Chastity West grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church.
She got married at 19 and had children back to back. Then she had an abortion when her IUD failed.
Here is her story, told to Jessica Williams.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Chastity West. It has been edited for length and clarity.
It was 2011, and my life was finally back on track. It had been more than a decade since I had dropped out of college at 19 and got pregnant immediately — a common experience for women who, like me, were raised in fundamentalist Christian churches.
For years, I felt like my life was on hold. My first pregnancy ended in a stillbirth, then I got pregnant again. And two more times. I raised three children on the stairs.
Over the years the church had become more controlling, but at this point it was dominating my life. I dreamed of continuing my studies and not having any more babies.
The church was very authoritarian
I worked – with my babies in my cubicle – in a church-owned business. I socialized almost exclusively with church members.
When I borrowed an unapproved movie from a friend outside of church, she had to deliver it in a brown paper bag, and I closed the curtains before watching.
Church leaders would personally deliver offering envelopes to our door with pointed commentary on how much we should give.
I was relieved when my family moved to Pittsburgh, cutting ties with the church that had become so toxic.
As soon as I could, I got an IUD. I never wanted to be pregnant again.
My IUD failed
Then, three years after my IUD was inserted, it failed. I was pregnant.
I was devastated. I had just turned 30 and my youngest was about to start kindergarten.
During the decade my life was on hold, my husband built his career and became less and less supportive at home. Due to his constant absence and lack of contribution to the home, our relationship seemed devoid of any emotional or intellectual connection, and we decided to open up our marriage to see if we could flourish with other partners.
Around this time, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Jill, and quickly developed a crush on her. Even though we were only at the beginning of a relationship, she helped fill the emotional void I felt. She and I had first been intimate just before I found out I was pregnant.
Initially, my OB ordered a blood test to check my hormone levels. When they indicated pregnancy, he removed my IUD, saying leaving it in could be life threatening and I would likely miscarry afterwards.
But follow-up blood tests showed an increase in hormone levels. It was a viable pregnancy. I collapsed sobbing in his office. He was nice and not judgmental at all. He told me he would take care of me after an abortion if I decided to have one.
My partner told me it was mine but he didn’t want another child. We were united on that.
Nevertheless, I struggled with extreme guilt. It was a month before my first baby’s death anniversary. I chided myself: How dare I fire a child when I had lost a desired child? Although we were a little less stable, we had enough money, we had two parents at home, and I was physically able to take care of another baby.
Because of the values I internalized from the church, I felt I had no legitimate objection.
It wasn’t until I shared my pain with a close friend that I was given the phrase that allowed me to justify the abortion I wanted. She said all I would do with an abortion is “do the job that your birth control failed to do.” I decided to go ahead.
I spent most of my recovery alone. One of the things the church taught me is that if one person turns against you, everyone else will. So even though I’d been out of church for three years, and even though I now live in a liberal neighborhood, I spent days bleeding on the couch not feeling like it would be safe to reaching out to my community for help.
I’ve spent the last decade keeping this somewhat private. I haven’t even told most of my family about it. But stories like mine are what allow us to have empathy for others.
Read the original Insider article