Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Milestone in Women's Reproductive Freedom...

...not that the goal has been achieved. If so, we wouldn't still have to fight so fiercely.
Anyway, I promised a nice post for the Roe v. Wade Anniversary. I did my research. I stared at my pack of ortho and marveled at my clearing complexion. I found out some not-so-nice things about Margaret Sanger and statistics that refuted long held beliefs that "white girls have more abortions than us." And still, I was at a loss of words. And then I thought, I'll tell you a story. About one of my favorite people and how she left me wondering about opportunities and potential deferred.
My Grandmother, A, was born in rural Louisiana in 1924, eventually one of 6 kids. I don't know much about her childhood--I knew two of her siblings, uncles MC and N, and I vaguely remember her mother, to whom I apparently bear a striking resemblance. What I know of A's life begins in 1944 when she and my Granddad, J, had their first son. My dad was number three.
From all accounts, A was one smart cookie. When J, a WWII vet, went back to school at Grambling State, the realities of a growing family meant he had to work , too. So, in the midst of childrearing and meal preparing, A had to complete J's homework regularly. She was particularly strong in math--both college level and that of her school-age children. Probably a factor in why she taught me to play spades and dominos with such skill. Despite (or because of) her sizable family, A had to work outside the home in the low-skill, low-wage "service" jobs characteristic of much of ethnic/racial minority women's paid work.
My point, this brilliant woman--the superior "brain" in her marriage, according to her kids--had 14 kids between 1944 and 1964. Two sets of twins (one set stillborn), at least a couple who had 11 months or less between them, and mostly BOYS (only 3 girls)! I heard someone repeat a self-deprecating joke A made one time--that each time she pulled her clothes off, she got pregnant.
So now that I'm a grown woman, I think about my grandmother in womanly terms. I think of how, despite the fact that she loved all her kids, she must have felt despair when some of her pregnancies were confirmed. I think of how maybe she thought it was unfair that J was able to venture out and get his degree while she stayed behind in so many ways. I think about how she may have absolutely dreaded sex sometimes--hell, I do and I have one kid and a really good ob/gyn. I think about how incredibly tiring it must have been to have children for TWENTY YEARS. I think about how access to effective birth control--both mental/emotional access (in case she felt it was somehow wrong) and literal access--may have changed her life. And I think about what else she could have been--she had the mothering and grandmothering down pat, we all adored her--if she'd had more choices.
In 1990, a month shy of her 66th birthday, A, who had been wracked by a number of illnesses for a number of years, became gravely ill. When it came time to make the decision on whether to sustain her life artificially, her children decided not to. Their major reason? "Mama was tired. Her body was tired." And part of that tiredness--12 confirmed pregnancies. 108 months of unbelievable stress on her small frame.

And, just maybe, a lifetime of wondering what if.

4 comments:

Quinn said...

Two things: first, it's a wonderful (and sad and thought-provoking) story. Second, we should totally play spades together!

Elle said...

i miss her. especially when i think about her as a woman and not just Grandmama. i don't want to be presumptuos enough to say that i feel sorry for her, but...

anyway, she was great and she had a soft spot for me. i extracted myself from an abusive relationship once, in part by repeatedly asking myself how she'd feel about me being mistreated--she thought the sun shined out of me.

but, i'm all off-topic and teary-eyed. thanks for reading it!

Peacock said...

Hey there, from Mississippi. I was trying to find something altogether different from what I ended up with, when I stumbled upon you blog. It was so interesting that I decided to click the "home" button, and it took me to the story of your grandmother. I love blogs but I hate that blogs take away from the writing of good books. At any rate, keep the blogging coming. VN Goodman, MS

Elle said...

welcome peacock!

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...