Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day

Key West -- I still think of Mother's Day as a holiday celebrating my mother, my grandmother, and my Aunt Frances. When I was young all three would get orchid corsages and and we'd go to dinner at the Tavern Restaurant in Newark, where my father knew the owner. (Actually, everyone knew the owner, but I was just a kid and didn't know that.) It's funny, because I'm writing about the Tavern now, in the novel I've just started. As for orchids, they grow everywhere in Key West (which doesn't make them any less magical). When they're done blooming in a pot, just snip off the stem at the fourth joint, tie them to a tree, and they'll bloom for seasons to come.

I realize my children and grandson have different ideas of Mother's Day. Randy likes to shop and I don't -- or let's just say I like pretty things but I don't like going into stores, so unless it's easy to find, forget it. This is why Randy sends me something to wear each year. On Friday her package arrived with a lovely and delicate summer sweater. I talked to all four of my dear ones on Sunday (well, maybe talked is the wrong way of putting it because I have total laryngitis -- can't make a sound -- not fun, though I don't feel at all sick).

Larry told me he was sending a donation to Planned Parenthood this year because he'd seen the fund raising letter I'd signed suggesting that this would be a good way to honor your mother. (I've pasted a copy of the letter.)

How did such a gentle letter become the major brouhaha it did? Ask the vocal anti-choice crowd. I shouldn't have been surprised when the hateful e-mails flooded our office computer the next day saying things like....

You're killing off your customers.

You'll burn in hell.

You are a baby killer.

Then there's this argument in various forms:

-- I was a great fan of your books, growing up. They meant a lot to me but now that I know you support Planned Parenthood I would never let my childen read them. I'm going to tell our school principal, the librarian, and the teachers they should boycott your books, or burn them.

I want to ask these parents if they check to make sure all the books their children are reading are written by people wh0 support only those organizations and charities that they personally support. But I don't. I don't respond to hate mail.

It might have stopped there if Planned Parenthood hadn't sent out a second e-mail blast -- letting their supporters know I was under siege. They meant well, I know, and I'm the one who gave them permission, not stopping to think that this would fan the flames.

The next day, another story appeared in the anti-choice online zine, and along with another round of hate emails, came hundreds of supportive messages from those who believe in Planned Parenthood. Somehow word got out that I'd received death threats and the media jumped all over the story
. The bloggers and twitterers were all abuzz. To set the record straight, I didn't get any serious death threats. Sure, there were emails reminding me what happened at this or that abortion clinic -- but this isn't the first time I was a target of the extreme right.

Despite what some people think, Planned Parenthood isn’t an abortion clinic. It is a health center that provides people with the proper tools to make the best, most informed decisions for them. It’s a place that offers breast cancer screenings, pelvic exams, pregnancy testing and planning, affordable birth control, STD testing, HPV vaccines, testicular cancer screenings for men, as well as issues of male infertility, education for all, and, yes, choice. Sometimes that means abortions.

May also is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Surely the best way to avoid abortion, and reduce the numbers of unwanted babies born to teen mothers, is through sexuality education. But to those opposed to anything but abstinence education Planned Parenthood is well, evil.

As a college junior, about to be married, I asked my family doctor who to call to get information about birth control. He suggested Planned Parenthood, although it had a different name in 1959. I trembled as I made that call and ultimately hung up before I'd set up an appointment. I'd had a bad experience with a gynecologist at 14. At 21, I was still a virgin -- fear of pregnancy kept many of us virgins in those days. We had other ways of being sexual but we avoided intercourse, knowing if you got pregnant you were going to have the baby, like at least three of my high school classmates, smart girls who nevertheless found themselves pregnant before graduation. Abortion was illegal then. They were forced into hasty marriages and while the rest of us went off to college, they became parents before they were ready.

Ultimately I went to a doctor in NJ who knew my family doctor. He fitted me for a diaphragm and I went off on my honeymoon without the fear that I would become pregnant before we were ready to have children. There are many reasons I wish I'd gone to Planned Parenthood and not to that sexist doctor, who, it turns out, was a religious fanatic himself. Reasons I won't go into here. I wish I'd known then that at Planned Parenthood women are treated with respect.

When I read the Planned Parenthood online teen Q&A I feel glad that today's young women and men have a place to go to get information. I wish it had been there for me.

So Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there, and grandmothers, and special aunts, and thanks to all of you who sent messages of support. There are times when you have to stand up for what you believe in. It means a lot that so many of you stood with me.

xx Judy