It started with an email. "Hi, Mom. I think you know Lena and I are starting a newsletter. We are doing a story about women who had abortions before Roe vs. Wade. Did you have one?"
This is the way we communicate, my mother and I. Simply. Directly. She responded right away. "Yes, in Mexico. On my birthday. It involved meeting a guy, holding sunglasses in my hand, and driving 300 miles into Ensenada. I was sure I was going to die. But it turned out well."
It turned out well. There it was.
My mother is one of those rare native Angelenos. She grew up in the fifties and sixties, near the beach, mostly barefoot. After college she would live in London (where her friend dated Rod Stewart!), New York—where she made the tragic mistake of trying to keep her barefoot lifestyle—Cambridge, where she would get a degree in special education from Harvard. Years later she would become a television writer, on shows like Hart to Hart and Cagney and Lacey, and a mother, to my brother Jeremy and me. When she was in her forties she had a stroke that left her quadriplegic but she remained social, writerly, informed, rabidly political, and fully available to answer my abortion questions.
Before this story idea it had never occurred to me to ask my mother if she had had an abortion. I'm not sure why. She was very open with me about sex and birth control. Maybe I assumed she would've mentioned it. Maybe because I've never had one—probably due largely to the fact that she educated me properly and rigorously about birth control. Maybe I was just a narcissistic teenager who couldn't imagine my mother being a woman my own age with thoughts and feelings and sexuality, because, ew.
The good news is not when it happened, but that it happened. I asked my mother. And it was amazing. It was healing. It was informative. And it was heartbreaking.
My mother shared her story with Lena and me at her dining room table, speaking softly and laughing at the details of her story that appear absurd to her over 50 years later. She brought her friend Leah Appet, another wise, funny writer with an abortion story to share, different in tone than my mother's but sharing many of the same surreal details. Placing blind faith in a nameless doctor. Making the only choice they could. Trusting that they deserved to. They were generous with their time and words, pausing often to remember hazy details—and murmur their approval of the L.A. health food dinner we brought in plastic containers. For once, Lena and I didn't have much to say. We just listened and learned.
I have been raised in a world where until very recently it was a given that I would have the right to choose. Today, that right is at risk. We're publishing one last preview before our official launch because Republicans are threatening to shut down the federal government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded right now. We're already seeing women in places like Texas—where many of the state's abortion providers have been put out of business by onerous, unfair restrictions—buying pills on the black market and getting unsafe abortions in order to terminate unwanted pregnancies. These include many poor women of color, who are hurt the most when abortion is unavailable.
It's important that we learn what life was like before Roe v. Wade as we watch our reproductive rights evaporate. #Askyourmother is wide open to interpretation. Ask your grandmother. Ask your father. Ask all the women in your lives who remember life before safe and legal abortion was an option. Because talking about it keeps it from being shameful. It reminds us where we've come from and why we can't go back there.