The Good Old Days
Everybody’s saying “We won’t go back,” but I wish we could because there was a time when we had it right. The last half of the 1970s, when Roe v Wade had just been decided and the crusade to overturn it hadn’t yet begun, those were the good old days. That brief period — when abortion was legalized and not yet politicized — was a sweet spot we haven’t heard enough about. So I’m telling my story about the good old days, in the hope that others will, too.
I have to tell Mom. Oh, how can I tell Mom?
My period was late. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to tell her.
How can I tell Mom?
I blurted it out.
We were arguing, as usual, and she asked me what was really wrong.
“I think I’m pregnant,” I sobbed.
“Oh, shit,” she said, turned and walked away.
She came back, looked in at me from my bedroom doorway, and asked if I knew for sure. If I had taken a test.
I had not.
“We’ll go to a clinic tomorrow then. A free one where you can get a test. We’ll find out for sure. Then we’ll see.”
At the free clinic, I’m handed a cup to pee in, and then I join my mother on the hard plastic chairs of the lobby to wait.
A young woman appears and tells us, “Yes, she’s pregnant, six to eight weeks.”
She continues, but I only take in bits. “…simple procedure…only takes a few minutes…can show you the room…”
I’m staring at the scuffed tile floor and I want to leave. I want to say something. I want to tell her to stop, the woman in bell-bottom jeans with straight parted-in-the-middle hair hanging smooth down to her shoulders, who doesn’t look old enough to work in a clinic, who looks like a high school student, like me.
“Stop,” says Mom, as if reading my mind. “Stop talking to her that way. She’s fifteen, she only just found out.”
Mom stood up, pulled me up with her. “We don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said to the young woman, “But we won’t be coming back here.”
In the car, Mom asks, “Do you want to have a baby?”
I say, “No.”
It would be years before I thought how lucky I was, that I could make that decision myself. There was never any uncertainty, only the inability to imagine making any other choice. I was not made to talk through the options, I knew what they were. Have a baby, and keep it. Have a baby, and give it up for adoption. Or don’t have a baby, have an abortion. I couldn’t imagine myself having a baby. It wasn’t a difficult decision, for me, to choose not to.
My mother took me to her doctor. It would be years before I thought how lucky I was, that it was 1975. There was no secret trip out of state, no risky meeting with unnamed strangers, no paper bag full of cash — that was in the past. There was no gauntlet of sign-waving protesters, no mandated waiting period, no unnecessary probing — that was in the future. In 1975, it was an ordinary visit to a doctor.
In the obstetrician-gynecologist’s office, with its dark leather chairs and wood paneled walls, we sat down to talk after my exam. The doctor was a kindly man, with silver hair and a gentle manner. He asked if I knew the law recently changed, and I could consent to the procedure myself. I didn’t know that, I said. I didn’t need a parent’s permission, legally, he said, but he was glad my mother brought me to him, and that he could help. He could schedule me in the next week.
It was so early it was still dark out, on the morning we left for the hospital, and my older sister was still asleep in her room. Mom’s car was in the repair shop so we rode the bus over the bridge across the river into downtown. The plan was that my boyfriend would pick us up afterward to drive us home. I wouldn’t need to stay overnight but we packed a bag anyway, with my bathrobe and toothbrush. Just in case, I suppose. A small suitcase of hard faux leather, Samsonite blue, sat upright on the floor of the bus between Mom and me — but the suitcase would stay closed until we got back home.
In the hospital room, I change out of my clothes into a cotton gown with ties in the back.
A nurse comes in and bustles around, asks me, “What’s your major?”
When she repeats her question I understand she thinks I’m in college. I tell her I’m still in high school and she gets quiet. There’s no more small talk, but she’s gentle, setting me up with an IV. She pats my arm before leaving the room.
In the operating room the anesthesiologist, a thin man with wire-rimmed glasses, asks me if I’ve ever been under before and I say no. He tells me I’m going to like it, but I don’t feel anything. I’m just — awake — then not…
Then I wake up in a bed with curtains around it. There’s another bed next to me, I can see in a gap between the curtains. I hear a woman mumbling, turn my head and see her, rolling over, away from me and toward the wall. Her top sheet rolls with her, revealing a smear of red on her bottom sheet. She doesn’t look like a teenager. She looks to me like she’s in her thirties, like a mom. When I wake up again, there’s no one in the other bed. I see my mom, sitting at the foot of my bed. She’s smiling.
After, we waited at the bus stop. I called my boyfriend’s house from a pay phone in the hospital lobby, according to plan, but his family’s housekeeper answered, and told me he was in another part of the house. I should call again, she said, she’d let it ring so he could pick up. I dropped another coin in the slot, dialed again, listened to the phone ring again. But that time, nobody picked up.
So we’re sitting on the bus stop bench, me and Mom, with the little blue suitcase on the sidewalk between us. I feel numb, spaced out. A Mustang pulls up at the curb — not my boyfriend’s Mustang, with the custom red and black paint job — a blue Mustang with a white top, that belongs to one of the guys, John. John is driving, and Jimmy’s riding shotgun. Jimmy rolls down the window and asks if we need a ride.
I say, “Yes.”