Thursday, January 24, 2008

roe, wade and me

Thirty five years ago, I had an abortion. It was the first of three in a period of four years. I could explain all of the circumstances in an effort to gain your understanding, but that's not why I'm writing this. I am bravely writing these words and still, still, I feel the urge to tell you that one of those was the result of being raped and one was because . . . because . . . and therein lies the problem. I feel that I must justify, must explain, must make you experience what happened to me in those years between 15 and 19 so you will not judge me, so I will not be diminished in your eyes because of the choices I made. I'm writing this because I am tired of the message ~ subtle and not so ~ that I should be ashamed.

It's not that I'm proud. I guess I am neutral. And I am not psychologically wrecked. My heart doesn't ache when I see an infant. I don't mark the dates as they pass, longing for the children I could have had. More than anything, I am grateful, so very grateful, that I became pregnant one month after the Supreme Court's decision that would, at last, legally allow me the right to choose what would happen with my own body.

Women have always had abortions, always, since ancient times. Whether Roe v. Wade ultimately stands or falls will change nothing except the quality of our lives as people who live with the potential of pregnancy. It will change the quality of women's lives and if we lose Roe, women will begin dying again because women will not stop terminating pregnancies.

I was essentially a child when I became pregnant, yet I had long been aware of abortion and the various means to accomplish that absent the clinics which came later. Friends from junior high had, variously, consumed poisonous substances, taken blows to the belly, jumped from a roof (with resultant broken leg and intact fetus), gone to Mexico, been flown to England for the dread late stage saline termination. There were rumors that the marginal physician downtown, a butcher by all accounts, would accommodate women in need for sexual favors.

In a short period of time, my junior high years, in one small town known for its high educational level, prosperity, and relative sophistication, one girl died as the result of her efforts to stop the life growing within her. The coathanger abortion is almost mythological, and yet Juanita punctured her own uterus late one Saturday night, bleeding to death in her bedroom. There were probably others, but I knew Juanita, a peripheral figure in my junior high set of friends.

I was lucky. Roe v. Wade was newly minted and there was a clinic 100 miles away and I had a parent who agreed that a pregnancy was unacceptable. The fact of being pregnant imbued me with a clarity about my life that had been missing to that point. I came back determined to rid myself of an abusive boyfriend, determined to finish school and convinced that the only way I'd ever have the kind of life I wanted would be to get the hell out of that Oklahoma town.

I am coming out of the closet with my abortions on this 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade because I think it is important to do so. Almost all of the women I know have terminated a pregnancy, yet almost no one talks about it except in hushed tones, one on one, and perhaps it should remain so. Yet I cannot help but think that we are at risk of losing this critical affirmation of privacy and the right to self determination because we are silent. We are silent out of shame or out of sadness, or we are silent because we are not ashamed and we're not sad and we're only grateful and that's really not acceptable in this country, this land where we exalt the potential life of a mass of cells and diminish the value of the woman who owns them.

It would be more acceptable if I could say that I am anguished about the decisions I made in those crazy years in my teens, that I wake up thinking of those potential children, that I feel something missing in my soul. I am not and I do not. I never wanted children and have always wished I could pass on to some other woman my breathtaking fertility. I do still have passing moments of anger for the doctor who, after considering my request for a tubal ligation, patted me on the knee and said "you're far too young, you'll find a fine man one day and then you'll want children." Had he honored my request, I would be writing this confession about a single pregnancy.

We will reduce the need for abortion when we make inexpensive, quality birth control available to all women of childbearing age. When we provide thorough, quality sex education to every student in every school, the need for pregnancy termination will diminish. I'm not holding my breath for those changes, despite the spectacular failure of abstinence only prevention programs. It is a farce and it infuriates me that politicians play games with something so intimate and personal as this. It is my uterus and any life within depends on me. It is my choice and mine only. I hope to God we never go back.

Okay, now that's off my chest, back into hibernation with my papa. Hugs.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008


I google his name and 10 pages of papers and honors and awards rise to the surface from this thing he does not understand, this internet. He retired in 1980, long before there were computers in every home and hand. I read ultraviolet spectroscopic analysis and biodegradation of hydrotopes and cyanoethylation of amino acids. I see his work translated into French, into Japanese, Spanish. I feel an almost intolerable rage over the destruction of such a magnificent intellect.

It doesn't help to wonder why, to agonize over the injustice of it, this fucking dementia. I speak to him several times a day and each time, as he repeats his queries about my sister, her kids, "the Floridians," my dogs, I can see in my mind's relentless and unflinching eye the black space on the MRI where the fullness of his frontal lobe used to be.

I fight off the rage with gratitude: he is still with us, he can still communicate, can still laugh. His personality is mostly intact. We are fortunate, in part, because of the magical combination of Namenda and Aricept. And still I miss my other father, the one with whom I would argue politics, human rights, and religion. He is here and I am grateful and so fortunate, and still I miss my Daddy.

It occurred to me as I walked to work this morning that he is 90 years old and yet I see him rarely. My priorities are out of whack and I don't want to live with regret, the most wretched of emotions. I will keep up with all of you, but I am done here for now. There is so little time left. Thank you for your support and kindness and brilliance over the last 18 months. It's been a blast. Hugs to all of you.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

doctor! doctor!

I can hear my backbone. It's pretty freaky. When I stand on one foot to put a boot on the other, I hear it clattering around, and even sitting in my chair, I can hear my bones rubbing together if I move from side to side.

You? Can you hear your bones? I don't think this is normal, but is it worth a trip to the doc before it hurts?

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

lesbians, tractors and AIDS

I've spent the first day of 2008 ~ a year I know is going to be a good one ~ at home cooking chicken mole enchiladas and tomato florentine soup. And I've read from start to finish a marvelous book by this woman, Catherine Friend, a writer who fell in love with Melissa and turned into a farmer.

The book ~ Hit By a Farm ~ was a delicious treat. I laughed out loud and cried just enough. I love the way Catherine writes about her relationship with Melissa, with honesty and frankness and love. It's a book I randomly picked up off the library shelf because a glance at the cover reminded me of my old dream of living in the country.

I sometimes think I've missed my calling and really belong out in the hinterlands raising chickens and milking goats. When I bought this city house, I fully intended to keep a couple of goats and chickens in the back yard, with the plan of making cheese and building a chicken tractor to keep the bugs out of the garden beds.

After reading Catherine's account of life and death on the farm, I'm rethinking that for the 100th time, but the book was a delight and it was an extra treat to find that the farmers are a couple of gay girls with a bigass tractor. In my dream, the tractor's a spiffy little Kubota, but these women have got a honkin' big red monster and I've now got a bad case of tractor envy.

And then there's this Post of the Year thing for which I was unknowingly nominated and, surprisingly, won along with another blogger called Little Red Boat. It was quite a surprise to drop by Joe's and see my name practically in lights. Sweet. The post was an old one from April called piano music. I mention it again only because it honors my friend Wayne, who loved and lost his Ronnie to that fucking disease. So now I've confessed and that is that and a big thank you to the Post of the Week folks. Thank you.

And the last good thing is this: I know we are going to prevail against these thugs who have seized control of our government. It is not hopeless, it will be frustrating and frightening but I am certain that this will be the year things change for the better and we will rid ourselves of the likes of George Bush and his band of zealots.

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