“My mother paused carefully, then revealed something I’ll never forget…”
It’s all-too-easy to see your mother as a woman whose life exists only within visible proximity, her life inexorably tethered to yours. The first time I realised this notion is a fallacy—that my mother’s life extends far beyond the radius of our shared history—we were drinking wine in the living room of the home I grew up in.
I was in college, and the conversation had turned to a friend of mine who had decided to have an abortion. My mother paused carefully, then revealed something I’ll never forget: She too had an abortion, at age 17 — seven years before I was born.
Related stories: A very different kind of abortion.
I’m embarrassed to admit that the admission shocked and shook me. I had never even considered that my mother—my shit-together, no-nonsense, steel-willed mum—could have been in this position. I couldn’t conceive of her so young, so emotionally vulnerable, making a decision that would permanently and significantly alter the course of her life.
Nor could I imagine her alternate life if she hadn’t had the abortion—a life that didn’t involve me.
When my mum was 17, it was just two years after the passage of Roe V. Wade [the landmark abortion rights case in the United States]. What if she hadn’t been able to safely abort? With a baby on her hip in high school, would she have gone on to become the first in our family to go to college? Would she have opened her own business? Would she have become strong, independent, competitive, impatient, loopy after a couple glasses of wine?
Would she have become the woman my mother is?
And what would have happened with the child she did have? Would they still, well into adulthood, call her first after a car accident? Would they spend Saturday nights on the couch together, watching bad reality TV and nursing a bottle of Charles Shaw until 1 am? Would this child and my mother fight so terribly and cry so much that eventually, the two of them would just end up in a fit of hysterical laughter?