My Feelings Today Are the Same as They Were Over 50 Years Ago

by Betty

April 27, 2019

photo by Elizabeth Rudge

When I graduated high school in the mid-1950s, I needed to escape a difficult home situation, so I immediately married my high school boyfriend. After 15 years of working through college and professional school, and after having three much- wanted daughters, we divorced. I got custody of our children.


By 1970 I had married again and moved from my hometown in Tennessee to a Marine Corps base near Washington, DC. My new husband was a career Marine officer who had just returned from a second tour in Vietnam. He was also divorced and had been awarded custody of his five-year-old twin daughters. The seven of us lived in officer’s quarters in a two-bedroom, third-floor walk-up apartment in an elegant building with steam heat and no air conditioning. A glassed-in porch became our bedroom, and the five girls shared the two large bedrooms.


When I got pregnant during the first six months of our marriage, it was more than our family of seven could manage. The elation I had always felt during my past pregnancies was replaced by a feeling of panic that grew every day, knowing the extraordinary stress and problems a new baby would have brought to our new blended family. I had never considered the potential choices surrounding a pregnancy. It was before Roe v. Wade, and abortion was illegal in all states except in cases of danger to the mother or embryo, as evaluated by a psychiatrist or obstetrician. Furthermore, these exceptions applied only until the 20th gestational week.


I had not come to a decision and needed to talk to a professional counselor about my ambivalence. I expected that my husband would find out what was available under the military health care system or by word of mouth within the Corps scuttlebutt, but the weeks ticked away and nothing had been done. Assuming my husband would take care of this, I asked him about it daily. It was an emotional crisis for me, and I felt abandoned and scared.


Over the years since then, I’ve come to believe that the lack of shared responsibility during this early crisis foreshadowed similar spousal behavior. Our marriage would last 15 years but never truly recover.

Eventually, the urgency became clear to my husband. He gathered the necessary information and I went to a local psychiatrist. The doctor saw me for approximately 15 minutes and signed a paper, which I suppose declared that I was a danger to myself or others. He showed no interest in hearing of my ambivalence and in fact chuckled when I tried to introduce the subject. I got no relief from my anxiety.

The abortion experience itself was insignificant to me. The procedure was a dilation and curettage—a D&C—daytime surgery at a local hospital. Recovery involved a few days of rest and mild bleeding.


A few weeks later, a friend from our building knocked on our door. She told me that she’d heard what I’d done and was upset. She said that she loved children, had three of her own, and would have been happy to keep me from killing a baby by raising it herself. These hurtful remarks were a complete surprise—I had told no one—and cut deeper than I’d ever believed they could. My abortion story essentially ends there. Thinking back, it is marked by three things: the sadness I felt about my pregnancy coupled with an uncertainty of my options, my visit with the psychiatrist who did nothing to support me psychologically, and the pain I felt after being shamed by my neighbor when I was already deeply depressed.


The choice of abortion is not an easy one for many women. My feelings today are the same as they were over 50 years ago—it was a painful and difficult decision made more painful for me because of social condemnation and having the abortion in secret and without kindness and support from family and friends. But I have no regrets.

There is a very happy ending to my story: I have been most happily married now for over 32 years to a wonderful man whom I love, respect, and share interests with in travel, reading, music, politics, and movies. And now, at 82 years old, I have two adorable great-grandchildren!


Story appears on Tennessee Stories Project,

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