Updated: Jun 30
In 1968 I was a senior at a Catholic high school for girls. I was also exploring what it meant to be a girl, including my sexuality. Unfortunately I wasn't using birth control which would have been impossible to obtain at that time because I was unmarried. I knew nothing about condoms. When my period was two weeks late I began to worry that I was pregnant. A recent a sexual encounter with a boy I liked went farther than we had expected. I called to tell him what I feared and he hung up on me. We never spoke again. After a week of true agony I decided to tell my parents. Both my parents were regular churchgoing Catholics. I told my father first because I was closest with him. He had always been there for me.
Daddy expressed intense disappointment, anger and embarrassment at my news. He also told me he would have to tell my mother and that the news would likely send her to the hospital. The shame, sadness and fear I felt after telling him were overwhelming. I was an A student and had applied to several good private colleges including two out of state. As my dreams of going away to college withered, I envisioned instead having to drop out of high school and go to a "home for unwed mothers". I would have to live my life hiding in shame as the bad girl who "got in trouble." No one would ever forget and I'd be lucky to ever get married or have a good life. My family would forever be stigmatized.
A few miserable days later Daddy came to my room where I lay on my bed in my pajamas, unable to focus enough to do homework. "Get dressed," he said grimly, "I am taking you to get an abortion." I remember feeling both relief and fear as I got in the car with him to drive to an unfamiliar part of our city. My mother didn't come along. She hadn't spoken to me since she got the news. Daddy was silent on the car ride too. I had no idea where we were going or what would happen when we got there.
We arrived at a modest house in a middle class neighborhood and were admitted by an older, working class man who was smoking a cigarette and watching tv. I sat on the couch next to a Chihuahua who showed his teeth at me. The man went to get his wife. Daddy paid the man and was told to sit by the window and let him know if anyone approached the house. An older woman, also smoking, took me into their bedroom. She told me nothing about what she was going to do. I noticed her white shoes and uniform on a drying rack with some pantyhose. Maybe she's a nurse, I thought. I wasn't afraid. I felt hopeful. I realized I'd rather go through any kind of pain or even die than be forced to have a baby now. She gave me an injection and then put something so far into my cervix that it really hurt. Then she said, "Well, I guess you'll think twice before you spread your legs again." And that was it. She sent me home with no further instructions. I had no idea what to expect.
When we got home my mother was already in bed. I went upstairs to my room and fell asleep. About three in the morning I woke up with severe cramps. I had had painful menstrual cramps but these were much worse. I began bleeding heavily. I got out of bed and went to look for my parents but they were not in the house. Only later did I learn that my mother had overdosed on something and my father had taken her to the hospital. I went back upstairs and lay on the floor of the bathroom, stoically facing each contraction by reminding myself that this was going to set me free. I might be able to get away to college after all!
In the midmorning I passed some tissue and lots of clots, as well as the gauze the woman had put in my cervix. I gathered it all into an old towel careful not to get any on the pretty bathroom rug. The pains continued for several hours but weren't as severe. I took a warm shower, put on a pad and my pajamas. I heard my parents come in the house downstairs. No one came to check on me. That evening my father brought me a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup. He told me my mother was feeling better. A few weeks later she began to speak to me again. We didn't talk about the abortion until the year before she died when we finally forgave each other.
Only a few close friends knew about my abortion and most didn't know the truth. But I wasn't the only girl in my senior class to get pregnant. There were at least three others that I knew of, probably more. One, a girl who sat behind me in typing class, was pregnant for the second time and couldn't face it. She had little support from her parents. Three days before graduation she killed herself.
All my life I have felt that my abortion, painful as it was, set me free. Because I saw what came out of my body I never felt I killed a baby. I know had I been forced to have a baby at 17 I wouldn't have met the father of my two children and lived the life of liberty and equality I have been blessed to have. I may have found it much harder to discover my creativity, spirituality and my true self. I would have either had to raise a child too early or give up my baby to strangers. Either one would have harmed me severely. I am so grateful to my parents that they took the risk to set me free. I thank my lucky stars I didn't become septic or have other dire complications from the crude procedure I received from an unqualified person. I did learn my lesson and got on birth control before I ever had sex again. I am the mother of two children, two stepchildren and the grandmother of four. I rage for all the women who need abortion care and cannot obtain it. It is unthinkable that a powerful minority is taking away our rights and forcing us back to those dark, scary times.