Woman chooses abortion, on advice of blog

Motherlode commenters offer support, solutions, even civility on a painfully loaded topic

By Lynn Harris

Published June 17, 2009 3:18PM (EDT)

A week ago today, a 22-year-old woman named Emmie -- who'd found herself unexpectedly pregnant -- wrote to Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog seeking advice. Belkin reprinted her e-mail. 

I'm ... about to begin graduate studies at one of the most prestigious and difficult universities in the world ... I've recently moved to a new city, three hours away from my friends and family, and I'm looking at a very lonely pregnancy. I know I'll have very little help and, especially since you write so often about mothers that need help every so often, that worries me. The father is no longer in the picture and, even if he was, he's not the kind of person you'd want your baby near (a poor decision on my part, I know).

I'm torn between my responsibilities as a mother, to protect and nurture my child, and my responsibilities to my future, to succeed academically and professionally ... I'm a good person and everyone agrees that I'd be a great mom but I just don't know what's the smart play here. I always assumed I would be a single mom (I'm not a huge fan of marriage) but this is about 6 years too early ...

Do I really want to have a baby at 22? Do I really want to have this guy's child? Can I finish my master's and raise a newborn? Can I do it alone? Will I be happy? I know that mothers come in all shapes, sizes and ages. I would like to ask you and your readers for their input. I don't know what I'm up against. Maybe a good mother knows when it's time to terminate, for her sake and for her child's.

Love and thanks,


Belkin asked her readers to be "kind and wise" in response, "not political and scathing." And guess what: Kind and wise they were. Yes, the comments are moderated. But even without the brickbats and dingbats (and remarkably, Belkin says she deleted only 4!), nearly 700 thoughtful comments remained, citing personal experiences both rejoiced and regretted, and floating a range of options for Emmie: Can you defer your program? Could you consider adoption? Might you manage with subsidized campus day care, good insurance, food stamps, WIC? Are you this close to deciding to terminate, but just need a virtual hand to hold?

The answers, and denouement, came in yesterday's Motherlode. Deferral? Not possible. Adoption? Met with a counselor; decided she couldn't bear it. Public support or subsidy? No. "I'm stuck in the middle -- too financially stable to qualify for aid, grants, or scholarships, but still too poor to successfully raise a child and go to school," Emmie wrote. Abortion? Yes.

Once I came to the decision to terminate the pregnancy, so much of the guilt and sadness I'd been feeling melted away. I felt happy for the first time since finding out and I feel like my family is supportive of my decision. I'm focusing on the child I'll have in a few years from now with someone I feel safe with and supported by ...

I owe a lot of that to your readers. They asked questions and pointed out arguments I never considered. They were honest, sometimes harsh, but always considerate. The one thing I realized, when I pulled all the comments together, was that a baby is too precious and wonderful to not plan for -- I owe the children I have a better head start.

If I get my degree then maybe the path it will take me on will lead me to work on women's issues. Maybe one day I'll make a million dollars and start a scholarship program for pregnant graduate students. I can't believe that nothing good can come of this, I know I'll do something right one of these days.

One good thing already: Regardless of Emmie's ultimate decision, her e-saga stands as a moving reminder (as Belkin observes) of the power of the Internet -- and, at a time when the topic of abortion has left us dangerously short-fused, of the very real possibility of civility. "You differed in what you thought she should do, but you all began with the assumption that she was doing her best to make the decision that was right for her," Belkin wrote to her readers, calling the collective compassion of the responses "breathtaking."

Still and all, there should be better support systems for people like Emmie -- not just a bunch of advice from articulate strangers, but institutional structures that might broaden their range of workable options. Perhaps Emmie would have made the same choice even if her school -- and our society -- made things easier for pregnant women. But, as commenter Hugh wondered: "What does it say about the future of our modern culture based upon 'economic progress' when, as we can see in Emmie's agonized choice ... the choice to reproduce is such a burden upon one's ability to survive and prosper?"

Belkin yesterday did call for suggestions as to how to "help" young women balance education with pregnancy or motherhood; many organizations (and campuses) apparently do just that. But I -- perhaps like Hugh -- would have also liked to see the word "change." As in: How can we change our institutions so that women like Emmie find themselves as respected as they were in this forum, and as supported as possible in the real world?

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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