Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Woman's Choice

Or who owns our bodies?

Apparently Tuesday, the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, was Blog for Choice Day. I didn't hear about it till Wednesday and was sick all day, so today I'm bringing up the rear.

My reproductive history was affected by big changes in the law.

At the time of my first pregnancy, safe legal abortion was illegal in California, which was where I lived at the time. I could take a chance, assuming I had enough money and good connections, and go underground or to Mexico if I chose to terminate pregnancy. I was in my late teens and had no marketable skills. I was not self-supporting. I was a student at San Jose State. I was unmarried. There was tremendous shame associated out-of-wedlock births, for both mother and child. Few women, even with good skills, could earn a living wage. There was no social support for single women, and no mandated child support from the father.

The only viable choice I could see was surrending my child for adoption, so that's what I did. It was the most painful choice I've ever had to make. The pain of that loss remains forever. It has receded in the intervening years, but it doesn't take much to restimulate it. And even adoption laws have been drastically liberalized since those days.

In 1964 I began taking birth control pills, Enovid E to be precise, which was later proven to have its own set of problems. (See Malcolm Gladwell's essay about Enovid E in The New Yorker.) The doctor who prescribed them for me was prochoice, and he ended up prescribing them for my two under-21 flatmates as well, but mainly birth control pills were only available to married women.

My second pregnancy occurred when I had an IUD in place and was in a committed relationship with the man who eventually became my husband. He had two children already and we were not prepared to become parents at that time. This was around 1969, when one could obtain a safe, legal abortion in a hospital if one could prove that it would be a danger to the life of the mother to continue the pregnancy. With counseling and sound advice from our local Planned Parenthood, I was referred to two psychiatrists who were supportive a woman's right to choose. They had to interview me -- at some expense, I might add -- and state that my life was endangered by bringing my pregnancy to term. Both were male. So I needed two male authority figures and a male M.D. to affirm my decision.

The standard method in those days was dilation and curettage (D&C). This requires shaving the pubic hair. At the hospital I had a hostile nurse who scraped my skin with some vigor, I must say. I had been shaved for delivery of my first child, but this was wicked. I swear she used a rusty razor. Regardless of shaving, a D&C is invasive and carries some danger.

The third time I became pregnant, my late husband Rod and I had our beautiful and much-loved Deirdre Blessing. She was born at home in our North Beach flat with the help of midwives Nan Bowe, RN, CNM, and Vani Garabedian, Lay Midwife, coaching by Rod and photography by the late Richard Smith.

During the time surrounding my divorce I again became pregnant. I was not in a position to take responsibility for another child at that time, nor did the father wish to have it. I had an abortion at Kaiser. By this time, the procedure was placing some kind of seaweed in the cervix to dilate it before vacuum aspiration. The most difficult part was enduring the pokes and jabs from nurses and doctors trying to find a vein for the saline solution or sedative or whatever it was they were giving me intravenously. My veins are not close to the surface of my skin; I always have this trouble when donating blood or getting lab work done. I recovered much more quickly from the VA than from the D&C.

My fifth pregnancy, with the same man (a seven-year monogamous relationship) as with the fourth, was terminated by VA at the Oakland Feminist Women's Health Center (unfortunately now defunct). One of the founders was the late poet June Jordan. It was she who greeted me when I came in for my abortion. There, they assigned me a companion who stayed with me throughout the procedure, offered care and comfort. Ironically, the doctor who performed the abortion was Dr. Gore.

Who cares about my personal reproductive history? Probably no one but my loved ones. I offer it here to show how profound the changes have been since I came of reproductive age and now that I am past that age.

I'm glad we now have personal choice in making such a difficult decision. My daughter and her contemporaries take it for granted. The great news is that Deirdre is now training to be a midwife with Elizabeth Davis at Hearts & Hands.


Carol Maltby said...

"Who cares about my personal reproductive history?"

For every story that is told, there are many similar that are left unsaid. I am sorry for the painful choices you had to make, and hope the writing about them brings some healing.

While a woman's right to choose is still not universal, your history illustrates some deep changes that have come about, for which we can be thankful.

I'm glad your daughter is studying to be a midwife. It is such a deeply sacred calling.

Anonymous said...

I worked with Vani back in early '80's and wonder if we met at the clinic on 22nd St. I live in Marin now---no longer mid-wife. Great to read your story.

Unknown said...

Hello, I'm looking for Vani Garbedian. She guided me through labor in 1974 - yes, and she was an angel. That baby is now a dad himself...I'm sending him fotos that you took the day I went into labor. If a friend of Vani, or Vani herself should happen to read this. Please contact me. marilyn,

Kim Mosny, CPM said...

Would you happen to know how to contact Vani Garabedian now? Interested in getting in touch with her.

Kim Mosny, CPM
Richmond VA

Unknown said...

Hello Kim, I'm also interested in finding Voni Garbedian. So if you happen to be so lucky, please let me know.

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