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Friday, February 28, 2014

Whoops Baby

     Today I’m grateful I wasn’t aborted. You see, as a result of my writing I’ve been thinking quite often of my childhood and it has finally dawned on me that if things hadn’t fallen into line exactly the way they did, I would’ve been so aborted. If my mom wasn’t a devout Catholic, if she was forced to get genetic testing—as a result of being too old to have a baby—if she went with her gut and probably with the advice of my father—she should’ve not gone through with the pregnancy that resulted in me.
     This was a secret my family kept from me my whole life—and hats off to them. Every single member of my family can keep a secret like a pro and they passed that wonderful talent on to me. The problem is that now that I am writing, the secrets are coming out. No wonder I’ve never been encouraged to write (except by teachers)!
     I became aware of this trend in high school, although it began much earlier. I met a girl named Claudine. One day we were talking and we found out we had something in common. There was a substantial age gap between us and our other siblings. Claudine’s was eleven years between her and a sister. Mine was thirteen and eleven years respectively between my sister and my brother.
     “You’re a whoops too!” Claudine said that day.
A small Whoopsie.
     “What?” I was astonished. My family had never come out and said it this way (In contrast, to poor Claudine, whose situation had become a family joke.) But even as my new friend went on to elaborate (she felt she needed to, thanks to my blank face), I knew, I knew, exactly what she meant. I also knew that she was right. I was a whoops, just like her. How had I never known this before?
     I mean, I guess I should’ve gotten a clue when I was snooping around in my parents’ room and found the discharge papers from my father’s court-ordered commitment to a mental institution. It should've been obvious then that I was not born into an ideal situation. One of the sections contained a scrawled warning from a psychiatrist that “The patient has a young daughter and if sent home in his psychotic state, he could kill her.”
    That was shocking, but I was under the impression that it must’ve been a mistake. A whoops diagnosis. Because nothing ever happened. My father watched me all the time when I was a child, while my mom, brother and sister were at work or with their friends—and I survived it. 
     These doctor’s orders were in the drawer that also held all of my dad’s racing tickets from the track (a self-prescribed treatment for his bipolar disorder and the only one he ever stuck with). There were additionally some notes from a marriage counseling session they’d been to. I gathered from the notes that my father was supposed to write down three things my mother shouldn’t do anymore if their marriage was to survive. I can’t remember the other two, but the third was: “Don’t use sex as a weapon.” Being ten at the time, I cringed at that one. Ick. My parents were having sex. Up until then, I’d figured they hadn’t touched each other since my conception. They had an extremely rocky relationship, so it was hard to imagine them being intimate. 
     I saw that one again when my husband and I were going to the marriage classes required by the Catholic Church. It is a staple in counseling situations, kind of like Marriage for Dummies. Don’t use sex as a weapon. Duh. I could say with complete confidence to the mature Catholic couple mentoring us that I already knew this, but I didn’t dare tell them how I’d come upon the information.
     Anyway, from the moment I found out I was a whoops (which I should’ve known all along), I was on a quest to prove that I deserved to be alive. I got all A’s in school, never skipped my classes or did drugs. Never even drank. My teachers loved me. My family, not so much.
     They saw me as a spoiled brat who never had to work for anything. And also a bit of a freak, since they liked to drink and skip classes every once in a while. More power to them. They didn’t have to prove that they deserved to be alive. I guess my problem was that I expected everyone to be grateful that I got by without causing any trouble. They weren't. From comments thrown out recently, they expected me to maintain better contact with them after they moved out. Although my brother and sister were off at college or busy building careers, they counted on me to monitor the situation at home and call them to check up on their progress in life. And I didn't. I never called. A high school student at the time, I figured they'd appreciate my silence. They didn't need to know about my parents’ disintegrating marriage. Or maybe I told myself they should've known about it, in very much the same manner I should've known I was a Whoops.
     Over the years, whenever I complained about the mental abuse going on at home, they’d assure me it was worse when they were young. I never asked how they knew that. Instead I said, “What happened?”  Apparently, they’d suffered physical abuse—which I can’t really say I had. I mean, there were a few slaps thrown in here and there—but nothing that sent me to the hospital. The treatment I received in my parents’ care alternated between being berated and being ignored. It wasn't physical, but, looking back, it was abuse. "You're lucky," my sister had said. "Mom has really mellowed out."
A Complicated Whoopsie
Okay, so fast-forward thirty years to my family now—which I’m determined to make functional (if it’s the last thing I do). Here are some of the steps I'm taking toward a functional family unit. My ADHD daughter is in therapy, because I already see some indications she might be bipolar (although psychiatrists—or quacks as my father used to call them—don’t diagnose that disorder until the teenage years) and I got quickly into therapy when I caught myself saying some of the things to my children that my mother used to say to me. I’m out now, but an interaction with my brother has got me thinking I might need to reassess that decision. I had asked him to do a school project for my youngest child and when I called to remind him to send it back (and offer to reimburse him for shipping), he yelled at me and said something so painful about my children that I can’t retype it here. The gist is apparently he’s too busy to do Flat Stanley and feels as if he spends his time during visits to Michigan being an invisible person at a bunch of kid functions. Granted, he’s already done Flat Stanley once and I should’ve asked someone else. But there’s no one else. I'd do it myself, but any parent knows that you can’t do Flat Stanley for your kids. I would give anything to be able to.

     Anyway, the real reason I am blogging today about gratitude for small things is that I’m grateful to have not been aborted. At least I think I am. I guess I’m just confused. I’ve always been Pro-Choice—even though I too am Catholic—and now I know why. As a whoops baby, I could’ve--and probably should’ve--been aborted because the only real contribution I’ve made to the world is my kids. And if people (especially my immediate family) see them as an inconvenience—although my husband has assured me they’re his life—maybe my mother didn’t do anyone any favors when she decided to keep that baby in the face of her disintegrating marriage to a mentally ill man. All I know is that it’s really, really hard to constantly have to prove you deserve to be alive. Just something to think about if you’re on either side of this debate.
Grown-up Whoopsie
     Before anyone suspects that I am suicidal (because this does sound grim), have faith. I'm not. I would never do that to my kids. I am only ranting because this seems a safe venue to do so. I'm completely confident that no one from my family will ever happen upon this blog. I also have one last small thing to celebrate: the older gentleman who approached me about eight years ago. He came up in a grocery store, where I was shopping with my daughters (then two and four) and said, "One more. Just like these two." Of course by that he meant that I should have another beautiful child like the ones in my cart. And at the time I was considering just that. I took the advice of a perfect stranger--maybe he was an angel?--and have never regretted it. Not even when the third beautiful child came home with another freaking Flat Stanley in his back pack. Seriously, I'm grateful for that man's random act of kindness and his astonishing precognition. For who knew that someday I'd need the words of a stranger to counter the hurtful comments of a family member? 


  1. Jennifer, always believe that you are meant to be here. Believe also that God has got a purpose for your life. I didn't have such a wonderful childhood myself because my parents separated before I was born and my mother wanted to have me adopted when she met my step-father. My grandmother intervened, and I'm certain my mother always regretted having kept me. She couldn't pass herself off as single and my step-father's family were against him marrying a divorcee.
    I could go on, but there comes a time when it's all best put behind you. I admit that writing does make you think more about your past and childhood. Indeed, it makes me consider my whole life. I'm thankful that I kept forgiving throughout all the years. I have survived and know that I've been 'watched over'.
    The aborted babies, had they been given the chance of life, would also have been so thankful for it. I've tried too hard to please people and also prove my worth. I don't think it's so bad to 'try harder'.
    Keep your faith and take care of your lovely children. Blessings.

  2. You are not what your parents and siblings want to make you. You are not what your husband and children want to make you. People can be mean, vindictive, jealous and cruel. You know right and wrong, and only you have the right to judge yourself. Cut the strings with who makes you unhappy because you will never change them. You deserve your own group of friends who love you and appreciate you - your support system. They're just as important as therapy. Fight for yourself, your life and your sanity.

  3. Thanks to both of you for the words of encouragement. I'm going to take your advice and just keep plugging along, come hell or high water. Fanny Barnes Thornton, that is horrible about your mom wanting to have you adopted. Thank goodness for your grandmother! My mom and I are close enough now. She likes hearing about the kids--although she has some weird stipulations about how they're supposed to act around her. She is by far their most functional grandparent, and we're very lucky they have at least the one. Lexa, I am so in the mood for your book and I plan to buy it soon! Thanks for stopping by.