Mommie Dearest: Talking About Abortion At Book Club

One of the awesome things about having a new book out [The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality] is that sometimes people actually want to talk to you about it! I’ve been having a blast the past couple of months traveling across the country doing bookstore readings and signings. Each place I visit, there’s always a handful of folks who come up and want to talk all things motherhood.

In New York City, many of the people in the audience wanted to touch on how the media portrays women — particularly those who are mothers — versus men. In Portland, Oregon, I heard from women who were increasingly frustrated by the work/home divide and the tired notion of “having it all.” Chicago found me chatting with young college students who had come to the book reading as part of a class field trip. We talked about their relationships with their own mothers and the concerns they had about becoming mothers themselves.

And then, there was book club. Last week, I was invited to join in for a local book club that had read my book for the month of February. I was pretty excited. I arrived at the host’s house, eager to hear what everyone thought of the book. After some snacking, drinking and a bunch of chit-chatting, they started to dig into the book. They had some questions for me, ranging from how I got the idea to create the book, to whether or not I used a pen name. (Let’s just say that if I had chosen a pen name, I probably would have gone with one that gets pronounced and written correctly at least 50 percent of the time …)

I also got to hear reactions to specific essays in the book, which is always nice. One that stuck out to the women in this group in particular was Liz Henry’s “The Macaroni and Cheese Dilemma.” Liz’s essay talks about choosing to have an abortion, and why that choice was the best for her family.

She wrote:

“…And then, in a case of bitter irony, I found myself pregnant again, alongside all my thirty-something friends. But unlike them, I wasn’t interested in riding this wave. From the moment I thought I was pregnant, to the time I confirmed it with two lines (and then a few more thrown in for good measure), I knew this pregnancy was wrong. It even felt wrong in the pit of my stomach[…] This pregnancy was not what I wanted. How could I start all over again? How could I take from the one that I had for another that was yet to be? It was time to decide.”

Liz goes on to talk about her knowledge of abortion and all it entails, drawing on her experience as an intern grant writer at Planned Parenthood. She also underscored how “one in three women would have an abortion before their child-bearing years were over, and that most of them already had children at home.” That seemed to be the sticking point for many of the book club members, and was something they desperately wanted to talk about.

Many of the women — most working mothers in their late 30s and early 40s — seemed taken aback at the notion that the majority of women who have abortions are already mothers. That statistic didn’t fit the picture they had in their mind when it came to abortion. Nobody came directly out and said it, but I could tell that being a mother felt directly in contrast to the perhaps more stereotypical idea of just who gets an abortion.

I treaded lightly. Afterall, I didn’t know these mothers all that well or their political leanings. I allowed them to speak and shared bits about how becoming a mother actually made me more pro-choice. Though, knowing full well how controversial it could be, and not wanting to get kicked out before I had finished my glass of fizzy pink wine, I didn’t regale them with how I bring my son bowling for abortion. A tale for another time, perhaps.

After I left, I kept thinking about the ways we compartmentalize people, especially women. Why is it so difficult that a woman can be a mother, employee, wife, and someone who has had an abortion? That’s what the big issue with The Good Mother Myth comes down to for me, and something that resonates with all the folks I’ve spoken to about it. Mothers are not monolithic. They’re certainly not one dimensional creatures, but rather people with varying characteristics, personalities and life experiences — and that includes terminating unwanted pregnancies. We’re just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up and figure that one out.

Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamfesto. Her book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.

[Image of a surprised woman reading a book via Shutterstock]