NOTE: This post may anger some people, including friends and relatives. Sadly, the trajectory our country is on demands that everyone needs to do what they can to support our democracy, its laws, values and standards of care for its citizens. Being only 3 months from turning into an octogenarian the one thing I can do is search my memories and raise my voice. If this post offends I am sorry, but it is one subject wherein I can offer a dose of reality about life for females in the forties and fifties.
OF CHILDHOOD, PEDOPHILIA, READING AND REBELLION
One of my very first memories is of my father taking me up the stairs to our attic and utilizing my tiny self to his purpose (no, I will not go into graphic detail, not necessary, not the point). Up the stairs came my mother in search of us, and as she took in the scene before her she immediately burst into tears and ran back down the stairs. My father, of
course, ran after Mom. I must have been around four at the time and the one emotion I
vividly recall is puzzlement. I was doing what my father told me to, why were my parents angry? I am sure there were promises to never do anything like that again, a one-off only. Promises not kept, of course, and the abuse continued until my eleventh year.
I learned to read at a very early age and found in reading my escape. I would walk from my grandmother’s house in Seattle, past Big Rock at the top of the hill, and haunt the adult section of the public library. I read about animals, death marches, slavery, and abortion stories. Abortions were illegal, rape was rarely adjudicated, and a single woman becoming pregnant was shameful no matter the circumstances. There were many young ladies who visited illegal abortionists, or worse, would take a coat hanger and attempt self abortion. As a very young girl in a perilous situation I was
chilled by the images of young women who bled out on a basement floor or lay slumped on a wood table.
I remember dreading being alone in the house with my father. He would make me promise not to tell anyone, especially my mother. The trouble was I felt too uncertain, unhappy and ashamed to tell anyone. Sometime around my eleventh or twelfth year the inevitable happened, and realization set in that I could become pregnant if my father continued with his abuse. Strangely and ironically he had provided me with a thin, child friendly book on “becoming a woman” and how one gets pregnant. I did not, at that point, need the book to lay it all out for me, but it did confirm my fears.
One night my mother was out of the house for some reason and I found myself cornered in the bathroom. It suddenly all boiled up and I adamantly refused to do as he said. When he insisted I threatened to tell my mother, and at that he exploded, grabbed his belt and proceeded to beat me. Being a child I obviously cried and yelled…loudly! One other person in the house, in his bedroom, heard the commotion and later told my mother. Again a hullaballoo, a threat of divorce, and more promises. This time the promises were kept, possibly because the story was now out to some extent and I was obviously willing to fight back. Please don’t imagine my actions were courageous, I was aware of cause and effect and consequences because of my love of reading, curiosity to learn and access to reading materials. My rebellion was governed by abject fear.
Could I have become pregnant? Of course. Would I have wanted an abortion? Absolutely. An 11 or 12-year-old child is not mature enough physically or emotionally to carry a fetus to term without the probability of damaging her body or her mind to some extent. Add incest and rape to that mix and you would have a very disturbed young girl. Then of course she would give the child up for adoption and spend her life wondering if the child was happy, wanted to know who her birth parents were, etc. Or possibly her mother would say the child was hers and raise the baby as a sibling to the now damaged 12 year old.
Add to my own youthful fears the fact that years later my sister-in-law almost died from an ectopic pregnancy, was rushed to the hospital and saved by removing the fetus, and my philosophy on abortion rights became solidified. Pregnancies are not a walk in the park with a child attached to a rainbow at the park exit. Having gone through what would be considered an easy pregnancy and short, intense labor as an adult let me be witness to the fact that labor is about as painful as one can stand and carrying a child to term is not always easy on the mother to be.
I tend to agree that abortion should not be used as simple birth or sex control. The issue rests in the needs of rape victims, fetuses that expire in vitro but the woman is required to carry to term anyway, child incest victims or the woman’s life is endangered by going through childbirth. As has been a mantra from the past, “abortion should be safe legal and rare”.
I could easily have been one of those women, even as a child, bleeding my life out, because I knew even then I would not survive physically, emotionally or mentally if forced into carrying my fathers child. My rebellion saved me, but not all young girls have access to the information needed, the curiosity to discover facts and consequences, or the ability to fight back. Some abusing relatives are violent and prone to use force. The germ of my pro-choice leaning was born as a child of the 40’s and 50’s, but it was cemented through the tragic stories I heard throughout my adult years of the abuse suffered by girls and women while men (for the most part) determined the fate of these young ladies, and, until recently, society turned a blind eye.
What happened to me is long in the past, but it still lives in memory. I learned many words from my father a child should not know. I have very few memories of my normal childhood activities, whereas I have vivid memories of what I would like to forget. And yet, I was lucky. The sad, dreadful and very personal choice some women have to make, I was spared. Perhaps I was spared so that I could add my voice at this stage of my life to the chorus of women who wish to own their own bodies, and make their own life decisions. Perhaps we need a look backward at what it was like for women and girls 60 or 70 years ago…not as we saw on T.V., but as it was for real people. Perhaps we need to teach each other caring and empathy. Perhaps we need a little more love and understanding, and a little less “holier than thou”. Just, perhaps.