I exist because my grandma had an abortion
I know the abortion cost too much. She was right to pay the price.
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Today was supposed to be the second part of the manifestation culture horror series. I am putting that newsletter off till Thursday. After I heard about the Supreme Court news, I felt like I had to write this first. So you get two free newsletters from me this week. I hope that’s all right.
Last December, I wrote an newsletter about abortion. It was incredibly difficult for me to publish. The response to it was mostly compassionate. A few people accused me of being cavalier with life. One woman unsubscribed from my newsletter with the subject line: “I don’t pay for babykiller’s writing.” Which was kind of funny because babykiller’s instead of a baby killer’s makes it seem like a stage name or something. Like, “I’m buying tickets for the 2022 babykiller tour.” Anyways. If you have the time, I hope you read it. It’s kind of got my entire exposed heart in it.
What I want to talk about right now, is something I left out of the newsletter. In the essay, I wrote that,
“I exist because a foremother had an illegal abortion. She did it to secure a future she knew she and her children - the ones she already had, the ones she would have - deserved. She could have died. Many women did back then. It is difficult for me to fathom the hope that led her to take the risk. What potentiality could she see?
I can see her. Sitting and waiting for the procedure. Her purse on her lap. I want to sit next to her. I wish I could bend time and hold her hand. I'd guide it to the top of my head and let her feel what she let live. I’d show her my daughters. God, she’d be grateful for them. God, I am grateful to her for them.”
I didn’t tell you who she was. It was my grandmother. Born into poverty in a New Mexico mining town. An abusive mother and father. An underage marriage arranged by her mother. My grandmother had a child, while she was still a child. The first marriage was annulled. There was a second marriage, when she was still too young. Two more children followed. The marriages were bad. The children were good. My uncle and two aunts. I love them.
Poor people have to save money to leave bad marriages. My grandmother tried. She’d save a little and then have to spend it on a doctor for a sick child or to make up for the money her husband drank away. She got pregnant again. Leaving her marriage and becoming a poor single mother of three children seemed almost impossible. Leaving her marriage and becoming a poor single mother of four children was actually inconceivable. America didn’t care for its mothers and children then any better than it does now.
I just know the abortion cost too much. And that she was right to pay the price.
There’s a letter. From shortly after the abortion. She wrote that she had to ask a friend for money. The doctor let her pay in installments, but she was having a hard time making the last payment. I don’t know how she hid the abortion from her husband, how she felt returning to work as a switchboard operator the next day, or if the doctor was kind or rough. I know the abortion cost too much. I know that she was right to pay the price.
She left the marriage and kept her children. A couple years later, she married my grandpa. She was only twenty-four when she got married for the third time. He was only twenty-seven when he became the instant-father of three children. She’s smiling in their wedding photo. So is he. They had my dad in 1960. One more baby followed. They all took care of each other.
When I had my first daughter, I named her Margaret. She’s named after my grandmother. I named her after the woman who gave us to each other.
Last night, Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion. If the final opinion looks like this one, it will overturn Roe vs Wade. The opinion says, among other things, that states can criminalize abortion without a rape or incest exception. There will still be abortions if this opinion is issued. But more of them will be illegal. And so women will die. Women like my grandma.
The opinion claims that rights have to be “deeply rooted in history” to be considered constitutional. Of course, vanishingly few rights are “deeply rooted in history.” If Roe v Wade is overturned, so much more is in danger. Marriage rights, contraception rights, and civil rights are all at risk.
We all know all the arguments. There’s nothing new I can say. Still, I promise I’ll keep writing. And I’ll keep saying all the things we’ve all already heard. But tonight, I am going to go to bed and cry into my pillow. There are so many women like my grandmother. I am so worried about them. I am so worried about all of us. How are you?