Making a Life

I was 17 when I fell in love for the first time. I wanted birth control beyond condoms and luck. I had no money. I was on my parent’s health insurance, but I couldn’t tell them. We’d never talked about sex. Or sexuality. Or menstruation. Or anything to do with the body. But it was 1973, and I didn’t know how or why, but Planned Parenthood was there for me.

Mani and I drove to San Jose, 30 minutes away, and had a consultation with a doctor. Bernard was a soft spoken young man with long black curly hair. He gave us information and cautionary advice about various methods of protection. Concerned about my youth, he took me aside to make sure I wasn’t being pressured by a man seven years my senior. He sent us home to consider our choices. We didn’t want to wait, but they had rules, and probably my best interests at heart.

For the next appointment I borrowed Mani’s new car while he had to work, and went on my own. Putting my legs into stirrups was new, and uncomfortable and disturbing. But it got me safety and freedom. Driving home in the growing dusk, the car inexplicably broke down on Highway 101. I stood on a narrow center divider as cars rushed past. A lone man pulled over, and when I wouldn’t get in his car, he said he’d call a tow truck. By that time I was frightened and frantic from the whole ordeal, but the tow truck driver shared a joint with me, called the dealership and ordered them to stay open until we got there, and then yelled at the salesman on my behalf, to make sure I wouldn’t have to pay for the tow or the repair. A memorable time.

I came of age in a place and time when these options were readily available. I could maintain my privacy. A trained health professional watched out for my best interests. I was unclear about the battle that was fought before my time, unaware that others might not have these same choices.

Over the next decade Planned Parenthood provided me with various forms of birth control – not just to avoid involving my parents, but also later when I had no insurance, little income, and was flying by the seat of my pants, aka young adulthood.

I could have been a teen mom. Or one who used a coat hanger or Lysol or worse to abort a baby I didn’t want. I could be dead. But between Planned Parenthood and Roe v Wade, I had agency over my life, and a choice. I could create the life I wanted.

* * *

In the summer of 1982, Alan and I drove around the U.S. searching for the right place to settle into our newly married life, where in some distant future we would raise a family. That fall we arrived in Santa Barbara, and began a months-long search for jobs and housing.

We lived with Alan’s parents in Port Hueneme, 45 minutes away. Finally Alan landed a job packing and mailing comic books in a hot little warehouse near the beach. He made $5/hour. I met him for lunch on the sandy lawn by the Pacific Ocean in between my interviews and house search.

Then I managed to get part-time work for the Christmas rush at a bookstore, also at $5/hour. We made more than the minimum wage of $3.35, but not enough to live on. I planned to be an outgoing employee so I would be hired full time after the holidays. We found a house on the outskirts of town, affordable only if we rented out two of the three bedrooms. We barely made ends meet.

That Thanksgiving I was inexplicably nauseous and tired, unable to eat in spite of my mother’s delectable cooking. Being pregnant never crossed my mind; I’d had a Dalkon Shield IUD for several years without a problem (in spite of its reputation for pregnancies, infections and even deaths).

The Christmas rush was on at work, and I went in exhausted and not knowing why. I found refuge behind the cash register, leaning on the counter, hoping not to throw up. I got hard looks from my boss, but I could barely drag myself out to the aisles to push books or straighten shelves.

When I figured out I was pregnant, we agonized. I was 27 years old. We were just beginning our nebulous lives with a tenuous hold on making it work. It felt wrong to abort when we had a happy marriage, family support, a roof over our heads. But I couldn’t imagine starting a family while making so little money, no benefits, no medical insurance, no time off, living in a crowded house, and no way of starting a career or improving that life any time soon if we had a baby. I wanted to be a mother. Just not yet.

While we tried to figure out what to do, my boss laid me off. I was slacking too much. Overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, I burst into tears and blurted out my story. She took pity and gave me a second chance.

Then a dear friend came to visit, a woman my age who was also a rabbi. While I wasn’t religious, I trusted her deeply thoughtful approach to life decisions. To my surprise she’d been in a similar situation and had made a decision to abort. Not being ready to start a family, in her opinion, was a fine decision.

Once again, Planned Parenthood was there for me, though I had to make my way past the flow of religious protesters carrying signs with pictures of bloody murdered fetuses, yelling terrible things at me. The clinic provided an escort to protect and support me as I walked from the parking lot, and treated me with care.

I never questioned how I would get the services I needed, or if they were available. Of course the choice was ours to make; how could it be otherwise? It was my body, my life, my choice.

* * *

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the news is full of stories about the increasing loss of reproductive health access to children and teens, rape victims, incest victims, people whose health is threatened, poor people, people of color, rural people, religious people. About states where abortion has been banned altogether and where clinics are shut down and worse. It’s horrific, frightening, depressing, and infuriating.

My story is one of ease, choice, and privilege. I never worried about lack of safety or cleanliness or a less than professional clinic or doctor. I never worried about the cost; there was none. I worried maybe a little about risk – it’s a medical procedure after all. I was a little sad about letting go of what would eventually become our child.

But I have no regrets. It was the right choice for us. It was part of a whole family planning package, just as birth control was. It was our choice to create an optimal environment for bringing a baby into the world.

This choice should be accessible to anyone, without restrictions. Only a pregnant person can make the decision about their body and life. Forcing people to have babies, forcing unwanted babies to be born, is antithetical to a basic human tenet that every child be brought up with love and care.

There were 862,000 abortions performed in 2017 in the US. I’m part of a group of women who decided not to have a baby because the time was not right. Still, the total numbers are relatively small. Less than a million out of 325 million citizens. A quarter of a percent. So much attention on such a small number of people. There are so many causes to work for that could help lift people up. The poverty rate in the US is 14%. 13 million children are hungry, yet there’s enough food to feed the world. Yet control over others’ bodies is somehow a guiding crusade for too many.

50 years after Roe v Wade, abortion still isn’t a neutral topic. 40 years after my own abortion, I still hesitate to tell the story. It’s personal, and it shouldn’t even be an issue. But I never thought it was a right we would lose.

“I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.”

Sister Joan Chittister

* * *

In 1984 Alan and I each had steady work and income, some benefits and insurance, maternity leave, stability, and enough love to go around. Though having children is never easy, our baby girl brought joy to everyone around her. She was thoroughly wanted and cherished. Family planning made that a possibility.

When I accidentally got pregnant again 18 months after our daughter was born, I wasn’t planning to have another child yet. The small business I’d just started was my second baby already, demanding and exhausting. I doubted I had the time and energy but we COULD give this child a good life. Again, we had a choice.

Is there ever a good time to have a child? Even in the best of circumstances it’s disruptive as hell, and a jump into the unknown. If you don’t have a choice, that jump can be terrifying and can upend your life.

We left that pregnancy to fate, and that tenacious little embryo stayed on, a wonderful addition to our busy lives, and a blessing ever since.

I’ve occasionally had “what if” moments, pondering alternate life trajectories. But it always ends with gratitude that everything turned out the way it has. If not for Roe v Wade, if not for Planned Parenthood, if not for having a choice and autonomy, my husband and I would not be who and where we are now, we may not have had the careers and lives we had, and would not have the two wonderful children we have now.

This should not be a privilege.

26 thoughts on “Making a Life

  1. Nancy, I almost speechless. I am losing the battle to hold back tears and so I let them flow. Your story is not my story, but I feel this deeply in my bones. What an honor to read these amazing words and to know such courage. It’s one thing to rail against an oppressive court, it is quite another to step into the fray and show your heart so openly. I will share this with everyone in my tiny world but I hope it has been submitted somewhere it can reach a wider audience. So well articulated and with such an authentic voice. It may save a life. Thank you for this share and for being exactly who you are in the world. I am so grateful to call you friend 💚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing Nancy. So personal and so important. I had two abortions for very different and yet similar reasons. I too had the privilege of easy access to care and making a choice. I have never regretted my choices to abort or have the two daughters that I have.

    My sister is eight years older and I have vivid memories of her scary trip to Mexico to get an abortion. She had an infant at the time, a marriage that was failing and in the midst of getting her Masters degree at UCSD while working part time. She told me of the relief she felt when it was over – and that she had been pregnant with twins.

    I feel so bad for women who have no choice where they live. Which means no choice at all in many cases.

    >

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing your story Sonja. How lucky you and I were, and how scary for your sister, and now for women everywhere. We’ll keep fighting, though we thought we were done. You have two wonderful daughters!

      Like

    • There are so many of us. Thank you for adding your story here, Sonja. I can’t imagine how scary it would have been to travel to another country for an abortion, but I absolutely can imagine making that choice if I had to. So sad that women today are put in that place again.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful and riveting Nancy,
    Powerful representation of the multiple tensions and opposites we have to hold. Great descriptions – I felt as if I was there.
    Appreciate your honesty and letting me into you.
    with care,
    rochelle

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for your story, Nancy. I truly believe it is only when we have the courage to be vulnerable that we take the step that can change a heart. And it is only when hearts change that we can save the world. You have taken step. Big love.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Another mind-blowing, deeply felt, authentic piece of writing – and brave. I agree with Bonnie: This should be submitted for publication, although I would understand if you don’t want to go public – more public than this. I too have tears in my eyes. This is a heart-breaking moment, and you have captured the universal truths of it in one particular person’s story. So beautiful, Nancy. So much love to you.

    Like

  6. Wow, you’re killing me. Thanks Rachel. I am actually over the privacy thing. No more fucks to give I guess. Age or anger?
    Submitting stuff is probably scarier than self exposure! 🙂 Also, where… Plus once you blog it, no one wants it? They like virgin words.
    Anyway, thank you for reading, being here, and being part of the conversation and fight.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Nancy, thank you for your writing and this particular share… it’s private, it’s personal, but, very important for us all to read and hear. It gets to the very heart of why R v W was so important. My mother is turning over in her grave. Much love to you and all who are struggling with this SCOTUS decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nancy, I’m glad I decided to come over here and read this post today. I am struck by how perfectly your story recalls the majority (I assume) of American women who need an abortion. It’s an economic and healthcare decision that we must be able to make on our own account. Thank you for writing it so well, and for explaining that the abortions you had were for different reasons at different places in your life, and today you remain grateful. Thank you for adding that when you had future decisions about childbirth, you went the other way, demonstrating the meaning of the word “choice.” Having a choice doesn’t pre-determine anything, it only means that pregnant people have autonomy and a chance to make their own life better.

    I, too, had two abortions for different reasons at different times. Thank the gods for Planned Parenthood, and I, too, had to walk through lines of protestors yelling at me and holding signs with bloody fetuses, and walked into the safety of the clinic by a woman wearing a bullet-proof vest. I never for a moment worried about the cleanliness or professionalism or safety of the medical procedure. I, too, decided to have a child, once I was happily married and had a job that provided a living wage. I am immensely grateful to this day that I was not forced to continue those first two pregnancies. I was young, single, stupid, and poor, and had no family nearby and I doubt I could have crawled out from under that as well as I did without children. I have come to a similar place that you describe, where I don’t worry about the privacy of talking about my abortions. This absolutely should not be the taboo topic I was raised to believe it was. It’s not shocking or shameful or rare – it is something that comes up for people every day and its shameful that so many of them face that tremendous choice alone and judged.

    I appreciate you for writing this down at this time. Ever since the future decision from SCOTUS was leaked, I have been thinking that I should post my own story. But I’ve done it before, on facebook and in other places, and it felt dumb to tell it again. But your post reminds me that our stories can continue to make an impact and be helpful to others. I couldn’t write mine any better than you have yours, though. Thank you for this. ❤ And, hugs. Those were some rough years and I'm glad you got through them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Crystal for being here for sharing your story as well. It absolutely has to stop being shameful and secret. I’m sorry those years were hard on you and on all and that it’s bound to get worse before it gets better. But, one story, one share, one word, one protest, at a time, and I think we’ll get back there. People just need to VOTE!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you Nancy. You very poignantly show the story of many women. I respect your courage to be so open about something that should be talked about more. No one knows what is right for another person. No one knows which way to go unless it’s happened to them. Even then they only know what’s right for them and no one else. No matter the struggles we go though in life, we all deserve to feel safe and supported. I’m glad you had that when you made these decisions. To withhold the health resources women need defies all logic. Many thanks. Mary Jo

    Liked by 1 person

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