It Gave Me Pause

My mother’s story about her firstborn son that I had never met or even knew about haunted me. I kept wondering about him. He was eight years older than me. He was born in Atlantic City, NJ and adopted a few days after his birth in the summer of 1962. What was he like? Did he look like me? What would it have been like to have an older brother that wasn’t resentful of my very existence?

My mother told me she’d never tried to look for him. She couldn’t bear the thought of knowing that his life wasn’t the perfect fantasy she’d imagined for him. And frankly, with the way things were going with the rest of her kids, I couldn’t say that I blamed her much for that feeling. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the phantom older brother. I could meet him on the street and never know it was him.

My thoughts confused my feelings about my sister’s friend B, who was by now close to full term and still staying on our sofa most nights. She had mostly decided that she too would be giving up her baby for adoption. She hadn’t been able yet to tell her parents about the pregnancy, how would she be able to call upon them for help in raising their grandchild? B still was friendly with the baby’s father, and he agreed that the right thing for both of them would be to give the baby to a committed couple.

Up until that point in my life, I’d been decidedly pro choice. At the age of 14, surrounded by my sister’s friends, and without the benefit of organized religion in my upbringing, I accepted without thought the idea that a pregnancy was a bunch of cells developing rapidly. I read and did not question the Ms. Guide to a Woman’s Health the chapter on abortion, which described the different procedures that were done at various stages in pregnancy, these medical procedures described with the same level of emotion and detail as the ones in the section on Diseases of Women. The voices I heard around me were all my mother’s friends, women who grew up in the fifties and sixties, who saw what life was like back then and welcomed the option that legal abortions brought to women. I heard my mother’s conversations on Saturdays at her office, talking about how so many children were being brought into the world and not cared for properly, didn’t these women know they had a choice?

But watching B’s burgeoning stomach and thinking upon my unknown adopted brother gave me pause in my thinking. I understood the science well enough. But the potential contained within those cells, the promise that could come out of a pregnancy if not touched during those twelve weeks…it was a heady thought. I still wasn’t sure what I would do if ever faced with that situation, but…here was a person, inside my friend B, who would simply not exist if B had exercised her right to choose. Here was my brother, a person I’d never seen but instinctively felt connected to, who would surely not be in the world if my mother had been born twenty years later.

Most fourteen year olds are pretty sure that their way is the right way, to the point of invincibility. But I knew in the spring of 1984 that one of my black and white convictions had just turned into a muddled gray mess.

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