Let’s Go Backwards and Criminalize Abortion, Again! My Story: Part One

I know that self-disclosure can be a dangerous thing. With all that is going on in Texas, South Dakota, and other communities across the country, I feel a need to go there with a couple of personal stories. First and foremost, it is not my intent to debate right or wrong. Second, all I can really do is tell you how it was in my life. Third, pray that you don’t have to make the sorts of difficult decisions I have had to make. Finally, wish you the best possible outcome if you have faced or are facing similar circumstances, or know someone in such a situation.

It was 1975, and I was living in an orphanage, the Ethel Harpst Home, in the North Georgia Mountains. I had been in foster care for several years after a few years with an abusive step-parent on the heels of my mother’s death. I don’t believe, at that time, I knew what love was anymore. I felt love as a child and had loving grandparents, but there had been enormous fear and loneliness. At fifteen, I wanted to know love. I wanted to feel loved.

I met a guy at school. He was popular and his family was prominent. He jumped through hoops at the Harpst Home to be able to date me, meeting with the house parents and the home’s administrator. He wrote letters and his parents wrote letters. I felt immensely desirable. First, house dates for months, then away dates.

Then, on about the third away date, I was date raped…but he “loved” me, and I was just “confused”. Sex was supposed to be fun. It didn’t matter that my faith had indicated to me that I should remain a virgin until marriage. I had been violated, but he “loved” me. He bought me flowers, candy and jewelry. He called me twice a day. We had mutual friends and they were all having sex. It was the sexual revolution. Birth control pills had come out in 1960, so by 1975 everybody was on them, but me. To take birth control pills would mean admitting that I was having sex, and I could not do that. By March of 1976, I was pregnant. The Baptist Church I had been attending closed its doors to me. After all, what a horrible influence I would be to the other young women.

“Free love” was trendy, and casual sex, once forbidden, was becoming commonplace. Roe versus Wade had decriminalized abortion in 1974, and birth control was relatively easy; however, neither was readily accessible.  I did have a Social Worker, Shelia Turner, who spoke to me about options. My boyfriend could be arrested for statutory rape. I could have an abortion, and not leave Harpst Home or disrupt my life in any way. I could go to an unwed mother’s house in Atlanta, give the baby up for adoption and return to the Harpst Home to complete my education. I had a $17,000.00 scholarship to Wesleyan and my teachers were encouraging a career in journalism. The option to have the baby and keep it was not suggested, but it was the option I chose.

My boyfriend was excited to become a father and eagerly offered to marry me. We were wed in the United Methodist Church. I stayed in school, and graduated early in advanced classes. At sixteen, December 20, 1976, I gave birth to a healthy bicentennial baby boy. My nineteen year old husband worked at a meat processing plant and he decided to join the Army as his father had been career military.

He completed his Basic Training and MOS in South Carolina. His first duty call was to Stuttgart, Germany. We could not go, my son and I, because he had not been in the service for two years. Before he left, he beat me severely to let me know that he could kill me if I was unfaithful to him while he was gone. I put him on a plane July 11th, 1978. There were tears in our eyes, and at seventeen years old, I took my eighteen month old son home to Cedartown, to our apartment which had a $300.00/month rent, $100.00/month power bill, and no groceries.

I discovered the rent had not been paid for the two months my husband had been home, nor had the power bill. I pawned my wedding band and engagement ring to pay the bills and buy food. A week later, I discovered I was pregnant despite being on birth control pills. I could not believe it. I also received a letter from my husband telling me simply, “I am tired of being married, so go back to South Georgia, Love Bryan. P.S. Take care of my son.” My son’s family refused me any assistance.  His mother advised me to, “Woman up, like a military wife should!”

I had no car. There was no public transportation in that small town. I worked two jobs while my neighbor babysat raised my son. I worked as a clerk at the drug store from 1:00 pm until 9:00 pm, had two hours to walk home, eat, change clothes, and walk to my second job as a nursing assistant at the local hospital from 11:00 pm until 7:00 am.  Had two hours to walk home, eat, change clothes and be back at the drug store to work from 9:00 am until 1:00 pm…every other day. I had from 2:00 pm until 10:00 pm every other day to be a parent and to sleep. I was earning $2.33 an hour. The clerk job was on a rotating shift and the nursing assistant job was straight nights. I was trying. The bills weren’t getting paid, and we barely had groceries.

The Church, you ask? Turned away.

After a month of these work hours, I went to the health department for assistance and was put on the W.I.C. program. I went to the Department of Family and Children’s service for welfare, but they could not help me because my husband was military. They sent me to the Red Cross.

The Red Cross could not get me food assistance, but they arranged for me to fly to Germany to speak with my husband’s Commanding Officer and tell my husband of my second pregnancy. I left Ft. McClellan, Alabama in a cargo plane alone. My son was with his grandparents.

Once in Stuttgart, I went to the guest house and then to see my husband’s C.O. He told me that Bryan had problems with drugs and alcohol, disobedience, and was heading for a dishonorable discharge if he did not straighten up. He told me that he was supposed to be living on post, but he had been staying off post. He gave me an address.

I took a cab to the address and had it wait, because I did not know what to expect. There was a store with an apartment above where I was to find my husband. I walked up the steps on the side of the building. Once at the top on the landing, I peered through the screen door to see my husband in bed with a woman who could have been my twin. It was a small apartment and the sofa was opened into a bed in the living room. They were sleeping in each other’s arms and appeared to be quite comfortable. I did not wake them. I went back down the stairs, got back into the cab, and went back to see the C.O. I told him what I saw, and that I was pregnant and needed some assistance. He assured me the he would get an allotment check cut out of my husband’s pay. I got back on a cargo plane and came home.

The allotment was $100.00 per month. I quit my job at the drug store. I filed for divorce, and went to the Hillcrest Clinic in Atlanta and had an abortion on August 25, 1978. I could not manage to feed one child alone. I was hopeless and helpless. It was how I chose to help myself and my son. It was my only hope. The divorce took two years. I remarried. My hat is off to women who have been able to raise kids alone. At age fifty-three, I have three grown children, two grandchildren, and retired early from a thirty year career in nursing.

I have no regrets.

You may be wondering why I decided to tell this story. I had an interview published yesterday that made me think about what motivated me to write Red Clay and Roses. Where did the passion come from to tell the stories of Althea, Bonnie Jean, and Sybil? A story that tells of three women with unplanned pregnancies before Roe versus Wade, and before birth control. The secrets they kept. The choices they made. Their consequences. The good doctor and how he illegally served his community. Swamp Witch Wilma and how she did the same. 1954. Do we need to go back there?

Tomorrow I will tell you the rest of the story. Yes, there is more. Tomorrow a young girl dies in my arms.

69 thoughts on “Let’s Go Backwards and Criminalize Abortion, Again! My Story: Part One

  1. Susan, you are very brave to share your story. I know several women who have had abortions–not one of them made the decision lightly. One daughter works for reproductive rights, and both my daughters have written plays that deal with women’s experiences with abortion and clinics (good and bad).

    • Thank you Sue. I dealt with two unplanned pregnancies two different ways. I could not fault anyone for their choices and feel strongly that women must be allowed to make such choices when necessary.

      • Yes, so do I.

        I am not pro-abortion… I have too deep a reverence for life… but I am pro-choice. We cannot judge what is in another’s heart, life and mind and I can only imagine the heartache many women suffer when faced with that choice.

        Dealing with a lot of youngsters over the years, though, I am saddened by the irresponsibility of a few who seem to think they need take no heed of possible pregnancy and see abortion as an acceptable method of birth control.There are better ways.

        • I am certainly not an advocate for the use of abortion as birth control, but I am an advocate for making birth control readily available. I have never wanted to “take sides” on the abortion issue, because I do feel it is deeply a matter of personal processing spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

          • It has to be personal… I can think of few things more so.

            In the UK birth control is readily and easily available…and free… and though there are cases when it fails, modern methods are generally pretty good. That’s why it bugs me when there are the few who see a termination simply as an acceptable alternative method of contraception.

    • That is part of the problem. Everybody has an opinion, but nobody wants to discuss reality. It is a social concern that is being addressed by lawmakers who really don’t have a clue, but go with the opinions of a deaf, blind and dumb political constituency.

      • I think people are scared about the venom and rhetoric that is thrown around. Simply having an opinion in this arena seems to cause fights. If it was a more rational and polite dialogue environment then you would probably see more people discussing it.

        • I guess my opinion is that people should be allowed to have opinions. I don’t have to agree with them. I don’t have to disagree with them. I had two unplanned pregnancies, and both were, more or less, out of my control. I opted to deal with them differently. I don’t condone abortion as birth control, but I do feel that birth control should be readily available. I also feel that both men and women are entitled to education. This is not simply a women’s issue as many make it out to be. Men’s lives are affected as well. Responsibility belongs to both.

  2. Susan, this is the stuff of memoir. Writing, I believe, has kept you sane. Sharing that writing today on this post is a brave act. I cringed when I read the words”The church turned away.” Our pastor says the church is the place for the suffering and the beaten down: “Jesus loves me, this I know . . . !”

    I look forward to your part II.

    • It was a different era when many were not so very accepting. Unfortunately many are not today. I was also shunned by the Church when I went through my second divorce, even though I had been PTO secretary, church secretary, den mother, Girl Scout cookie chairperson, women’s league member, started a furniture barn and a food bank as a parish project while in nursing school, taught art classes in the parochial school my children attended on Fridays, and cut the grass on Saturdays. I went to the pastor and asked for a bag of groceries and a mattress, and was told, “I’m sorry, but your husband’s family have been faithful tithing members of the Missouri Synod literally for generations. I don’t see how we can help you.” I told him that I would rather eat rats and sleep on the floor than to have to beg for Christian compassions, and I left. I did not tell him my estranged husband was gay, because my children were still involved in that community and it should not have mattered. I have nothing against the church, but I don’t feel organized religion works well for everybody. Maybe I will write a memoir, or an autobiography, a fictional account of my own story. These were all things that occurred nearly forty years ago. I moved on many miles from there. It is not always healthy to look back too deeply.

  3. As other commenters have stated, I am not pro-abortion I’m not sure anybody really is pro-abortion. I’m also not sure how much I could counsel in favor of the choice of an abortion by somebody I loved or cared about. That said, your story is exactly why I will always be pro-choice. There are times when it is the only right decision. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Your thoughts are appreciated. I am not pro abortion either. It is one of the most awful decisions a person has to make. If I was holding a baby in one hand and a petri dish with an embryo in the other and was forced to drop one, I would drop the petri dish.I am pro choice only because abortion has been around for thousands of years. Clean, safe abortion has not. I’ll explain more about that tomorrow.

    • It was so long ago that it does not seem so emotional anymore. Not much of my writing what you could call “light”. It gets heavier tomorrow. The strongly debated issues are the ones we should not ignore. Thanks for stopping by for a read.

  4. Very moving, very brave. If only the anti-abortion lobby had the imagination to realise that there are some circumstances where the only possible choice is abortion. And when push comes to shove, only we can make choices about our own bodies. This I believe very strongly.

  5. It takes a lot of courage to show your suffering to someone else. But if suffering like you had any use, I believe, it is not to the sufferer. The only way that an individual’s pain gains meaning is through its communication to others. Great post!

  6. I’m sorry about your first husband and the people who thumbed their noses at you.
    You did the best you could with the hand you’d been dealt. My hat is off to you. I remember how ostracized young women were in those days. You are an amazing woman. 😉

  7. Oh my goodness Susan, this is some story. I cannot believe what you went through.. and to tell the story now, you are an amazing woman. Thank you so much for having the courage to share this. Words fail me.

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