A few weeks shy of my seventeenth birthday, between my junior and senior years of high school, I disobeyed my mother and went to the apartment of my “boyfriend,” a man of 22, who was obviously entirely too old for me. During the evening he offered me a Coke in a glass, which I happily drank, not suspecting that he had drugged it. I recall gradually losing the ability to control my body, but still being aware of what was happening as he carried me to his bedroom and raped me. When I finally regained myself, I fled his apartment and, though I was devastated, I didn’t tell my parents, or anyone else, what had happened. Today I know that this is a typical response for a teenage girl, but at the time I thought that what happened to me was entirely my fault because, of course, I had put myself in harm’s way that night.
Three weeks after the rape, I moved with my father to another state. He was trying to pick up the pieces after my parents’ divorce, and I desperately wanted to be as far away from the man who raped me as possible. It wasn’t long before a part of me knew that I was pregnant as a result of the rape, but I could not bring myself to fully face that reality. I firmly believe that I could have been one of those young girls who are so deeply in denial that they give birth in a bathroom, never having admitted to themselves that they were pregnant.
For almost five months I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t true. I carried on as though everything were normal. I went to school, wore baggy clothing, and ignored all of the “symptoms” of pregnancy. I made myself believe that I wasn’t menstruating because of the stress of the rape; that my firm and growing belly was simple weight gain; that the fluttering I was beginning to feel was gas or digestive issues. Not only did I not want to admit or accept the fact that I was pregnant, but I was devastated by the idea that I was carrying a rapist’s child. I had plans. I wanted to go to college and then on to law school. I had the grades, and I knew I could get into a good school, but I was paralyzed by my situation and I had done nothing about researching schools, let alone applying to any of them. I couldn’t even motivate myself to take the ACT.
One day, while reading during a study hall, I felt a blatantly obvious, solid little kick. It startled me so much that I held my breath a moment, struggling with my emotions. Amazingly, one part of me desperately wanted it to happen again. Another part of me, the part that found the thought of being the mother of a rapist’s child abhorrent, just as desperately hoped that it would not.
Sitting there in that study hall, fighting with myself trying to decide how to feel and what to do next, and knowing, finally, that I had no choice but to stop pretending that I was not pregnant, I recalled a conversation that I had had with my mother when I was about eight or nine years old.
In the early 70’s there was a TV series I liked called “Medical Center” and one of the episodes was about a woman who was pregnant as a result of rape. She was trying to get an abortion, but this episode was set in pre-Roe v. Wade Los Angeles, so of course, abortion was illegal. I had no idea at the time what rape even was, let alone abortion, but I innocently asked my mother about it. We had recently had our first birds and bees conversation, so I had a rudimentary idea of how sex worked. She carefully explained what all this meant in terms I could understand, and as I sat at my table in my high school study hall, literally at the most crucial crossroads of my young life, I recalled asking my mother why they wouldn’t let this woman have an abortion since she had been raped. My mother thought about it for a long moment and finally said to me, “You know, it’s not the baby’s fault the mother was raped.”
I felt another kick, and then another. I thought about this baby I was carrying, who, just by doing what came naturally, had made his existence utterly and undeniably obvious to me. I thought again about what my mom had said to me all those years before, and I began to cry. Soon I was sobbing uncontrollably, and the duty teacher sent me to the office. I asked them to call my dad, who gave them permission to let me go home since he couldn’t get away to come get me. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around our block thinking, for the first time, not about myself, but about this very real baby, and allowing myself to fall in love with him.
Obviously I finally told my father that day that I was pregnant and he immediately suggested abortion, which had been legal for about six years by that time. I told him that I knew I would not be able to do that, but that I thought I wanted to give the baby up for adoption. He told me he would do whatever was needed to make that happen. We were both looking to my future and to the future of my child. As the result of one tiny little intrauterine kick, the impenetrable wall that I had carefully constructed around myself had crumbled enough to allow me to move forward.
There was a remnant of that wall that would stand for another ten years, because, while I was able to tell my dad that I was pregnant that day, I still couldn’t tell him that I had been raped. More importantly, though, on the day my son was born in February of 1979, I decided to keep him. It was a rash decision, based purely on maternal instinct and love, but it was the right one for us. We had nothing, but we managed, and ultimately he thrived. He just turned 37 and I’m proud to be his mother. He knows this story, having learned the basic facts about it at the age of ten, the same year I finally shared the whole truth with my parents.
Clearly, societal norms have evolved since 1979. I was traumatized and confused and didn’t know what to do. I responded by planting myself squarely in the middle of an endless field of denial and surrounding myself with a convenient windowless wall. I couldn’t look outward, and I couldn’t escape. Worse, I couldn’t look inward, either. In 1979, there was no awareness of the rape culture we educate people about today. There was no support for victims of date rape and while ultimately, it was the most difficult thing I had ever done, it was easier to tell my parents I was pregnant than to tell them that I had been raped. There’s something wrong with that picture.
For me, and for my son, I believe that if there had been the kind of support offered today, I might never have reached the point in my pregnancy where I felt that minuscule, though mighty, kick. His kick allowed me to see him as a person, and it opened my heart to him. My self-imposed wall and my recollection of my mother’s wisdom literally saved my son’s life. I couldn’t be happier about it.