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Choices: 2011 and Beyond

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When I was a senior in high school, my mother did not want me to have sex.

This did not stop me.

So, I didn't tell her.

And here's a little more: It was 1981. Once I finally admitted, a few weeks after becoming sexually active that I was indeed sexually active, I could make an appointment -- for free because I was under 18 -- at Planned Parenthood, where I could obtain contraception. Fortunately, there was a place to go for reproductive health care.

Unfortunately, shortly after the appointment I received a phone call from Planned Parenthood to inform me that I was already pregnant.

Fortunately, a counselor at Planned Parenthood informed me about my choices. When I said, "abortion," she handed me an accordion-fold brochure with perhaps ten clinics I could choose from.

Unfortunately, I was completely overwhelmed (and nauseated, throwing up daily).

Fortunately, my best friend's mother got me in to see her gynecologist -- and fortunately, he was happy to set up the procedure, and fortunately -- again, because I was under 18 -- there were federal funds to pay for my procedure -- and most fortunately, the gynecologist, upon hearing that my mother was chair of the board of an agency called Choice advised me to tell her I was pregnant. He said, "I think she'd want to know."

Fortunately, she did want to know and was hugely supportive.

Unfortunately, in the coming years -- my sons are 15, 12 and eight and my daughter's three -- this story is not replicable.

Getting pregnant at 17 wasn't so fun. That said, I was treated with compassion and respect -- medically and emotionally -- at two clinics and one doctor's office.

Still, as supported as I was by a system that offered me an accordion-fold brochure filled with choices, I was simultaneously overwhelmed and embarrassed and ashamed.

I was hormonal and my breasts were tender and I was throwing up.

I hadn't really thought about having babies before that beyond a childhood fantasy, in which most importantly I was not divorced (like my parents). Suddenly, I was thinking about how maybe I did want babies someday -- in a relationship with a forever partner.

More immediately, I was thinking about how different it was to be female, how vulnerable a gender this was and how unfair it was that my body alone had to go through all this. And how amazing it was that my body could do this incredible thing -- grow a baby.

I only told my inner circle about the pregnancy. I felt very secretive, even in 1981, when the federal government wasn't shaming me and no protesters gathered outside abortion clinics. I felt isolated. I cried, a lot. I wasn't telling many people why I was crying, and so I cried more because I couldn't tell.

I got it: the brunt of how crushing silence is.

It's this, as much as anything, that makes me fear for my children and their friends, the threat of that crushing silence all the more crushing when denial might mean that becoming sexually active before getting contraceptives the way I did becomes a much bigger, scarier deal.

What if, at 17, you really couldn't tell your mom? What if your insurance wouldn't cover abortion? What if you couldn't afford contraceptives after you figured out what to do with your crafted-in-denial pregnancy?

Your sense of dread is going to be greater than mine was.

Abortion clinics have metal detectors and armed guards, if you can reach them and navigate the consent laws and waiting periods and pay for the procedure. Meantime, so many programs that supported younger parents have been cut that it's a taller order to raise a child while trying to complete your education and work. Then, there's adoption.

Our youngest child is adopted. It's an open adoption. The rationale behind open adoptions for first parents is that they do not have to lose touch with their children. They can know, through letters and photographs and possibly visits, how their child is doing and where the child is. This takes away the sense that somewhere way out in the giant world is someone they'd automatically recognize if they were to stumble upon him or her. In the more open scenarios, like ours is, we see each other every few months. Nothing, even with that sweet little girl in her life, takes away the loss for her first mama. As an adoptive parent, I know that she came to me at an incalculable cost to another woman.

I am pro-choice, pro all choices, yet I'd hope my children can avoid enduring this particular loss.

The other side, being an adoptive parent, is really the other side; the most sacred trust was placed in my arms three years ago, and I love this little girl to the moon and back. Even turning three, she's integrating adoption into her sense of identity. I believe my daughter's going to feel whole and comfortable.

When I think about adoption, I imagine it's changed -- opened up -- in part because legal abortion exists. Adoption can be a more freely chosen option than it was during those back alley days.

That's why I'm so scared, now. In 1981, when I was 17, those days seemed much farther away than they were or than they are now. I am scared of fewer options. I am scared of secrets and silence and shame.

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