It was at my grandmother's knee, watching All My Children, that I first learned about abortion. The story line involved supermodel Erica Kane (before the term "supermodel" even existed) deciding to have an abortion because she didn't want pregnancy and a child to put an early end to her modeling career. Erica wasn't a rape victim or a teenager in trouble. She was a married woman who made a choice - a choice about her own body and her own future.
I was just a kid, and had no idea what an abortion even was. It was my grandmother who explained it to me. My grandmother, Celina, was Catholic. She was born in 1910. Born and raised in Puerto Rico. She was the mother of nine children. My grandmother was pro-choice. Unexpected? Not if you knew her. It's true that Celina had nine children but, believe it or not, with the exception one, which came relatively late in life, all of her pregnancies were not just welcome, but planned. Yes, planned.
Some people might think it inappropriate to explain abortion to a young child. Celina was the kind of woman who figured any question worth asking deserved an honest answer. When I looked up from the television screen and asked my grandmother what Erica and Jeff were arguing about on All My Children, she explained to me what an abortion was. She didn't demonize it. She told me the truth. She presented it as one choice a pregnant woman had. A choice.
Years later, when I was old enough to notice that my extended family was bigger than most, I asked my grandmother about her many pregnancies (there were ten - one baby didn't survive.) Because Celina was from the Caribbean, because she was Catholic, because she'd been a young woman during the first half of the 20th century I assumed she hadn't been afforded any choices. My assumption was wrong. My grandmother spoke frankly about 8 of her children having been planned in advance. She was frank, too, about the 9th baby having been an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise. She also spoke about traditional, home-spun birth control methods she'd used during the times when she definitely did not want to become pregnant (a sea sponge and a spermicide made mostly of lemon juice. Don't laugh - it worked.) My grandmother was speaking to me about choice. And, really, if a woman doesn't have freedom of choice about her own body, does she have a choice about anything?
It was not inappropriate for Celina to explain abortion to a young child who asked. If anything, I honor my grandmother's decision to raise me, from an early age, with the idea that women have choices, that our bodies are our own, that motherhood is a wonderful thing for women who want it, and that there is no dishonor in not wanting it. When Celina planned 8 pregnancies, she was making choices. They were good choices. But they were her choices. Other women would have chosen differently.
© 2010 Lana M. Nieves
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