The right of women to secure their own destinies is being savaged this very day. This means that unwanted children will be born at ever increasing rates.
I Was an Unwanted Baby
I have to speak up about my experience of being an unwanted child in the days before abortion was legalized. No one else seems to be telling the story of what happens to unwanted children whose mothers could not prevent an unwanted pregnancy or have an unwanted pregnancy terminated. I feel I have to speak out.
I have always felt that being an unwanted child, and knowing it, can cripple a young soul and lead to a wound that cannot heal during a life primed for hesitancy, distrust, and missteps. During an argument with my mother she told me, “I never asked for you to be born.” I was a preteen struggling with depression, and extremely poor to nonexistent peer relations. These words sliced at me and ate away at what little self-esteem I had managed to hang on to up to that point. She also told me that my brother, next up in age from me, and I, had arrived in spite of the fact that she did everything she could to not conceive us. He was conceived in the late 1940s and I was conceived in the late 1950s.
I grew up in a small, rural community. It seemed a judgmental one. Everyone knew everyone. Families had many “shirt-tail relatives” living in close proximity. Familial judgment can be even more damning than neighborly appraisals.
Being respectable is quite important when everyone knows your business, and all levels of society, even if you were dirt poor as was my family. No one would have ever admitted to having an unplanned or unwelcome pregnancy. When I was too young to really understand what my mother was saying, she let me know that women who got pregnant when they didn’t want a baby risked their lives if they went to a doctor to get rid of the pregnancy.
She told me many times that when she was in her late teens or early twenties that she lost a good friend to an illegal abortion by a quack doctor, and that she supported women being able to safely terminate a pregnancy.
Perhaps she did not know how clearly her words and stories would be interwoven in my young mind, but they were deeply embedded in me and tangled in most of my thoughts about myself and how the world viewed me. I was always told I was too smart for my own good. Contraception failure and knowledge of the likelihood of death from back alley procedures meant you had kids you did not want.
I was the fifth of five children. Four boys, then me. Mom was 42 when I was born. She thought she had finished her family almost ten years earlier with the birth of her last son, my brother who was 9 years older than me.
I eventually understood that Mom lost her best friend, her mom, when I was three. I always sensed her frustration, unhappiness, and isolation. She was unsure about how to raise a girl; and her teacher and confidant, my Grandma, had died. At times I was sure she hated me. I remember her cutting off my beautiful, long hair in anger. She used me as an object to be manipulated so as to anger or punish my father, or to gain positive attention from educational and medical professionals.
I do not think she was inherently evil or even mean. She just had more than she could handle. I firmly believe to this day that if she had only had three kids that everyone’s lives would have been far better.
You don’t have to be a woodcutter’s child left in the forest to know what it is like to be unwanted. My mother told me I was “unasked for.” I figured out that love just wasn’t shown in my family, at least to me. I really only know about my rearing, not my brothers rearing, as my brothers were all married or soldiers by the time I was in middle school.
The Statistics Surrounding Unwanted Births
Some studies have shown that having been denied an abortion, most women did not choose to give the neonate up for adoption. The common discussion of abortion versus adoption is a straw man argument. Most women who have been denied an abortion keep the child. Very few unwanted pregnancies end up in adoption after the birth of the child.
Carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term is associated with poorer maternal bonding, such asUCSF ANSERH Accessed: December 6, 2021
feeling trapped or resenting the baby, with the child born after abortion denial, compared to the
next child born to a woman who received an abortion.
This lack of maternal bonding has implications for children growing up in a family with lesser bonded parents. Just knowing about being unwanted or even unplanned child has been shown by a University of Kansas Study to detrimentally follow the person throughout life. The University of Kansas release focused on adults who know they were unwanted study suggest people who believe they were unwanted or unplanned babies are likely to have more troubled close relationships probably due to anxiety and avoidance in attachment styles and mental representation of themselves.
So few studies even look at what happens to women who are denied an abortion that information about the children that result from these unwanted pregnancies is extremely difficult to find. The only real study is what is called the Turnaway Study.“ The NYT in 2018 said, “Foster’s Turnaway study had a sample across the United States that she followed over a long period of time. It is the best science we have ever done on the subject.”
Another older but longitudinal study of unwanted children born after their mothers were denied an abortion between 1961 – 1963 carried out in Czechoslovakia by Henry P. David ( Born Unwanted: Mental Health Costs and Consequences, published in American Journal of Orthopsychiatry noted:
“All the differences were consistently in disfavor of the unwanted pregnancy participants, especially for only children (no siblings). They became psychiatric patients more frequently than the accepted pregnancy controls and also more often than their siblings. In the aggregate, denial of abortion for unwanted pregnancies entails an increased risk for negative psychosocial development and mental well-being in adulthood.”Henry P David
I found no references that examine how the increased risk of death associated with childbirth over that of abortion impacts the mental health of the mother or how mothers may treat children they initially viewed as dangers to themselves. The opinion of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that legal abortion is extremely safe, and that the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. They do caution that with legal abortion most procedures occur during the first trimester when the risks to the mother are quite low. The later in the pregnancy the abortion is performed, the higher the risks are.
More Than Me
Researching how the state of being unwanted, unplanned, and unasked for impacted survivors of unwanted pregnancies, besides myself, expanded my understanding of not only how I was impacted, but how families, communities, and even societies are changed for the worse by having vastly more people with psychosocial impairment in their midst. I would love to see more research about the economic costs of institutionalization, both mental and criminal, and general psycho-social costs to educational communities brought about by the pain, suffering and disability of unwanted members of society.
I feel I have to say that I have faired better than many unwanteds, but that like many children like me, primarily during my teenage years, I was lonely and filled with self hate fueled in part by exploitation by many predatory adults in my educational system and the community at large. I also, as seems common for unwanteds, have had an adulthood filled with trust issues and unhealthy relationships, depression, and job challenges. I have a beautiful, successful child, now grown to adulthood, who seems to carry few of the generational problems that she might have as a child of mine. My marriage of over 30 years is solid and happy. But you know what? There would have been far less pain in the world and less pain experienced by my wanted siblings as well as my parents who would have had far easier lives if the unwanted kids in my family had not been born.
I would not have known the difference had I been aborted or never conceived. I believe it is unfair to the child to birth a child who is unloved by family and unsupported or cared for by society.
Refereed Journal References
Foster DG, Biggs MA, Raifman S, Gipson J, Kimport K, Rocca CH. Comparison of Health, Development, Maternal Bonding, and Poverty Among Children Born After Denial of Abortion vs After Pregnancies Subsequent to an Abortion. JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(11):1053–1060. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1785
David, H. (2011). Born unwanted: Mental health costs and consequences. American Journal Of Orthopsychiatry, 81(2), 184-192. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01087.x
Professional Organization Opinions
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 2020 Committee Opinion on Increasing Access to Abortion.
Major Newspaper References – Accessed 7 December 2021.
UNWANTED CHILDREN SUFFER LONG-TERM DIFFICULTIES. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1989/08/15/unwanted-children-suffer-long-term-difficulties/6a372d81-bcab-4752-94a2-99d07e7e46b0
WHAT HAPPENS TO WOMEN WHO ARE DENIED ABORTIONS? https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/magazine/study-women-denied-abortions.html
I can well believe this because I worked with a woman for several years who had been unwanted, who had a terrible family situation when growing up, and paid a heavy price as an adult. Her children did, too, and she was trying hard to repair that relationship. She shared some of the details with me which is why I am being vague, out of respect for her privacy. Sadly, the last I knew (before she took another job), she was struggling. The amount of pain and lack of trust she felt was tremendous, and I can only hope she has found peace and healing. I also remember reading the books Freakanomics perhaps 10 or so years ago and became aware of a study (which is heavily disputed) that showed that the drop in crime from 1997 to 2014 was, in part, attributable (in the study’s opinion) the legalization of abortion. In my view, many of those who oppose legalized abortion seem to stop caring the moment the fetus is born. What happens afterwards is never discussed.
Yes, Alana, thank you for your thoughtful reply. What happens to the children goes unmentioned. I did not reference the crime drop stats because I could not find scientific studies that referenced it. I try to be very careful about what I say as this is a very serious problem that needs much broader discussion. I don’t view it as stigma, but I am sure others do. If only the anti-abortion and patriarchal people could feel the lifelong pain of the children forced into a world that does not care for them. It is the same for other societal violence where all the studies and attention is given to the perpetrators rather than how to rebuild those abused. It is just so hard for people to wrap their heads around “birth as abuse.” But life is not simple.
So very, very sad! Truly tragic!
Yes, Diane, at some point can’t we begin to look at whole situations and the whole person?
This broke my heart. I can not imagine what that must have felt like hearing your mother utter those words. As a mom who wanted her kids more than anything, that any women could feel this way confounds me. Thanks for sharing this.
Lauren, Seems counterintuitive, no? At times I have difficulty fathoming my experience as my daughter is the most cherished aspect of my life. I am just thankful I have the education, intelligence, and agency to understand the context of the patriarchal world that generated so many dysfunctional families. Every child should be loved and cared for.