Why I would have an abortion

The #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag last week forced me to once again ask myself the uncomfortable question: what would I do if I had an unplanned pregnancy? Specifically, what would I do if I woke up tomorrow and discovered that I was now expecting. It’s a conversation that I believe that every woman needs to have with herself at least once, and it’s not the first time I’ve had to have it. I’ve had several late periods and one missed period altogether since I became sexually active and all of those times, despite knowing full well that I had used protection, I remember being filled with terror at the possibility that this time could be it.

When I was a lot younger, I used to be pro-life and firmly believed that abortion was murder. Since then I have been doing a lot more research into the whole thing. Right now I’m pro-choice, as I firmly believe that every woman should have a right to make decisions regarding her own body. But I’m not here to discuss the ethics of abortion. I’m here to talk about something that is rarely even mentioned in the abortion debate.

At some point in my life, I came to the conclusion that while I am pro-choice, I personally would not have an abortion. I would rather give my baby up for adoption. After all, pro-lifers were always going on about how there are thousands of infertile couples who had the means and will to give a baby a good life and were desperate to have one. And certainly, I had heard of numerous infertile women who tried unsuccessfully for years to have a baby. I even personally knew two girls who had been adopted and they both seemed to live happy lives. So of course, adoption seemed to me like a win win solution in the event of a disaster. There is only one problem I didn’t consider at the time. I’m black.

It came as a shock to me to discover that statistically speaking, black babies represent the highest number of babies in the adoption system yet they are the least likely to find good homes. I remember reading a Sunday Times article a few years back that gave exact numbers. At the time there were 500 children available for adoption. Of these children, 95% of them were black. There were just over 350 prospective adoptive parents. Of these parents, only 37 of them were willing to adopt black children. Thirty seven. Let that sink in. The vast majority of those infertile couples who are so desperate to adopt a baby are only desperate to adopt healthy, able bodied white babies, and many would rather wait years for that perfect white baby than adopt a black one. Add on to that the fact that adoption in South Africa is an extremely difficult process and the possibility of finding that perfect adoptive family for my unplanned child seems ever more unrealistic.

If I had to have a child and put him/her up for adoption, they are likely to end up in the foster care system. The foster care system in South Africa is a mess to say the least. They are likely to end up in an overcrowded home for children, moved around from home to home, and are at a very real risk of coming under the care of people who would abuse them either mentally, physically, or sexually. Or all three. I’ve read articles of kids in the foster care system who have been beaten, introduced to drugs, or even pimped by their foster parents. I know that there are plenty of fantastic foster parents out there but this is my hypothetical child’s life here. I’m not willing to take those kinds of chances, especially when I won’t have any kind of say.

I once did know a pair of twins who were fostered by my step grandmother from when they were two years old. She tried to adopt them but was unable to because she was too old. They lived a happy life with her and grew up in a loving, supportive environment. She eventually died when they were 13 and they were immediately taken away after her funeral. My step mother and father tried desperately to get them back and even decided to adopt them but the process and their distant family made it impossible. To cut a long story short, they were unable to adopt the twins and we have not seen them since. Last we heard, one was failing school and the other was seeing a much older man who may have gotten her pregnant. Those kids were torn away from the only family they had ever known, never to see them again. I would never want my own child to go through that.

So I have now decided that if I ever have an unplanned pregnancy, and if I cannot raise the child myself, I would have an abortion. As a black woman, adoption is simply not an option for me and I honestly think that this is something more black women need to be warned about. That’s why I get so annoyed when pro-lifers say just put the baby up for adoption because for black women, there is so much more that we need to consider before we can do that.

And honestly, if as a pro-lifer you have an issue with my resolution, I suggest you don’t shame me for my decision unless you’re willing to have a serious discussion about the adoption and foster care industry.

Confessions of a “Coconut”

One of the most serious questions I have had to grapple with over the years is the question of who I am. Since I was very young, one of the main labels that I have used to describe myself is: black. Like most, I did not choose to be black. My blackness is something that I realised at a young age when I began to realise that having my colour skin meant that there were certain things that I could not do and certain things that I was expected to do.

In other words, “black” was an identity that was thrust on me at an age where I was too young to know what it meant and I was left to navigate the terms and conditions of that on my own. It is also quite interesting that as a middle class black girl who did not speak an African language, “black” was a label that people were as eager to thrust on me as they were to take away from me.

Coconut is a word I heard often. The fact that I spoke English, only English, with a “white” accent meant that in the eyes of many I was and still am automatically disqualified from the title of being “truly black”. I grew up in white suburbs, attended white schools, and when I entered black spaces there was a distinct, uncomfortable feeling that I did not truly belong there. Yet, I did not truly belong in the very same white spaces I navigated in that rejected blackness and accepted black people who were as close to whiteness as possible but did not truly welcome them. I therefore fit the definition of a coconut. Black on the outside but on the inside something close-ish to whiteness but not quite there either.

At the same time, I was frequently, and sometimes violently reminded that I was black. I was reminded that I was black every time I opened a book or watched television and few to none of the heroes and desirable people ever looked like me. I was reminded I was black when I was followed around in stores. When my school declared that my natural hair was against school rules and that I needed to braid it or relax it. When my white friends would put on a racist “funny” blaccent whenever they were pretending to be poor or stupid as a joke. When a little white boy in my Grade 3 class told me that black people are lazy and stupid. When I saw or heard people saying over and over again that my people were inherently stupid, inferior, and barbaric and would have never amounted to anything had it not been for the White Man.

And most ironically, I was reminded I was black by the very same people who called me coconut, always with a condescending smirk, who  believed that they needed to put me “in my place” by reminding me that I wasn’t what they thought I desperately wished I was: white.

And that’s the thing. I have never for a second forgotten that I’m black. I live in a world that would never allow me to. But at the same time, my blackness is something that I have navigated and reinterpreted throughout my life. It’s an identity that I have come to reclaim as my own. I spent a few embarrassing years trying to act according to black stereotypes in order to be seen as truly black, and I have come to realize that blackness isn’t a set of characteristics and stereotypes. It is rather a mentality that opposes institutional racism and the imposition of whiteness. It is a rejection of the oppressive narratives and the destructive and degrading stereotypes dictating what it means to be black. And it is so much more than that. At least, that’s what it means to me.

As a result, I’ve reached a point where I no longer care if I am called a coconut.