On January 22nd, 1973, my grandmother and namesake turned 42 years old. By that time she had 5 daughters ranging in age from 18-26 years and had already been a grandmother for four years. Her five daughters were the light of her life and, in turn, their children brought her great joy. Gramma was a bright and loving New England woman with a razor sharp wit and a ready laugh. Her gift for puns, innuendo and double entendre was greatly admired. She was ageless. On one of her daughter's 35th birthdays she was asked. "When will I start feeling like an adult, Mom?" To which Gramma, herself only 55 years young, replied. "How the HELL should I know??!!"
Before you think that this is some nostalgic romp down memory lane, you should know that this same woman attempted to abort during her third pregnancy...the baby that would become my mother. She told me once that after the birth of her 2nd child she went before a board of doctors to plead her case for a tubal ligation, as was the norm in Massachusetts in 1950. It goes without saying that this board consisted of all men. Not surprisingly, they denied her plea and told her "Sweetie, you're still young and healthy. You could go on to have many more children." Her own physician sided with her because he could see her frustration, anxiety and exhaustion that came with being 20 years old, married to a disabled vet and poor. (I should mention that this same physician despised my grandfather..."Tell him to leave you alone!!!") When she became pregnant for the 3rd time in four years, she took matters into her own hands by the only means available to her. She jumped from the roof of her home. The zany, full-of-life woman I knew during my childhood does not mesh with the young woman who was distraught enough to risk two lives that day. I hope I'll never know that kind of desperation.
Granted there were far more births in our family than abortions but I don't remember her lecturing any of us about our reproductive choices. This may have been due, in part, to her intimate understanding of the topic and also how intensely personal the choice really is. She welcomed every baby as if it was the most precious creature ever created and cried with those of us who made a different choice for our lives.
On this 41st anniversary of Roe v Wade and my late grandmother's 83rd birthday, I am reminded about how far we've come....and how backwards we still are. I look at my beautiful, fiercely independent daughters and fervently wish for them to never have to make the choice their great-grandmother made over 60 years ago. I want them to be in charge of their bodies, to respect themselves and to only have children when and if they choose.
(Before someone goes on a rant about how-grateful-you-should-be-that-she-was-unsuccessful-because-if-she-wasn't-then-you-wouldn't-be-here....yes, I'm grateful...I have a good life, great family, gorgeous children blah blah blah. But really if you think about it....HOW. WOULD. I KNOW.???)