When abortion was not an option
Back when I was a junior in high school, a new girl moved to our small southwest Michigan town and threatened the order of things. Janey Lee was striking with shiny, long brown hair. We referred to her as “That Girl,” partly because she resembled Marlo Thomas from the TV series. But mostly because we saw her as a threat. On top of everything, Janey Lee’s sweet Georgia accent made all our dufus boyfriends trip over themselves.
I was fully prepared to Mean Girl this bitch all the way to graduation. But Janey was funny as hell and fearless and kind. We soon became BFs (this was the 1970s, no “Forever’s” back then.) She fit right in with everybody and we all had a great senior year and even better summer after.
In the fall of 1972 we were both still living at home. I was a freshman in community college and Janey was still figuring out her path. One night in late September we were hanging out in my room and Janey started to cry.
“I think I’m pregnant,” she said.
Before that moment, I never even noticed she was wearing a baggy shirt. To this day, I remember the shock. How could I not know my best friend was pregnant?
Janey wasn’t completely sure. Her periods were never regular. There were no sticks to pee on back then. She said she’d been bloated so I went to get her a laxative. When I came back to my room, Janey lifted her top to show me her tummy.
“Holy shit,” I thought, “Ex-Lax isn’t gonna get us outta this one!”
Nor was Roe v. Wade.
Because this was four months before the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision. Back then it was up to the states. Abortion was illegal in Michigan. Janey was no longer with her boyfriend and she definitely wanted to terminate the pregnancy. So it was up to us, two 18-year-old kids, to figure it out.
There was no Google, no internet, no cell phones. All we had was the library and the Dewey Decimal System. Nobody even used cool acronyms back then. DDS, bitches! So we did our research and finally found a few places to call in Wisconsin. For Janey’s privacy, we had to drive to hideaway pay phones with all our loose change.
It took weeks to get past a busy signal. I was staked out at a Laundromat on a warm October afternoon when I finally got through. A very nice woman listened to my story and talked to me as if it was my pregnancy. I later figured out that most women who called claimed they were calling for “a friend.” She asked if I’d seen a doctor. Of course I lied. And then she asked how many weeks along I was. Weeks? I quickly did the math in my head.
“About 20,” I guessed.
The abortion clinic lady paused and then said in a kind voice, “I’m sorry but abortion is not an option for you. Have you considered adoption?”
When I brought the news to Janey she said she already knew we were too late. It was in that moment she finally exhaled and her pregnant belly popped out. She told her parents. They told her 12-year-old little sister. Janey’s mom talked to her church to arrange the adoption. Janey told former boyfriend, Chris. The whole town knew. We mostly hung out at my house to avoid the stares.
Chris and his parents went to Janey’s house for a meeting. I was hiding upstairs with their yippy French poodle, Bridget, and I couldn’t hear a damn thing. When I asked Janey what happened she told me Chris’ parents agreed to pay for the doctor and hospital. Janey’s dad was a traveling salesman, and her mom didn’t drive, so I was named the secondary driver.
Janey Lee’s mom called me around midnight in snowy, early February of 1973. Janey was in labor and her dad was out of town. So I rushed over and we drove the 40 minutes to her discreet hospital in South Bend. Janey turned the radio on the second she got in the car, so I took the hint and didn’t talk.
The hospital guy whisked her away and I was shown to the waiting room. It was just getting light out when a nurse came in to say my friend did a great job and everything went well. She took me by the arm and sort of yanked me out to the hall. She whispered, “Janey had a healthy boy. But she refuses to see him.” I explained that she was giving him up for adoption. The nurse said she understood that, but in her experience the mother often wished she would have said her goodbyes. That seemed beyond fucked up to me but I just nodded my head. Then the nurse took me by the wrist to (what I thought would be) Janey’s room. Instead I was standing outside the glass-walled nursery, just like in the movies. The nurse went in, picked up the baby and held him in front of me. I felt like I was betraying my best friend but was more afraid of pissing off Nurse Ratched. So I just looked at him and nodded. I’d never seen a newborn before and was struck by his thick, brown hair.
From there I went to see Janey. She was sleeping so I left without a word. I drove home in tears and went to bed. Her dad picked her up the next day.
Janey never, ever brought it up again. So I never mentioned it either. And I never told her I saw her baby.
In 1974, I moved to East Lansing to attend MSU. Janey came along and we got an apartment together. She had a real knack for retail and became a manager in a swanky, upscale Michigan department store.
In the summer of 1976, after I graduated from college, Janey moved to Tennessee to be near her sisters. Maybe she was afraid I’d bring it up. Maybe we just grew up and grew apart. But we lost touch.
It’s so strange to think that tiny, brunette baby turned 44 this month. I have no idea if he and his birth mother ever connected. But I do know how completely devastated she was. My only comfort, if you can call it that, was the hope that no other woman would have to know that unspeakable pain.
But here we are with President Dick and Vice President Wad and a bunch of idiots who care more about a tadpole than a female human being. Women’s reproductive rights are up for grabs with this freak show administration. I know there are countless issues for concern right now — freedom of the press, Russian interference, Muslim bans, immigrants, minorities, LGBT rights, the environment, education and a whole lot more. But I’m putting a woman’s right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution at the top of my list.
We can’t go back. We can’t.