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After having 15 abortions, motherhood saved her

  Gary Isaacs In “Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict,” editor and literary agent Irene Vilar shares her controversial story of having had 15 abortions in 15 years. “My story is a perversion of both maternal desire and abortion, framed by a lawful procedure that I abused,” she writes in the book. Vilar points to several things that led to her “addiction”: Her

Gary Isaacs

In “Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict,” editor and literary agent Irene Vilar shares her controversial story of having had 15 abortions in 15 years. “My story is a perversion of both maternal desire and abortion, framed by a lawful procedure that I abused,” she writes in the book. Vilar points to several things that led to her “addiction”:

  • Her mother’s forced sterilization and subsequent suicide
  • Moving from Puerto Rico to New York at the age of 15 after her mother’s death
  • Her father’s addiction to alcohol and gambling and her 2 brothers’ addictions to heroin
  • A controlling, “borderline abusive” relationship that started with her professor, who was 34 years older than her, when she was a freshman at Syracuse University
Here, she talks to TODAY Moms about why she had so many abortions and how motherhood eventually saved her. Q: You say that having 15 abortions was the result of an addiction that you had, specifically, an addiction to mutilating yourself. Can you explain this?A: The pathology I developed came from a huge problem of distrust. I grew up with a mother who was depressed and self-destructive, after she was sterilized by an American experiment that sent her home with no hormonal treatment and an addiction to valium. She was a woman who modeled lack of control and was married to a man who had total control over her. There was an invisible monster in my house so when I turned 15, I had to leave [Puerto Rico] and go to America. The idea was to rebel like every other teen – but my case became pathological. When a mother kills herself in front of you, what that does to trust and your relationship, your sense of the world is horrific. [In college] I fell in love with my literature professor. He was a philosopher and self-proclaimed feminist who wanted no children and thought that women should be sterile if they wanted a career and a true life of freedom. So for me, my relationship with my body was a way to defy him and rebel. No one can make an anorexic eat -- that’s how they have control. Similarly, I could get pregnant by “forgetting” to take my birth control. I could bring it on myself and stop it myself with no responsibility. Pregnancy was my high, and abortion and the shame that came with it was the down side. Q: What do you say to people who say that calling it an addiction is just a way to excuse your behavior, or a way to get attention?
A: That is the fate of any writer who chooses to share radical experiences like mine – memoirs about incest, bulimia, anorexia… it’s a radical way of owning the story and of forcing myself to face the moral aspects of my actions, which remain troublesome for me. Just titling the book “Impossible Motherhood” would have been too literary. I needed to frame it as a testimony, needed to qualify it.    
Q: What were your fears in writing this book?
A: I knew people would politicize my book. Many see it as a pro-choice extreme. In fact it has nothing to do with pro-choice (only insofar I owe my life to the legalization of abortion). When one is looking for a strategy of survival one uses what makes sense, with whatever limited tools one has, in a sick way. Abortion happens to be the effect of my neurotic behavior; it is not the fact of it. Abortion happens to be the target of my addiction, or to be more precise the target of my pathological adolescent rebellious strategy.
Q: What kind of response have you received from people?  
A: I’ve had many letters from women thanking me for even talking about abortion. People find their own bits and pieces that they relate to. For some women it’s about the abusive relationship issue, needing control or their own experiences in being unable to stand alone in the world.  
But a lot of people that can’t get past the morality issue say that I should be dead or in jail. It helps that I expected that because I did a lot of research to write this book. In my research I understood very well the ramifications of the abortion subject. What I have come to see from this is that in a way I’m being asked – I’m being told -- that I should remain unborn. In the book I’m trying to look back at the disorder and make sense of it. But some people feel there is no space for spiritual metamorphosis, no space for my rebirth, no space for healing.
Q: In the book, you compare your first husband to a dictator. How has he reacted to the book and to the way he’s been portrayed? Did he know about the number of abortions you had while you were with him?  
A: I don’t know -- I have not spoken with him. He didn’t know about the first couple. By the time I got to the fourth one, I told him about the previous ones. After that, he knew every time I was pregnant but there was no discussion. It was just understood that I had the choice: a relationship with him or single motherhood.  
Q: Why didn’t he just have a vasectomy?  
A: That’s a question to ask him. Even when I was less disassociated enough to think through questions in my mind, I still never felt that I could bring them up to him. Generally, I felt that it was my responsibility to take care of it.  
Q: Did you ever feel guilty about what you were doing?  
A: Because it was a neurosis, it changed forms. Every pregnancy and abortion was different. The moments of termination were moments that I was disassociated. I didn’t allow myself to feel – there was a sense of, [the abortion] needs to happen or I will die – it was cold-blooded in a way.  
My two second-term terminations shook me psychologically. The overall feeling I have about the terminations is a problem of morality which I cannot resolve. I was reckless with my body and the fetuses that I carried. I will live with that everlasting mourning. It’s not a statement that I’m guilty in the religious sense, but more a moral and ethical sense. To be clear, I am pro-choice, but that’s the dilemma and the weight of the accountability that I try to give testimony to.
Q: How did you stop this cycle?  
A: It took heavy-duty therapy. Most rehabilitations don’t happen suddenly – you try, fail, come back and fail again. I had many false starts. I started therapy shortly after I left my husband in 1998, and went for three years. It was through the therapy that I wrote the previous drafts of this book.  
I also met the companion who is now the father of my children. He embraced me knowing about this horror and dealing with it with such tolerance. He has been crucial in supporting me in this book and becoming a mother.  
Q:You now have two daughters, ages 5 and 3 with your second husband. How does your experience impact you as a mother?A: Motherhood is a validating experience in the most authentic way. I lived a life of servitude and subjugation, I was in an unequal relationship and looked to the wrong alliances for safety and protection. Now I can find that through being a mother. My family sent me mixed messages – there was love and caring – but then abandonment and neglect. I try to avoid that mixed message with my children. Today, as a mother who has spent most of the last ten years trying to investigate my actions, I read books on psychology and infant development, searching for all the ways I can protect my girls from everything, including me. I’m haunted by visions of them at 15, alone in a foreign city feeling inadequate, unloved, staring at shop windows while sophisticated looking women pass by. I don’t want my daughters to live the anguish of feeling trapped in the wrong body. I don’t want them to ever succumb to the dismembered life of a false self. I don’t want them ever to lie on a stretcher at an abortion clinic. Their fate depends, to a great deal, on me. Q: Will you explain your story to your children?A: A time will come when they will be ready to know about this part of their mother’s life—hopefully my testimony will be seen as one of resilience and hope for any difficulties they encounter in life. I hope that through my mothering they will grow up to be tolerant, compassionate human beings. Q: So what’s next for you?A: I’m in the process of writing my next book, “Middle of The Night,” about being a mother and the continuous healing I’m engaged with through motherhood. But family is my main profession right now. Read an excerpt of "Impossible Motherhood"