Published on March 23rd, 2016 | by Jennifer Baum10
MINK COAT: Jennifer Baum on When Her Mother Came to Her Abortion
Alan and I walked into Planned Parenthood on 22nd Street in Manhattan at 11:30 Saturday morning. The place was overflowing with women in chairs, on the floor, and spilling out into the hallway.
We navigated our way to the front desk and discovered that abortions were on a first-come, first-serve basis and that we’d have to wait until late afternoon to have the surgery. We could either take a number or come back another day.
I couldn’t imagine putting the procedure off. I was only twenty-two, had just graduated from college, and wanted to get on with my life.
We sat on the floor near the window. I studied the diverse crowd of African-American, Latina, and white women, accompanied by partners, friends or alone. Mostly they were young like me. Some seemed even younger—girls, fifteen, maybe even thirteen. It was hard to say. They wore long shirts and sweaters over leggings, shorts above tights, converse sneakers, and Doc Martens. They read or talked or slept, their down jackets rolled up under their heads as pillows.
I tangled my hair and bit my nails. I hated what was happening to me—my swollen breasts, my fatigue, my heightened emotions. I desired a baby one day and I wanted to relish the experience. But not now. At this moment, my goal was to quash any nascent maternal feelings. Acknowledging them would make the situation even worse.
Around five o’clock the receptionist summoned me. I handed my credit card to her, only to find it was declined.
“It’s not going through,” the receptionist said. She tried again and still it didn’t work.
My boyfriend, Alan, had no money or credit cards. ATMs were not common in the 1980s and banks weren’t open on Saturdays. The only one who would have $150 on the spot was my mother.
She knew I was pregnant. I’d called her soon after I’d found out, and she’d been supportive of the abortion. But I’d kept her in the dark about when it was scheduled because I didn’t think she’d care.
I borrowed the phone and dialed her number.
“I can’t come now,” she said. “Ike and I are going to the ballet.”
”How am I going to pay for this?”
“Do it another day.”
“I’ve been waiting for hours. I just want to get it over with.”
“I’ll call Ike. If he hasn’t left home yet to meet me, I’ll come. Otherwise, I can’t.”
After a few minutes, I called her back and she said she’d be right there.
Relieved and spent, we resumed waiting. The crowd had thinned but there were still about twenty-five girls hanging around when my mother stormed in, wrapped in her full-length mink coat.
She yanked her credit card from her wallet and shouted at me. “You’ve ruined my evening. Ike and I were going to have dinner before the performance!”
Everyone looked up and stared at us. I burst into tears.
The nurse shook her head and guided me to the changing room.
After, when I came out, my mother was gone.
Alan told me she apologized before she left. “She said she was hurt you didn’t tell her the clinic date, that you didn’t invite her along. So she took it out on you.”
I didn’t know what was worse—an unwanted pregnancy or her yelling at me she’d rather be with Ike.
Today, I’m the mother of a thirteen-year-old son. Reflecting upon my abortion, there is no question I made the correct choice. My relationship with Alan was unstable, and I was young, confused, and insecure. What could I have possibly offered a child under these circumstances?
My only regret is then not having had my son until age thirty-nine. It wasn’t on purpose that I waited so long. It wasn’t that I’d put my career first. I just couldn’t find the appropriate person with whom to start a family.
It saddens me that I will probably miss out on a good portion of my son’s life and possibly knowing any grandchildren. But I feel lucky and grateful that I was able to have a child at all, and I am in a good place emotionally and financially in which to raise him.
Looking back at my mother’s behavior, I can’t understand how she would ever make a boyfriend a priority over her child. But with time, I’ve come to understand her conflicting emotions, how she floundered, and how afraid she was to be without a man. Even when she needed to be there, to be better, for her daughter.
Jennifer Baum is working on a full-length memoir about growing up in subsidized housing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; this piece is from the manuscript-in-progress.