Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category
Originally written on November 27, 2007
Yesterday was an eventful day. I went to work yesterday morning, even though it had been previously scheduled as a day off, because of the E. coli outbreak we’ve had going on. I went in to work over the Thanksgiving weekend to analyze some samples and see if there were any associations between the sick patients and some dried parsley we got in Wednesday afternoon to test. This ended up to be a negative association – a “dead end” – but I wanted to be there Monday morning to communicate any information in person as to what my findings had been and to answer any questions. I worked until 12:45 when I had to take off for a dentist appointment.
The dentist appointment was to replace a broken crown that has been broken for 10 years now. I just got tired of jamming food up in the larger-than-normal crevice that the broken crown was allowing between my molars and wanted it fixed while I have decent insurance coverage. The discussion before the procedure led to me wonder if I was opening a can of worms. (Dr. Lozne, a middle-aged woman of Rumanian descent, found this expression amusing!) The molar has had a root canal in it since 1978, and I was informed that the root canal technology in use then in now “antiquated.” (Of course, so am I, I suppose!) She said that once an old crown is removed, the aging root canal pins tend to come loose and then it requires a new root canal procedure. Great. Well, I was already in the chair, and the crown wasn’t going to get any less fractured with time, so we proceeded.
She drilled and drilled to get the old crown bisected and in a condition to come off. Then it didn’t want to come off. It was cemented on there for good! She pried and chipped and pulled and drilled some more. At one point, during a slight break in the action, I quipped, “Gee, this is a lot like a home remodeling project! The old tile doesn’t want to come off the floor, and when it does, you’re dismayed to find all the black crap that’s on the floor you wanted to finish!” She came close to letting loose with a belly laugh, which is quite unusual for Dr. L. She’s a very pleasant woman, but quite serious and business-like. I was impressed that I gave the old girl a good laugh!
Eventually, the crown did come off in a number of pieces, and no old root canal pieces went flying. In fact, she said that things looked good. I was quite relieved at that, and we proceeded with a straightforward crown prep. The rest of the “home improvement project” went without a hitch, although the gum retraction part was uncomfortable and I took three Advil tablets as soon as I got home.
I came home for a couple of hours, during which time I fed the cats and downed a can of “low carb meal equivalent.” Then I went off to Century College from 6:00 to 9:00 for a 3-contact hour seminar on “Narcissism: What It Is and What It Is Not.” I’m an RN and I need 24 contact hours every two years to renew my nursing license. This topic obviously has nothing to do with my current career path, which is public health and infectious disease surveillance. However, behavioral health issues are an area of personal interest, and I take advantage of opportunities to learn more about various topics in that field when I’m able.
The speaker, a Twin Cities social worker with his own practice (www.toddmulliken.com), was an articulate, sensitive, knowledgeable practitioner whose gentle and compassionate nature came across as he spoke. He was an engaging speaker and I found myself very attentive, as was the rest of the class at the community college last night.
This is the hard part to talk about and probably why I spent so much time droning on about E. coli and crowns and such at the beginning.
Todd spoke about what some of the root causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) may be. Some of them may be lack of attachment (bonding) between parents and the child (the child then developing the NPD), outright neglect by the parents or caregivers towards the child, shaming the child, traumatic events such as divorce, domestic violence, sexual abuse. Of course, it is not only folks with NPD who create such chaotic homes for their children. People with other major behavioral and emotional illnesses do so as well, and I had a mother who fit the diagnosis of some major personality disorder, although it will forever remain undiagnosed. I found myself thinking of my own childhood as he was discussing these points. Many of those key elements were there: the sporadic, inconsistent parenting, the instances of neglect, the blaming of a child for the mother’s problems with alcohol and the family’s dysfunction, the name-calling, verbal battering, and shaming instead of nurturing and guidance, the witnessing of violence between husband and wife. That atmosphere was wildly dysfunctional and in no way conducive to the psychological and emotional wellbeing of a child.
I sat there as Todd spoke and wondered about my own emotional and psychological balance and wellbeing. All in all, I appear to be pretty normal! I married, have been in a caring, stable marriage for 34 years now, have no major substance abuse issues (just minor ones!), no particular obsessions or compulsions. I earned two college degrees which I funded myself and have held down stable, long-term professional employment. I get along fairly well in most social circumstances, have friends, interests, reasonable expectations and goals.
Is this “normalcy” just an illusion? Where did it come from? Where did I learn it? It certainly wasn’t from the growing-up years in my nuclear family! If I do display some occasional traits of this-or-that – and I know I do! – it’s no freaking wonder!
Or are things not as “normal” as I’d like to think they are?
In discussing treatment strategies for a person with NPD and his/her family, the point was strongly made that the only way a person with NPD can live within the framework of a family system is by the enabling codependency of the family members. A person may always be a narcissist (or insert a handful of other diagnoses: borderline personality disorder, sociopathic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder; they’re all applicable here), but they’re not going to be a married narcissist or a narcissist with a relationship with his/her children unless those participants play by the narcissist’s rules, in other words maintain the codependency. An emotionally healthy person with appropriate boundaries is going to eventually divorce an untreated, unchanging narcissist and probably take the children with her. (The majority of diagnosed people with NPD are male.) If the children have a relationship with the narcissistic parent until adolescence or adulthood, it may come to pass that eventually the child says, “No more! It’s not good for me to be around you when you’re like this, and it’s not good for my kids to be around you when you’re like this. If this is how it is, then I’m staying away.” And the healthy line is drawn. Usually that “healthy line” – the NPD person finding his stuff out on the front lawn, the locks changed, the divorce papers filed, the grown children getting an unlisted phone number – is the only thing that may incite some efforts at change, if indeed any changes ever occur.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a therapist talk about adult children drawing boundaries with their dysfunctional parents, including the extreme boundary of no contact, and saying, “Sometimes this is exactly what you need to do because you care about yourself and your wellbeing.”
I felt something twist up inside me. This is, of course, what I did with my mother. I said, “No more!” and didn’t see her for 12 years, not until I saw her again when she was terminally ill with lung cancer. Did anyone ever say to me, “This is an okay thing for you to do. Not only an ‘okay’ thing, but a GOOD thing for you to do.” My husband was supportive, yes, and completely understood my reasons for doing this; he had had an introduction to the hell-hole that compromised my home life when I was in my teens. However, our society teaches us that we are to love, honor, and respect our parents, virtually no matter what. We are to love them unconditionally because – as I heard so often from family, friends, and virtual strangers – “She’s still your mother!” If I let an inkling of this slip out to someone, that I had no contact with my mother, I’d get this look, like, “What kind of amoral asshole are you?” The unspoken words were always there: she’s still your mother! And often they were spoken. Even when my mother was being her nastiest to me, drunk, calling me a filthy liar, a two-bit bitch (I was 15 at the time), she’d still turn around and say, “I’m still your mother, no matter what you think of me!”
I realized the full weight last night of the tremendous guilt and shame I lived with because of the stance I had taken for my own protection. Other than my husband (and my father – my mother’s EX-husband — who died when I was 23), I had no support for that action, no validation. I was a pariah. At least, that’s how I felt deep inside. I was a shameful person. Worthless. Couldn’t even love and take care of my own poor mother.
When I did reconnect with my mentally incapacitated, terminally ill mother in 1993, she assumed that I was there to take her home with me. When I said I couldn’t, she said, “How can you stand to see your mother in an insane asylum?” Big tears were rolling down her cheeks. “How can you just leave me like this, Bon?” I know where the suicidal feelings came from that afternoon as I left the care facility where she had been a long-term resident. It was the shame and the guilt hacking me up inside, the powerlessness in my life to ever effect any change in hers, the inability to have a relationship with her the way she was. (I almost wrote, “…the inability to love her the way she was…” but that’s not true! The real pain in this is that I always loved her and desperately wanted a good relationship with my mother!)
During this phase of seeing my mother while she had cancer and coming face-to-face with the harsh reality that was her life and my life, I could have used all the support that I could get. There was precious little of it, and I was acutely sensitive to this. My remarking on this caused the wife of one of my half-brothers (my father’s son) to say, “I’m going to write her a nasty letter!” Huh.
This was the start of a profound depression, I’m sure of it. I’ve never been the same since. I didn’t “bounce back” to my former self, although my former self was hardly the picture of “happy go lucky.” Eventually, I sought help and was put on medication for clinical depression. I am now under control and well-maintained on the antidepressant, Lexapro, but pills can’t heal that huge hole, that deep well of pain, inside me.
I had moments last night towards the end of the seminar of feeling like I was dangerously close to “losing it.” I just wanted to find a corner and sob until the guts were leaking out of my ears, until all the agony was purged from my being. I was afraid that there wouldn’t be anything left if I did that!
So, instead, I went to Perkin’s at 9:20 last night and ate some eggs and toast, drank a few cups of decaf coffee, and read my latest Dean Koontz novel. I didn’t cry. No guts leaked out. I slept well, my Katie-cat curled up beside me, my husband thousands of miles away in the U.K.
I woke up this morning, though, thinking about what all was said last night and what my feelings had been.
Todd talked about the concept of “re-parenting.” For those of us with “holes in our souls” due to parental abandonment, neglect, indifference, shaming and blaming, we need to find a way to give ourselves that unconditional love, nurturing, affirmation, and reassurance, that soothing, that we missed out on as children. That can’t come from the outside; it’s got to come from the inside. A spouse can’t fill that hole; a lover can’t fill that hole. Affairs can’t fill that hole. Obsessions can’t fill that hole. Money and possessions can’t fill that hole.
But I don’t know how this “re-parenting” happens. I know that some folks – most folks, I suppose – find this unconditional love and affirmation in the form of a Higher Power. That hasn’t worked for me. Because of this need for unconditional love and affirmation, I wish there were something that some church or spiritual group could offer me, but I’m not sure it’s out there.
So, where do I go? What do I do? Maybe I should make an appointment to see Todd Mulliken since he’s the one who stirred these feelings so profoundly last night. I’m reasonably certain that my insurance through HealthPartners won’t pay for it, but perhaps they might pay a part for an “out of network” provider. I don’t know. Perhaps that’s not the biggest consideration. I’ll check, I think.
Maybe Dr. Kavaney, my shrink at HealthPartners, would have some suggestions, although I know that he isn’t allotted much time during my 20-minute annual visit to have any ideas! Maybe he’ll get a copy of this and can find time to mull it over.
Well, enough for now. It’s a “school night,” and it’s after 9:00. Time to wind it up.
Three months today since Bubba took his leave. How I miss that special boy! So much has changed since he left and little Jack moved in. Only now am I beginning to appreciate just how tender and wonderful the last 12 months of Bubba’s life were to me.
During the first 17 years of Bubba’s life, he and his littermate sister, Katie, lived together with us. They were not particularly close. About the only time the whole family was together in the same room was when the gas fireplace was on during the winter. Then both cats would stake out some space in front of the fire while Dale and I would sit together on the couch. Other than that, it was infrequent to find them hanging out together.
We brought Mia home four weeks after Katie died in 2011. She’s a snuggler! After she and Bubba got over their initial hesitancy about the new relationship, they became friends. I often had Mia next to me on the couch and Bubba on his pet bed on the coffee table. I loved having both of them close to me.
When Bubba was 18, we adopted a baby brother for Mia, and Ralphie, a three-month-old kitten, became part of the family. He, too, was a snuggler. Then I had Mia on one side of me, Ralphie on the other, and Bubba either on the coffee table or the hassock. I felt bathed in a warm glow of contentment having all of them around me.
We had a year together like that. I decided during that year that when Bubba died, I didn’t want to go back to only two cats. Three felt really good. Of course, it was those particular three cats who made me so very happy. It will never be the same again now that Bubba is gone.
Now that Bubba is gone, I often have my two boys, Ralphie and Jack, on either side of me. I enjoy that, but Mia is missing since she is not yet accepting of Jack in the household. I can either be with Ralphie and Jack or Mia and Ralphie right now, but not all three. Maybe it’ll happen someday, but that someday won’t be soon. If it’s before the end of the year, I’d be surprised.
Change is hard. Mia and I know that. We’re trying to get through this with the hope that warmth and contentment will once more preside in our family.
Jack is next to me right now, sleeping on his blanket. I’m not sure where Ralphie is. Mia is upstairs in the master bedroom with the door closed. I’m going to go up to her right now and snuggle her, if she’ll let me. I’ll tell her that everything will be okay, and perhaps I’ll even believe it myself.
It’s going to be okay. Soon.
It’s been two calendar months now since Bubba left this world, nine weeks tomorrow. I haven’t said too much about him, unlike when Kate, his sister, died in Feb. 2011. When she died, I wrote and wrote about her. Bubba hasn’t gotten the press time, but his death has been no less painful.
Bubba was the cornerstone of our feline family these past two-and-a-half years since Katie’s death. We brought Mia into the family four weeks after Katie’s death, and Ralphie was adopted 15 months after Mia, bringing the cat-family size to three for the first time. But Bubba was the kingpin, the Alpha Cat, the priority on which decisions were made and the world revolved. The last two-and-a-half years of his life saw me tending to his every need, telling him countless times a day how much he was loved and special he was. He was priceless, loved beyond measure.
Losing him has crushed me, even though we all knew we were counting his days. Watching him struggle for that last breath and holding his still body close to me, rocking him in my arms as I had done thousands of times over his 19 years, sucked the spirit right out of me. A part of me died with him that morning, and my world has gotten a little grayer.
He was my Buddy Boy, my Twinkle, my Snowflake. He was the Big Guy, the Dude, the A-Number-One Tomcat. His spirit was huge and his presence filled this house with an enduring warmth. I sometimes envision him now sitting in the sunshine, the rays shimmering off his soft white coat. He’s surrounded by that healing white aura. That was and is his essence.
I and the cat family (of which I am the mom of the pride) are at odds right now. We’ve lost the center of our universe. A new member has been added, Jack, and we are struggling with the new configuration. We’re just a collection of pieces right now, hoping that somehow it will all fall into place again. The two young guys, Ralphie and Jack, have paired up, but the two girls — Mia and her mom — are screwed up and stressed. We’re both on Prozac! If she feels a fraction of what I feel, it’s no wonder she wants to beat up on the world right now.
Yes, I feel guilty that a cat’s death and the reconfiguration of my family has bothered me so much. There are massive world problems right now that make this seem ridiculous. There are individuals and families in crisis that make this seems like a gnat on an elephant’s ass. And I’m crying because a cat has died and the 3-year-old and the new guy are at odds? Sorry…. but we all have our places to go to regroup and gain strength in this often-crappy world, and my place of peace has been profoundly shaken. Finding that new place has been difficult. Might be working on that one for a while.
Loved Beyond Measure
3/27/94 – 7/1/13
Today I’ve been on Facebook quite a bit and have seen this letter posted on friends’ and family’s pages:
In the last 24 hours, it has gone “viral” on the internet. I think that there is a chance that this is a fictional letter, perhaps written by “Nate” himself. The only reason I say this is because if Dad knew his son was gay since he was six, there would have been ample opportunity between then and the writing of this letter for the topics of gender roles, sexual orientation, and parental acceptance to have come up, if only by the commenting on a TV show, a news story or some other occurrence or event. The son under these circumstances would not have to “come out;” his identity would have been a non-event. That niggling suspicion of mine aside, the reason why this letter went viral is because people crave this kind of love and acceptance. It is a ray of sunshine in what can be a very bleak world.
I, too, wrote a fictional letter back when I was around 20-years-old. The story in which this letter was a part continued to be worked on and edited over a number of years, finally stalling out at close to a hundred pages when I was closing in on 30-years-old. If I were to ever pick it up again, it would undergo another re-work as my life’s experiences have added to my perspective, but the one thing I no doubt would NOT change is the letter I wrote. Throughout the editing that has taken place on this work of fiction, I have never edited the letter that this 18-year-old son wrote to his adoptive parents.
Curious about this fictional letter I wrote as a 20-year-old? Here it is:
Wed., August 14, 1974
Dear Mom and Dad,
The time has come for me to write this difficult letter. I’ve put it off for much too long already, and there really isn’t much sense in waiting any longer. I will say right off that the reason for writing you a letter about it instead of just talking with you is not to impersonalize it but simply to make sure that certain things get said. Talking about it has given me more than its share of difficulty, so rather than face the prospect of mumbling through a few incoherent phrases in a panic, I decided that I would sit down in private and organize my thoughts. It seems to be the best way to get this job done.
To state a lengthy and complicated situation in its simplest terms, I’m gay. I’ve had myself in one hell of a mess this past year, trying to come to grips with that. I was in so much of a mess for most of that time that I couldn’t even admit to myself what I’ve been struggling with. In fact, the admission has really only come about within the last six weeks or so.
Not the struggle came on suddenly this past year. No, the feelings have been there for years now, going way back into childhood, but they were usually weak and undefined when they would occasionally surface, and in my panic that they may just mean something some day, I always managed to beat them back into the darkness. I never let that 3:00 A.M. feeling in the pit of my stomach get the better of me!
During this past year, however, those feelings abandoned the timidity of their youth and took on a startling new force. Repressing them was no longer accomplished with a few Hail Marys! They were demanding to be recognized, and I just wasn’t ready to do it!
Suddenly I found myself in the predicament of devoting an enormous amount of energy into running from these feelings. As you pointed out to me, Dad, in the middle of the night following one of my recent nightmares, this energy was coming from the energy I had available to do useful, productive things. The resulting drain quickly began to take its toll on my physical and emotional health, as we all witnessed.
All of a sudden, I realized that I couldn’t go on like that anymore. A new approach was very obviously in order! I knew that the energy required to deal with this issue was going to be tremendous, but it could in no way compare to the longterm drain of running from it. It was a slow, painful struggle, but I was finally able to admit my situation and take some steps to deal with it.
With this new approach, I realized that I had some choices in front of me. From my perspective, they are:
(1) I could continue to be “nonpracticing.” Call it celibacy or the priesthood or whatever you want. It still boils down to a running game. The method of dealing with it is still a form of denial and self-rejection. Its sole redeeming quality is that at least no one suspects what you’re not dealing with! However, I need a special closeness in life with someone, and if I forbid myself to have a gay relationship, I am left with no other fulfilling option. I decided that it was a quick way of finishing the job of driving myself crazy.
(2) I could practice my sexuality in secret and therefore “protect” my loved ones from this aspect of my life. At first glance, that option held a definite appeal by minimizing the risk of rejection and other conflicts. However, I felt a vague, nagging uneasiness about this choice, and after thinking about it for awhile (and talking it over with a dear and trusted friend who has been there), I realized why. The furtiveness and necessary deceptions, the inevitable guilt because of the deceptions, the fragmentation involved in maintaining such a complicated juggling act would produce a great deal of stress. The prospect of developing a well-balanced life and a happy, satisfying relationship seems doomed from the start under such conditions. I don’t care to set myself up for that failure.
My third option is laying aside celibacy and secrets and being openly what I am: a man who finds deep joy and pleasure in loving another man. In spite of the problems this choice is sure to bring, it’s the only option in this list that will truly allow me to get my act together and give a relationship a chance at success.
That success is very important to me because “a relationship” is not merely a dream of mine anymore. It’s very real and very alive right now, and I have no intention of letting it die while still in the pangs of its birth. I’m not going to stand by and watch while it disintegrates in front of my eyes because I was too scared to do anything else. It’s taken me a year-and-a-half of miserable indecision before deciding to give it this chance, but I’m firmly convinced that it deserves this chance, and it’s going to have it. I’ve given my vote for what’s behind Door #3.
Which is, of course, why I had to write this letter. You’ve got to know the truth of my situation so that I can get on with the business of dealing with it in the way that I think is best for me. If there were another way of accomplishing that without hurting you with this, I’d gladly take that route, but I frankly don’t see a good alternative. For my own selfish reasons, you have to know the truth, in spite of the pain this truth may bring.
As I write this, I feel horribly panic-stricken inside, fearing that I’m risking what is most important and treasured to me — my parents’ love — for……what? I’m not even sure yet! I hope and pray that I still have your love, for I desperately need it and would consider it my most valuable asset right now. But I also realize that there are some things that some people just can’t understand or accept. I will understand if you can’t.
I love you both very much. You’ve been the most important people to ever become a part of my life. When I called out for you in that Emergency Room five years ago, Dad, you dropped what you were doing and came to my rescue. It changed my life, bringing me into the circle of a loving family and filling my heart with a hope that I never before knew.
Believe me, not a single day goes by that I don’t give thanks for that!
Beyond a doubt, what every person who has had a close relationship with his/her parents and has stood in these “coming out” shoes wants is parental love, acceptance, and continued support. Because of not wanting to risk this loss, many over the years have chosen to repress their identity and desires, hide them, deny them, live complicated and cumbersome lives over them. That self-deception is one of the unhealthiest choices a person can make but yet many folks have made that choice over the years out of fear.
Some folks who have stood in the lavender “coming out” shoes have faced the very real possibility of receiving a letter like the one that follows:
No LGBTQ child wants to receive such a message from a parent. However, the need to be true to oneself, the need to live a life compatable with one’s inner feelings and desires, is so important that the risk is often taken.
If being gay (or L, B, T, or Q) is a lifestyle choice, as the religious Right have claimed, why on Earth would one ever choose this lifestyle? “I chose to be gay because I wanted my parents to disown me, my neighbors to vandalize my property, my church to excommunicate me, and my former friends to shun me,” said no person EVER.
To me, it is obvious that being something other than heterosexual is an inborn trait, resistant to change to any great extent over the course of a lifetime. However, the best data we have on this are self-reported and evidence-based from the people who have these characteristics and those who care about them. Time and time again people will say, “I knew from the time I was a kid.” These reports have been discounted by the religious Right as “biased data,” just something people say to support their own cause. Until we have physiological studies demonstrating some key ingredient that is different in the homosexual make-up, something we can definitely point to and say, “this is a human biological variation,” the religious Right will continue to argue that it’s a lifestyle choice and a sin.
I feel very confident that as we understand more about the complicated subjects of genetics, physiology, the resulting endocrinology, and the workings of the human brain, we will eventually have the irrefutable answer that there is an inborn basis to the orientation. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen.
In the meantime, fathers will write letters, and they will have the choice to reject or accept. Folks all over the world will rejoice when the father rises to meet the situation with acceptance and love.
“…I’ve loved you since you were born…”
May it always be so.
I had my first experience with “Healing Touch” yesterday. I lay down on the massage table that the practitioner brought to my home. She covered me completely with a blanket and made sure I was comfortable. She brought a music CD with her and started that softly. I closed my eyes. She instructed that I relax completely and suggested that I envision a warm summer day, sitting under a maple tree with the breeze on my face, a cat by my side. In my mind, I immediately went to this place and thought of Katie by my side. The tears slipped from my eyes. I stayed with this scene for quite a while and then moved on to others: a sunset over Lake Superior while I sat on the shore, a quiet visit in a Japanese garden by a koi pond, sunlight glimmering through the tall forest trees, lying on the dock on Penobscot Bay (Maine) one July morning, greeting the dawn. When my thoughts would wander to something unsettling — which they frequently do — I’d bring my thoughts back to the maple tree with Katie by my side. The tears flowed off and on throughout the 45 minutes of this session.
The overwhelming feeling I had and the words that went through my mind during this time is, “I have everything I need to be all that I am.” I am a child of the moon, the sun, the stars. I am connected to all those things, a part of it all. The Universe has supported life in all its forms for millions of years. I trust that it has given me what I need. I just need to be still and realize that.
I have no idea what the practitioner was doing during this time. I never opened my eyes. I felt her presence as she walked around the table. She occasionally touched me. Beyond that… I don’t know.
I can’t say at this point whether I do believe or don’t believe in the powers of energy therapy. I know that I went to a place in my mind that I’ve never gone before for that long of a time. It was healing and restorative. Perhaps the session gave me permission to meditate, to go to that place where all is calm and appreciate all that is inside me. I felt like I had truly gone to some other place than my TV room during the session.
The end of the session was signaled by Mia jumping up on me and bringing me “home.” What a fitting awakening!
Will I do this again? Yes. I do believe that the mind has great powers to heal.
Women DIE from Abortions
I’ve never talked about this issue even though I’ve thought about it a lot over the past 40 years. I’ve always felt that I had to know how I felt about abortion and whose “side” I’m on, given that it’s been such a raging topic in my adult life. A number of scenes from the past flash through my mind.
The first is of me as a 16-year-old in the summer of 1971. I had had sex with my boyfriend, and although a simplistic form of birth control was used, my period was late and I was scared. I was never one of these adolescents who felt invincible. If something could go wrong, it would probably happen to me! As a week late became eight days late and then nine days late, I was overcome with a bone-chilling panic. What was I possibly going to do? I was entering my junior year of high school, my home was unstable, and my boyfriend and I were not in a committed relationship at that point. Abortion was illegal in 46 of 50 states at that time. I vaguely knew that it was legal in New York, but how was a 16-year-old going to slip away to New York from the Midwest and discreetly take care of such a matter? I had no idea how to go about that magic act!
I was in a bad predicament, I feared, and crying in bed one night, my back literally against the wall, I punched myself in the stomach. Just go away! I silently screamed. Then another emotion washed over me. If I was indeed pregnant, this was a life that he and I had created. I loved him very much. Could I harm what we had created? I didn’t think I could. In fact, I wrote him a letter the next day, telling him of my situation and that I felt we had two choices: we could raise our baby together the best we could or I would have the baby alone and give it up for adoption. The letter went into an envelope but was not mailed.
The following day, I woke up to blood on my pajama pants. I had never been so happy to see menstrual blood in all my life! I was relieved to the point of crying again. I tore up the letter I had written to my boyfriend and resumed life as a definitely-not-pregnant 16-year-old.
I never, however, forgot the rollercoaster of emotions I was on for about a week as I wondered what I was going to do if I were in a very-adult situation as a very-adolescent girl.
A woman of any age can feel that sense of panic and desperation when finding out she is pregnant. Women are not always in a position to carry a pregnancy and care for an infant, nor are women always in control of the circumstances of the conception. Because of these facts of life, women have been having abortions ever since they figured out the signs and symptoms of pregnancy. Sometimes they’ve had help from those who know how to go about these things. Sometimes the termination of the pregnancy was safely and successfully accomplished under “illegal” circumstances. At other times, women have suffered internal injuries, infection, severe blood loss, and even death at the hands of the unskilled and incompetent. Sometimes it has been at her own hand in the privacy of her own home. (If you want the unpleasant details of such an event, either read the novel or watch the movie Revolutionary Road.) A close adult female relative of mine told me a story I really didn’t want to hear about taking the drug ergotrate when she was pregnant with her second child in an effort to abort the pregnancy. It didn’t work. Many procedures and remedies have been employed over hundreds of years to terminate pregnancies, and before Roe vs. Wade during the “civilized” era of our country, these attempts have often resulted in the woman’s illness, injury, and/or death.
If a woman decides that she is not in a position, either emotionally, physically or circumstantially, to carry a pregnancy to term, making abortion illegal once more will not prevent women from having abortions. It never has. What it will prevent is safe, skilled procedures that do not put her health at further risk. What it will further prevent is open dialogue about the situations that put women in this situation to begin with. We’ll be back to sticking our heads in the sand and not talking about it. That has never gotten us anywhere. Ever.
Women need to make their own decisions about the outcome of a pregnancy. It really is a very personal decision, and it is the rare woman who takes these decisions lightly. We don’t need more laws telling women what they can and can’t do in these situations. We need more resources and support for women, from the time they’re young girls.
What should a woman do if she finds herself pregnant under unsupportive and stressful circumstances? Each woman who becomes pregnant has the right to answer that question for herself. If called upon, I’ll answer it for me, with a sigh of relief that I don’t — and shouldn’t — answer it for anyone else.