Published on August 12th, 2014 | by S. Lynn Alderman1
S. Lynn Alderman on GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER
I just returned to North Carolina after a dreadful stint in Southeast Missouri made worse by the happy decade that preceded it in California. A group of women who were once a bunch of girls I met 20 years ago welcomed me back and we sat in my yard a few days after I arrived and chatted like we’d just gotten off our kitchen shifts at the new Mexican place. Some of us are single, some of us are married, some of us have kids, some of us never want kids. We are all doing well in some ways and struggling in others. All of us were grateful to see each other’s faces. We all look exactly the same! Okay, we all feel the same. Better, even.
Mia is 42 and single and travels all the time for work and doesn’t know if she is ever going to have a baby. She wants one, but time’s a’tickin’ you know? I never knew she really wanted children, so was imagining her as a mom and thinking about that when I heard myself stupidly say that I’d had my youngest at 41 and had gotten knocked up in about 5 seconds with both my kids, so, you know, it’s possible. She said, Oh, really? And then she was saying something about how she and I had similar backgrounds and it was encouraging that I could get pregnant so easily.
I realized that she was talking about having had an abortion. I’d not thought about her having had one in such a long time that I wondered if I had ever known about it. But there it was, fading in, the memory of her young, sad eyes looking just past me, and me realizing and telling her about mine. I had two. Two by the time I was 23. I’ve been thinking about it more than usual the last couple of weeks.
And then the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby contraception ruling was handed down yesterday and all my friends are upset and disgusted. And so am I, but I am also scared, since all legislation regarding pregnancy, pregnancy rights, medical rights and religious agendas are scary to me. And I am reminded even more of making the choice to end those two pregnancies. While at the same time treasuring the two children I have. And grieving a miscarriage that broke my heart.
It is the grief, really, that gets to me when the talking heads spew their opinions on the limits of a woman’s right to make decisions about her pregnancy. Because I grieve for the pregnancies I ended, too. I feel like, both times, the decision I made was the right one. But still, so incredibly sad. I never really hear that as part of the discussion. That it can be the right choice, but still a terrible one, in a field of poor choices.
The only time I remember someone mentioning their feelings about an abortion was in one of the fundamentalist churches I attended as a child. I was about 10. This pretty lady came to Sunday School and cried and told us how, in her worldly days, she had become pregnant and decided not to have the baby. She said the little boy she would have had came to her in a vision on top of a chest of drawers, up in the corner of the room or something. I can’t remember the whole story, but I sure thought about what a horrible thing it was. She wished and pined for that baby. She was probably going to Hell for it, I thought. No wonder she was crying.
The first time I got pregnant, I found out a few weeks after I had broken up with my boyfriend. I’d ended the relationship because I thought it was too much. That I was becoming lost in it somehow. My ex was going through a hard time and I thought he was…a vampire. I don’t know how to explain it. He needed me too much and was sucking me dry. It didn’t seem healthy. He and I are now good friends, and he agrees it wasn’t. But back then, when the home pregnancy test came back positive, I seriously wondered if he had tried to get me pregnant on purpose. I was 22, about to go back to college after taking some time off, broke, terrified. I didn’t tell him about it and made the appointment as fast as I could.
I was handled roughly, with no anesthesia, by a disdainful local OB-GYN. I got an infection afterwards and felt sick for a long time. Sick and sad. But also relieved. I didn’t feel like I could be a good Mom or my ex could be a good Dad or that I could bear being pregnant and giving up the child for adoption. And now that I have carried a baby to term, I am in awe of people who can make that choice. No way. No. Way. I blocked out the running loop in my head that I shouldn’t be having sex if I can’t handle a kid. I punished myself mentally every day, hated myself, hated my body, thought I was disgraceful, gross, ruined. My trusty old high school binge drinking problem resurfaced. Which brought other problems along with it, of course.
The following summer, I learned my dad was gravely ill. My statistics teacher would have termed the pattern of events that followed a “negative correlation,” I think. Beat for beat with my dad’s rapid decline, I fell madly in love with a boy. Dad came home on hospice care, the boy and I decided to get married. My dad died before we could go through with it, but I pressed on, loss-blind, and became the boy’s wife a couple months later. I also developed a really impressive alcohol and drug problem. I did so much speed the day of the wedding that I can hardly remember it. You know what is good for grief? Cocaine! Valium! Whenever anyone makes some ridiculous comment about not knowing why people do drugs, I think, Try some heroin! Ruining your life to escape it will suddenly make sense!
Anyway, we discovered I was pregnant. I was such a complete wreck that I had no confidence whatsoever that I could suddenly just clean myself up and have a healthy baby and be a responsible parent. We ended it as soon as medically possible. This time with anesthesia. This time at some kind of clinic where I was herded into room after room with lots and lots of other women at various stages of the procedure. This room for ultrasound. This room for IV insertion, if you were getting meds. This room to recover. Not everyone seemed as sad as I felt. Some of those girls seemed confusingly blithe about it. But, then again, sometimes you just can’t tell. You don’t know people’s stories. You don’t know their hearts. I don’t. Lawmakers don’t.
My feelings all these years about these decisions have been between me and my interpretation of the divine. Until now, I guess. I love my children. And I imagine all the time what my life would have been like if I’d had the first one, who would now be about 20. What kind of parent would I have been to that baby? What would he have been like? The two little girls who are chasing each other in the living room at this very moment wouldn’t exist. I would have never gotten married to the boy or gone through an angry, humiliating divorce. Would I have finished college? Gone to graduate school? Would I have figured out how to sober up? Would the positive contributions to the cosmic web have been greater if I hadn’t made those choices, or are they because I was determined not to bring children into the world until I could be healthy, present, responsible and sane? Was it the right thing to do? It think it was. Both times. But it wasn’t easy. And it still isn’t.
A wise friend of mine said after the SCOTUS ruling that “Limiting a woman’s control over her body is tantamount to slavery. It infers that she must be chastened, managed, shamed, sickened and suppressed.” I agree. And I would add that this chastening, managing, shaming, sickening and suppression happens regardless of the law. I do it to myself, even though I’d never do it to another woman. I see the babies I might have had in the lifemap of tiny lines on my face. I feel them even as my heart swells watching my children do something for the first time. Today, abortion is legal and the tone from the far right is that women are getting away with murder. I’m not interested in trying to change their minds. I only know how it played out for me. And I don’t feel like I got away with anything.