Everything about the woman was foreign territory.
I wondered if it was the age, or the fact that she was married and living the suburban lifestyle with a husband and child. The rest of us were easily ten years younger.
We were co-workers. I was in my early twenties, and she was mid-thirties. We discussed a project occasionally, or made small talk over the latest fashions or a new bookstore in town. She rarely spoke of her husband or son, but then I expected it was because she thought we weren’t interested.
And at the time? I imagine I wasn’t. Though I think of her now, and of her secret, and the day that she revealed it.
My life was about dating and day-timers, about working hard and dreams of graduate school, about scrimping for a new jacket or better yet, the latest designer pumps at my favorite discount shoe boutique.
And then there was the lunch.
The lunch, and her placid demeanor after a few days of absence, and my innocent question about how she was feeling.
“I’m alright,” she said. “I was pregnant, but I took care of it.”
I was stunned, and trying to process. She was pregnant, but she took care of it.
She picked at her food. She seemed far away.
“One child is enough,” she said. And again there was silence.
I can’t recall what else we discussed and I suppose we fell back into our usual rhythm – a colleague’s dress, the latest movie, the annoyance of an upcoming deadline.
Ironically, abortion was less politicized in those days, and my assumption – the assumption of many? – that it was a choice about economics, a choice for single women, a choice for teenagers who certainly weren’t ready to be mothers. It was a choice for women who were raped, women whose health was at risk, or even if employed and educated – women with no family to assist them in carrying the responsibilities of single motherhood.
At the time of this strange disclosure – stranger still because we were only acquainted and not friends – I shut down a stream of questions I would never have dared to ask.
And still, I wonder.
Did she suffer from a medical problem that none of us knew about? Did her son who was six or seven have a medical problem? Was the father someone other than her husband, or did her husband abuse her? Was he leaving her? Was she leaving him?
I remember her name. I remember her face. I remember the sound of her voice.
I remember her sadness, or was it simply my perception that she was sad.
Emptiness. Yes, emptiness or maybe fatigue. Those seem more like it.
I had visited her home in an affluent area, and everything seemed picture perfect. Of course now, decades later, that in itself would mean little. But today, I ask myself if it might have been a lifestyle choice. If something in her simply recognized that she could parent one child well, but more would rock the boat. Whatever the balance was in her household, she knew what she wanted, and she owned it.
As a woman, as an older mother, as one who wanted more children though my husband did not, as a single mother who has struggled to raise boys largely on my own – I remain immeasurably appreciative that I was fertile, able to give birth to healthy children, and that I’ve experienced the privilege of raising them.
I can imagine circumstances in which I would choose abortion for myself, but those circumstances are extremely narrow and have more to do with my boys than anything else. But there are so many situations I have not lived. And for others, I couldn’t begin to imagine their reasons, and for that reason, I believe their choices are theirs alone.
Knowing what I know now about mothering, I would never impose my choices on another woman, nor judge circumstances that only she can know.
And yet I’ll never forget that strange disclosure. And nor will I cease to wonder about her reasons, and if she ever regretted her decision.