Three Stories

There are, I suppose, as many different stories about why and how a woman gets an abortion as there are women.

Here’s one: In the bad old days before Roe, my mother once drove a friend from New York City to a parking lot in New Jersey, where her friend got into a waiting car. Five hours later the car returned, her friend got out (sheet white and trembling, but okay), got in my mother’s car, and they drove back to the city. She went on with her life, with what residual emotion from the experience I don’t know; I do know my mother was deeply shaken by her small part in it.

And another: I remember several girls in college who got pregnant, before and after Roe. After Roe some things were the same: the secrecy, the collections taken up to help defray the cost, the sympathetic pampering when the girl returned to the dorm. But some things were very different: before Roe there was a well of secret knowledge–all I knew was that someone knew someone who knew a real doctor… and the rest of the process was shrouded in mystery, not as dire or scary as my mother’s friend’s experience, but sufficiently clandestine. After Roe, if memory serves, you had to cross the state line to reach a state where the procedure was legal. But there were official resources on campus which could explain and expedite the process. Still expensive, still secret, but without the gloss of criminality which made a bad situation terrifying.

And one more: mine. I don’t tell this story a lot, mostly because it’s no one else’s damned business. But these days I think we all need to stand up and be counted.

When I was twenty-six I was tremendously in love with a terrifically sweet train wreck of a guy. We never actually said “you know, we’re never going to get married because we’re heading in different directions,” but we both knew it. (As a matter of fact, he told my mother as much, couching it in “I’m not good enough for your daughter” terms I would have vehemently denied.) I was working at Harvard in my first “real” job, I had published two books, I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I was going.

A thing to know? I was fanatical about birth control. Rather than the pill (I preferred to be in control of something this important, and I didn’t like the idea of all those hormones) I had a diaphragm, and I used it religiously. I got it replaced annually. I checked it, as instructed, each time before I placed it. In short, did all the things one should do (except not have sex with the guy I was in love with). And yet–one morning I discovered–not a pin-prick hole, but a rip in my diaphragm. Material failure. I blanched, crossed my fingers–and came up on the wrong side of the odds.

I didn’t know I was pregnant–my periods at that point were irregular, because I’d lost a bunch of weight (being in love was, for me, a great diet)–until one day, standing at a corner in Harvard Square waiting for a light, I had a sudden… event. I’ll spare you the details, but it involved going home, changing my clothes, and calling my doctor, who told me to come in immediately.

One test later, the verdict: I was pregnant, but the sudden shedding of a large amount fluid suggested that the pregnancy was “imperiled.” I had two options: I could have a D&C or I could wait and see if the pregnancy was going to take, and possibly have to invoke heaven, earth, and medical science to keep it viable.

I was 26. In my first real job. With a man I loved but knew was not my forever love.  And importantly, to me, I was in therapy for the first time, and I knew that I had years to go before I felt comfortable undertaking parenthood. So I opted to end the pregnancy, there in the hospital, attended by a doctor with a long, convoluted German name and a short, flyaway mustache, and a number of very kind, very busy nurses.

Even if I had been forced into “counseling” about my options I would have been rock solid–not because I didn’t want children, but because I wanted them enough to have them when I was ready to be a good parent. Thanks to high school Biology class, I knew what I was carrying at that point was an embryo, not a person: a collection of cells, the first building blocks in the physical shell for a consciousness to be installed later. Although I was sad, or perhaps wistful, about the potential that would not be filled, I never had a single moment of doubt that what I was doing was the best thing for all concerned: the embryo, the woman I would become, the guy I was with, the children I might someday have.

Here it is, forty-plus years later, and I know I made the right call. For me. In my circumstances, with my unique life and background and situation. You might have made another call: that would have been your choice to make. That’s all a woman needs in this situation: the room, and the resources, to make that choice. And because I was able to do so, I’m willing to fight like hell for my daughters and other women to have that room, those resources, and their own choice.

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