With the help of the organization Shout Your Abortion, Shawna and Beezus Murphy are changing the way we talk to young people about abortion.
Shawna’s children’s book, Maybe a Baby, is an easy-to-understand, heartfelt depiction of a mother sharing her abortion story with her child. Her 17-year-old daughter Beezus’ book, My Mom Had an Abortion, is a graphic novel that tells the story from a different perspective, detailing what it was like learning her mom had an abortion.
“I am a mother of two and I’ve been a child care provider for 30 years, so I was writing a book I would’ve liked to have read to my own kids when they were little,” Shawna told Rewire News Group. “I very much wanted it to be like one of the dreamy conversations I have with my youngest late at night when she’s trying to keep from falling asleep.”
As an early learning teacher, Shawna said the language she chose in the book was very intentional. She interviewed 11 other people about their pregnancy experiences to get the book just right.
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“I talked to a man who had had a baby. A parent who adopted her children. A parent who had had abortions, miscarriages, placed children for adoption and is now raising children she also gave birth too. A lesbian family. A librarian. Therapists. … I talked to a lot of parents,” she said. “We all agreed that my story didn’t need to include ‘the other side’ or that there are people who vehemently oppose abortion. That’s not what this story is about. My story is about the many fruitions of pregnancy. Maybe a Baby, because for me, that’s what a pregnancy is.”
Maybe a Baby features photographs of Shawna and her two daughters alongside dialogue explaining that a pregnancy means just that—maybe a baby. Discussing abortion and pregnancy loss, Shawna tells her daughter that she’s been pregnant five times, and two have made babies.
“But you love babies!” Shawna’s daughter asks at one point in the book.
“I do love babies!” she replies. “Deciding to be a parent is a BIG deal! Everyone gets to have their own reason to have an abortion or try to have a baby. My reason for having an abortion was that I wanted to wait a little longer before becoming a parent so I would be ready to be the best kind of parent I could be.”
Beezus’ book, which is illustrated by cartoonist Tatiana Gill, starts with her mother telling Beezus about her abortion; her only awareness of abortion at that point comes from outside forces, and it has a negative connotation for her. She told Rewire News Group that it’s wasn’t until she learned that a close friend’s mother had an abortion too that she realized her family was not alone.
“I was like, ‘Oh, dip, abortions are normal as hell.’”
Beezus said she hopes people who might be in the same mindset as she once was will read her book.
“They were also misinformed,” Beezus said. “So they could hopefully get the correct information. And at least they get to see my stories. And they’ll be able to connect to that in some way or another.”
Beezus is raising funds to support her book through a Kickstarter campaign that ends Friday. The campaign reached its initial $7,000 goal; the funds reached beyond the goal will go toward donating copies of the book to partner organizations, according to the campaign page.
The power of Beezus’ book is in her honesty. Not only does she discuss her own shifting views on abortion, she also navigates the often tricky space of knowing how and when to discuss it with friends. She talks about the anxiety she felt after telling a teacher her moms’s abortion story, unsure if her mom would be mad.
“I had told my teacher in order to get it off my chest because, like, I just found out; I didn’t really know how to deal with all [the] feelings,” she said. “I was absolutely terrified my mom would find out I told someone, and it would destroy our relationship forever. Because I still thought it was like a dark secret.”
But she says when she finally did ask her mom, she told her it was fine to share—“and that’s kind of how it all began.” Beezus said if she could go back and tell her younger self anything in that moment, it would be: It’s “not a big deal.”
My Mom Had an Abortion also delves into other coming-of-age topics like puberty and sexuality. Like her mother’s book, Beezus’ illustrates how abortion and our abortion stories are inextricably woven with other parts of our lives despite its absence from curriculum, books, conversations—you name it—that discuss sexuality and coming of age.
Shawna also included her miscarriage stories in her book: a radical choice, as pregnancy loss—like abortion—can often be mired in secrecy and stigma, even among parents and reproductive rights advocates.
“Miscarriage is very much one of the fruitions of pregnancy,” Shawna said. “I’ve seen that disconnect you speak of as well, but for me it always comes back to my own experience. I had five pregnancies, and I have two children, two miscarriages, and one abortion. I see them all as part of my reproductive experience.”
Addressing how to talk about abortion to young people is radical and rare when it comes to literature about sexual health aimed at that demographic, but the landscape might be changing. Shawna and Beezus’ books come on the heels of What’s An Abortion, Anyway? The children’s book about abortion was written by abortion doula Carly Manes and features narratives from abortion storytellers. What’s an Abortion, Anyway? was also supported by a Kickstarter campaign and is currently available for preorder.
“Everyone omits abortion!” Shawna said. “Even abortion care providers sometimes forget to teach their kids about abortion. I learned that when I was doing my parent interviews for the book. I think it’s important because I see abortion as one of the many fruitions of pregnancy. So you might have a baby, you might not, but that part is definitely left out of the story when we are talking to kids. Why? Religion? Shame? Guilt? Patriarchal control over bodies with uteruses?”
Beezus and Shawna are here to change that. Their books are hopefully the first of many that will not only educate children and young people about abortion, but will drastically shift the landscape of what is considered a “normal” pregnancy outcome. By introducing children and young people to abortion at an early age, books like Maybe a Baby and My Mom Had an Abortion remove the shame and stigma from conversations about abortion and miscarriage and help a new generation understand that pregnancy can mean a lot of things—including, maybe, a baby.