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.|
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|
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.
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?