"They'd laugh at you"

12 abortions: Russian grandmother recounts a culture of shame in the Soviet Union

The giant monument 'Rodina-Mat' zovyot!''( Mother Motherland Is Calling for Fight) also known as Mother Motherland statue, in the Russian city of Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, on January 30, 2013.MIKHAIL MORDASOV/AFP/Getty Images

Polina Bachlakova spent a lot of time with her Russian grandmother as a child, trying to learn to speak Russian and trying to get on her grandmother’s good side, but feeling frequently confused over why she was so sharp-tongued and bitter toward her own family members. Until Bachlakova’s mother gave her a reason.

“You know that your grandmother hasn’t had an easy life,” she said. “For example, she had 12 abortions.”

During the late 20th century, the Soviet Union had one of the highest abortion rates in the world, and many Russian women relied on state-financed abortions as a form of birth control, Bachlakova wrote in a recent essay for Broadly. They often took place at state-run hospitals without anesthetics and came with a strong dose of shame. Her grandmother, born in 1939 in Kiev, Ukraine, described the horror of living without access to birth control and in a culture that treated women seeking abortions like criminals.

“They’d laugh at you and tell you to shut up and stop crying. These people were heartless and felt nothing for the women getting abortions,” her grandmother told her.

Because of the shame from the healthcare community, many women received back-alley procedures. Bachlakova’s grandmother described amateurs who pretended to know what they were doing to make money. She said her own husband knew about her pregnancies but never accompanied her to get the abortions.

“Everyone had a very rational, practical attitude towards abortions,” my grandmother told me. “You never really found out how they affected women.”

Read the full story at Broadly.


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