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Why I Kept My Baby, Even Though It Wasn't The "Smart" Thing To Do
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You had a WHAT?
My friends were amazed when I became a parent. Amazed that I went through with the pregnancies and amazed that I chose to be a full-time mom; to say they were "amazed" that I had more than one child, especially, would be an understatement. I think it's because I was - and, okay, probably still am - obstinate to the point of being obnoxious, opinionated to the point of being annoying and principled to the point of being unpleasant. Independent to a fault.
To me, abortion is one of those horrific and disgusting things that modern society has decided to justify through ignorance. Yes, there are instances in which it is necessary, but the vast majority of abortions are not performed out of necessity. And just as some children think that meat is a vague notion that only exists in its end form of hamburgers or bacon - or on a shrink-wrapped styrofoam plate in a section of the grocery store - people seem to think that if they just don't know what abortion entails, then they will allow it.
The recent Planned Parenthood debacle has forced many people to pick a side; I see that even some staunch pro-choicers are coming to terms with abortion being a wholly unpleasant and unfortunate necessity, but abhorrent nonetheless. What bothers me most, though, are those women who still - even after watching a Planned Parenthood tech push a fetal brain around a petri dish with a stick - justify having an abortion because of everything they would have to sacrifice in order to keep that child.
Pro-Choice All The Way
I was the daughter of a single working mom. She taught music in two elementary schools and then, after school, was a private teacher in our home a few nights per week. She is a strong, independent woman, descended from a long line of strong, independent women.
My mother left my father. I'm still not entirely sure why she left - I don't remember them ever arguing - and as I get older, it perplexes me even more. I kind of don't want to know, because if she gives me a ridiculous reason, I'll just be mad about it. It was the height of the women's lib movement and I think my mother fell - hook, line, and sinker - for all the superwoman rhetoric NOW preached to the feminine masses.
I was the epitome of a latchkey kid, and spent a lot of time on my own while my mom worked or went out. Church was a peripheral activity in our lives.
I didn't have any brothers or sisters, and my grandmother lived a long way away. So I spent a lot of time alone. My father? Well ... he was ... my father. I spent some weekends with him, but his antisocial eccentricity made for excruciatingly isolated and boring Saturdays and Sundays. Unfortunately, he met and married a young woman not long after he and my mother divorced. He moved in with her and they immediately began repairing her house (built in 1919), so the house was constantly dirty and torn up. (The shower, which was perfectly fine when my dad started seeing her, was torn out soon after he moved in and not repaired for several years after.)
She was awful. I know, I know. It's common for kids to hate their stepmothers, but Erica was like a cancer. Everyone hated her. She looked the part, too: she was pale and masculine, didn't wear makeup, and only wore a skirt if she was forced into it (it was the early 1980s, so they could still force women to do that).
Her political views regarding gender issues were extreme; she would be considered a "feminazi" by anyone's standards. These views were widely proselytized to whomever would listen.
She was an atheist before it had been accepted as "normal." When we travelled, she put stickers in the front of hotel Bibles stating that the Bible was full of lies and if the person reading the book wanted the "truth," they could contact the American Atheists. (I figure if someone in a hotel room needed to get in touch with Jesus, they were beyond any help the atheists could provide.) We often had Bible study, so she could point out sections of the Bible that were misogynistic. She read popular passages from the Bible - Lot was an obvious favorite - to prove how bad men really are. Even then, I thought this was strange; the only time I ever went to church, really, was at Easter and Christmas, and the message never really rang true to me.
Why she ever married my father, I don't know.
A Very Wicked Stepmother
I hated spending time with her. She was mean and she treated my father badly. I wasn't allowed to wear makeup; not for the normal reasons, but because of feminist ideals.
As a feminist and a card-carrying member of NOW, she was, of course, a big proponent of Planned Parenthood. At the time, it didn't bother me, and why would it? When she first started hammering the importance of being pro-choice into my brain, I wasn't having sex and I didn't entirely understand what abortion was.
I did, though, start having sex soon after. I wanted it and I had ample opportunity because I was home alone so much. The one thing I did not want was to get pregnant, and the boys I slept with knew that. No condom? No way. But you had better believe I was outspoken proponent of Planned Parenthood and Choice.
When I was about 16, my mom, suspecting that I was already having sex but not entirely sure I was having it (I was), took me to the doctor to get birth control pills. The speculum was cold and humiliating. I wasn't embarrassed to be on the pill, but I hated them. They caused debilitating cramps. My skin broke out in a mass of pus-filled bumps and my period, which was already irregular, started traveling all over the month, at varying degrees, from tiny drips to horrific gushes. I developed wicked migraines. So birth control pills were out. I didn't like condoms either, because I had a slight allergy to them also, but I could deal with the minor burning over abstinence or the side effects of the pill.
My Dream Came True
I should mention that I have a tendency to over process moral dilemmas. For example, when I was in college, egg donation was fast becoming a way for young women to make lots of money. But besides the economic "pros," I couldn't think of a good reason to call the companies that advertised in the back of the free local paper. I could, however, think of a million good reasons not to call them, all stemming from my fear that my offspring would be abused or molested; because I had donated my eggs to people I didn't know, I would be partly to blame.
In 1993, I started going to Russia. I wrote more about my experiences there - good and very bad - in my book, , but ... I loved it there. I felt like Russia was my home, and I was happy there. After about three years of studying, I landed a job at an American law firm. Plastiline
Okay ... wait. I shouldn't say I landed "a job" with an American law firm in Moscow. I should say I landed "my dream job" in Moscow. I was a Russian Studies major in college, and dropped out of school so I could follow my dream: living and working in the former Soviet Union. Not only was this a fantastic job that paid well, it was in my field and I could do law work - which I also loved - without having to earn a degree.
The attorneys I worked for were well-known and respected in their field, and our office worked on many important and high-profile transactions that often brought the CEOs and other executives of the biggest international corporations to our office. My boss was one of the first attorneys to facilitate business deals between the Soviet Union and America, even before the fall. I even talked - albeit briefly - to Donald Trump on the phone!
I was everything I ever wanted to be: skinny and rich, great job, great apartment, great social life, great boyfriend.
And then, one day, I started feeling funny. It was like I had my period, but I didn't have my period. I went to the Russian drug store to get a pregnancy test - I almost never went into Russian aptekas for any reason, but I had to get a test - and I wasn't even sure how to use it. After I figured it out, I realized ... I was pregnant. I sat on the toilet for a while, trying to take it all in.
I was pretty excited, but also nervous. How would I tell my boyfriend? His mother was in hospice care. We had talked about getting married - when we went back to the States for my 10-year high school reunion - but this pregnancy thing was a little ... much. Although, we hadn't used a condom during sex for a few months, so I really had no right to be surprised.
I told my girlfriend right away, and then another friend. They asked what I was going to do about it, and there was no doubt in my mind: I was going to keep it, with or without my boyfriend. There was a conversation I had several years earlier, with my teacher in St. Petersburg, that stuck in my head; I remember being virulently pro-choice until that moment. I don't remember what we were talking about that the subject of abortion came up, but she suddenly blurted out that she had had ten abortions. Now, granted, birth control was difficult to get in the Soviet Union, but even my firm pro-choice position was shocked by that revelation. Ten abortions. Ten normal fetuses. Ten babies aborted ... because.
It disgusted me, but at the same time, I knew that reproductive health in the Soviet Union was a complex subject. Birth control was nearly impossible or impossible to get. They had a "Hero Mother" medal that they gave to mothers who had 10 or more children, which would have been quite heroic indeed in the Soviet Union. Abortion had been legal since 1920. But Stalin wanted Soviet citizens to reproduce. There was no winning.
But this isn't the case here, is it? American women have unprecedented access to a wide range of effective birth control, and yet we are too lazy to use it. And I'm on Medicaid now, so don't give me any nonsense about birth control being too expensive for poor women. Medicaid gladly pays for exams with good doctors and pays for birth control in full.
*Not Using a Condom Can Get You Pregnant
I had a pregnancy test done at the American Medical Center, and they called me to confirm I was pregnant on the morning my boyfriend's mother died. I couldn't burden him with my news yet, so I went to the first prenatal visit by myself. And you need to know: these tests and visits cost me a small fortune. I had insurance through the firm, but they would only reimburse the money, not cover it at the time of the visit. So I was paying several hundred dollars just to be told I was pregnant and to get an ultrasound.
In Russia, it was standard procedure to have an ultrasound at the first visit. I was nervous; I hated going to the gynecologist and this was really no different. Except this time, they put the slimy stuff on my belly so they could do the ultrasound.
I cried the first time I saw her; tears of absolute joy! Of course, I couldn't have known then that it was a girl - I thought it was a boy for many months - but now I have a beautiful daughter and I know that it was her little heart beating in the middle of that ultrasound monitor, and I fell in love. It beat so fast! And her little head. And her teeny body.
And just like so many pregnant women, I couldn't stop touching my tummy from there on out. But also just like so many pregnant women, the sickness set in around this time, too, and lasted the whole pregnancy. Constant, nagging, horrific nausea for 9 months.
I told my boyfriend about the pregnancy on the day of his mother's memorial. It may not seem like the best timing, but at the moment I told him, it felt right. He was shocked, of course, but not upset. We decided to get married and return to the States for good, instead of coming back to Russia after the baby was born. We named our first daughter after her grandma, Emma, and he says she is eerily similar to his mom. He has been a good father to all three kids.
Leaving was hard. I knew I couldn't stay in Moscow with an infant - I worried about pollution and birth defects - but I hated leaving all the people who had become my family. Some friends told me to get rid of it, so I could stay in Russia. My boss begged me to stay in Moscow, saying I could fly to Helsinki for the birth. None of that sounded like a good idea.
Abortion Was Never An Option
I look at Emma now, and I feel so blessed. She has always been smart and funny and as sweet as can be (except maybe for the couple of weeks when she was a toddler when she wouldn't quit biting her little sister). She is well-liked and on the honors track of an international baccalaureate program. She makes me proud every day. The world is a better place because of Emma.
And when we accidentally got pregnant again, about 8 short months after she was born, when we were hurting financially? I never considered for a moment that abortion was an option. All I knew is that I had to make it work, for the sake of my second child. Elisabeth is every ounce the blessing that her sister is.
I would have a lot more money now if I didn't have her. I could travel more (I cancelled trips to Egypt and Germany because of her, and didn't get to leave Russia on the Trans-Siberian through China, like I always planned). I would have a career that put me in the company of some of the world's most powerful people.
When women say that having a baby would mess up their career, I think back to everything I gave up. I sacrificed more than most women could ever understand. And yeah, I knew that the way I chose to handle my birth control - no birth control - could destroy all the hard work I put into my career. But we made a choice; we both could have insisted he wear a condom. I took responsibility for my actions. I had my baby. From a business point of view, I guess it wasn't the best choice. But I know that I made the right choice for everybody when I kept Emma.