My Mom’s Abortion

The people who raise us spend the entirety of our lives getting to know us. From the time that we’re infants, they learn our favorite foods, our fears both rational and irrational, our hopes, our dreams, our allergies… They pepper us with questions like “How was school?” or “What movie do you want to watch?” They see us at our dance recital best and our snot-soaked worst. My mom remembers events in my life that have long escaped my memory, but I didn’t start really learning about her until a couple of years ago when I first interviewed her for Killer and a Sweet Thang. 

I can’t recall exactly what prompted me to ask my mom if she’d ever had an abortion, and to be honest, I thought I already knew the answer. She seemed a little taken aback by the question, but she answered honestly.

My mom had an abortion when she was 22. Over a decade later, she went on to have one beautiful daughter and one human fruit basket (me). We had a discussion about abortion a few months ago (you can read it here if you’re interested). At that point I already knew about hers, but she asked to keep it private. A few months later when legislation was passed in Alabama that effectively banned abortion procedures, she decided to share her story.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

 

When I first asked you to do this interview, you said no — 

Mom: Well, I said I would talk about abortion in general, but I didn’t want to share my own experience.

 

Right. How did you come to that decision? 

I think it was because it is such a personal experience, and I hadn’t talked about it [before]. Almost nobody knew and that’s the way I [had] wanted it. 

 

And what made you change your mind and want to share your story?

What changed my mind was the speed with which that right has become endangered. I want to do what I can to speak out against the very distinct possibility that you and your sister and anyone who needs to access abortions may not be able to.

 

How old were you when you found out you were pregnant?

22 — same age as you.

 

Wow, that’s crazy to think about. What were the thoughts going through your head?

I was very, very scared and panicky. I thought “This can’t be happening,” and I knew right away [I was going to get an abortion]. It was never a question. I did not want to be pregnant.

 

Can you talk about what fueled those emotions? Like [was it], “Can I afford to take care of a child?” “Am I ready?” “What will my family think?” 

I didn’t even get that far. My specific thoughts were, “I’m twenty-two, I’ve just started my professional life, this is not something I want, my parents would freak, for sure.” We’ve talked about how Catholic they were.

It wasn’t something I could ever go to them about. I couldn’t say, “I’m pregnant and I don’t want this, I don’t want a baby.” They would not have been supportive.

 

Even just the fact that you were pregnant would that have upset them?

Yeah, they would’ve still loved and supported me, but it would’ve been very upsetting for them because Catholics don’t have premarital sex.

 

No they don’t. Ever. None of them.

*we both laugh* Nope.

 

So who did you tell first?

I only told one person. I told a very good friend of mine who lived a three-hour drive away at the time. I felt I could only confide in one person, and I did and she came down when I needed her.

 

And how did she react when you told her?

She was nothing but supportive. Gentle and caring and supportive. She took care of me. And looking back on it, I realized that it may have been a hard thing for her to do, because she was a born-again Christian. She was very religious — not when we were in college but later on. But she never ever judged me. She never made me feel like I was doing something bad or anything like that.

 

She was a great friend.

Yeah, she was.

 

Were you living in Maine at the time?

Yes, I was living right in Portland. It was 1981, I think. Or 1982. It wasn’t very long after Roe v. Wade was decided. What was that, ‘72? ‘73?

 

It was ‘73 I think. [Editor’s note: It was 1973.]

So less than 10 years, but abortion was available. It was not hard to access.

 

Where did you go?

Well, this was back before you could take an at-home pregnancy test, so I went to Family Planning — which was like a Planned Parenthood — to have the test. They told me it was positive and that’s when I freaked out. I made the arrangement right then and there. This was like a Tuesday or a Wednesday and they said, “There’ll be a clinic on Saturday and you can make an appointment now and have an abortion in a few days.”

And I said, “I’ll do it. Sign me up.”

 

Did they tell you how far along you were?

I think they said six weeks, so just barely [pregnant]. I called my friend and we went that morning to the clinic. There were maybe ten or twelve other people all there for the same thing.

It didn’t take long. My friend drove me home and she stayed with me and I went to sleep. Then a couple of hours after that, I woke up and we went out for pizza. And that was it.

 

How did you feel physically afterwards?

I don’t remember any discomfort. Maybe there was a little bit of cramping, but it wasn’t enough that it stayed with me as something that was painful or hard to get through physically.

 

And how did you feel emotionally?

Relieved. Just relieved. I never looked at it with any kind of regret. I never felt, Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Never, never.

And as time went on it just got farther and farther from my consciousness. I didn’t think about it at all. I mean, I didn’t have to think about it. It was done and it was my choice to do it, and then I moved on.

 

You were with Dad at the time, right?

Yes.

 

Did you tell him before you had the procedure?

No. Like I said, I panicked. We were in a long distance relationship. I felt like it was my decision to make and it had to be done right away, so I took care of it. And then after the fact I told him.

 

How did he react?

Oh, he was very supportive, very kind and thoughtful. I guess I’m afraid that it’s going to sound like he didn’t want to be there, or to be involved or to have a voice in the decision. I didn’t really give him that.

I still have a little bit of guilt about not telling him before I made the decision, but it doesn’t change anything about the fact that I needed an abortion. I was able to access it, I could afford it… it was in a safe, professional environment, and it was my choice about what was happening in my body.

 

Are there other people you’ve talked with about your abortion since?

No. Like I said it happened and it was done and I put it behind me and moved on. I mean, I’m not saying I never thought about it but I never dwelled on it.

 

I know you feel secure in your decision to terminate your pregnancy, but can I ask was there ever a time where you weren’t so sure?

No. Never. Your sister asked me that, too. She said, “Was it something you thought about when you were trying to get pregnant and couldn’t?” And I said no. I never thought about it as, “Dang, I hope that wasn’t my only shot,” or anything like that. I’ve always been glad that I did it. It was the right thing to do for me at the time.

 

I think that’s really admirable. It makes you a really good role model.

Really, how so?

 

Well, I think your story shows that A) you don’t need to be in dire straits to get an abortion, B) you can have an abortion and go on to have children later, and C) that it’s not something that you have to feel guilty about.

I think I want the message about my experience to be that it wasn’t unusual. It was just an ordinary unplanned pregnancy that I didn’t want. I was able to end it rather than not having access [to an abortion], not having that freedom, that control.

 

I think there’s so much shame around abortion because the current government of this country and anti-abortion activists do so much work to bring shame upon people who do decide to have [them]. I think the fact that you’ve gone through it and never once doubted your decision and never once felt shame is really inspiring.

Well thanks, honey. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but I like thinking of it like that.

 

Did you always wanna have children?

Um… you know, I think in some sort of abstract way, yes. But I didn’t want to have children before I was ready. That’s for sure. I mean… who does?

 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Willow Gray, Lucia Rosenast, and Nikki Burnett

 

Talking Gender with My Mom

One Saturday afternoon, at my monotonous service job at a New York theater, a man with salt and pepper hair walked up to me. Clutching his plastic cup of beer, he inquired, “Isn’t New York one of those places where they let the men use the ladies’ room?”

It took every ounce of my self control not to clock him on the head with the giant basket full of wine-in-sippy-cups I was holding.

This wasn’t the first time I’d fielded a remark of this sort, nor was it the last. For me it was irritating and uncomfortable, but for members of the trans community these interactions are harmful and potentially dangerous.

In this day and age, media representation of trans and genderqueer people is better than it’s ever been, but we still have such a long way to go. We still have cisgender actors playing transgender characters. Our armed forces are still intolerant of trans people. When older generations are shutting doors on gender nonconformists left and right, it can be difficult to imagine them ever understanding a narrative beyond the hetero, cisgendered normative one that has prevailed in this country for centuries.

This begs the question: in a nation divided on gender, can we bridge the generational gap? I talked with my mom who is a baby boomer — but doesn’t look a day over thirty three — in pursuit of common ground.

 

Let’s go back to ten years ago. How did you understand gender then?

Mom: Well, there was the binary. There’s male-female, there’s boy stuff-girl stuff. And as a feminist, I never believed that girls couldn’t do some things that boys could do and vice versa. There are no girl careers or boy careers, or girl toys or boy toys, but boy/girl was either/or.

I first became aware of the spectrum when, as you remember, the school I work at accepted two students who were trans.

 

And who were out.

Who were out, right.

The summer before they were to start [the] ninth grade — I was diversity coordinator, so I had to understand what it meant to be trans. I was given a book that really changed my paradigm completely. It was called “The Transgender Child”, and that’s where I was first introduced to the idea of gender as a spectrum and of gender as being separate from sexuality, as two distinct parts of someone’s identity.

That really made me understand the complexity of it much more than I had before. Before that I understood that people who were transgender were born with the physical sex characteristics, but felt that they were the other gender. 

 

Now, twenty years ago you have two young children — you’re forty. How did you understand gender then?

I think I was even more steeped in the stereotypes of looking at it from a binary perspective. I’d say twenty years ago — I’m embarrassed to admit it — but I thought it was a choice or that there was something disturbed about someone who would dress or present as a gender different from their sex. I’ve learned a lot.

 

How do you identify in terms of gender?

I identify as a cisgender woman.

 

What does being a woman mean to you?

It’s kind of hard to answer that because I don’t really have anything to compare it to. It’s just [such a] big a part of my identity that it’s hard to kind of tease it apart and isolate it. Can you come back to that one?

 

Sure. Are there any moments that make you really aware that you’re a woman?

Well, yes. I think within the last couple of years, especially in the political environment that we’re in, it sometimes feels very frustrating to see what happens when men, especially rich old white men have the power.

 

For me, I think the #MeToo movement made me re-contextualize what being a woman meant, because I lead a very privileged life, a life in which I am safe and accepted by those around me. But it’s scary sometimes, to be a woman.

Yes. I think it’s even scarier to be a young woman. I feel less threatened at times in public than I did when I was younger.

When I was your age and in my thirties and even forties, there were times when I felt inhibited from doing things because I was a woman alone. I couldn’t run by myself at night…I think it is harder for you as a young woman at times.

On the other hand, I think that young women are so much more powerful today than when I was a young woman. I think young women see their power and feel entitled to it much more than when I was young. On the flip side I think, in the culture we’re in, it can be easier to be a woman when it comes to expressing emotion. Being able to understand how we’re feeling and being able to talk about it… and not only to express feelings but to express gender with fewer constrictions.

People who identify as male have a narrower perimeter of what is accepted in terms of gender expression. This is maybe more true for older men in the U.S., but if you’re a man and you wear feminine clothing — that’s not often accepted. Women can dress in a more masculine way and it can be stylish and fashionable and acceptable.

 

Have you ever questioned your gender?

No.

 

Have you ever questioned gender itself?

You mean the concept of gender?

 

Yeah, the concept of gender.

I think I’ve learned a lot more about it than I thought there was to know within the last several years. Like most people, I grew up steeped in the dichotomy of male or female with nothing in between.

Now I’ve learned over the course of the last several years working in a school that’s had to educate ourselves in order to serve our students the way they should be served, that there’s so much in between the two ends of the spectrum and that there’s a whole range of not just identity, but of expression and behavior. That’s how I’ve grown to understand it.

 

You know, I feel like there was a learning curve for me as well. Binary trans-ness was a concept that was very easy for me to understand. I learned about it in middle school, from “This American Life” actually, where they did an episode on trans kids. The binary is so ingrained in our society that I was able to understand [being] trans as long as it was binary. I remember starting college, and I hate to admit it, but I had trouble grasping the concept of nonbinary identity and they/them pronouns. I was one of those people for a short period of time.

Thankfully, I learned, grown, and evolved. But everything is gendered, everything in our world. Like sunglasses, like school supplies and lotion, you know, razors. Everything that we consume is gendered. And it doesn’t need to be.

The power of the media and advertising hasn’t failed to reach the young kids I work with. I have lunch in [the] Early Childhood [department] on Fridays, and I see the girls’ Hello Kitty lunchboxes and the boys’ superhero lunchboxes and I’m sure that they’re saying to their parents, “I want a pink lunchbox, I want a superhero lunchbox.” So they’re being influenced by the media and advertising say boys should have… and girls should have… even as three and four year-olds. Now what they’re learning from their school is very different, and I can hear their learning and understanding of that in their conversations with each other. For example [I’ve heard kids say to each other],“Girls can do that, too.”

[And the other kid says back], “I know girls can do that, too, I just wanted to play with my friend who happens to be a boy.”

You know what I’m saying? They understand and can articulate that there’s an equality. In fact, just today I heard someone say the name Sal and a girl said “Sal can be a girl’s name or a boy’s name” and another kid said “I have an aunt named Sally,” and someone else said, “My neighbor’s name is Salvador.”

 

You’ve got two perfect examples there.

So this year in our K-1 class they’ve done a lot of work on identity and gender as part of identity, as a piece of it. The kids all made these really cool life-sized portraits that are hung up all around the balcony in the foyer of the new building. It’s really cool looking. They hung smaller self-portraits on these strings [which represented] the [gender] spectrum and the kids put their self portrait where they felt they identified, closer to boy, closer to girl. Some were right at boy, right at girl, and some were right in the middle.

Their expression was clearly one way or the other, but the way they were feeling was a little less binary. And so they talked to the kids about how that can even change day to day. Some days you might be closer to one side or the other, or not. You might say “every day this is how I feel” and that it’s all okay.

 

That sounds like a really wonderful project.

It was a really good lesson.

 

And it’s amazing that they’re learning it early.

Well, they’re learning it whether they’re being explicitly taught or not.

 

You know, I’ve actually questioned my gender before.

Have you?

 

I have, yeah. What I ultimately came to realize was that I was confusing gender identity and gender expression because I do tend to present in a more androgynous way.

Our society tells us there’s one specific way to be a woman, and I thought if I didn’t fit into that box, then maybe I wasn’t a woman. And it wasn’t just me. Sometimes other people are confused by me. In my classes in college, I remember there was a man who would just never use any pronouns for me. It was a theater class and he was directing us at one point and he was like, “Okay, Nora’s gonna go over here and Nora’s gonna do this and Nora’s gonna do that,” and I remember thinking, “You are playing a strange game.”

Still, I feel really lucky to have a community of people who I can talk openly with about gender. And at the end of the day, I take a lot of pride in being a queer woman and in being a woman who presents in a way that is not always deemed acceptable and is sometimes frowned upon.

I hope that even if there’s one kid in the afterschool program I work at who is, one day poised with a razor in the shower about to shave their legs and stops and thinks, “Oh wait, I had that one afterschool teacher who didn’t shave her legs. Maybe I don’t have to shave mine.” If I can be that for one kid, I will have done my job.

I think you already have been just by being there for them to see. You’re that window for them.

 

I’m the window.

And I’m sure there are kids for whom you are a mirror.

 

I hope so.

*  *  *

Photos (in order of appearance) by Adyana Covelli, Kate Phillips, and Antonia Adomako.

I Talked To My Mom About Abortion

 

On January 22nd of 1973, a 25-year-old named Norma McCorvey was informed by the Supreme Court of the United States that her right to an abortion was protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. Norma was better known by the legal pseudonym Jane Roe, and her case, Roe v. Wade, would go on to become one of the most significant and controversial cases in Supreme Court history.

In 1973, my mom was 15 years old and living with her parents and seven older siblings in a small town in Rhode Island. She attended high school and played flute in the marching band. Forty-six years later, she and I sat down to talk about abortion.

 

Was abortion a topic that was ever discussed in your house?

Mom: It wasn’t discussed but I think, being raised in a very Catholic household, there was unspoken opposition to it. On the other hand, my parents were very socially conservative but liberal in the idea that the government should provide support for people who need it. I think as far as faith-based beliefs go, they probably came down on the anti-abortion/anti-Roe v. Wade side, but we didn’t have conversations around the dinner table about it.

 

What did you have conversations around the dinner table about?

It was a lot of noise and talking. My father would sometimes tell jokes. That was always fun. I do have a memory of something from junior high school — I must’ve been in ninth grade. This is going to kind of surprise you given my firm support of it now, but in English class and we had to do some kind of report, a persuasive essay or something about a current topic. I chose abortion and I was against it. I had all of these pictures that I’d found in a magazine and cut out and passed around the classroom and I talked about how immoral it was.

 

What made you decide to take that stance?

Like I said it wasn’t something that was discussed in our house openly, but my parents got publications like Catholic Digest and Columbia Magazine — which was a Catholic men’s magazine. So at that time it was all about Roe v. Wade.

We’d go to church every Sunday, and I’m sure it was mentioned in church, so that was it. That was the opinion. I was swimming in that pond. Everybody around me believed that [abortion was wrong]. There was a high percentage of Catholics in Woonsocket at the time. Maybe the demographic has changed, but everybody I knew was Catholic. I guess without even thinking about it, I must’ve assumed everybody felt this way. I wasn’t giving it much critical thought.

 

Do you have any memories of hearing about Roe v. Wade on the news?

It wasn’t something I was paying attention to — I mean obviously I was just a kid – but I do have a vague memory of it. And I don’t remember feeling any particular way about Roe v. Wade, specifically.

 

I learned what abortion was at age ten, and I remember being confused because I didn’t know if it was good or bad. The world is so black and white when you’re a kid, so at the time I was thinking,“Do they kill the babies? Is that what that is?” But pretty soon I realized that that wasn’t the case. Learning about fetal development was helpful for me and over the years I gained more perspective. But even to this day you rarely actually hear the word “abortion” on TV or in movies. You always hear “I took care of it” or something like that. It’s not unlike the way people talk about death. Rarely do you hear people say “so and so died” it’s always “so and so passed away” or “so and so passed on” and it’s a similar scenario with abortion. It’s never “so and so had an abortion” it’s “so and so took care of it”, “so and so got rid of it.” 

Yeah, there are lots of euphemisms for it — “terminated the pregnancy.”

 

I wonder if the use of euphemisms like that was part of what led us to have misconstrued beliefs when we were younger.

Euphemisms and misnomers like “pro-life.”

 

The use of the term “pro-life” really frustrates me because if one side is [referred to as] pro-life, that implies that the other side is anti-life. I think the use of this euphemism only makes the chasm between the two sides bigger.

And I don’t think the “pro-life” movement is any more pro-life than those of us who believe in the right to choose, in someone’s right to have agency over their own body. But I agree, it’s a way of setting those who are pro-life or anti-choice apart and give them a feeling or belief that they’re morally superior.

 

When you listen to pro-life/anti-choice politicians — people like Senator McConnell, Justice Kavanaugh, people like Trump — speak about abortion, are there things you wish they could understand?

I think their opposition is mostly disingenuous. I think most of them — because most of them are men — take that [anti-choice] stance because it puts them in a stronger position politically. It speaks to a block of voters who they think will help them continue to hold onto their power. What do I wish they understood? What it really feels like to be in that position. To be in a position where, for whatever reason, you are pregnant and not by choice — what that really feels like.

 

Have you seen public opinions of abortion change over the years? Or the way abortion is being represented in the media?

I think so. Over the years, I think a majority of adults have grown up not having to question whether or not someone who needed to make that choice could make it. Recently there’s been much more support for [someone’s right to access an abortion]. As your generation — the post-Baby Boom generations reach adulthood, there are more of those kinds of human rights. I think it’s becoming more and more [incorporated into] the fabric of our culture, and I think that’s what really scares the white Evangelical Christian conservatives — loss of [their] grip on our culture.

 

Has someone close to you ever gotten an abortion? A friend, a family member?

Actually, yes. When I was in high school a friend of mine did.

 

Was this friend also in high school?

Yes, she was a grade behind me. It was obviously not a planned pregnancy and she, like me, grew up in a very Catholic household.

I remember her telling me after the fact that she had gotten an abortion. The father wasn’t somebody she was in a relationship with, it was just another kid that we went to high school with. Luckily, she was able to make that choice, so I guess it was after 1973.

 

And was there access in your area?

It could’ve been that she had to go to Massachusetts… I don’t know any of the details. I don’t think her parents knew.

 

How did you feel when she told you? Do you remember what you said?

I remember expressing support and care for her. I remember feeling how hard it must’ve been for her to go through [with it] and just feeling good that she was able to take care of it — “take care of it”, huh — and [thinking] now her life is back to normal. Of course it wasn’t, but I didn’t know that.

 

It seems like you made a pretty big leap [then] from ninth grade when you did that report. 

I hadn’t thought about it but yeah… that’s a big change in a few years, isn’t it?

 

Do you think it’s because it became personal when it happened to a friend of yours?

Yeah, I probably didn’t give it much thought at all in between the ninth grade report I did and when a friend had to go through that. You’re right. I think knowing someone who had to make that decision made it real, and I was able to be sympathetic.

 

I know from some of our previous conversations that your school’s sex ed program was, to put it gently, lacking. Was there any talk of what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?

No. That wasn’t part of the curriculum at all. There definitely were girls in my high school who were pregnant. There were quite a few pregnant students, maybe because access to birth control wasn’t as easy to get as it is now?

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suppose it wasn’t all that unusual to have children around that age, because I remember once looking through your yearbook and all the seniors would write a little bit about what their plans were for after graduation, and a lot of them said they were getting married.

That’s true. I couldn’t tell you a percentage, but there was a bigger number of students who weren’t planning to go to college than were. So without that four year transition, the leap into adulthood right after high school was very real. It was still a bit of a scandal for girls, but not for boys. Can I ask you a question?

 

Of course.

You asked me earlier about the change that I’ve seen over the years. I’m wondering what your perspective is on attitudes toward the right to choose. Do you feel hopeful that it’s gonna continue on that path? Or are you fearful that there’ll be some backsliding?

 

I am fearful, largely because of the Supreme Court. I don’t think they’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but I do think they’re going to gut [funding towards upholding] it. The fact that they recently blocked the Louisiana abortion law [threatening to restrict] access, gives me hope — but it also makes me more nervous. It makes me feel as though they’re stalling. There’s a ticking clock now that Kavanaugh is a justice. I feel detached from it to a certain extent, because I’m not at a high risk for unwanted pregnancy, but I have a sister who could end up pregnant and not want to be pregnant, and I want her to be able to make the choice for herself. I want to know she’ll be safe.

I agree with you but I also have — this is going to sound kinda cheesy — but I really have a lot of hope for your generation. You are all, as a group, much more accepting and progressive and open than we were —  are. And you care a whole lot more and you believe.

This is getting beyond the scope of our conversation here, but you believe that climate change is real and you believe that trans people should be treated like anyone else and you believe that LGBTQ+ people should have the same right to love and be loved as hetero, cis people. I have hope that the world is going to be a more open and accepting place than it is now as you all age into leading. It’s happening already. I’m excited to have you guys fix the crappy mess that my generation has made of it all.

 

I think you’re the first Baby Boomer to ever admit that Baby Boomers fucked up the world for millennials, because I believe they did.

I don’t think I’m the only one who believes that.

 

You’re the first one I’ve ever heard admit it though, so thanks for that.

You’re welcome. And I apologize.

 

 

First two photos by Madeline Jo Pease and the third by Sofia Amburgey.

I Talked To My Mom About Coming Out

No two coming out stories are exactly alike.

It was a hot August day when I told my mom I was queer. I sat in the front seat of the car with tears welling up in my eyes. I was 19 years old and home from college for the summer. I had just returned from a party with my high school friends where, upon coming out to them, I was sexually harassed by my ex boyfriend who had been drinking heavily. This is not about that night, but the events that led to the front seat of my mom’s car will unfortunately always be a part of my story.

Three years later, I decided to interview my mother to gain her perspective on my coming out story. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion. 

 

When did I come out to you and how did I do it?

Mom: Well, you did it in a way that you didn’t intend to. It was in the context of telling me about something else, and you couldn’t avoid telling me about your sexuality — that you identify as queer — without telling me about this really bad experience that you had. We’ve talked about it since then, and I think you wouldn’t have done it that way if you had been able to choose the time and place, but that’s the way it happened.

 

Are you disappointed it happened that way?

I wish it had been more of a positive experience for both of us because I think it could’ve been.

I couldn’t fully process it at that time. In retrospect, [Nora’s ex]’s actions were even more harmful than he intended because he robbed us of the opportunity to have a positive conversation about it. I think your queerness could’ve been the focus, and we could’ve concentrated on the positive feelings around it rather than the negative feelings. I wanted to protect you and shelter you from the hurt that that person caused you. It could’ve been more celebratory but it wasn’t.

 

Do you consider coming out a cause for celebration?

I think it is because it’s you. It’s not something like, “Here’s my new hair color” for example — it’s not a choice like that. It’s just you revealing more of yourself, and that feels like a cause for celebration.

 

I like that sentiment. I think being yourself should be a celebratory thing.

Yes, exactly.

 

How would you have liked me to come out to you? Should I have done it in song?

*Laughs* I would’ve liked it if you had said to dad and me, “Hey guys, here’s what I’ve discovered about myself.” Then your parents, as a partnership, could’ve said, “Great! We’re so glad that you found that out and you’re sharing it with us.”

 

I’ve been thinking about why I was so hesitant to tell dad, and I’ve realized it actually has a lot to do with the way I had to tell you. That was such an unpleasant experience that I came to associate talking openly about my sexuality with [that] bad experience. It never had anything to do with dad as a person, and I knew that the whole time, but I really struggled with the “why” of it all. I love dad and I never have problems telling him anything but I remembered the way I felt coming out to you, and I just didn’t want to feel that way again.

That makes sense. I think he would love to hear that. He gets it.

 

I wonder what Nana would’ve thought if I’d had the chance to come out to her.

Well, when one of your cousins came out she said something like, “It doesn’t matter, I love you anyway.” Like my dad, she was very devout, but her love for her family came first, so it didn’t matter to her. There were other times when other people’s children needed support and she and Grandpa gave it to them despite the teachings of the Catholic faith.

 

As a millennial, it’s really easy to make assumptions about the opinions of older generations. I’ve certainly made assumptions like that. I always just assumed that if Nana and Grandpa were alive now they wouldn’t approve of my sexuality, but it’s surprising and wonderful to know that that wouldn’t be the case. It’s a weight off my chest.

People can surprise you.

 

What do you wish for other parents of young queer people?

What do I wish?

 

Yeah, I’m big on wishes in 2019.

Okay. I wish for them a close, loving relationship with their child so that whatever happens for their child and for their relationship, they have that foundation. If you love your child, you celebrate what they discover about themselves. You celebrate it all. So I wish that… and the strength to help their children be strong.

 

Good wishes.

*  *  *

 

After my mom and I talked, I thought it was only fitting for me to make a wish too, a wish for the kids like me, the queer kids (and yes, at 22 years old I still feel like a kid).

My wish for you is to come out whenever you want, as often as you want, to as many people as you want. There’s no one way to do it. If you want to tell the whole world or just one close friend or family member, you can. For you, I wish authorship of your own story. It’s your coming out story, so write it however you damn well please.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Sofia AmburgeyJess Farran, and  Olivia Renouf

 

 

I Talked To My Mom About Birth Control

I previously interviewed my Mom about her experience parenting a child with clinical depression — that child would be me. This time around, we’re talking birth control.

My mom was born in 1958 and grew up in a blue-collar mill town in Rhode Island, the youngest of eight children in a big ol’ Catholic family. She started taking the pill during college, and over the years has tried other modes of birth control like the diaphragm and the rhythm method.

 

When you first started on the pill did you have a conversation about it with Nana and Grandpa… just Nana?

*laughs*

Nooooo, no, no. It wasn’t talked about, first of all. I never ever, ever in a million years would have talked to father about it, but I wouldn’t have broached it with my mother because premarital sex was a sin. It was not something she would’ve been open to even hearing about. She would’ve been deeply offended.

 

She was a pretty devout Catholic, right?

She was, as was Grandpa.

 

Did a lot of parents share their viewpoint back then?

A lot of parents did, yeah — none of my peers did. No, I take that back, there were a few. But the majority of people my age were, you know… were engaging in premarital sex if they had partners.

 

So no conversations were had. What about any of your sisters?

Did they have conversations with my parents? No, I don’t think so. Aunt Holly [my Mom’s oldest sister] got married at 19 and she — I didn’t know this at the time — but she told me years later that one of the reasons she did it was she thought she would have to live with her parents until she got married. And she was right; that’s what women did in my parents’ generation, so that was their belief.

 

When you decided to start birth control, was it because you were or were about to become sexually active?

Yeah. By sexually active I mean I had sex with a boyfriend, but then when I broke up with him I didn’t take the pill anymore. So it was sort of an off and on thing.

 

Did that affect your body, going on and off it?

Looking back on it now I think I probably did feel different, just lighter, you know. By lighter, I mean lighter feeling, like less sluggish. You know the hormones can cause your body to think it’s pregnant a little bit and so there’s always that little bit of extra weight that can make you feel sluggish, or at least that’s how I felt.

 

That was when you were on it, you mean?

Yeah, and then going off it. Although I say that now in retrospect. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to articulate that or notice it consciously at the time.

 

When people look at college communities nowadays, I think one common perception is that there’s a lot of sex happening all the time. “Hookup culture” is very much a thing, so I’m wondering: was it like that when you were there?

I would say no. People had sex but it was still very — it was an old fashioned kind of atmosphere where it was fine for the boys to.  Nobody used the term “hook up” but I’ll use it now. It was fine for boys to hook up with all the girls they could but it wasn’t okay for girls to do that.

 

Was there a stereotype — like only certain kinds of women take the pill?

No, I don’t think that was it. I knew that a lot of women my age did, but you know, there’s that little parental voice in the head saying, “This is shameful,” even though I knew it wasn’t and I knew other people were doing it, and it wasn’t, you know? You can’t get away from that parental voice. And if unintended pregnancy happened, you got married right away.

 

So pregnancy was the problem, marriage was the solution?

Yes, because out of wedlock pregnancy was a humiliation for the family, [considered] a failure on the parents’ part. Not to mention it was immoral in Catholic families.

 

There was a double standard?

Absolutely, yeah. That was my experience. It might have depended on what school you were at, what group of friends you had.

 

Absolutely. So going back to when you were in high school, was there any kind of Sex Ed program in place?

No.

 

What about health class?

I think I kind of remember being in a health class for one semester. I don’t think there was any kind of birth control education or sex education or anything, but it could be that I’m just not remembering it. I was on the college track and so there were lots of requirements that I had to take, you know, the academic classes. So there weren’t a lot of opportunities for electives. Maybe it wasn’t even a semester. Maybe it was just for a few weeks as part of a PE class. I kind of remember sitting in a classroom with the male PE teacher teaching us and I remember trying not to pay attention.

 

I’m sure you don’t remember most of that class because you were trying not to listen — but was it more along the lines of “the miracle of life” or was it more — did they talk about sex at all? About contraception?

I would’ve paid attention if they had! But they didn’t. I’m thinking it was more like hygiene stuff. I know it was co-ed, and I don’t remember feeling embarrassed about anything like, the male PE teacher is gonna teach us how to douche — it wasn’t anything like that. Not that that’s a good idea to do, but you know back then there were even commercials on TV for products that do that… I think it was more like, “You know your body is gonna smell so use deodorant,” and stuff like that. Very, very superficial.

 

That was in high school that they were teaching you that kind of stuff?

I’m gonna say 10th grade. Maybe it was in response to what they were smelling in gym class.

 

So you talked a little bit about how being on the pill made you feel. Did you experience any side effects, mental or physical?

Not from the pill. It made me regular and I had always had irregular periods, so being on the pill was convenient in that way. Before that I did have — not severe cramps — but I did have cramps when I had my period. But when I started using a diaphragm for a little while I kept getting urinary tract infections. That was a big problem.

 

Was that a common thing with the diaphragm in general? To get UTIs?

I think it was just that, for my body, it didn’t work. If I’m remembering this correctly, my doctor said the way it fit in it sort of maybe hit something, blocked something so that… I don’t quite understand the anatomy enough to say what it was, but it had to do not so much with the device itself, but how I’m built.

 

Were there any brands that were popular? For any kind of contraceptive, not just the pill or the diaphragm.

No, it wasn’t something that I discussed with anybody.

 

Were there ads for them anywhere?

No.

 

Not at all?

No.

 

Not even condoms?

Not in the magazines or newspapers or TV stations I watched and read. Not the mainstream. Not on the nightly news on Channel 10.

 

So looking at the timeline, how many years do you think you were on birth control?

Let’s say age 19 to age 33.

 

So looking back on those 14 years, is there anything you would’ve changed? Are there things you wish you’d known?

I wish I had educated myself better. It was harder to get information then and I didn’t really seek it out. I think if I had had a regular doctor to talk to, that would’ve been better. But even then, I wasn’t proactive enough. Asking more questions, being more of an informed consumer would have helped a lot… because maybe an IUD would have been good for me.

The hormones of the pill weren’t great and the diaphragm never fit right, so if I had access to more information maybe that’s the method I would’ve ended up choosing. I mean the pill worked fine, I didn’t get pregnant — and that’s the goal, right?

 

So you feel like there was information out there but you could’ve done a better job of pursuing it?

I think the information was there but it was a lot harder to access. I didn’t realize I could have accessed it. I think now people your age know that it’s there, know how to access it, and know there’s no stigma or shame in accessing it. Maybe this part was my upbringing, my parents’ influence: the feeling that it wasn’t quite okay, even though it was and the alternative was pregnancy risk. It felt like, I just better figure this out quick and take care of it and not talk about it to anybody.

These days — if it’s not accepted that kids are going to [have premarital sex] — it’s at least understood that it’s a very distinct possibility. And so rather than just saying “Don’t do it”[we should be] teaching kids — if you do, here are some ways to avoid infection and avoid pregnancy; here’s the right way to do it. Without the judgement, without the moralizing. I think that’s a very good thing.

 

Big ups to my mom for letting me pepper her with questions — even uncomfortable ones — yet again. Thanks, Mom!

 

Talk to your doctor about which mode of birth control is best for you. You can find a list of different birth control options and information on how they work here.

Bringing Up Baby

My mother loves to learn more than anyone else I know. Whether she’s reading a book on mindsets or taking an online course on the brain, she’s constantly seeking out new ways of looking at the world around her. She’s a problem solver by nature, thankfully, because when I was a kid I threw her a pretty big parenting curveball.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression at age 11. By that time it had completely overshadowed my life. Depending on the day, it would either render me catatonic, unable to leave my bed, or it would reduce me to an inconsolable mess of tears. I was just a kid, so I didn’t have the language to articulate what was happening to me. All I knew was something was off. Through years of therapy, trying different medications, and learning coping methods, I have learned a lot about depression and how it affects me specifically. My mom has been there with me every step of the way. She’s been there to take me to the doctor, go on walks with me, and sit in bed and read my favorite books to me when I told her I didn’t know who I was anymore and didn’t know if I could keep going.

Though today I still have up days and down days, I’ve learned a lot about how to stay mentally afloat. It occurred to me that, throughout the years, I never knew how my mom was feeling. She always remained my stalwart. I decided to ask her some questions about her experience.

 

Has your perception of mental illness, and depression specifically, changed from when I was diagnosed to now? If so, how has it changed?

Yes, my perception has changed. I used to think of depression as more of a “sadness/happiness” dichotomy. Sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re happy. Now I think it presents in different ways – sadness, anger, fatigue, etc. – depending on many factors. I think you exhibited some symptoms even when you were little, but we didn’t recognize it as depression, and the symptoms never lasted very long. It’s easier to see things in hindsight.

 

What are your thoughts on different methods of treatment (therapy, medication, etc.)? What have you learned about treatment over the years?

I believe very firmly in the mind/body connection, which is why I encourage you to take care of yourself (exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, get enough vitamin D, etc.). My opinion of medication has changed, though. I used to think that I never wanted my children to be medicated, but I now know that medication can be an important tool in the toolbox. I still believe the other methods are important and should be part of a comprehensive regimen, along with therapy and medication.

 

What have you learned about yourself?

I’ve learned that I can’t be happy if either of my children isn’t happy. There’s an expression that goes, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” Boy, is that true for me. I’ve learned I have to let you navigate this journey, even though there are times when I want to take charge and try to fix everything. I know that I can’t do this because it’s not something that can be easily fixed, and I shouldn’t because when you’re driving the train, you’re learning lifelong mental health management skills, which is so important, so you have to do it for yourself.

 

What have some low moments been for you?

The one I remember most is when you were in 6th grade. The depression has really manifested as a debilitating sadness, and I didn’t know what to do to make it better for you. I remember driving to Staples one night because you needed a new binder for school, and it was snowing on my drive home. I put the brakes on suddenly, and the car went into a spin. I was so scared for those few seconds, which seemed to last for hours, but I didn’t crash, and was able to drive home safely. When I got home I went up to my bedroom, lay down on the bed and sobbed until I had cried it out. Everything felt so overwhelming and I felt so helpless as a parent.

 

How would you say our relationship has changed over the years?

We’ve definitely gotten closer. I’ve been so impressed with you and what you’ve done to manage your depression and the coping skills you’ve developed. I think we’re more honest with each other than we would have been if you didn’t have depression.

 

What have you learned about me?

I’ve learned that you’re very creative, and talented, and funny, and strong, and that you’re all that despite your depression. Or maybe because of it. Some people believe there’s a link. I’ve learned that you’re resilient. I’ve learned that you’re incredibly determined and motivated to be as mentally healthy as possible, and I’ve learned to trust you and follow your lead.

 

 

I want to thank my mom for being so generous with her thoughts and stories. Though I certainly don’t always make it easy for her, I’m aware of how lucky I am to be so close to her; it can be so hard to do alone. If there’s one thing I hope this conversation can provide, it’s a bit of insight into how to talk about mental illness with the adults in your life. This wasn’t the most fun conversation I’ve ever had with my mom, but it was the first. Many of its kind have followed. Each one has only brought us closer.