The most recent data suggest that while abortion rates are on the decline in the U.S., as many as 30% of American women will have an abortion by age 45. Their experiences are deeply personal and often involve more complex emotions than feelings of relief or regret, according to Kassi Underwood ’06.
Her new memoir, May Cause Love: An Unexpected Journey of Enlightenment after Abortion, follows her own path of transcendence after ending a pregnancy as a 19-year-old college student. Published by HarperCollins on February 14th (Valentine’s Day), the book is the culmination of 13 years of writing and research.
“It took time to understand my experience in the context of the abortion war, loss, and emotions in general, and my personal life before and after afterward,” Underwood said. “On the surface, the memoir is about coming to terms with my worst nightmare—getting pregnant before marriage, before college graduation, before a career, and ending that pregnancy. But beneath the surface, it's a book about being alive.”
May Cause Love traces Underwood’s journey across the country, with stops at a Roman Catholic retreat and a New York City Buddhist temple where she participated in a “water baby” ritual. An inspirational presence during the book’s inception was Underwood’s UVM English professor Gregory Bottoms.
“Greg changed my life,” Kassi says. “He had already taken on a full load of thesis advisees my senior year but he still agreed to advise my thesis, which was a very early and very long version of the first chapter. He’s an incredible writing professor. Along with many of his other mentees, I trusted his advice and felt he believed in me as a writer.”
Bottoms remembers Underwood as a student with keen observational skills and serious ambitions as a writer. “Kassi also had a lot of depth as a person,” said Bottoms. “She was already committed to her craft, but had a lot to learn—she understood she had to read a lot and practice a lot.”
“What I offered was simply teaching and conversation about narrative non-fiction writing—techniques and craft decisions, and what choices writers make,” he said. “These are the types of conversations we have in writing class—the world is a complicated place and issues are complicated. We can start to believe there are two ways of thinking when we’re really confronting deeply philosophical problems that can be interpreted in many ways.”
Bottoms also played an unwitting role in Underwood meeting her partner Mike Murphy ’06.
“It was so odd that Mike and I lived a hundred yards away from each other at UVM, yet somehow never met,” Underwood remembers. “Greg wrote a letter of recommendation for each of us, to the same writing program in New York City. It wasn’t until we boarded a bus to our graduate school commencement party that we met and put it all together.”
The couple married in 2015.
Underwood earned an MFA from Columbia University, where she taught on the faculty of the Undergraduate Writing Program for three years. She is currently taking the semester off graduate work at Harvard Divinity School to give lectures and workshops about abortion, personal transformation, and social justice. Her work has been published in the New York Times, The Atlantic, the New York Daily News, Al Jazeera, and Guernica.
May Cause Love has earned strong pre-release reviews—Publishers Weekly describes it as “brave and unsparing" and says "Underwood travels through uncharted and harrowing waters.”