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With abortion front and center these midterms, those who’ve had one say a lot is missing from the conversation

Celeste Ladd sits in her living room and looks out the window toward the sun.
Julia Furukawa
Celeste Ladd had an abortion in February 2022 after finding out there were major congenital defects with the babies she was carrying.

Abortion has been a key talking point for many politicians this election season in New Hampshire, New England, and across the country. It has featured prominently in debates, news coverage, political ads and on social media. Conversations around abortion range from those who want to expand access, to others who want near outright bans.

NHPR wanted to know what that’s like for people who have recently had an abortion. We spoke with Celeste Ladd.

Celeste has one child, and she'd been so happy to find out she was pregnant again, with identical twin girls. But at 20 weeks, her doctors found there were major congenital defects. She was sent to specialists and went through comprehensive testing.

Celeste and her husband were faced with having to make a decision about how to move forward with the pregnancy.

“At first, the idea of terminating the pregnancy wasn't even on my radar because this was a very wanted pregnancy,” she said. “Obviously, when you hear this kind of devastating news, that is not at all where my mind was going.”

But she didn’t have much time to decide. In her home state of Maine, abortions are legal just to the point of viability, usually about 24 weeks. The laws are similar in neighboring New Hampshire and Massachusetts - limited to 24 weeks, with some exceptions.

“You're really racing against a clock just to be able to get care that's necessary. But… I started to realize that my health was going to be compromised and there was the possibility that I might not survive if I were to see this pregnancy to completion,” Celeste said.

After a lot of reflection and conversations with her husband, Celeste had the procedure in mid-February at a hospital in Boston.

“It's just a decision that I don't think anyone can ever imagine having to make,” she said. “I feel a lot of grief today, still, about the fact that I had to make that decision. I'm not saying that I feel grief or regret around the decision I made, because ultimately, I'm choosing a lifetime of pain and suffering for myself as opposed to my children being born into a world that they wouldn't have survived in.”

Now, what Celeste went through personally is all around her in mailers, ads on TV and social media posts. During this election season, the first since the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v Wade, abortion is everywhere. It can feel like a punch in the gut when people use it as part of their political agenda. She said it makes her feel like her life isn’t important or valuable, that people don’t want to protect her life and rights.

“It will totally throw off my day. It's hard to not get emotionally riled up, physically riled up,” Celeste said. “It's just so painful on such a personal level that I have a very hard time understanding why any politician or political candidate would have a say in what I decide is best for me and my family.”

Celeste decided to share the story of her own abortion on social media a few months after she had it. She was inspired by another woman with a public social media presence who had been doing the same thing. She was met with support from her friends online.

Celeste said many people misunderstand things about abortion when it’s talked about it in politics. One she points to is the idea that people just move on with their lives after having the procedure.

“There hasn't been a single day that I have woken up and not thought of my daughters,” Celeste said.

She and her husband had named the twins. They had a double stroller. They sold their car because they needed a minivan.

“That has been woven into the fabric of who I am now, and it's a grief that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

That grief manifests itself mentally and physically. For months after her abortion, Celeste had panic attacks. Her eye would twitch uncontrollably.

“[It was] something I had never experienced before, and it was very scary. I still can't spend time away from my husband and my son without having debilitating anxiety,” she said.

She also grieves a version of her life that could have been.

“Not only do I have the grief of losing the pregnancy and the humans and the heartbeats inside of me, but I also grieve the future that I had just really joyously imagined for me and my family,” Celeste said.

Celeste had pictured boisterous dinners as a family of five, and she grieves the mother-daughter bond that she says she was eager to experience herself.

She had imagined how her son would be a brother to his sisters; her husband a father to two daughters. She thinks about the faces of her daughters - Sloane and Penelope - that she will never see.

On a decorated shelf in their living room, Celeste and her husband have two small Buddhist Jizo statues. They represent the guardian deity of children in honor of her two daughters, Poppy and Sloane. She wears gold bracelets with their initials, too.

A close-up photo of Celeste Ladd's wrist shows her wearing two gold bracelets with the initials "P" and "S" for her daughters, Poppy and Sloane.
Julia Furukawa
Celeste Ladd wears two bracelets with the initials "P" and "S" for her daughters, Poppy and Sloane.

Sometimes her young son picks up the statues and brings them over to where he’s playing.

“They'll sit there on the ground with him as he's talking to his sisters, which is really heartbreaking and it's really heavy,” Celeste said.

Moments like that are a facet of having an abortion that people who talk about it don’t see themselves.

“I think if people had a window into seeing that daily occurrence in somebody's life, maybe they would think differently about their views on this topic,” Celeste said.

She plans to tell her son about his sisters when he gets older.

Celeste has been able to access care, including therapy and medication, that she says has helped her tremendously as she navigates life after her abortion. She was also able to take time off of work. She said care doesn’t end with the procedure, and that politicians need to consider that when crafting policy around access to abortion.

Celeste said she’ll continue to share her story – and vote for candidates who support reproductive rights.

“If you're listening to this story, I would just ask you to think about me and my experience, about my daughters, Sloane and Penelope, and to vote for women's rights, for equal rights, and for basic human decency,” Celeste said.

Copyright 2022 New Hampshire Public Radio

Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
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