Culture

Anne Summers: ‘It Was Going To Be A Challenge To Get Myself An Abortion In New York City’

In Anne Summers' memoir, Unfettered and Alive, the political activist, journalist and policy maker reflects on having two abortions and deciding motherhood was not for her.

By Anne Summers

Culture

In Anne Summers' memoir, Unfettered and Alive, the political activist, journalist and policy maker reflects on having two abortions and deciding motherhood was not for her.

By Anne Summers

My reverie with New York lasted for less than two months. To my horror I discovered that, once again, I was pregnant. It was, I realised, the result of a one­ night stand with a visiting Australian with whom I would never dally again, and whom I could never tell. I knew I had no choice about what to do, although it was going to be a challenge to get myself an abortion in New York City—and probably very expensive—but the hormones had already started to kick ­in, and I found myself emotionally connecting to what was happening inside me. But, I told myself, there was no way I could have a baby.

It might just have been possible the last time I’d been pregnant, in 1979 when I was working in the Press Gallery. Life in Canberra was a lot simpler and support services were on hand, but I’d rejected that choice. I had put myself and my new job first. Had I chosen differently then, today I’d be the single mother of a six ­year­ old, and no way would I have this job in New York. Now I was 41 and this was probably my last chance, so I had to think very hard about whether I wanted this child. I’ve never been very clucky or defined myself solely, or even at all, by my ability to bear a child, so I could be a lot more dispassionate than would have been possible for some women.

Image credit: Joni Mitchell / Instagram @jonimitchell, Simone De Beauvoir / Instagram @haceteradfem

Looking back through my diary I realised that I had probably got pregnant around the time of Simone de Beauvoir’s death on 14 April 1986: “A very sad day for women,” I’d written. “Her contribution to the explo­sion of our consciousness was extensive and profound.” De Beauvoir herself never had an abortion, although she famously signed a petition of French women ‘confessing’ to having broken this law, but she did not hesitate to do whatever it took to put her work first and I would do the same. I wanted to stay in New York and to further hone my craft. I had the biggest assign­ment of my life in just a few weeks. I could not begin to imagine dealing with morning sickness while I interviewed the US Defence Secretary. I was a writer, I told myself, not a mother. Some women could be both, but not me.

 

“I was a writer, I told myself, not a mother. Some women could be both, but not me.” 

 

I found a gynaecologist on Park Avenue, a wonderfully sympathetic man, a recent immigrant from South Africa, who told me that in my situation— single, newly arrived in America, with a big job—I would be crazy to even consider having the child. I found his words consolingly reinforcing. I had not confided my situation to anyone, preferring to guide myself unaided through this decision. I knew I was doing what was right for me, but that did not mean that I was not sad—and angry. A week later, after the termination, I walked out through the waiting room, which was full of expectant couples. I wondered if they realised that the doctor who was to deliver their babies also did abortions—and would they care?

It was behind me now, but I could not overcome my feelings of bitterness and resentment. Men never had to make these decisions. They simply walked away from the bed, usually oblivious to the chaos they had left behind. The man I refused to call ‘the father’ (I did not think that merely depositing sperm entitled someone to a title that implies effort and commitment) probably occasionally looked back on our night together with a secret little smile. As for me, I treated myself, maxing out my credit card buying three pairs of Bruno Magli stilettos. I had made my choice; it was done. For a time at least, I would be fabulously frivolous. That was my way of asserting that I was back in control of my life. I felt, in the words of the Joni Mitchell song, unfettered and alive.

This is an extract from Anne Summer’s latest book, Unfettered And Alive: A Memoir. Join Summers in conversation with Future Women Founding Director Helen McCabe on November 14 in Sydney. Book here.