Immediately after reading Irene Vilar's memoir, Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict, I closed the book and went to my bedroom to take an afternoon nap. I needed to escape; however, no sleep came, my mind rolling over Vilar's tragic story. When I was asked to review this book, I kept thinking of course by book's end, I'll understand how one woman made the decision to have fifteen abortions in as many years. Yet, that wasn't the case and it disturbed me--a pro-choice supporter.
The two reviews on Amazon and Robin Morgan's foreword to Vilar's book are thoughtful and almost apologetic on behalf of the author's repetitive decision to terminate one pregnancy after the next. There were hints that I was going to find empathy for the author when she writes early on about how she learned that women were not to be in the way of men, even when they are being fondled and touched--violated--by these men. At a very young age, Vilar felt she needed "permission to occupy some place in the world." I dare say that many women can relate to that feeling. Still, while I kept reading, I wanted answers that made sense each time Vilar discovered she was pregnant by a man thirty-five years her senior and decided to end it in abortion. Vilar is drawn to this man, a professor who didn't want children. He made no secret of this, but this did not stop Vilar from "forgetting to take her birth control pills."
Without a doubt, this professor who eventually married Vilar, was controlling, but it was Vilar who gave herself willingly, putting herself in a number of dangerous situations to prove she was worthy of this man. Each time Vilar ends a pregnancy, there is the implication that the reader is to recall how Vilar's mother ended her life when the author was just eight years old, how her grandmother, the political activist Lolita Lebron, was jailed for years, how her father was an alcoholic, and her brothers addicted to heroin. Still, I cannot see how this would lead to being so irresponsible, especially when there were times, times when Vilar was working on her first memoir, The Ladies Gallery, A Memoir of Family Secrets, that she dutifully managed to remember to take her pill daily.
In her prologue the author writes, "I was warned about the possible hatred directed at me from both pro-choice and pro-life camps. My testimony was fated to be misunderstood." I don't feel hate of any kind toward the author and it's very rare that I allow myself to judge, but I think this time I'm judging the author's inability to help me understand why she just didn't behave more responsibly. If her actions occurred with just her controlling husband, perhaps I'd understand to a slight degree; however, she has a relationship with another man where she becomes pregnant and then aborts the fetus three times more. Calling it an addiction doesn't satisfy this reader, but then again I'm not a therapist and acknowledge that I just can't grasp any viable reason for this repetitive action.
Granted, I believe every child that is born should not only be wanted, but valued and raised by someone who is able to do so financially and emotionally. Without a doubt Vilar was not able to do so and yet she continued to use no protection. Indeed, her husband should have also taken responsibility in birth control, especially since he made it clear he didn't want children and told her if she were to give birth, he would leave her. He does ask Vilar if she's using birth control the first time they have sex and she lies, but after the few times when she did let him know she was pregnant and having an abortion, one would think he'd realize there's a serious issue with this young woman who eventually says, "I realized that for years I had wrestled, without knowing, with whether a relationship should continue to develop between myself as mother, and a fetus as child, and between myself and my body, my history and my future." Yet, that still doesn't explain why she kept getting pregnant, instead of just longing to get pregnant.
The author left out any mention of her abortions in her first memoir, but now she's coming clean in Impossible Motherhood. What I'm hoping is that maybe there will be a third memoir that will offer more profound insight to answer the question I kept asking while reading: Why not just take the damn pill?
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