Dear Prudence

My Stepfather Made Me Get an Abortion as a Teen. I’m Still Angry.

Prudie’s column for May 25.

A pregnant woman looking wistfully out the window.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

My stepfather, “Ian,” married my mom when I was 3. He raised me as his own. When I was 17, I got pregnant. I told my parents I wanted to keep the baby, and Ian was apoplectic. He raged at me for having sex, being dumb enough to get pregnant, and thinking I could raise the baby. My mom wasn’t happy either, but she initially said she’d support me whatever I did. When Ian strongly implied he would divorce her if I went through with it, she began pressuring me (just as he did) to have an abortion or put the baby up for adoption. My little brother and sister were still very young, and I believe Ian was scared of being responsible for another baby (even though I didn’t intend for my parents to raise the baby). Long story short: I had an abortion.

Ian was a loving father again after that, but from then on, I was pretty scared of him. Looking back, I see how naïve I was for thinking I was ready to have a kid at 17. I’ve had many opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have if I’d become a teenage mom. But my relationship with Ian has never healed. I don’t know if that’s fair. I’m better with my mom, but there are times I also feel very betrayed by her. I’m married now and pregnant with my “first” child, and Ian and my mom are thrilled to be grandparents. It hurts and makes me so angry when they act like this is my first pregnancy. I want to confront them but don’t even know where to begin. Sometimes I don’t want Ian near my baby at all, but a proclamation like that would hurt my mom and siblings. Mostly I realize how much I’ve pretended to be OK to keep Ian from being as angry at me as he was then. Do you have any advice?

—Teen Pregnancy Nearly Destroyed My Family

I’m so, so sorry for the pain that Ian and your mother caused you as a scared, pregnant teenager and for the ways that pain is echoing now during your second pregnancy. I can’t help but notice that your primary concern is that your feelings will hurt your mother and siblings and that you’re afraid to let yourself acknowledge what you want because you believe everyone else in your family has to come first. You don’t just have the right to express your pain and your anger—you need to. Being pregnant and becoming a parent are stressful situations. Please don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to swallow your memories of how your family hurt and manipulated you the last time you got pregnant.

You say you’re not sure it’s “fair” that your relationship with Ian has never healed since he and your mother pressured you into having an abortion you didn’t want. I think it is. You don’t have to apologize for these feelings by acknowledging that you’ve had opportunities you might not have had if you’d had the baby. You don’t know whether those opportunities would have come your way, and you don’t have to downplay anything just because you’ve had a good life and can recognize the concerns you weren’t aware of as a teenager. You are allowed to be angry and hurt over your parents’ refusal to allow you a free choice without having to justify your current life against one you might have had. I’d encourage you to find a counselor who can help you figure out how to allow yourself to process your anger and hurt, then figure out how you might bring this up with your family. If you decide that you need time before you can figure out if or when you want Ian to meet your baby, then that’s a decision you have every right to make. For reasons of self-preservation, you prioritized your parents’ and siblings’ desires and feelings over your own all those years ago, but you don’t have to do it again today. They will survive whatever pain or surprise or regret they experience as a result of this conversation. Most importantly, you can’t keep the pain to yourself in order to spare your family any discomfort. It’s too much for any one person.

Dear Prudence,

I’m in high school and have a boy who means a lot to me. He is gay and my very best friend, but we often act like we are dating. We never kiss or do anything particularly physical, but we tell each other we love each other all the time and cuddle. Recently he has said he was somewhat freaked out and confused by our relationship, which makes sense. Now things just seem kind of weird between us. I know our relationship is unusual, but I’d rather not lose him because he is so important to me. I feel I can tell him anything and even cried when he said he freaked out and couldn’t love me. I know our relationship is weird but don’t care. I’d appreciate any advice or ways to help, because now I feel somewhat disconnected from him.

—Fraught Friendship

The important question here isn’t whether the nature of your friendship is weird or unusual, but whether the nature of your friendship is making your friend uncomfortable. You say that he freaked out and said that he “couldn’t love [you],” which at least suggests to me that he may not be as OK with the cuddling as you are, or even as comfortable as he might have been with it in the past. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done anything wrong, so don’t rush to blame yourself. Think of it as an opportunity for the two of you to figure out what kind of relationship can work between you. Tell him that you understand you two aren’t dating, that you care about your relationship but don’t expect him to be your boyfriend, and that if he’d like to be less physically expressive or scale back on certain romantic aspects of your friendship, that you’d be happy to do that, and if he needs a little space or distance right now, that you’ll respect it. I can’t promise that this means you two will quickly resume your old closeness. He may not want to go back to the way things used to be, or he may want more time apart than you do before trying to develop a new kind of friendship. Whatever the case, if he wants to be less physically intimate, or to spend less time together, or anything that feels painful to you, I hope you can give yourself permission to let yourself be sad and grieve that loss.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

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