Stories For Choice is Personal and Generational

Stories for Choice is personal. It’s political. It’s for the people of Texas, and for the future of our entire nation. It is also my attempt at healing a lineage of inherited trauma. 

For generations, my family has been deeply affected by a lack of reproductive freedom. In 1938, at 21 years old, my grandmother became pregnant out of wedlock. She hid out on a farm in Nebraska owned by an elderly couple. For the duration of her pregnancy, she traded work for room and board so her family in Iowa wouldn’t find out about her condition. She slept on a cot in the basement with nothing but a curtain separating her space from where the family’s five dogs slept. She gave birth to a baby girl, and for two months she cared for and nursed her in that basement, and then had to give her up for adoption. She returned home, forced to act like nothing had happened, and lived with the shame of her secret.

(my Grandmother, Cecilia Gilmour)

In 1965, at 16 years old, my mother lost her virginity and became pregnant after being date raped, a term no one used at the time. Given no choice, she was sent to a Catholic home for unwed mothers until she gave birth to a baby boy and gave him up for adoption. She returned home, her swollen breasts leaking milk serving as a constant and painful reminder of the baby she left behind. She had to move on and act like nothing had happened. She had to live with the shame of her secret, just like her mother.

(my Mom shares her story about her pregnancy)

In 1984, when I was 11 years old, I listened in on a phone call my mother was having, but I received more than I bargained for when I heard her say, “I just started looking for my son again.” The last three words echoed in my mind as I tried to process and make sense of this new information. “My son again, my son again, my son again.” What was she talking about? 

I hung up the phone like nothing had happened and lived with the shame of her secret. Holding this secret changed me. I knew of the missing child my sisters would know nothing about for years. I was the only one who knew why our Mom sobbed every May when her baby boy’s birthday passed. I was the only child who knew our mother was capable of giving away one of her children. 

In 1997, I became pregnant, and though I always wanted to be a mom, at the time, I was being held hostage by the brutal grip of addiction. I don’t believe my alcoholism was caused by secrets and shame, but I do believe it added fuel to the fire. Unlike my mother and grandmother, I had the freedom to choose. The day before my 25th birthday, I went to a clinic and had an abortion. 

I was adamantly pro-choice and blindsided by how challenging it was for me to recover from the experience emotionally. I didn’t feel safe talking about how I felt. I was afraid I’d give the other side ammunition. It became urgently important to me to create spaces where people could make whatever decision was right for them, be supported through it, and talk about it truthfully. This is what Stories for Choice means for me. It is a space to dispel shame, abandon secrets, welcome freedom, and fight like hell for justice.

(I share my story about my abortion)

When we initiated the plans for this program, we could see the impending doom on the horizon, but nothing prepared me for the news coming out of Texas. Our rights are being stripped away from us and will continue to be, state by state. 

Legal rights are crucial but not enough. We have to share our stories for fair access, safety, education, and preventative healthcare. It’s time to scream from the rooftops. If you have a story to tell, I urge you to submit your story before September 15 and join us in our rallying cry for freedom. We have to share our stories like our lives depend on it because they do. Now more than ever.

The Lucky Ones: Mourka’s Story

By Mourka (she/her)

I was 19-years-old in the fall of 1966 when my friend Barbara and I drove my two-tone 1956 Chevrolet to Baltimore, Maryland, where I was to have an illegal abortion.

One afternoon, a few weeks prior, I had returned from school, pulled into my driveway, parked, and stepped out of the car. I was loaded with books and bags and papers. Suddenly, Bo, my ex-boyfriend, was right there. I screamed from the unexpectedness of him. He was angry; I broke up with him. He grabbed my arm; the books and papers went flying. I thought he would kill me but instead, he ripped my clothes off and raped me on my car’s hood. Right before he got into his car and drove away, he banged me on the head. I never saw him again.

I slid off the car and fell into the dry brown leaves. I dressed. With leaves still in my hair, I slowly walked up the apartment steps where I lived with my parents. My father greeted me when I walked through the door.

He asked me in Russian, “Как поживаешь?” How was I doing?

I answered, “Нормально, всё нормально.” Everything is fine.

After swallowing many quinine water glasses and drinking vast amounts of alcohol in failed attempts to abort, I managed to obtain $500 from a friend for the abortion. Barbara and I scraped up the rest of the money for a hotel room and gas — there was not much left for food — a minor consideration.

I had the instructions memorized. I was to go to a certain Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in Baltimore. I was to check-in, get a room, and wait for a taxi that would pick me up at a specified time. I was instructed to be alone. I was not frightened. I was in deep denial of the danger that awaited me.

It was dark when we got to the Howard Johnson. We checked-in. I looked out the window and noticed a taxi waiting at the entrance. It was time to go. Barbara and I hugged and I walked alone, down the hall, into the lobby, out the door and climbed into the taxi. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. My blinders were on. My thoughts were not on the danger of what was to come but the necessity of going through it, to get it done and move on.

The cab driver told me to lie face down in the car’s back seat and not to get up. I did as I was told. I felt the taxi winding around curves and going uphill. About twenty minutes later, we stopped at a dark house. He told me to go in. I was greeted by a woman who asked me for the money. She took the envelope of cash and told me to go into an adjacent room, take off my clothes and put on a paper dress. I went into the room and there was a woman lying on her side on the bed in one corner, groaning. We didn’t speak. I didn’t want to know.

I soon walked into a very bright room and was told to lie down on the cold metal flat bed and put my feet into the stirrups. My legs began to tremble. The doctor and nurse were wearing sunglasses. The operation began. The doctor told me that there would be cramping but I was not given anything for pain. As it intensified I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. The procedure lasted fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity.

And then it was over.

The doctor asked me if I wanted to see the fetus. I said no. I was led into the original room. The woman was gone. I was told to lie down for a while that they would come for me. It was in this quiet moment that I realized what just happened. I could bleed to death. I could get an infection. Would I see Barbara again?

In about twenty minutes, I was given some pills for the bleeding and some menstrual pads. I got dressed and slowly and painfully walked out of the house and into the waiting taxi. Again, I was told to lie face down on the back seat. Also, I did as I was told.

Finally, the taxi dropped me off at the Howard Johnsons. I walked down the hall and was so relieved to see Barbara rushing towards me. We hugged. It was over.

The next morning, I wasn’t bleeding too badly. My angels were working overtime. I was going to make it. Some women die. I was one of the lucky ones.

•  •  •

Mourka wrote and performed her story as part of TMI Project’s 2013 production, What to Expect When You’re NOT Expecting: True Stories of Slips, Surprises, and Happy Accidents, a collection of true stories centered on the ways people exercise freedom of choice when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

The Lucky Ones: Betty’s Story


As an 18-year-old girl in the early fifties, I possess very little knowledge of my body or reproduction. It will be twenty years before The Supreme Court passes Roe v Wade into law, making abortion legal. Not only is abortion illegal, so is contraception in many states. Not until 1974 does contraception become legal for unmarried couples. I know where babies come from. That’s about it. For a long time, I believe I am too skinny and too anemic to get pregnant. It’s my magical thinking.

Betty MacDonald, 1956

After college, writing radio copy and hosting an afternoon disk jockey show on the local NBC affiliate, I spend a year in my hometown. I have total control of what I say on-air and what I choose to play, but I’m not allowed to touch the turntable or the microphones because I’m female. My co-host Charlie operates the control board.

After a year on air at the radio station and evenings working backstage and performing in the newly created theatre at the Virginia Museum, I take the night train to New York City, intent on studying acting.

In the Village, I become part of a group of struggling actors, artists, writers, and musicians who hang out in the coffee houses on Bleecker and MacDougal Streets. My boyfriend Joel was celibate for six years in self-imposed penitence for impregnating his first girlfriend when he was sixteen. When we get together, I almost immediately miss my period. The theory is Joel’s years of celibacy have intensified his potency. His super post-celibate sperm has overcome my magical thinking. I am pregnant.

Dr. C., my primary care provider, upon hearing my plight, places me in the care of his loyal and knowledgeable nurse. In turn, she puts me in touch with an abortion provider, a doctor who, after losing his medical license for preforming the illegal procedure, makes his living renovating apartments.

Joel, always the gentleman and the only man in our crowd with a steady job foots the bill — $500 cash. The operation will take place in my third floor Greenwich Village walk-up. My friend Claudette, a young woman toughened by her childhood in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War, offers to be with me.

The doctor, having climbed the three flights, appears at my door slightly disheveled. At first, he surveys the apartment with a contractor’s eyes and offers some suggestions for possible renovations before unpacking his physician’s bag.

I lie down on my green and beige enameled kitchen table. There are no stirrups, so my legs and butt are placed in a mesh harness. The doctor considers anesthesia or pain medication too risky. I undergo the procedure without them. Claudette faithfully holds my hand as promised. She doesn’t freak out when I start screaming and talks me through the excruciating process. For weeks afterward, I bleed and feel faint.

I continue to date Joel and quickly get pregnant a second time. I don’t know how to prevent it.

This time the abortion doctor gives me instructions to meet him at an apartment in one of the many high-rise complexes in Queens. Another friend, Lorraine, offers to drive me, but because my instructions are to arrive unaccompanied, she waits for me in the car.

Before going in, I swallow a pill Dr. C. has given me to lessen pain. I take the elevator to the sixth floor. Just as I am about to press the buzzer at the designated apartment, a door on the other side of the hall pops open. The doctor pokes his head out and calls to me urgently in a hushed voice.

Once inside and on the table, I attempt to take a second pill Dr. C. has prescribed, but my abortionist stops me. He’s not taking any chances. Fortunately, the first pill removes me from the pain’s immediacy, although it doesn’t eliminate it. I experience the agony repeatedly, but this time it’s as if it’s from a distance.

When it’s over, Lorraine drives me back to West 10th Street. I break up with Joel and feel restored. I vow to be more careful in the future.

•  •  •

Betty wrote and performed her story as part of TMI Project’s 2013 production, What to Expect When You’re NOT Expecting: True Stories of Slips, Surprises, and Happy Accidents, a collection of true stories centered on the ways people exercise freedom of choice when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

The Lucky Ones: Diana’s Story

BY DIANA FREID (she/her)

It’s 1967, I am 19 years-old, and I am pregnant. I don’t understand how this can be. I think it’s impossible to get pregnant the first time you sleep with someone. I cannot have a baby.

Diana Freid, 1967

My boyfriend asks around and gets a name and a number. I have $100, and he borrows the rest. I meet his friend’s girlfriend, Mary, a nice Catholic girl. She tells me what to expect. I think, she is not the kind of girl who would have an abortion, and yet she did. If she can do it, so can I. As the date gets closer I think about a baby, our baby, growing inside me. I still don’t understand how this could happen. I cry. My boyfriend says he’s glad I feel this way. It means someday I will make a good mother. I cry harder. He borrows $400, and the date is set.

It’s in New Jersey. Nothing good ever takes place in New Jersey. It’s stinky and ugly, and we get lost. Eventually, we end up in one of the rundown working class neighborhoods. I’m scared and cold. I’m numb.

It’s all very cloak and dagger. The drop off is four blocks from the address. He lets me out of the car. I am supposed to arrive alone. I have the directions and $500 in cash in a plain white envelope. I walk down the streets. Time slows down. Suddenly my eyesight is incredible, my hearing superhuman, and I feel every footstep that takes me closer to the door. I spot it now — the shabby green two story house with the paint peeling off it, a sagging porch in the front. There are no signs of life. I walk up the three steps and ring the bell.

She answers the door in a short white nurse’s uniform, cap and all. Her mouth has thick red lipstick on it, and she has a heavy Jersey accent. She looks like she is straight out of a porn movie. I watch her lips move. She says, ”Go in the bathroom there. Take off all your clothes and leave the money on the back of the toilet.” I do as I am told.

I come out of the bathroom completely naked. I’m told to lie down on a metal table in the hall. I’m cold and exposed. I can see into the next room where the one before me is getting it done. I hear her breath, the gasping intake, the soft groan. Standing between her legs is this man — dark and hairy, unshaven. The doctor? I guess he is. He is wearing a large plastic butcher’s apron. It is splattered with blood.

Then it’s my turn. I walk in and climb on the table. Something happens. An interruption. The man walks out of the room leaving me there, legs in the stirrups. There is a muffled conversation in the hall. His wife called. He is angry. “I told her to never call here when I’m working.” There is more whispering. I guess the nurse is his lover. Then he’s back. He doesn’t say a word. I stare at the ceiling. It hurts a lot. I bite my lip and turn my head away. A few tears trickle down my cheek. He goes about his business. He doesn’t say a word.

Finally, I’m helped into another room and lie down on a narrow couch. The doctor sits next to me and massages my abdomen. He is looking in my eyes and smirks. He continues massaging me, a little lower. I am completely creeped out.

“Be a good girl, now,” he says and hands me a prescription for birth control pills. A few minutes later the porn nurse arrives and brusquely tells me to get dressed. Then I am ushered out the door. I feel disoriented. I’m shaking and bleeding and unsure of the way back to the car. I’m in shock, putting one foot in front of the other. But, I did it. I was brave. I survived. Some women die. I know I was one of the lucky ones. But, it didn’t feel that way at the time.

•  •  •

Diana wrote and performed her story as part of TMI Project’s 2013 production, What to Expect When You’re NOT Expecting: True Stories of Slips, Surprises, and Happy Accidents, a collection of true stories centered on the ways people exercise freedom of choice when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

With No Choice, I Said Goodbye to My Baby Boy.


When we’re married about a year John asks me, “Are you ready yet?”

“No!” I exclaim. We get Sam, a cat.

Six months later, the same question. We get Herman, a dog. But I can only put my husband off for so long. He’s 33, I’m 25, and he wants a baby. Now.

How can I tell him I’m scared? Not the ordinary kind of scared that engulfs most first-time parents. I am terrified. I am not a first-time mom. I am a sinner. I committed the most heinous crime: I gave up my child for adoption. It has been eight years since I gave up my son. I am absolutely sure I will be punished with the wrath of God.

I’m sure that as soon as his sperm meets my egg, lightning will strike my uterus; my whole body will go up in smoke. The baby will have the most hideous deformities this world has ever seen — all because of what I did at 17.

•  •  •

It’s August 8th, 1964. Joe is twenty-five. I still have fairytale notions of finding a prince who’ll treat me like a princess.

If I had been a whole girl, one with boundaries, solid with self-esteem, I would have refused his ride. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I’d romantically envisioned Joe showing up for our first date in some kind of chariot; he shows up drunk, in an old car with a hole in the floor and one door tied shut with a wire. I willingly get in, rain peppering me through the window that won’t close.

As the evening progresses, Joe gets drunker. At the drive-in, he pushes me down. “NO!” I shout. He doesn’t seem to hear me. I have never had sex before and am not sure what happened. I stumble to the ladies room and yes, I am broken.

My cycle had always reliably been 28 to 30 days. When it gets to be 35 days and nothing is happening, I start to panic. When Joe calls to arrange a date, I tell him I’m late. He says we’ll talk about it at 7:30 that night, when we are to meet. He never shows up.

My girlfriends say to buy Humphrey 11 pills. They’re supposed to bring on your period. Then I hear quinine pills will do the trick. I walk alone to the drug store to buy them. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. They don’t work. I talk with my girlfriends about abortion, but none of us know how to get one. We hear you can go to Puerto Rico, but you have to pay $600. I keep playing hooky from school because I can’t concentrate.

When I finally tell my parents, my father says, “Don’t you know that a woman can run faster with her skirt up than a man can with his pants down?” I quit school. I visit the priest, who tells me, “Adoption is the only option.” I arrange to go to St. Martha’s Residence in Newark. At home, we pretend that my belly isn’t growing bigger. This is not really happening.

I can’t understand how my mother won’t talk to me about this when she went through the same thing! In 1938, when she was twenty-two and unmarried, she got pregnant and had to run away from home. She told no one. All by herself, she had my sister, Lois, and gave her up for adoption. Twenty-five years later, she watches me go through the same nightmare, but says nothing. How is that possible?

At St. Martha’s, I am with other women who share the same shame and find strength in each other’s company. Each night we sit around sharing stories of our pasts and our hopes for the future. We don’t discuss the pain that is to come, or what to expect with labor and delivery. We’ve heard horror stories from the girls who went before us about the mean nurses at the hospital. No joy will be found in this birth.

When the baby is born, I spend two days with him, counting ten baby toes and ten baby fingers on his perfect baby body. I tell him how much I love him. I keep his first baby picture. I feed him and name him Paul Joseph. On the third day, I say goodbye to the sweet baby boy. Mom and Dad finally come to take me to sign the papers. On the way home, we stop for drinks.

•  •  •

Eight years later, when I am 25, my husband and I have no trouble conceiving. Every occurrence around this pregnancy and birth stands in vivid contrast to the dark experience of my first one. John reassures me that this time I will not be alone and I’m not — we go to classes together to learn about every step of delivery and birth. At 17, when my water breaks, I don’t even know what just happened — no one ever told me that was going to happen. The nuns don’t explain a thing — they just call a cab to take me to the hospital — alone. At 25, I choose my doctor carefully, making sure he’s well versed in natural childbirth and will allow me to nurse my new baby on the delivery table. At 17, I have to use the doctors that Catholic Charities picks. Natural childbirth is not an option, and before I know it, I am heavily drugged for the delivery. At 25, John coaches me in Lamaze and never leaves my side. At 17, each contraction, experienced alone magnifies the pain and sorrow.

My new in-laws and everyone I know gathers to shower me and my new baby with gifts. Even people I don’t know well send presents to celebrate this new life. The other one is given nothing by the people who love me most, not even acknowledgment. In my second pregnancy, I join La Leche League to learn how to breastfeed and welcome this new baby into our family; as a teen, I have to figure out how to give up my baby, with no guidance, not even from my mother who went through it before me.

On the day of delivery, John drives me to the hospital. We talk to each other and connect before we experience this ancient rite of birth together.

After seven hours of labor, she arrives. No devil child comes that day. She’s a perfectly beautiful sweet girl. She comes bounding into the world smiling. We call her Eva.

•  •  •

Alice wrote and performed her story as part of TMI Project’s 2013 production, What to Expect When You’re NOT Expecting: True Stories of Slips, Surprises, and Happy Accidents, a collection of true stories centered on the ways people exercise freedom of choice when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

God, Forgive Me for Sending My Baby Back to You

BY SHAI BROWN (she/her)

One morning when I am 14-years-old, I wake with my stomach turning. I run to the bathroom to vomit. This goes on for a few days. I believe I have a stomach virus.

My friend accompanies me to the doctor, where they give me a bunch of tests. The nurse comes in and tells me, “Congrats, you are pregnant!”

“Pregnant? No, the hell I am not! How could that be possible? I’m only fourteen. I’ve never even had a boyfriend.”

“Well, sweetheart, you had something cause you are surely pregnant. About 12 weeks to be exact!”

My friend turns completely white in the face from shock, as do I. “Girl, are you keeping secrets from me now?”

Oh, yes. I am keeping secrets.

•  •  •

No one knows that three months ago, I woke up to him pumping on top of me, the smell of alcohol on his breath, a white powdery substance resting on the tip of his nose, sweat pouring down his face. He had this dark look in his eyes as if he lost his soul and became the devil.

“What the hell are you doing? Get off of me, you nasty bastard!” I screamed as I fought back, trying to escape his powerful grip. But he grabbed me even harder and pulled my hair.

I spit in his face. The next thing I remember is his hand around my neck, choking the shit out of me. I started to see black, red, and yellow spots appear in front of me. Things begin to fade away slowly. My vision finally gave out. When I woke up, he was asleep next to me, his body odor attached to my flesh.

•  •  •

Now, in the doctor’s office, I touch my stomach and feel what’s growing inside me, and I know it is his. I cry. I am so afraid to share this with anybody. I feel the same way I felt when my grandfather violated me — scared, alone, depressed, hurt, and damaged.

I am just a child myself. I am too young to have a baby. I continue to live life as if nothing has changed, even as I gain weight, and my stomach expands. I begin to feel a little compassion for my unborn child. But, my inner thoughts will not have it. I always hear a voice saying, “Rid your body of this demon seed.”

Four months have passed, and I am still unsure of what to do. My grandmother starts to notice the changes in my body. One day, when I’m on my way to school, she asks me flat out, “Are you pregnant?”

“Yes, grandma, I am.”

She explodes angrily, calling me names instead of offering the comfort I so badly need. I begin to cry, yelling at her, “This is not my fault. It’s yours! You think this is easy for me?”

“Well, you are not keeping that baby and remaining in this house.”

Now my whole family will be involved. She is sure to tell them what a whore she believes I am. What she doesn’t know is that I don’t want to keep this bastard child. Not another minute do I want to carry the child of a demon in my womb.

When I walk into the clinic, I see what I would have never imagined: Girls mostly my age dealing with the same thing. It’s like walking into the pits of hell. Filling out the papers, I begin to cry. The compassion I do not want to feel for this child returns.

Lying on the table, I ask God for forgiveness for what I am about to do. The doctor says, “Young lady, I need you to count to three. When you wake up, this will all be over.” Tears in my eyes, I picture the child’s face looking like some of me and some of him. “Please, God, forgive me for sending him back to you. He is only a child, and he deserves to be loved. Something I know I can’t do. I abort this child with a strong belief that he will be the angel you sent to watch over me.” A peace suddenly falls on me. I close my eyes and finally count to three.

I guess once this is over, I can finally tell my grandmother the secret I’ve been carrying for five months now: The child I’ve just aborted was mine and my brother’s child.

•  •  •

Shai wrote and performed her story as part of TMI Project’s 2013 production, What to Expect When You’re NOT Expecting: True Stories of Slips, Surprises, and Happy Accidents, a collection of true stories centered on the ways people exercise freedom of choice when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.