In 1975, at the age of 26, I was the Poet in Residence for the St. Paul Schools, getting by on a small stipend and living on my own. I was also, although I didn’t recognize it, an alcoholic, using alcohol to self-medicate my constant, brutally painful equivocation of whether or not I was up to a demanding job and an adult life– a cursed state of being arising from family dysfunction.
One night, impulsively, I decided not to use my diaphragm, either with my then lover, or the following night, in the midst of a drunken, one-night dalliance.
In the wake of these choices, I was in turmoil. My fears were born out when two weeks later, using one of the primitive chemistry set-type tests of that era, I had a positive pregnancy test.
I had no confidence whatsoever in my ability to either carry a child to term or to be its mother. I knew I was in trouble with alcohol although it would be a number of years before I faced that issue head-on. I was deeply concerned about having had sex with two different men and very troubled and self-recriminating over the issue of who the father of my child to be was. In short, I was terrified.
I had health insurance at that time via an early version of an HMO, and thanks to Roe v. Wade,* the Supreme Court decision that abortion concerns only a pregnant woman and her doctor, my providers were obligated to provide abortions if they were requested. I had a discussion with my doctor, and we together determined that terminating the pregnancy was the best course of action.
I also had no confidence in my ability to undergo an outpatient procedure and my fear of physical pain, still with me today, was unmanageable. My doctor was willing to hospitalize me, and I checked into the hospital linked to my insurance.
On the night before the procedure, a nun came into my room with a bible, and attempted to talk me out of my decision. I was resolved, and I asked her to leave.
I was deeply sad, and got little sleep. In the morning I was prepped for a “D and C” and wheeled into the OR. I was in tears. My “hippie” doctor came in and after chatting with me said he wouldn’t perform an abortion upon a “crying woman.” I said, “You have to.”
I was put under and my pregnancy was terminated. I was around three weeks along. It would be sometime before a pink lab slip came in the mail reading simply, “present post-op: the parts of conception.”
At the time I was still in the grip of that fear that I wasn’t strong enough, as a person and woman, to get through a pregnancy. I felt only relief; delayed grief and guilt were to assail me much later on. And more grueling, middle of the night ruminations on who that being growing within me might have been as it developed from zygote to foetus to infant in my arms.
I woke up in my hospital room to a bouquet of roses from one lover and a phone call from the other. I was immensely sad, even after I came home and went back to work.
Months later I was at a friend’s house one night, and out of nowhere, I had a classic flashback: a priest appeared in my mind and shouted to me, “You murderer!” I went into a tailspin. I believe now that I had repressed the images I saw on the graphic “pro-life” pamphlets left in my door during the months leading to the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision until that moment.
I became tormented by shame and guilt, and very nearly took my own life to atone for what I had done. But somehow, I withstood all of this with a therapist’s help and the voices and images faded. I threw myself back into teaching and writing.
It is nearly forty-five years later; I am now 68 and never became a mother, although it wasn’t for lack of trying when I became stronger and in serial longer relationships. I was never able to carry to term, and thus, I have no children. I’ve learned that the yearning for a child doesn’t go away altogether over time– at least not for me. As I’ve written before, I sublimated for years in baby animals, and to this day channel my compulsion to nurture into things that don’t make demands upon me.
Despite the trauma involved, I am no longer ashamed; I have forgiven myself for my errors in judgment.
But I would make this same decision today. It was the best one. Imagine the impact on a developing baby of my fears and my drinking. Imagine what it might have done to me to attempt something the emotional and physical equivalent of summiting Mt. Everest. There was nowhere to turn for support in continuing the pregnancy, and I doubt that we would have made it.
I was very young when these things took place. But I see now how brave I was to exercise my new freedom of choice.
I do not know a single woman who has undergone a termination who has not suffered. The recent state institution of requirements in Virginia, Texas et al that a woman seeking an abortion have an ultrasound beforehand, as if she doesn’t know what she is up against, forcing her to view or to hear a doctor read a description of her fetus, worse, that the incoming veep Mike Pence has called for mandatory funerals on the part of women terminating pregnancies, sets women back to pre-Roe v. Wade days, and the era in which women getting pregnant out of wedlock were denounced and shamed.
That the Republican Party is now at the helm of the Empire has the potential to drive young women, especially, over the edge, and it puts control of our bodies back in the hands of men. Loading the dice and abrogating our civil rights will force us to resort once more to back alley and over-the-border abortions and worse. It is the Right’s remolding of the law to suit its neo-Christian agenda and deplorable and unconstitutional invasion of our privacy– the very thing that the same conservatives ballyhoo over when they complain about “Big Government”– that now issue a clarion call to action. We can’t let this happen.
*Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), is a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. Decided simultaneously with companion case Doe v. Bolton, the Court ruled that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests for regulating abortions: protecting prenatal life and protecting the woman’s health. Saying that these state interests become stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the woman’s current trimester of pregnancy.
The Court later rejected Roe’s trimester framework, while affirming Roe’s central holding that a person has a right to abortion until viability. The Roe decision defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid,” adding that viability “is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.” Source: Wikipedia.