My mother wanted to be an astronaut. She admitted to me once that although she did not believe in God, she knew for a fact aliens existed. As a child she would walk among the cotton rows, praying up to the Carolina sky a spaceship might come to take her away.
In Mama’s young life, humans had been a huge disappointment. Born to a barely 15-year-old girl, my mama was the second of seven. Her vivacious mother, uneducated and lacking reproductive self-determination had more babies than she was able to feed. Mama’s controlling daddy believed that the only way to hold on to his young, ambitious wife was to keep her perpetually with child. His plan worked for nearly ten years. Then one Sunday after church, when my grandmother was 23 years old she rustled her little children to the front porch of a sharecroppers rental and announced she was “leaving to become a bluegrass singer and wouldn’t be coming back.” She stained each one of their cheeks with scarlet red lipstick and kept her promise.
Left with the children and not the woman, Mama’s Daddy proved to be an abusive man, unworthy of the love those tiny abandoned babies tried so desperately to earn from him. Mama’s childhood was beset with the kind of Southern pride that holds off charity and allows poverty to starve opportunity.
When she turned 18, she left our small east coast town to go “be somebody” in California. She was back in 4 months. Too naive to know that dreams can only find strength from a reservoir of love. Soon she was pregnant and although she wasn’t ready for me, abortion was illegal. Daddy jokes me that “I am lucky to be alive” and I am glad she did not take the back alley to an abortion but not to save my life, to save hers.
Until the day my Mama died, Daddy and I did our best to give her the love she’d been denied but we were powerless to stop her life’s dreams from succumbing to the wounds of a forsaken child. I do not thank my Mama for not aborting me anymore than I blame her for the miscarriage she had when I was in the 2nd grade. Another healthy baby girl joined our family years after and she has our Mama’s eyes.
I am now a mother too and with safe and legal family planning I have been able to alter my family’s legacy. I use my reproductive freedom the way I imagine my Grandmother and my Mama would want me, giving my daughters the love they deserve to reach for the stars.
Leigh Sanders is a North Carolina born and bred women’s rights activist. A writer/educator/community volunteer. She also mothers two marvelously liberated daughters. She recently started blogging at free2bleigh.com.