapy (marriage and individual). I started having debilitating anxiety attacks halfway through the pregnancy (that I still struggle with, ten years later).

I continued pressing him for the vasectomy. He started talking about how it wasn’t really even necessary, since I was pregnant.

That last labor was the longest out of all my births. I remember the doctor and nurses quietly discussing if I was going to be capable of giving birth. It got to the point that they had to tell me that I needed to either start pushing, or they needed to prep for a C-section. (I pushed.)

I dealt with PPD [postpartum depression] after the birth. Everyone around us watched me like a hawk, afraid of what I might do—to myself or the baby.

A month after the birth, I asked for a divorce.

A month after that, I moved out with the children and got my first (part-time) job in ten years. I had no job skills and hadn’t worked outside the home since getting out of college.

A year later, recognizing that I was falling apart and failing my children, I asked him if he would be willing to raise them. I was living below the poverty level, with young children, unable to find full-time work, unable to afford child care, unwilling to “take advantage” of the government programs that I probably qualified for, struggling with increasingly severe anxiety attacks, and falling into a deeper and deeper depression. My children deserved a chance, and they weren’t going to get that with me.

It’s been ten years since all of that happened. The trauma of that last, unintended pregnancy has impacted every aspect of our (my and my children’s) lives.

That last unintended pregnancy has left me with physical health issues. That last unintended pregnancy has left me with anxiety/depression issues that I still struggle with today (especially when I spend time with my children). That last unintended pregnancy has had a devastating impact on my relationships with my children and their worldview. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve starting asking some difficult questions about the divorce and why they don’t live with me and why we don’t spend more time together … which I’m answering to the best of my ability, in age-appropriate ways.

I know that even without that last unintended pregnancy I would have divorced their father. But the trauma of that event put things in motion that turned their world upside down. My children went from having their mom with them practically 24/7 to weekend visits a few times a month, at best. The older ones remember being raised by me; the younger ones have never known what it’s like to have me around for more than 72 hours at a time.

My children who were already HERE lost their mother because I did the “responsible thing” and carried an unintended pregnancy to term—which I begged my husband to help me avoid in the first place.

It’s easy for people to rant and judge and lecture about “living with the consequences of your actions.” But I’m not sure if the people who do all that ranting and judging and lecturing really ever consider how their version of “living with the consequences” works in the real, messy, complicated world.