The Way It Was (Before Abortion Was Legal)
More: The Way It Was
By Eleanor Cooney
The Beatles ruled. The mini was in. I was seventeen, and pregnant. What happened next is what could happen again.
In 1959, when I was a precocious smarty-pants still in grade school, I wrote a fake letter to Doris Blake, the New York Daily News advice columnist. I pretended to be a teenage girl “in trouble.” I spun a tale of a liquor-soaked prom night and passing out in the back of a car. I included a cast of entirely fictional characters—a worthless boyfriend, a mentally unstable mother, a strict, brutal father. I ended my letter with: “Now I think I am pregnant. Please help me. I am desperate.”
I’m not sure what I expected, but my letter was not printed, and no advice was forthcoming. The silence was utter. Possibly Miss Blake, like Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, had a drawer where such letters were tossed. If so, the other letters in that drawer were no doubt a lot like mine—except that they were not written by wiseass children. They were real. And for the writers of those letters, the silence was real. And I remember thinking: Gee, what if I really were that girl I made up? What would I do?
One summer night some years later, when I was not quite 18, I got knocked up. There was nothing exciting or memorable or even interestingly sordid about the sex. I wasn’t raped or coerced, nor was I madly in love or drunk or high. The guy was another kid, actually younger than I, just a friend, and it pretty much happened by default. We were horny teenagers with nothing else to do.
Nature, the ultimate unsentimental pragmatist, has its own notions about what constitutes a quality liaison. What nature wants is for sperm and egg to meet, as often as possible, whenever and wherever possible. Whatever it takes to expedite that meeting is fine with nature. If it’s two people with a bassinet and a nursery all decorated and waiting and a shelf full of baby books, fine. If it’s a 12-year-old girl who’s been married off to a 70-year-old Afghan chieftain, fine. And if it’s a couple of healthy young oafs like my friend and me, who knew perfectly well where babies come from but just got stupid for about 15 minutes, that’s fine, too.
In the movies, newly pregnant women trip, fall down the stairs, and “lose the baby.” Ah. If only it were that easy. In real life, once that egg is fertilized and has glided on down the fallopian tube, selected its nesting place, and settled in, it’s notoriously secure, behaves like visiting royalty. Nature doesn’t give a fig about the hostess’s feelings of hospitality or lack of them. If the zygote’s not defective, and the woman is in good health, almost nothing will shake it loose. Anyone who’s been pregnant and didn’t want to be knows this is so.
Warning: There is a graphic photo of a woman who died after a failed abortion, about 3 screens down.