I’m ending a pregnancy and could use some moral support about it. Is there such a thing as life after having an abortion? While I have very little doubt that I’m doing the right thing (for everyone), I still feel really confused. —M., 17, Chicago

I’m not going to talk to you about the medical risks or political/religious implications that come with getting an abortion, because that information is available to you on a website called Google that you may have heard of. Here, we’re not going to focus on what your abortion means for the world, because the answer to that would simply be, “Only what it means to you,” and so that’s what we’ll be thinking about today.

I can tell you with an ironclad certainty that there is a life after abortion, M. I know because I’m living one right now, and so are a ton of other people all around both of us: Every year, 1.3 million American women make the choice that we did. You are not alone, and making this choice doesn’t make you evil, selfish, or deviant. You have the right to decide what happens to your life and to make informed choices about your future (and how your actions might impact the futures of others), and I want you to keep remembering that as you go through this process.

Having an abortion is emotionally complicated, and often very difficult, for lots of reasons. It’s natural to feel sad and/or conflicted about it, even when your circumstances are such that choosing otherwise would disadvantage everyone affected (although I’m not saying you’re fucking yourself over if you decide to have a baby as a teenager—everyone’s choices and situations are their own). There are some people out there who believe that going through with an abortion is bad or immoral no matter why you’re doing it (and if you, the person reading this, are one of those people, that’s fine, too, just as long as you’re not hassling others for their actions or mindsets if they disagree with you). But you have to trust yourself to know what’s best for you, because you do.

Not only is there life after an abortion, but that life is usually the reason someone chooses to get one in the first place. When I got pregnant at 19, I tried to rationalize carrying a child to term in many different ways. But when I was done agonizing, I knew that having a baby with nearly nonexistent financial security would mean that the life that would follow that decision would be incredibly hard for that potential kid—not to mention for my family, my boyfriend, his family, and me. I also thought about putting my non-baby up for adoption, then considered how I’ve always wanted to become a foster parent because there are already more than 400,000 children in need of permanent homes in the United States alone. I wasn’t acting heartlessly by making the choice to have an abortion. Had I carried that pregnancy to term, I would have been trying to make myself feel better in the short term, based on someone else’s idea of what would be the “right” thing to do, and meanwhile I’d be giving yet another kid a hugely disadvantaged start in life. Part of what makes it so hard to have an abortion is the fear that doing so makes you a terrible person. That’s obviously not true in any way, but even if it’s what some people believe, would you rather potentially look bad in the eyes of a bunch of people who would judge another person for making a painful and complex decision, or make an irreversible choice by having a baby you don’t want just to appease them? Seriously.

But that hypothetical child’s life isn’t the only, or even the main, reason you might choose to have an abortion. What I want you to be thinking about is your life. Although there are people in this world who don’t want you to believe this (see above in re: judgy judgers), it is completely OK to get an abortion to preserve your own happiness. You have the right to avoid permanently committing yourself to a future you don’t want. You do not have to pay the disproportionate penance of having an actual child for accidentally becoming pregnant (and if bringing life into the world feels like a punishment, you probably should not be having a baby anyway!).It’s not self-centered to make the choice you know will be right for you in the long run; it’s actually the most ethical thing you can do here. When I weighed this decision as a teenager, I knew I had to think about not only my figurative baby’s quality of life, but my own. The two are basically inextricable anyway, honestly.

So, I had an abortion. I sobbed for weeks, but I also stayed in college and avoided creating a lifelong bond with an unstable person whom I didn’t love (and who also wasn’t ready to care for a child) and/or destitution. Most of all, I remembered that I was giving myself the care I needed to be happy, instead of creating more unhappiness in the world by having a baby I was incapable of raising. I know that one day I’ll be in a position to raise a child, whether I choose to do that through pregnancy, fostering, or adoption—if I want to, and only if I’m ready to fully support that kid, emotionally and financially.

The main bit of advice I would give you is to allow yourself every single feeling you might be having right now, without judging yourself. When I went through this, what helped me most to keep my footing in the aftermath was to let myself feel heartbroken, and guilty, and not guilty, and angry, and all of it. These feelings don’t have to make sense or support some “position” about how you feel politically. They’re going to be intense, and you have to meet them head-on so you can work through them. Write in a diary. Talk to people you trust and who love you—or don’t, if you can’t handle it. I was very private about my abortion when it happened—I probably told three people, and that small circle of intimacy was right for me because I knew that some of the people in my life might not understand, and I didn’t want to open myself up to their scrutiny. If you’re feeling psychologically fragile, as I was, be discerning about whom you tell—but do confide, if you can, both in yourself by being honest about every single one of your feelings about this, and in people you trust and who love you. It helps immensely. And if you find that you’re still feeling shaken about this whole thing in a few months, find a therapist.

Eventually, time will pass, and you’ll stop thinking about it constantly, and you’ll come back to yourself and your life. Like every experience you have as a person, your abortion will be a part of you forever, but also like any other single thing you go through, it won’t define who you are on the whole. Consider what you think when another person ends a pregnancy: Do you think that women who make that call should feel shame or regret? My guess is that you don’t, so extend that courtesy to yourself, too. I absolutely believe you know what’s right for you, and I deeply respect that you are advocating for yourself and making an informed choice. I’m certain your life after abortion will be a fulfilling, successful, and happy one. Good luck, my love. —Amy Rose ♦

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