During her sophomore year of high school, Claire became infatuated with a handsome and popular 17-year-old boy who played in a band. The feeling was mutual, and the two developed a relationship—Claire’s first boyfriend. She was proud of her boyfriend and happy. But, sometimes it scared her to see how much this boy liked her.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment their relationship changed and advanced to sex, but this was not Claire’s first introduction to sex. There was another experience in Claire’s life. She had only heard about this 18-year-old neighborhood boy when some of her friends spoke about how attractive and casual he was. Charming, shadowy eyes. The kind of boy who young teenage girls wanted to hang out with. Claire and her friends joined him in his parents’ basement to listen to records. Because several of Claire’s friends knew him, the decision to accept the invitation was an easy one to make. Claire doesn’t remember exactly how she found herself alone with him. Maybe, she’d lingered in the basement when her friends left. Her friends trusted him, and she felt safe. She was anything but safe, for this manipulative individual sexually assaulted her. She didn’t know how to feel, and she felt unprepared for the emotional implications that followed.
Susan gave birth to her fourth and final daughter, Claire, in Denver, Colorado, during the winter of 1964. Claire’s parents brought her home just as they had her three older sisters, and this new baby completed their family. Like most families in the 1960s and 1970s, the family was traditional in the sense there were two parents. Still, the family challenged the definition of a “traditional” family in every other way. Her father worked in business while her mother chased graduate-level degrees, eventually earning her doctorate of philosophy in archeology from the University of Colorado. She then embarked on an impressive decades-long career that led Claire to make several trips to Costa Rica to her mother’s dig sights. Her parents realized they stood in a critical moment. Her mother was not the traditional stay-at-home caregiver; she frequently participated in her own activities—volunteering, enrolling in classes, and more. Both parents had done their best to share the household and parenting responsibilities, but they were failing. So, the hard-pressed working parents hired a nanny and housecleaner, a no-nonsense and devoted Southern Baptist, to assist with the care of their daughters, primarily Claire.
The family often engaged in discussions of periods, sex, and autonomy for women. The progressive family challenged gender roles, a rarity in 1970s American society. Education among their daughters was expected. In preparation for Claire’s academic success, she attended a high-performing academic school in the posh neighborhood—an area where Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright attended high school.
As forward-thinking and supportive as her parents were, they never discussed the dangers and consequences of sex—rape, sexually transmitted infections, or unwanted pregnancies. Although Claire was educated in the body’s functions, she lacked the necessary knowledge to protect herself when the eighteen-year-old neighbor manipulated and sexually assaulted her. She buried this trauma so deep that the memory didn’t resurface until her early twenties. The rupture of her past found her—and with it, a newfound anger toward her parents. She felt they neglected their roles to protect her against and prepare her for such harsh realities.
Claire’s downward spiral after the assault prompted her to engage in underage drinking and smoking pot. Her consciousness took on the arduous task of knitting her traumatic soul back together. She had discovered that accomplishing such a task required her to numb the pain through alcohol and marijuana. It had been liberating for Claire to discover such activities as the escape she desired. Claire liked being high because it was fun and an extracurricular activity she hid with ease from her busy parents.
But she was fifteen now and found a boyfriend. And she realized that nothing in her world could be more important. She had just started her sophomore year of high school when she was introduced to her friend’s tall, dark, and handsome seventeen-year-old brother with a “bad boy” reputation. Claire was a petite sun-kissed blonde with an opinion that captured his attention. There was chemistry, and they were magnetically drawn to each other. All she wanted to was talk about how he made her feel.
Their relationship turned sexual, and Claire trusted her boyfriend—sometimes he wore a condom, and sometimes he did not. She loved him, so the consequences of such decisions failed to cross her mind. Most health classes during the 1970s taught periods but avoided the “s-e-x” talk and how to protect oneself from unwanted pregnancies, assault, or sexually transmitted diseases. In retrospect, the concept of “health” class was in its infancy phase. In 1970, Title X of the Public Health Services Act became law. This new legislation established public funding for family planning and sex education programs in the United States. However, Claire’s school avoided such discussions. This personable and highly intelligent teenager was changing along with the political and social movements flooding the country. She was an ambitious and talented academic student in a sexual relationship with an older and handsome boy, whom she deeply cared about. Claire embraced high school and her current situation. Even though she didn’t know it at the time, she assumed a feminist identity. Her own experience intersected with a larger historical canvas that began on January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, giving women the right to an abortion.
After a few months of dating, Claire noticed her period’s absence, followed by her breasts swelling. Subsequently, she sat in a Planned Parenthood facility with a friend waiting on her pregnancy test results. The tests came back. Positive. There was silence. Her friend could not believe Claire was so careless. Claire couldn’t distinguish fact from fiction—this can’t be real, she thought. It was 1979, and Claire was scared and in way over her head. At the age of fifteen, her unplanned pregnancy served as a wake-up call to the consequences of unprotected sex. She was in a bind that led her to believe in the right to abortion. Exactly how far along Claire was could not be known, but she only missed a single period, so the assumption was four to six weeks. She was weeks away from the legal limit at which any doctor in The United States could perform an abortion.
Meantime, abortion continued to be a controversial topic and the lead of feminist thought. Many women in the country wanting abortions, specifically in states like Texas where Roe versus Wade began, lacked easy access to a doctor who would perform one. Every year thousands of women died from black market or self-induced abortions. But Claire had the access and had no problem ending her pregnancy. A complete contrast to low-income women who suffered from the passing of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which made it illegal for women on Medicaid to use their insurance for an abortion with the exception of rape, incest, or a life-threatening pregnancy.
Her boyfriend’s family were Catholic who didn’t believe in contraceptives. As a result, he was one out of nine children. Claire alerted him of their unwanted pregnancy and addressed her plans to schedule an abortion—a decision that went against her boyfriend’s faith. Claire knew her boyfriend would be hesitant about her decision. He named the fetus because he wanted her to keep the baby, but he knew her mind was made up. For this decision, Claire was strong and concise. He ultimately supported her choice to terminate the pregnancy.
Days later, Claire sat in an examination room alone, waiting for the doctor to perform her abortion. Her boyfriend chose not to be present, and Claire had never felt so alone. She was nervous and feared the unknown. She wanted to scream, What the fuck did I get myself into? Why didn’t anyone tell me this? She hated being in this position. She’d been a good student, horse rider, and friend who attended one of the best schools in Colorado. She came from an educated and forward-thinking family. Nevertheless, privilege didn’t protect her from an unwanted pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood uses the vacuum aspiration or suction abortion method. This technique uses gentle suction to pull the fetus and placenta out of the uterus. Most women report little to no pain, and the procedure lasts anywhere from five to ten minutes. It didn’t take long for her to get pregnant, and her pregnancy ended within minutes. In about the time it would take for her to walk from one class to another. She didn’t feel regret. Instead, she experienced mixed feelings of relief and embarrassment.
Claire returned home to her unknowing and unsuspecting parents. They didn’t know she had been sexually assaulted at thirteen or that she had been having sex. They didn’t know she got pregnant or that she had an abortion. By the early seventies, anyone, including fifteen-year-old Claire, was allowed access to birth control and an abortion without parental consent. Claire vowed she would never find herself in this position again.
Claire wanted more than anything else was to find herself. To accomplish this, she knew that she couldn’t travel back in time and replay this memory. She had been sexually assaulted and had an abortion before the age of 16. “Girls,” she wanted to say, “there are individuals who are not supposed to betray you, but they do.” She wanted to warn others of these injustices. Yes, she had been born into the right family. Clean water, access to quality education, a beautiful and enriching home, and exotic trips. Her own mother challenged the role of women, for she not only held a doctorate degree but a degree in archeology, a field dominated by men.
After the abortion, Claire continued to excel in her academics while drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. And nobody said a word or took notice. Should she tell her parents she got pregnant? Should she tell them she had an abortion? She reflected on these questions and felt rage. Sadness, too. If only her parents talked more about the consequences of sex.
The relationship with her boyfriend lasted another couple of months before their bond completed its course. “Listen,” she told him. “We must move on. You know what? We were in a relationship, and it was physical, and we were careless. An accident happened, but it was an accident out of negligence. We survived, but we’re going to live.” Nervously, he agreed. They ended their relationship amicably and moved on with their lives leaving the unwanted pregnancy and abortion in the past.
All through Claire’s anguish and tumult, Susan’s focus remained on her calling, delicately balancing career and family. Never in her most ambitious dreams did she think the decision to focus on Central American culture would open the door to a more demanding and successful career. Clueless about her daughter’s plight, and with Claire now halfway through high school, her mother felt she could add on new commitments. The most critical of these was digging in Central America, specifically Costa Rica. Claire joined her mother on these digs, returning to the United States with a much-improved fluency in Spanish. For Claire, these opportunities marked the beginning of a love affair with language and literature so intense that she pursued an English degree at the University of Colorado-Denver when she graduated from high school. Through it all, Claire’s secret remained buried and became one discovery her mother would never find.
About the Author
Kayla Branstetter is from Missouri and an English professor for Crowder College. She holds a MALS degree in Art, Literature, and Culture from the University of Denver. Her creative nonfiction, poetry, art, fiction, and photography have appeared in the following journals: The Kansas City Star, New Reader Magazine, The Chariot Press, New Plains Review, The Write Launch, the Crowder Quill, Light & Space ‘All Women’ exhibit, Light & Space “Abstract” exhibit, The Human Family–Human Rights Festival, The Paragon Press-Echo: Journal of Creative Nonfiction, 805+, High Shelf Press, The Esthetic Apostle, the gyara journal, Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Buringword Literary Journal, The Poet’s Choice, The Sheepshead Review, and a former contributing writer to a regional magazine Ozark Hills and Hollows. Recently, her art pieces, ‘Life’s Dance’ and “Aurora” were featured in exhibitions for M.A.D.S a contemporary art gallery in Milan, Italy. She has received an art award from Rome, Italy and in 2022, she received another art award. She is currently working on her first book.
Supporting Reproductive Rights
This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.
- Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
- Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood for the work they are doing to fight for reproductive rights.