On June 16, 2015 Robin Wilson-Beattie shared her story with The Abortion Diary Podcast. Below is the text transcript from the podcast. For the audio clip: http://theabortiondiarypodcast.com/abortion-stories-experiences-disabilities/
Thank you to Robin for allowing the Disability Visibility Project to share her powerful story!
Robin: My story actually starts in December of 2007. I had acquired a disability in 2004. I got a spinal cord injury from a birth defect inside my spinal cord, and I found out a week before having to have the surgery done that I was pregnant with my daughter. I had a really, really grueling pregnancy with her. I had some Post traumatic stress disorder from there, because of undergoing physical rehabilitation, because I’m a quadriplegic, but incomplete, that’s why I can walk, but having to learn how to sit up again, feed myself again, do physical rehabilitation while I’m pregnant. With my pregnancy I also had other issues, hyperemesis gravidarum, or I threw up the entire pregnancy and I lost 70 pounds, and just all of that… that was just too much trauma for my body. So I had a hellacious experience with pregnancy. I loved the end result. I loved the fact that I was growing a life, and I was extremely looking forward to my daughter, but the whole experience was really, really horrible. As far as pregnancy goes, I had pre-eclampsia, my child was delivered 5 weeks early because of the pre-eclampsia. I ended up getting an infection where I was in the hospital for an entire month after giving birth to her, because I got an infection from the C-section because my body’s defenses were just that low. I think pregnancy, and even now like 11 years later, here I am and my insides will draw up because it was really that horrible of an experience.
Now, fast-forward to 2007, and my daughter was 3 at the time, yes… she was 3. To make a long story short, I got pregnant from a relationship where I was trying to rediscover who I was sexually, and I found somebody to “play” with, and I was stupidly was participating in unprotected sex, and I got pregnant. The hyperemesis kicked in a lot sooner even than it did when I had my daughter previously, but what was also complicating matters was that I was married at the time, and it was not my husband’s child. Also I am a person with a disability, where if I was going to have a pregnancy, that mean bed rest for the entire pregnancy, or being in a hospital. I had already experienced being in a hospital for most of my pregnancy, and it is not where you want to, you do not want to do that, not unless you have to. If it had been my husband’s baby, I might have thought about doing things differently, but as it was, it was very, very stressful, physically, mentally, emotionally, and the father of the baby, he was married, and his wife had no clue. I mean, I’m not proud… I mean, I am poly, but at that time I didn’t realize that there was an actual name for how I loved. When I say poly, it means polyamorous, which for me means that I want a Primary, but I also need secondary partners sometimes to get things that I cannot get from my Primary relationship. This is what I was referring to when I said “playing” because I like to participate in some BDSM activities that my husband did not, which is how I ended up on Craig’s List and … I was kind of one of those times, but it was one of those “live and learn.”
I ended up deciding that I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. I went with a really, really close friend. We went to the clinic. I got the money together, and I got there, and I was terrified. I looked it up on the internet, I had called a couple of friends, because it wasn’t something like I could go on Facebook and say, “Hivemind, hey, where’s the best place to get an abortion in town?” That’s just not, it’s just not… because I love babies, I love being a mom, and it was killing me that I was making this decision to not go through with the pregnancy when I have one child that is living, and what a joy she is. I love the fact that I love being her mother, however, because I love her is another reason why I decided I had to do this was because I would be potentially robbing her of a mother, especially with me knowing that I would probably have to be in the hospital for the entire pregnancy. That would take away from my responsibility of caring for her, and life at the time, because I began thinking about the economic repercussions all of this was going to have, and this is also around the time of the economic collapse and the recession. I knew that this was just… I could to bring a child … I couldn’t do it to myself physically, mentally… it just… I kept having that song “Love Child” running through my head for some reason, and I was just like, no, I cannot do that, I cannot do that to another human being. I had to think about what would be fair. I went to a traditional abortion clinic, and because of my disability, they would not perform it. I had too many, basically, comorbidities because of the spinal cord injury. I was not just their run-of-the-mill typical patient. Because of my unique medical history, they were like, I need to go to a hospital and get that done. Luckily, I had private insurance, I contacted my insurance company, and told them what was going on, and luckily they have a nurse on hand. I realize that I was very fortunate in that aspect. I got to have my abortion done in a hospital in a surgical suite. I was put out, I woke up, and no more … but it was like scheduling surgery. I think it was even recorded as a D and C. I was about 7 weeks along.
The bad thing about it though, I mean I still had to go through some of the typical … Georgia has laws where you have to have and ultrasound done and I have a picture of that ultrasound. I have kept it for me. It was something … it just needed to be a reminder, but it also inspired me to get to where I am today. I promised myself, I promised basically the life… I do not know why, I’m just sharing my feelings, but I felt like I wanted to owe it to that potential soul to make something of my life, because if I had made this decision to not go through with this, then I need to make that sacrifice count for something. I never thought that I would be a person that would have to make that kind of choice. The doctor though that I went to, he started asking me all kinds of questions that really didn’t have anything to do with the abortion. Like “have you had a breast exam when you go to the OB/GYN?” and he took it upon himself to start feeling up my breasts, and I took it because he was the only doctor that was listed that would do that procedure in the hospital, and it be covered by my insurance. So I just, you know, just put that in the back of my mind, just like… I deserve this. I am a horrible person for getting knocked up by a married man, so this is your punishment. This is what you get. My best friend took me, and I am really grateful for that, she took me there. It was an early morning appointment, then she took me back home.
I had this done on January 9th, so I had to go through Christmas pregnant, knowing that I was going to have an abortion. I had told my mother, because when I first found out I was pregnant, I was kind of excited until I realized that the baby was not my husband’s, then I wasn’t so excited. So I had told my mom, and my mom was really trying to pressure me to not have the abortion. They were trying to offer me alternatives like I could give the baby to them to rear, which I was like uh, no… that’s not an option; or to one of my sisters, and I was like, that is also not an option. I was like, how would I ever explain to the child that yes, I kept your sister, but I didn’t keep you. I just started trying to think about what this child, or person, because this would be another person, what this person’s life be like? What kind of things would this person have to overcome as a result of me bringing this person into the world? As far as what I felt like this person had against them, I was just like, no, but I vowed… I looked at it as a sacrifice, and I was like, I promise I will make this count for something; that your sacrifice is not in vain.
There were a lot of repercussions from it, like my relationship with people. I am very open, I am a very open person, but this experience taught me not to be as open because I used it to try to … I told another mom-friend what had happened, and she was horrible. She wanted to turn most of my mother’s group against me, she called me vile and disgusting. It was horrible. It lead to this bullying situation, and cyber-bullying, and you would not think grown women and their fucking 30’s would deal with this shit, but yeah. But that’s what inspired me to get involved in making a positive change for things, and to start doing more things in the disability community.
I had a lot of shame. I went to a lot of therapy. I had to go to the mental hospital a couple of times because I thought that I was a horrible, vile, disgusting human being. I tried to kill myself. I had so much guilt and shame over having the abortion, I mean, I didn’t regret the fact that I didn’t bring a person into this world that would have had a horrible situation in life, and I do not regret that at all. I do not regret protecting my own health, and a couple of doctors had also said you have no business being pregnant. That was also another thing that made it, for me, feel better. On the same token, part of me was like, “Oh, you have a disability so you’re not supposed to be pregnant in the first place.” I was like, do not get me started on fucking eugenics, do not sit there and try to tell me that just because I have a disability that I can’t do this, because I have proved that I can do this. I could be dying and do pregnancy. I proved it, doesn’t mean I want to do it again. But you cannot take that choice away from me. You can’t. I understand that not everybody is meant to have lots and lots of kids. That’s why women used to die in childbirth and stuff like that. It is really hard on the body, especially when you are not going to have a typical pregnancy. Like I said, I had already had so many problems and trauma with my other pregnancy that I was able to carry to term. Just the thought of doing that again, was no, but you still have picked up all of this guilt from society. You know, everything that you read in our society, even though I have always marched and did things for women’s rights, the first big huge abortion march in, I want to say it was in 1992, 91 or 92, was called “March for Women’s Lives.” It was the first one, and it was a big abortion march in DC, and I was in college. I went and participated in that. I carried a sign that said “BUSH, stay outta mine!” it was the first Bush. But I never thought that that I was going to actually have to exercise that choice one day.
I always thought that I was smarter, that I was educated, I knew how to use contraception; I had access to contraception. Yet, I got pregnant. I had a lot of guilt and shame over me feeling like I personally failed myself, that I failed my family. The actual abortion itself, the only day, the soonest that they had available and all I could think about was I had to get this done now, as soon as possible, was after the New Year of course, and it was on my mother’s birthday. I now know that’s why I have the date forever sealed in my head is because it’s also the same day as my mother’s birthday. So my mother’s birthday is the anniversary of my abortion. That’s maybe one thing if I could maybe go back in time, I would find a way to delay it a couple of days or whatever, but at the time, all I could think about was that this needs to happen and I need to have it happen now, because I was like, I can’t, I am just going to feel more and more guilty, and I was already starting to throw up so bad, that I had burned a hole in my esophagus. I mean it was bad. I was only 7 weeks along, and I was just throwing up that violently. It was bad.
I felt guilt and shame over the years. I felt guilt and shame for robbing my child of a chance of having a sibling. I would look in the back seat of my car, like I’d see my kid sitting in her car seat and I’m like, inside, I’m like there should be 2 car seats back there. There should be, and every year about the time that child would have been born, I will sit there and I will think about the child and be like, I know, he or she would have been 6 years old. My child, that’s the one thing in the whole world that she has wanted more than anything is a sibling, but I’m like, I’m not able to provide that. Honestly, but now as I’m older and I know myself better, I know that I also have the mental strength and ability to be the mother of 1 child, because children are a lot of responsibility and a lot of work, and a lot of mental strength. I do not have that to effectively bring up another child as well. I could easily see where I would become a person with all kinds of problems. I also wouldn’t be able to have the career that I have now, where I can go and I can educate, but I especially want to talk to other people with disabilities about these sort of things. I am hoping that by sharing this story, that it would bring a different kind of awareness to some of the reasons why people choose to have an abortion. It’s not so black and white.
It is something that is with you for the rest of your life, at least for me. I do not know what it’s like for every person, I cannot speak for every person that has had one, but for me personally. I mean, I’m relieved that I do not have another child, and I am relieved that this choice was out there for me, that I was able to take advantage of that choice. I 100% know that that was the right thing for me to do, and I don’t regret making it at all, but I do regret how much I beat myself up, and how much time and energy I wasted. I also was very… it helped to give me more empathy, I feel, for other people. Nobody is perfect. No one goes through life without making mistakes. I looked at is as, okay, this was your wake-up call. This was like okay, you’ve got to get your stuff together. If you are going to be sexually active with other people rather than just in one primary relationship, then you need to make sure that you are properly protected, and that you’re not running that risk. It also let me definitely know that I never want to experience pregnancy ever again. I am glad that I didn’t have to do that. I feel that I did make it count for something, it wasn’t in vain. I used that as the basis for what I do now which is sexual education and disability.
I feel that especially, I wonder if my experience in the medical world might have been a little different on how I was encouraged to have an abortion because I had a disability. That made it a lot easier for the medical professional people to feel like, well, okay, we’re doing the right thing for this person. I felt supported as far as medically. I did not feel any guilt at all. Only one time when I went to the emergency room in Arkansas at a catholic hospital, because I was throwing up so bad, and they were like you’re pregnant, what does your OB/GYN say blah, blah, blah. Why isn’t he giving you this? I was like, this pregnancy is going to be terminated next week. I’m not going to be pregnant. How I was treated by the medical staff once I said that, no. It was ugly. I forgot that it was something extremely insulting that the nurse said to me… it was like, “since you’re going to kill your baby anyway” and yeah… I remember my husband was there and he was like, what the hell? That was a horrible Christmas. It’s definitely a life experience I do not ever want to repeat again, and it’s something I have talked to my daughter about. She is 10, but I taught her because I feel like talking about this is an important part of sexual education. I think that because we do not talk about abortions, because we keep it in the shadows and shame, that we just perpetuate this culture where women feel like they have done something horribly bad, horribly wrong, and they’re horrible people for choosing this choice. I talked to my daughter, and I’m like this is why if you do not want a child, this is why contraception is very important. These are some of the repercussions that I have had to suffer. These are the consequences of my actions. So this is what I had to do, and these are the changes that I had to make in my life, but you know, having to take that kind of sexual responsibility.
This is the first time that I have ever talked about this with someone that I don’t know. This is very interesting. As I am talking about my experience, it’s raising a lot of not so much questions, but it’s kind of though, it’s a bit of a relief, and also that I also see it, I hope that maybe somebody else learns from my story. I regret the choices that led me to the point to where I needed to make that choice, but I do not regret making that choice. It was completely, 100%, the right thing for me to do.
Michelle: As someone who works on disability and sexuality, when you were pregnant and were choosing abortion as the right option for you, did you find any resources for yourself?
Robin: No, absolutely not. I tried to look up information about disability and abortion, yeah, no. Those resources aren’t really out there. I read thing about where people with disabilities were forced into having abortions. I read where people with disabilities were forced to be sterilized. So was it West Virginia, or Virginia, where they’ve had to pay monetary damages for sterilization, but yeah, North Carolina too, but Virginia, this was just the other day, for people with disabilities that were forcibly sterilized. But yeah, the information wasn’t there. I would like to find a way to incorporated more of this into the education that I do, but in a way, and I would like to use it… I want to somehow use this … I do talk about contraception and how important it is, because there really isn’t the support or resources, I don’t know if there are things now, because I haven’t really looked for it. It’s taken a while for me to get in this mindset of … if you had asked me, even a year ago, if I would ever talk about this on a podcast, and I would have been like no. (Laughing)
I am now at that point where I am going you know, this is important enough that I feel that other people need to hear this perspective. Especially because people with disabilities are treated like we are not, a lot of times, by medical professionals or other people, like we are not complete people. Like we have something missing. When it comes to reproduction, we are encouraged not to. We are encouraged not to have children. We are encouraged not to reproduce. That’s why I’m like, from the medical community, I felt like I was getting that support, but it just was one of those instances, but then it made it okay for some of my friends, even my friends that are very very pro-life, anti-choice, they were like, oh well, it’s different for you because you had so many problems. I even bought into that for a while, that my situation isn’t the same. But everybody’s situation is different. Nobody’s situation is the same. And that’s the thing, nobody’s situation is the same. We are all unique, and we all have … there is no one reason why people choose to have an abortion. It takes you being very honest with yourself about what you are capable of, or what you can do. I think it actually shows a lot of courage. As a person with a disability, I was just really, really scared. I didn’t want to do that.
Michelle: Why do you want to share your story?
Robin: Because I feel like it’s important. It’s important to include the experiences of people with disabilities in all conversations that have to do with being a human being, because disability is a natural part of the human condition. You can acquire a disability. You can be born with a disability, and you live long enough, you join the club as I call it. But it’s important that people know that as a person with a disability, yes, there may be some different factors that you have to think of, and you might have to go about it in a different way, because yeah, you might not be able to just go to your local clinic. You need to do your research, and you need to find where you can go, and what can be covered. Like I said, I was very fortunate because I did have health insurance that covered it because of my medical conditions. If I had not had those disabilities, those medical conditions, I’m not sure that it wouldn’t have been covered. However, because getting turned down by the clinic. Because they were like, look, no, you have all this going on. We can’t do it. Then that’s why I had to go the route of going to a hospital and getting it done by a doctor in the hospital.
Michelle: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Robin: That even though I do public speaking for a living, this was extraordinarily hard to talk about, because I am being, I feel really vulnerable and really exposed, but I also feel really liberated and very proud. I hope that my story helps someone else. I hope that maybe it’s given someone a different perspective on why someone would make this choice, and also to just add to the voices of women who have disabilities and having to make this choice.
Michelle: Do you think that both pregnancies, like your pregnancy with your daughter and the birth, and then being pregnant again, going through an abortion, do you think that was like a catalyst to getting you involved in disability and sexuality?
Robin: It most definitely was. It was. That’s when I was like, because of my own frustration with trying to find resources for the sexual activities that I like to participate in, and I was trying to find things on how to use adaptive techniques for the sexual play that I like to engage in, and I wasn’t finding it. Then wanting to find more resources and information when I needed to have the abortion, and not finding anything that was disability specific, that’s what it was like. It was one of those, “oh, well if I can’t find it, then I need to help create it, because I cannot be the only person in the world looking for this.” But also, it just made me, it kind of galvanized me and made me realize that yes, I want to be involved in somehow making change for people with disabilities in some way. It lead to sex, because I’m very open, and I’m open to sharing and learning, and I want to teach people, and teach people to work with themselves in coming up with solutions and adaptations, so that they can enjoy a happy and healthy sex life. And part of having a happy, healthy sex life is okay, well if you’re reproductive organs are in working order, then the consequence is you could become pregnant. You need to think about, okay, am I going to be able to do this, and if so… that’s a really important part, but yeah. I think that this experience definitely help to shape and influence me to become a disability and sexuality educator. Most definitely. I would say it had a direct impact. But it’s what inspired me to have a career and also it showed me that I needed a community, I needed to find other people with disabilities to talk and share experiences with, and to have that kind of community.
That’s how I started becoming involved in advocacy and I really feel like it helped lead me to, it’s kind of weird to say that, but the abortion kind of gave me the, it was the reason, it was the main impetus for me getting my shit together, so to speak, and actually doing something with my life, making it count. I did. I wanted to turn what could have been one of the most negative experiences in my life into being something positive. I believe that and what I’ve learned in therapy is, because I have done a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy, and that’s what finally worked, just changing my thinking as far as… okay, so this happened. How can I improve things? What do I need to let go? What kind of changes do I want to see being made? How can I help bring some of that about? I found that by talking, by educating. I found that I was able to discover my gifts. That was the other thing, yeah. Because if it hadn’t been for this abortion, I wouldn’t have found the disability community, because I wouldn’t have gone out to probably seek the community at that time. And I wouldn’t’ have fallen into my career. I wouldn’t have seen where this need was. And I definitely wouldn’t have started participating in grass-roots activities where I talked about my sexuality with a disability because I felt like people needed to know.
As always, for more information about The Abortion Diary podcast, visit us on web at TheAbortionDiary.com or email me with your questions or comments. If you would like to share your story, send me an email at Melisssa@TheAbortionDiary.com or visit our website and click on the “Share your Abortion Story” and fill out our contact form. I am currently in Birmingham, Alabama, and look forward to visiting you in your city or town soon. If you are a fan of the podcast and would like to help us reach more folks, please subscribe on ITunes, and write a review, or rate this podcast. Your reviews and ratings will help us grow in the ITunes rankings, and reach more people. I would also love to hear from you. You can also follow The Abortion Diary on Twitter or Facebook, and The Abortion Diary cannot continue without your support. Support The Abortion Diary by making a tax-deductible donation to us on Fractured Atlas, by buying some of our wristbands or totes on Storeenvy.com. Thank you to Karen and Scott for hosting me in Atlanta, GA so I could record this story. If you would like to host me in your city or town, please do send me a message. Special thanks to you for listening. I will be back next week with a new story. New stories are posted every Tuesday.
Robin Wilson-Beattie is the proprietor of sexAbled (www.sexAbledwithRobinWB.com), teaching the world to embrace and explore your sexuality, regardless of ability. She is a member of the Association of American Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists(AASECT) and the Women of Color Sexual Health Network(WOCSHN). Robin has been involved in sexuality education and awareness since high school. After acquiring a physical disability, she began in 2008 speaking on sexuality and disability topics and issues. Robin has done presentations and speeches at conferences, medical schools, and disability organizations. She also consults with individuals and organizations on issues of adaptive sexual support. Robin is an Ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and a nationally recognised self and systems disability advocate. She is a deep-fried Southern girl, Sex Geek, Burner, comic book nerd,lover of all things Quentin Tarantino, and proud Mama of one amazing daughter. Follow Robin on Twitter @SexAbled, or like sexAbled on Facebook.