I think I might have mentioned before that searching for teachable moments on an episode of Love & Hip Hop is like sifting through Rich Homie Quan's "Flex" single for a fully enunciated word. So a part of me that goes hard when representing for reproductive justice was happy to see the show tackle the stigma of women who seek abortions.
(Warning: If you have the first few episodes waiting in your DVR, you might want to stop reading now).
Season 6 of Love & Hip-Hop: New York finds the Bermuda love triangle of Amina, Peter and his ex, Tara Wallace, back in full effect. I guess the show’s creator Mona Scott Young needed to add a dash of paprika to this predictable story line where the elastic in these women's panties goes to hell whenever they're in the presence of the “Creep Squad” lieutenant himself, Peter Gunz.
In the premiere episode, we find Tara and her two boys living in the same building as Amina and Peter as a way for Peter to conveniently balance his blended families. But this urban Brady Bunch takes a nasty turn when Tara’s weakness for Mr. “Uptown, Baby” surfaces, and she ends up back in bed with him. Amina goes berserk when she confronts Tara and learns that her husband was playing with more than just his kids for a night and reveals she is pregnant before storming out and basically saying she can do bad all by her damn self.
Fast forward a few episodes later and Tara decides that she’s over the community property peen situation and is moving back to Queens. Meanwhile Amina reveals to Peter Gunz adult daughter, Whitney (whom she’s grown quite close with), that she decided to have an abortion because she didn’t want to bring another child into the unstable relationship.
One of my guilty pleasures is even being sucked into the Love & Hip Hop franchise and furthermore, live-tweeting while watching. While expressing my disapproval of Mariah Lynn’s updo’s (that bun life really isn’t for everyone), one of my fellow viewers pointed out something I just about missed when noting:
It reminded me of the two weekends of my life that I invested into being trained as an abortion doula. You may have heard me mention before a feminist friend I met in college that turned me onto to all things regarding LGBT and equal rights for all (but especially women). A few years ago she e-mailed me about a program she was creating at her job as a program coordinator for a women’s center. She basically wanted a team of women who would come in and act as support for women who were having abortion procedures and wanted support but had no one who could accompany them. We would also be able to sit at their bed side if needed, since there families and partners were not allowed to be present during the procedure even if they did escort them to the center. But mostly we there to talk to them, ease their fears and basically just reassure them that everything would be OK.
The training required us to watch a video of an actual abortion being performed, which really forced us to reflect on our own values. Two of the keys things I remember learning was that it was OK to have judgments because we all do. Some of the fellow trainees even expressed that as pro-choice as they were, they had to draw the line at women they’ve witnessed having three or four abortions: “It’s not birth control, you know,” some expressed during a forced choice exercise.
What was most important was to recognize those judgments and leave them outside of the center once we clocked in for a shift. The second key thing that I learned was that all kinds of women have abortions due to different circumstances, and sometimes there is no clear right or wrong choice. The experience forced me to accept that there’s a whole lot of gray area in life. Sometimes you won’t get closure, you’ll have nothing but regrets, and you won’t be 100% comfortable with your decision when you make it, but what’s important is that you can live with the choices you make.
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Working in sex education, I was used to what most people think is the typical person seeking an abortion: Teenage girl, too afraid to tell her parents she’s pregnant so her boyfriend or best friend is her only source of support. She’s willing to wake up early to travel to the next state (I’m in PA where abortion isn’t an option for minors who don’t have parental consent) and undergo procedure with sometimes very conflicting feelings not to mention the terrifying fear of being put to sleep for surgery. But the truth is women seek out abortions for many reasons, and it isn’t always so cut and dry as, “You should’ve used some birth control.” During the training, staff revealed they had witnessed all kinds of situations including refugees facing the possibility of raising a seventh child they couldn’t afford. Many of these women were married, but didn’t believe in birth control for religious reasons. There were also cases of fetal anomaly in relationships where the child was very much wanted, but medical tests revealed severe abnormalities and couples were given the choice of aborting the fetus.
I’m not trying to change anyone’s beliefs but I am glad that Amina (scandalous story line and all) gave a face to the four in 10 unintended pregnancies that end in abortion. For some women it’s as “simple” as not wanting to bring a baby into an already stressful relationship, and for others it’s deciding if they can raise a child that results from a traumatic experience like rape. Her story also shatters the myth that marriage guarantees fidelity and that every pregnancy that occurs within a marriage is planned and/or wanted.
In her article, "Why More Women Are Talking About Abortions and Miscarriages", one xoNecole editor shared her hesitance to share her own story about choosing abortion within a marriage:
“The guilt in wanting to bring another child in this world that we couldn’t financially support outweighed religion and the opinions of family. The decision was something that will forever remain with us, and that moment serves as an elephant in the room when discussing future goals to expand our family–but I don’t regret it.”
Written during the “Shout Your Abortion” campaign, Erica Nichole expressed that the absence of our realities from public conversation meant that we are ashamed of our truths on some level. While I agree that abortion shouldn’t be something women feel they have to carry in shame, being an abortion doula helped me realize something more--it didn’t matter WHY the women were there or what circumstances led to them undergoing a procedure in the clinic on any particular day. What mattered is that I wasn’t there to judge them whether they needed to vent a detailed story about one missed student loan refund making the difference between poverty and survival, or if they were with a man who didn’t respect them enough to be faithful for longer than a few months. I didn’t have to carry those women’s pregnancies, and I didn’t have to raise their children. If they couldn’t fit whatever cookie cutter rationalization I needed to create in my head to make MYSELF comfortable with THEIR choice, that was my problem, not theirs.
In conversation an older colleague revealed to me a few years ago that she couldn’t understand how any woman who already has a child could have an abortion:
“It’s just that when you’re a mother, you know what it feels like to have a pregnancy and give birth.”
But I would argue that is the very reason many women with children still seek abortions. Lauren Sandler wrote an article for Slate magazine, in which she revealed The National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion providers, reports that every year since 2008, a whopping 72 percent of NAF clients looking to terminate a pregnancy were already mothers, up at least 10 percent from the years before the recession hit. But exactly why do women who are already mothers account for such a large portion? To protect the kids they already have. Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute co-authored a study entitled, “I Would Want To Give My Child, Like, Everything in the World: How Issues of Motherhood Influence Women Who Have Abortions.” The study shares that mothers know first-hand the challenges that can come with motherhood, not to mention those who are single parents, financially struggling, and already emotionally, mentally and physically at their limit providing for the children they already have.
I wasn’t able to perform my abortion doula duties for long. I became pregnant myself a few months after the training and felt that my pregnancy would make what might be a difficult situation for a woman even more challenging. What I did learn is that there are more than teens who have traveled for hours because they’re afraid to tell their parents they’re pregnant and reality stars who just got the wake-up call that their husband has problems with how to treat women. Abortion patients are mothers and married women as well, and they shouldn’t feel they have to be known as one or the other.