This is a guest post from a friend who will remain anonymous. Please consider this a trigger warning.
It was nearly fifteen years ago that my grandmother was dying and my grief associated with losing someone who had been so important to me had driven me to go on an evening walk. Normally, I would have brought my dog with me, but I wanted to be alone and so I left him at home as I wandered off. We lived pretty far from town, so it seemed unlikely I would run into very many people. I knew all of our neighbors and it wasn’t as if I would go anywhere that I felt unsafe. Whatever the justification I used in my head, I did something that, in our culture, was considered irresponsible.
Unbeknownst to me, I had been watched. I won’t go into details about what happened, as I don’t want to harm others with my own experience. It was violent and extremely painful, and I wanted to die. All I could think of was when I was in Sunday School and they taught me and my peers that it was better to die fighting than to live as a soiled woman, without my virginity. I didn’t die fighting. I don’t even remember if I was able to fight. Not only had I done something that, I thought at the time, was horribly wrong in leaving my house at night, unescorted, I survived something that no young lady is supposed to survive. I knew I should have died. My story didn’t end there, though.
I don’t know how long I lay in the grass near the side of the road, but it was quite some time. I hadn’t told my family where I would be, though, so at some point I realized I had to go home. I snuck into the house and everyone had gone to bed. I took a shower and put my torn clothes into a plastic bag. I went to bed, but I don’t think I slept. The next thing I heard from my family, though, was my mother answering the phone and her distressed cries from the announcement of my grandmother’s death. I had seriously disappointed my entire family, God and, now, the only person I felt I could turn to was gone forever.
It wasn’t long, though, before my family found out. As a normally laid-back person, my mother noticed that something was horribly wrong because of my behavior. She forced a confession out of me and we went to the doctor, where he did some testing. I was terrified. I had never been to an ObGyn before, I had never been touched by a man on my chest or my genitals before. Suddenly, all the things which I had been taught to protect with my very well-being were no longer sacred to others. The doctor was kind, at least, but he was from the same religious background as I was. He was a friend of the family. This made it tougher when I went back for a follow up three months later and learned that I was pregnant.
I was suffering from some serious mental issues, by then. I would go into weird mental states where I just couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t function. When I was functioning and responsive, I wasn’t like I used to be. I was withdrawn. I didn’t talk to people if I didn’t have to. I was terrified of people, especially men. I avoided them as much as possible. I spent days locked up in my room. My parents sent me to a counselor.
My doctor told me what my options were, but also reminded me that I was aware of what our religion’s stance was on abortion. I had been taught all the things that most highly religious and conservative people were taught about abortion. When I went home, my father argued with my mother. He wanted me to have an abortion and she was absolutely against it. I didn’t want to be a baby killer. So, I had a choice, but it was an uninformed choice and I wasn’t in a decent mental state to even make choices. I chose to remain pregnant.
Some family members saw the pregnancy as some kind of gift from God. Some felt it was punishment for something I must have done that was horribly wrong. My family believed God had bestowed me with a way of seeking closure.
Meanwhile, the officers who were investigating the case were not getting anywhere. I had thrown away my clothes and they were likely lost in a landfill, miles away. The area where it happened wasn’t composed of things that made the investigation any easier and when it was discovered that I was pregnant, the police officer told my mother that I must be lying. “You can’t get pregnant from rape,” he told her. They dropped the case.
It was a struggle to go to college, the following Fall. Pregnant and withdrawn, I just let people say what they wanted to about it. I was harassed endlessly. Most of my friends, who were also from church, stopped talking to me. Rumors spread quickly. A church leader called me in to have a meeting with him. I was barely able to tell him what happened. He told me, “girls like you shouldn’t go out at night like that.” I thought he was right. He made me repent. I repented for being violently raped. I repented for getting pregnant.As my mental health began to adjust to the strain, I did well in school and focused on it. Everyone had become so cruel to me and my mother was acting as if what happened to me was her own tragedy. She kept telling everyone. I wasn’t sure if it was because she was embarrassed that I was pregnant or if it was because she felt that her own experience as a result of it was more important than my own. I had few friends and life became about me and the fetus inside me. I tried to write letters to it. Some were angry, some were apologetic. Something else took over part of my body and I didn’t give it permission to.
She was born in the Spring and what happened after that, I can’t tell you. That isn’t the point of this story and I wouldn’t ever want to compromise her safety and security by disclosing any more. She’s 14 years old. The events that happened, though, have effects that have lasted years. It took me nearly a decade to learn to trust men. At some point, I had to battle with what it was I was supposed to tell her when she asked how she could exist without a father. And how do you explain to a child that something so awful happened, but you still love them?
But that was not an easy pregnancy and giving birth to my baby wasn’t closure. Instead, I have lived with the tragedy ever since. As far as I know, the man who did it is still out there. And what if things had been different? I’ve rethought most of these events many times. Even if I had known all of the facts, I think I would have still tried for a healthy pregnancy. But, at least I would have had a choice. And that’s why I’m opposed to the whole “giving birth to a rape baby is torture” stance. I’ve done that and giving birth to mine was not torture. It wasn’t easy and I do often have to wonder about things that are related. BUT, it was also the best decision for me.
The reality is, rape victims should have choices just like anyone else. Sometimes, it is best for them to have an abortion and sometimes it isn’t. It is a painful experience either way and there is no right answer.
The rape -> abortion debate is flawed and insulting, though, because it minimizes the issue of abortion altogether. It distracts us from important issues like body ownership, illness and fetal mortality. It ties down an entire social issue by focusing on a very small fraction of a topic that literally has the power to sway the entire political climate. Discussing abortion “even in cases of rape,” as is so often done, completely ignores any mother who has had to abort because their fetus, the baby they dreamed of having, had no brain, was horrifically deformed to the point of never being viable or other nightmarish scenario. It minimizes the issues faced by women, homeless and wealthy alike, who are not ready to have a family or to feed another person. It robs the irresponsible of their one opportunity to be responsible.
Furthermore, it is degrading to those who have become pregnant by rape. It puts them in a position where their decisions are fried on a public barbecue and examined as if any decision about giving birth could be just *that* simple. I find it to be repulsive.
People do get pregnant from rape and people need their options. Not even just because rape happens, but also because having babies changes lives. It changes them forever. It isn’t just that rape exists and people get pregnant from it that is the reason that abortion should be available, it is that pregnancy affects your health, your mind, it changes your body and it disrupts your entire world. Pregnancy is a very big deal and because it is a big deal, and because it is a responsibility, it isn’t something we should take lightly. It should be a choice. It should always be a choice.
Pregnancy does happen because of rape, but making abortion a do or die debate about rape victims minimizes the larger issue. I have since learned that what happened wasn’t my fault, that I should have been safe walking around, alone at night. I shouldn’t have felt what I did was wrong and it was wrong for others to teach me to feel guilty for what had happened.