Category Archives: Abortion

Endless Iowa

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

There was no time to visit any of the Mark Twain historic sites, so Lynn and I rolled out of Hannibal and headed north.  Even though Minnesota borders Iowa to the north, and Vince lived in southern Minnesota for years, I had never crossed the state line into Iowa.  All I had ever heard about it was that it was flat and full of corn fields and pigs.  That you could actually smell pigs on a breezy day.  That did not appeal to my sense of adventure.

But there was no other way to get from Missouri to Minnesota, so I lost my Iowa virginity.  How bad could it be?  I prefer landscapes of woods and water, but fields must have their own beauty.

Here is what I imagined:
iowa-farmland

Here is what we saw for five hours:

spent-corn-field

It was early spring and everything was still brown. And flat, flat, flat.

Desra had given me some very good advice.  “Iowa has half the population of Missouri, so there aren’t as many towns. If you think you’re going to need gas, don’t wait until your tank is almost empty.”  She was right.  In the hundred miles between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, the two largest cities we passed, there was only one exit of note, to a place aptly called Center Point Travel Plaza.  The other exits led off into corn fields.

I’m sure Iowa is beautiful in the spring, when the bright green corn shoots up from the black earth.  I’m sure there are many fine people in Iowa, and it’s a great place to raise kids. That’s what people say when a place is boring, “It’s a great place to raise kids.”

It’s not like I live in some mega city like New York or Shanghai or London.  Most people outside of the U.S. have never heard of Minnesota.  Most people on the coasts sneer at the Midwest, which includes Minnesota and Iowa. We are derisively referred to as “fly over country.”  But I’m never bored in Minnesota.  I think I would kill myself if I had to live in Center Point, Iowa.

Why do people think places like Iowa are good places to raise children?  Because they’re safe, probably.  But children are also able to create their own adventures wherever they are.  In fact, the less there is to do, the more inventive they become. Winters are long on the prairie.  They force people to create entertainments and art out whatever is at hand, like fabric scraps and seeds:

State fair bama Bachmann Vices of the first lady

I’m afraid kids raised with screens won’t have the patience to create great works of art like these.

And so we crossed Iowa, and I began to feel like I was in a trance because there was nothing to look at and no variation of the landscape. There weren’t even any billboards, probably because there wasn’t enough traffic to entice advertisers. I could see how people dozed off and ended up in a corn field.

We stopped to get gas and bought snacks to tide us over instead of having a meal.  I got my standard road trip meal—teriyaki beef jerky and a Diet Pepsi.  I whined about how boring Iowa was the whole way, to help me stay awake.  Lynn must have found that pretty boring.

We killed an hour talking about some sort of test she uses to assess what roles people play in work meetings.  Obviously no one fits neatly into one role every time.  There are the obvious ones like the Leader, the Compromiser, the Ideas Person; and the unhelpful roles like the Avoider and the Clown. I consider myself a leader with ideas, and I think others are stupid if they don’t immediately see the brilliance of my ideas.  Hmmm…that may actually make me a Show Off or an Autocrat.

Finally we crossed the border into Minnesota.  I had imagined it would be dramatically different—Minnesota would be gently rolling wooded hills dotted with sky blue lakes.

But no, for at least an hour it was the same as Iowa, with the addition of anti-abortion billboards.

antiabortion 2 antiabortion 4 antiabortion 1 antiabortion 3

Muggers

This is the fourth post in a series which starts here.

In March I was mugged.

My teenage sister babysat Vince while I went to get groceries. She adored Vince and couldn’t be kept away, so she was in on the Big Secret but we never discussed it.

It was the first of the month; everyone had cashed their AFDC checks and was flush. I was walking home, a bag in each arm, when a guy asked me the time. I said I didn’t have a watch. Seconds later he tackled me from behind. I did a belly flop onto the sidewalk. The groceries flew. I saw the eggs popping open. The milk bounced but didn’t break, then spun around on the ice and harpooned a snowbank 20 feet away. The guy ran off with my purse.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. My wrists and palms and one cheek were bleeding. I scrambled onto my hands and knees and looked behind me. He was running down the hill, laughing. The joke was on him, since I had just spent all my money.

I leaped to my feet and screamed impotently, “Fucker!”

I gathered up what was salvageable of my groceries. Then it hit me that I hadn’t given a thought to the baby and how hitting the sidewalk might have hurt it; I had thought only of the groceries. I reasoned that any shock would have been cushioned by amniotic fluid, but I felt no connection to this baby like I had with Vince.

Could the baby feel the lack of love? Would it cause him to neglect his own children, or be an alcoholic, or become criminally insane? I jerked my mind away from these thoughts and any rising doubts or feelings that welled up.

Feeling wouldn’t be a good idea. It might make me change my mind. This was like a prison sentence, I thought. I have to wait out my term, separated from my friends and family. Once I was released, I would keep it a secret from everyone, forever, including Vince. That was the point. That was to avoid the shame.

My grandmother had dropped in on me on New Year’s Day. My mother had told her I was missing from the family Christmas gathering because I had taken it into my head to start my own family traditions.

I was five and a half months pregnant and wearing a baggy sweatshirt. I wanted to fling myself on her, tell her the truth, beg her forgiveness, and tell her it was all going to be fine after April. But instead I acted cold. I could tell she was bewildered and hurt but she didn’t ask any questions and she didn’t stay long.

Time flew. I was like a serious machine whose job it was to keep moving, always moving. Read papers, churn out papers. Interact with fellow students as if I was one of them. Transport Vince from home to daycare to home again. Feed him, clothe him, clean him. Clean the apartment so everything looked normal.

I was on a fiscal austerity plan, thanks to Ronald Reagan. I now washed all my laundry by hand in the bathtub, including the cloth diapers, and hung everything around the apartment to dry.

I had received a $2,500 tuition bill.

“Don’t you watch the news?” the financial aid lady asked. “About the big welfare reforms? Your programs got axed.”

One of the programs in question was social security survivor benefits for widows and orphans. Since my dad had died when I was eight, I received a few hundred dollars a month. This was supposed to last until I was 22. I broke the no-contact rule and called my brother, who was also in college. “Yeah, that bastard Reagan pushed a reform package through Congress that lowered the maximum age to 20. I’ll get cut off next year.”

“That fucker,” was all I could say.

The job training benefit that was covering my tuition had also been cut. I was forced to take out a student loan to pay my tuition, another reason I had to graduate and get a job—so I could make the loan payments.

The Slog

This is the third of three posts, the first and second are here. If you started reading this blog for the prison theme you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with Vince going to prison? I don’t know if it does—you tell me.

And so I informed people of my decision, which I had known from the moment I’d found out I was pregnant again: I would give the baby up for adoption.

I told Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker, and her eyes lighted up. “I do have a few reservations,” I told her about what I had learned about adopted people in my Abnormal Psychology class. Judy laughed lightly and handed me a clipboard with forms. While I was signing them she said, “We have to trust that God knows what’s best for us. Even if it’s painful—especially if it’s painful, we just have to put ourselves in God’s loving hands.” I thought this was muddled but made a mental note to try to pray in my spare time.

I told my college advisor. “My due date is right before finals but I promise there won’t be any interruptions in my attendance.” She looked a little stunned and said, “We’ll understand if you need to take some time off.”

“No, no—that won’t be necessary,” I cut her off. I didn’t want them to cut me any slack. I would graduate on time. The whole point of this plan was to do what was best for all three of us, so I needed to graduate and get a job.

The other point of the plan was to keep it all hush-hush. I would stay away from the family, my friends, and the whole neighborhood where they all lived. If my grandma called and asked if she could visit me, I would make an excuse to keep her away. It would only be for six months, right? It wasn’t as extreme as the case of Margie, a girl I knew in high school, who went through her whole pregnancy and adoption while living in her family’s house. None of them ever talked about it. Now that was weird.

So there Vince and I sat, alone, on his first birthday. I had called The Creep and invited him but he had “some really important business” to take care of. In other words, a drug deal. I only saw him once again in the ensuing 36 years.

V 1st Bday

I did what you’re supposed to do for a baby’s first birthday. I made a cake with one candle and let him eat it with his fingers and smear it all over the place. And I cried…and cried.

Then I stiffened myself and plunged my feelings way down into the deep freeze and didn’t feel anything again for a year. That’s the thing about avoiding negative feelings—it makes you unable to experience positive ones, either.

Life went on as before. I trudged through the snow to the daycare, studied furiously, and cleaned the house as though I was in boot camp. As happened during my first pregnancy, perverts tried to pick me up at the bus stop, in stores, in the elevator of my building.

The student who had pressured me to have an abortion was disappointed when I told him I was going the adoption route. “That’s…I’m sorry, but that’s just selfish,” he said. “That poor kid,” he said, staring at my belly.

Sometimes students I didn’t know would try to strike up a conversation.

“When’s your baby due?” they would ask brightly.

“April,” I would respond flatly, giving them fair warning that proceeding with the conversation would be a mistake.

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

“I don’t really care, since I’m giving it up for adoption.”

This would result in sputtering and something like, “You’re so brave—good luck!” as they backed their way out of the room as fast as possible. I hated that line—“You’re so brave.”

Now that I had set my course I didn’t second guess it, but if you had asked me I might have said I was just being practical.

The Choice

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”

Sad Mom

The Dilemma

Vince has mentioned in his blog that he would like to write about his brother, so I should probably get out ahead of that.

It was 1979.  Nine-month-old Vince and I lived on the 18th floor of Skyline Towers, a subsidized high rise overlooking Interstate 94:

Skyline

I don’t know why this photo has EMPORIS stamped all over it.  Anyway, I had just started my second year of college.  In the spring I would earn my two-year Occupational Therapy degree.  I would be able to get a job and get off welfare, maybe even move out of public housing into a quaint little brick four-plex with wood floors and a stained glass window.  That was my dream.

Here was my routine:

5:30 am: Get up, shower, feed baby Vince

6:00 am: Strap Vince into the collapsible stroller, put on the old beaver fur coat I had found at the Salvation Army and the moon boots I bought new after saving all summer.  Sling my backpack full of text books over my shoulders, and head down the hall to the elevators.

Moon Boots

6:15 am: Exit the front door into the winter morning darkness.  Cross the parking lot, then the pedestrian bridge over I94 where the wind was always biting.  Push the stroller across the athletic field on the other side of the freeway (extra hard if there was fresh snow on the ground), then walk two blocks to drop Vince off at daycare.

6:30 am: Pry Vince off me, ignoring his crying and screaming.  Ignore the guilt.  I had to do this to get ahead, to better our lives.  Walk two blocks to the bus stop.

6:45 am: Catch the 21A to Minneapolis.  This is a slow bus that stops at every corner.

7:30 am: Catch a second bus that drops me off a block from school.

8:00 am: First class.  Study and go to class all day.  Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology, Abnormal Psychology, Medical Terminology, and Fundamentals of Occupational Therapy.

4:00 pm: Repeat above, only backwards.  Sometimes necessary to stop at the grocery, which slowed things down considerably because I had to haul the stroller and one of those little-old-lady shopping carts.

Cart

6:00 pm: Arrive home, make dinner, feed Vince, clean, pay bills, make phone calls, etc.

7:30 pm: Put baby to bed.  Thank god he is such a good baby and loves to sleep.  But I still like our routine of reading books, singing songs, and rocking.

8:00 pm: Study for a couple hours, in bed by 10.

Then I found out I was pregnant again.  I had been using birth control and breast feeding.  Taken together, these were supposed to protect me against getting pregnant.  Lucky me, I was one of the one out of a hundred or whatever who did.

I’ve written about the guy Vince and I call The Creep.  Why had I let The Creep anywhere near me after Vince was born?  Because I felt obligated.  He was Vince’s father, after all, and my boyfriend.  Even though he was terrible at both, I was a doormat.  I can hardly believe this was me—it feels like it happened to another person.

I loved being a mother.  But how could I keep up my schooling with two babies?

I loved babies.  But how could I be a good mother to two of them?

I loved college—I was the star pupil in my class.  But how could I keep it up with two kids?

I told The Creep.  He looked like a badger caught in a snare.

“I spose we have ta get married then, huh?” was his response.

I don’t know what I had wanted from him, but it wasn’t that.

I told my mom.  She was furious.

“This will kill your grandma,” she said, and she wasn’t exaggerating.  My grandmother had run into the bathroom and thrown up when I’d told her I was pregnant the first time.

I told the head of my school program.  She looked so disappointed.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, not expecting that I’d have any answer.