It Was Always My Choice

By Madeleine Albert Berenson
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Twenty-eight years ago this month, I was 19 years old, single and six months pregnant.

I was living in Austin, where I'd moved from California to be with the young man I loved, leaving behind an interrupted college career, a furious mother, a confused father and seven siblings who were all, to some degree, uncertain if I was still a member of their family.

I'll never forget coming home from the People's Community Clinic in a daze the previous December -- disbelieving and terrified by what I'd just learned and completely unprepared for my boyfriend's reaction to the news. When I told him the test was positive, that I was, in fact, pregnant, I saw myself disappear from his view. He looked through me, past me, as though I were no longer in the room. With his eyes frantically darting from left to right, like a trapped animal looking for a way to escape (or more accurately, a frightened 21-year-old looking for a way to prevent his promising future from evaporating), he said, "I want to wash my hands clean of this whole thing. I'll support abortion or adoption. That's it."

When he spoke those words, I felt an odd glimmer of clarity. I didn't know what I was going to do, but I knew what I wouldn't do -- I wouldn't choose either of his options, not the way they'd been laid before me. As confused and immature as I was, I knew that such an ultimatum could not be the basis for what I decided next.

So I left, naively believing that in a week or so he would be sorry and come after me and that together we would work through the unexpected challenges of our newly defined and shared future.

To make a long story short: It didn't happen.

But many, many other things did. And on May 18, I will have the honor of sitting down for dinner with my brilliant and kind 27-year-old son. At a restaurant where we both once worked together (he washing dishes, I waiting tables) we will celebrate his graduation with a PhD in materials science and engineering, in the company of his smart, beautiful wife; his hilarious and gifted younger brother; and his stepfather, my wonderful husband, David. It will be a fine evening, one sure to inspire much gratitude and reflection.

One of the things I will reflect upon that evening, as I have so often reflected over the past three decades, is this:

I made the choice to have and keep my baby for myriad reasons -- all of them deeply personal, all of them based on what I knew I was capable of both living with and living without, and none of them having anything to do with anyone else's idea of what would be best, or what made them feel most comfortable, or what they thought was right. I have never regretted for a moment, not for one instant, the decision I made in 1978. For me, every difficulty I experienced was far outweighed by the incredible joy and beauty my son brought into my life. For me. Because of who I am and who he is. Because of what I chose.

And no one knows better than I do that an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy is an experience that should not be wished on -- let alone mandated to -- a worst enemy. The fear, isolation, financial hardship, emotional sacrifice and physical danger involved simply can't be quantified. Sometimes they are all severe, sometimes only some are -- every woman is different, and every situation is different.

But all of these factors are always there. And no one has the right to tell any woman faced with this profound circumstance how she should feel, what she should endure and what she must do. No matter how reasonable or justified or righteous any course of action may seem to someone in his or her own house, office, church or courtroom, at the end of the day, it is your own house you come home to, your own night you stare into and your own future you are choosing. Not theirs.

Madeleine Albert Berenson is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colo. Her e-mail address

© 2007 The Washington Post Company