When I was in high school, I wrote a poem about my mother taking me for an abortion and published it in the high school literary magazine. My mom taught at my all-girls’ high school, and we both got a lot of flak. Of course, this had never happened. I was not pregnant in high school, and if I had been I’d have gotten an abortion by myself, not with my mother.
It was, predictably, a bad poem. I think the central image was of an overblown blue balloon. The most exciting line was “my mother takes me to the abortionist.”
At that time, abortion had just become legal in New York State. For a pregnant high school student the previous options had been to confess to your parents. Some might whisk you off for an abortion in Puerto Rico. Some might send you away to an invented aunt, where you’d give up the baby after a secret pregnancy. Some might force you to marry the guy. Or you could keep quiet and start drinking bleach and throw yourselves down the stairs. Or kill yourself.
We were an unsophisticated group, living at home, without money of our own. An illegal abortion would have been available to a slightly older group, but I never knew of anyone in my school who had one.
As regards the poem, I knew nothing of any of this first-hand, except of course I knew my mother. My mother could be very harsh towards me. She forced piano lessons on me, would never let me quit, and seemed content to listen to me cry as I sat on strike, glued to the piano seat—but not playing the piano—a half hour a day, the better part of a year, until she caved when I was sixteen.
However, my mother could also be transcendent. She shrugged off the gossip. “It’s a POEM,” she told me. “It isn’t literally true.” We shared a love of literature, its ability to create other worlds, other truths. In my poem my mother also provided a solution that allowed autonomy.
Then with publication she rose to the occasion, and to my most positive view of her.
My mother, and her mother Sadie, are the reasons I will always support a right to choose. They came out of an older world where mothers suffered, and often died, from endless enforced child-bearing and lack of contraception. One of Margaret Sanger’s early slogans was: “Mothers! Don’t leave your children orphaned!” By that she meant that contraceptives should be available, as opposed to dying in pregnancy or childbirth.
I should note here that my mother and grandmother came out of a Yiddishkeit culture. My grandmother was from a stetl in Eastern Europe, and was observant before she came to America. Judaism does not forbid abortion, and places the life of the mother first in all situations.
My mother would get an odd look on her face when discussing this: rage, and fear, but mostly rage. She’d seen things I hadn’t. And she didn’t want me to see them.
I feel the same about my daughter and grand-daughter. But now I too am afraid we are going to see those things.
Editor’s note. On Facebook and other venues I’ve been reading accounts of abortion before it was legal. If anyone wants to publish anything like this on Miriam’s Well it can be done anonymously or with author credit as you prefer. Drop me a note at email@example.com
No anti-choice approaches or diatribes, please–this is not a venue for that.
Wonderful post. You were a brave teen to tackle a subject like that and kudos to your mother! The irony of this dawning time when there may be fewer options for getting an abortion is that a girl could be sent to Ireland by her family, imagine!
Great point! Never could have imagined.