I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely.
– Simone de Beauvoir
Three children. Two miscarriages, at least. A shaky marriage. A will born for survival in an adolescent girl, now a woman who would not be controlled. She needed to work to assure the survival of her own family now. This child would disrupt everything. He would take charge of her entirely.
That is the reality into which I was conceived. The account of this situation – the situation of my birth — may be too much information for a blog post. To the curious who elect to read on, I apologize if some boundary of decorum is breeched. To those who decide to stop reading now, I understand and appreciate the limits you elect to exercise.
I recall asking my sister when I was ten, “If they didn’t want me, why did they have me?” She was silent for a long time as I openly wept. I had been helping her clean her apartment on a breezy summer afternoon, and the words had tumbled out of me. She finally answered that I was right in understanding that I was not a wanted child, there had been a long time between children, and – it just happened. My sister then assured me that she wanted me and loved me. I stopped crying almost at once and developed a steely resolve that this was my real mother in life. I related to my biological mother as a generally respected relative, a force to be reckoned with, for the rest of her life. However, it was my sister who received my heart-felt greetings on Mother’s Day ever since.
I suspect that it was also on that summer day nearly six decades ago that I became pro-choice. My life has been spectacular and I delight in having it. I am happy to have been born, to have been loved, and to love. My work has made a difference. I have helped, I believe, others to flourish. Like my mother, I am not easy and maybe at times too much. But I am fine with who I am. I am good with being born. I still wanted my mother to have a real choice.
In some really painful therapy in my mid-thirties, I created a myth of my conception to deal with this abiding sense of having not been wanted. In it, I decided there was a time when the zygote that was later to become the fetus that became me resolved to stay. This resolution – not a choice really, something else, I guess – this resolution put me in the game. My biological mother was off the hook for her wavering on wanting me. There was now only to be.
This myth served me well for a long time and I am pleased that I created it. Still, I do wish my biological mother had a real choice for an induced abortion. If she had elected one, I would not be here. I would not be sad because I would not be. If she had elected to continue the pregnancy, I believe we would have had a different relationship because she would have willed it.
Though abortion has been induced since the Greek and Roman Empires, prohibitions against its use had kept it dangerous. Still, when Jesus was said to have been born, abortion was legal and, at times, urged.
…we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any embryo which may come into being from seeing the light
…abortion must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life.
The recorded numbers of abortions in the United States rose rapidly after the Supreme Court Decision known as Roe v. Wade. The abortion rate has dropped greatly since its all-time high in 1981. Between 2008 and 2011, recorded abortions dropped by 13% to approximately 1,000,000. The drop in abortions is not so much about a reduced need to control fertility, but rather because of the increased options to do so. Women who elect abortions usually want to postpone childbearing. But many, like my mother, know that they cannot afford a baby, have relationship problems, and understand that others will object to the pregnancy. They all know that a child would disrupt everything. Those who seek to criminalize abortions consider a woman’s discernment irrelevant and unsupportable.
Lately I have been exploring my genetic and genealogical history. Through this I have learned a great deal more about the world into which my mother was born. (My father’s lineage is trickier because of his father being an unaccompanied minor on his way to the U.S.) My mother was born toward the beginning of World War I. She married my father, the eldest of 13 in his family, during the depression and they soon had two children. Their third came during World War II; my father was not inducted because of his heart disease. Though the U.S. fared better economically than the rest of the combatants, these wars still meant sacrifice for most people and deep sacrifices for some families, like mine. Many goods were rationed, prices and wages controlled and many durable consumer goods were no longer produced. Large segments of the workforce were inducted into the military, paid half wages.
Though I was conceived (odd term when you consider it) during the Baby Boom, I don’t believe that it was because of any surge in prosperity or new optimism about the future of my family. If my family was better off financially in 1955 than in 1945, it is was largely because by then we had three wage earners instead of one. My family’s move from poverty to the working class and then the middle class was attributable to the parallel arcs of my parents’ slowly increasing wages and their children moving out. As each one of us departed, things got easier for the rest.
This is the whirl of reality during the mid-20th century for a woman of 32, my mother, or a girl of 12 or 13 in the 1st century: This child would disrupt everything. He would take charge of her entirely. This whirl leaves me breathless. I can only hope to greet her decision with friendship and love. Somehow, grappling with the need for reproductive choice has helped me love my mother more.
One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, and compassion.
― Simone de Beauvoir