An Abortion Survivor Speaks Out About the Pro-Choice Movement
I first encountered Neddy Desalvo in the magical sphere of social media. A friend of mine had shared a screenshot of a Facebook comment of a guy responding to a post that read “Is abortion murder?” The comment was lengthy, but the story in it manages to grab you right away. Below is that post.
The thing that struck me initially is that I've never encountered a person who claims to be the product of a botched abortion. Presumably, most of us haven't. This is a bit of a revelation. I'm sure that most of us have the good sense to know that people who have abortions that don't take, for whatever reason, have babies who result from that failed procedure. It's a common sense reality that almost never challenges our consciousness in a real way, forcing the thought out of the backs of our minds. We can just passively say to one another “Yep. Failed back alley abortions leave unwanted babies. What are we having for lunch?” It's a fleeting reality for most of us because we can just treat it like a statistical certainty to strengthen our position in an argument about abortion legislation. It doesn't have a face or a spokesperson. It's just an inevitable conclusion that any person with a decent amount of sense can reach with little to know intellectual strain. However, through the bizarre world of hyper-connectivity that is the internet, Neddy aggressively slapped a face on steps 2-20 of that babies life. I contacted him immediately for an interview.
Neddy Desalvo's original name is Natalia Desalvo. In addition to being a pro-choice product of a botched back alley abortion, he is female to male transgender. If he ever converts to Islam he'll be a three-fold Republican nightmare.
Anyway, Neddy was born in Kharbovo, Russia in 1997. In an effort to find out why Neddy's mom went the back alley route, I tried to learn about the specifics of abortion laws in Russia in 1997, but I guess they're too busy hacking governments and riding bears to respond to article questions. It is a fact that abortion was legal in Russia in 1997, but information about cost and restrictions is a bit light.
Given that abortion is an extremely hot button issue around the globe, it may be relatively safe to assume that Neddy's mom was worried about social stigma. There's a chance that she felt avoiding a paper trail would keep her protected from scrutiny within her community, but that's pure speculation. The 'why' is also the least interesting part of this story, so let's move on to the 'what.'
What did this start do to Neddy's life? Simply put: a lot.
When Desalvo states that his “body didn't know what living meant” it resonates. I don't recall ever hearing about what happens to children who were meant to be aborted. What their lives are like as unwanted children navigating through life. It doesn't ever seem to come up, and no light is ever shone on the topic. But they become people. Members of our society. They walk among us. Dunt-dah-daaaah!
Neddy spent his first 18 months in a Russian orphanage. His basic needs for food and clothes may have been met, but the lack of much needed human contact has left him with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Considered uncommon by experts, Reactive Attachment Disorder occurs when a child (5 and under) is neglected emotionally and is unable to form an attachment to a caregiver. Given the fact that there was probably a number of people working different shifts at the aforementioned orphanage, it's not hard to speculate on how Neddy developed RAD.
When I asked him about his experiences with the disorder, Neddy said “We weren't taken care of properly, so our brains didn't form the ability to make attachments. So it's hard for me to keep relationships going. Even student/teacher relationships.”
The last part of that quote is especially interesting. The fact that he chose the student/teacher comparison seems a bit unusual at a glance, but it sort of serves to aid the outsider's understanding of what exactly this fairly unknown condition is. The majority of us would reference our friends and family when talking about our personal human connections. It seems odd that Neddy chose to use students and teachers as an example of a cozy relationship. That is until you're forced to remember that he has spent his whole life being taught about healthy human relationships, and the harsh reality of his situation rushes in. He most likely chose that example because his disorder has made human connections a learned behavior instead of a natural one.
When you think about the life of someone like Neddy, and what they experience after surviving an abortion directed toward them, it becomes a little easier to see why they may support a woman's right to chose, and advocate for the procedure to be done in a safe and effective way. Though the idea of the product of a failed abortion being in favor of the legal continuation of the procedure may seem counter-intuitive to our natural survival instincts, it isn't too hard to understand how they got there. Neddy points out that he doesn't remember anything from the failed operation (just as none of us remembers being born), and he has no physical scars or abnormalities from it. All of his suffering came in the wake of making out of the abortion alive. The inability to easily form a bond with another person is a type of isolation that prisons around the world try to manufacture as punishment, but for neglected kids it's an easily obtained reality.
In the end, it's hard to argue that scaling back abortion rights is a constructive approach to a better society. The feeling and thinking flotsam and jetsam that stirs in the wake of an unregulated and unsuccessful abortion is of absolute consequence. Fortunately for Neddy, he was adopted by a woman who was in the Peace Corps, and got out of the orphanage at a relatively young age. This didn't spared him from years of medication and therapy to address his inability to form attachments, but it could've been much worse.
I've heard endless rhetoric from conservatives about the evils of abortion, often dipping into the easily accessible well of human emotion that comes from terms like “baby killing.” It's a powerful approach, no doubt. What I've never heard them acknowledge is a solution to the aftermath of unwanted births. Assuming that a handful of caregivers, however well intentioned they may be, will be able to care for a sea of babies in a way that rears them with healthy emotional attachments, is an impossible expectation.
We need to elevate the conversation when it comes to abortion. It's not a simple all or nothing, and neither stance is an all-encompassing solution to the complexities of an unwanted pregnancy. While many elements of the abortion debate have been discussed ad naseum, what happens to unwanted children who are born is rarely investigated. On the rare occasions that we make it that far into the discussion, we like to imagine a nice suburban family adopting six or seven of them before any damage can be done. This is rarely the case. It's high time that we drop this childishness and talk about the truth that occurs on the other side of the birth canal.