The first time I set foot in an ob/gyn’s office was two years before Roe v. Wade and a few days after my 17th birthday. I had come to this esteemed doctor because a friend said he could perform safe abortions. Sure enough, during the exam, the doctor said I was definitely pregnant and he would give me an abortion if that was what I wanted. I said no, my boyfriend and I were in love and wanted to get married.
Indeed, that boyfriend — Bobby, now my husband of 50+ years and with a lot less hair — expressed great joy and enthusiasm about getting married and starting our family together. I was wildly in love with him, and had long ago decided he would make great daddy material. But I was also ambitious, and hadn’t planned on taking this step while I was still a senior in high school.
A tense meeting with our parents was called to settle the matter. My soon-to-be mother-in-law started the conversation by saying that she thought I should have the baby, give it up for adoption, and that Bobby and I should not be allowed to see each other ever again*.
My mother said, “That’s the worst thing I have ever heard of! You do not give up your own flesh and blood!” Pause. “She should have an abortion.”
Bob’s mother replied, “That’s the worst thing I ever heard of!”
To which my soon-to-be husband, who was brilliant but floundering in his classes at the local community college, said, “We want to get married and have this baby.” I was sitting on his lap (in retrospect, a peculiar choice for the occasion). I guess maybe I nodded, but I could see a lot of problems with all the options, especially the marriage idea. Bobby at that point didn’t even have a driver’s license (neither did I) and his job was as a paper boy. I wasn’t sure he was good husband material.
But I loved him, and I knew he was truly nice. And somehow that was a compromise our parents could accept. So we got married and had a baby. And then another — planned this time. With a great deal of help from our parents, we went to college, moved forward with our lives, and raised two very fine humans.
For years, I thought I might want to have more children, but Bob never did. I didn’t ever push him on the question because I wasn’t quite sure myself. While I loved the baby years, I was not wild about going through the school years again. Nor, most definitely, the teen years. Finally, on a trip to California to celebrate our 20th anniversary, I made the firm decision to get my tubes tied. No more babies.
But … funny thing. On that trip, I also got pregnant again. We didn’t do anything any different contraception-wise than we had been doing for years. Thus, it felt like an extraordinary cosmic joke, or challenge. Like God or the Universe or whatever you want to call it was taunting me, “Are you sure????”
It was a tough choice. I was sure that I did not want to raise another human to adulthood. But a baby … my babies were so beautiful, I loved babies! At the same time, I knew that parenthood is only about babies for a brief period of time. Choosing to bring a baby into this world is a commitment to a minimum of 18 years of hard, hard work, assuming all goes smoothly! I had agreed to this commitment when I was 17, but I did not want to re-enlist.
Equally important, Bob was not ambivalent at all. He most definitely did not want to become a father again. The abortion debate focuses mostly on women, but this man had been — and still is — a very involved dad for both his kids. I believe he may well have changed more diapers than me, even. He didn’t want to re-enlist either. If I had chosen to keep that pregnancy, he would have stepped up again and been an awesome, hands-on dad. But I didn’t want to force that on him. His life mattered, too.
So I decided to have an abortion. I had to change ob/gyns because my regular doctor wouldn’t do it. The second doctor said he would, but he had a practice full of women my age (37) who were trying desperately to get pregnant. He asked me for an explanation. I said, I just can’t do this all over again! I’d been a mom my entire adult life — really, since before I was an adult. I wanted my own life.
The night before the operation (both the abortion and getting my tubes tied) provided an excellent illustration of how hard parenting can be. We were already in bed when our son came to us for help. He knew about the operation, and he apologized for waking us up, but his best friend was threatening to commit suicide and our son didn’t know what to do. So we got out of bed and went down to the teenage hangout in the basement and dealt with that crisis. Parenthood, anyone?
After the operation, I cried and grieved for a month. I hadn’t only said goodbye to the possibility of that baby, but also to the possibility of any more babies of our own, ever. Yes it was my choice, but emotions are complex. Just because I thought it best to close the door on child bearing didn’t mean that choice didn’t also bring sadness.
To be clear, I did not think that there was a “baby” inside of me — yet. There was potential life in the cells that were growing and multiplying. If the cells had matured to a viable state, well, that would have been a different story. But it wasn’t. I had two full term pregnancies in my life, and no one can tell me that I “killed a baby.” I know better. It was a bunch of cells on their way to becoming a baby but not there yet.
People have their own beliefs. Personally, I believe — or at least would like to believe — that there was a soul who chose Bob and me for its parents, but just waited too long to come to us. I apologized to that soul and explained that it was just too late. I also believe that soul found other parents and was born to them and is living a very fine life.
You might think my views are strange, but hey, I’m not trying to force anybody else to make critical life decisions based on my spiritual beliefs. The idea that somebody else would presume to insist on my giving a bunch of cells hitch hiking a ride in my uterus preference over everything else in my life is unacceptable. Completely infuriating. Preposterous!
My abortion story might not be the most emotionally compelling, but, it was my life and my choice. Along with Bob, my treasured husband, co-parent, and now, equally wonderful grandparent — it was his choice, too.
So now we have a granddaughter in our lives. She is the next female in our family who will face questions of if and when and how she wants to give birth. It’s not an issue on the horizon for her at the moment, but I will fight like hell to make sure she, too, can make the choices that work best for her. For her and every other human during child bearing years — reproductive liberty is fundamental to their happiness, and no one has the right to take that away from them.
*My mother-in-law’s words sound so harsh in retrospect, but truly, she was a very kind and loving person who was understandably worried about her son in that moment.