Tag Archives: abortion and reproductive rights and birth control and adoption

A New Essay in Under the Sun

collage by author

I have a new essay in Under the Sun about losing my first child to adoption.

A writing accident

I never meant to write about any of this. For decades I was a reader, not a writer. Then a terrible thing happened. And I began writing a story about it. One morning my husband went to work and left a legal pad on the kitchen table. I filled most of it that morning, making the terrible thing into sort of a fiction. Over the next weeks, I kept writing, even though I hadn’t done any creative writing since high school. I was processing the terrible thing by making it into a story.

At some point I stopped into one of my favorite coffee shops before picking my kids up from school and saw a stack of flyers about a writing workshop that was going to be held in their backroom on Saturdays. Cool, I thought. Because I think the thing I’ve been writing could be a novel. I folded the flyer in half and put it on my bulletin board in the kitchen.

Without ever unfolding the flyer and reading the bottom half of it with the description of the workshop, I showed up. That’s when I found out it was a memoir workshop. The story of my secret teen-age pregnancy poured onto the page. At the end of this weeks- long workshop there was a reader’s theater type performance. It made me brave. And I found out people wanted to hear the story about the son I had lost.

Writing on purpose

I took the workshop again. And again. At every performance there was always a birthmother or an adoptee in the audience. Even though starting to write memoir had been an accident, the telling of the story became more and more important to me. And it seemed important to other people too.

I also kept writing the story that was a fictionalized version of the terrible thing. When I was 54-year-old empty nester/new divorceé I got into an MFA program, and the novel about the terrible thing became a my master’s thesis. But all the while I was sending out personal essays about adoption and they were getting published. I thought my essays and the other essays I was reading about adoption might change the adoption industry.

Time has passed. I’ll be 70 this year. I am marching forward while the world marches backwards. A new Baby Scoop Era is coming. Amy Coney Barrett as much as told us so when she touted adoption as an alternative to abortion during her confirmation hearing. The recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion has confirmed it.

I wrote about the loss of reproductive rights on this blog way back in 2012. And here’s a weird and creepy thought. Has the Hulu version of the Handmaid’s Tale been desensitizing us to our dystopian future? I was obsessed with the Handmaid’s Tale for the first few seasons and its parallels to the adoption and the Baby Scoop. You can read about that here and here.

A Girl in Mississippi

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In my heart

I am a girl in Mississippi in my heart. In my churning stomach I am a girl in Mississippi. I am a girl in Mississippi even though, really, I’m an old woman in Minnesota. An old woman old enough to remember when the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term did not exist.

I was 16 when I got pregnant during my first sexual encounter. A couple of months into my senior year at a Catholic high school in a small Catholic town, I knew that I could not breathe a word of my plight to anyone. For months I could not even admit it to myself. Everyday I awoke with morning sickness and struggled through breakfast with my parents and my little brothers. I put on my school uniform as if it were a shroud and zombied my way through my classes. I needed help and couldn’t get it.

Dead girl walking. That was me. A girl with big questions. Should I drive my car in front of the train? People did that sometimes in my town. Should I carbon monoxide myself in the garage? Hang myself? Slice my wrists? I had to do something to spare my family the ruin of my predicament. I tried to cut my wrists. Sliced a little into one with a razor blade I took from my father’s shelf in the medicine cabinet. I couldn’t finish the job.

This was my plan

Run away then, I decided. Because my weight had stayed about the same due to the morning sickness, I could wait until near the baby’s due date. No one was suspicious. I could wait, and not be gone for more than a few weeks. And then I’d come home with a story. I was good at stories.

There was a Greyhound bus to Chicago. On a day in mid-June of 1970, I would be on that bus. That was my plan. I’d been to Chicago with my high school chorus to sing the Messiah in a Christmas concert with a bunch of other Catholic school students. I would go to the convent that was part of the school and church where we sang. The nuns would take me in, and I would beg for their mercy. And… This part will sound ridiculous, but I’ll tell it to you anyway. I was going to pretend that I had amnesia. So I wouldn’t have to tell the nuns my name. Really, this was my plan.

But this is more ridiculous

It’s ridiculous to pretend that desire does not exist. Ridiculous to think that telling teen-agers they will go to hell if they have sex before marriage will deter them. It is beyond ridiculous, repugnant actually, to tell a teenager she is dirty, guilty of mortal sin, ruined for life for any reason. It is especially repugnant if you are a member of a religious order purporting to spread god’s love.

It’s abusive and wrong not to educate teenagers about sex. And children too, in an age-appropriate way. Every decent piece of research tells us that preaching about abstinence does not work. There are other stupid things that don’t work either, yet those are the things we do.

Roe v. Wade

Those of us who care about women’s rights and reproductive rights have, for years, heard the oncoming rumblings of the train wreck that will most likely overturn Roe v. Wade. I can see that future clearly because I can remember my past.

The story of my secret teen-age pregnancy will repeat itself over an over again. In Mississippi and probably another 20 states. Maybe eventually the whole country. Birth control might be on the chopping block too. And so the stories will grow more numerous. More gruesome. Because there will be no exceptions for rape or incest. And here’s a detail. It’s not mostly teen-age girls who are terminating their pregnancies these days. “According to the Guttmacher Institute, 60 percent of women seeking abortions are already mothers, and 75 percent are living below the poverty line or are categorized as low-income.” Margaret Renkl gives us a nice big picture of our current terrible reality in her opinion piece in the New York Times. Mothers are already second class citizens.

It’s going to get worse.

Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights seem to be growing smaller. Month by month. State by state. The Birth Control Panel recently hit women’s reproductive rights in its most vulnerable target. Pending legislation and the personhood movement will more than likely continue to snip away at what young women have come to think of as their unassailable rights over their own bodies.
 
When I was a pregnant teenager in a small Catholic town in 1970, men were in charge of women. Then, little by little, the constraints of this kind of old-school thinking  gave way. But when I read my morning newspaper I see that we now need to fight the same battles again. 
 
Sex was a taboo subject in my small town. I don’t think I was familiar with the term reproductive rights. But millions of American women living in more open-minded places were already using the birth control pill by the time I started high school in 1966.
 
In the preceding year of 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut had made information about birth control, and birth control itself, legal for married women. However, for Catholic girls like me, the subject of birth control was just as forbidden as the subject of sex. Pope Paul’s the VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae outlawed all types of birth control other than the rhythm method. Our fathers, our doctors, legislators, and the Pope dictated what we could do with our bodies. 
 
In 1973 when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, it seemed carved in stone. But we are traveling back to the past. And we’re going to have to do some heavy lifting.
 
 
 
 
photo credit: vintagesevensisters.tumblr.com
 
 
 

Personhood and Adoption

According to the personhood movement, a zygote has the civil rights due all human beings.
However, if this unplanned child is adopted, it’s quite likely that it won’t have the same rights as other humans and be able to get its original birth certificate.
Not to mention, that the woman who houses this zygote won’t have basic reproductive rights .
 

The Personhood Movement and adoption might find themselves related in the not-too-distant future. But first, let’s look at how adoption sometimes works today.

Adoption

The American Adoption Congress publication, “The Beacon,” has published a piece of mine. It’s an interview with a 19-year-old adoptee who was adopted 1992. Gabrielle’s Story about open adoption is quite different from the way my son and I experienced adoption in 1970.

The personhood movement

There’s another story I highly recommend. A young woman I’ve know since she was a baby wrote it. Pema Levy is now an assistant editor at The American Prospect. Her most recent piece, Moment of Conception, conjures a future where abortion will be unavailable. A future when, I think, babies could be place. for adoption more frequently. 

Imagine a future time when the personhood movement and its cronies have outlawed abortion. A future when the ranks  of birthmothers increase ten-fold. In that future and terrible time, women will be forced to bear children they feel unequipped to raise. Poor health, poverty, rape. None of these will be a good enough reason to terminate a pregnancy.

I predict that as conservatives take over, any openness that has pried its way into the world of adoption will also disappear.

Adoption in Minnesota

 

Land of 10,000 Billboards

These billboards are as plentiful as birch trees in Minnesota.

“Face it. I had Eyes, Ears, and even my Tongue 28 days from Conception.”
“God knew my soul before I was born.”
“Adoption can be a Life-Saver.”

The ads feature photographs of adorable babies and are impossible to miss even if you’re powering down the highway at 70 miles per hour. These billboards are the work Prolife Across America, a Christian organization that makes the claim that it has been “saving babies for 20 years.”

But I’m not going to say much about abortion here. Hilary Clinton is the politician that makes the most sense to me with her “safe, legal, and rare” philosophy. I’m a girl who got pregnant in 1969 while attending Catholic school in a town so Catholic public school wasn’t even an option. Abortion could not be on my list of considerations.

2 million couples wait to adopt

It’s the mention of adoption on these pro-life billboards that I’m concerned with.
“2 Million Couples wait to adopt.”
“God made me! Mom and Dad Adopted me!”
“If you’re not ready to be a Daddy, let someone who is.”

I feel a little crazy at these slogans which promote adoption as the sole alternative to abortion.  And I find it curious that mothers do not merit a mention equivalent to the “If you’re not ready to be a Daddy” campaign. In fact, there’s no mention of the mothers (not even in the archives of past campaigns) at all.

Shame the women

I think shame’s role in the pregnancy/abortion/adoption drama should have played out by now. But I don’t think it has. It seems to be that one way to shame the mothers/women is to pretend they don’t exist. They are not worthy of even a mention.

Or don’t shame the women

I’m not a pro-lifer, but if I were and my mission was saving babies and I believed that God had entrusted me with that work, my campaign would go like this:
“If you’re not ready to be a Mommy, let us help you get ready. Parenting classes and cash subsidies   available!”
“Thinking of abortion or adoption? They both hurt. Let us help you keep your baby.”
“Prochoice means More Choices. Keep your baby. Daycare and parenting classes available.”
 
Of course I’d have another component to the ad campaign too:
Sex. Everybody does it. Be safe. Be sane. Be satisfied.”
“Take control of your Birth Control. 
 
Or how about this?  “DEATH TO SHAME.  It makes babies and then kills them.”
 
And of course I wonder about the financial relationships between the anti-abortion and adoption forces.  If the prolifers and adoption agencies are in the conjugal bed, a plague of shame on both their houses.