The First Time She Knocked, I Couldn’t Answer

In much of the world, motherhood is an accident, something that happens to women, not something they choose. The accident that is motherhood then takes over a woman’s physical being, lives off her body, changes her external life, her relationships with others, and her view of herself. This is an involuntary consequence of a sexual act in which two people participate but only one carries the consequence.

An adopted child hardly ever wonders about his birth father. Why is that?

Even when the decision to become a mother is conscious, the process is overwhelming beyond any woman’s comprehension. Pregnancy is a full body, full identity commitment unlike anything else a person could ever do. Beyond the nine months is a lifetime of being the person who will always be fundamentally responsible for the wellbeing of someone else.

A child is Jewish if his mother is Jewish. Why is that?

The all encompassing responsibility starts with pregnancy and never ends. Every shirttail un-tucked, every vegetable uneaten, every schoolyard fight, lost job, and unhappy relationship are connected by a thin thread unraveled from Mom’s sweater. The duty to make things right, orderly and peaceful; to feed, house, and protect; to nurture, develop and encourage begins at a baby’s birth and it continues as a complex stew of joy and obligation for decades. There is glory there and agony. It is hard to be responsible, harder still to stop being responsible.

A child welfare complaint is always registered in the name of the mother. Why is that?

When I was nineteen, I became pregnant. Without understanding any of the things I understand now at the age of 65, I knew I could not become a mother. I could see the extraordinary wall in front of me and knew I couldn’t scale it. And so I had an abortion. For many years, the guilt of this decision ruled my life. And then I came to understand that I owned my own self. I owned my body and soul and it was my decision to decide when to offer both up to a child.

It’s 45 years later and I am saying this. Why is that?

See also The Wire.

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