It was 1971. I had given birth to four live babies within 2 ½ years. I had no prenatal care for the first three births. We were very poor, very ignorant.
I was just 20 in May, 1966, when my first son was born two weeks early, 7 ½ pounds. I wasn’t ready to be a mother, but I fell in love with him instantly.
My young husband told me he’d heard that new mothers couldn’t get pregnant while they were nursing. He was wrong. In February, 1967, my second son was born, two months early, 3 ½ pounds. He lived 36 hours in an incubator, since his lungs weren’t developed. “At least you have your firstborn!” people said, trying to console me.
We used a diaphragm after that. It hurt and slipped around, annoying my husband no end. My third son was born in January, 1968. He was barely 3 pounds, and lived only 24 hours in an incubator.
They asked if I wanted to see him before taking him away. As I held his little body my husband lost it and swept everything off the hospital tray table onto the floor in a fit of rage.
The funeral home attempted to have him buried beside his brother, with just a marker on his grave, but failed. My two infant sons don’t even lie side by side in a graveyard somewhere in North Georgia.
We used an IUD after that. It, too, was uncomfortable, and I never knew if it was inserted correctly. My daughter was born in December, 1968.
Looking back, I now realize I was in mourning during that pregnancy. My maternity clothes were brown and black. I tried to endure the pregnancy without thinking about the baby inside, always expecting the worst outcome.
But this time would be different. After learning I was pregnant, we moved to Central Illinois, and I finally hooked up with a gynecologist. Dr. H. carried a pager on his belt. He saved me.
My daughter sailed past her 28th week, into her 8th month, and beyond. I was so relieved. Came the day when Dr. H. said he’d induce labor in 2 more weeks.
She had other plans. He was in church when his pager summoned him to the hospital after my water broke. She was all of 7 pounds, and breathed on her own right away. I was ecstatic.
We thought we had finally gotten the contraception thing down when I awoke one morning in 1971 knowing I was pregnant again. I knew , too, that I could not go through that again.
Abortion was illegal. Roe vs. Wade wasn’t even on the horizon. We’d both been raised in very strictly religious families. It didn’t even occur to me to go see Dr. H. I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my husband. I knew I had to take care of this immediately on my own.
I’d seen the device Dr. H. had used for a dilation and curettage known as a D&C, the procedure doctors use to remove uterine contents. And I’d heard of hangers being used for abortions. I thought a hanger would make a useful D&C.
I didn’t feel any pain, but I knew I’d punctured the uterine wall when I felt sort of a pop. I was wrong about the hanger, but I still expected everything to be okay.
A week later we were in a restaurant when I began feeling faint. I had a raging fever: 106. Dr. H. said get to the hospital immediately.
They put me on an ice blanket to bring the temperature down. I was diagnosed with a “mysterious” pulmonary embolism, a blood clot on my lung. They didn’t let me see my children while I was in the hospital. After a long week I was finally allowed to go home.
I was lucky. A sustained temperature that high can lead to brain damage and even death.
Dr. H. saw me again in his office a few days later. Of course he knew I’d been pregnant, called it a miscarriage, and did another D&C. He never probed about what happened, I never volunteered.
What he said next told me that he didn’t have to ask. Another of his patients, he said, was experiencing the same “mysterious” symptoms I had had. I knew exactly what he meant.
He offered to do a tubal ligation — tie my tubes. I’d never heard of it. I had no idea there was such a simple procedure that could prevent me from ever getting pregnant again. My nightmare was finally over.
Two years later abortion became legal. My desperate circumstances almost cost my life, and my two beautiful children their mother. But I saw no other options for myself then. I deserved other options.