Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Abortion in 1968: Pre Roe V Wade

I got pregnant in 1968. I'd left the man I'd been living with in Kauai and returned to Los Angles to stay in Z's apartment. She and her mate were house-sitting and their apartment was empty. They had a shop not far from the apartment in Westwood, called Satpurush where they sold handmade beautiful Indian clothes so popular with the Rockers coming back from their visit to an Ashram and their brush with mysticism and spirituality. All the seamstresses were Indian and everyone who worked at Satpurush was a vegetarian. I became their cook.

You might think cooking vegetarian would be quite simple, but it isn't. I got up early every morning and walked to a market in the neighborhood to buy fresh produce. When I got back to the apartment I perused the cookbooks for a tasty meal to make from my fresh supplies. It took the rest of the morning to make lunch. I got better and better at this important task and liked my job, liked the little apartment a block from Westwood Blvd.

Then the man I'd left in Kuaui found me and wouldn't leave me alone. He said he was in love with me, but he scared me. I'd seen him have episodes of disassociation when I felt he was a danger to me. This isn't a story about him, so I won't elaborate on that, but here he is in my life again and I don't want to have to run away again, so I make a deal with him. His terms, my conditions. We would take one last LSD trip. And if, after that trip, I still wanted him to leave me alone, he would.

I remember bits and pieces of the trip. I didn't fear him, but I knew I wanted him to stay out of my life. I had sex with him as a way to prove that even after having sex with him I still wanted him to go. It was coerced sex but not forced. And when the acid wore off I stated my desire to continue to live alone. I wanted him to move on, find someone else. And for the most part, he did move on.

A few weeks went by and I became ill. I was so fatigued I could barely move. I was constantly nauseated. Z suggested I go to the UCLA Med Center which was walking distance from the apartment. They were very nice at the Med Center. They did a couple of tests and sent me home to await the results. I got a call the following week to come in for my test results.

It was a very nice young man in a white lab coat who I met with that day. He sat almost knee to knee with me in a small exam room. He said, "I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you prefer first?" "I'll take the good news first." "The good news is that you're pregnant." I felt as if I'd been kicked in the gut.

"You have a positive VDRL." I had no idea what that meant. I just looked at him, waiting for some elaboration. "A VDRL is a broad spectrum test for venereal diseases."

"So, I'm pregnant AND I HAVE A VENEREAL DISEASE?!?!! What's the good news in any of this???"

"We'll do a more specific test so we know how to treat it. In the meantime you need to be on prenatal vitamins. I'll give you a prescription for those now." He started writing on a prescription pad and I stood up. When I stood up my vision narrowed down to tiny points of light off in the distance. It was much like looking through the wrong end of binoculars only more extreme. I had no peripheral vision at all. I saw only the tiny vista off in the distance with no sense of anything on either side of me from here to there. It was all just darkness and then that bit of far off light where meaningless movement happened.

I was taken by the hand and let to the psych department. I had tunnel vision. I was seated beside the desk of an overweight middle aged woman with short hair. She said, "What seems to be the problem?" And I have never heard those words since that I don't get angry. I screamed, "I took acid with a man I'm trying to get rid of, I'm now pregnant and I have a venereal disease and tunnel vision you stupid cow! What seems to be the problem? I'm talking to a person who has no idea of anything that matters. Why the fuck did they put me here? You can't possibly understand anything! You think you have answers? THERE ARE NO ANSWERS! I WILL KILL MYSELF. I WILL NOT GIVE BIRTH TO THIS MONSTER!"

I really did feel as if my body had been invaded by a creature intent on killing me. And they did find a psychiatrist I could talk to. I told him I'd kill myself if I were forced to carry this pregnancy to term. I told him about my childhood sexual abuse and fear that no one could protect a child from either being a victim of sexual abuse or keep a child from growing up to be an abuser. I told him there was no way to find a nice man who wouldn't turn into a monster. And he believed me.

But abortion was not legal in 1968. Only in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother, would the State allow a woman to get a safe legal abortion. Three doctors had to examine me and agree that I was serious about my intention to kill myself. I had to find the man who impregnated me to inform him he needed to get tested for venereal disease. Then the medical board of examiners would rule on my case and get back to me. Three wise men would decide my fate.

The impregnator did not have VD. I am one of a miniscule number of women who has a false positive on a VDRL, the broad spectrum test given routinely to women suspected of being pregnant. I was tested more specifically and tested clean. However none of this made the slightest difference to me. I felt like I had an invader growing inside of me and the violent morning sickness only further confirmed my feelings. I hated myself and the little monster growing inside of me.

If the three wise men did not make their decision before the end of my first trimester I would be forced to carry to term or kill myself. I would not carry anything inside my body to term. I was making plans to kill myself. Let me count the ways, there are so many possibilities.

In the end, at the last possible moment, they let me have my legal abortion. It took place in the University Hospital. I was admitted the day before the procedure. My roommate was a woman in her forties who was having a biopsy of a tumor on her clitoris. We spent a lot of time talking. I was reading J. Krishnamurti's Commentaries on Living. She was reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. We had a lot to talk about.

The next day she and I went to our respective surgeries: she early in the morning on the second day, I later in the afternoon. We both came out of our anesthesia sobbing. I with relief, she with fear as she waited for the biopsy results. By the time I was getting ready to leave the hospital the next day she got her results. No cancer. And we both sobbed again our relief. We hugged each other, and then I left. I've never forgotten her. Women understand these things. Men it seems, do not.

So now we have the Stupak Amendment. And now we are back where we were pre Roe V Wade. It is men who want this kind of control over women's bodies, women's choices. It is men who want to prohibit women the freedom men enjoy. We can't get our birth-control pills covered by insurance, but they get their viagra covered. It's very important to men that they can have a hard penis so they can impregnate if they want. But our ability to prevent pregnancy, or terminate pregnancy is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and a challenge to male authority and domination. So according to these Christian men, these powerful law making men, women should not have reproductive freedom of choice, the choice to prevent pregnancy or the choice to abort an unintended pregnancy should one occur. I'm starting to hate most men again.


Charlotte said...

Holy shit!! I don't say that to demean anything you have been through but simply as an exclamation to describe the awe I feel in hearing what you have survived. I don't have the courage to write about my experiences, so I thank women like you that let us process/debrief our feelings through your writings.

C said...

Skunkt - Yes. Been there. The desperation is profound. Quite simply. profound.

innermost said...

which story? the one where i took a friend & wandered D.C.'s back streets looking for the supposed abortionist. ended in a shabby dirty apt w/ a creepy dude who did the deed? my friend got sepsis & died. or the one about another friend who used a coat hanger in the dorm shower room, got sepsis & died? or the one about my friend who ruined her chances of having children later in life by mutilating her insides w/ a knitting needle? there are so many stories. i never thought i would ever have to remember or tell them again. please- abortion MUST stay legal clean & affordable for ALL women.

sunshine said...

I've always been pro-choice. Up until about 3 or 4 years ago my choice would have been *have the baby*.
Now, at 40 years old, I understand what you mean when you say you would have killed yourself if you had been forced to go to term.
There is no way I want a baby now. Obviously I can't say FOR SURE because I'm not in the situation. However.. I really can't even think about another baby...
I've been a Mother since I was in my early 20's. I want some time for myself now. Baby free.


darkblack said...

'I'm starting to hate most men again.'

Well, I don't blame you, kiddo.
When people in power make decisions based on 'piety' and plumbing differences that lead to legislation abrogating the right to have control over one's own body, Lysistrata gives way to I Spit On Your Grave.


Utah Savage said...

If every woman who ever had an abortion wrote about it and traded these stories and published these stories maybe we'd have some impact. This is one of the reasons twitter seems so powerful to me. I have no fear or shame in telling my stories, but I'm just one old woman talking in the dark.

Charlotte, tell you stories, the very darkest of your stories. Those are the stories that really need to be heard, need to be shared. And if you have a daughter make sure she know what it used to be like before Roe V Wade. And what it will be like again if the Stupak Amendment stands.

C, Thank you for bearing witness to my story and for letting me know that I am not alone with this story.

Innermost, I'm sorry for all this pain and death you've had to endure along with so many millions of others. We all need to tell these stories. These are very important stories and need to be told in excruciating detail. Make it real for all to see.

Sunshine, one of my renters, a single woman in her late 30s just found out she's pregnant. She's mormon, single, sperm-doner boyfriend already's supporting 4 kids and doesn't want more and her religion makes abortion impossible for her. She's moving out to go live with her parents. THAT would make me want to kill myself.

Darkblack, your understanding and compassion made me cry. Kindness does that to me. Thank you for being out there in my world. You are a comforting presence.

Ghost Dansing said...

this is one irony in my mind..... the political party that pretends to be the great defender of individual liberty and rights, on the issue of abortion finds draconian State control over a womans womb an absolute "must".

it is not good enough to have a regulated medical procedure where the decision is between an individual and her doctor...... on this the State must have final and absolute dominion.... the failed  history of their backward public policy be damned.

Utah Savage said...

Darkblack, I'll be tweeting that all night. Thank you.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Utah... this is brave, intimate and inspiring blog post. I hand it to you, honey. I have taken a few friends over the years... held their hands and tended to them proceeding abortions... I bless my catholic Mom who always tried to educate my sister and I to the fact that we had a 'choice'. The Goddess weeps since Saturday. It seemed so golden and then it sank into burning fodder... didn't it? Brave post. And the conversation you've begun here is important... cheers, Utah.

anita said...

check out this article if you want to get mad at men ...

Jim said...

Goddammit, DO something! I am sitting here in my office, a fifty-something man, totally pissed at how women have let their right to legal, medically safe abortion, be whittled away a little at a time by a bunch of ignorant religious zealots.

I was THERE before Roe, and I fought to make abortion safe and legal. Now it has been pissed away by people who were too busy to be bothered, as the right-wing nutcases keep getting their hands on more and more power.

I was a Repuglican, but no more. I am pissed and ready to work. Let's do something before women in America start having to walk three steps behind their husbands, head lowered, with their six children behind.

DO SOMETHING. I'm calling my Senators and Rep TODAY.

Nan said...

Your story has me remembering all the girls I knew in high school and college who threw themselves down staircases, had friends punch them in the gut, drank various strange toxic concoctions, and eventually resorted to some back alley procedure. One or two died, another kept her pregnancy a secret until the baby was born and then strangled it and buried it in the back yard.

Stupak was my Congressman when we lived in Michigan. When he was first elected he made a real effort to keep his religion separate from anything he did politically -- he's on record back in the '90s as saying that although he personally did not believe in abortion he would never attempt to impose those beliefs on anyone else. Obviously, that hasn't been true for quite awhile.

Tommy Salami said...

Thank you for sharing your story. When I learned of the Stupak amendment I was ashamed for my country. If the Democrats, our supposed saviors, would allow this then our only hope is finding a third party. Women need to band together and demand the rights they are routinely denied. They need to boycott media outlets that demean women, such as those more interested in what Hilary Clinton was wearing than what she was saying.

Barack Obama's nomination and election was touted as a victory against racism, but the treatment of Hilary Clinton was not excoriated for the victory of sexism that it truly was. I don't agree with her politics, but she was belittled in the national spotlight, and as long as that is tolerated, women in this country will continue to be treated as second class citizens.

I do not shoulder collective male guilt, but I tell my women friends who treat strange men as possible victimizers that they are behaving rationally. The statistics say it all. When we accept that 30% or more of women will be assaulted or abused, we must accept that we have monstrous men among us. Every judge who says "she was asking for it" needs to be tarred and feathered in the public arena and forced to resign.

Mauigirl said...

Utah, thank you for sharing such a personal story - it really shows what women went through (and are still going through in the more restrictive states now) when becoming pregnant with an unwanted baby. The experiences of those pre-Roe v. Wade are important to remember; this generation of younger women can't actually imagine a world when choice was not an option. As a result I think many are complacent and don't realize how our right to choose is being chipped away at, bit by bit.

Here in New Jersey the governor-elect says he wants to impose a 24-hour waiting period and parental notification on women/girls who seek abortions. How ridiculous. As if waiting 24 hours will change their minds? It's just another obstacle being placed in front of desperate girls and women.

MRMacrum said...

This Stupak amendment bothers me immensely. An unacceptable gimme to some tight ass morality police just to try and ensure their vote on HealthCare. And 26 of them still backed out on their agreement. I hope it is eventually cut from the final bill.

I entered the world of pregnancies after RoevWade. I became a kind of guide or hand holder if you will for more than a few confused and unhappy coeds who did not, would not, go full term. I am still not sure how I fell into this role, but I did.

Let me be clear. I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-woman. You ladies should have ultimate control over your own bodies. That's it. That's my view.

susan said...

Thanks for a very good and painful reminder of what things were like 'before'. I'm totally disgusted and dismayed by this.. but not surprised.

Randal Graves said...

Nothing can defeat the penis!

Madam Z said...

Utah, chalk up one more thing we have in common. I got pregnant while living in SLC in 1971, also pre-Roe v. Wade. I already had two kids and I hated my husband. When I found I was pg, I knew I could not carry that baby to term. Trying to get an abortion in Utah was futile, so I went to California, where I had to jump through many humiliating hoops before I succeeded. I had to convince the authorities that I would kill myself if I could not get the abortion. The men in power who want to bring back those dreadful days should be horsewhipped.

lisa said...

A monster. How does one equate an unborn child to a convicted rapist, pedifile or mass murderer?? How does a male getting abused every 38 seconds become ok because men have been abusing women for millenia? How does the abortion of millions of lives for the sake of convienence become a right about control over our own body? How does a life created by two people become the right to end it by only one?? A man doesn't want to take responsibility for his actions, he cannot just walk away, make you abort it or anything. He says 'I don't want this monster,' and you chose to have it, take him to court and make him pay for it until it becomes an adult, against his will. How is that right?

How does one who walks into a doctors office and says 'if you don't kill one, then I will kill two' walk out a free person? Archiac Christian ideologies be damned, you want to throw that out there because you feel that the church has subjugated you for millenia and has held a double standard so you feel justified about doing what is considered a sin. Where does the western civilization get it moral ideologies from? Should we get rid of all of those archiac Christian ideologies just so you don't have to feel guilty about killing an unborn child? Which ones do you think are worth keeping?

Most people have let anger and hate cloud their vision and cannot see that with rights comes responsibility. We have never had the rights over our own reproductive system, since it takes two to reproduce, it doesn't happen spontaneously. It is a right insofar as I have the right to not have sex, I have the right to use birth control, I have the right to voluntary sterilization. I do not believe that anybody has the right to kill for the sake of convienence.

Karoli said...

wow, lisa. A monster? that's pretty high and mighty.

Do you consider those who consign the unfortunate born to those who cannot afford their care, feeding, or medical bills to be monsters? Or is it simply reserved for the women who are young, stupid, and exercise poor judgment?

Is it monstrous to send thousands of the born and raised off to die for the ideologues of our time? Or are they exempt?

How about raped women who had no consent at the time of conception? are they monsters? or kids impregnated by their benevolent fathers or uncles with a penchant for nubile young bodies? are they monsters too?

It strikes me as incredibly ironic to call someone a monster while simultaneously decrying the hate and hyperbole attached to this debate. You can't have it both ways.

For the record, I'm against abortion. Most women don't exactly embrace it with open arms as the solution to world hunger or poverty. Yet, there is something within me that rebels at the idea of a bunch of Catholic bishops and congressmen using my uterus (and my daughter's) as a political football in order to deny me access to health care, which is exactly what Stupak did.

His effort was less about abortion and more about toeing the conservative line to kill any effort to open access to health care to those of us summarily denied.

That's monstrous. Truly monstrous.

The hypocrisy of the murderer argument is simple: while the rights of the unborn are fought for, the rights of those born are trampled. If an unborn is unfortunate enough to be born with a need for medical care, it doesn't really seem to matter to those who 'fight for the rights of the unborn'.

It's for the children until they're children. Then it's 'screw you, you're on your own but at least your mother's not a murderer.'

Monstrous indeed.

Liberality said...

lisa I notice doesn't even have a blog. Don't let what she has written here hurt you Utah.

I don't believe a fertilized egg is a full human being or getting rid of it is murder. You did the best you could and there is NOTHING wrong with doing that.

zencomix said...

"but I'm just one old woman talking in the dark."

Not anymore. The burden of pain is always decreased when you can share the experience with friends.Thank you for having the courage to share your story. May your pain be eased by the sharing...

Compassionate conservatives, step up! Show your compassion.

Freida Bee, MD said...

The topic of abortion is such a difficult one to me, because I am quite convinced I would have been aborted had it been legal. I don't really believe a body is all that I am, so I do wish my mom had had that choice. I am a firm believer in the "If you're against abortion, then don't have one" philosophy (same with gay marriage). That being said, I have four children with four different birth fathers and in one case, the husband I was leaving wanted me to have an abortion and I refused, and in another case, the sperm donor has not so much as seen his son, and my children are the best thing that ever happened to me. They helped me to become a far better human than I was previously-- though, perhaps, that would have happened anyway.

I felt strongly that the consequence for having an abortion (not religiously), but guilt-wise, and always wondering-wise would be worse for me. These two of my children I refer to are The Future President and The Genius, gifts indeed.

Though I've never had one, I am strongly convince having an abortion is not "convenient."