The Decision of Birth Was Mine to Make.
I was 19 when I found out I was pregnant, unexpectantly, pardon the pun.
I was in a relationship for three years, and not sexually active for all three of those years. A late bloomer, raised Catholic, I had a healthy fear of getting pregnant. I was careful mostly about times to abstain during fertile days. But I was not savvy about birth control, and neither was my boyfriend. I mentioned condoms. He didn’t like them.
Guys don’t, I’d heard from friends who had been more sexually active than I. They took the Pill. Or got IUDs. I decided to become savvy and brought home the Pill.
I obtained them at a health clinic for free, when I went for an internal examination because of my painful periods and heavy bleeding days and the missed days each month from high school. Otherwise, I could not get into the nursing school I was otherwise accepted into.
Over a cup of tea, I showed my mother the pills and told her I was sexually active with my boyfriend. My mother took them and threw them in the kitchen garbage can. “It’s against the church to take those,” she said. Three months later, I had another cup of tea in the kitchen with my mother. This time I told her I was pregnant. She cried. I cried. And then all hell broke loose.
We were not to tell my father. My mother would, in her calm manner, at a right time. In the meantime, I told my boyfriend’s mother, who was a nurse and had herself become pregnant at 19 and unmarried. She asked if I was sure and recommended I get a pregnancy test. I did and I was. She assured me, whatever I decided, it was my choice.
She also said, as did my boyfriend’s father, that I could move in with them after we were married. My boyfriend was all for that. His brother told him, if I got an abortion, we would most likely break up because he wouldn’t see me in the same way as he did before. His brother was older and he believed him. But it was still up to me.
Prior to my facing this monumental decision, my boyfriend, who was still attending community college, and working, as was I, we were going to buy a used Chevy van and travel to the Rocky Mountains. Discover the country, and ourselves. Be free, as we should have been at 19, in 1976.
We were longing to be independent and move out of our parent’s homes and support ourselves. Save the previous summer, where we did just that, live on our own, only to return that fall and move back into our parents’ homes again. We felt stifled and we were ready to flee the nest. But we were reckless with our sexual exploration and crazy about one another. Now I was pregnant. It was not the time. It was our time.
We were still kids ourselves. We loved each with all our hearts, and yet we were people in our own right. Two people whose entire lives were about to change dramatically, forever. Or at least for the next 18 years.
There was talk of a church wedding. We were not religious. This church wedding was supposed to take place after I terminated my pregnancy. I chose not to. I chose to have my baby. No one pressured me to do so. Quite the opposite, astonishingly. My boyfriend was happy about my decision. I gave him the out that I had considered for a moment myself.
We were too young to have a child. We both knew that. And we both knew the final decision was mine. I chose to have the baby.
He is now 41 and has his own children and a wife, all of whom he adores and vice versa. We did a good job on it, in spite of the naysayers who thought we couldn’t take on a marriage, a child and make a living.
It was 1977 and we rented a $200 apartment that was bigger than some small houses I’ve seen. I stayed home with my son and wrote stories when I could. And read everything I could get my hands on to stay on top of current events and my love of books and writing.
I wrote a very passionate letter to then Senator Orrin Hatch, against his trying to ban abortion. I knew how important women’s rights to their own bodies was, to me and to every woman alive who might face that crossroads. I have never regretted my decision to have my baby, at 20. I embraced my pregnancy, because I chose to continue it. The decision was mine.
Three years later, at 23, with a three-year-old son, I had a Progestasert IUD, a new birth control device I tried. I wanted to go back to college, eventually.
I went for an exam to my Ob-Gyn, who had delivered my son. He yelled at me, after giving me an internal. “Your IUD came out. Have you had sexual relations?” What the heck was he talking about? “But I didn’t see it come out,” I said, “Of course I’ve had sex, I have an IUD.”
He was done with me, and he abruptly took off his gloves, threw the Progestasert in the trash, after holding it up to me, accusingly, and went into his office. I dressed and joined him. He threw a packet of birth control pills across the desk at me and said, “Take these.” I left the office in tears, and as I waited for the bus to go back to my apartment, I knew there was something very wrong.
When my husband came home, I told him what happened. He was in shock as well. We both feared what we were not ready for. Our talk was fraught with emotion, as we both knew I was not having another baby, at 23. It was too soon.
I wanted a marriage where the relationship came first. I was not a “mother woman” like in Kate Chopin’s Awakening, where women give up all of themselves of themselves to become servants to their children and forget they were women.
My husband wanted to have another child because his mother had six. Spat them out like candy in a vending machine. No hard labor as I had. No ripped episiotomy. No trouble with nursing after a week from stitches ripping which could not be repaired. I was not his mother. It was emotional, to say the least. It was the wrong time to have to face this possible pregnancy that should not be happening.
The Progestasert, which expelled itself, emitted progesterone into the bloodstream, same as the Pill. You needed to take it out and have a waiting period before until you tried to conceive. There were side effects and complications in births with Progestaserts.
I did not take the free pills the doctor threw at me. Instead, I called a hotline for a new Ob-Gyn and found a woman doctor highly recommended by Our Bodies, Ourselves authors. My husband and I went to see her. I told her the situation. She examined me and then we three talked.
She did a pregnancy test. She explained about the dangers of possible birth defects with a fetus conceived with this type of birth control device. Ironically, I had stopped the Pill to try this safer birth control. The doctor said, “I deliver babies, I don’t do abortions, but under the circumstances, this would be a ‘procedure’, a sort of D&C, in the hospital, with the privacy and sensitivity it deserves. This is not your fault.”
I was relieved and frightened and still very upset. I had been acting responsibly by using birth control. I did not want another child at 23. I wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t be pressured. My husband was not prepared or available to take on a special needs or physically handicapped infant. He was working full-time and going to school at night.
I was not prepared to gamble on the chance a baby would suffer being born and ever after. I was emotionally a wreck over it. We talked and talked and met with the new doctor. We asked her to do the procedure. We could have another child when we were ready, she assured us.
I have never forgotten that day, and I never will. Yet, I do not torture myself with the pain of imagining a child might have been born healthy. The odds were too high that she or he would not. Three years later, at 26, having gone off the Pill and my husband agreeing he would get a vasectomy, if we decided to have another child, I became pregnant. It was a planned pregnancy. A healthy baby was born, a second son.
My husband’s vasectomy, a simple procedure, granted us the freedom to have sex without bringing more children into our family. We liked our marriage, most of the time, and we were a happy unit.
I made three decisions regarding childbirth in my life. I am not apologizing for only giving birth twice. It was my decision, as I was the one to carry the child and give birth and do most of the raising on a daily basis. My husband would not disagree with me on this.
Women must maintain that right. To take it away is tantamount to ownership and control over women. Neither is something the human race wants to go towards. I’ll l fight now, as I fought then, for women to have a choice.
Nanci LaGarenne has just completed her third novel, and is seeking an agent. Her previous novels, Cheap Fish, a Montauk fishing and mermaid murder mystery, and Refuge, a homage to survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence, have been well-received. She hopes to write a non-fiction book about women and their connection to passion and creativity. She lives in East Hampton NY, and is an ever-changing late bloomer.