Looking Back From Sixty: No Regret

by Dana Gaskin Wenig

September 14, 2021

I wrote the story of my abortion for those of us who have chosen to end a pregnancy, for those who’ve thought about it, for those who chose otherwise. I wrote this for my daughter and her friends, and for any person who becomes pregnant and does not want to become a parent for any reason. And I wrote this in memory of my maternal grandmother who had an (illegal) abortion in the late 1930s with no support system. We don’t know what she went through; we do know that she was never the same afterwards. And while it’s true that I muse sometimes that I might have two children now instead of one, it’s not even with melancholy. It just is. I’m so grateful I had the choice and made the right one for me.

When I was twenty-three I lived in San Francisco. I’d married the man who chased me the hardest and it didn’t last. For the next decade I would be single or have serial relationships, with men mostly, some lasting up to two years at a time.  Two years seemed to be the natural cut-off, when things left unsaid overshadowed the initial connection, or I caught eyes with some beautiful person from my perch on a barstool and we followed that feeling to bed – theirs or mine.

When I was twenty-three I lived with a man I’ll call Mr. Rose. He was a kind, gentle man, a man I felt safe with, a man I adopted a cat with. But I’d already met the man I would leave Mr. Rose for when I discovered I was pregnant.

We lived on Haight Street then, upstairs from the Red Vic Movie House, in a small studio apartment with a blue bathroom and a cat box nestled by the toilet. Or maybe we lived in the Mission District by then, Mariachi music blasting out of low riders, lattes and scones for breakfast at Café La Bohème where the intellectuals and hippies pretended to be beatniks.

Mr. Rose was a gentle soul and his gentleness grated on me, made me feel coarse and loud by comparison, but I felt safe, so I stayed. And then I was pregnant.

I’d never been pregnant before, and after bleeding once a month for ten years already, and tracking my fertility meticulously from the time I started having sex, I knew my body well. And I had records: basal body temperature, mucous type, days since last period, a little heart inked in on days I’d had sex.

I was pregnant and I knew I was not ready to be a mother. And I knew I did not want to be parents with Mr. Rose, in part because I secretly planned to leave my gentle boyfriend for his handsome, narcissistic stepbrother, or at least dreamed of doing so. The test came back positive and I felt no need to ponder options. I knew I did not want to be a mother at twenty-three, that I did not want to share a child with Mr. Rose for the rest of my life, that I would go to Planned Parenthood and have an abortion. When I told Mr. Rose, he seemed relieved.

In San Francisco in 1984, this is what I did. My meek, kind, thoughtful boyfriend drove me to Planned Parenthood on Eddy Street, off of Van Ness Avenue, where we sat in a large waiting room. Every person in the room looked something between relieved and heartbroken. I took the Valium the nurse offered. When I heard my name, Mr. Rose asked if I wanted him to come with me.  I shook my head. I thought I was protecting him, thought I should do this myself, thought I wouldn’t need him.

Naked from the waist down with a paper napkin around my ass, I climbed up on the table, settled my feet into the metal stirrups, and lay back. The poster of a waterfall thumbtacked to the white acoustic ceiling tiles above my head etched itself on my brain. Explaining words were delivered by someone wearing a white coat. I knew what I was doing and why and I did not feel conflicted. Something about seaweed that causes dilation in combination with a series of larger and larger hollow metal rods to open my cervix enough for the removal of tissue that would have become a human being. But I’m a human being and I was here first.

I had gone to bed with menstrual cramps a day out of each month, so I thought I knew what was coming, but these metal rods took me to another level of pain. Maybe abortions are different now. I hope so. When it was done, I wanted to keep the tiny, rejected thing in a bottle of alcohol, because I collect strange things (my first dog’s baby teeth, my own wisdom teeth, a dried bat). I wanted to keep what they took from me because it had been part of me. Because my body made it. I wanted to keep it – in a small jar on my red-velvet covered altar. But they told me it was “medical waste” now and that I couldn’t have it.

When it was over, I felt relieved. I felt sovereign again: free. I felt distant from Mr. Rose. How much time passed before I left him? (And I did leave him for his very beautiful and vastly troubled stepbrother – but that is another story.) I felt relieved – and I grieved. Each momentous choice cuts off another possible life, a road not taken, I had said “No,” to a new life, and I felt… not regret, but sadness.

I worked for a family friend then, a Dutchman named Sypko, a man who whistled symphonies while he worked at his computer. Sypko gave me a gift certificate for a counseling session with a Gestalt therapist and offered his wife’s counseling space for the session. One sunny afternoon I rode BART under the San Francisco Bay and walked to work; I worked for Sypko in his home. The small counseling room was warm. Instead of the usual chair and couch, the therapist had arranged a circle of pillows on the carpet, each representing someone with a stake in my abortion: a pillow for me, one for my gentle boyfriend, one for my mother, and another for my father, and a pillow for the baby-that-would-have-been.

Talking to empty pillows was awkward at first; I did it the way I take tests, I did the easy stuff first. I knew Mr. Rose was relieved, no problem there. My mother understood. Her mother had lost her grip on reality after her husband told her to have an abortion (freedom NOT to have an abortion as crucial as the right to choose one). I was sure my hippie dad would judge me. In the Seventies, The Farm, the community where I grew up half my life, offered pregnant women considering abortion a place to stay, delivery by a midwife, and the choice to keep the baby or give it to a Farm family. I didn’t tell Dad I’d had an abortion until I made him a grandfather ten years later – but that day in the session, I tried to explain. And then to the last pillow, the baby-that-might-have-been, I asked forgiveness. I said I was sorry. I said I wasn’t ready. I said it should try to be born to someone who was ready to be a parent – and I was forgiven by the only person I needed that from, really.

Dana Gaskin Wenig, © 2021

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