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Wednesday 31 January 2018


Growing up, my mother would often tell me the story of her pregnancy.   She would say that every time she went to the doctor, he would tell her it wasn't too late to get an abortion, but she would tell him that she desperately wanted this baby (even though she was newly divorced and going to be a single parent of three).  She wanted to keep this baby.  This was a sign of my mother's love. Even though other people were encouraging her to get rid of me, she wouldn't listen.  Thinking about that story today, my response is very clear: You should have listened.

This response may come as a shock to many.  I currently have an amazing life; a good education, thriving career, nice home in the city, with a man and cat whom I adore.  Why would I say that my mother should have aborted me?

It is simple: I am the exception, not the statistic.  Most of the kids who grew up in my situation got caught in oppressive cycle of poverty, addiction, and mental illness.  I was never supposed to make out.  I still don't know how I did.  My therapist says it was hard work and will, on my part.  I say there was also a lot of luck.  I grew up dreaming of being rich enough to see the poverty line in a home with a mentally unsound mother who was abusive and negligent.  This is not a recipe for success.  By some twist of fate, I beat the odds.  I have a life that makes me happy.  So extremely happy, that it is terrifying.  After years of therapy, I am not crippled by this happiness, but that too has been a lot of work.

It is from this happy place, that I can look back objectively and say, despite being able to create an incredible life for myself, I don't think my mother should have given birth to me.  The suffering I had to endure to get here was more than any child should experience.  And remember, I am one of the rare cases that has a happy ending.  Objectively, I am statistical anomaly.  An outlier.  This is why I feel it is important to look back and say: no, given the circumstances, I should not have been born. As the unaborted fetus, I say, it was not in the best interest of the child to give it life.  And I am one of the lucky ones...

My intention is not for this to be a pro-abortion piece.  It is merely to give you perspective.  My purpose is to address another taboo subject matter: parental debt.  The idea that we owe our parents for our lives and therefore are indebted to them when they age and need our support.  This introduction is to shed light on my question: what do you owe a person who gave you a life you didn't want?

My mother recently moved into a nursing home.  After years of prolonged drug abuse, she is no longer able to care for herself and needs to have her actions monitored by twenty-four hour care.  Her public assistance barely covers the cost of the home and my family has taken on the burden of the bills for other amenities.  As her daughter, there is a sense of responsibility to cover the excess costs that she cannot.  Yet, the very idea fills me with rage.  Even typing this, I can feel my skin boiling.  Why?  Why am I responsible for her?  Why do I owe her anything?

All my life, the phrase "because she is your mother" has been hurled at me, as if having unprotected sex and carrying a fetus to term is all one needs to do for undying gratitude.  Well, I don't feel grateful.  In fact, I feel bitter and resentful that anyone should imply I owe that woman anything or even ask it of me.  Parents are supposed to provide unconditional love and protection for their children, and instill in them a sense of safety.  This is not the case for children who grow up in abusive households.  They grow up in a constant state of fear.  The people who are supposed to be their protectors become their assailants.  They never develop a sense of safety or the ability to trust.  That state of fear stays with them their entire lives.  I grew up on high alert.  When times were good, I would constantly search for signs that the tide was going to change.  It always did.  I learned to thrive in crisis.  Happiness was just the calm before the storm.  It wasn't to be trusted.

After my years in therapy, I thought I had broken free of the psychological prison that had held me through my youth.  I was happy.  Happy without fear.  It wasn't until I finally allowed myself to enter an emotionally intimate relationship that I discovered that the shackles ran deeper than I had ever imagined.  I started experiencing PTSD flashbacks.*  These flashbacks were triggered by the emotional vulnerability of the new relationship, which I had not experienced before.  I was safe, but, to me, safe was not safe.  Luckily, I have a very patient partner who has taken the time to understand the cause and effect of my upbringing and how it is playing out in our lives.  As well, we are both taking the steps necessary to learn how to deal with these flashbacks, but it's hard and it's embarrassing to find myself in these helpless states so many years later.  I just want to be done with it.  It's frustrating.  I don't want this burden anymore.  I never asked for it.  This was the life I was born into.

Now, I go back to my mother.  She is an aging woman with many mental and physical ailments.  She needs help.  I feel bad for her.  I wish her well, but I don't feel responsible for her.  I spent much of my life supporting her and putting her needs first, which I can say, she never did for me.  Now, I have reached a point where I am choosing myself first.  Yet, still, I struggle with guilt.  I struggle with all those voices who have said, "but she is your mother."

If I had suffered the same abuse at the hands of a lover, I would be told: walk away and never look back.  You owe them nothing.  It is unfortunate that children, the most innocent and vulnerable in abusive environments, are not afforded the same empathy.  We make excuses.  We say, "parenting is no easy task." We say, "but they did the best they could."  What if their best is just not good enough?  What about the children who were robbed of their voice, their power, and their sense of safety?  Why is there some special exception where they are responsible to their abusers?

Maybe those voices will haunt me for the rest of my life, but for now, I need to listen to another voice.  To that neglected child who was never heard.  To her rage.  To her voice that is screaming, I don't want to give her any more.  That is who matters now.  She will have her voice heard now.

To all those other daughters (and sons), who struggle with fractured ties to mothers (or fathers) who did not provide for their basic needs as children, I want you to know, you are not alone.  I'm with you, struggling beside you.  You don't owe them anything.  You survived because of you.  I wish it was easier for you.  I wish you didn't suffer this conflict inside you.  I wish there was a way to make it all go away.  I wish that for you, as much as for me.

And to all those people who think life, under any circumstance, is worth protecting... let me tell you, it isn't.  Speaking on behalf of a fetus not aborted, the quality of that life is more important that simply being alive.

*Article on Complex PTSD & Flashbacks:

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