On Pre-Existing

Yesterday, I picked Reed up from school and NPR was playing in the car. They were talking about a bill in Ohio that would make abortion illegal, and I was listening intently because I care. Reed was in the backseat happily munching on a donut that I had brought him from a meeting at work, and suddenly, he said, “Mom, what is that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Abortion,” he said.


I paused, then turned off the radio.

I said, “When a woman gets pregnant, the egg is fertilized, and if that woman carries that fertilized egg to term, she will have a baby, but sometimes, she does not want to have a baby, so she chooses to terminate that pregnancy. A doctor will give her a pill or do a procedure, and the pregnancy will be over.”

I said, “This is controversial because some people believe those fertilized eggs are already babies, and that is called the ‘pre-existence,’ but that is not what I believe, and I believe that women should be able to choose what to do with their bodies. They should be able to choose whether they want to have a baby or not.


Reed said, “I believe that too. I wouldn’t want to be the kid with a mom who hadn’t wanted him.”


And I thought of how I have written pretty honestly about how my first impulse when I I found out I was pregnant with Reed was to have an abortion, but then, Caleb talked me out of it, then my brother said that he would support me no matter what I wanted, and finally, my mother said, “You are 27. You are not a teenager. You can raise a child.”

And my mother’s words indicated that she knew the truth about me.

The truth was that I wanted to have the baby, or I wouldn’t have even told my mother I was pregnant.


I wanted to say to Reed, You were always wanted.


But of course, it has never occurred to him that he might not have been.


My mother is a very religious woman, but in many ways, she doesn’t fit the model of contemporary American christianity. Maybe this is because she was raised in poverty.

She raised me to be pro-choice, and when I asked her why (because I knew it was in opposition to the beliefs of our church), she told me that it wasn’t because she believed that abortion was okay, but because she knew that, if abortion wasn’t legal, people would try to perform abortions themselves.


She told me that a 14 year old girl who grew up down the street from her died when her father tried to give her an abortion with a coat hanger.


Today, the House voted to make being a survivor of domestic violence a pre-existing condition.

They’re right. Being a survivor of domestic violence is a pre-existing condition. I wrote about that here.


In that post, I labeled myself B.C. (Before Caleb) and A.C. (After Caleb).

I wrote:

B.C. Kelly was this girl:

cropped-69bb6-001.jpg

I wrote:

A.C. Kelly misses that girl. That girl didn’t know what was coming.


I am inalterably changed.


I worry that, in my book, I have portrayed myself as being too vulnerable, as though violence was a disease that I would simply catch because of my weak immunity.

I am not entirely sure that my fears are unfounded.


If surviving domestic violence is my pre-existing condition, then what is his? What is the pre-existing condition of the man who ripped my hair out? Who punched me in the head? Who dragged me out from underneath the bed where I was hiding by my ankles? Who chased me into the street in his socks to keep me from getting away from him?

What is his pre-existing condition?


All along, more people have been interested in my pre-existing condition than his. And you know what?

I have done the work. I have gotten therapy. I have changed my life. I haven’t repeated my patterns.


Still, the man with no pre-existing condition is doing the exact same shit he’s always done.


Shortly after I left Caleb, his friend told me to identify my own triggers that caused me to stay in the relationship before it got unsafe.

She told me to identify my triggers then hosted a party for my abuser when he was in Boise and shushed him when he tried to tell her how bad the abuse had been because she preferred not to believe me

Even when he was willing to confirm my story himself, she chose to shush him because, to acknowledge what he had done, would have meant that she had failed me when I went to her.


Later, she wrote a self-congratulatory blog post about how she had learned that she needed to do more to understand survivors, and she hadn’t been sympathetic enough to me, but she still portrayed herself as having extended her own kindness beyond what was needed.

She portrayed it as a kind of I should have been sympathetic to her even though she was a horrible person who brought the abuse upon herself kind of post. When my friends commented that she was wrong, she deleted the post, and offered another, inadequate apology that essentially said the same things.


Always, all of us, want to think that we’ve done the right thing. Some of us will do the wrong thing in order to keep telling ourselves that we were right in the first place.


I keep using this woman as an example, and this is why: She is a peak example of how too many middle-aged white women have responded to me.

The consensus is this: Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.


I will never forget being put in a wheelchair after I had been walking on my broken foot for days.

I will never forget being laid on a table and pushed into an x-ray.

I will never forget the way that the male nurse looked at me so sadly, and the female doctor touched my foot so gently.

By then, I no longer knew what it was like to be treated with care.


Surviving domestic violence is a pre-existing condition of mine. It is the condition of resilience, of strength, of kindness, of mothering alone, and of humor.

But none of that would have happened if he hadn’t put me here.


How about we focus on the pre-existing conditions of the abusers instead?


And I say this to Patti (the blog poster) and all of the other women who have shamed me for being angry: You might forgive, and your forgiveness might win you the favor of some abusive men, and in that, you might have won the battle, but you have not won the war.

You will never win the war with forgiveness.

I don’t forgive.


I’ll forgive when all of the fights have been fought and won. I will forgive when my status as a survivor is no longer a pre-existing condition, but Caleb’s status as a wife batterer is.

I will forgive when this entire world has been upended.

Until then, I’ll keep fighting.

4 thoughts on “On Pre-Existing

  1. I am from Ohio and I have so many confused thoughts on this issue as a whole. First I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that abortion isn’t as black and white as we try to make it (every story and every case is unique). I agree with your mother, I don’t like abortion (at all) but I understand that were it illegal horrible life-threatening attempts at abortion would skyrocket. Then there’s the whole ‘how can you be anti-abortion and anti-birth control’. At some point there has to be some sort of compromise. I appreciate your honest writing. As women I think that that is the best thing we can do, be honest, be understanding, be open minded and fight wholeheartedly for what we believe. Thank you for your words.

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  2. Kerri

    I can’t wait to read your book because, as the child of a father who verbally and physically abused my mom, I’ve struggled my whole life to understand why she stayed as long as she did (over 10 years). As a kid, my perspective was very black and white – that she should leave, like, yesterday. I remember thinking I would rather be homeless than living with him. Of course for my mom the situation was much more complicated.

    I think that’s the tricky thing for people who haven’t suffered abuse to fathom (and what I hope to see through your eyes in your book) – why after the first, second, third or even fourth times the husband lashes out, why a wife would stay. Of course this isn’t to say the woman is to blame for the abuse. The man who does the violence is the criminal and solely responsible for his actions. But it is hard to see why a woman would continue to endure it if she has any possible way of leaving. All I know is I’m glad you got out, and that you’re willing to share your experience/truth/anger so honestly now. Your book is going to be important not just for survivors of abuse, but for their friends and family members like me who are genuinely trying to understand.

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  3. You are right, and wonderful and a total badass. I’m no god, I don’t have to forgive. All I have to do is heal and do my best to keep myself and others like me safe. And bearing witness is a great way to start. You can sit on the survivor bus next to me, I’ll save you a seat and some cookies.

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  4. Kelly, even after 40 years I’ll never forget my mother-in-law coming in and seeing my black and blue swollen face and ear and saying what did you do to provoke this. My parents were on the way from out of town to rescue me and my boys and I told her to get out of my house! Yep it was my pre-existing provoking him that caused my little boys to hide their faces so they didn’t have to see my face!

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