"For the woman right now who is struggling and feels that she has no one on her side, know that you’re not alone," writes Jamie Otis
Over the last few months, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Utah and Arkansas have all passed “heartbeat bills,” which ban abortions once an embryo or fetus heartbeat can be detected. Last week, Alabama legislators passed an even stricter bill effectively banning all abortions at any point in pregnancy, causing a wave of women — including stars like Busy Philipps, Minka Kelly, April Love Geary, Milla Jovovich, Amber Tamblyn and Tess Holliday — to share their own stories. The heartbeat bills, along with Alabama’s new law, are a violation of the 14th amendment, which the Supreme Court determined in the landmark Roe v. Wade case. Anti-abortion lawmakers hope that these bills will lead to lawsuits and eventually head to the Supreme Court, where the newly conservative bench could reverse 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision.
Married at First Sight alum and Hot Marriage. Cool Parents podcast host Jamie Otis, 32 — who has been candid about growing up in extreme poverty — talked to PEOPLE about the reasons behind her decision to have two abortions when she was younger. In the latest episode of her podcast, Otis opens up further about her difficult decisions.
I guarantee you any woman who has ever had an abortion will forever remember it for the rest of her life. It’s not something you do lightly.
Ever since I was little, my mom told me she almost aborted me. I know that sounds a little hypocritical coming from me, but with that being said, my mom had a total of five children—none of whom she could provide for. I don’t mean this to be negative towards my mom. It’s just a fact. My mom was sexually abused by a relative and beaten to a bloody pulp so many times by boyfriends. I had no idea who my father was. My siblings and I would wake up with no heat, no electricity and no food half the time because my mom couldn’t afford us all. Even if she tried to have a job, she had five kids as a single woman and had no self-worth or support.
Fast-forward to a little bit later, and my mom became a full-blown drug addict. She had gone through so many hardships, and her only coping mechanism was drugs. I felt like I was living in a hellhole, to be honest. We lived in a trailer that had leaky ceilings with doors that wouldn’t shut all the way and windows that were duct-taped. But the hardest part was that my mom was gone. She left us for weeks at a time and we were just teenagers and kids fending for ourselves.
At that time, I ended up getting pregnant at just 18 years old by the first guy I ever had sex with. I actually went to a center to get birth control, and that’s how I found out I was pregnant. The nurse said, “Oh, you have options. There’s abortion.” I literally stopped listening to her because in my family, you don’t have abortions under any circumstances. I was in such a daze that I put on my shoes and just ran out of the building. I met my boyfriend outside and told him, “Oh my God, we’re pregnant. I can’t believe it. How did this happen? What am I going to do? My mom’s gone. I have nothing.” I’ve never wanted to be with the possessive, controlling and jealous kind of guy my mom dated, and in my heart I knew my boyfriend wasn’t able to be a good father. My mom had gotten pregnant and dropped out of high school, had a baby, chose to be with abusive men and live on welfare. My oldest sister— who I’m so proud to say has since broken the cycle—also dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with an abusive man. Right then and there, I realized I was in this cycle too. I was in college and knew I wouldn’t be able to finish my education, and was with a man who didn’t really respect or love me.
I chose to have an abortion. I wouldn’t have been able to provide this child the kind of life he or she deserved. And I wanted to finish college and provide for my siblings and give us a better life. I didn’t see how that would be possible while also taking care of a baby. When I was in nursing school, I got pregnant again. I don’t even want to admit that it happened twice, but here I am sharing my story so other women can feel that they aren’t alone. Abortion was so frowned upon in my family, but I think even my mom would vouch for this today: We should be able to have the choice in hopes of breaking the cycle. My mom went on to live a life that was so destructive not only for herself but for every single child she brought into this world that the cycle continued with my sister until she was able to pick up the pieces of her life and change it.
My abortions were a secret I kept to myself for nearly my whole life. I hated myself for a very long time for it, and I know the stones people will throw at me: Why didn’t I use birth control better? Why wasn’t I more careful? But the thing is, it happened to me and continues to happen to couples. You can throw stones at me if you want, but I just think of a young woman who has no one to turn to. I wish someone had said to me back then that I’m not evil. I felt like a terrible, selfish human being and sometimes I still do. I don’t want to admit that out loud, but it’s just a hard fact. But at the end of the day when I sit down and think about my life now with my daughter and husband Doug, I think about the fact that I wouldn’t have my daughter Henley if I had gone down that path where I had two children with two men who were not fit to be fathers. I forgive myself for having to make that choice.
After Doug and I got married, I knew my abortions were something he needed to know about me before we started our own family. My palms were sweaty when I told him. I knew this revelation could change things. But Doug’s reaction couldn’t have been more loving and supportive. He said, “I’m so sorry you had to make this decision so young. That was so brave of you.” He saw my decisions from a point of view that was so completely different from mine.
I know I’m going to get backlash for opening up about my past. Like I said, my abortions still torment me and I hate that I had to have them. However, am I thankful? Of course. I wouldn’t be able to be a good mother to my daughter right now or have been able to be a good parent to my siblings back then. The cycle continues because there’s not enough education about sex and birth control, and not enough support. There’s not enough constructive discussion about abortion. It sucks. It really sucks. But the truth of the matter is it is a necessary option.
I’m so proud of women like Busy Philipps who have spoken up about their abortions because no one is proud of it. When she was brave and bold enough to speak out, it stirred in me an emotion that I need to do the same. For the woman right now who is struggling and feels that she has no one on her side, know that you’re not alone and you’re not evil. We women need to band together—men too—and support each other.
- As told to Melody Chiu