I picked up Choice, an anthology of women’s stories of infertility, adoption, and abortion, while roaming a bookstore on Christmas Eve. Ever since a college course in reproductive ethics led me to convert from my family’s pro-choice stance to a politically bewildered pro-life position, I’ve been addicted to personal narratives of abortion decisions.
Call me morbid, call me a conflicted seeker; whether recounted in a slick documentary or on an abandoned blog, but I find the stories of women and men who have faced this decision to be far more compelling than anything spouted by the talking heads.
Hungry for thought-provoking considerations of reproductive science, contraception, and Roe v. Wade, I toted my unlikely holiday read from one family get-together to the next. When the parties wound down, I, like many a beleaguered introvert, ran for the quiet corner and opened the book. Oddly, I was disappointed by the essays of more well-known writers like Pamela Huston and Francine Prose. But I found myself mesmerized by Kimi Faxon Hemingway’s chronicle of an “easy” RU-486 abortion, Janet Ellerby’s harrowing 1960s-era adoption saga, and Ashley Talley’s madcap tale of donating her eggs to her own mother.
Sara Messer’s poetic “Trees in the Desert” emerges as the stand out essay. Recounting her early-twenties abortion in Salt Lake City, Messer weaves a story of loneliness and random beauty, and she offers delicately-drawn versions of what are usually the abortion story’s stock characters: the deadbeat boyfriend, the absent parents, the friend who becomes a reluctant hero. Messer recapitulates some of the anthology’s central themes – crisis, desertion, courage – but she does so with the eye of a prophetess.
Choice is the most literarily satisfying work I’ve yet discovered in the abortion confession genre. Except for several preachy, politicized essays and one ill-wrought diatribe, its pieces refrain from, and forestall, easy judgments, and they do so with unexpected candor and beauty.
Intriguingly, the reflections on international adoption, homosexual reproductive issues, and infertility crises work to re-position the genre as an offshoot of the “repro lit” craze – a move that makes Choice even more unique. Regardless of its editors’ political leanings (and the fact that a portion of its proceeds benefit pro-choice organizations), Choice is not a prop for zealots. Ultimately, it maps that grey, bombed-out territory in which some of the most necessary living is done. It also reminded this reader that staking a claim on one side or the other is the easy decision: braving the field, whether as protagonist or helpmate, is when the hardest choices arise.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Laura Bramon
Laura Bramon lives in Washington, DC, where she works on international child protection issues. Her creative work appears in The Best Creative Non-Fiction (W.W. Norton), Image, Books & Culture, Featherproof Press, and other outlets.