Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother. . .
Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world.
Along with that realization, I came to realize that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My younger self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.
I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”
Um, excuse me? You realize, don’t you Mom, that the ‘choice’ you’re talking about wishing you’d had, is whether or not to kill ME? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re talking about, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .
She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that.
Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg”. And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when they don’t want to be. My daughter was one of those women, just a couple years ago. And I wished there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for her. . .
But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. Not a clump of cells, not a faceless ‘fetus’ – it was me. And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.
And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone you never even knew existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Molly would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; how could she not?); but she wouldn’t have married me. And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely. . .
And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who would have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, were never allowed to be born? What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who would have done those things, but were never born?
My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and encourage anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not so much as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.
I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her (honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise). No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other these 19 years. I understand how trapped she felt 52+ years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.
But I have to tell ya, it is a strange, strange thing, to be told by your mother that, as much as she loves you, she wished she’d had the choice of whether or not to kill you before you were born. . .