Q: Would Walter have to drop out of graduate school?
Alison admitted in her essay that, in making her decision, she “thought about all the selfish reasons (she) wasn’t ready for a child—(she) want(ed) to write another book, (she and Walter) might need to move for (her) job—and wondered whether it was okay for (her) to decide based on (her) own desires.”
But she and Walter did talk about adoption before making this conclusive decision: “but I knew we couldn’t do it—we can’t even walk by a pet store without getting attached, so I knew if we spent nine months with this being, it would be ours for life.”
Maybe the reader noticed that Alison referred to the fetus as a “being.” But it is difficult to discern whether she understood it was a human being. She admits that it would be harder to part with the baby (if given up for adoption) than to pass by a pet store “without getting attached.” It almost sounds as if she is about to concede that the fetus is human.
But, of course, she decided to go to the clinic and join a dozen other women also having abortions. She got a glimpse of the ultrasound the six-week old fetus and “was relieved to see only a marble-sized blob: no visible heartbeat, no tiny fingers like in the anti-choice propaganda.”
Back in the waiting room, a nurse explained the process to Alison. She took one pill to stop the pregnancy from proceeding and four more within the next few days to induce a miscarriage. Alison judged the nurse - like everyone else at the clinic – to be “blessedly non-judgmental and matter-of-fact.”
A few days later at the breakfast table, both Alison and Walter wrote a letter. Then, they went and sat on a riverbank. Alison read her letter aloud. “Dear potential person,” she said, “Thank you so much for coming along.” She then started to cry. She wished “it” well, told “it” she hoped “it” found another home, and pulled the blossom off a flower and threw it into the river.
Walter cried, too, as he read his own letter to the aborted fetus. He, too, tossed a flower blossom out into the river. As both Walter and Alison’s flowers floated away, he said “I hope to God they don’t wash back ashore here.” The couple then burned their letters and kept the flower stems to take home, as a reminder of the baby. Alison proclaimed “It was a good ceremony: earth, air, fire, water, and words.”
Although she admitted feeling some grief, Alison said she felt mostly gratitude. “In the days and weeks (and now years) since, I felt a little grief, but mostly gratitude. It wasn’t just the relief of not being forced to give birth (although that was considerable); it was also what the decision did for our marriage.”
Towards the end of “Choosing Us,” I was beginning to wonder why Alison had written her highly personal account. But she put my curiosity to rest in the final paragraph:
“ … (T)he story I most want to tell—and one I have never heard—is of abortion as an intimate part of a couple’s life together. Our abortion was a love story. I’d worried that Walter and I were rejecting a gift from the universe. What I discovered, though, was that when we stripped away the distractions of everyday life so that we could make this difficult decision together, it bound us together as surely as if our choice had been different—and as it turns out, that was the gift.
And so I wonder what Alison Piepmeier – director of Women’s and Gender Studies at The College of Charleston – will say to the next co-ed who asks her advice on the issue of abortion. Will she say that it is just like picking a scab? Or will she speak honestly about her emotional ambivalence? If she does the latter, will she even be able to explain the source of her ambivalence?
Finally, I wonder what advice she will give to a young girl having marital problems. Perhaps, that she and her husband should get pregnant, have an abortion, and experience true emotional intimacy.