Irene Vilar, Abortion Addict Speaks
At what point when trying to get a book published and failing at it does one say let's shelve the damned thing? The evening I got a status report summing up the multiple rounds of submissions of Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict, over the course of a year and a half I stared at the dismal figure of fifty-one rejections and said to myself this is it, I'm going to write about penguins. Unfortunately, this resolution did not last and the following morning I woke up determined to find an independent publisher, even if all said and done the publisher had to be no one else but myself. It had taken me close to a decade to write what more than one editor had called in their rejection letters "an impossible book". Many explained the subject was too divisive and would interfere with in-house collaboration. Others pointed out liability issues. The house(s) had received bomb and/or other threats in the past on the publication of abortion related books. Some were personally disturbed and could not deal with the book- period-no matter how much they liked the writing.
I simply could not give up. It had not been easy. For years I had been driven by the need to understand and explain the complexities of my destructive actions. I was a writer who had overcome a serious neurosis. Though my story was a terrible one I had broken the cycle and mended a torn self. My account was a testimony to spiritual metamorphosis and to the fact that most self-destructive behaviors still have a logic attached to them. Coming to grips with my "unconscious" motives was at the root of my healing process. I had a story to write but equally so I felt I had a story to tell.
My testimony explored how more often than not the agency and power of fecundity can be alluring to women split about their capacities as mothers and as professionals -- the plight of many modern women -- resulting in impossible motherhood "syndromes" that act out old childhood hurts, the full sense of which cannot begin to be grasped without examining one's history and one's own complicity. My neurotic behaviors were extreme, my pathology difficult to identify with, yet in the almost grotesque extent of my destructive actions as I forgot to take my pills time after time to indulge in the fantasy of potential motherhood, I was convinced I had put my finger on something. Fifteen pregnancies, most of them in one romance gone sour while married to a college professor thirty four years my senior, were fifteen "highs" charting an imaginary path of control and empowerment that resulted in fifteen despairing terminations.
I had grown up in Puerto Rico with a depressed woman who had been sterilized by an American led experiment (by 1977 Puerto Rico had the highest rate of sterilized women in the world with a horrifying number of 37% to 40%). My mother was the wife of a man who did not value her and the daughter of a nationalist mother who chose public myth making over mothering her (Lolita Lebron spent twenty five years in a US prison for her attack on Congress in 1954). She was a woman who tried to kill herself multiple times throughout her life until she succeeded at it by throwing herself from a moving car. Six and a half years later, at fifteen, I graduated from high school and pressured my dad to let me leave the island to attend Syracuse University. I wanted nothing more than to escape and be in absolute control of my life and my body. Looking back I know I was running away from many things but one of them, I suspect, turned into some fine stow away deep in my psyche: it was that six vowel monster that everyone talked about back home and at our dinner table and who was the biggest perpetrator of my mother's final demise, the one who had sent her home without a reproductive system, no hormonal treatment, an addiction to valium, and the promise of no children: It was La Operacion.
At seventeen I fell in love with my literature professor. He was a philosopher and self proclaimed feminist who wanted no children and thought that women should be sterile if they wanted a career and a true life of freedom. Call it an act of adolescent rebellion, the "reckless" desire to be fully a woman for a couple of days, whatever, but I "unconsciously" and systematically forgot to take my birth control pills and defied him. Thinking back through our mothers, as Virginia Wolff said, I know today that with each pregnancy I defied him as much as I defied the politics of sterilization that took my mother away from me. It was not a rational behavior, of course, when one is looking for a strategy of survival with very limited tools one uses what makes sense in a sick way. I wanted control over my body and the way I chose to have control could not have been more terrible. Getting pregnant brought a strange feeling: I could bring it on with nobody's permission and I could interrupt it with nobody's permission. Of course this did not mean that I wanted to do it again and again -- a druggie also wants to stop every time. I was a creature in suspended animation addicted to the high of agency in pregnancy and the shame of the down side, the inevitable termination built into the cycle in order to not lose him and also in order to be close to my mother, by identifying with the subjugated, powerless version of her. My blinding desire for control was at the core of my neurosis. This desire, I am certain now, was informed by my mother's lack of it in the face of her family, her marriage, her culture, and La Operacion.
Yes, context is crucial yet I'm solely responsible for my actions. At the books' core is one woman's attempt at grasping life's meaning by asking how conscious she is of what she does to earn a feeling of worth and by what lies she tells herself. I thought this alone was good enough reason for the story to deserve to be published.
The top editors in the publishing industry, nevertheless, spoke the condition of this country's abortion politics. I could not explore a personal experience anchored in what perhaps is the most controversial and inflammatory issue in American society. My account -- and the editor who took this book on -- would not withstand the merciless judgment that comes with reality. I knew the book was fated to be politized and thrown into the flames of polarization. I knew I was fated to be largely misunderstood. That part was no news. What struck me was the built in censorship and the absence of an independent spirit in what is an open democracy. Where had the sensible and visionary publishing of the likes of Pantheon's Andre Schiffrin gone to? I had been an editor myself for the last decade in academic publishing, where still some intellectual freedom survived, and this gave me the hope that I had to keep on looking somewhere else than commercial publishing.
Within a month of this realization I found Judith Gurewich, a most courageous publisher who with her Other Press has revived the artisanal life of books and rejected the ways of conglomerate book business. She is a free thinker, a doctor in sociology with two law degrees, an analyst, and a woman. And she values my motives. She saw that "Impossible Motherhood" could help women understand the plight of pregnancy fantasies and also the danger of false liberation strategies. As the book hits its publication date of October 6th we both are keeping our fingers crossed that the story can transcend people's prejudices.