Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Choices

When I saw the Blog for Choice button on Bear Maiden's blog a couple of weeks ago, I knew I would write this post. Then, as I tend to do these days, I promptly forgot about it.

This morning I went to check Bear Maiden's blog and saw that today is the day to blog for choice and for a moment I thought - "No way I have time to do this today." But, as I read her post, I started thinking about why else I didn't want to write about this subject. And the reality is that I can't write about reproductive choice without telling my own story. And my story is not a pretty one, and it deals with a time in my life when I was a very different person - a time I'm not particularly proud of - a time when all the choices I made in my life were, well, let's say skewed more towards the emotional than the logical.

But I believe that without those times I would not be the person I am now. Without the choices I made then, I would not be the mother I am now. So, I have to acknowledge and even respect those choices. And I have to be brave enough to share the story of those choices with others.

For as long as I can remember I was aware of the choice my mother made when she discovered, at 16, that she was pregnant with me. She chose to marry my father, drop out of school, put whatever dreams she had on hold, and become a mother and a housewife. She hated this choice. It made her miserable, it ruined her life. She resented my father with every fiber of her being and she resented me and loved me fiercely at the same time, which made her behavior towards me very erratic.

After 18 months of wife and motherhood she couldn't stand being a wife anymore and went back to live with her parents with me in tow. For the next 6 months I lived in her parents' home with her, but I don't think I saw her much. I remember very little of this time. But what I do remember was that her parents' house was dark and frightening to me and I felt alone there. When I was with my father and my paternal grandparents it was a time of light, returning to my mother's family meant going back to the dark. Finally, my father decided he couldn't stand my tears when he took me there, and he decided to keep me with him. For the next 3 years I stayed in the light and my mother was free to live her life again.

When I was 5 years old, my mother decided she wanted to try motherhood again and I was sent to live with her in a brand new apartment in a nice neighborhood with good schools. The rest of my childhood was spent caught up in my mother's turmoil between wanting to live a free and easy party life and wanting to prove herself a good mother. I won't go into all the drama, battles, neglect and abuse that ensued over those years. What I will say is that I had it drilled into my brain by my mother over and over and over again - "Don't have a baby young. It will RUIN your life."

What did not accompany that thought was any kind of message about not having sex. Sex was OK. Sex was fun. And being sexy was the same as being beautiful - and my mother believed and taught me that being beautiful was everything. Of course, I was also taught that I could never be as beautiful as her - but I could try to be as sexy.

So I learned early on that my very existence ruined my mother's life, that I could never be as beautiful as her, but that being sexy was just as good, and that sex was fun. And of course - don't let my life be ruined by having a baby.

Is there any wonder at all that at 19 I found myself pregnant and not too certain of who the father was?

Now I occasionally find myself sucked in watching the Maury Povitch show and seeing these girls bringing boy after boy in for paternity tests, swearing that THIS one is the father of her baby. And I think, at times, I am as shocked, appalled and judgmental as the rest of his viewers. How can these young girls have gone through all these men? How can they not know? And when I think that way, I have to remind myself that I once lived in a big old glass house. That I understand the insecurity, the desperation for love and acceptance, the bravado, the false flippancy, that lives within young girls with multiple partners.

I told myself the things that I'm sure these girls say to themselves. It's just for fun. Guys do it all the time. Why is there a double standard? Oh, how I hated the double standard - men who have multiple partners are studs and women who do it are sluts. To hell with everyone, I'm going to have my fun!

But then you wake up one morning and you know you're pregnant with no idea which of the three guys you slept with that month could be the father. And it doesn't really matter which one it is because you know you don't care about any of them and they don't care about you. And it's just you, alone, with a choice that scares the hell out of you.

And it's not an easy choice. Hell no! I don't know why anyone would think it is. Because there is no right answer at that point. And you only know that your life will never, ever, ever be the same. And it never is.

I chose to end that pregnancy and it's a choice that changed me. One I suffer with, get tangled up in the emotions of, almost every day of my life. It's a choice that comes back to haunt me at the oddest times. When I look in either of my daughter's eyes and wonder if that sibling would have looked like them. During the two years before Spice's birth, when I had miscarriage after miscarriage and feared it was my punishment for the choice I'd made. When I hear certain songs, smell certain foods, talk to old friends - any of these things can bring back that time and that choice and the sadness that always goes along with it.

And yet, it was a choice that everything in my life up to that point led me to. I had heard too many times that having a child would ruin my life. But, more than that, I had grown up raised by someone who hadn't made that choice and it had left me an emotional wreck. I was erratic and miserable and insecure. I was borderline anorexic and suicidal. I was slowly killing myself with sex and alcohol and nicotine. I lived on cigarettes, coffee and rum and often only allowed myself food every few days. I knew what kind of mother I would be.

I would be my mother all over again.

I couldn't do that. I couldn't bring a life into this world to treat it the way my mother treated me. And I had no reason at all to believe that I would be any different from her. In fact, I was already worse because at least she'd gotten pregnant by a man who could provide the stability and structure for a child that she couldn't. I hadn't even done that.

Over the years, as I've become more mature, more strong, more self-aware and self-loving, I've wondered if I'd had that child, would I really have been the horrendous mother I thought I would be back then.

I see the kind of mother I am now - nothing like my own mother - and I wonder if maybe I'd judged myself wrongly back then. And of course I'll never know for certain and those who are anti-choice would say that having that baby would have forced me to be the parent I am now sooner.

But I don't think that's the case. I was not capable then of being who I am now. It took years of being away from my mother, years of therapy and growing, and life to be the mother I am. I had too much self-hatred, too much confusion, too much turmoil inside me to care for another life properly. Sometimes, when I imagine the scenario of raising that child I feel fear for what I might have done out of my own pain or carelessness. I hear stories in the news and my stomach knots because I think that could have been me.

But that couldn't be me now. I am grateful that the right to choose was there for me. That rather than becoming a tragic, horrible teen mother, I had the opportunity to do the work I needed to grow into a fairly balanced, somewhat confident woman who was ready for motherhood when the next opportunity for it came.

I wouldn't expect anyone else to make the choice I did. I would never venture to say that all 19 year olds are incapable of raising a child as I know I was. Certainly there are 19 year olds who can and do change their lives, or are already, equipped with all they need to become good mothers.

But there are those, like me, who are not equipped to be even adequate, much less good mothers at a young age. And it seems ridiculous that there are those who would presume to force these women to bear children before they are capable of being good or even half-way decent mothers. I wonder how many more Nixzmary Browns , Korbin Elberts and others there would be if the right to choose were eradicated.

How many young women who need time and help to become the kind of person who can be a good parent would lose that opportunity while forced to take on parenthood when they are ill-equipped for it? And who would be there to support and guide these young women and to protect the children they are incapable of caring for properly? The current systems in place to protect children and to prepare and support young mothers are pretty limited - to put it nicely. Do the people who want to eliminate the right to choose have plans for improving these systems or creating new ones?

Or are they content to let cycles of abuse, neglect and despair perpetuate from generation to generation as broken, immature, children give birth to the next round of those to be neglected and abused.

I chose to break that cycle in my family. Not in the best possible way, to be certain. In an ideal world I would have learned to value myself at an earlier age. I would have had the strength of mind and character, the emotional fortitude to not use sex as a substitute for real relationships, to not have gotten pregnant in the first place. But when faced with repeating my mother's mistakes, I chose not to. I chose to wait. I chose to grow. I chose to learn. I chose to become a mother at a time when I could be the mother I always wished for.


Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

u sound like a real woman to me. bravo

The Bear Maiden said...

That's deep, my friend. It took guts to write that and I'm proud of you for doing so.

Fat Lady said...

Thanks Torrance and Bear Maiden. It was easy to write, which means it was something I needed to get out. But it sure was hard as hell to post. Hitting that "Publish Post" button took all the courage I had.

Harlem Mama said...

What an amazing post. Amazing. You are amazing. Not only did this take guts to write, but it takes a strong woman who knows herself and where she's been to keep the dialogue flowing, especially for young women. Sharing your story is honesty that most people can't bear to acknowledge, but need to understand. Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean somebody hands you a perfect life and the manual of manuals of how to raise a perfect child (that won't be too damaged from issues beyond their control) and the supportive family and friends to help you do so. Sisterfriend, I don't know you, but I now know that I most humbly respect you and I am very proud of you. And we need to set our kids up on a play date. You are a very cool lday.

Ginger said...

I'm glad you shared this Julie not just for the rest of us but for you. I know many women who dealt with the guilt of abortion after miscarriages and struggled with that feeling that the miscarriages were some kind of justice. Bravo to you for your courage on so many fronts.