99 Problems

Published on March 23rd, 2016 | by Jennifer Baum

10

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.

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Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr Creative Commons

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.

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Susan Sermoneta / Flickr Creative Commons

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.

Mink Coat 2

“My Mother’s Mink Coat” by Jennifer Baum

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.

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Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr Creative Commons

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.

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About the Author

Jennifer Baum

Jennifer Baum has a MFA in Filmmaking from the University of British Columbia, a certificate in Master Novel Writing from University of California Los Angeles, and a MTESOL from Arizona State University. Currently, she teaches composition to international students at Arizona State University. She has been published in the Village VoiceCanadian Jewish OutlookThe Jewish Observer, Mutha Magazine, Guernica Daily and NewFound, which nominated her creative nonfiction essay, A Different Set of Rules, for a Pushcart award. She is working on a full-length memoir about growing up in subsidized housing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan based upon her essay A Different Set of Rules. In addition, she is writing a novel about a cynical, damaged city girl who escapes to a summer job in a zealous Yellowstone church community, where she befriends a pious girl struggling with her own demons, and together they find what’s been missing in their lives. Her short films have screened in Havana, Seattle, Tokyo, San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, Toronto, and Ottawa.



10 Responses to MINK COAT: Jennifer Baum on When Her Mother Came to Her Abortion

  1. Ariel Gore says:

    I adore this piece.

    As a former teen parent this part hurt my heart: “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?”

    I get that you were talking about you-not-me. But somehow the last line ouches me hard. Being young, confused, and insecure does NOT mean that we have nothing to offer a child.

    I am just wanting to pump a teen mom fist into that one line.

    That said, I love you completely.

  2. Jennifer Baum Jennifer Baum says:

    Hi Ariel,
    I’m so sorry. I never intended to hurt anyone.
    Jennifer

  3. Janet Clare says:

    I loved everything about this piece. There’s so much here to care about. A young and confused teenager, a complicated, yet amazing mother, the idea of being an “older” parent, thoughts of mortality and the underlining stories still to be told. Beautifully written. Brava!

  4. ABT says:

    I love this piece. It’s a such a simple and straightforward description of a difficult and complicated experience. The decision to have an abortion is a painful, but often necessary one, especially at such a young age (I made the same painful decision when I was a teenager). I admire anyone who can have a child at a young age, but I know for me that wasn’t a possibility.

    What is very interesting about the piece is that it shows how it’s possible to be old enough to get pregnant, and yet still have a need to be taken care of by our own parents, both financially and emotionally. I remember having similar issues — my parents supported my decision, but I also felt that they didn’t quite understand the anguish I was going through.

    This is a very brave and honest piece of writing, one that I know many women can relate to. Though (thankfully), we have the right to choose, whatever choice we make is a difficult one — and “Mink Coat” goes right to the heart of the matter.

  5. Alexandra says:

    Jennifer, this is wonderful. This piece resonates in all kinds of ways. Congratulations and I can’t wait to read your memoir!

  6. Reena says:

    Great story, Jennifer. I like how you weave your relationship with your mother into the thoughts on being a mother. I look forward to reading more about that in your memoire!

  7. Jenny H. says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. It was beautifully written, and I could see and feel the surroundings and the emotions around the event. Looking forward to more.

  8. Rachel says:

    Nicely done. Simple, evocative, and heartfelt.

    There’s also a lot I could say about the need for these stories to be told, particularly on a day like today. Thanks for telling yours.

    (My version would include going to The Whitney after my procedure, exhausted, in pain and somewhat bereft and out of it. We sat down at a convenient table in the restaurant, which happened to still have a high chair sitting at the head of it. The waiter came over, and was trying to be witty– “Expecting a baby?” he asked. He did not get the chuckle he anticipated. I haven’t thought about that in a long, long time.)

    Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing this story. I’d love to see a longer version of this piece. I am really looking forward to your memoir, and I fully endorse the idea of Cate Blanchett as Mink Coat.

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