This week I posted a comment on a ‘first mothers’ forum’.  First mothers are those who lost a child to adoption.  The forum post I commented on was one where the mothers advocate strongly for abortion rights, touting research that I know is methodological flawed to rationalise why women need abortion and that it causes no harm.

My intention when I respond to such posts is never to diminish or dismiss the extraordinary depth of pain the mothers experience at their loss, but to try to increase awareness that today many women experience the same lack of choice in abortion as they may have experienced in adoption.  

Similarly I will occasionally venture to point out to prolife groups that promoting an ‘adoption not abortion’ approach dismisses the depth of loss inherent in adoption and undermines what we know about the reasons women seek abortion; that being not because they don’t want their children, but that their circumstances seem untenable to that option.

My aim in responding to either group is to separate the two issues of abortion and adoption, rather than see them as the viable alternatives to each other, and to ensure that women suffering after either one can have a voice without being dismissed.

The hostility that usually follows from both sides has come to be expected and I think demonstrates the ways in which women on both sides continue to fail to be heard. 

On a personal level I know many women who have had abortions.  Quite a number of them have never discussed the experience and appear not to have suffered any ill effects over the years.  I also know a smaller number of women who adopted, and some who were adopted.   Again, their experiences are varied, with some quite content and others struggling.

On a professional level however, I work with a population of women, and some men who have suffered following an abortion experience, some for much of their lives.  I also facilitate support groups for mothers and adoptees who have suffered as a result of adoption.  

Between my personal and professional contacts over the years I have seen every kind of experience; adoptees who say they would rather have been aborted than to have suffered the sense of loss, even when they also say they have lived happy lives;  mothers who wish they’d aborted instead of adopted, mothers who wish they’d adopted instead of aborted, fathers who had no say in any decision making, adoptees who are thankful they had a chance at life and mothers who feel their lives and the lives of their adopted child benefited from adoption.

It is difficult for me to see such pain, knowing that for so many this pain is dismissed and denied by people who hold strongly to a single view based on their own pain or experience.   Women who aborted may see their pain as much more significant than if they’d adopted because they will never get a chance to see or know their child.  Women who adopted believe if they’d aborted they would have just got over it a lot quicker because they are not always wondering where their child is or if they are okay.

Both groups do to the other the very thing that increases their own suffering, silences them, and fails to fully address the real reasons women are denied their motherhood.  Until we can take the time to fully hear and understand the pain; to believe the suffering is what the woman says it is, and redress the social and cultural inequalities that would deny a woman the support she has a right to when bearing children, nothing will change.

We are living under such an oppressive cloud of maternal grief, a powerful force that could be used to create genuine change; to honour women and the power and strength of their biology, rather than to oppress and deny it. 

It greatly saddens me to see either group claiming the greater pain and in doing so, denying the reality of the other.  Suffering should never be compared in this way, particularly the suffering of women who have lost their children, however that loss has manifested.