By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
A few days ago, between classes, I ran to the Women’s Room, previously known as the Lady’s Room — until we were liberated from ladylike notions. Or so we thought. Maybe they’ll redo the door signs if Mitt Romney wins the presidency.
In the meantime, I had to get to class, but having birthed a child and lived half a century I had a greater need to pee.
Which I did, surprising myself with a faint moan I had neither intended to release nor felt vibrating past my gullet. Too distracted to give it much thought, I exited the stall, washed my hands, poked at a loose strand of hair, and then I noticed:
Four stalls, three empty. Three sinks. One pregnancy test package insert on the counter. And one faint moan that might have been mine, but was not.
When I was of traditional college age, I invested no thought in motherhood, other than to declare myself unfit for it for several years, and then disinterested for many more. I did, however, eventually succumb to the grandiose and mundane thoughts of parenting, so I found a proper partner and engaged in the physical performance of a lifetime, repeatedly reconfiguring my body to accommodate a growing second. And I never quite managed to put myself back together again. I don’t care what the glitterati say; we are never who we were before producing a child, physically and otherwise.
But I had been pregnant before that, unintentionally so, and I readily imagined the young woman perched on the toilet behind the stall door, holding the miserable prospect of motherhood — a faint moan-inducing piece of plastic with the wrong test answer — and I thought of the many things motherhood has been to me.
It was the sating comfort of my mother’s breast, the warm safety of her embrace, the lashing wit of her tongue.
It was the worst possible option among a youthful spectrum, an option I aborted with the help of Roe v. Wade, the decision just a few years old itself, not yet under rapid-fire attack.
It was the glittering offers from several men who thought that motherhood would become me and that there was nothing much else I could become.
It was my daughter’s dimly lighted birthing in our bedroom, gently extruded to strains of soft music and a chorus of matrilineal voices I hadn’t known I possessed.
It was the decision to pack up future offspring with tidy knots of infertility, knowing that what resources I had must be focused on the child I’d already brought into a troubled world.
It was the potential employer who broke the law to ask how I could juggle my motherly responsibilities with a full-time profession.
It was the Third-World mother who bundled her infant on my bed while she supported my work outside the home.
It was trips to the salvation of Planned Parenthood, taking women I love and supporting their various choices.
It was a couple expending years and property and hope to defend their right to be two men who mother.
It was unuttered images of my daughter’s wishful motherhood and a partner I feared would fail her.
It was learning to step off my path and onto hers just as long as she needed me, because what I do is nothing compared to how I do it.
So I lingered in the Women’s Room to ask, “Would you like to talk about it?”
And while I awaited a response, Arizona passed the earliest abortion ban in the nation (18 weeks postfertilization). A U.S. District Court upheld the Texas law that can force punitive medical apparatus into the birth canals of women who choose abortion, and Virginia passed a law that can do the same. The profanely hypocritical, hiding beneath their cassocks and red-white-and-blue flag pins, declared the humanity of an embryo more important than a woman’s. They condemned low-income women for choosing to reproduce, restricted access to contraception, pushed pay equity further out of reach. They made sure that whatever the young woman in the stall decided when she emerged, her society would make every effort to avoid helping her.
But not a sound filtered through the stall’s cracks, not even the echo of a faint moan.
“I’ve been there,” I said, “sitting on a toilet, wondering what’s next. I’m leaving my business card here on the counter. Call me if you’d like some help — whatever you want, whatever you decide.”
Note: For an up-to-date report on anti-abortion and anti-contraception legislation, visit the Guttmacher Institute.