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Luck Won’t Protect A Woman’s Choice

(Jonas Weckschmied/Unsplash)
(Jonas Weckschmied/Unsplash)

When I fell in love for the first time, I lived in a tiny Massachusetts town with a lake that drew summer people from exotic places like Connecticut and New Jersey. I was a horse nerd, rarely out of flannel shirts, jeans and boots all year long, except in the summer. Then, the boat club on the lake teemed with teens who I knew had to be cool because they were from so far away.

One of the coolest was a guy I'll call Adam, because he was, in so many ways, my first everything. I'd had high school crushes, but Adam was my first exotic boyfriend. My first older man. He was already in college when I was finishing my senior year at a rural high school where only 11% of the kids went to college. Not because they were dumb, but because so many of their parents were unemployed factory workers in a dying mill town. I was one of the few kids determined to get to the state university.

Adam and I fell in love after my senior year of high school. That summer was like one of those movies filled with teen dramas and romance and sex by the lake.

This was 1972, the year before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas statue banning abortion, making the procedure a private matter between women and doctors. I was oblivious to that fact. I was oblivious to most things, other than thinking about Adam.

My conservative Navy father was the sort who (literally) chased boys from our property with an antique shotgun, so Adam and I were forced to “canoodle,” as my grandfather called it, in boats and cars and even, once, in a hammock, with the predictable outcome. (My grandfather also said “keep an aspirin between your knees.”)

When I got pregnant, who did I go to? ... I went to my mother's friends, the women warriors.

Adam's older sister teased us, saying “noise carries over water, you know,” and my mother once overheard the town cops on her shortwave radio talking about two kids he'd found parked in a cornfield, “the girl with her clothes half off.”

Yeah. Me.

Naturally, because I couldn't tell my mother about my real life, and because I had no car or anyplace to go for birth control, the next outcome was also predictable: I was pregnant by mid-summer, four weeks before my university orientation.

“I'll marry you,” Adam declared. “We're in love. We'll make it work.”

He was 19, a college sophomore. I was 17 and zero part of me wanted to be a mother. I'd been babysitting for twin toddlers and an infant that summer — a job designed to cure any teen of parenting dreams. Besides, I wanted to be a lawyer or an explorer or a doctor or a writer. Anything but a wife and mom. In fact, I wasn't even certain I wanted to be with Adam anymore; we had started fighting, and once he had hit me.

My mother, despite her conservative views, had a wide circle of friends, including a lesbian couple who had renamed themselves after women warriors in history. I loved talking to them because they treated me like an adult, with actual ideas about books and music. Because of them, I started reading the newspaper.

One of these women was a professor at a college in Boston. The other was a leather artist who, when I asked her to carve Adam's initials into a belt she made for me, wouldn't do it.

“The belt will outlast him,” she explained.

When I got pregnant, who did I go to? Not to my father, who would have wanted to shoot Adam. Not to my friends, because I was ashamed to be so stupid. Not to my mother, who disapproved of all things sexual. Not to my guidance counselor, a man in his 50s who loved to talk to girls about their bra sizes.

No. I went to my mother's friends, the women warriors. “I should probably just get married,” I sobbed. “That's what Adam wants to do.”

The professor and the leather artist exchanged a glance, then looked at me. “But what about you?” they asked. “What do you want to do?”

“Not have a baby.” The answer was instinctive, gut-level.

They didn't say, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” Instead, these women told me they knew someone in New York City who could perform an abortion. They would take me. We would tell my parents they were taking me to a museum.

How far along was I? I didn't really know. My periods were never regular. Six weeks? Eight?

“Early enough,” they said.

The afternoon before our trip to New York City, I went water skiing and fell hard enough to knock the wind out of me. The next day, I started bleeding.

Luck really has nothing to do with whether our granddaughters will have the same independence we've had.

I was lucky in so many ways. Lucky that I had gotten pregnant as a result of teen love, not rape or incest.

Lucky that I didn't have to go to New York City and have a terrifying procedure.

Lucky that I was middle class and smart, and had been babysitting all summer so I had enough money for an abortion.

Lucky that I happened to know the right women who would help me.

Lucky that Massachusetts was close enough to New York for me to have gotten there if I needed the procedure.

Lucky to believe that I had a future bigger than getting married and having a baby at 17.

Lucky that there were brave women warriors who came before me, who fought for women to have the right to vote, to say no, to say yes, to go to college, to play sports, to forge careers and to choose when to become mothers.

Lucky that I made it not only to college, but to graduate school and marriage and motherhood in my early 30s.

Lucky to now be the mother of five, two of them daughters with careers and serious relationships of their own. Daughters who had the choices I didn't.

But we can't count on luck. Luck really has nothing to do with whether our granddaughters will have the same independence we've had. The fight is on once again.

Or maybe it was never really over.

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Holly Robinson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Holly Robinson is a novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer whose newest novel is "Folly Cove." She is also the author of "The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir."

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