This is the second in a series of posts, starting with this one.
I was unmarried and pregnant with a one-year-old baby, on welfare, living in public housing. I was 19.
I had just started to feel better about myself and the future. The first pregnancy had been due to carelessness. This time it was due to birth control failure. It was painful knowing people thought I was stupid.
I had just gotten rid of my pet rat, Smiley, because I couldn’t afford to feed him. If I couldn’t afford to feed a rat, how could I afford to feed another kid?
I had gone to a doctor because I was exhausted. His name was Charlie Brown, believe it or not.
I figured he would say I was anemic.
He laughed a yucky laugh when he saw the look on my face.
“That’s what happens to girls like you.”
“What?” I was confused.
“Girls who sleep around shouldn’t be surprised when this happens.”
“But it’s the same father.”
He glanced at Vince as though he was a cockroach.
“So the father is white?” He lowered his voice. “I know some people who would pay handsomely to adopt this baby.”
If a doctor named Charlie Brown said this to me today, I would punch him in the face, then sue him. Instead, I thanked him mechanically and never returned.
In spring semester I would take Statistics, English Literature, and part two of Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Abnormal Psychology. My favorite class was Pathology. The Hennepin County medical examiner taught it; his name was Vincent which I took as a good sign. It was basically one long gruesome slide show—or should I say, sideshow. There was the guy who had been decapitated when his snowmobile ran into a barbed wire fence, a baby born without a brain, and a glistening, five-foot-long tapeworm with eye-like markings. I loved it. I didn’t want to drop out.
I went to see a social worker at Catholic Charities. Her name was Judy.
“You could give the gift of life to a childless couple!” she exclaimed. I had an image of her as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, drooling and flapping her little claws over this baby. This white baby.
I didn’t care about helping some rich couple who probably lived in the burbs and had a foosball table in their basement.
“I don’t want Vincent to be an only child,” I said. My siblings and I didn’t always get along, but I imagined being an only child as very lonely.
“You can always have more children,” said Judy, “when you’re married. You’re certainly fertile!”
My psych instructor gave a lecture on “high risk youth,” the new buzz phrase. There were certain early experiences, like being beaten, locked in a basement, or put up for adoption, that caused youth to become drug addicts, criminals, and psychotic.
“Statistics show our prisons are full of men who were abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents—usually single mothers on welfare.”
My best friend from high school was adopted. I thought about the times I had seen her mother belittling her. “You’re so fat! Are you going to wear that?” What if I gave this baby up for adoption, which I now understood was an act of abandonment, and his new parents abused him?
I told some of my classmates and they urged me to have an abortion. “At this stage it’s just a clump of cells,” they reasoned. This was true, but I couldn’t have an abortion so soon after giving birth. I couldn’t explain it. I just couldn’t do it.
“Don’t be a tool of the pro-lifers!” the one male student in my class said. That was a valid concern too, but I had to set it aside. Choice meant choice, right?
My mother didn’t tell me what to do. “If you go through with adoption,” she said, I don’t want you anywhere near the family. It’s got to be our secret”