One Christmas when fashion powerhouse Aurora James was a teenager, she ruffled through her stocking and was mortified. Her mother had tossed in a variety of condoms (Flavored! Ribbed! Larges and smalls! Some for latex allergies!) along with a few other more familiar items, like candy and lip glosses.
“I’m pretty certain she knew that I wasn’t having sex,” Aurora tells Cosmopolitan, chuckling at how shook she felt at the time. “But what she was saying was, ‘There doesn’t have to be shame here.’ How do you normalize something more than putting a condom in someone’s Christmas stocking?” Then she pauses, scanning the memory. “I think she might have given me a dental dam, too. I’m trying to remember if it was in the same stocking.”
Moments like these were truly just another day for Aurora growing up. Even though she and her mom had a tumultuous and complex relationship, they consistently (and very casually) covered the full range of sexual health, including abortion rights, access to birth control options and family planning. This business-as-usual candor “definitely destigmatized stuff for me,” she says, and was essential in shaping who she is today.
“My mother had raised me to believe that bringing a life into this world should happen when the time feels right—and not when you happened to have sex,” writes Aurora in her debut memoir, Wildflower, a heart-on-full-display, emotionally evocative recollection of the years that made her into a best dresser, savvy businesswoman, and fierce advocate.
It was also helpful that her mom was an IRL example of what she was telling her daughter. In the book, Aurora details her mom’s relationship with her physically abusive, perpetually cheating stepdad, Winston, who sexually abused Aurora when she was 8 years old. When her mom and Winston got pregnant, she chose to have an abortion. In the excerpt below, Aurora recalls the moment she found out about her mom’s decision:
And then, just as quickly as he had appeared, suddenly, Winston was gone. I never asked what happened, because frankly, I didn’t care. I was simply relieved.
Several weeks after he left, I realized my mother had been in the shower for a long time. I went to check on her, to make sure she was okay. “I am fine,” she said from behind the shower curtain. “I just like the water running over me.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking that was a strange response.
“I had an abortion yesterday.” She was still in the shower when she told me that she’d found out she was pregnant with Winston’s child. “It felt important to not have his child,” she said from behind the curtain. “Or to even let him know that I was pregnant.”
Hearing the water rush down over her and pass through the drain, it was clear that she was cleansing herself of him. That was when I knew that she had finally let him go. At that moment, I sat down on the cold bathroom tile next to the shower and felt tears fall down my face. I cried for what I had gone through and what she had gone through too. The pursuit of being loved and learning how to love was going to be a lifelong journey for both of us.
But thankfully, that journey no longer included Winston. He never came to my house again, though I did spot him a few times. Once at the mall, and another time when I was walking home. I thought he was following me, and told my mom. “That’s just crazy,” was all she said.
Many months later, my mom did get a call. Someone had found Winston’s wallet and her number was in it. When the simple black leather billfold was returned to her, she found a few battered credit cards inside, and then tucked behind them, in a hidden pouch, was a single photo. Of me, in my school uniform. For some reason, that was when she finally realized I was telling the truth.
“Maybe it was always about you,” she said. She was not directly apologizing, and even if she had, it would not have mattered to me. By then, it was too late.
Despite the deep-seated issues Aurora had with her mom, she kept space for her humanity. “I just remember sitting there and feeling so grateful that she was able to make that decision for herself,” said Aurora. “If my mom had made a different choice, I wouldn’t be the woman that I am today. Having to stay and live in a world where I’m still around my step-father all the time would have been truly heinous. My sibling having to deal with the fact that their parent was also their sibling’s abuser would have been heinous. There’s all these complex things.”
Fast-forward a few years: Aurora is in her 20s, in an intoxicating relationship with a sexy, rebellious artist, and needs an abortion herself. Exercising her freedom to choose “seemed like such an obvious decision to make,” she says, especially since she knew it was something that her mom would be okay with. But there were a few things about the experience, especially at the clinic, that shocked her.
“Going there, I remember there were actually a couple people with signs outside, which I both did and didn’t expect to see,” she recalls. “I was reminded that there are people who are vehemently against this, so much so that they’re just out there on a regular Tuesday—and in Canada.”
Afterwards, she was reassured that she had made the right call. “I felt really relieved,” she said, “that I lived in a country and in a situation where I was able to have that kind of autonomy. The idea of potentially having to be tied to someone who had just treated me that way and deal with that person forever would have been such a nightmare.”
In the Wildflower excerpt below, Aurora takes readers through her whirlwind romance and the moment she decided to end her pregnancy:
I landed in L.A. on New Year’s Eve ready for adventure. The warm desert air was a welcome relief from Toronto’s bone-chilling cold, and the sky felt expansive, the city sprawling. We drove from the airport to a friend of a friend’s house, where I immediately changed into a mustard-colored lace dress with leopard-print stockings, applied a messy glitter eye, and tousled my hair, which I crowned with a set of cat ears. Even I will admit this was a slightly odd look back in 2008.
DJ AM and Steve Aoki were headlining the party we were attending at a downtown L.A. warehouse that was packed and pulsating when we arrived. Blurs of neon American Apparel, acid-washed denim, shutter glasses, and glow sticks were weaving and bopping to Mstrkrft, Peaches, Justice, and A-Trak. I found a couch to perch on and was taking in all the hypnotic Technicolor chaos when I heard someone say, “Can I buy you a drink?”
I thought that was an odd question considering it was an open bar, and was about to say so, but when I looked up, I saw a gorgeous man, wearing a leather motorcycle jacket over a vintage T-shirt and worn jeans. I was struck by his cheekbones, two strong beams beneath sleepy eyes, and then realized—I knew him!
It was Fresh, the guy I’d interviewed. I had sent him a message through MySpace to tell him I was coming to L.A., but not that I was coming to this party. He was even more gorgeous in real life. We hit it off immediately, to the point that he came back to the house where we were staying and slept on the couch. From then on, we were inseparable.
My plan to stay in L.A. for a few days turned into two weeks. I quickly fell in love with Fresh. He was part of the L.A. graffiti and party kid scene, a smattering of beautiful, artistic, and slightly reckless young people, like Cory Kennedy, Katy Perry, and Mia Moretti, who were frequently covered in Paper and Nylon. Samantha Ronson DJed, and Mark “the Cobrasnake” Hunter photographed all of it.
Fresh had no interest in participating in capitalism, but made some money selling art and doing pickup work, like bartending or painting houses. With no real job, he could come back to Toronto with me. But he didn’t have any government-issued ID, so he was turned away the first time he tried to enter Canada, and then held at customs for six hours the second time before finally getting through.
The first several weeks we spent together, I showed him around. When Fresh saw an ad in Kensington Market for a break-dancing contest that had a cash prize, he entered, and very easily won. He marveled at the fact that we had a cannabis café three blocks from our house—pointing out that it would never happen in California. He was even considering moving to Canada, until I woke up feeling nauseous. My boobs were swollen and later that afternoon, a doctor confirmed I was pregnant. My mother had raised me to believe that bringing a life into this world should happen when the time feels right—and not when you happened to have sex. She had been talking to me about reproductive rights long before I was capable of conceiving. She also knew Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who went to jail for performing abortions on women when it was still illegal in Canada. Being pro-choice and having autonomy over your own body were central beliefs in our house.
But Fresh was conflicted. I did not know much about his background other than his mom, who was Filipina, met his dad, who was Black, on Soul Train, and his mom raised him on her own. I agreed to sit with it for a few days, to give him time to process the news.
One afternoon, I went to the grocery store and when I returned, Fresh wasn’t at the apartment. Something felt strange so I began calling his phone. It had been switched off. I was trying to process the idea that he might have just left me when I remembered that he had saved his mom’s number on my phone. I called her and learned that he was on a Greyhound bus heading back to L.A. Before she hung up on me, she said, “How do we even know that it’s his kid?” I put down the phone and burst into tears.
Getting an abortion was an easy choice. I never saw myself having a child in my twenties, and certainly not with a person who had left my life almost as abruptly as he had entered it. I started trying to move on, and when a couple of my friends invited me to spend my birthday in L.A. that summer, I figured it was time to go create some new memories there.
One night, I had too many drinks and called Fresh. He answered. He was apologetic, and kind, and my bar for male behavior was low enough that I felt okay to let his behavior slide. We picked up where we left off and I decided to stay in L.A.
Wildflower is on sale now. SHOP
Associate News Editor
Christen is the associate news editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covers all things around pop culture, celebrity, and things happening in the world. Previously, she was a features reporter at the Chicago Tribune where she specialized in lifestyle and culture topics like health, dating and relationships, parenting, home, race and more.