by Colleen Lord
Contributing to The CFLE blog has been great fun for me. If you’ve read any of my blog posts, then you have probably learned a few things about me and my family. It’s become a running joke that I can’t write a post without incorporating myself or my family in some way. I have to face it, though, my family provides good material.
When people comment on my posts, I tell them that when I write I feel as though I’m channeling my mother. It feels good to honor her memory in some small way. She was an excellent writer and was best known for her scathing letters to the editor in the Star Ledger. My mother, the former Catholic school girl, became quite the rabble-rouser in her later years. She became active in progressive causes and strived to make positive changes in her community. When I started working for Planned Parenthood, she was proud to tell friends and family about the work that I do and even joked that I came home smelling like latex from teaching young people how to use condoms.
My mother wasn’t always pro-choice. My first trip to Washington D.C. wasn’t to visit the Smithsonian or the monuments. I went to an anti-choice rally. I was ten and didn’t know that much about the “pro-life cause”, but I knew that we were “saving babies”. I am now 34 and I still can’t get the horrific images on the placards I saw out of my head.
I didn’t learn about where babies come from until later that year. My theory at the time was similar to the Immaculate Conception–that it just “happened”. I prayed often that God wouldn’t make me have a baby. My sister had two children, and I was pretty sure babies weren’t for me.
I was appalled that the people at the rally would want to force someone to have a baby. Even after I got the facts from a friend, which made the thought of having babies even more icky to my 10 year old self, the idea stuck with me that a woman should be able to choose what happens to her body.
What happened to my mother that day is much more profound. Her entire world view began to turn on its head. Here was a woman who lived through eight pregnancies; seven of which were cesarean births. Today, many doctors are concerned about women from having multiple c-sections due to an increased risk of hysterectomy. A gynecologist told her later in life said she was amazed my mother didn’t suffer any major consequences from the surgeries she had.
We weren’t people of means, but we had enough. After one of my brothers was born, my father’s job went on strike. They had five kids, so Mom decided she better get on birth control to make sure they could continue to provide for their children. My brother died at the tender age of 2 months from what we now know to be sudden infant death syndrome. When she went to her spiritual advisor for comfort, my mother was told the loss she suffered was because she sought birth control.
The unyielding protesters my mother encountered on the day of the rally made her realize the underlying message she had received all her life. “Women are a vessel and their sole purpose is to bring children into the world at any cost. It doesn’t matter what a woman endures or what she aspires to be. She is only worth the sum of their parts”.
And it really pissed her off.
She had five daughters, damn it, and she knew we women had much more to offer the world than our uteruses. She knew of women who were in dire situations and how easy it could be to go from a life of “getting by” to not knowing how to provide for a family when the next child came. She didn’t want that for us, she knew the world owed us better.
So, here began the journey of my mother and me, to becoming pro-choice. My mother’s story inspires me to fight for reproductive rights each and every day. Sometimes life experiences can be the greatest teacher.
If it came down to it, I don’t know that my mother would have ever chosen abortion if she personally had to make that very intimate choice. “I knew that you were going to be a unique child the moment I found out I was pregnant,” was a phrase I heard often. But I know she would have held the hand of any woman who had to make that choice for herself. Women choose abortion for many reasons and the decision is often difficult. But, we should trust women to make the decision that is right for them, and only them.