Originally published May 16, 2019
Talk about awkward.
When I finished reading “What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About,” a compilation of essays, I wasn’t sure how to approach my typical review – after all, the theme – things unspoken between a mother and child – practically begs the question, “Well? And you?” It would have been a review for an audience of one. How can I talk about what I don’t talk about?
And how would my story compare to the secrets laid bare in these beautifully written stories? From Cathi Hanauer’s poignant and hilarious essay trying to connect with a mother that includes a father that inserts himself into every conversation, to Brandon Taylor’s recognition about growing up, noting “I was so interested in my own feelings about her that I couldn’t leave room for her feelings or for what she wanted out of life. I couldn’t leave a space for her to be a person.” All so good, all so personal, all so brave.
Then the connection to the text came to me through a brief conversation I had with my own daughter last night.
She’s off to college this fall at a school located in one of the states that has in recent days passed draconian laws outlawing abortion. My daughter is now left with two options when it comes to managing her reproductive health – either begin birth control before leaving for school or keep her legs crossed.
I want to throw up.
Read that again: Either employ a medical solution, of which there are many options but still require manipulating your hormonal balance and can include minor to significant side effects or …. Keep your legs crossed.
And only one of these choices can effectively protect you in an unwanted encounter, such as sexual assault.
(So, yes, there is a third choice. Choose a different school that ultimately is not as good as the one you are enrolled at for the major of your choice, but given the speed with which some states are passing these laws, you could find yourself in a similar situation.)
So, yeah. I need to talk about birth control with my daughter. I need to have a conversation that as a teenager, I never broached with my own mother. Hence, what my mother and I didn’t talk about.
Why didn’t we talk about these things? I know that because she became pregnant with me in college, she was adamant that I not find myself in the same situation. I was also born pre-Roe. I’ve never asked her what she would have done if abortion had been legal, safer and more accessible. Because who wants to hear, “Well yes of course I would have had one.” To know you wouldn’t have existed? Nope. And even if she answered that question, “No, of course I wanted you” – no mother is ever going to say otherwise, so is it the honest answer? Who knows. I never felt like it was a fair position to put her in, asking her if she had had the choice, would she have still had me.
So when I took control of that aspect of my life, getting birth control from the campus health center when I went to college, I hid it at first. I suspected my mother’s response would be one of disappointment. I already knew how she felt, like most mothers, about being sexually active. I think it could have been the summer between my freshman and sophomore year that she came across the pill packet. I don’t really remember her reaction but I also know it wasn’t “Wow, you are so empowered I am glad you are being smart about this but still use condoms to protect yourself against STDs.” If anything, it was a non-reaction reaction. I’m sure the abject fear of history repeating itself bubbled up from somewhere within her, leaving her unsure of exactly what to say.
Maybe there’s discomfort in acknowledging the responsible choice for fear of encouraging sexual activity. I know when I dropped off my sons at college, I found myself in a quandary, saying something to the effect of “When I come visit, I’ll be disappointed if I see these still in your sock drawer but will also be disappointed if I don’t see them in there, so please just be responsible and respectful and blah blah blah” all while changing 15 different colors of red. And of course, never actually looking in the sock drawer ever again.
Yes, it’s a little or a lot uncomfortable, talking about birth control with teenage kids. Sex is intimate and vulnerable. But we should be talking about it. We should have always been talking about it. The political climate of today only amplifies the need to engage in dialogue. It is practically beyond comprehension that in this day and age parents need to consider “Should I make sure my daughter is on the pill or should we look at IUDs?” to ensure some kind of control over reproductive freedoms, yet here we are. The government refuses to protect our children from AR-15s but is all about protecting life in the womb. It is so nonsensical that it’s hard to wrap my brain around this reality. Yet … here we are.
(And omfg, but consider this – as disgusted as I already am at the notion of being left with this pretty much singular option for my daughter, consider the ramifications as these laws move forward – will parents find themselves considering birth control to protect against unwanted pregnancy much earlier in a young woman’s life? When they enter high school? Get their period for the first time? I just can’t even.)
My kids know they can come to me with all the delicate questions and I’ll answer while reserving judgement until I can see the complete picture. My sons and my daughter know how I feel about abortion, and that I myself ended a pregnancy for health reasons. As I see states chip away at the right I had back in 1994 that allowed me to make a painful and personal yet responsible and yes, merciful, decision, I find myself nearly paralyzed with rage that my children may not have that option available to them.
No one should have to shop around heartbreaking personal stories, begging for understanding and absolution. Because it doesn’t matter if the pregnant person is a 27-year-old woman emotionally destroyed over a prenatal diagnosis of significant birth defects. Or if the pregnant person is a confused and abused 12-year-old that has been assaulted by a relative. Or if the pregnant person is a college student that had a regretful one-night stand. The reason a person is pregnant and chooses to (or not to) have an abortion is completely irrelevant because a woman is and should be the sole decider in what happens to her body. I respect a person to hold pro-life views. If you are not in favor of abortion, then don’t have one. But you do not own my, nor anyone else’s uterus. Back off.