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Sarah Glazer Remembers Something Else that Could Only Happen to a Woman

I was overwhelmed and touched by the generous comments from women in the She Writes community to my last blog about my experience with attempted rape when I was a student at the University of Chicago.

Most striking to me was the outpouring of personal stories of rape, some never told before.

One of the comments said we need to start talking, not just about rape, but about those other experiences specific to women--the ones about which we usually keep silent. I agree. So I’ll go first.

How lucky I was that it was 1973 and abortion had just been legalized. Just barely. It was the fall and the Supreme Court had handed down the Roe v. Wade decision just a few months before on Jan. 22.  But I wasn’t thinking about that when I took a break from my library job to call my local clinic for the results of a pregnancy test. POSITIVE? I couldn’t get my head around that word. It seemed impossible. I was 22 and I was taking a few months months out of my nascent journalism career to be with the man I loved while he finished law school in Austin, Texas. I had a lot of plans for going back East and building a career. Marriage and children were a long way off.

Yes, it was legal but there weren’t many doctors yet who did abortions. After numerous phone calls to women’s organizations, where I asked my question on the verge of tears, I finally was given the number for an abortion clinic. (Could it have been the only one? This was the state, after all, whose restrictive law on abortion--allowed only in cases of rape-- was at the center of the case in Roe v. Wade.)

What I mainly remember was the incredibly caring attitude of the women counselors who prepared me for the procedure, assuring me that there would be cookies when it was all over. We sat in a circle beforehand for “counseling” (Do they even do that anymore?) which I dreaded would be a tough interrogation about my decision but was really a way to respond to the fears we all had of this terrifying procedure.

All I knew was what I’d read in novels and scary news accounts. About botched operations in illegal basements. And this quote had stayed with me about one girl who had endured lots of pain and blood loss in a back-alley procedure. When it was over, the woman who had done the job hugged her and said: “Didn’t anybody ever tell you it wasn’t gonna be easy being a woman?”

I remember the doctor who kept asking me if he was hurting me (but was extremely gentle).  I was dimly aware that he had been part of that early movement that believed abortion should be legal and, I later learned, had figured out ways to help girls when it wasn’t. Most of all I remember those incredibly kindly women.

I remember waking up in a bed afterward to the same dark-haired woman who had promised me cookies. She was sitting by my bedside smiling and reassuring me that it had all gone fine.

Years later, when I was married and already had two children, I again faced an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy. This time it was all very matter-of-fact. I told my gynecologist what I wanted to do and he scheduled the abortion in his office. There was no “counseling.” No kindly women. It wasn’t traumatic either.

But the contrast was so great that I realized I’d been given a great gift the first time.  A possibility had been handed to me by others who believed in the rightness of what they were doing against most of the established forces in society at the time. They understood that women’s lives could be destroyed by something that could never happen to a man.

 

*This post was first published in June 2011.

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Comments
  • Anand Quering

    {{{{{Deborah}}}}}

  • Deborah C Linker

    The writers in the She Writes community are so right when they say there are things that only happen to women.  I have a story I have kept secret for many years due to the negative feedback of "abortion". 

    When I was forty-one I found out after many years of infertility that I was 12 weeks pregnant. After the initial  shock wore off, my husband and I became excited about what fate had dealt us and started making preparations for a baby in our life. 

    At my older age and working as a speech-language pathologist for years I happily agreed to have an amniocentesis.  However, in the middle of my short lived joy of planning a nursery and sewing maternity clothes I couldn't believe the words when the doctor called with the results and said "Trisomy-21."

    The next few days were a blur as I was admitted the very next morning to Miami Sinai Hospital for an abortion.  Because I was well into my pregnancy they had to give me drugs to induce labor. 

    What I knew about childbirth was from Health class and movies.  So when contractions began and my water broke I had no idea what was happening.  I was in such a drug-induced stupor with people coming and going, talking like I wasn't present for what seemed like days I did not know when it was day or night.  Finally, the doctor arrived and instructed me to push.   

    To this day I am still plaqued by a recurring dream of a faceless  infant that I keep forgetting.  The baby is either on a beach near water,  lying unsecured in the back seat of my car, or I suddenly realize I haven't fed the baby.

    I never regretted my decision to have an abortion as I knew I did not want to bring a handicapped child into this world.  I am sorry that I could not produce a healthy baby and further saddened by the fact that I could not share my experience with my family or friends for fear of repercussions. 

     None of the health care professionals offered any support or suggested counseling. My husband and I slowly got back to our daily routines barely discussing any of the issues.  We both knew it would never be the same. 

    Thanks She Writes for listening.

    

  • Peggy Bird

    We were sitting on the steps of an old house that had a current life as an art gallery, drinking a little champagne. It was her first time out after having a baby. She was obviously distracted about something. We weren't close friends, had only met because our husbands were in a fellowship program together.

     

    I asked her how she was doing, saying I knew how hard that first period of being a mother was. She got tears in her eyes and words stumbled out about being tired. Then she stopped and avoided my eyes.

     

    I took a chance and told her about my worst day as a new mother. I was standing over my daugher's cradle after I had done everything I could think of--I fed her, rocked her, changed her, cuddled her and held her--and I still couldn't get her to stop crying. Afraid to pick my baby up again because I was so frustrated, I walked out of the room until I had myself together. When I went back I silently asked forgiveness for all the times I judged mothers with less self-control, less self-awareness, less self-confidence, fewer resources, time, support and education because they didn't walk away.

     

    She asked why we didn't tell each other things like that. Why we insisted on only telling the good stuff about being a mother when it would be so much more help to reassure each other that we can get through the bad things, that merely feeling angry and frustrated doesn't make you a bad mother. It only makes you human.

     

    It's long past time we shared these experiences.

  • Anand Quering

    *hugs*

    Thank you for sharing. I love love love that you have people sharing their experiences. It is quite cathartic and therapeutic for all of us. Recently I spoke with a class of college students, sharing my experiences. Rather than repost what is a lengthy story, if it is acceptable, I'll link to it here...

    http://www.blogher.com/presenting-my-life-students

  • caitlyn James

    Birth. Of my son. It took me 10 years to recover from the trauma, humiliation, and shame. It is why this woman who enjoys the rough and tumble of being with kids so much that she's a teacher has only one child.

     

    I was 22 years and 12 days old and only one of my friends had a baby. My aunts were all my mother's age and the cousins started with me and went down in one and 2 year steps until all 7 of us were born. I had been too little to notice the woman-talk when the last cousin arrived. My one friend had been ostracized when she accidentally got pregnant and confusedly decided to keep her baby. Not on purpose but because we were in our early 20's and had places to be, things to do. Once in a while it included holding her baby for an hour and bringing a gift. No one told me things.

     

    Labour started at 3:00 a.m. and my barely 21-year-old husband and I arrived at the hospital not long after. "Go home and sleep," the nurses told him. They physically shooed him from the room where they put me. "The baby won't come for hours."

     

    He drove around, got a pizza, felt alone. I lay in the bed feeling the contractions. A nurse came to check on my dilation and while there inserted a suppository - without telling me what she was doing until she was done and I was whining! 

     

    There was the toilet, the denial of a shower (because I would probably need the toilet again, apparently), the shaving (which I had requested not be done - but "the doctor didn't leave any instructions." Of course not, you probably haven't even called him yet, so sure you are that this baby will take his time.)

     

    When I called out for my husband they gave me "a little demoral" - which I tried to refuse but had not advocate. And I was a good girl. I did as I was told.

     

    When my husband finally returned he was wonderful and we made it through the worst of the contractions and into the delivery room. Without a how-do-you-do the doctor did an episiotomy - like the suppository without any warning. I felt like my genitals had been branded.

     

    People came and looked. They weren't introduced, we weren't asked, they just arrived. A group of them left, some stayed. 

     

    Head. Shoulders. Placenta. 3:00 pm.

     

    When my mother came to visit that evening she said she had only once seen me look so foul. It was the look of violation.

  • Patricia Sands

    Here's an article I think everyone should read. It speaks very clearly to life after publishing and the feelings that many writers share with regard to the demands of promoting and marketing. Really excellent.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-susan-meyers/promoting-a-book-advice-and-resources_b_877272.html?ref=fb&src=sp#sb=236359,b=facebook

     

  • Donna Catterick

    This is a great post.  I think it's given me the courage to write my story.  I like your honest, reasonable approach.  And that you let people know it is not necessarily traumatizing.  It's not anyone's first choice, but once an unwanted pregnancy occurs, there are no good answers.  I'll let you know when I get my story written and get the courage to post it!  Thanks.

  • Patricia Sands

    I agree - very brave indeed. A difficult choice made for all the right reasons in each instance. Good for you and thank you for sharing your experience.

  • RYCJ Writing

    Yes, indeed this account is a brave retelling.

    More than bravely baring ours souls (for me) is understanding why this step is important. I really believe that all the things we wished didn't happen...rape, molestation, infidelity, etc., could be better addressed if 'we' learned to face our own personal truths. And one way to do this is by opening up! Great post!

       

  • Serra Zander Writing

    How brave of you to post this! I've always been a supporter of the right to choose and you story is so encouraging! You always hear about the fake horror stories and the lies that are spread to terrify women, and this is just the opposite. I really can't express how thankful I am that someone is willing to share a real story about their real experience and explain how it's not traumatizing. I really hope others follow your example here and maybe help eradicate some of the un-truths.