Sunday, January 22, 2012
Blog for Choice 2012
My sister is probably my best friend. We were not close growing up. In fact, we did not like each other very much when we were kids. The six year gap in our ages may account for some of our problems. We also have very different personalities. She's always been very social and easy-going with people. I've always been more comfortable around books and ideas. She was always a rebel and a bad girl. I was the good girl in the family - going to school, rarely defying our parents. We clashed. We argued. Neither of us thought much of the other. This - our relationship - all changed when she became a mother, and we became as close as two sisters can be.
In 1995, when my sister was 22 and I was 28, my sister came to me and asked for help. This was something she didn't ever really do because, as I've said, we didn't get along. It was a big deal for either of us to ask help from the other.
She came to me and said, "I need help. I think I'm pregnant. I guess I know I'm pregnant. I need help."
I answered, "Pregnant? Are you insane? You can't even bring yourself to wake up at a reasonable time in the morning and hold down a job - there's no way you're can be responsible for a baby. You're a baby, yourself. You seriously have to consider an abortion."
To my surprise she said, "I know. I agree. I think I want an abortion, but I'm scared to even find out about it. You're good at finding things out. Can you find out where I can get one, how much it costs, what I have to do? Please help me out. I wouldn't ask if it weren't important."
I promised to get her the information that day, saying to myself, "She's not even enough of a grownup to find out the damned phone number for Planned Parenthood, so there's no way she can even consider being a parent."
The next day, my sister came home from her visit to Planned Parenthood and sat down with me and our mother. Our mother was great about speaking openly about these issues. She was pro-choice and believed women needed to know about their options. She raised us to know about these things: sex, birth control, abortion rights. She raised us to know that having an abortion was absolutely a choice, and absolutely a choice that was acceptable. In her early 40s, she'd had her own pregnancy scare. Her days of having babies were long over. It turned out that she wasn't pregnant but, when she thought she might be, she'd been completely honest with me: her plan was to abort the pregnancy. She hadn't planned on having children past the age of 30. She'd taken precautions. If she was pregnant, it was because her birth control had failed. She was already a grandmother (by my older sister) and this was no time to start over with motherhood. Most importantly: she just didn't want another baby. As it turned out, our mother hadn't been pregnant that time, but it had meant a lot to me that she'd been so frank about the situation.
When my sister sat us down, she explained to us that she'd been to Planned Parenthood, talked about her options, discussed the situation with the father of her unborn baby, and decided that abortion was just not for her. She couldn't do it, but she felt sure she could be a good parent. Her boyfriend was on board 100%, and actually very excited about the idea of being a father. She'd made her choice, and we had to accept it. That's what we did. In my head, I switched from thinking about this stupid mistake my sister had made, to thinking, "There will be a baby here in 7 or 8 months, and that baby is my niece or nephew. She's made her choice and the best thing I can do - the only thing I can do - is accept and support it."
In a flash, my sister made changes in her life. She set up house with her boyfriend. She became immersed in the business of keeping healthy and planning for parenthood. Her social life ceased to be her priority as she began nesting.
In my heart, I started to really look forward to the idea of a new baby. I love babies. My whole family loves babies. We tend to gather around a new baby and treat him like a king. It's the one area where we all agree: babies are amazing - a treasure. A few weeks after my sister had made her big announcement, I was walking home from work and saw a lovely, little hand-made baby hat in a store window. It looked like the top of a tomato, with an erect tassel for the stem. It was made of soft, merino wool - perfect for a newborn's delicate skin. I bought it and brought it home to my sister, casually dropping it on the table, where she sat reading a book about pregnancy and exercise. She looked up and asked, "What's this?"
I answered, "It's for your baby."
"You bought a present for my baby?" she asked, incredulously. "You don't even like me."
"Your baby is going to be my nephew. I like him. Of course I got him a present." I said.
Everything changed between us at that moment. The idea of that new baby changed me as much as it changed my sister. I warmed up to her. She warmed up to me. We started behaving like friends, instead of enemies. We started to feel for one another the way sisters should feel, if they're really lucky. It's really amazing what the idea of a new baby can do to and for people.
When my nephew, Derrick, was born, I was among the first to rush to the hospital to hold him. He was beautiful. I fell in love at first sight. My sister and her boyfriend asked if I would be his godmother. Yes, they knew I was gay, and that the Catholic church didn't technically allow homosexuals to baptize babies, but they didn't care what the church said - I was their first and only choice...the person they wanted to entrust with the care of their precious baby should anything happen to them. I promise you this really happened, and that I haven't lifted it from a Lifetime movie.
I am so glad my sister had her baby. He was a wonderful baby. He's now a wonderful young man. I couldn't love him more if her were my own son. I've told him many times, over the years, that one of the reasons he's special to me is that he brought me and my sister together, when it seemed nothing would. In so many ways, he worked miracles.
So, I'm glad my sister made the choice to have her baby. But I'm so damned glad she had the choice to make, and that it wasn't made for her. When she made the decision to go to term with this pregnancy, it was an informed choice, and she made it, in part, after talking to Planned Parenthood about her many options. In retrospect, I'm glad she didn't opt for an abortion, but I thank God that abortion was an option for her....that she didn't feel trapped....that our mother and grandmother believed in speaking openly and non-judgmentally about choice. Every woman has the right to make these choices for and about her own body, about her own health, about her own future, for herself.