Tuesday, 23 January 2007
The room was small and dirty and smelled like old coffee and broken dreams.
I stepped in behind the social worker and tried to make myself invisible, but six pairs of eyes followed me anyway. Linnie cleared her throat. "This is Jess. She's taking some courses and is going to be monitoring this meeting for the next few weeks. Is anyone uncomfortable with that?"
A couple shook their heads. Linnie frowned. "Where's Kelly?"
One of the big-bellied girls spoke up. "She had an abortion yesterday."
Another girl snickered. "Brian's not going to be happy about that!" Several of the girls giggled.
Linnie stood up. "That's not fair, Rianne. Kelly had to decide what was best for her." Rianne rolled her eyes.
Soon the girls started pairing off, swaddling and unswaddling the dolls Linnie passed out, rocking and patting them like they were alive.
After the girls had filed out, four of them obviously pregnant, two slender and easier in their movements, Linnie sighed.
"This is a hard class," she said. "Some of them seem to think they're going to have a doll they can dress up and pass around like a new toy, and some of them are already talking about how their mothers are going to take over and raise the babies. And," she said intently, "I'd like to throttle the idiot who came up with the phrase 'my baby daddy.' They think this means they'll always have the boyfriend around, that he'll be tied to them forever. When in reality..." she gestured. "Not so much."
"These kids are too young to understand that a baby isn't accessories like a scarf or earrings - that having this baby is going to impact their entire lives. I try to get girls that have already had a baby to come and talk about how hard it is, but the ones that come back are usually the ones whose mothers are treating their babies like siblings - the others are all too busy working to spend time chatting with friends they've lost touch with."
"Would more sex ed classes help?"
"Maybe. More free condom programs definitely would. We need to start sex ed earlier, before puberty starts and the ears turn off, before they start believing they know it all. Last year I had two girls tell me they had no idea they could get pregnant on the first try, and a boy who didn't know a girl could get pregnant if he ejaculated on her underwear. It's scary what they don't know."
"Will Kelly be okay?"
"Kelly has very supportive parents. Her friends will ignore it, and she'll lose a few - and probably her boyfriend - who think she should have had the baby. It'll be tough."
A bell sounded. "Oops! We've got to go, Jess. The home ec room is used next period. See you next Tuesday, okay?"
I was monitoring a class for a psychology requirement.
The girls were in seventh grade.
I've had two pregnancy scares - one after I was married. (It's not all inter-city girls - I'm a married woman in my mid-thirties. The reasons have changed, but the fact remains the same. The right to have an abortion in a clean and safe environment is important to all women.)
Both times, I would have had an abortion. Last year it was both easier and harder to have someone in my life who I could talk it though with.
A friend went through the private hell of having an abortion without telling anyone - afraid of what her parents and her minister would say, and what they would try to force her to do.
What are the answers? I'm not sure anyone knows. I do know that the right to choose whether or not to bear a child is something that noone - not the government, not the church, not anyone except the woman herself - should be interfering with.