I think a lot about choice these days. It may be an occupational hazard — for the first time in a decade I’m working directly in non-pregnancy reproductive health care — and it may be because we talk so much about choice in our house these days. Choose your clothes, choose your fruit, choose your bedtime story: we work through choices every day, and they all have consequences, even if it’s only the momentary loss at the story not chosen, the dress left in the closet, the Gala apple uneaten in the fridge at the end of the night. I think a lot about choice, and why my choice to have children was so sweet to me. I think about what I will tell my children about that choice, and how sometimes having a choice is harder than none at all.
I am a G5P1-1-3-2: I have been pregnant five times, have birthed two children, one preterm, one term. I have had two abortions and one miscarriage. I have two living children. These things are all true. I love my children fiercely and I chose twice to end pregnancies before they had become anything beyond nausea clenched in my belly and a fatigue so deep I walked through my days as though underwater. I chose to be pregnant with my children and that choice was sweet to me, that I freely chose the days of bedrest, the sharp pain of the external version, the sciatica that radiated fire into my legs. My children were not a punishment for sex.
My first job fifteen years ago was in an abortion clinic. It was during the mid 90s, when abortion doctors were dying, when we all knew what to do after butyric acid attacks, when fear rode with me in my car every day to work. It was good work. My patients were good people. My coworkers were good people. We did hard work and came back for more, we held our patients in their sadness and their relief, we cared for them when the rest of the country, it seemed, was trying to kill us.
When my children were born, I struggled with what to tell them about abortion. I never wanted them to hear it as a crime, as a dirty word, as something hidden. At the same time, I know what the country thinks of us, of women who have had abortions, and I was afraid of them one day looking at me with the mixture of contempt and revulsion that the right has perfected around anything related to abortion. I was lucky: it’s not a topic that comes up often in preschool life, and for years we were buried in dinosaurs and Dora DVDs. Then Dr. Tiller died, and I lost the right to sidestep this word, and my history.
I want my children to understand the heroism of the men and women who provided safe illegal abortions, the ones who fundraised, the ones who picketed. I want them to know about the clergy who kept lists of safe abortionists, the women of the Jane Collective in Chicago, the housewives who pushed a country to change. I need them to know about George Michaels, the New York assemblyman who single-handedly legalized abortion in New York state and ended his political career. I need them to know Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee and how fragile is the right they argued for as novice lawyers, in front of nine old white men in Washington. More than anything, I need them to remember the dead: the women killed by illegal abortion, the doctors and staff shot in their clinics, their homes, their churches.
Every day I went to work in the clinic, struggling to find options for women who had none. Every day in the hospital, I watched women fight for their right to birth as they wanted. It was all the same work: it was watching women move through life as best we can. There are words that I want for my children, my daughter and my son both, and choice is the sweetest of them all.