Any names here have been changed to protect the identity of the person mentioned, and in some cases, their children.
Four generations of my my mother’s family grew up in the small rural Kansas town. Today, there’s no Wal-Mart, no Walgreen’s for the population of around 1,800. There’s one bar, one grocery store, and two pharmacies. Friday night sports are the most interesting thing that every really goes on other than Sunday morning at one of the eight different Christian churches. In my senior advanced English class, my teacher one day asked how many of us were pro-choice when discussion controversial topics for term papers. I was the only girl in the class, and also the only one to raise my hand. Some of the boys glared and whispered, but I didn’t mind. I knew more then than they ever will about the need for choice.
In 2004, a girl from band pulled me aside after lunch. “I don’t remember what happened last night,” she told me. “I was drinking with my boyfriend, and I think we might have had sex.” Go to the pharmacy, was my advice. Ask John (our very liberal pharmacist) for Plan B and take it as soon as you can so that you don’t get pregnant. She was confused, but she said she didn’t think she had to worry about that. About a year later, she dropped out of high school because she and her boyfriend couldn’t afford the cost of a baby-sitter for their frequently ill son.
In 2005, a girl in my high school was drugged and raped. She also had a steady boyfriend at the time, so she wasn’t sure if the father of her child was him or the guy(s) who had raped her. She didn’t believe in abortion, and besides, the closest clinic was hours away. The pregnancy made her very sick, and she missed many, many days of school. When graduation came, she was told she had missed too many days to walk with us. Today, at 23, she’s married and pregnant with baby number four.
These classmates of mine are not the first nor the only reasons I believe in choice. My grandmother was married three months into her senior year of high school because she and my grandfather, thirteen years before Roe v. Wade, didn’t know who to turn to for an abortion, according to my grandfather. Grandma had three children by the age of 21, when her doctor told my grandfather to “slow down before you kill the gal.” I love my aunt, uncle, and of course my mom very much, but my grandfather had to drop out of college to help feed and clothe all his children. My grandmother, who is incredibly bright, never got the chance to consider a college education.
Flash forward twenty-four years. My mother literally has divorce papers in one hand and a positive pregnancy test in the other. My father was not ready to parent and hadn’t been very good at being a husband up to that point. However, he was ecstatic at the thought of having a child, so Mom decided to give him a second chance. Mind you, this is a woman who rolls her eyes at the “abortion victim” memorials in Catholic cemeteries. My mother is one of the most pro-choice people I know, and she was swayed by her abusive husband. Mom and I both almost died during delivery, and eight months later, the divorce was finalized because Mom couldn’t handle an abusive partner near her daughter. We moved in with my grandparents because my father wasn’t paying child support on time, so Mom couldn’t afford an apartment. At the age of three, my father’s parental rights were severed. Though I talk to him now, I have absolutely no memories of my father from my early childhood.
However, it’s the stories of my father’s side of the family which send chills down my spine. These are stories my mother told me, because she thought I should know, and stories my father told me once I got to know him as an adult. My father and his siblings were beaten and abused by their parents and step-parents. My father once mentioned chasing one of his mother’s abusive boyfriends out of the house using a gun when he was just a teen.
It’s the sad, sad story of his now deceased sister Jenny, though, that absolutely breaks my heart. Jenny was the youngest girl in the family. At the age of 10, she was raped by her older sister’s boyfriend and became pregnant. She was forced to deliver the child, and it was given up for adoption immediately. The doctors said that her poor little body was so damaged from the delivery that it was unlikely she’d ever have another child. Remember, she was just 10 years old at this point in time.
By some miracle, a few months before I was born, she did have another child. However, her cocaine addiction and other problems lead to loss of custody. I don’t blame Aunt Jenny for these problems; given all she had been through, it was a wonder she was still alive at that point. However, Jenny got herself into a program and onto medication which helped her stop using cocaine. When her daughter was 16, she regained custody. Sadly, Jenny died of an aneurysm from the wrong calibration of medication at the age of just 37.
I look at the lives of these brave women, especially those whose genes are the same as mine, and I think, “Wow, how different would their lives have been if they would have felt they had a choice?” Would Grandma be more than an apartment complex manager? Would my grandpa have been a cartoonist like he had dreamed? Would Mom have tolerated the additional two years of abuse? Would Aunt Jenny still be alive? For all the blessings my family has had, I would never, ever wish the pain and trouble my family has endured because of lack of choice upon any woman in the world. And what about the two girls from my high school? Would they have more than GEDs in their hands right now, if they had known about Plan B or had access to abortion? Would they have less children in total? Of course, these are things I will never know.
One final note. Ten years after I was born, my mother decided that she wanted another child, now that she was in a stable marriage with someone who would be able to provide for us. She was 34 years old. The doctors advised against it, and her own sister, remembering my birth, told her that she was crazy. Knowing what I know now, I agree with my aunt; Mom was nuts to want to try again. My mother decided on her own that it was worth the risk. She CHOSE to plan for another child. My beloved baby brother was born without the many complications my birth brought, and I am forever grateful that my mother was given the chance to plan and choose to have another child. Doesn’t every women deserve that choice?