Lessons From My Pro-choice Grandma

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen. She sipped a cup of weak coffee to which she added a pinch of salt. She had married late for her day to a widower. She left her job as a switchboard operator to raise her stepchildren. She was more of a feminist than my boomer mother who bought the mid-century fantasy of a suburban wife and mother.

My grandmother knew women who had illegal abortions. In fact, it was hinted that her predecessor had died from complications from an abortion. She believed strongly it was no one else’s business.

Her practical feminism shaped me more than I could have imagined.

I made my decision to have an abortion at a critical time in my life. I believe that is true for everyone. Like so many stories, it was complicated. I was in my twenties and having flashbacks from childhood abuse. These flashbacks were triggered by the fact that my abuser was dying from a brain tumor. At that time, I believed that if he would admit his guilt. my pain would go away. But the cancer cells were eating away at the very memories that I linked to my own salvation.

Bottles of red wine numbed my cheeks and numbed my pain. I had a tight group of friends. It was not uncommon to crash at each other’s flat. One morning, I woke up in a cloud of white sheets next to a male friend. I was not upset but I was also not myself. The previous night, I had experienced a flashback of brightly colored fish floating above me. I was embarrassed and confused. Later I would discover that the fish were memories of a mobile that floated above my bed as an infant.

Consent was different in the 90s. It was the absence of a “no” that signaled consent and no one would have thought anything about a drunken hookup. The fact that I had experienced a flashback was not even known. I kissed my friend goodbye and headed home. We dated for a few months. He was kind.

It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could be pregnant. When my period was late, I bought a test and sat on the floor and waited for the lines to tell me what was next.

I was beginning a course of therapy that would later prove to start me on a path of acceptance and healing. I was barely holding it together. My decision to have an abortion was not complicated. I was in no shape to be a parent and my pain-based drinking had created an environment that could not nurture a fetus.

My boyfriend and I planned together. My health insurance plan covered all reproductive healthcare so I was able to schedule an abortion at a big San Francisco hospital. We were able to schedule around our work.

Everything was private and professional. I laid on an exam table in a hospital johnny. My boyfriend was allowed to stay with me and rested his hands on my shoulders. When my cervix was opened, I had the thought, “there’s no turning back now.” The cramping caused me to remember the trauma in a somatic way and I went into mild shock. The staff were compassionate and attended to me. It was quickly resolved.

We went back to his apartment and I climbed into his cloud-like bed again. I felt sad and tired but it was all quite complicated. His friends talked in hushed tones. Someone made me mac and cheese.

The relationship wasn’t going to last but it wasn’t because of the abortion. We dated for a few months and stayed friends for a lot longer. I kept going to therapy and started taking care of myself. I was able to do a lot of work to heal from my childhood abuse and that made me a better partner and a better parent when it was my time to do both.

I was never haunted by regrets.

When I think about abortion rights, I think this is what it should be like for everyone. Professional. Covered by Insurance. Without Drama. That’s what I am fighting for.


About the Author

Teresa Berkowitz is the Editor of Tangled Locks Journal. She grew up in Massachusetts and lived in San Francisco at the time of her abortion. She now lives in Maine with her family.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund Planned (PPMEAF) for the work they are doing to fight for reproductive rights.