Just about the time George Bush donned the National Guard uniform that bought him a reprieve from combat in a war that he claimed to support, I found myself pregnant.
A smart, sophisticated New York private school girl, I misread a purloined copy of a 1940s book on marriage that my parents had relegated to a remote shelf in my father’s study. Its author–a physician, I recall, with a distinctly Germanic name–presented the details of the “rhythm method” with the precision and disinterested authority of a Mercedes repair manual. I struggled and failed to determine the correspondence between the terra incognita of my adolescent body and the ideal described by the learned doctor.
At the time, there was a gaping chasm between the hype of the “sexual revolution” and information about or access to contraception. I had one brave classmate who ventured downtown to the Margaret Sanger Clinic, terrified that her visit there would brand her with an indelible sign of wantonness, but she was the exception. My decidedly laissez-faire parents assumed that if I were to engage in the unnameable, I was too smart to get pregnant. The “fog of sex” obscured the obvious fact that knowing the names of Louis XIV’s cabinet ministers does little to prevent the coupling of sperm and egg.
The moment I told my parents that I was pregnant (a story in itself), it was clear that their goal was to undo what had been done as quickly as possible so that I might retain my place in line. In the pre-Roe 1960s, if a woman wanted an abortion, she had two “choices”: She could burrow underground searching for an illegal abortion or she could present herself to a hospital review board for a “therapeutic” abortion. The former was a terrifying and dangerous process. The latter was a carefully guarded and cautiously administered policy, in which the patient was required to show that carrying the pregnancy to term would endanger her mental or physical health.
I hate to think what it took for my father to call his longtime friend and former roommate at Harvard, Dr. N., who was by then the head of OB/GYN at a major hospital in the Midwest. My first trip ever west of New Jersey landed me in a hospital bed in his maternity ward. Dr. N. informed me that I would be interviewed by two psychiatrists, to whom I must report suicidal feelings about having a baby. Primed by my mother, I dutifully answered “yes” to the questions that would open the door to the operating room.
I had my abortion; we flew home the next day. I can’t say that I resumed the life my parents had saved me for gracefully. Nevertheless, I was armed with a prescription for birth-control pills from my mother’s European-born doctor, who deemed the fog of sex a peculiarly American hypocrisy.