By Amy Hong
Dear Little One,
I want you to know that your grandmother had an abortion. She was 24 and alone in a new country with your grandfather, my father. It’s unnervingly easy to feel alone in a city, dealing with the intersectionality of immigration and language and poverty and the kind of distrust that comes from leaving behind a totalitarian homeland.
The story was that they wanted a better life for me. But I want you to know that they wanted a better life for themselves, too, and that’s okay. I hadn’t been born yet, after all. I came after the abortion when they were ready for me. And I want you to know that because you’re also allowed to want a better life for yourself.
I didn’t understand this until I was older, but this country wasn’t ready for my mother. A woman like my mother had few choices. Food stamps narrowed the foods she ate. My father’s graduate stipend narrowed the number of international calls she made. And language narrowed the friendships she formed.
Her abortion was unsentimental. She’d learn later that some of her peers – the Chinese women she’d come to find and because of whom she’d feel less alone – had similarly unsentimental abortions. She’d been on birth control pills, but she misunderstood the instructions. She miscalculated, and she wasn’t ready.
Telling me was an unsentimental matter, as well. I don’t know a time when I didn’t know this. It was as natural as her smallpox vaccine scar or the fingernail that never quite grew back from a rogue cleaver. She was unashamed of her abortion, and that was a gift to me. I was a wanted child, she never ceased to tell me – the daughter of a woman who was ready then and of a man who had prayed for a daughter.
But I left for college and, to my mother’s bewilderment, I learned to put on shame: a blanket so long and so thick that I pulled it over me, and when there was length left over, I pulled it over her as well. I fell in with a certain kind of church, which is not all churches. And they prayed without ceasing for an end to safe abortion access. I miscalculated: I thought that my newfound faith required the denunciation of my convictions, including a person’s right to choose an abortion. I made myself small to make room for shame. I want you to know that, too, because it doesn’t have to be that way.
Under this vast blanket of shame, I chastised my mother for her right to choose. I returned home and called her choice, her agency, a sin. I wanted her to feel ashamed, I think, because shame was central to this new faith of mine. They were selling absolution, and for it to work, absolution needs to stick to something. We needed to be ashamed of something, and really, anything would do. Love of a friend could be called lust. Love of justice was a slippery slope. And agency – love of self – was idolatry. We could not want anything for ourselves that God did not want. And we could not be trusted to determine for ourselves what God wanted.
In God’s mercy, my words bounced off my mother’s skin. I was, to her, still a child – and a foolish one at that. It took a long but gentle journey out of that particular kind of Christianity, and I found myself thereafter in the fold of a better faith community – one where we could lament together this faith-based assault on options that your grandmother had, that I still have in Maine, and that we will fight for you to have, too.
Many years after that blessed conversion, I found myself at a rally in Portland in support of Planned Parenthood. In the midst of chanting, I was seized by an inward command to call my mother. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was the spirit of her own mother calling down the line to me.
So I called my mother. I asked what she was doing. She was straining milk from the grounds of soybeans – pulling the last of what they had to offer. She asked what I was doing, and when I told her, she asked me to be careful.
“Be careful” in her language is “xiǎo xīn” or “have a little heart,” which sounds like cowardice until we break apart the cultural connotations of the heart. “Xīn,” or heart, is also “focus.” How American for us to call a careless heart courageous or a guarded heart cowardly. “Xiǎo xīn: stay focused,” she seemed to say instead. “Keep the focus of your heart narrow and tight.”
I apologized for what I’d said those years ago. I apologized for calling her decision a sin when I should’ve known better but I’d chosen to forget. With one hand pressed against my other ear, I heard her respond that it had taken me long enough.
I know, I said. I’m sorry. I know now. I know.
So, I’m writing this to you with a pen name – you who are wanted, the child of two people who’ve been praying for your arrival. I’m writing with a pen name not because your grandmother is ashamed of her story but because this country still isn’t ready for her. And as the womb protects the parent from the fetus, I admit that I still want to protect her – she who has proven herself stronger than I can imagine.
This country isn’t ready for your parents, either. In the same breath where the Supreme Court blasted a federal right into the hands of states – some more authoritarian than others – they have toyed with de-recognizing our marriage, our right to contraception, and more.
This country isn’t ready for you. But we will keep the focus of our hearts narrow and tight while despair threatens to open like a canyon. We are not burdened with shame, and we are buttressed by our community and church. Like straining milk from grounds, we are working to make it ready for you.
Editor’s Note: The writer has chosen letter form to convey the story of their family’s experience and the impact the overturning of Roe v. Wade has on women in the Asian and LGBTQ+ community. They are using a pseudonym to protect the privacy of the writer. Views expressed in this piece reflect those of the writer and not necessarily those of Moonglade, Amjambo Africa, or the editors.