When I was ask myself what I am thankful during these dark times, my mind goes back to a backyard cottage sheltered by eucalyptus trees in San Francisco where I lived in 1980 with my boyfriend, Gabe. That was the year I got pregnant in spite using an IUD my doctor claimed was 99 percent effective (this was not the one percent I wanted to belong to).
When my husband and I failed to conceive, we adopted a newborn.
Nine months later I went into labor. It was a lonely and painful delivery; no obstetrician or midwife assisted, and no anesthesiologist materialized to administer an epidural. It was just me, writhing alone on the cold tile of the bathroom floor.
That I was alone and unattended during my ordeal was not surprising though, because I wasn’t pregnant at the time. I had undergone a successful abortion months earlier, shortly after I conceived. But it didn’t take long that painful day for me to realize what I was experiencing mimicked labor contractions. It was as if I had given birth to a shadow fetus on the unforgiving tile floor.
My Mind and Body Disagree
My abortion had been relatively routine. Neither my boyfriend, Gabe, nor I was prepared to have a child, and I felt fortunate to have access to a safe, legal procedure to terminate my pregnancy. Afterwards, Gabe continued grad school and I went back to working in a plant nursery by day, and writing by night.
Biologically, however, my pregnancy did not resolve with the abortion, as I discovered that day in the bathroom. Apparently, my body was oblivious to my political position; it had its own story to tell.
“The mind is divided in parts that sometimes conflict,” Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
It is an indisputable fact of my existence that I have two people inside me who are in constant conflict. They don’t acknowledge each other; they don’t even return each other’s phone calls. (Thank God they can’t both vote.) This split was reflected in my new schedule–seven hours writing, and seven hours crying on the couch.
The Mystery of Consciousness
My post-abortion experience raises questions about the mystery of consciousness, identity, and life that have absorbed philosophers and physicians for centuries. Aristotle believed that a fetus gradually develops a soul, 40 days after conception for male fetuses and 90 days for female fetuses. (This discrepancy warrants a new #metoo movement though it’s hard to imagine protestors brandishing “Watch out, Aristotle–My Generation Votes Next!” signs.)
Years after my abortion, I broke up with Gabe and moved to New York where I later married. When my husband and I failed to conceive, we adopted a newborn. Our daughter is an independent, spunky, and loving young woman who is now the age I was when I had my abortion.
In spite of its ironies and paradoxes, my story holds a graceful symmetry and sense of completion.
My boyfriend, Gabe, married shortly after I did. He and his wife also failed to conceive. Decades later, he is angry and hurt by my decision to abort, although he was complicit at the time. Gabe and his wife eventually adopted.
I still return to my backyard cottage in my dreams, as though searching for something. Yet in spite of its ironies and paradoxes, my story holds a graceful symmetry and sense of completion.
To put it another way, I am profoundly grateful that I had access to a safe abortion, and inwardly I thank my daughter’s birth mother every day for carrying her to term.