I wrote these appalling journal entries shortly after I dropped out of Columbia Law School in 1971. Who would have guessed that eventually I would become the stay-at-home mother of four? However, this was also the only time in my childbearing life before my husband’s vasectomy that I forgot to use birth control.
When I first realized I’d forgotten to take the pill Saturday night, I was terrified, hysterical, uncontrollable. I was going to get pregnant; my life was ruined; I could never face anyone again. I was convinced that somehow I deliberately forgot to take the pill because subconsciously I wanted to be pregnant. That would justify my not having a job, my staying home, my sleeping late, the lazy pattern I’d fallen into the past few weeks since Columbia. Then I would have all the time in the world to read, to think, to learn, to write, and everyone would think any effort on my part was commendable.
I am still torn between two interpretations of my forgetfulness. After religiously remembering to take the pill for three and one half years, it could not be just by accident that I forgot. The other is that in three and one half years it was inevitable that at some time I would forget; no one’s memory is perfect. The actual circumstances are strange too. After I finished my sandwich Saturday evening, I went into the bedroom to take my pill. Instead I put the pills in my pocketbook, thinking Chris and I might spend the night on Long Island. But I remembered taking it, even now I half remember taking it. Often at two in the morning I’ve become convinced that I hadn’t taken the pill and gotten up to check. Always I had. This is the first time I remembered taking the pill when in fact I hadn’t. Of course we left for Long Island early about 6:30. Usually I take it around 8 or 9. I must have put it in my bag, thinking I would take it later.
Later I calmed down, realizing how extremely unlikely it was that I would get pregnant by forgetting to take the pill once. But more strangely and more interesting, I also calmed down because I realized getting pregnant wouldn’’t necessarily be the end of my life. I don’t think I could ever reconcile myself to having an abortion. Although I may recognize that my reluctance is the result of Catholic teachings that on the whole I have rejected, that recognition does not vanquish my reluctance. While my Catholic training hasn’t given me certainty, it’s given my doubts–the worst kind of doubts. Can you go ahead and do something when you’re not sure whether it’s murder or not? Don’t some doubts have to be resolved before you can act?
In addition I somehow feel you have to have a better reason for an abortion than we have. We could afford it. Chris’s and my joint income is easily $16,000 or $17,000. In fact, if I built up my free-lancing just a little more, we could afford the two bedroom apartment in the new building. Once I found a full-time job, we could easily afford to hire someone to take care of the baby during the day. Before the crisis I never considered the advantages of having children now, rather than five or six years from now. I have always felt I should be firmly, absolutely, unshakably settled in a career before I could even consider having children. But once you decide you’re not going to stay home and take care of the child, having one now wouldn’t hinder my career much more than having one later. In fact, now my career, being relatively new, would probably demand less than it will five-six-seven years from now.
January 10, 1972
I don’t think I quite realized how suggestible I am. Merely seeing Miriam’s baby, talking to Richard and Kathy, learning Pat was pregnant and seeing her and Peter’s excitement have set my fantasies racing. Yet rationally I know this would be the worst possible time for me to get pregnant. I’m discouraged, depressed, uncertain about what I’m going to do, haunted by the feeling I’m wasting myself, that I am a failure. Having a baby would be the easy way out. On the other hand, this time I would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire for the rest of my life. You can change schools, quit jobs, cease to see friends, but you can’t cease to be a mother. That brief little crisis when I forgot the pill seems to have had serious results. Deciding that my life wouldn’t be ruined if I got pregnant seemed to have had an incredible impact on my thinking. I wonder if such fantasies are in any way related to the fact that it’s a week before my period.
I don’t think I’m in any serious danger of giving way to my fantasies. But somehow I thought I was immune to them. I didn’t realized that I was insulated because none of my friends, none of the women I could conceivably identify with, had children. Perhaps my greatest fear is that when you have a baby some mysterious change comes over you and you either are content to stay at home despite resolutions you made before the baby was born or you are powerless to return to work even thought you might want to. I hate to consider Pat my guinea pig, but I’m very curious to observe whether and how she changes. I can’t entirely identify with her; she’s six years older than I am, and she lacks ambition. Even so I cannot conceive of her fading into a devoted mother, interested in nothing but her precious child or guilty if she is interested in anything else.
Thank God my daughters are nothing like I was at age 26. I got pregnant 6 months after this last entry.