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    Why Should I Care About a Woman’s Right to Choose?

    Photo By Christopher Turner

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Pro-choice or pro-life? That’s an odd question for a gay man to pose in an LGBTQ newspaper. It’s not exactly a topic discussed at your local Castro bar or eatery. At first glance, this issue has only tangential impact on our community. Making babies, in our community, is most often intentional, purposeful and, in many cases, very expensive. “Choice” is an interesting word since we spend a great deal of time defending ourselves against the allegation that our orientation is a choice. In this moment in time, we are hearing more and more about the pro-life vs. pro-choice controversy. Sides have been taken. Lines drawn. Roe vs. Wade appears to be in grave danger. But what does it mean to me? To us?

    As a teen, I just knew that occasionally someone I barely knew left school to spend some time “away.” Most often it was at the local Buckner Baptist Home for Unwed Mothers. Later, as a straight (acting) adult and absorbed in the church every waking moment, it was not really discussed much. It was not a part of our lives at all. As far as we knew, no one in our church circle had any direct experience with this so-called pro-choice thing. Abortion didn’t hold nearly as prominent a position as homosexuality did in the hierarchy of human sins. So, we didn’t even talk about it with our children. Life was good. Choice also sounded good. What did any of that have to do with me?

    In my mind, I would never have to face this issue head on. Never say never. I have a story to share. Well, actually my daughter, Corianna, has a story that she would like to tell, if you would indulge us. She’s going to take the writer’s pen at this point. It’s a story she really wanted to tell herself. Here we go:

    I was 21 years old, living in a garage apartment in Dallas. I was going to nursing school, working as a nursing assistant. I was fully living the life of a young person who had just retired my fake I.D. for a real one. One night, I met a great guy in a bar and we began dating. Trey was a stand-up kind of guy, a little older and stable. I was crazy and a bit wild. He accepted me for who I was and really wanted to settle down together. I was not ready to settle down, but he was so nice.

    It was the holidays. His parents were out of town, so we had their McMansion in the burbs to ourselves. We had sex, upstairs … no protection. Of course, as a nursing student, I knew the risks, but was completely oblivious as to the real consequences. I took a test on New Year’s Day, all by myself. I was pregnant.

    The first person I told was my Dad’s partner. I knew he wouldn’t judge and I needed help telling my Dad. I just didn’t know how he would react. Dad’s partner called a few friends together for a drink at a gay bar after a rehearsal one night. I surprised him by being there. I thought it would be better with people around. I told him. He came around the table, and as he has always done said, “I love you. Now let’s make a list of next steps!” I gratefully declined that help.

    The next days and weeks I floated as if in a bad dream. I barely remember the details. I have glimpses of being at the bar, snapshots of people’s faces. I felt ashamed and frightened. I told Trey last. He wanted to keep the baby, to be together. He worked out a plan. We went to look at places to live together. I remember standing in the bathroom of one of the houses, looking at the fish on the bathroom tile. I like fish and really liked the tile. At that moment, having that beautiful bathroom tile was almost enough to make me consider having the baby.

    I remember staring at the fish on that tile and thinking, “I can barely take care of myself. I can’t pay my bills on time. I drink every night. I’m good at school, but that doesn’t translate to having a baby.” At that point, I had not one maternal bone in my body. I, myself, had not been mothered. At all. I had no idea what being a mother looked like. Dad was the closest thing I had to a Mother. I was scared. I knew that I would be miserable. Trey would be miserable. The child would most certainly be miserable. At that point, I couldn’t even take care of a fish or that f—ing tile.

    I snapped. I didn’t tell anyone what I had decided, but I knew. Several weeks went by before I built the courage to take the next steps. I made a phone call and an appointment. The clinic I chose was well-known because of picketers who had been outside for years. I had seen it on television news—never thinking I would need it. The news showed people screaming at everyone who entered … with pictures of mutilated babies and other unimaginable images. On the day of my appointment, the kinder, gentler protesters were on duty. I pushed through, ignoring them, and entered the most warm, welcoming place ever.

    Two appointments were required. The first was to get an ultrasound and to have a counseling session that gives you all of the possible options. The next, if you chose to return, was for the procedure. I was worried about paying for it. I had no money. I couldn’t ask Dad. Trey paid and didn’t shame me at all, even though that was not his choice for how this would unfold.

    At the first visit, I had the ultrasound and found out how far along I was. They told me how big the fetus might be and what it had developed. They didn’t do it to make me feel bad but to be informed. I remember sitting very close to the counselor in a cozy room (like a therapist’s office). I didn’t cry. She offered me a picture of the ultrasound and I wanted it for some reason. She was lovely. I asked for a hug when I left and she seemed surprised, but obliged. It was a good hug … seemed like she meant it. Now, twenty years later, I’m crying as I write this!

    I made an appointment for the procedure two days from then. I wanted to do it by myself, so Dad dropped me off and Trey picked me up. The procedure didn’t last too long. They sedated me. There was a doctor and a nurse. I asked the nurse to hold my hand and she did, lovingly. I got the feeling that they really, really cared, and it made a huge impact on me. Trey picked me up and he was very sad. We didn’t know what to say to each other. I puked on the way back to my apartment. He asked if I wanted him to stay and I didn’t. I asked him to leave, and I’m sure that was the beginning of the end of our relationship.

    On some level, I knew it was “wrong.” I learned it in church, the media, movies, after-school specials. Abortion is different than drinking or even having pre-marital sex. For some people, abortion is that thing you just don’t do. You don’t do if you’re a Christian. You don’t do it if you’re a good person, and you don’t do it if you like kids … or value human life. But all of that really doesn’t matter when you are faced with your own huge mistake and the lifelong repercussions of it. It’s just you and your life and your choice in that room with you.

    Had I gone through with having the baby, it would have crushed me. I would have loved the baby, I think, but I would have hated my life. Had I gone ahead with the pregnancy, that child would have entered the world with a child for a mother. I wouldn’t have grown up. I may have never been a practicing nurse taking care of kids with cancer for the last 20 years. I would not have met and married my soul mate, who also spends his life in pediatric oncology. I may have never had a baby that I really, really wanted. I really, really want my little girl every second of every day.

    Looking back these 20 years now, I don’t have answers. I do know that I am so very grateful that I lived in a time and a country where it was my choice. I made a mistake. I owned up to that. I was able to make a choice that was best for everyone. What would I tell others in the same situation? Trust your gut.

    If you have an abortion, you are not ruined. You will not be mangled. You may lose some friends. If you do, they weren’t your friends. You can still carry a life and bear a beautiful child and you can heal. I would never tell anyone how to believe or what they should think. I do hope, however, that sharing this incredibly painful chapter of my life and the fact that 2 decades later I would have done the same thing, may give someone out there hope in the decision that they are making. I will also fight for every woman’s right to make her own decision, should they find themselves as I found myself on that life-altering New Year’s Day.

    That’s my girl. Brave. Courageous, Vulnerable. And, a healer. And, she’s an Activist. She also ascribes to her Dad’s deeply-held belief that it is only when we are willing to tell our stories—the good and the bad—that we are able to move the needle and change a little part of the world.

    Of course, I knew my side of the story, but it was not until recently that I knew the details from Corianna’s side. I wept when reading it. No parent wants their child to experience such pain. That brings me back to a quick recap of my own experience that fateful night when my views on abortion changed forever.

    It was a Tuesday night—rehearsal night for my chorus. At the end of rehearsal, my partner said, “We’re going to J.R.’s for a drink.” (It was Dallas, after all.). That was unusual because it wasn’t something we ever did, but I just guessed he had some reason, and a cocktail after a long rehearsal was a good thing. When we arrived, two of our best friends were there and the big surprise: so was my daughter, Corianna. Had I missed a birthday? From their faces, it did not look like a party. We joined them at the table. They had already ordered us drinks.

    We had been through a lot in our lives—coming out, divorce, bankruptcy, family drama galore. All of this had drawn us closer. Perhaps some of that helped us through this moment. In usual Corianna fashion, she did not beat around the bush. She said, “Dad, I’m pregnant.” The earth did not open up or the sky fall. All I can remember thinking was how much I loved this girl of mine and wanted to protect her. I had somehow failed in that in this moment. But my next thought—and I hope actions showed—was: THERE IS NOTHING SHE COULD EVER DO THAT WOULD MAKE ME REMOVE MY LOVE FROM HER. I think she knew—and knows—that.

    I watched her go through her own steps of dealing with this—only standing guard from a distance and being willing to step in at any moment. But, she really didn’t need that. Whatever decision she made would change our lives forever. We all discussed the options and left with none chosen. She did that on her own.

    I went through my own thoughts in the days that followed. Was I ready to be a grandfather? I thought I was, but I really wasn’t. How would I feel should she have decided to end the pregnancy? Would I be ashamed or embarrassed? I did a great deal of soul searching myself.

    I watch her now. I watch her be the most amazing woman and mother. I see a woman for whom every bone in her body just screams Mom! I see this beautiful woman who would not be the same had she not made this choice. And, because of her courageous decision back then, I now have Clara!

    We live in a world where women are standing up with courage on a daily basis. It was not that way 20 years ago when Corianna went through this trauma. She is my hero.

    Am I pro-choice? Hell, yes! And I’m ready to continue helping in the fight to make sure other daughters have the same choice my little frightened girl had 20 years ago.

    Please vote.

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.