To Jane & Sarah for Their 30th Birthday
Enough people don't talk about abortion. Too many people don't listen to those who do. I'm not talking about conceptually or hypothetically. I'm not talking about discussing this woman or that who you knew that aborted or did not. I'm talking about talking about abortion; intimately, personally. In public, not in secrecy.
So, I'm going to pick up the mike here today -- despite feeling vulnerable and a little fearful about it -- as my way of saying thank you to Jane Roe and Sarah Weddington for what they did for all of us thirty years ago today. For what they did for me. Because I'm tired of hearing people talk about abortion for whom it is totally rhetorical on any personal level, for many of whom it is less than that, as it is a procedure they cannot even have performed on their own bodies in the first place by virtue of never having had a uterus -- who don't and can't even know what it feels like to be pregnant in the first place. Because we need to stop being afraid to talk about it in public in a personal way. Because I can talk about it.
In 1993, I had a surgical abortion. I have never had even a day of regret about that decision, and have had many, many thankful, grateful days about that decision, and about my ability to make that decision.
I didn't have an abortion because I was pregnant due to rape or incest. I didn't have an abortion solely because of finances. It would have been hard as hell, and I would have had to have dealt with welfare and the lot, so it was hardly ideal, and very questionable in my mind -- if my child gets ill and I can't afford quality medical treatment easily at any time, how can I parent well? -- but it wasn't impossible. I didn't have an abortion because I didn't want to ever have children. I didn't have an abortion because of medical reasons.
I had an abortion -- above and beyond all else -- because I did not want to bear or parent a child at that time. I have -- even if someone takes it away from me -- the right to make that choice, because it is something which occurs in my own body and my life, both of which I have inalienable rights to.
I was dastardly ill almost from day one. My usual hyperkinetic energy was totally sapped, I was puking left and right, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. (Only years later did I find out I'm one of the folks who gets severe hyperemesis with pregnancies.) I couldn't even lie next to my partner after a couple of weeks because the smell of him -- even right after a shower -- made me angry and nauseated. When I took a pregnancy test, it was just for the sake of having that positive result visible: I already knew I was pregnant.
At the time, I ran an alternative kindergarten and preschool. I worked on my feet a minimum of 9 hours a day, and an average of about 12, with small children and their parents, all day. I loved my kids (I miss them all still, I miss having kids around me, period), I loved running my school, but it was terribly demanding work. I could barely work, feeling like I did physically. I became impatient and irritable with all my wee students.
I didn't have health insurance. My partner at the time was a good deal older than I was and I had questions about having a father for my children who was his age. Our relationship was starting to unravel a bit in places, and there were extenuating issues as far as the relationship and our joint physical health and background that are too private to discuss here, but which were a big factor. I myself was an "accident," and while I was sure I'd never hang that over my child's head the way it was often tossed at me during the worst parts of my childhood, I felt terribly uncomfortable about even having that as a possibility. I had doubts, being an abused child, about carrying patterns of abuse on: I wasn't confident I'd not do it myself at that point, even though given what I did for a living, it'd never even been a vague temptation. Working with small children all day, every day, often with no help, I knew what it required, more than I had a year or two before, and I did not feel I had what it took to be the kind of parent I wanted to be. I was 23 years old; I felt so young. I couldn't stand how I felt physically or emotionally.
I felt resolute in my knowledge that I did not want to bear or rear a child then because the plusses of my situation -- my partner was a wonderful man, I had a job where I could work and parent, a couple of the mothers I talked to about being pregnant assured me it is better to bear when you're younger -- didn't stack up to the strong feeling I had that it was simply not the right time; not what I wanted, not what was right for me or what I felt was right for that child-that-could-be.
I knew, most of all, that I did not want to carry or parent a child that I didn't want, and I did not want a child then.
I impatiently waited the requisite amount of time for the procedure -- a time period that feels SO terribly long to wait, even if you get in there the very first day you can. I didn't want my partner or anyone with me. It was something I wanted to do alone, but I needed a ride, so one of the mothers from my school came along, but gave me the space to sit alone, to be alone. I opted to terminate without general or intravenous anesthetic; only a local. It seemed to me that if it was something I was going to do, it was something I should be fully present for, in mind and in body. I discussed all of this in my consultation, and the nurse honored my choices very plainly and beautifully.
It wasn't very painful, the abortion: not physically, not emotionally. The pain was short, like an intense shot, and I chanted the alphabet while holding a nurse's hand. It took an incredibly short amount of time, far shorter than I thought it would, having heard my share of horror stories about how much abortion hurts and what a big mess it is. I was then wheeled into the recovery room, where everyone else had IVs from their anesthetics still in their arm. They were groggy. I was very alert.
A girl next to me in her teens came out of her grogginess weepy and confused. In talking to her, in hearing her story, what had her traumatized wasn't the abortion. What had her traumatized was everyone's nonsupport for her choice; evn though her boyfriend was an abusive drug-addict, and she had no familial or monetary support to be pregnant or to parent (as well as no support to abort or adopt, either -- one was left assume that the only acceptable answer for her apparently would have been to find a time machine and undo becoming pregnant at all). A choice made despite the fact that she said she would have loved to have a baby just to have someone to ease her feelings of loneliness and lack of love around her. A choice she didn't doubt at all, and one made far more for that potential child than for herself. A choice she had a legal and an ethical right to make just as she did. Her gratitude for my talking with her and supporting that choice was heartbreaking; I thought no one should have to be that grateful to a stranger for acknowledging that she knew what was best for her and her potential children.
I wasn't traumatized by my abortion. I healed up fast and easy, like most people do, some minor soreness only lasted a day or two. There were some issues to get through in my relationship, but we dealt with those, and my partner honored my choices. But I did have many nights of crying afterward, because of that girl next to me and all the girls like her who were made to feel horrible for making the best choices for themselves and for their offspring, those to be and not to be. I cried because I was angry as hell that women have to walk through hoards of people shouting misinformation and ugly taunts about choices that are not theirs to make, from people who withdraw any support they would give to pregnant women the minute they have their babies anyway. Saccharine pleas from people who beg women to bear and put up children to, so they say, adopt themselves -- children who, unless they are perfect lily-white infants, rarely get adopted, and certainly not by suburban white families who aren't about to walk around with an armload of chicano or biracial toddlers. I cried because women's bodies, women's minds, women's choices are not considered rightfully theirs, and because what we have is so tenuous and incomplete, at that. And more so right now than it was ten years ago when I aborted.
Not long after that, I learned, via the help of a few herbalists and midwives in my social circle and a lot of time with my nose pressed in books, how to perform a reasonably safe herbal abortion. They aren't as safe (nor as effective) as medical ones -- little is, and even childbirth poses more risks -- but they're safer than backalley surgical abortions, to be certain. They're certainly safer than coat hangers. I did not write these recipes down anywhere. I have never shared them publicly, and to date I still will not share them. They are locked in the safe of my head: I memorized them carefully, meticulously. If ever abortion becomes illegal again, I absolutely will break that law to help women who need or want to abort to do so in the safest ways I know how, without question. It is our right; not SHOULD be our right. It simply is. We have the right to control our reproduction. We have the right to own our own bodies.
I've used condoms alone flawlessly and gladly as my primary birth control for years now when I have had partners I needd contraception with. At this point in my life, should that method ever fail (and emergency contraception after it -- thankfully we have it now), it's possible I might want to bear a child. I don't make promises. I may change my mind. I am allowed to change my mind, thank goodness: parenting is not a decision I think anyone should enter into lightly or haphazardly, and certainly not one I want to enter into unless I want to.
I've noticed that it isn't really allowable to say that you are both pro-choice and pro-abortion. On some level that's sound, because in supporting choice, for real, you can't really be "pro" one choice or another for anyone but yourself. That said and that supported, I do not feel abortion is any more serious or weighty than the choice to parent or bear children and put them up for adoption. I don't care for, though, the idea that it isn't okay to support abortion as a positive; for the silent edict that you HAVE to say it's horribly painful (when it most often is not at all painful), that it is terribly traumatic (when it well may not be, and may even be a positive emotional experience) and that you'd never, ever, never want to have it done if you could avoid it (even if you just don't feel that way).
Physically and emotionally, abortion is not any more risky or taxing than either of those other choices: in most ways, it's usually far less so. While I have not carried a child to term or parented, I am close to enough parents, and have taught for long enough to know full well that neither pregnancy nor parenting is a walk in the park and feel pretty confident saying abortion is often the easier choice of the three. I'm not going to disagree with those who say that abortion is the "easy way out," fully. I wouldn't say it's easy at all, but from my vantage point, it is likely in most cases easier. I have been through many things in my life, physical and emotional, that were much, much more difficult, painful and traumatic for me, and I don't think that is because I am unfeeling, uncaring or inhuman. I think it is because I don't see, and have not experienced, abortion as anything to do with a lack of care or compassion, but as quite the opposite.
All of that said, I am both pro-choice and pro-abortion for myself, for others who make that decision. I have seen and experienced horrible and/or abusive parenting directly. I have had students and seen children with injuries and scars from abuses that have nearly incited me to direct physical violence myself (Ever seen a kids mouth that's had a lighter held to it? It isn't pretty). I have seen the effects of bad foster care all too often; I had a partner in life who was one of that systems' tragic victims when it fails. We have, here in the US, the highest child poverty rate of all the industrialized nations, and one of the highest infant and child mortality rates (and those have gone DOWN since abortion was legalized -- to boot, antiabortion states spend LESS money on child welfare and women's reproductive health than pro-choice states, almost as a rule -- Schroedel, Jean Reith, 2000). I have seen women whose lives, self-image, self-worth and families have been eaten nearly whole by her feeling obligated to bring children to term due to the dogma and wishes of others. These are not small things, and while I feel I understand the value of actual life, I do not think it can be separated from quality of life -- not for the women who might bear those children, not for those children. Is it guesswork? To a degree; to far less of one in some cases. Are there people who make all of these choices carelessly or thoughtlessly? Yes, there are. But there are people who make careless choices in driving their cars and take or injure fully realized lives daily. We don't talk about taking away the right to drive because of this; we don't even consider it, and being able to get to the mall in five minutes is far less an intrinsic and important right than reproductive choice is.
I feel confident saying that most people who do make these choices do so with both great thought and great compassion. I think we can be good parents to both our born and our never-born, and that in some cases, abortion is doing just that. I have no doubt it was in my case. I feel more able to someday be a good parent to any child who may be in my life because of my choice then; I know I can make hard choices for both of us if need be.
I'm not going to get into my political experiences or feelings with this subject today. I don't want to discuss, today, the entire academic argument about reproductive choice, the gender issues, the religious issues, et cetera. In my mind, all of that is secondary because abortion truly is something that cannot be discussed in any general way. Choice, yes. What those choices are or may be? No. Because each and every reproductive choice is different, is personal, is everything except general. I wanted to talk about one of my choices.
Especially today. Because I had my abortion, coincidentally, on the 20th anniversary year of Roe Vs. Wade, and now it's been ten years since. It's hard to say what things would be like if I had made a different choice, but really, it's not relevant. Our whole lives are those Choose Your Own Adventure books, and there are so many different ways any of our innumerable choices could have taken us had we made them differently. We'll never know.
I do know that I'm grateful as hell to Jane Roe and Sarah Weddington.
I'm grateful to the Supreme Court at the time who made choices themselves, landmark choices, to protect mine and that of all women in this country. For making a decision a terrifying number of young women in this country don't even know was made because they don't even know abortion was once -- and could still be again -- illegal.
I'm grateful to the doctors, clinicians and nurses working to provide abortion over the years who have put their lives at risk to do so, or worse, died due to "pro-life" and antichoice terrorism: all to give me full ownership of my body and my uterus, to save women's actual lives and to allow for a means to preserve the quality of those lives and the lives of children. (One in five clinics who perform abortion services experienced severe anti-abortion violence in 1999, including death threats, stalking, bombings, arsons, blockades, invasions, chemical attacks, bomb threats, and arson threats. Less of these cases have been prosecuted in the past few years than in years previous. - Feminist Majority Foundation, 1999 National Clinic Violence Survey Report)
I know I'm scared to death, given the way things have been going; given what has been getting chipped away in tiny but grave fragments when it comes to women's bodies, health and reproductive choices, all too quickly. I'm scared not just because of the potential loss of safe, legal medical abortion, but because of where that logically leads: to losing our right as women to choose, use and access various means of birth control, to losing sound reproductive health services, especially for those of us who are low-income, to losing our right to choose sexual partners of any gender as nonmarried women. I'm scared and I'm terribly angry that in this day and age, women are still seen by many, even by other women, as baby factories. I'm tremendously scared of losing my right to be a whole person, and at this point, I think that fear is more than valid.
I don't suspect that all our readers will feel the same way I do (nor do I expect them to), or that they have had identical experiences. Some may end up disliking me for things I've said today, or respect me less, or stop reading this publication altogether. I have every reason to believe we all have a great diversity of thought on this matter. I'm okay with all of that and I honor that, save that that diversity is on a personal level, rather than about taking away my right, and the right of all women, to own their own bodies. That I am not okay with. That I do not accept, I denounce. That I will fight and protest for as long as I have to, and I'll win. We'll win, no matter how hard it gets. I know that in my bones, these bones that are so inarguably mine. Ours.
Regardless of how everyone feels, I'd ask that you do your level best to read these personal stories when you find them, to listen to more than the academic or rhetorical. The absence of these stories does, in my mind, aid those who'd take our choices away; who feel we aren't strong enough, wise enough, thoughtful enough to make them.
Tell your stories. Listen to others. With your whole heart. Be brave. Jane and Sarah were. So can - so must -- we be.