In 1950s America, my mother was given the care she needed to survive her miscarriages. In 2022, in some parts of this country, my mother might be considered a criminal.
It has been three months since the Dobbs decision, yet the shock continues to reverberate. When my phone first lit up alerting me that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe vs. Wade, I sat in stunned silence, the lines on the screen in front of me blurring together. Even though I’d known the decision was coming, the news alerts dinging their way down my phone’s display were simply unfathomable.
The day after the decision, rapid-fire comments like this one hit my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts: “I went to bed in 2022 and woke up in the 1950s.” Little did these posters realize, even 1950s reproductive care was more advanced than what’s available to some American women in 2022.
A month after the decision, I read a story about Amanda, a woman who had a miscarriage and was treated at a hospital in Texas. She underwent a D&C (dilation and curettage), which is performed when a pregnancy is not viable and when haemorrhaging, infections, and even sepsis pose a life-threatening risk to the mother. The staff even left her a note and a small gift to show their condolences.
However, when Amanda experienced a second miscarriage months later, the same hospital staff discharged her without treatment. She sat in the bathtub for hours, digging her nails into the wall from the pain, as she and her husband wept together as the water turned from clear to dark red.
When I read Amanda’s story, my mind immediately went to my mother. Mom, who was born in 1928, came of age in post-World War II America, a period marked by the return of women to the home from the workforce. Mom revelled in the 1950s domestic life prevalent in the United States and was most herself at home with her family.
As an adult, I once asked what her ambitions had been as a young girl. The subtext of my question was obvious to us both: hadn’t she wanted more? She looked me straight in the eye, smiled sweetly, and without hesitation said, “All I ever wanted was to be a mother.” She embraced motherhood with her whole heart and loved my brother and me with a ferocity that grounded us in security and protection.
A year after her marriage, in 1950, she had a miscarriage. She overcame her profound sadness and found the will to try again as the months passed. Then, she suffered a second miscarriage. She told me with a bowed head years later that the doctor had performed a D&C after each miscarriage. She concealed this information as if it were a personal failing. I was relieved that she was provided with this potentially life-saving treatment.
In 1951, Mom finally gave birth to a son, her dream fulfilled, her joy boundless. Then in 1954 when Mom became pregnant for the fourth time, she experienced the familiar signs that she might miscarry once more. Dad whisked her to the gynecologist, where the doctor confirmed that she was miscarrying.
This time, Mom refused the D&C, claiming she could still feel life within her. The physician patted her hand and, with a wink and a nod to my father, gave her a few weeks to “come to terms” with her condition. In an era in which she could neither own a home nor apply for a credit card, she was treated as a spoiled, ignorant child. Fortunately for me, her “miracle child,” she was correct in this instance, not the doctor. Mom knew when and when not to call it.
Like women everywhere: When given the right, they know what is right for them.
Mom’s story illustrates why we cannot rest until our right to choose is reinstated. Because unlike in the 1950s, in 2022 my mother the consummate mother by any definition would, in some parts of this country, be treated like a criminal. And in the America of 2022, many Amandas may decide it’s just not worth trying again.
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