Victoria Tatum had an abortion as a young mother of two. She doesn’t regret it, she writes, and she also didn’t make her choice lightly. She has lost her strong ties with the church in Santa Cruz, but says she has an ongoing, private connection to God. She thinks the church, the state and the Supreme Court should mind their own business when it comes to the choice a woman makes.
Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.
When my son Eliot was 1 year old and my daughter Carly was 3½, I got pregnant, despite taking precautions. Without hesitating, my husband, Blue, scheduled a vasectomy.
Whatever he thought I should do about the pregnancy, he didn’t say. The autonomy he gave me was part of who he is as a husband and a friend.
It was 1997, five years after Ruth Bader Ginsberg warned in a 1992 New York University lecture that the framing and speed with which the Supreme Court had decided Roe v. Wade made it weak and susceptible to challenge.
Mostly what I wrestled with was primal and had to do with my protective instincts as a mother. But ultimately I would decide that whether I raised one, three or five children, each one mattered, and it came down to what Blue and I could handle.
Before I decided, I prayed.
In the early morning I ran up the DeLaveaga fire trail in Santa Cruz, and when I got to what’s known as the “Top of the World,” I sat.
“Blue knows what to do,” I said. “But I don’t.”
The reply was immediate and not what I’d hoped for. “You do know what to do.”
Over the next week, I mulled over this answer that wasn’t an answer.
The practical reasons were considerable. Both kids, but especially our son, needed all I had to give. I had enrolled him in the Santa Cruz County Special Education program. He had a speech therapist who came to the house, played with him on the floor, and held up a mirror to his mouth to help him blow bubbles. I learned early on to reserve time and energy for smooth times that veered suddenly into problems.
A few nights after my run to the “Top of the World,” Carly and Eliot were leaning up against each other in the bath like a couple of puppies, and I thought, “Yes, it’s our litter of two.”
It is not an easy decision to terminate a pregnancy.
When I met the obstetrician who would perform the abortion, she cried, even though she had just met me.
It wouldn’t be until our children were young adults, and I still felt the pull of their needs, that I knew with certainty we’d made the right choice.
My spiritual journey
My non-believing father had raised me and my siblings in the church because of his devoutly Catholic mother. But, by the time I met Blue in 1987, I was no more a believer than my father was. But I’d been raised with the sacraments, and when we saw the opportunity to have the priest who’d baptized my siblings and me marry us, I took it.
After that, Blue and I endured a series of meetings with the priest, Father McGuire, who droned on, lighting one cigarette after another. All around his office were bottles of scotch given to him by his parishioners, and in the middle of one of his impromptu sermons, Blue drew my attention to the broken seal on a bottle in the shape of a monk. It was hard to take talks about the sacrament of marriage seriously in confines resembling a smoke-filled bar.
In 1989, I moved from Berkeley to Santa Cruz to be with Blue, and a year after we were married, I was back to attending church on Sunday mornings.
If I stand each morning for a minute on one foot, I am more stable, and in the same way, practicing my faith grounds me and gives me solace.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK
Make your voice heard with a letter to the editor
Share your thoughts by sending a letter to the editor. Email us at email@example.com. Please include your full name, address and telephone number for verification only. Letters should be 200 words or fewer. Please do not include personal attacks, inaccuracies or vulgarities. Learn more here.
I ended up raising Carly and Eliot in the Presbyterian church, and while I didn’t question my faith, the doctrine troubled me. When our kids were almost adults, I was the sole church member to vote in support of the presbytery’s decision to ordain gay and divorced ministers. Not long before the vote, a guest speaker told the congregation she had decided to be celibate when she realized she was gay.
No one suggested she do otherwise. My heart went out to any LGBTQ person who might walk through those doors looking for a church home.
I stuck it out at the church for a while, buying into the argument leaders from the pulpit love to make, that our politics need not be our faith. But this is not true, as our values reflect both our politics and our faith.
I believe in the sanctity of life. And what both Blue and I believe is that carrying a pregnancy to term means committing everything we have to raising and parenting that child.
Eventually, I found myself drawn to a Catholic church in Capitola that had a strong sense of community and a South African priest who told us all to read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. I liked that many in the pews around me were Hispanic, and that the priest wanted us to care about the plight of people of color in his native country.
Then, the Sunday before the 2016 presidential primaries, he advised us to vote according to what was right in the eyes of the church when it came to the sanctity of life.
I was stunned.
I imagined sermons across the country — words of the Catholic bishops delivered through priests in hundreds of churches. That was the math I did after the votes added up to a win for a candidate whose values were the antithesis of Christianity or any other faith I’d studied.
These days I forgo church.
I believe in consulting God before I make any big decisions, but I do it privately. When Blue and I have a decision to make, we make it together. Sometimes I defer to him and sometimes, as in the case of my decision to terminate a pregnancy when Eliot was a year old, he defers to me.
I believe in the balance of powers among our three branches of our government. And whether I have to end — or not end — a pregnancy, I don’t want the pope, my state, a priest or a Supreme Court justice making the choice for me.
Victoria Tatum is a writer living in Santa Cruz who has spent 26 years advocating for her special needs son. Her previous piece for Lookout, “Mr. W: What my autistic son has taught me about motherhood,” appeared in May.