Manifesting My Mother’s Lessons
By Wendy Ringie
I woke up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning in my suburban townhome. I spent a good 10 minutes balancing my dogs’ demands to be fed right this very second with my own biological needs – bathroom, a glass of water, thyroid pills. By the time I took my Uber to downtown Denver, I had everything I needed for a sunny day spent outdoors stuffed in a fanny pack (how punk rock!), sporting sensible shoes and the sunhat I wear to outdoor festivals. I looked like a pudgy white woman in early middle age and I intended to weaponize that fact. Under the hat you couldn’t see the buzz cut hair and I doubt anyone would notice the silver skull bracelet on my wrist. I thought about wearing my wedding ring, but ultimately decided that I didn’t want to lose it if things got…rough.
I was going to exercise my right to peacefully assemble in political protest. But in this day and age, a little caution never hurts.
Earlier that week I’d heard the news that a draft ruling on Roe V. Wade by the Supreme Court had been leaked. I read a few articles about the details and I spent a good chunk of the week in a gray space between anger, despair, and “I fucking knew it!” I also knew, unlike some other political issues, this was one thing I couldn’t just post angry memes about on Facebook or donate my lunch budget towards. I needed to be there in person when an official protest happened. Because, dear reader, this shit just got personal. They weren’t coming after me by overturning abortion rights. I’ve been on birth control since I was sixteen, and my husband agreed with me that children were not part of our future. No, those shitheads were coming after women like my mother.
The Legacy of a Hard Choice
I was in my early teens when my mother first told me about the abortion she had undergone seven years before my birth. She was in her mid-twenties when she left her first husband, an older widower with three kids and a vasectomy. She moved back to Colorado in the fall of 1976 and quickly found a job at a CPA firm, an apartment within driving distance of her parents, and a boyfriend in the military who was stationed nearby. On a Friday evening some six months later, she made an announcement to her stepdad and mother during their weekly family dinner. “I have good news and bad news,” she said. “The good news is that that terrible place fired me on Wednesday,” she said. “The bad news is that I found out I’m pregnant today.” She and the boyfriend had ended things, if not officially, a few weeks before.
She agonized over her options. The boyfriend offered to help her pay for an abortion but had no interest providng either co-parenting or long-term financial support. Though she was a white woman with a college degree, she was young and inexperienced, in an era where women were often fired for being pregnant. Her parents were supportive of any decision she made, but she felt it wasn’t fair to foist the burden of supporting their pregnant daughter onto them. After all, they were solidly middle-class and middle-aged. Their resources and energy were limited; they were creeping closer to retirement. What was best for the future child? What was best for the future children that she wanted… someday? She knew she could raise the child alone, but could she offer a better future for her children if she moved forward with the pregnancy? Ultimately, she took the money and went to an abortion provider.
She has always maintained it was the most difficult decision she ever had to make, but she was never ashamed of it, and something about the pregnancy felt off to her anyway. “Like maybe it wasn’t only the wrong time for me to have a kid, but maybe something was wrong with the fetus, too. It was too early to say for sure.”
If Roe V. Wade hadn’t been passed just three years prior, my mother would not have sought out abortion as an option. She’d been in favor of legalization, but she couldn’t have broken the law herself. For years afterward, she was a loud and proud abortion supporter.
Lessons for a Daughter
My mother recognized that thousands of women have more pressing needs for abortion access than she ever did. She raised me to be a bleeding-heart liberal feminist, and never, ever be ashamed of who I was. She taught me about privilege before it was a buzzword. She gets more politically left every year, the only self-proclaimed Democrat in the quiet Nebraskan village where she retired. She likes that I got into punk rock in college because it vibed with my politics, my anger, my activism.
My mom wound up a single mother anyway. Her marriage to my dad was brief, and ended when I was an infant. Visitation and child support from him was… infrequent, but that’s a story for another time. When I learned about her abortion, she said that this time she was prepared – this time she had a good career, a better support network, and the emotional maturity to handle the challenges inherent to single motherhood. That maturity was desperately needed as it became clear that her bright, outgoing daughter had developmental challenges, resulting in several diagnoses including ADHD and dyspraxia.
She had always wanted children, it was part of why she left her first husband… she just needed time. Her abortion gave her that. Because she had that time, she was able to provide me with a happier childhood than if she had not been allowed to legally and easily follow through on her choice. Most importantly, she was able to make sure I knew that if I faced a similar choice (which I’ve not had to do) that I would never be shamed for it. That I would never shame myself for it. Strong women are a family legacy, after all.
Walking My Mom’s Talk
That's why I made my way towards the gilt dome of the Capitol Building on Saturday morning. I’d met an online acquaintance for breakfast since neither of us wanted to go to the protest alone, and we were both fortified with eggs and shared conviction. We could change things.
Earlier in the legislative session this year, Colorado codified unrestricted abortion access into law. Even though I was protected, should my IUD fail, I knew I still had to make my voice heard for the voiceless in states where their rights were under threat. When Colorado Representative Meg Froelich (and the bill’s co-sponsor) declared herself a soccer mom from the suburbs, and she wanted to speak to the manager, I heard my mother’s voice in my head. When Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains CEO Adrienne Mansanares told the crowd, “I know it feels exhausting, and I’m going to say this with the most grace, and compassion, and love: I don’t care how tired you are, I don’t care. We have to fight together,” I heard my mother’s voice in my head. When Makia Jones spoke about the effects of reproductive rights access and women of color, I could almost see my mom nodding her head in agreement. And when I raised my fist in the sky and screamed with all of my (considerable) lung capacity, I knew I was manifesting my mother’s lessons. It was almost as if I could feel her hand on my wrist, urging me to raise it a little higher, cheer on the speakers a little louder.
I am my mother’s daughter. I’ve never had to go through what she did. Marching for reproductive justice is how I honored my mother that day. I honor the woman she raised me to be by helping fight for others who may need to make that choice. Legally. Safely. And without shame.