All the brouhaha over contraceptives in the national news lately took me back to the middle of the last century, before science had any tried and truly reliable safe methods of birth control. In those days the choices were; calculate and abstain, or take your chances. If that failed, a woman’s choices were to make the best of what comes, live with resentment, or take actions that in those days were criminal. Since I believe that the political is personal and the other way around, here are some of my remembrances from that time. It’s important to remember those days.
I didn’t think I’d make a good mother. Not like the women who seemed to be born for that role. As a young woman I had other things I wanted to accomplish, other places I wanted to go. But those dreams and plans came to an abrupt end when I got pregnant just one month after my wedding. My husband was thirty-three years old. I was about to turn twenty -two.
Using the approved technologies of the time, (which were mostly based on counting and the calendar), we had hoped to postpone pregnancy for a few years. Getting pregnant came as more of a shock than it might, were it not for the comments my doctor had made at my pre-marital examination. “It’s highly unlikely you will be able to conceive,” he said. Something about my organs being “infantile” and my possibly needing some surgery to open my tubes. “Come back when you’re ready to be a mother. I can do the surgical procedure, though I don’t know if I have instruments on hand that are small enough to do the job.”
Only a few months later I was at my best friend’s apartment on the way home from another doctor’s appointment where I had learned I was pregnant. Feeling a bit betrayed by my doctor’s misleading predictions, I complained to her over a cup of coffee at her kitchen table. I asked him, ‘what happens now to my infantile organs?’ and he said, rather cavalier, “Oh, don’t worry, they’ll mature now. The process of your pregnancy will insure that.’”
Since Charra was older and wiser than I was, I was able to admit to her my deepest fear.
“I’m not ready to be a mother.”
At this point Charra was loving her role of being a mother to her bright, energetic two year-old son. This child had come to her in her thirties as a surprise pregnancy after she’d given up years before on the possibility of ever having a child.
“So, you’ll get ready,” she said, matter-of-factly.
I chose to do that, hoping to mature emotionally along with my physical organs. I didn’t want to live with resentment and I never even considered taking any actions that would be against the law. Today women have more and better choices due to improvements in contraceptives and their wider availability, and science’s better understanding of the processes of conception, pregnancy, and birth. Does it make a difference now that abortion is not a crime? We can’t compare the numbers from when it was, but it makes sense to me that having access to effective family planning decreases the chances that women would need to consider other options.