the personal is political
Today is the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v Wade that made abortion legal in the US. Instead of ranting about the logical failing of equating a fetus with a child, and the even more logically disconnected equating of an embryo and a child; instead of quoting old testament verse that supports a woman's right to abortion, I'm going to take a few minutes to tell a story about my mom.
Those that know me know that my mother was diagnosed with alzheimer's dementia a while ago and has been falling deeper and deeper into the haze for years. About 1.5 years ago, things got to the point where she needed a level of care that my father was incapable of providing so she moved into the dementia ward of a nursing home.
I can't help but wonder what her condition would be if the religious-right had not forced the de-funding of the most promising avenues of alzheimer's research in 2001 -- embryonic stem-cell research. What treatment might be there today if the anti-abortion crowd did not feel the need to turn their religious doctrine into secular law?
But, that is a tangent and not what I want to write about. I remember my mom's first bout with dementia very well. In the mid-stages of her deterioration, when the illness went from her being a bit foggy to actual dementia and loss of connection with reality, it would hit her in waves. She would be there one minute, and the next she would --for lack of a better way of explaining it-- suddenly become un-stuck in time; drifting mentally back to somewhere else.
Her first serious time-shift came while she was in the hospital being treated for an unrelated condition. I went uptown to visit her, she was doing well until she had to change rooms. I grabbed her suitcase and the nurse led her down the hall to her new room. Somehow, she convinced herself that she was on a train, moving from one sleeper compartment to another. When I told her she was not on a train, but in the hospital, her response was "really? I'm on a hospital train? I've never heard of those before, where are we going?"
As I calmed her down and got her in to the bed, she slipped completely to another place and time in her mind. She started talking to me as if I was a co-worker in the office she was a nurse in when she was in her early 20s. I tried to make sense of what she was saying -- "it's such a shame that the couple in room 1 can't have one while the woman down the hall is willing to risk everything to get rid of hers..." -- it took me a while to remember that her first career was in nursing. As soon as I started to figure out what she was talking about, I went to ask her a question, in my imagined roll as her co-worker.
At that moment, she snapped back to the present. She was frightened and confused; she realized that she had just been somewhere else; she was still aware enough to know that it was a sign of what was to come. She was losing touch with herself, her present, her life.
After a difficult conversation where she made me promise to help her commit suicide once her condition deteriorated, I managed to get the courage to ask her about her dementia flashback.
It turns out that back in the late 1950s, my mom worked in the office of a fertility specialist that also performed illegal, medically safe, abortions.
My mom, the same woman that always worried and lectured me about the consequences of my own political activism had put herself on the line to assist in providing illegal abortions because it was the right thing to do. "Why should women risk death and infections for what should be a simple medical procedure?" she said in a simple matter of fact way.
I was blown away. The images I had of her being middle-of-the-road shattered. My mom was a radical; my mom was an activist; when she was faced with the reality of injustice, she actually did something instead of turning a blind eye or taking the safe path.
I asked her why she never told me; why she kept this a secret for so long. She looked up and shrugged -- "it never occurred to me that it was something worth talking about, it's just what I did"
For all the pain that alzheimer's has sent my way, it gave me this one gift. Without that flash of dementia, I would never have known, I would have never realized just how proud I am of who she is and how she lived her life.
To all those people that fought for abortion rights, this day if for you. Thank you, you have saved countless lives. Stand tall and be proud, don't believe the hype. You did the right thing.
Mom, I hope that somewhere in there, you know that today is a special day.
A rolling bike gathers no moss (or branches)
help, I've fallen and I can't get up