Can Drug-Addicted Women Have Healthy Babies? This San Juan Island Woman Says Yes.
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News story by Julia Duin
Kaya Maraya Silkiss-Hero, a San Juan Island photographer who manages real estate and owns a construction company, oozes confidence.
She has degrees in equine psychotherapy and chemical dependency counseling and certificates in welding and dentistry. She drives a 2015 Chevy Silverado diesel Duramax truck and has a Facebook page filled with positivity and tough-girl quotes, such as Lebron James’ “I like criticism. It makes you strong.”
Underneath that capable exterior is a woman who was a drug addict by her late teens. By the time she was 21, she was facing prison — and pregnant.
“I ended up pleading guilty and taking the charge when I got out of jail because of being pregnant and spiritually broken,” she says. “I did not have it in me to fight anyone in a lengthy court case.”
Pressured on all sides to end the pregnancy and told that drug-addicted women couldn’t have healthy babies, she aborted the child.
Abortion Regret Grows
Certainly, she thought at the time, she could conceive another.
But she never could, even during a brief marriage. Now 38 and undergoing early menopause, she mourns there was no one to support her at the time; no one to talk her out of the abortion and no one to reassure her that her baby might turn out OK.
“There is this heartache of missing the one shot you had,” she now says. “People told me my whole life I’d be a bad-ass mom. I feel like I murdered someone because I was selfish. Having an abortion was not part of my genetic makeup.”
Nearly a year has passed since word leaked out that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, was set to be overturned.
Amid all the ensuing debate about women’s reproductive choices are the women who wanted to be mothers but were pressured to opt out. Silkiss-Hero wants to spread the message that even being on drugs do not disqualify one from motherhood.
This is her story.
Born on Lopez Island in 1984 as one of a set of twins, she grew up to become a beauty, a young woman with long, wavy brown hair, brown eyes and a flawless complexion. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother remarried. The family then moved several times.
Removed from her family home by the state at the age of 12, her traumatic adolescence led her to become an alcoholic and heavy drug user within a few years. By the time she was 20, she was on the streets and selling drugs. Slapped with two felony narcotics charges for selling and delivering marijuana (which was not legal in Washington state at the time), she was jailed for several weeks, during which time she discovered the pregnancy.
She said she called the father multiple times, to the point that his parents filed a restraining order although they were not told she was pregnant and their future grandchild was at risk.
“I was alone, and I wondered if I wanted a baby with him anyway,” she recalls. “I wasn’t signing up for 18 years of raising a child with him.”
She was also feeling pressure from her mother and others to terminate the pregnancy.
“People do have feelings of regret and they look back and think, ‘I totally could have handled it,’” she says.
What onlookers don’t realize about abortion, she adds, is that women often agree to them because of the sheer weight of discouragement piled upon them by friends and family.
“A lot of people think they are too young or there is someone who is disapproving,” she says. “There was no one who said, ‘We can have a conversation about this.’ No one believed in me or told me I was adequate.”
A Visit to Planned Parenthood
She first went to a Planned Parenthood clinic on Friday Harbor.
“I told the person at Planned Parenthood that I was a drug user, and she was like, ‘Yes, you got to have an abortion.’ I didn’t go in there wanting an abortion.”
The response “was a cookie cutter thing like ‘you’re a drug addict and you need to abort this child.’ If they had done some fertility tests and told me this may be the only shot you’ve got, I would have done something different. I have learned that babies are pretty resilient to drug use and a young woman might not have the deformed baby I thought I might have.”
Instead, Planned Parenthood set her up with an abortion clinic a ferry’s ride away in Mount Vernon. When she arrived at the clinic she recalls, “I was way further along than I thought I was — so I was killing an older baby — very early second trimester. There was no one saying, ‘Do you want to raise a baby? Because you can.’ I could have taken care of a child.”
‘Momma Bear Group’ Support Desired But Not Given
“Had there been three women who could have been on call — a support group like people in recovery get; like a momma bear group — I could have done it. My mom gave me no such structure. She told me she had had an abortion and then had five children. She talked me into thinking I’d have a big family someday. And my mom didn’t want to be a grandmother to a drug addict baby. It wasn’t what I was capable of; it was what she wanted,” she said.
Afterwards, “I bled for about a week – all I really remember is that I came back to the island, and I was supposed to stop bleeding in three or four days.”
At 23, two years later, she finally kicked her drug and alcohol habit, and in April 2016 at the age of 32, she got married. But she didn’t get pregnant despite some $25,000 in fertility treatments.
“One of the things that trips me up is wondering if I will ever feel like a ‘whole’ woman if I never raise my own child,” she says. “Infertility sucks, not having a tribe of women you can relate to sucks, not having my father to watch me be a mom and he be a grandpa, sucks.”
She wondered if the abortion had somehow rendered her infertile, possibly through scar tissue left in the uterus. Whatever the cause, her body was incapable of bearing more children, she learned, and her marriage cratered in less than a year. She began to attend church, even though her upbringing was not religious. She was baptized and now attends Calvary San Juan, a non-denominational church in Friday Harbor.
“I just try to stay in my lane and remember I’m not God,” she says.
As she looks back, she realizes the institutions that were supposed to help women bear children have effectively gone AWOL.
“It should be every woman’s right to understand what her reproductive status is,” she says. “I could’ve saved eggs earlier in life had I known it was an issue; had the doctors taken me seriously when I asked them. Had I been tested for everything I would have probably had a kid. The entire medical system failed me, which is why I always try to advocate for other women to try to find all the resources they need.”
She is grateful to be running her own business, and her ability to travel on a whim, enjoy her Maine Coon cat, watch her beloved orcas and photograph to her heart’s content, “but I do have heartbreak constantly and am still super frustrated my body wants to go into menopause at 38.”
Silkiss-Hero is on medication to reverse the menopause, and she hasn’t given up her dream of a baby. She did gain custody of a step-daughter from her ex-husband, but she wants a large family and a ranch as a home and training center for life skills.
“Although I’ve never had my own ranch, my goal is to have a facility where the community can learn basic life skills as well as trust-building through chopping firewood, riding horses, having bonfires, learning how to build a home from the ground up, using materials sourced from the land,” she says. “It’d be open to people with a history of mental health problems, alcohol and drug abuse and trauma.”
She hopes her experience can be a cautionary tale for other women who choose abortion, assuming they will always be fertile.
“The whole world is tripping over women’s rights,” she says. “I chose an abortion, the only pregnancy I ever had, and I wish someone had stopped me. It haunts me every day.”
Julia Duin is a Seattle-based journalist who was Newsweek’s contributing editor for religion for the past 18 months. She was an assistant national editor and religion editor for the Washington Times for more than 14 years and also worked stints at the Houston Chronicle and several other newspapers. During the 2014-2015 academic year, she occupied the Snedden Chair as a journalism professor at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks, after which she joined the Washington Post Talent Network as contributing writer for travel, religion and general features. She specializes in interesting women in religion.