Why Doula M Illustrated a Children’s Book on Abortion

Courtesy of Instagram: @whatsanabortionbook.

All around us, there are messages about abortions. Street billboards purchased by conservative organizations warn pregnant people not to have them. Politicians fight over expanding or restricting their rights, and teens in film and TV dramas struggle with making the decision. Despite the prevalence of abortion chatter, it’s still considered a hush-hush topic, especially for young readers. But abortion doulas Carly Manes and M want to change that with a new children’s book that helps young readers understand the medical procedure.

What’s an Abortion, Anyway? is an age-appropriate resource for young people to learn about abortion care in a medically accurate, non-judgmental, and gender-inclusive way. Within its colorful pages, children are introduced to various genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and abilities — all of whom need access to the medical procedure for myriad reasons. According to the creators, it’s a long-overdue book that helps parents, caretakers, and providers have intentional, compassionate, and kid-friendly conversations with little ones that might have questions.

“Whether or not an abortion is something someone wants to talk with their kids about, there’s a chance that kids are already hearing about it. Caretakers deserve to have resources that explain what an abortion is,” M, the book’s illustrator who creates art under the name Emulsify, tells Remezcla.

In May, M and Manes, the author, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 to publish and print the book independently. With no other book like What’s an Abortion, Anyway? in the market, the pair met their goal — fast. At the time of writing, they’ve raised a bit over $23,000, enough to send free copies to every abortion clinic in the country and print a Spanish edition.

“It’s not about changing anyone’s mind or convincing anyone to get an abortion. It’s simply a tool to explain what [an abortion] is and primarily how we care for someone who has one by understanding that everyone deserves to feel supported through their individual choices about their bodies,” M says. “And that, in itself, is an important lesson for kids of all ages to know that they deserve bodily autonomy and they deserve care and love and support to make choices that are best for them.”

Below, we chat with M about What’s an Abortion, Anyway?, the challenges some caretakers have in talking with young people about abortions, and why compassionate, medically accurate resources about the procedure should be available to young people. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Why do you think a book like this is needed in children’s literature?

Carly and I are both abortion doulas. Throughout our work, both of us have encountered folk who want to talk with their children about what happened. About 61 percent of people who get an abortion are parents or caretakers. Sometimes, kids come to clinics because child care is expensive and not accessible in the U.S. The kids are often confused and want to know what’s happening and why they’re there. Whether or not an abortion is something someone wants to talk with their kids about, there’s a chance that kids are already hearing about it, and caretakers deserve to have resources that explain what an abortion is in a medically accurate, non-judgmental way, and in a way that supports bodily autonomy. Oftentimes, when adults deem a subject inappropriate for kids, it’s largely because we don’t have the tools to explain it to them and don’t know how to talk with them about it. We thought it was really important for our community to have this resource. As far as we know, this is the first book that we can find for children about abortion care. 

How might storytelling and illustrations help break down these complicated conversations in a way that’s engaging and easy to understand?

I think the illustrations were really important to us because oftentimes when people talk abortion, it’s talked about in a way that’s secretive and shameful, and we wanted to remove that. We wanted to create a safe space for young ones and kids to be able to talk about this and ask questions. So the illustrations capture the procedure and life outside of getting an abortion, which is influenced by that decision. It shows different types of people: people with kids, doctors, people who are making this decision because they don’t want to have kids, as well as people who already have kids and want to be able to take care of them in a way that they can best. It also represents people who aren’t often represented when we talk about abortion stories: trans folk, folk of color, folk with disabilities, folk with different genders, sexualities, and ages. It’s an opportunity to continue busting the myth that only a certain type of person gets an abortion for a specific reason, and [that] “it’s all bad.”

What challenges do parents have when talking about abortions with their children?

The first challenge is to talk about where babies come from. This book doesn’t talk about that specifically because there wasn’t room for it, but it’s assumed that whoever is reading this book with children has already had that conversation. We also list some resources for them if they haven’t. Once we talk specifically about abortion, one of the biggest parts is the shame that we have internalized and the stories that we carry. A lot of it is trying to first learn to take the judgement out of the words we use to communicate and explain things, and then define the word abortion for someone who is younger in a way that’s digestible. It’s important to have tools and examples that remove the stigma from it. 

We don’t expect every family to buy this book. But there are plenty of families who do need and want this book, and they deserve to have it. 

You and Carly are self-publishing this book through a Kickstarter campaign, but I know that wasn’t initially the plan. Originally, Carly had pitched this book to agents and publishers who refused to take on the project. She was told that writing about such a stigmatized topic was obscene and inappropriate. How have you two handled that?

There’s discomfort among adults about how to talk with kids about abortions. Still, we talk with them about pregnancy, miscarriages, and giving birth. We talk about pregnancy outcomes, and this is another outcome of pregnancy. We received a lot of pushback. Some editors were really into the book and said they’d read it to their own children, but they didn’t think they could get their communications and PR teams behind it. Even now that the book is published and we’ve fundraised to print it and distribute it, we’re getting pushback from bookstores, even liberal bookstores, who are afraid this will be considered inappropriate. We’ve also gotten a lot of negative pushback online on our Instagram account from different folk who feel that this is evil and inappropriate. We’ve been telling folk that if this book doesn’t align with your values and the way you want to teach your children, then that’s OK. We don’t expect every family to buy this book. But there are plenty of families who do need and want this book, and they deserve to have it. 

Your Kickstarter has surpassed its initial goal of $10,000. Why do you think this book is resonating with so many people and what message do you think this sends to the agents and publishers who turned you down?

I think this book resonates with folk because there are people who do want to talk about their abortion, folk who are proud of their abortion and want to explain to the young people in their life what their choices are, and who believe in responsible communication and parenting. We’ve also heard from people who have had an abortion, that this book made them cry because it was healing and validating for them in a way they didn’t realize they needed. It’s hard being a person who can get pregnant. It’s hard navigating the medical world, and the world in general because the world doesn’t support our choice. I think it shows that it’s needed and that we deserve to have tools that center our care and our autonomy. I hope that as we talk more about the book and more publishers, distributors, and book stores see it, that they will want to back this book and carry it in their stores. 

What do you hope this book accomplishes for families and young readers?

I hope that this book serves as an entry point to communicating about our reproductive choices with care and intention and without judgement. I hope a lesson that shines through in this book is: We all experience life through different circumstances, and we should be allowed to make choices with what we want and need with support and care. As a gender non-conforming person myself, I also hope this can help push forward more gender-inclusive conversations on abortion. I want young people to have the tools, resources, and spaces that support them through their gender journey, where they are recognized, validated, and celebrated.

“What’s an Abortion, Anyway?” is available for pre-order. It publishes in English in the fall of 2021 and in Spanish in the spring of 2022.