Medication and My Abortions Were the Mental Health Care I Needed to Parent

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Culture & Conversation Family

Medication and My Abortions Were the Mental Health Care I Needed to Parent

Kay Winston

I knew I wanted to be a parent—but not until I felt fully ready and had the support I needed to thrive.

Check out more stories on abortion and reimagining motherhood.

Being a mother is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. There’s a lot of pressure telling us what we should do and how to change everything about who we are to give our children the best advantage in life. It’s hard living each day and caring for my children among the messages that we hear on social media, in the news, and from politicians telling us to do more—and for me, it’s even harder, as a Black mama who has had abortions and is living with a mental illness.

The pressure of motherhood is fucking stressful—and even more so when combined with the harmful stigma unfairly thrust onto all of us who are living with bipolar disorder and who choose abortion as a way to build our families.

I appreciate the way that our communities come together to honor mamas on Mother’s Day, but I wonder what it would take to ensure we have all of the support that we need throughout the year so that we can feel supported and celebrated in our decisions.

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I’ve always been ashamed to talk about my mental disorder because people in my life have used it against me. I am even nervous to publish this article under my name, but as an abortion storyteller, I know the power of sharing our stories and speaking out about our most vulnerable moments. So I am hoping that my voice will make a difference again now.

Daily life as a mom with bipolar disorder can take a toll. Making sure kids have clean clothes and food is important, but sometimes it’s beyond challenging for me to do for myself when I’m depressed, let alone another person. It’s a daily struggle, and the pressure feels that much more weighty if your ability to care for your children and their health is judged based on their race, what they’re wearing, and how they present in public. This is something that Black mamas know all too well. There’s no space for error.

My need for space to care for my mental health and the ability to create my family on my own terms is also why I am so thankful for my abortions. I was diagnosed with a mental disorder at a very young age, but I didn’t see how it was affecting my everyday life until I was older. The first time I became pregnant at age 19, I wasn’t on medication and I was trying to figure out what I needed to feel like myself again. I was navigating getting professional help for my health, and couldn’t take on the stress of a pregnancy.

Parenthood was not in my plans yet, so I had an abortion. I knew that I wanted to be a parent, but not until I felt fully ready and had the support I needed to thrive.

The second time I found out I was pregnant, I was in the process of being locked up. It was during intake that I took a pregnancy test. I found out as the nurse yelled, “Tell her it’s positive,” from another room. That was it. I had no choice but to keep moving through the intake process with this brand new information. I was already having trouble processing the fact that I was in jail. I’d been convicted of a minor, nonviolent crime and even my lawyer was shocked that my sentence included jail time. I couldn’t talk to my boyfriend, my family, a friend, anyone. I was totally on my own in this jail cell.

I know that some people may judge me for my abortions, but I will not apologize for putting my mental health and children’s futures first.

I was locked in the pregnancy pod for about two weeks before I was able to visit a health-care provider. While I waited out those two weeks, I had no idea how far along I was. I didn’t have access to prenatal vitamins, medication for my mental illness, or any sort of medical care. There was nothing. When I finally had some time and space to think about the news, I came to the conclusion that while I loved my boyfriend and thought that we would be good parents, this wasn’t the right time for us to raise a child. I wanted to finish college. I wanted to become a parent eventually, but on my terms, under happier circumstances.

Being pregnant in jail felt cold, terrifying, and wrong. At my appointment, I made it very clear that I wanted to have an abortion, but the jail staff told me it wasn’t possible because I was only there 60 days. They told me that if I wanted to have an abortion, I’d have to wait until I got out two months later. As time passed, I began to realize that my pregnancy might be too far along to terminate once I was released. I was about to become a mother, whether I wanted to or not. I’ve made the best of my situation, and I love my son dearly, but I’ll never forget the trauma of being forced into motherhood while simultaneously being denied the ability to properly care for myself or my baby.

I love being a mother, and I wish the decision wasn’t made for me by a jail nurse whose name I don’t know. It’s been a challenge, but we’ve made it work. A few years later, I became pregnant again and I had my daughter, a decision I was fully in control of. I was happy with our family of four, and starting to feel comfortable in my body, mind, and soul. But, I became pregnant again.

There was a lot going on in our home, now with two children; I was having anxiety, and I didn’t feel like I could handle another pregnancy. I was trying different medications and feeling like I was all over the place. The medications I was taking were giving me horrible side effects, and I felt more out of control. I knew the medications would help me be the best mom I could be, and another pregnancy wouldn’t allow me to continue on that path. So, I had another abortion.

Each day of motherhood is still a challenge. I have to balance the roller coasters in my brain with caring for my babies, my relationship with my fiancé, my work, and caring for myself. These days, I travel more, take creative moments for myself to scrapbook, meditate, and spend solo time exploring my dreams.

I know that some people may judge me for my abortions, but I will not apologize for putting my mental health and children’s futures first. I know that I’m a damn good mom, and nothing they say will change that. This Mother’s Day, I hope everyone will take a moment to reject the pressures and narrow limits that are put on moms like me. My medication and my abortions helped me become a better mom. And this Mother’s Day, I am thankful for both.