My parents got married at age 17. It was 1975. My mother had just lost her mother to a decade long battle with cancer, and her father had been absent for years. My father had already found his craft; laboring on farms, in his father’s woodshop, in local car garages. My dad joined the Army as a diesel mechanic; the two of them quit school, got married, and moved to Germany.
In ‘77 they had their first child, in ‘79, stationed in Colorado, their second. My two older brothers were planned. On a cross-country drive back to New Jersey, they ran out of birth control and in 1980, I was born.
On a single-person income, the five of us living in a 2 bedroom apartment, my family struggled to make ends meet. My parents, determined to keep us afloat, did what they had to do. We could only afford a limited number of groceries, so my mom would steal milk and diapers by hiding them in my stroller (Her not getting caught is white-privilege in action. My advice to anyone, anywhere, who ever sees someone stealing essentials: let them go. They’re not criminals; they’re desperate to feed their families).
Children in the '80s roamed, played ball outside on the concrete, and got injured. We had a decent amount of broken bones, the occasional concussion, and the medical bills that come along with ER visits. Who needs to go to the dentist to get a tooth pulled when you can tie a string to a doorknob and slam the door closed? That was how we lived.
At age 23, already with three children and pregnant again, my parents were aware that they didn’t have the money to cover the cost of raising a 4th child.
When I was a teen, I learned that my mother had an abortion shortly after I was born, and during the abortion procedure, she had her tubes tied to prevent going through this again. My reaction then was typical teenage short-sightedness: YOU KILLED MY BABY SISTER.
In my mind, it was murder. And in my mind, it was a sister. The anti-choice fanatics, when talking about “the killing of unborn children”, always refer to them as “baby girls”. It’s a sad reality that Anti-choice adults have a perception on abortion that is parallel to the one in my teenage mind. I’m happy that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see the big picture.
My family continued to struggle. Our cabinets were bare and I was often hungry as a child. I didn’t always have warm clothes and I certainly didn’t get to go to the doctor unless I was really, really sick.
Even though we were poor, we had one absolute necessity—our home. I never lived a day without a roof over my head. We sometimes lapsed on electric and gas. Thankfully it would only last a short while. We were months behind on the mortgage and making minimum payments on utilities. Homelessness was within reach. I could feel it.
The cost of a 4th child, no doubt, would have meant the loss of our home. It would have meant living in cars and hotel rooms. It would have meant living in poverty.
Stable housing is a critical difference between being poor and living in poverty. Stable housing provides enormous resources that are inaccessible to migrant families.
As an adult, I can clearly see the benefit of growing up in one home. It allowed us to make community connections. My siblings and I were able to get jobs the summer we turned 14 and contribute to household expenses. We were afforded an uninterrupted public school education. Returning to the same classrooms everyday meant relationship building with teachers and administrators. They were the much-needed (and unknowing) mentors whose influence ultimately led me to be the first person in my family to earn a college degree.
We have this concept about bootstraps-- that anyone should be able to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. There’s an essential element within this concept that is often overlooked: You can’t “bootstrap” if you don’t have boots, with decent soles, and solid laces. Teetering on poverty, I’m aware that I was very close to not having any boots.
On this anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, which brings up a sensitive and controversial subject, it’s important to put a human face on the effects of having safe access to abortions. No one likes them. No one wants to have them. My mother made a huge sacrifice by putting her mind and body through a medical procedure she described as “having a vacuum suck out your insides”. She did that for the 5 of us.
I am thankful to my parents for the choice they made. In terminating that last pregnancy, my parents kept us out of poverty and in one home. They gave me and my siblings stable housing, the boots from which to pull ourselves up by the straps.
It is our job to ensure everyone has a good pair of boots with decent soles and solid laces. Keeping access to abortions safe and legal is just one of the many, many ways in which we can do that.