December 3rd, 2007

Helen’s story

When I was a teenager in about 1940, I baby-sat the two children of a lovely young divorced woman named Helen. She had few employable skills, an exhausting, poorly paid job and her ex-husband only occasionally made child-support payments. Suddenly she died…

The children came to live with me and my family for a few weeks while custody was sorted out. The six-year-old curled up in my arms and talking about their mother’s death, he said, “Momma just bled and bled and we couldn’t help her.”

I was too young to guess what that might mean. Several years later my mother told me that Helen had died of a botched abortion attempt. She impressed upon me what a sorrowful and serious choice an abortion would be, but that it should be safe and legal because sometimes it was the best alternative.

The children were raised by their father, a sweet but irresponsible alcoholic, and a series of stepmothers. The girl had a terrible, tumultuous adolescence, but after several children and a broken marriage, is a stable wonderful middle-aged woman. The boy was killed in a gambling accident.

I think society would have been much better served if Helen could have had a safe, legal abortion and raised her two children herself.

(from In Our Own Words…Collected recollections in honor of Roe v. Wade, Elizabeth Lake, ed.)