Confessions Of An Abortionist
Martin Avery (nom de plume)
Big Blue Book No. 474
Intimate Sidelights on the Secret Human, Sorrow, Drama and Tragedy in the Experience of a Doctor Whose Profession It Is To Perform Illegal Operations.
1939 Haldeman-Julius Company GIRARD -- : -- KANSAS
Sometimes I find myself thinking wistfully of the days when I was young and sure of myself and my future, when I thought the solid ground under my feet was a foundation for an air castle and when right and wrong were very definite things, and black was black and white was white and I would have nothing to do with gray.
I had no such regrets, of course, when first I gloated childishly over the neat little black and gold sign that announced to the world that Martin Avery was a doctor of medicine and ready to practice. I admired my small library of medical textbooks, my shiny surgical instruments and I repeated over and over the sonorous words of the oath I had taken. Much has happened to me since then, much that I somehow feel compelled to put on paper. Perhaps even after these years I want to prove that in my way I have tried to be faithful to my youthful ideas.
So this is a human-interest document designed to show troubled women that they have companions in distress, I shall not clutter it up with medical terms. I have no patience with doctors who think they must sprinkle Latin in every sentence and generally talk as though they were dictating a highly technical article for a medical journal. I am not trying to be impressive nor am I trying to preach. This book might be called “Sidelights on Tragedy.” If it will make a few less persons look disdainful or horrified at the word “abortion,” I will have succeeded in my purpose.
I must have been a somewhat priggish Sir Galahad when I was graduated from medical school. I saw myself curing the world of nice, respectable diseases like measles and smallpox and perhaps halting epidemics by quickness of thought or saving a rich man’s life by my miraculous skill as a surgeon.
I had lived a fairly clean life, almost unbelievably clean it seems to me now. But then I never had much money. My people were farmers. That acounted for part of my pride. I thought Myself mighty smart to be going up a rung in the ladder, from peasant to professional man. Sometimes I thought it would be nice if I had a physician father to take me in with him and a long line of medical ancestor’s to give me an honorable tradition. But at the same time my egotism fed itself on the thought that I was the first of my family to have guts and ambition and brains enough to escape the soil for a white-collar profession.
I liked to hear my mother refer proudly to “My son, the doctor,” and I liked to strut around in front of the neighbors. To be sure, the white collar and the shiny instruments and even the neat little office were mortgaged to my father, whose dirt- encrusted hands had earned the money that sent me through school. But I had visions of grateful patients showering me with gold. I was an idealist in those days and I had plenty of illusions, too.
The sad thing about my office was that it stayed empty as did likewise my purse. I angled after connections as hotel physician, and I tried to get a job as a city clinic doctor; but I had no political pull, and, being a farm boy, no influence in any other lines. Most of my few patients had little money and came to me because they believed I would be cheap.
So for a while I pursued my honorable profession by lancing a few boils, prescribing for a few bad hangovers, treating a child for a nail wound, issuing headache pills to a woman who went from doctor to doctor seeking an audience for her complaints and dishing out enough medicine for common colds to stock a drug store. I was so anxious to display all my knowledge that I went in for complete examinations no matter how trifling the complaint, tried to look wise, clucked thoughtfully and shook my head.
At times I wished to high heaven that I lived in England, where I could buy a steady practice and not have to sit in my office reading and re-reading medical journal’s and wondering if I’d soon lose any surgical skill I possessed for lack of practice.
It amuses me now to recall how I felt when I first treated a house girl who had gonorrhea. I treated the girl, and then gave her a lecture in which, as I recall, I told her that because of my oath I would protect her secret but that she was running a horrible risk. I know now that she must have been choking with laughter, but at the time I thought that she was mightily impressed. And I felt quite the man of the world. In fact, I made up some impressive — to me — thoughts about how my profession brought me in contact with the dregs of the world and how it was up to me to maintain my purity of thought in spite of all the depravity I was forced to see. I meant to deliver these noble sentiments to a pure sweet girl whenever my practice grew enough that I could afford to seek this marvelous woman who would be chosen as my wife.
I still had this holier-than-thou attitude when a very pretty blonde came to see me. She looked like a “nice girl,” and this shocked me all the more when she told me, in a frightened way, that she was “caught” and she wanted an abortion. Her father was dead, and she lived with her mother and her brother, a prominent businessman in the town. I had heard of the girl as a well-known college student and a gay member of the younger set. She was not a social luminary, but she was a class ahead of me.
I made the finger examination and there was no doubt that she was pregnant — about two months along. She wanted a “prescription,” she said. She was ignorant about such things, but a friend had told her that for a few dollars she could buy some medicine that would cause a miscarriage.
It seems odd to realize that I was shocked about this. I had heard of girls who were “knocked up” and did something about it. There had been plenty of such gossip in the farming community where I had lived, and I’d heard methods of causing crude abortions discussed among the medical students. In fact, I knew one medical student who worked his way through his senior year as an abortionist among the lower classes of the university town. He had told me something about the method he had used, but I had paid little attention and had disapproved of the whole business.
I was stern and righteous with this girl and asked her why she did not marry the man.
She burst into tears. “I can’t,” she said.
“Is he married?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Engaged to another man?” I asked. Those were the only two reasons that my mid-Victorian mind could conceive why any man would refuse to marry her.
“No,” she said, “but he says that it is my fault. And I guess it is. He asked me if I were doing anything about this, and I suppose I was a fool, for I said that I was. I didn’t know anything to do. I asked a girl I know, and she told me to take a douche anytime within 24 hours.”
Dumb as I was, I was shocked at this ignorance. Bit by bit she unfolded a story that was new and pitiful to me then but which I have heard so often since that I can supply it before the girl opens her mouth.
Katherine, as I shall call her, had fallen in love with a man about seven years older than herself, a bachelor businessman. She had gone absolutely crazy about him.
The man was the sort who likes sexual freedom and gets panicky at the thought of marriage. He had given Katherine a big rush, for, of all reasons, her look of wholesomeness. He had said that she had a “wholesome attitude” toward sex. As a matter of fact, she was too deeply infatuated to have any definite attitude except to agree with everything he said. A man’s idea of a wholesome attitude toward sex usually is one that leaves him absolutely free, while a woman’s idea is one that leads inevitably toward marriage.
Because she wanted to appear worldly-wise, she denied being a virgin. I was astounded to hear that, but I learned afterward that a great many young girls do the same thing. Frequently they themselves cannot explain why. Almost invariably, it is when they are having affairs with older men. They seem to believe that the man will wonder why they have not had affairs before and will think less of them. So they try to disguise their awkwardness and ignorance; and since many athletic girls do not have hymens, the man does not find it out.
Katherine had talked vaguely about an imaginary previous affair. She seemed to think that it would make her more interesting if the man believed she was sexually experienced and had been desired before. “A lot of men had made overtures to me,” she told me. “but I had managed to evade them. I knew that Don had had a lot of affairs and told him some lies so he wouldn’t think I was quite so dumb.”
This, of course, released the man from any feeling of responsibility and had also made him think that she knew about contraceptives and could take care of herself. And she was too inexperienced to know whether he was protecting her. It was an example of the dangers of innocence and where ignorance was not bliss.
Naturally, when she did not insist that the man use contraceptives, he omitted them. She told me that when she learned she was pregnant, she had explained the situation to him and he had advised her to go to a doctor. But I think now that she lied. A lot of girls are overwhelmed with false modesty in such circumstances and will go instead to girls as inexperienced as they are. Having pretended to be worldly-wise, they are caught in a web of their own lies.
This girl was not as stupid as she seems in this narrative. She had sense enough to realize just what type of man she loved. Apparently he had made it plain that he did not intend to marry her and he expected her to take her full share of the responsibility in this affair. She couldn’t tell her mother because mother was the type who would “rather See her daughter in her grave” than have an abortion and she probably would try to force the man into a shotgun marriage. Katherine was sensible enough to see that the man would evade this, or if he married her, would hate her for the trick. Too, since she had lied to him about her virginity, she had thrown away that hold.
So she had gone to a girl friend and the girl had said something about a mysterious medicine that would cause her to resume menstruation. Then she had come to me, for, of all reasons, the fact that she did not know me and I was new in town. She did not want to go to her family doctor or any physician whom she knew.
It was a case of the blind going to the blind. I was horrified and told her that, of course, I could not perform an abortion I had heard about some of the drastic medicines given in such cases and I warned her against them. I told her that I could go to prison for doing what she wanted, and I was against such things personally. I probably sounded fierce, for I was afraid someone would find out that she’d been to me with such a request, and I feared even that would get me into trouble.
She left me a great deal more frightened than when she arrived. I had told her that no decent doctor would perform an abortion. And I had scared her pretty badly about using any home devices. Also I’d added a little homily on her ‘sins. I should have been shot, but I felt righteous about the whole business. She had some money. She’d been teaching school and saved several hundred dollars and she offered me the whole sum if I would get her out of the jam. I needed the money, but I felt a virtuous glow over turning it down. I was living up to medical ethics. I was being a good citizen and an honorable physician.
So she went away, and I settled back in my empty office and read medical journals and old magazines and treated a few persons who came in with colds and indigestion.
The next day her name leaped at me from the front page of the daily newspaper. Her body had been found on the doorstep of her home, at one o’clock that morning, by her brother as he was returning from a dance. She had shot herself, and she died in the ambulance on the way to, the hospital.
The newspaper account said she had resigned her position as a teacher because of a nervous breakdown culminating when she fainted in the class room. Her relatives had noticed that she seemed very nervous, refused to eat and was unable to sleep at night. They had tried, without success, to arouse her interest in social life. She had left no note — just gone out in the yard and shot herself with her brother’s revolver.
There followed several paragraphs telling how prominent and popular she had been in school, how she had a promising future as a teacher. Her family was. grief-stricken.
It shook me pretty badly. I tried to console myself by saying that she had not threatened suicide to me, that I was within my rights, in refusing to help her, and it was unfair of her to ask me to risk my future by performing an illegal operation.
But I kept seeing that description of her. “She was a pretty blonde girl. College mates described her as always being full of fun and active in all school enterprises.” She had belonged to several clubs. I wondered which sorority sister had advised her to “get a prescription.”
I wondered how her lover felt. I was filled with sudden hatred for him, taking this young girl easily and selfishly and ruining her life, talking to her glibly about her “wholesome attitude toward sex.” Now she was dead, and innuendoes would be whispered about her nervous condition and her fainting spells and her lack of appetite and her insomnia. Her relatives would feel bad about it. It might even ruin their lives, too. Of course, her puritanical relatives were partly to blame. Had they been more tolerant, they would have helped her. It was her own fault, too, for being so careless. She had trusted people and life too much. She had been too confident in the decency of others.
In the back of my head there was a nagging thought that I, too, was to blame. I might have found someone else to help her. I might have made arrangements. I was not so stupid that I did not know of a doctor whose legitimate practice was small but who, drove around in a big car with a chauffeur and had plenty of money. It was common talk that he did a lot of illegal operations. He was a pretty good surgeon, too.
It was all a mess, and I resented being dragged into it, and being made to feel guilty over the death of a strange girl.
I went out in the country to see my family every Sunday. This meant that I got a good meal and my depressed spirits were helped by my mother’s soothing prediction that soon her boy’s practice would pick up.
The next Sunday the conversation happened to turn to the suicide of Katherine J–.
“The poor girl,” my mother said. “Sounds like she was in the family way.”
She clucked her tongue sympathetically. “I wish you had seen her,” she said. “If she’d come to you, you could have sent her to old Ma Gooding, the one folks call Feather Sally, because she uses a goose feather. Lots of good doctor’s send patients to Feather Sally, and she’s never lost a one. Good money she makes, too.”
I was shocked.
“She did come to me,” I said indignantly, “waving her money in my face as if I were a quack she could buy with a few hundred dollars. But I refused to have anything to do with it. That’s a prison offense.”
My mother looked at me queerly. “And it’s no prison offense to drive a girl to suicide?” she asked.
“It was her own lookout,” I said, “She couldn’t expect me to risk my future with a criminal operation in order to get her out of a jam.”
“If you keep on turning down hundred-dollar fees, it doesn’t look as if you’re going to have much future,” my father said dryly. “The drought hit us pretty bad son, and we’re needing money out here, too. Doesn’t pay to be too choosy about how you earn it. Old Doc Kennedy over at Clear Creek makes plenty of money that way. Specializes in it. You’d be surprised to know the names of some of his patients, too.”
I felt like a badgered animal. It was not until years later that I realized that only youth is moral in the accepted way. Youth judges more severely and expects more rigid living up to standards. Old age is more tolerant; it has learned to compromise and give only lip-service to awkward convention.
And like most youths I had the idea that my parents were very strict. It was a shock, now that they had admitted me to adulthood, to learn some of their views.
“Folks call it murder,” sniffed my mother. “Ain’t hardly nothing more’n a germ at first. Ain’t no more murder than doin’ something aforehand to keep from having children. As far as that goes, it ain’t really no more murder than bein’ an old maid and not havin’ nothin’ to do with man at all. If you want to argue, you can always say that every woman could bear a child, and it’s murder if She don’t do it. Talk about the child’s right to be born! The child ain’t saying nothin’ about it. How do all these preacher’s know the child wants to be born. I’ve seen some cases where if the child knew what was coming to him afterward he wouldn’t want to be born. Her voice softened. “Poor unwanted little mites. No money and no name and not much chance in the world.”
“It was a case of professional ethics, mother,” I said. “Of course, quack doctors do a lot of underhanded business. And probably they risk the girl’s life by crude methods. But good doctors avoid such things.”
“Maybe,” ‘sniffed my mother.
“Some of these days the laws may be changed,” I said, “and birth-control methods and abortions may be legalized. But until then, I must obey my oath and abide by the medical code.”
This did not impress my parents. Country people are not much in favor of laws. Laws to them mean disagreeable taxes, game laws which preserve the quail and ducks for the benefit of city folks who swarm over the land, shooting at everything that appears on the horizon, foreclosing of mortgages and other unpleasant interferences with their lives.
“Human beings come before laws,” my mother said. “Some of these laws are made by folks who want to kick others in the gutter so’s to make themselves seem higher up. I ain’t never had no use for such folks. Pull themselves up by pushing others down. I’ve known some mighty good women who had convenient miscarriages and women who were in trouble and later on made fine marriages and good wives.”
She sighed. “If I’d known that poor girl, maybe I could have told her something to do. They’re more ways of killing a cat than choking it with butter.”
My father laughed. “Ma could tell her,” he said. “She’d have had her jumping off porches and riding houses and merry-go-rounds and climbing up and down stairs and taking hot baths and purgatives and God knows what all.”
My mother smiled. “That’s all right for you,” she said. “Many a time you’ve been thankful I wasn’t so green.”
“I never could stand to see a poor young girl bringin’ a fatherless babe into the world,” my mother went on. “Of course, sometimes they love the children just as much as if they were born in wedlock and sometimes they make good marriages later on. But the run of folks are hard on them, and it’s bad trying to live down your mistakes.”
My father, however, was more upset by the idea that I had let a hundred or so dollars slip out of my hands because of ethics.
“It’s dangerous,” I said. “Suppose I’d done a bad job and she’d died because of the operation. Her folks would claim that I murdered her.”
“She killed herself anyhow, didn’t she?” my father said. “Looks to me like it’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other.”
It was a relief for me to get back to my bare room in a cheap Lodging house in the city. My pleased glow of virtue had departed, and I remembered the boy who had worked his way through school with abortions and a young interne who frankly had announced that he meant to specialize in illegal operations.
“They’re the easiest way for a young doctor to get started,” he had said. “And they’re no more dangerous than, performing any other operations. I’ll wait until I get a little money saved and then I’ll be respectable. It takes money to be high and mighty.”
Some nagging prick of conscience forced me to go to Katherine J’s funeral. I eyed her weeping relatives with scorn. A little of the love they were parading in public would have saved the girl’s life if they had exercised it in private. Some of the money that went into the flower’s, the elaborate coffin, the big monument, could have sent the girl away on a “vacation” and brought her back whole in body, and presently her heart would be healed. Later on, I was to learn that while broken hearts cannot be cured by a doctor, a little surgical or medical aid for the by-products helps along a lot.
Since then I’ve seen many girls, who were as tragic in speech as Katherine, laugh about the whole episode a year later. By then they had put it down as a valuable lesson and forgotten the horror and fear they first felt.
After the funeral, I drifted into a coffee shop and encountered a doctor I admired.
“You look low,” he remarked.
“I’ve been to a funeral,” I said, and gave the girl’s name.
He nodded. “Nasty business. I suppose it’s the old story.” “Yes,” I looked at him. “I guess you see plenty of them,” I went on.
“Not so many now,” he said. “I get about two patients a year who want abortions. I got more of them when I first started to practice. I guess they thought that, being a young doctor, I’d need the money. But luckily I made money from the start. I had plenty of friends, and so I didn’t need to take the risk.”
“What do you do about the ones who come to you now?” I blurted out.
He gave me a keen glance. “Give them an examination and tell them whether they’re really pregnant. Chances are they’re only delayed by something. Up until three months, it’s not easy to tell, especially with the finger examination.”
This, it might be added, was before the rabbit test was widely used. Nowadays it is possible to tell immediately by injecting urine, into the rabbit and examining its ovaries 36 hour’s later.
“Then,” the doctor went on, “I say nothing more unless the Patient obviously is ignorant of anything to do, I may drop a hint about the proper doctor to go to. Usually I don’t do this, because most people have ways of finding that out for themselves. However, of course you know that some doctors make a good deal of money with such recommendations and split fees. If I do drop a hint, I make sure that I can trust the doctor.”
“It’s a problem,” I said frankly, “I’ve been wondering what to do about such business. People come to me for medical aid and I have to refuse treatment. We are permitted to treat venereal diseases and we can be called in after miscarriage –”
He grinned. “Of course. You know the stock alibi. You were called in, and it was obvious that something had been done to cause a partial abortion and your aid was needed to save the girl’s life. As soon as the uterus is punctured or the fetus is expelled, the abortion is a fact. No one can prove anything against you as long as you and the patient keep mum.”
“Understand,” he went on. “I’m not taking sides. I’m not the type of doctor that crusades for birth-control legislation. A successful doctor — of my variety — can’t afford to. I admire the kind of doctor who does — but he usually doesn’t make any money. Whenever anyone asks me, I give them what birth-control data I can, which isn’t much. Anyhow, they probably won’t follow instructions.”
“Maybe the laws will be changed,” I suggested.
“I’m not very hopeful about legislative reform,” he said. “In my opinion, the whole business will work out for itself. Information will be spread more widely. To me, it seem’s better to send a girl to a good surgeon than to let her get an infection by going to a quack or trying some crude home method. I knew one poor girl whose sweetheart kicked her in the abdomen and almost killed her.”
“Of course,” I said weakly. “It’s the women’s fault.”
“I blame the men more. Some of these men are just like animals. They don’t give a damn what happens to the woman. They may know all about contraceptives; but they don’t want to use them, and some of them think it’s fun to fool the woman. But even those men aren’t so bad as the ones who carry disease and won’t warn the girl or take any precautions. A girl may escape pregnancy but she’ll probably get a dose. I’d Like to see all venereal-disease carriers quarantined or branded. And if they’re incurable, they ought to be sterilized or shut up.”
I grinned to myself. The doctor, in spite of his suave exterior, was like all good doctors, a bit of a crusader when you got him on his pet subject.
“They send habitual criminals to prison,” he went on. “But a man can get dose after dose of a disease and remain at large. He’s just as dangerous, if not more so, to the community than a habitual burglar. He’s worse, in my opinion. A burglar only rob’s people who’ve got plenty of dough. But a man probably will give a dose to some poor dumb girl who hasn’t sense or money enough to get proper treatment, and she may die or be ruined for life. Reformers talk about sterilization of criminals and the insane, but I’m in favor of sterilization of any man who’s had a disease more than twice. A man can get a dose once without really being to blame. But if he’s got any sense, he takes care of himself after that.”
He seemed to weary of the subject then, and I went home a mighty thoughtful young doctor. I’d been so busy passing exams and skimping along on my allowance that I’d never gone in for many bull session’s. Anyhow, a lot of the stuff that we talked at medical school seemed haywire now. I’d gone around with a bunch of young idealists who talked about being second Pasteur’s and great surgeons and doing good for humanity and in the back of my mind I’d always seen myself saving a millionaire’s life and bringing young beauties back from sure death by tuberculosis.
But I was getting rid of my fancy ideas mighty fast.
Two or three days after my talk with the old doctor, a well dressed man came into my office.
“There’ll be a girl up here pretty soon for treatment for gonorrhea,” he said bluntly. “I’m paying for it. She’s a dumb cluck who got mixed up with one of my employees. He won’t pay for it, but something had to be done for the girl, and I told her I’d have her cured if she wouldn’t see him again.’ You fix her up and send me the bill. I don’t want to give the girl the money because she might spend it on something else or quit after one treatment. See that she’s clean, but if she comes back with another dose I won’t be responsible for any more bills.”
He gave me his card and the girl’s name. He was managing editor of one of the local newspapers.
“See if you can get any sense into her head,” he added. “I don’t want any more trouble with her.”
He went out then, looking irritated, and I grinned. I figured it was one of those “A-friend-of-mine” stories in which the personal pronoun is soon brought into play. I wondered a little why he told such a clumsy lie.
But when the girl came in, half-frightened, half-angry, I learned his story was the truth.
One of the reporters had seduced the girl, whom I shall call June. She was a pretty business-college student, dumb but attractive in a virginal fashion. It may have been that very docile innocence that attracted the man. He played around with a sophisticated, hard-drinking crowd and it probably was, amusing to find a girl who didn’t know the ropes, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke.
June, on the other hand, had heard about Jim, the reporter, and she was fascinated by his reputation as a dapper man-about- town. Jim was a handsome and entertaining scoundrel. He said that he did not know she was a virgin until he had already started the sex act. This may have been true, but it did not stop him then.
Afterward, he either was conscience-stricken or decided that it was dangerous to play around with her. Innocence may be dangerous not only to the girl but to the man. At any rate, he did not see her for about a month.
But June was seized by the crazy infatuation which many young girls feel for their first lovers. She telephoned Jim, she wrote him notes asking why he was angry with her, what had she done? She wept. She reminded him that, although a virgin, she had gone to bed with him.
Jim told his boas that he firmly intended to stay away from June. Whether he was deeply attracted and some remnants of chivalry motivated his refusal to see her or whether she bored him, I don’t know. But in the meantime he had been playing around with girls equally dumb but not so innocent, and he got gonorrhea. He was forced to tell his wife and to refrain from any intercourse with her. But apparently his scruples did not apply to the young girl he had seduced, for he went back to her. She got the disease and the whole thing began again with the girl pursuing the reporter and asking for medical treatment. The badgered newsman had gone to his editor for sympathy.
But his editor cursed him and told him to do something to keep June from calling the office and coming down to the newsroom. Jim refused, saying that he didn’t have the money and anyhow the girl had been with plenty of other men since he first seduced her. Whether this was true, I do not know. It may have been. Frequently girls who have just lost their virginity become promiscuous if their first lovers desert them.
Such girls seem to feel that since, they have lost their much- guarded chastity it doesn’t make much difference what they do and they weakly succumb to any man who comes along. It takes some time for the girls to recover their emotional balance and become discriminating. June denied that she had been with any other men. And Jim admitted that he was diseased when he was with her.
So the editor went to June and agreed to pay for her treatments if she would promise never to see any of his reporters again. She was grateful but at the same time she was a little indignant about it. The editor had not minced words in describing her lover, and she resented being forced to face the fact that there was no romance in her seduction. She wanted the treatments, but at the same time she would have liked to save her vanity.
Since then, I have noticed the same traits in many girls. They will try to find excuses for their first lovers, and say that it “wasn’t all his fault.” They generally have remarkably few illusion’s about later lovers, but they want a little glamour over the first affair.
One intelligent girl talked to me about it. “It’s a matter of vanity for women to lie to themselves about their sweethearts,” she remarked. “The worst thing about breaking up an affair is that I finally have to admit to myself that I have been kidding myself all along. You see, I know that I am only an average girl and therefore will attract only an average man. I know there are exceptions, and sometimes you see a fine man absolutely crazy about a very commonplace girl. But I, of course, have an ideal man in mind. Whenever a man falls in love with me, I try to see my ideal characteristics in him and I exaggerate those I do find. I try to convince myself and my friends that he’s a better man than he is. When we break up, I have to see him as himself. That hurts, because it shows me that I’m not attractive enough to get the sort of man I want and hold him.”
But to go back to June. I sent my bill in to the editor and he paid it promptly. June’s spirits grew better as her cure progressed. This time I gave no lecture on morals. Instead I tried to teach her a few principles of hygiene.
“Listen,” I said, when I had pronounced her cured, “there is no Santa Claus in this sex business, even if your case does look like it. You were darned lucky. There are not many men who would do for you what this editor did. It wasn’t for the good of his soul, either. He couldn’t afford to have one of his men in a jam. So don’t go around expecting good Samaritans to yank you out of the gutter. And don’t try to get out of your class. You thought it was romantic to have a love affair with a social butterfly, a dashing columnist. But look what happened. A stranger got you out of your jam. He did it because you were making a nuisance of yourself. If you’d been in this guy’s class, he would have taken more precautions. He didn’t give his wife a dose, but he figured you didn’t count. And to him you didn’t. So you play in your own back yard.”
She nodded. Later she married a clerk and they have three or four kids. I don’t know whither she ever told him about her first affair. If she was smart, she didn’t.
The editor was pleased, because she kept away from his men And two or three weeks later he sent me an abortion. This time didn’t quibble, I did it.
Since then I’ve performed hundreds of abortions and when I did all the work I’ve had no fatalities. Of course, I’ve been called in on bungled jobs when it was too late; there was infection or a hemorrhage and death was a matter of hours.
I have changed from the surgical operation, in which the womb was scraped, to use of heat, bacteria and exercise to cause a natural premature birth with very little danger. I discarded the finger test for the rabbit test of pregnancy. My prices went up as the danger went down.
I don’t regret the fact that I have risked prison terms constantly. As I went up the financial scale, I tried to use more discrimination and to work for the sake of humanity. I have refused to abort young society women who merely wanted to save their figures, who shrank from the responsibilities of children. I have turned away young women who could afford to marry and who I felt, should mate legally and carry on the race. I have seen women whom I felt needed children to make their lives fuller and who were merely lazy or afraid of pain. And I have performed operations later regretted by the women when they wanted children and for some reason could not have them. That has made me more careful.
I am not bragging that I really made the world better. I am an older man now and a little tired and a bit inclined to be cynical. Perhaps all these things would have worked out anyhow. But I believe that I have saved valuable members of the race from disgrace or from suicide, that I have kept families from being wrecked. And I have not had a repeat case in years.
The reformers argue that we must pay for our sins. But I do not know that I agree with their definition of sin. There are times when our instincts are too strong for us. There are accidents. There are many cases in which it does not seem to me that I should judge. I do not believe in populating the world with unwanted children. I do not like to see the women suffer when the man escapes without even blame. If there is some disease or some taint of insanity, I do not believe in allowing the child to be born. And if the birth of the child is going to wreck even one adult life, it seems to me kinder to stop it. The people who yell “child murder” have almost invariably never been faced with the problem.
Criminologists say that crime is caused by children being born into families where they have no opportunity for proper upbringing. The children turn to stealing to get money for luxuries, even necessities. They run in the streets because they have no playgrounds. Their minds are warped in childhood. I believe it to be an act of crime prevention to halt any such children coming into the world with the stigma of illegitimacy and a mother who is going to have a much harder time making a living after the child is born.
I am always irritated when I hear politicians talk about as being the only land of equal opportunity. It isn’t. Illegitimate children had far better chances in the medieval days when “natural” sons and daughters were the “natural” thing.
I have never been in favor of forced marriages. In this complex world the married couple starts out with enough problems without being handicapped by an unwanted child and probably unwanted mates.
A great many cases have been like that of poor June, who fell in love with a married man of a class slightly superior to her own. Had she been slightly above him socially, the chances are that the man would have obtained a divorce and married her. At least he would have given her much better treatment. I get many girls who have had affairs with their employer’s, either married or unmarried. The men do not want to marry them. Frequently they blame the girl, for a great many men seem to think that it is up to the girl to protect herself.
I have heard men who considered themselves ethical in sexual matters say that they believe the women should protect themselves. Some of them excuse this by saying that women cannot trust the men and so they must get accustomed to taking their own precautions. Others frankly admit that they will not use anything that interferes with their pleasure.
A fellow doctor, one high in his profession and a man who gives birth-control advice to his patients, once told me that he received his pleasure from the thought of the risk.
“If my wife is even a week pregnant, my pleasure is gone,” he said. “And I wouldn’t touch a woman if I knew she was using any sort of protective device. Man is still primitive enough to want copulation for conception.”
He might have added that man is still primitive enough to want to shirk all responsibility for the act and perhaps civilized enough to regret any consequences.
For these reasons I advise my women patients to take their own precautions. One girl told me that she was shocked when her lover asked her if she never used any contraceptive devices. He had made love to her several times and she thought that he was protecting her. She came to me for a pregnancy test. Fortunately she was all right. But she was indignant and disgusted with the man.
“I thought he was a swell fellow,” she said. “I’d had only one love affair and then the man took care of everything and I supposed this man would do the same. He’s shocked now because I won’t see him any more. But I hate to ask him to do anything and I’m afraid to risk dating him unless this is arranged beforehand. Suppose I get a little tight? Anyhow, I can’t carry around a medical kit when I go on a date. And it’s more awkward for the girl to do such things than for the boy.”
She laughed a little self-consciously. “It sounds silly to talk about modesty at a time like this. But these affairs usually aren’t deliberately planned. It’s one thing for a man and girl to have a steady affair and go to a hotel room with a private bath or to an apartment where they can have everything handy. It’s quite another thing to go to a dance and have a hot petting scene on the way back. I take this business seriously and I’m not promiscuous. I don’t mean that I’ve got matrimony in my eye all the time, but if I let a man “make” me I mean for this to be an affair of fairly long duration and I’m fond of the man. But there has to be a first time for it; and I’m not sure when that’s coming and maybe I won’t get an opportunity to protect myself. Girls in an excited emotional state aren’t noted for using their heads.”
“And another thing,” she continued. “My generation may sound hard-boiled and as if we knew what it was all about. But most of my girl friends are pretty dumb about sex. We think we’re smart because we keep a few college boys from “making” us. And we joke about the trade names of contraceptives, but you’d be surprised how little practical knowledge most young girls have. A girl told me the other day that she’d die of shame before she’d go to a doctor and ask him about feminine hygiene. I told her that she might die of shame if she didn’t. There are a lot of jokes about how a girl can’t be raped, but if she’s a little tight she hasn’t got much resistance. And most girls get panicky when they find themselves in a difficult situation.”
The answer to all this of course would be that a girl who can’t take care of herself shouldn’t take a drink and shouldn’t go out with men she can’t trust. But at the same time it seems to me that men would find it easier and better to use a little discretion. Where do they expect the girls to get any knowledge of birth Control? Their mothers certainly aren’t going to tell them — not if they’re nice girls. The girls are afraid to ask a doctor. The other girls they know are just as dumb. They can’t believe the advertisements they read — if they do they’ll probably get caught, either because they don’t follow the direction’s or because the stuff isn’t any good. They may ruin themselves with too strong douches or they may trust some preparation applied too long before or too long after the sex act.
Anyhow, the girl usually wants this whole business sentimental and glamorous. She wants to be swept off her feet. Otherwise she feels a little guilty about it. So she doesn’t precede her moment of grand passion with a questionnaire on hygiene. Furthermore, the inexperienced girl has no way of knowing whether she can trust a man. Usually she finds out that she can’t when it’s too late.
A lot of the fault lies with young boys who got their first sex experiences with older women who knew enough to guard themselves, or with prostitutes. From the talk of youths who come into my office, I’ve decided that they don’t have sense enough to take care of themselves let alone protect the girl. They’re not bothered by false modesty, but a lot of them think it’s smart to fool the girls, either by lying to them or using some cheap trick to make their precautions useless. The older men have more sense, but some of them are selfish and not much concerned with protecting a girl, or they find it hard to believe that a young woman can be ignorant of matters so vital to her.
I haven’t any answer to the problem. Gradually hygiene classes are becoming more liberal, but they still fall far short of what is necessary. Doctors do what they can, but we can’t go from house to house instructing girls and boys. Like lawyers, we’re usually called in when the damage has been done. I’d like to see all high school students given compulsory sex education.
One doctor I know says that there should be a stiff penalty for spreading venereal disease. I asked him how he was going to get witnesses to testify, and I said the medical profession had better clean house first. I pointed out that doctors have been run out of small towns for introducing disease-stricken, cheap prostitutes who spread the disease and brought business to the physician.
“It’s just like blackmail,” I said, “The ones who are really hurt by diseases are the nice girls, and they’d never testify against a man. The list of men I’ve had in for treatment would sound like a Who’s Who of the town. You can’t regulate sex. We’ve just got to do the beat we can. Even if there were a fool-proof contraceptive, which there isn’t, people would forget to use it or they wouldn’t know about it, or they wouldn’t believe in it.”
The most cheering thing to me is that doctors are getting more skillful in such matters and the present generation is becoming wiser regarding the need for knowledge. Anne, who said she would feel foolish interrupting an ardent love scene to arrange for her contraceptive, did not allow that false modesty to keep her from dashing down to my office immediately for a pregnancy test instead of waiting and worrying for several weeks until time for her menstruation.
More and more women are making a practice of monthly visits to the doctor to make sure that nothing has gone wrong and to get early aid if anything has.
In the last few years I have had fewer women patients who had to be told that they had waited too late; that it was too dangerous for them to have an abortion and they’d better arrange matters so they could have the child and have it adopted. Fewer women spend months of mental agony hoping that something will happen to cause a miscarriage or trying dangerous home devices. The doctor’s bill may sound steep, but it’s cheaper than risking an injury by home use of sharp instruments or by violent blows in the abdomen.
I get more women whose menstruation has merely been delayed by natural causes but who know it is wise to go to a doctor as soon as they are a week or 10 days overdue. A hot bath, a few drinks, a strong purgative or a simple prescription saves them from a lot of worry and from dangerous patent remedies. A woman who is persistently irregular needs medical treatment, anyhow.
While I admire these self-reliant young women, I see a danger in their new attitude. I do not mean the risk of promiscuity that moralists raise whenever the birth-control question comes up. Promiscuity, I believe, is a matter of taste and character and not knowledge. Too, a woman who takes the trouble to inform herself on these matters and who spends money to protect herself is going to be smart enough to use discrimination. She’s not going to be as casual as the dumb girl who doesn’t know what she’s getting into.
Nor do I howl race-suicide and say that the country will go to the dogs because all the big families are in the lower classes. The lower classes have always had big families. Let them share in the knowledge, too. Many of the women would be grateful for birth- control data.
But I will give you an example. Not long ago a young girl came in to see me. She was about 29, attractive, intelligent, earning her own living. She wanted an abortion. She had the money to pay for it and she said she wanted the best one she could get.
I always ask the history of these cases, but it happened that I knew this girl. Her lover was a young businessman in the same town, handsome, healthy and with a promising future.
“Why don’t you marry, Dorothy, and have this child?” I asked. “I know that when you started this affair your lover was still married, although he was separated from his wife and the divorce was pending. But now there’s no obstacle to marriage. You’re both earning good salaries. You could afford a child. It would be better for you. It isn’t natural for two adults such as you and Bruce to continue living with your families and have a clandestine relationship. It’s hard on you. It’s making you nervous.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I know,” she said. “But Bruce is panicky about marriage. He had one, and it failed. And he hates responsibility. I’m not sure that I’d be a good wife, either. I don’t want children and I hate domesticity.”
“You’re spoiled,” I told her. “And even if it weren’t for the child, you ought to marry. Marriage isn’t such an outdated institution as you young folks seem to believe. There are plenty of reasons for it, especially from the woman’s standpoint. You’ve got too much to risk. Here you are sneaking into my office and jumping whenever you hear a door slam. And if I do this, you’ll have to stay in hiding for about 10 days, I don’t think there’s any danger, because you’re a healthy young woman. But you’ll have to keep it a secret, of course, and that’s going to be a strain.”
“I know all that, too,” she replied. “But Bruce and I agreed long ago that if anything happened I was to get an abortion and we’d split the expenses. I can’t go back on that now. I’m not going to pull the weeping-woman stunt and sandbag him into marriage. I’ll admit I’d like to be married. I’m tired of this hole-in-the-corner business. I’m as much to blame as Bruce is for what’s happened and I’m not going to have him suspect that I arranged this to trick him into marriage.”
“You don’t need to Sandbag him, as you phrase it,” I protested. “If you’re in love with each other, surely you want something more than this. You can’t go on forever having just an affair. You can be subtle about this and arouse his sense of possession. A lot of the happiest marriages didn’t start with romantic proposals on the bended knee. People need to have a few responsibilities. A little encouragement and he’d be proud of the child and proud of his marriage. And a child would hold you together.”
“Maybe,” she said, with a touch of bitterness. “And maybe not. He had a child by his first marriage, and his wife had an abortion when she was pregnant the second time. Children didn’t hold that marriage together. Maybe he’d be proud of me; maybe not. But I’m too proud to make the first move. I’ve bragged too much about how I, can take care of myself and how I want to stand on my own feet.”
She smiled at me. “And don’t say that Bruce isn’t any good either, doctor, I happen to love him. I’ll admit that he has his faults and he’s selfish. Maybe that’s the fault of his first wife. Maybe it’s my fault for spoiling him. She wanted too much and asked for it and I ask for too little. Maybe sometime we will marry. But I’m not going to play the helpless innocent to arrange it. I don’t blame him for not wanting to marry me. His family disapproves of me because my reputation isn’t exactly unspotted. His friends don’t like me. It would make trouble if he married me — so why should he? This way he can take sex as an adventure.”
“It’s an unhealthy state for you,” I said. “You’re getting to be an emotional, nervous type.”
“I know,” she interrupted impatiently, “and wondering what’s going to happen all the time doesn’t make me any more calm. But then neither does having a series of casual dates and keeping almost strangers from ‘making’ me. That or an affair are the two choices I have until some man decides to make an honest woman of me. And i’m too proud to use any of the old gags to get a proposal. I’m used to working as a man and getting a man’s salary and being respected as an equal.”
“You’re not an equal now,” I told her. “Your lover is paying half the expenses but you are the one who’ll be away from work, who’ll suffer the pain, the fear of discovery. In sex, you’ll never be man’s equal. You’ve got to turn your weaknesses into strength. But it’s your own business, of course.”
“Sure,” she said, “and if you don’t want to do this, doctor, I’ll go out of town to a strange physician and use a fake name and a fake story.”
“I’ll do it,” I promised, “but I don’t want you back again as a customer.”
I didn’t either. At first, as I said, I did abortions for the money in them. Later I did them because I felt I was doing the right thing. Maybe in this case I made a mistake. The girl got along fine. But later on she told me that after it was all over, her lover said that he wished she hadn’t had to do it, “And then,” she added bitterly, “he said very quickly, ‘but of course I knew that it would be impossible for you to have the child.’ And I agreed that it would have been. You see, he didn’t add that he wanted to marry me.”
But if all doctors had refused to perform the illegal operation, he probably would have married her. And they might have been happy. On the other hand, she might have tried some home method and inflicted an irreparable injury.
That’s one type of patient. There was another in which I had no qualms at all. A young teacher with a promising future came to me. She was about 32, and did not have a very attractive face, but she had one of the most beautiful bodies I have ever seen. And bodies are no novelty to a doctor.
Furthermore, she was naturally a passionate woman. But because of her position she had to be very discreet and lead a circumspect life. She told me that she had had sexual intercourse only two or three times in her entire life.
That summer she had gone to a farm to spend a week. A cousin, who was almost an idiot, was staying there. He came into her room one night. The teacher had one of those sudden bursts of passion that occasionally overcome women who are forced to live suppressed lives. She had intercourse several times with her cousin. And, unfortunately, she was caught.
Even had the man been fit mentally to be a father, it would have ruined the woman’s career to give birth to the child. She would have had to marry her cousin, and that would have forced her resignation.
“I hate him now,” she told me. “I’d rather die than marry him. I just went crazy, that’s all. And disgrace of any sort would ruin me in my profession. I couldn’t go somewhere else and start all over again. Teachers can’t do that. The Slightest stain on my character would prevent me from getting another job.”
“Stop worrying,” I said. “Everything is going to be all right.” Later on she married a fellow teacher. She came to me before the marriage.
“I haven’t told him about it,” she explained. “He knows I’m not a virgin and he can’t expect me to be — at my age. That doesn’t make any difference. But I wonder if I should tell him the whole story.”
“Don’t,” I advised her. “You paid the penalty for it. There’s no reason why you can’t have children. No one can prove that you had an abortion. Forget the whole thing.”
But those sample cases were several years after my first abortion. I’ll admit I was a little panicky then. I was an inexperienced doctor and such operations were more dangerous then. The death rate among women with abortions was much higher than the deaths in childbirth. If the girl died, I would go to prison and my life would be ruined. But I needed the money.
“I might as well go to prison as starve,” I thought, and I went ahead.
This girl was far different from the poor teacher who had killed herself. A married man had got her into trouble and was paying for her operation. She didn’t seem worried about it. In fact, she seemed rather proud of her affair with a prominent man.
“For God’s sake, try to get it through her head that this is serious business,” the intermediary said. “I know that you’ll keep your month shut, but that fool girl hasn’t any sense. Tell her she’ll go to jail. Tell her anything to keep her from talking.”
Her lover was married to a wealthy woman, and it was necessary to keep the story from the wife.
“She’d divorce him in a minute,” the editor who brought me the case said. “She’s ‘strait-laced. And to do X justice he isn’t the playboy type. He’s got several children and he’s crazy about them and he loves and respects his wife. He went on a party with two or three other businessmen. It started out as a stag drinking party and someone suggested that they bring in some women. They did, and this girl, Dot, was one of them. She was X’s girl. Everybody got drunk, and it wound up as a hotel party.”
I grained. “The usual story. Only this time. it was a man who. got betrayed.”
“Exactly. X said that Dot, was a good sport. She isn’t a chippy or anything like that. She just went along for the party, and it wasn’t her idea to stay all night and she wasn’t paid for it. X is about 40 and he’s always behaved himself pretty well. He was flattered at a young girl liking him and he said that he wanted to see her again. He forgot all about it, and then she telephoned him. He felt that he owed her something for keeping quiet about the party so he went out to see her, thinking that he’d take her a box of candy and apologize again for the jam they’d been In. After that, he saw a lot of her. He told me that he knew she was cheap and ignorant but somehow that was what fascinated him. He’d seen too much of over-civilized, inhibited women, and it was a relief to find a girl who was pleased with whatever he did for her, who enjoyed sex for itself alone and who gave him a good time. Pagan is too lovely a word for it and animal sounds a little too vulgar. But whatever she had, it went over with X.”
Dot, in her way, was one of the most unusual girts I’ve ever met — and in my business I’ve seen all kinds. I could see why she had attracted a sedate, prominent businessman, and I could see why she puzzled the editor.
Pagan was not the right word for her. That somehow implies unspoiled naturalness. Dot used make-up far too liberally. She curled her black hair tightly. She drank and she smoked. She was not childish, she was not innocent and yet she was not vulgar. Her idea when drinking was to keep on until she got soused. She took her hangovers philosophically. She never seemed envious, never blamed anyone, was always good-natured, enjoyed every treat with fresh pleasure.
I suppose she was mentally a little deficient, but sometimes I’ve thought it would be a better world if we were all more like Dot. Her happy-go-lucky attitude made her helpless and at the same time provided a protection. People wanted to do things for her because she did not clamor for her rights.
She did not envy her lover his wealth or think that he had hurt her. In fact, she seemed a little sorry for him.
“He doesn’t have much fun,” she told me. “His wife is too good.
I do not like very good women.”
I smiled. “Why?” I asked.
She looked a little astonished that I did not understand. “Good women want to boss because they think they’re always right. They won’t let people alone. When I was little, people were always telling me to be good. Whatever I really wanted to do wasn’t good for me. And it was always bad people who did nice things for me. And never asked anything in return.”
Oddly enough, though, it was by telling her that people would think her lover was not a good man that I got her to promise secrecy about the whole business. She realized that it was important for him to appear “good.”
X came to me when it was all over and paid me. “I felt like a cad not coming down with her,” he said. “But Ben (Ben was the editor) insisted that he’d arrange everything. And I guess he’s right when he says it’s best for me not to see Dot again. I hate to do it. It’s like slapping a child. Dot’s a sweet kid. A lot of girls would be howling for money and making trouble and wanting marriage. I’ve never seen anyone like her.”
“And you won’t again.”
“I know,” he hesitated again. “She does things that in any other woman would disgust me. You know the sort of things I mean. But they seem all right coming from her. She pulls tricks that I know she must have learned from prostitutes. And with her they seem an innocent desire to give as much pleasure as possible. I sometimes think that if she wanted me to, I’d give up everything and marry her.”
But he wouldn’t, of course. It was the fact that she made no demands of any kind that made him feel guilty, and he got a feeling of virtue from toying with the idea of what he’d do if she wanted him to. He liked to think of giving up his prestige, his money, his respectability, as a gallant gesture. But if it came to brass tacks, he would have decided that she was just another gold-digger and howled like the dickens.
Since then, I’ve heard a lot of men make the same curtain speeches. Sometimes I’ve wanted to say exactly what I thought about them. Sometimes it’s amusing. A man comes to me to arrange for an illegal operation. He’s sweating blood. Maybe he really loves the girl and he’s worried about her. He’s worried about himself, too. And he’s in a hurry. He and the girl may have waited for a month, waiting to see if she actually were pregnant. As soon as they find out, they’re in a hurry to get the abortion over, especially the man, since he’s afraid the girl will, change her mind.
The man is in a panic-stricken state until I agree to do it. For once he has to eat humble pie. No matter how well he pays me he’s asking me a favor and I let him know that. The law can’t do anything to his girl for the operation. But it can do something to me.
He worries until everything is over and the girl is all right. Then the cold sweat dries off and there is a reaction. Probably the girl cools off a little. Her, scare is over, too, but her nerves have been shot to pieces and the usual effect is that she’s irritable and quarrelsome. What she wants is a lot of tenderness, but the man in his relief tries to laugh the whole business off. So the man begins to think that he hasn’t cut a very impressive figure, and he wants to justify himself.
Usually he talks a lot about what he would have been willing to do. He figures he’s safe in doing that. I don’t mean that he’s always a cad, because he isn’t. Men are usually a little frightened by pregnancy. It’s one thing they can’t quite understand, in spite of the graphic descriptions of childbirth that have been written by masculine authors. He’s had his nervous ordeal, too, and he’d like to forget it but a nagging feeling of being made to appear a coward and a fool makes him talk about it, sometimes to the girl and often to the doctor.
Some of the men who send girls from other towns and have friends make all the arrangements tell me that they’d have been glad to see me personally beforehand but they couldn’t get away from business or they felt that it was too big a risk when secrecy was necessary. And some of the men get a little sentimental abut the unborn child and say that if circumstances had been different they would have been glad to do the proper thing.
Even when they foot the entire bill and make the arrangements, they sometimes have a feeling that they haven’t exactly done their share in this and that makes them angry. And they feel that they’ve lost caste.
I’ve seen a lot of couples who were genuinely fond of each other quarrel bitterly after the worst apparently was over, simply because neither of them knew enough to allow for the inevitable aftermath of such an ordeal. In the first place the man usually minimizes what the girl is going through. A pregnant married woman gets a lot of attention. She complains about her health, she goes regularly to the doctor, she is petted and pampered. She gets a special diet. She isn’t allowed to do any heavy work. She is honored by stork showers. Her husband is supposed to be especially gentle with her. And usually he keeps up a pose, at least, even if he is having an affair with another woman while his wife is pregnant. He knows if he doesn’t, he’ll get hell from his wife’s relatives and her friends; and while men are freer from the domination of society than women, they’re just as particular, if not more so, about cutting a good figure in the eyes of the world.
It makes me laugh sometimes when I read masculine authors who say wives are too strict with their husbands, just to please their vanity and to cut a good appearance in the eyes of their friends. Those men ought to be in my trade for a while and see some of the things that go on under the surface.
The girl who has an abortion doesn’t dare complain about her nausea, or her pains, or her dizziness. She has to pretend to be bright and happy for fear people will suspect what is wrong with her. And she has to go through an operation that is a severe nervous shock. An abortion is not the easy thing that people who haven’t had one seem to think it is. Married mothers talk loudly enough about how they went through the valley of the shadow of death for their children.
But these women can go to a good hospital and have the best doctors and can lie in bed for the proper time afterward. And they’ve got the child after they’re through. The girl who has an abortion frequently goes back to work or to her daily life before she’s ready. She can’t explain too much mysterious absence. Her first reaction is one of relief. Then she wants to talk about it and get sympathy. Usually the only person she can talk to is her lover. Naturally, he isn’t fond of listening to her go on for hours about how sick and scared she was. It makes him sound like a cad for getting her into this condition. And sometimes he worries a little about the money and that makes her mad and sometimes he tries to justify himself by making her share the blame. If he’s any sort of a man, he feels that he was a worm for getting the girl pregnant.
But the girl isn’t in any mood for arguing about whose fault it was. What she wants is to be told that she is an unsung heroine, that her lover appreciates the gallant way she went through it, that she was humiliated by being asked a lot of questions, by having to admit that she was, to all outside appearances, a scarlet woman having a criminal operation. She wants to be told that her lover admires her for what she did and loves her all the more. Above all else, she doesn’t want to have flung at her what she usually knows, that the affair is not serious enough and their love not deep enough for her and her lover to throw everything overboard and go away together, get respective divorces or eliminate any other obstacles to marriage.
She realizes the situation and that’s why she went through a nasty, disagreeable business. But right at the moment she wants to pretend that this is a grand passion and worth any amount of
suffering and humiliation. For despite what the moralists say, a lot of “nice” women have abortions. When you consider that doctors estimate the abortion rate in any city as being about five times the reported birth rate, you must realize that all these cases cannot come from the dregs of society such as gang molls and prostitutes. As a matter of fact, few prostitutes have abortions. They are too smart, and frequently they get so they cannot have children, even. Then they want them Nature has made them sterile.
Sometimes I think that these after-quarrels are the saddest part of the whole business. Usually the couples are reconciled because they are genuinely fond of each other. But sometimes they aren’t, and there is bitterness over what nature intended as a means of bringing a man and woman closer together.
Usually my clients try to bring me an iron-clad reason why I should perform an abortion. Sometimes I know they’re lying. Sometimes it simply happens that an affair is drifting to a close. And at the wrong psychological moment, an accident happens, love has died or is dying and neither the man nor woman wants marriage. Sometimes, as Dorothy frankly admitted, the man is not the marrying kind. More and more young and eligible men seem to be panicky about marriage. And it is in these cases that emotional disturbances almost invariably follow the abortion. The man and woman resent an accident disturbing the smooth course of their love affair. Their love is not old enough and deep enough to stand much strain, and when the emergency is over there is a quarrel. However, I do not moralize about such affairs. I have seen many affairs that lasted as long as most modern marriages. Some of the couples drifted into marriage as they grew older. And I have about as much respect for such liaisons as for a marriage. Frequently there is more honesty, and more fidelity, and more genuine love than in the average legal union.
Not long ago, I heard a young girl say glibly, “Oh, abortions are nothing. I know a girl who had one in the morning and played bridge that night.” She may have played bridge that night, but I’ll bet she was gritting her teeth under her smile. If she did it, she was a fool. She should have been in bed. I’ll bet that after her guest’s left she burst into nervous tears. And probably for weeks before and after the abortion it seemed to her that the conversation was filled with joking references to pregnant women. The truth is very rarely evident in such matters. Naturally the girl is not going to talk about what a hard time she had. That girl obviously had had the knife used on her. She may have felt pretty good at the time and then weeks or maybe months later suffered pains and discovered that she had not escaped so easily. The knife, I maintain even in the face of those who still use it, is dangerous.
After Dot, my next case was a country woman who already was in a serious condition. Her husband, a hulking man with more stinginess than sense, had given her a crude abortion with an umbrella rib without even sterilizing it. Naturally the woman got an infection. I brought her to the hospital and did what I could. But she died. The man tried to save a small amount of money and lost his wife.
He tried to avoid paying me, saying that I had caused a useless hospital bill and his wife had died anyway. But I threatened him with complete exposure of the case and he came across. I had no pity for him. He was the sort of man who refuses to either restrain himself or use any sort of precaution. His wife was a small, dainty red-haired woman, and he was a big man, too big for her. They were mismated even if he had not been utterly callous in his treatment of her. He could be punished only through his purse.
They had four small boys, the oldest only eight years old, and his wife had rebelled against her fifth pregnancy. I gathered that she had never really loved her husband, but he had been crazy about her and had argued her into marriage. Later he treated with contempt the very refinement and daintiness that had first attracted him, boasting that there were many women who would be glad to have him as a lover. He seemed to think it his wife’s fault that she had so many children.
“She got pregnant when I just looked at her,” he said.
He married again a few months later but I never saw him again.
I managed to save a neighbor of his who had given herself an abortion and had a hemorrhage. I packed her and put her to bed.
Some of the crude methods used are laugh-provoking; some are tragic. I heard of a man who thrust a glass. tube into his wife’s uterus and pumped her full of air with a bicycle pump. But the history of such cases is not completely written when the abortion is over. The damage may not appear until the woman is pregnant again. Women come into my office and complain of backaches, pains in the side, general weakness. They say that they’ve been taking patent medicines with no luck. Eventually I learn that they have had miscarriages and I suspect that they were artificial.
However, I’ve known of natural abortions that left no bad aftereffects. They may have been caused by sudden shocks, by undue exertion, by a jolt, by a nervous condition.
It wasn’t necessary for me to advertise that I was willing to step over the line to help the fallen. Such things get about. A pimp soon came in to arrange for an operation for his girl.
One of the silliest objections to legalizing abortions that I have ever heard is that it would spread vice. Crusaders have been trying since the world began to stop vice, and the oldest profession still flourishes. It will continue to do so. Personally, I’m in favor of it, with strict medical supervision. I would rather that my young son go to a bawdy house, where a smart girl would wise him up to the use of contraceptives, than have him experimenting with some dumb virgin or a pick-up. I think he run’s less risk of disease if he goes to a high-priced house. He is in less danger of being yanked into an undesirable marriage or being gold-dug or blackmailed.
Not long ago a boy was brought to me with a bad case of gonorrhea, His father was tremendously shocked. The boy had tried to keep it a secret until he grew too ill to, disguise it.
“I’ve warned him and warned him,” the father said.
“That’s the trouble,” I replied. “You warned him against the wrong thing.”
The father was so goody-goody that he wouldn’t face the facts. He wouldn’t admit that a boy of 17 has sexual desires and it is natural for him to satisfy them. The boy had been warned against prostitutes, and instead of going to a house he went to a “high class girl” who was “giving away a million dollars worth of it free.” The girl was also giving away a lot of valuable medical business. She didn’t tell the boy, of course, that she had the disease. Instead she let him buy her some cheap gin and they went out for a ride in the country.
He might have got a dose at a $3 house, but I doubt it. If the girl saw that he was dumb she’d wise him up about prophylactics. And there wouldn’t have been so much risk of the boy’s trying to make some young girl in his own set while he was diseased, if he went to such places when he wanted only physical relief. I’m not advising young men to go to prostitutes, but sometimes they are the lesser of two evils.
The pimp made arrangements for the operation in a business- like fashion and brought his girl down. She took it for granted as one of the risks of her profession, although some girls in the business raise hell if they’re caught. I had no scruples about performing the operation. I didn’t feel then that I was spreading vice and I don’t feel that way now. It seems to me doubly important that a house girl should not give birth to a child. Some of the girls marry their pimps and get out of the profession when they become pregnant. But if they don’t marry, it seems to me a crime against society to let the child be born. The girl may have a disease that seems to be cured and the child may be born horribly deformed. Its father may have been diseased and the girl did not know it.
There have been some romantic tales written — and some of them may have a foundation of fact — about beautiful young girls reared in convents on the wages of sin. There have been more unsavory stories of such young girls being pressed into service when they were young; of children who led miserable lives because of their mothers’ occupation. Naturally, the girls usually cannot name the fathers of their children, so no help would come from that source. For half a dozen reasons, I don’t think a prostitute should give birth to a child. And after she’s pregnant, there is no time for lecturing on why she shouldn’t have allowed herself to get in that condition.
Fortunately, Violet had escaped disease, so there were no complications from that source. She derived an ironic amusement from her condition, but resented having to pay out hard-earned money for the operation.
“It’s a helluva world,” she said cheerfully. “I work all day at this job and then for fun I get knocked up.”
She told me in private that her pimp was not the father, but that she didn’t want him to know it.
“He’s always bragging about how good he is to me in giving me a rest when I get off work, and it would make him madder than hell if he knew I stepped out on him,” she said.
The next girl I got from the same house wasn’t nearly so calm. She had a hot temper, and she was wanting to get virtually every man in town to pay for the job. Violet brought her down and laughed at her.
“Fat chance you’d have proving anything,” she jeered. “You’d have to say, It’s either Jones or Smith or Brown or Thompson if it isn’t some man I never saw before.’ Just keep your mouth shut and don’t be so damned lazy.”
I got quite a lot of that trade thereafter. Later, I tried to discourage as much of it as I could. The girls might be recognized coming into my office. They couldn’t pay much, and I was out after higher class trade. It was bad business having them sit around in the waiting room, although most of them were well-dressed, quiet- looking girls.
However, I will say that I didn’t have to pamper along their nerves and I didn’t have to keep soothing them and impressing the need for secrecy. Prostitutes have so many tough breaks that one more didn’t mean much to them.
One day a dainty, petite little blonde came in. She was tearful and indignant at the same time. She had such a short vagina that douches did her no good.
“I can’t get to the bathroom quick enough,” she said, “and that fool of a husband I’ve got won’t do anything.”
She had had one child and didn’t want another one. Her husband hated the use of contraceptives, and they were constantly squabbling.
“I tell him I’ll leave him and I will,” she said. “He doesn’t have to worry! The darned fool got me half-drunk or I wouldn’t be this way.”
She wanted a sterilization operation, but I refused to give it to her. “You may want a child later on,” I told her. “And then You’ll blame me.”
She told me about a friend of her’s who was in somewhat the same position.
“She wants her husband to be made sterile,” the woman told me. “I’ve got sense enough not to ask that. But I think I’ll get a divorce. Jim is an ideal husband in other ways. But it isn’t worth it. I can’t get any pleasure out of sex because I’m afraid of the consequences. And I keep resenting Jim’s attitude. He’ll promise, and then at the last minute he says that it’s no fun if he has to use anything.”
“Send him in to me,” I said.
I didn’t bother him with any lectures on the mental strain he was forcing on his wife. Instead I said, “Which would you rather have, a frigid wife or a little less pleasure because you’re sensible and use precautions? If you’re not careful, this abortion will finish the job.”
He really loved his wife, and this warning frightened him.
“I didn’t know whether she really was telling the truth,” he said. “We had the first child because we wanted it. That’s been more than two years ago, and nothing has happened since. Part of the time I’ve used contraceptives and part of the time I haven’t. I thought,” he added, “that she was, just getting a lot of funny notions from some of those cats she plays around with, and that I’d better not humor her.”
“Better try humoring her,” I told him. “It’s a doctor’s prescription.”
“I will, doctor,” he promised. “I didn’t realize that she was telling me the truth about the douches. She wouldn’t let me go to the doctor with her and I didn’t know but what she was just panicky or lazy. I have a friend whose wife is so sloppy that he has to force her to go to the bathroom. Otherwise, she’ll just lay there. She wants him to do everything.”
He looked at me. “I don’t suppose Anna told you. I’d been married before?”
“No,” I answered, beginning to take an interest in Jim. It looked as if there were another side to the story. I’d believed be was merely thoughtless to what I deemed an almost criminal point.
“I was divorced from my first wife,” he said. “And the reason I fell in love with Anna was because she seemed to be so gay and wholesome about sex.”
“A man’s idea of a wholesome attitude toward sex frequently means that the girl is either dumb or too trusting,” I interrupted. “A woman who runs the risk of unwelcome pregnancy rather than insist that a man use artificial methods to prevent conception is going to become nervous and irritable sooner or later. A wholesome attitude is one where you can discuss this matter and arrive at a decision agreeable to you both.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t mean that. I’ll explain. When my first wife, Audrey, and I were on our honeymoon, we went to a quaint inn up in the mountains. We had a big room with a fireplace and a bearskin rug in front of it. I wanted to make love to her on the rug. She objected; said it made her feel like a dog. Later I wanted to make love to her in a meadow filled with flowers. She thought it was beastly. When we went to visit her people or my people, she refused to have anything to do with me because they might hear us. And she was always afraid the servants might hear something.”
“It began to give me inhibitions,” he said frankly. “I’d been brought up in a fairly strict household myself. Audrey’s attitude ruined our marriage and my love for her. Her idea of the proper approach to sex took away most of my pleasure. Finally we got a divorce. I was gun-shy of marriage until I met Anna. She Seemed so free from complexes that I guess I went to extremes the other way.
I remembered Dot who had been so “natural” according to her lover. I found myself telling Jim about her. He stared at me.
“I knew her slightly,” he said. “You mean Dow’ and he gave her real name.
It was my turn to be a little startled. “Yes, but I didn’t mean to violate a confidence. I hope you’ll keep this a secret. I didn’t suppose you’d ever heard of the girl.”
He smiled a little grimly. “You’re not violating any confidence. Or at least you’re not spilling any beans. I knew all about it. X’s wife is my sister. But didn’t you know Dot is dead?”
“Good God, no,” I exclaimed. “What was the matter? The operation was a success. I’m positive of that.”
“Oh, the operation was all right. And X, like a good boy, went back to his wife and was the model husband. He gave Dot some money, but since he became the virtuous spouse he didn’t feel that he should keep on paying money to a woman he no longer saw. And Dot was too good looking and too carefree to hold a job long. So she drifted from one man to another, and finally one of them strangled her with her own silk stocking. He caught her being unfaithful with another man.”
“I don’t remember seeing anything about it in the newspapers,” I said.
“Oh, it wasn’t in this town,” Jim told me. “But she’d kept a card of my brother-in-law’s all these years. So they notified him of her death. He was in a funk. He was afraid they’d learn of the old affair. So he sent me to keep him out of it, arrange for the funeral and send her some flowers, anonymously. I told the officials that he’d helped to get her a job once. And I managed to get her a quiet funeral and send her some flowers without mixing him up in it.”
He was more impressed by my connecting Dot with his wishes regarding his wife than by any lecture I could have given him. I saw his wife later and she seemed perfectly happy. She told me that her married life was now perfect.
I had not lied when I told Jim that abortions sometimes made women frigid. The same thing often happens with childbirth. Memory of the pain soon fades, but there is a vague emotional hangover, especially if the woman feels she has been unfairly treated. Women who are naturally a little under-sexed may have their emotions drained by the experience.
On the other hand, sometimes it makes women more passionate. They feel that they know the worst that can happen to them. And usually they have acquired better knowledge of birth-control measures, either from the doctor or from realization that previous carelessness must be stopped.
I talked to a woman recently who had been having an affair for several years. Her nerves were shaky. She asked me several discreet but leading questions about abortion’s.
“Do you need one?” I asked bluntly.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so, but this is one of my worrying days. I worry constantly for about the last half of my period. I feel safe during menstruation and for some reason feel quite safe for the first week or so thereafter. I suppose it’s relief from having passed another period without danger. But along about this time I get nervous and wonder if something could have gone wrong and figure out what I’d do if anything happened. Sometimes I think I’d feel better if I were caught and had to go through an operation. Then Id know that there is no fool-proof method of contraception. I’d know what to do in case anything went wrong again and just what it would be like. And I could decide once and for all whether to go on with this affair.”
“I don’t see how women stand it,” I said frankly. “Of course, we doctors have our worries, too. But we’ve got a good stock alibi ready if anything slips and we get paid well for our worrying. It’s bad enough for married women. However, most of them plan to have children when they marry. But girls like you –.”
“Some of us don’t stand it.” She gave me a wry smile. “I could give you a list of some who haven’t borne up under it too well. The thing that saves the majority of modern mistresses from nervous breakdowns is that the affairs don’t last more than a year or so, and then the couple either marries or they break up and the girl is so sick of uncertainty that she marries the first man who comes along with a proposal in his hand.”
I grinned. “And by then, I suppose they’re so tired of worrying that it’s almost a relief when they get pregnant and stay that way.”
She nodded. “That’s why you see a lot of attractive young businesswomen — girls in their late 20’s and early 30’s — who have been going around with equally attractive men suddenly marry sappy-looking eggs who can offer them a home and security but no romance. The ones who don’t — well, a friend of mine is in a hospital now recovering from a nervous collapse. Other girls drink too much. I know one who has taken to drugs.”
I never have become calloused to hearing stories like that. Of course, I took them much more seriously when I first started to practice. For a while it seemed to me that I was peculiarly lucky in being first too poor and then too busy to have much to do with sex except in a professional way.
After I had launched myself into the illegal side of my profession I began to take it for granted. Of course, I solemnly warned my sub-resa patients of the danger of talking. But my name was mentioned because many of my later patients came to me on the recommendation of friends who said that I was discreet, efficient and reasonable in price.
I didn’t object, because such advice was given in confidence to persons who were not likely to broadcast the information in the wrong quarters.
However, it was not until I met Rose that I saw how the change in my professional attitude might effect my private life.
I had more money now, and could afford to have more recreation. I had a bank account, and I was slowly paying my father back the loan he had made me. I felt that I was entitled to a little fun. So I looked up a friend of college days and he invited me to a party. Rose was there.
It was a case of immediate mutual attraction. I was girl- starved and I was still idealistic as far as my personal life was concerned. That was in the days of the short skirts. Rose wore a frivolous blue taffeta frock coming just to her knees. Above it her blond curls, blue eyes and rosebud mouth looked like those of a big doll. Nowadays I probably would dismiss her as insipid. Then I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen.
I had just acquired a car and was very proud of it. I took Rose home. I think she was thrilled by her conquest. Women like to display their power, a trait that frequently gets them into trouble. They will encourage a man just to flatter their vanity and then try to retreat when he gets serious.
I gave Rose a big rush. My intentions were honorable, as the old-fashioned phrase has it. I thought it was a good idea for a doctor to be married and I thought Rose would make me a perfect wife. I see now how foolish that was and how lucky I was to escape her, but at the time I was youthful enough to consider beauty all- sufficient.
I met her father, a pompous businessman, and her mother, a minor society woman. The whole thing seemed ideal. I would get a young and pretty wife. I would be allied with a respectable family, and that would help me in my profession. A few women like a good- looking young doctor, but the majority of the patients want a middle-aged or elderly man with a lot of dignity. The young doctor may be a better physician, but patients believe that the older man can be relied upon more because of his experience. However, marriage lends an Aura of respectability.
Mothers feel better when their children are being examined by a gray-haired man with the manner of a priest at confession. And with men there is it jealousy of a young doctor. I think they would prefer the old Chinese custom of having eunuchs to wait upon their women. I have had women tell me that their husbands and lovers were jealous because “strange doctors” give them examinations. I know of such cases in my own practice, when men reluctantly gave permission to have their wives or sweethearts examined, or treated, or even submit to an abortion. They seemed to feel that in some fashion I have ravished them or had a sexual experience that they had been denied.
But to go back to my romance. I paid court in the traditional fashion. I sent Rose flowers and candy. I took her to the theater and to parties. I restricted myself to a few kisses and embraces. I intended my marriage to be free from any emotional hangover. I wanted a virgin bride, and I wanted an aroma of orange blossoms around everything.
I had been going with Rose for about six weeks when she telephoned that her mother wanted to see me. Rose let me in the house and avoided my hasty kiss. She looked pale and somehow indignant.
“Aha,” I thought, “the old lady’s been inquiring about my intentions and Rose is peeved because I haven’t popped the question. I’ll soon put that right.”
I felt a little irritated as I smiled in an encouraging fashion at Rose. The Garners seemed to be rushing things a little. I wanted to propose and receive her acceptance in the best 19th Century romantic style — my literature was old-fashioned — and then go to her father to ask for her hand. I was in favor of marrying as soon as possible, but I wanted to arrange the whole business in my own way.
Mrs. Garner rose from her chair when I came into the room. She didn’t invite me to sit down.
“I’m sorry to have to say this to you, Martin,” she began. “I understand from Rose that you have always treated her with respect –”
“Of course,” I said hurriedly. “I want to marry Rose, Mrs. Garner. Perhaps I should have declared my intentions sooner, but I was not sure Rose returned my affection. I can support a wife. I haven’t much money now, but my practice is growing. If she’s willing to start humbly –”
Her face hardened. “Don’t add insult to injury, Dr. Avery. I know all about your profession. I didn’t want to have to drag that in. Fortunately, you hadn’t mentioned it to Rose. I have not told her the details. As for her affections, she will get over this foolish infatuation quickly enough. I have, caught it in time, thank heavens!”
I was stunned. “What’s the matter with my profession?” I demanded. “I’m a doctor. I’m not a very good one yet, but I’m making a living. It’s an honorable calling.”
“You,” she was almost stuttering with cold rage. “You’re a child murderer! My husband told me all about it. And you want to drag our daughter into the filth and slime of your work! You who help the hardened creatures of the world with their sins — only you are worse than they are. If it were not for people like you, they might reform.”
“It isn’t murder,” I retorted angrily, forgetting that I had once very nearly shared her view. “It isn’t murder any more than it was murder when you and your husband decided not to have any more. children after Rose was born.”
“Get out,” she shouted furiously. “I won’t bandy words with you. Get out, and stay away from my daughter!”
I got out. I was mad enough not to try to see Rose, either. I’d wanted me drama in my romance and I got it. And in my anger I’d hit the sorest point in the armor of the righteous.
There are very few women who want their children, and there are fewer yet who want an unlimited number. I’ve met a few young wives who wanted children immediately, but most of them don’t want to be tied down. They want to arrange their children. That’s reasonable and natural. And the crusaders usually don’t have many children. If they did, they wouldn’t have time to run other people’s business. A lot of them are equally indignant about the large, families among the poor. They’re not so much against big families as they are against the parents having any fun.
I used to marvel at the twisted, perverted forms that sex took. Nowadays I marvel that there is as much naturalness connected With sex a’s there is.
Mrs. Garner hated me because I helped girls out of their mistakes. She wanted them to suffer because she hadn’t enjoyed herself. Probably she was one of those unfortunate women who spend the early part of their lives dreading pregnancy so that they never enjoy the sex act, the sort of woman who thinks it somehow cheap to be caught on her wedding night. Then with her menopause, she probably found out that she’d waited too late for sex enjoyment. Either her passion had died a natural death or her husband was impotent.
Since the time when Mrs. Garner arbitrarily decided that I was not a fit companion for her daughter because I faced the facts about sex, I have seen a lot of peculiar things and developed more tolerance. Then I was furious at her. Oddly enough I probably treated-her daughter with more respect than most other men would have, partly because I was still young and idealistic and partly as a reaction from the sordid part of my business.
I would have made Rose a much cleaner and more romantic husband than some man who had not seen the results of sexual abnormalities and irregularities and flouting of conventions.
Eventually, Mrs. Garner married Rose to a small-time businessman who made a household drudge out of her. Rose grew fat, peevish and complaining. She came to me several times with minor ailments. She didn’t have good health. She virtually ruined herself by taking too strong medicines and using too harsh disinfectants. I could have saved her all that. But her mother was a good woman! Afterward, I was thankful that I’d escaped Rose. She and her mother drove her husband half mad complaining because he didn’t make enough money. Finally he became a habitual drunkard. He was weak and so was Rose; and Mrs. Garngr ruined their lives by prying and dictating. Rose felt that she committed a crime when she became pregnant and felt equally guilty when she tried to prevent conception.
But that day, of course, I didn’t know anything about that. I went on a binge and wound up in a house of prostitution.
And there, ironically enough, I found myself in a room with Violet, the first house girl I’d had for a patient.
“What the hell are you doing here, doc?” she demanded. “I’m a cash customer,” I laughed. “What do you think I’m doing, picking daisies?”
“You’re drunk,” she told me.
“Of course,” I agreed amiably. “My girl’s mother told me to get the hell out of there. She thinks I live in the gutter with girls like you. So here I am.”
Violet sniffed. “Probably her old man comes here, too, for half and half. That’s what good women do to men.” I sobered up and went back to work the next day and knocked a lot more silly, romantic ideas out of my head. At lunch I met a doctor friend of mine, one who sent me some business occasionally. I hear you’re going to marry,” he said.
Eventually,” I told him, “but I’ve no prospects in sight just now.
“What’s happened to the big romance?” he asked. “I saw you beaming at the Garner girl like a love-sick calf the other night.”
“The love-sick calf has had a good dose of salts and is cured,” I told him. “Mamma and papa disapprove of the way I practice my great profession.”
He grinned. “You’ve got a clean job compared to some psychoanalysts I know. They really get the sex dirt dished out to them. I’ve just been talking to one. A woman came to me and asked to be examined, said she wasn’t getting any kick out of her married life.”
“Tell her to be glad she’s a good woman,” I grunted.
“I told her she had nothing organically wrong with her,” my friend went on. “Then I asked her the usual questions. Everything seemed all right to me. She said the sex act was completed, she loved her husband, nothing is wrong with him, no trace of perversion. From her description, it sounded like a perfectly normal coition. But she wasn’t satisfied. She thought she was being cheated out of something. So she went to the psychiatrist. And you ought to hear the pay-off.”
“Go on,” I said. “I’m listening.”
“That was her trouble, too. She’d been listening to a gal in the same apartment house, a divorcee. The other woman got a divorce because she couldn’t or wouldn’t sleep with her husband. She doesn’t have much to do with men nowadays, and when she doe’s, she’s a teaser. Gets a big kick out of the preliminaries, but won’t go any farther. However, she’s been driving two or three of her married women friends crazy with descriptions of how thrilling the sex act should be. As a matter of fact, she’s never got any kick out of it at all, not even the normal kind. And she’s not a pervert or a practicing one at least.”
“Nice woman,” I muttered.
“Very,” said my friend. “The psychiatrist had a hard time convincing my patient that she was getting everything there was out of sex and that she should pay no attention to her neighbor. Advised her to move, in fact. I’d rather have an out-and-out pervert try to Convert my wife than have one of those dirty-minded wenches around. They’re worse than the so-called good women who try to tell a woman that enjoyment of sex is sinful. It’s pretty hard to convince a woman that it’s wrong for her to have a good time. But when someone tells her that she ought to be having a better time, she’s liable to start trying out other men.”
“The whole business is crazy,” I said. “Seems to me that we’d be more sensible if we had rutting period’s as the animals do and got it all over with in a few days.”
He grinned. “We’re the higher order. We can think! We can reason!”
I went back to the office pretty well soured on the whole thing. A woman came in and tried to convince me she was pregnant. Most women fight against the idea and keep hoping that even the doctor may be wrong, But once in a while there’s a nut who’s so full of symptom’s, both genuine and imaginary that she wears a path to the doctor’s office. This woman didn’t want a child, but the fear of pregnancy obsessed her. If she gained a pound and it showed as it usually does, on her breasts and hip’s, she decided that She was caught and rushed right down to see me.
I got rid of her and settled down with a magazine. Then two well-dressed, pretty young women came in. One of them looked as if she had been crying. Both were nervous. I recognized the symptoms.
The prettiest girl introduced herself and her companion. She was tall and slender without being either skinny or curved in the wrong places. Even in the awkward knee-length dresses of that period she looked graceful. She had intelligent-looking gray eyes, dark brown hair, combed simply and lips with a tendency to curve upward. Her companion was sweet-looking rather than beautiful and she didn’t have the competent air of her friend.
Norma, the prettier of the two, did the talking for herself and for Pearl. She came right to the point. She said she understood that sometimes I helped girls out of trouble.
I was cautious. Neither girl wore a wedding ring. They didn’t look like street-walker’s, but I had to be careful. I told them to tell me the whole story, adding that it would be in strict secrecy.
“It’s a simple story,” Norma said. “Pearl is in a jam. She isn’t married, and so it’s important that she get rid of the child and do it as quickly as possible. I’ve heard that she can register- in at a hospital and say she’s married and have the operation as essential to her health. But I don’t know how to go about it.”
“Better not try it,” I advised. “It’s too risky. In the first place, in this State three physicians must certify that the operation is essential to her health, And the case would be investigated. A good doctor isn’t going to risk putting his name on record in such a case.”
“Then what do you advise?” Norma asked.
“Where’s the father of the child?” I asked. I always want the men in the case to appear. In the first place, the men usually foot the bills. In the second, I want to have a clear understanding among all concerned before I risk my career for an operation. A hysterical woman may — and sometimes does — rush into my office and want something done right away. Later She may discover that the man would have married her and she blames me. Or the man may have scruples against such operations or the family may raise hell. Sometimes wives try to get abortions when their husbands are absent. The husband may stir up a devil of a mess when he finds it out, and the woman may not be able to pay and there may be charges that the doctor induced the woman to undergo the operation. If something happens to the woman in such a case, the doctor may as well buy his railroad ticket and leave before he finds himself behind bars.
“He’s on a business trip,” Pearl said, “and it’s important that I don’t bring him back for this.”
That sounded fishy and I said so in as tactful a fashion as I could manage. I told her that his presence was important. Then the story came out. The man was married to an insane woman now in an institution. The wife was a Catholic and so were all her people. The husband made her regular visits, and he was on one now. He occupied a position in a firm largely controlled by his wife’s relatives. He couldn’t divorce his wife, and so they we’re waiting, patiently hoping that her failing health would end her life.
The man’s job took him away from our city much of the time. He had been gone for about six weeks and it would be several weeks before he returned. Pearl wanted to get the whole business over before he came back.
“I’ll tell him, of course,” she said. “But it’s almost impossible for him to return now and it would do no good. I’ve plenty of money and Norma will look after me. He’s got troubles enough without my adding to them. If I let him know now he’d probably dash back here and the whole story might come out. We’ve gone through too much to risk endangering everything because of this unfortunate happening.
I believed her. She was in a bad spot.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll help you.”
“We’ll pay you in advance,” Norma told me eagerly. “Then you’ll know we’re all right.”
Of course, it is customary in all these cases to get payment in advance. No abortionist is going to take the risk without being paid, and paid well, in advance. Once the abortion is over, the doctor has no hold over the woman. It is the surgeon who commits the crime, not the girl.
No girl needs to be blackmailed by a quack abortionist if she will keep that in mind. He may threaten to expose the whole thing; may produce documents from his files. But if she pays him in cash, pays him in advance, and then bluffs, she’ll be all right. He won’t dare say anything about it. He’ll not only let himself in for a prison sentence but he’ll also kill his practice at once. Once he has come out in the open about one abortion, no one else will trust him.
But that day I forgot my strict rules. “No hurry about that,” I told them “You can take your time.”
They looked a little relieved. I learned afterward that they had brought every cent they had in the world and were prepared to offer it to me. My charges then were not so high as they are at present, when I never accept anything less than $125, and sometimes my fees are as high as $500.
The girl had arranged to take a short vacation. She moved into a small apartment with Norma. It may be that I called there oftener than professional purposes required. But the appreciation expressed by the two girl’s helped to soothe my vanity, wounded by Mrs. Garner’s outburst.
“It’s ridiculous,” Norma exclaimed, “that we have to hide in here in order to prevent a tragedy. Oh, I know we have to do it,” she added quickly. “But here is Pearl, trying to get a little happiness. Here you are, trying to do some good. Here I am, just standing by. And all three of us would be disgraced if this got out. If someone wrote a play about the situation and a beautiful woman did it on the stage, she’d be a heroine. But in real life the fiction Situations don’t work out so well.”
“I know,” I said. “Camille is a figure of romance and all the women in the audience weep when she dies. But if Camille were working hard to earn her living and trying to have a little pleasure in the evening and got caught and went to an abortionist, she’d be that ‘wild little French girl’ and the good ladies would sniff and say it only went to show that foreigners couldn’t be trusted and they’ve been thinking that their husbands should fire that dark-haired, dark-eyed girl in the office. She’s too pretty to be a really efficient typist.”
I told Norma about my brief fling with Rose Garner.
“Even my love affair aborted,” I Said grimly.
But Norma was laughing. She choked and waved her hands. “I don’t mean to laugh at you. It’s just that I remembered what Mr. Garner does.”
“He’s a druggist. He’s something in a wholesale company.”
“And he’s also a big stockholder in a company that manufactures hot water bottles and syringes,” Norma replied. “It’s all right to buy a douche bag. And you can buy all the salves and jellies and everything else for ‘feminine hygiene’ that you want. A lot of them may be dangerous; a lot of them may be worthless. But nothing is done about that. The ounce of prevention is perfectly legal, and if the prevention isn’t any good, the manufacturers are safe. Mr. Garner sells plenty of disinfectant that is less powerful than soap and water and some that’s so harsh the solution ruins your hands. But when people actually need help, he’s moralizing somewhere.”
“Well,” I said, “no statues are being erected to me. And a lot of the time I don’t get any thanks for what I’ve done.”
Of course, no doctor expects thanks. He’s supposed to do his best even if he feels the patient isn’t worth saving. He’s supposed to work when he feels that he isn’t going to get paid. But he isn’t risking his future and a damned disagreeable prison sentence for it.
A lot of my patients come in virtually on their knees. They continue to be abject until the operation is a success. Then they may hear about a quack who would have done the same thing for $10 or $15. Why shouldn’t he be cheap? He hasn’t had any expensive medical training. He hasn’t got half as much to lose as I have. He may be good. There are men who can perform abortions skillfully and can’t do anything else. Some of them are doctors who have already lost their licenses to practice; Some are premedical student’s who dropped out. And there are old women with an uncanny skill at the business.
So when it’s all over and the money has been paid in advance, a patient, or more often the man who footed the bills, may get to thinking that that was a lot of money for what little was done. And he feels wronged. An abortion has no permanent effect like the removal of an appendix or tonsil’s. The man wants to blame somebody for this business just to get rid of surplus irritation that he hasn’t dared to take out on the girl. So he treats me as a quack and a sharper and a few other disagreeable things.
It reminds me of a man I knew who went on periodical drunks.
“I stay sober for weeks and nobody says that it’s fine I’m restraining myself,” he told me once, “but as soon as I go on a toot, everybody says, ‘Look, he’s drunk again.”
I told the story to Norma. She didn’t laugh. “It’s funny, I know. But look at us. I mean, Pearl and myself. Outwardly we’re good girls, nicely mannered, hard working. Nobody brags on us because we are behaving ourselves. That”s natural. We’re all supposed to behave ourselves. But let us, make one slip and we’re marked for life. Oh, I know, people don’t talk about scandal constantly as some girls seem to think. And lots of girls who have been naughty become nice. But always there’s someone who’s going to say, ‘I remember when she got into a jam and they say there was a hush hush operation.’ Probably that person doesn’t mean anything by it. It’s just casual gossip. But did you ever notice the peculiar glint women get in their eyes when the subject of pregnancy is introduced. They invariably count the months if the woman is married. And if she’s not, they lower their voices and start discussing the possible fathers.”
I grinned. Norma and I were good friends by now. I enjoyed blowing off steam to her and she talked with amazing frankness to me. I told her how I’d started doing abortions.
“I suppose vanity was one reason why I hated it,” I remarked. “Any starving doctor could look down upon me for violating the ethics of the profession. Same way any physician rather looks down on a dentist. The dentist may be making a lot more money but he never has ranked quite so high.”
“I know,” Norma said. “I knew a girl who fell in love at first sight with a man. But when she found out he was a dentist, she was humiliated and refused to see him again.”
She looked at me. “I’m not noted for any piety,” but I believe that your credits and debits will balance on Judgment Day.”
It was about this time that I turned down my first case. I had always told myself that I meant to use discrimination in this business and the only way I could maintain my self respect was to take only such case’s as I felt worthwhile.
A very pretty, richly-dressed young woman came into my office, accompanied by her mother and her sister. This was unusual. It had so happened that my previous clandestine patients before had consisted of girls anxious to keep news of the operations from their families. It is an indictment of family life and the much- touted mother love that girls will tell their troubles to friends before they will confide in their parents.
Of course, there are several other reasons for that. Sometimes it is merely a desire to spare pain and worry. The girls are not in a mood to listen to maternal anxiety. It is the same thing that causes many girls to want their lovers or husbands away when they are going through an abortion. They sometimes prefer the more impersonal kindliness of a nurse or a close friend. They know that they are going to be in a great deal of pain, that they are not going to be at their best and vanity keeps them from wanting anyone really close to them around.
But I was pleased at the sight of the mother. I felt somehow that she lent more respectability to the visit. This thought disappeared in a few moments. The girl, I learned, was the wife of a wealthy young man in a nearby city.
She was annoyed and petulant over her pregnancy. She was just starting to have a good time as a young wife in a smart young married set, and she hated to have her fun interrupted by motherhood.
“I know just how Frances feels,” her mother told me. “She has all those lovely new clothes and the season is just beginning. And she has such a beautiful figure. It would never be the same again. Men are so selfish about such things.”
“Then her husband doesn’t approve of the operation?” I asked.
Both mother and daughter burst into tirades against the general selfishness of mankind. Finally I managed to extract the information that the young husband did not even know his wife was pregnant.
“And he isn’t going to,” Frances said firmly. “He’d probably raise the dickens and insist on my going through with it. Men are foolish about children, They don’t have to get all ugly and clumsy and ridiculous-looking. Of course, I did tell Jack that I wanted children. But I don’t want them right away. Later on, I’d like a boy and a girl, right together so they’ll be cute to dress.”
She paused, apparently admiring herself as an attractive young mother.
“Later on it may be harder for you to have children,” I remarked.
She dismissed that. She was the type who regards everything beyond tomorrow as being vaguely in the far distant future and not to be taken into consideration.
Both women annoyed me. They irritated me further by saying that they would pay any price “so long as it’s reasonable.” They seemed to regard the whole business in the light of pulling a disfiguring tooth. There also was the attitude that they were really doing me a favor by bringing the job to me.
“I can’t do anything about it,” I told them. “If your husband should find out about it he could send me to prison. Even with his consent, it would still be too dangerous. Later, you’ll want a child, and if you can’t have one you’ll blame me. You’re young and healthy and you have plenty of money. Your husband will love you even more if you have the child. So go home and forget about it.”
They burst into torrents of rage then, but I shooed them firmly out of my office and gasped with relief. They were the worst type of patient. In the first place, they would have made trouble all through the case, complaining about any pain and having to be pampered.
“I usually try to send the mother home,” a doctor told me later. “She’ll raise hell all the time she isn’t telling you what to do and how she had her children. Mothers make the worst possible nurses because they want to do whatever the patient asks instead of what is good for her. They’ll feed the girl the wrong things, refuse to make her exercise and spread the news around at the tops of their voices.”
Another danger is that patients of this type are babblers. Secure in their moneyed and social positions, they don’t give a damn what happens to the doctors. Afterward they are likely to regard all abortion in the light of an interesting tea-table conversation subject, along with nervous breakdowns and trips to Europe. They tell the whole thing, including the doctor’s name and address.
Such frivolous women may manage to keep the abortions secret from their husbands for a while, but when it’s all over they get careless. And when they can’t have children, the husbands blame the doctor and think he probably performed a sterilization operation in secret or did a bad job. There is something mysterious about an abortion to the lay mind, anyhow. I’ve heard people inquire if I actually cut out some of the organs. An abortion is simply what the name implies, a premature birth, before the woman is more than three months pregnant. After that it is more dangerous and comes under the term of miscarriage. But I have had girls come to my office and expect to go under ether and have ugly abdominal sears.
A successful abortion does not prevent a woman from having children later on. But some women are not very fertile and one pregnancy exhausts them. Or society women, such as Frances, may keep their vitality at low ebb by reducing diets or by high nervous strain and be unable to bear a child. Or they may ruin themselves by use of too strong contraceptives. And in all such cases the abortionist is blamed.
In Frances’ case, the fault lay in the lack of understanding between husband and wife. It may take some of the roses and moonlight and glamour out of young married life to discuss such things cold-bloodedly, and one woman told me that she grew to hate her. husband because he insisted on analyzing their emotions before and after the sex act, but there would be fewer husbands and wives drifting apart if they talked things over.
Frances probably lacked the courage to tell her fiance that she didn’t want children for several years. She may have been afraid that he would not marry her if he knew her true views. I don’t think she wanted children at all, but there are other wives who actually desire a family but want the first year or two of their marital companionship without the complications of a child.
A man came to me once for examination. “I want to know if there’s anything the matter with me,” he said. “I’ve been married two years, and we haven’t had any children. If I’m sterile, I should know it because it isn’t fair to my wife. She wants children.”
I suppressed a laugh. I knew that his wife used contraceptives regularly because she had come to me about them.
“Is she in a hurry for a child?” I asked.
“No. She’s very nice about the matter. But when we were married we both agreed that we wanted children. Of course, nothing definite was said about when, I thought we’d just let nature take its course.”
I told him there was nothing wrong with him and advised him to talk it over with his wife. I also told him to send her to me. She came in a few days later.
I didn’t bother about giving her an examination. She was a friend of mine, and I simply told her what her husband had said. She sighed.
“I didn’t know he was in a hurry about having a child. Of course I’m willing. I want children and I told Leslie so. But he never said anything definite about the matter and didn’t appear very eater to be a father, So I thought I’d enjoy being carefree as long as possible.”
“You see,” she went on, “I know husbands who talk about how fond they are of children, but then when their wives become pregnant, they are peeved because she doesn’t feel well and she can’t be gay and a good sport. And when the child comes, It’s the woman’s responsibility Even if the man is a good father, it’s the woman who has to take care of the child all day. I’m not going to be one of those women who complain about being tied down by a child. Leslie is tied down to a desk all day supporting me, and I ought to do my share.”
She grinned a little impishly. “I don’t take that too seriously, either,” she added. “Leslie was tied down to that desk before he met me. The only difference is now he has more responsibilities. But I didn’t see any point in adding to those responsibilities unless I thought he wanted them.”
I smiled at her. “You’re a smart woman, Jane. But be careful of being too smart and figuring things out too closely. There’s as much danger in making a slip in too close calculations based on human nature as there is in being too careless.”
“You’re telling me,” she replied. “I thought I was being smart in saving Leslie from the results of his vagueness, and here he is dashing around to doctors to find out if anything is wrong with him. But you see, Martin, when we were going together, Leslie was cursed by a desire to evade being definite about anything. He was the sort of man who telephoned and said he might call me later that night if he could get away. That kept me at home all evening waiting for his call, because I’d rather take a chance of being with him than go somewhere else and disappoint him if he did call. Or he’d say that he’d call me about the middle of the week and I’d stay at home Wednesday and Thursday nights. And he’d say, ‘I’ll come by between seven-thirty and eight-thirty,’ leaving me twiddling my fingers for an hour.”
I nodded. Such things often seem unimportant to the man who is busy until the time he goes to see a girl, but they may make or break the romance. I knew a girl who broke off a love affair because of such treatment.
“If he can’t make up his mind when he wants to see me when he’s courting me, what will he be like after we’re married when he feels that he can take me for granted?” She, had said.
But Jane was still talking. “And he had a beautiful habit of just dropping by in the morning to see me. He’d be out and around town on business. He’d find me looking like hell and busy. But he thought it nice to surprise me. Same way, sometimes he’d drive by at night or call at an hour when I had either decided to stay at home or had made other arrangements. I was so much in love that this seemed petty. But I decided that after marriage I would take things into my own hands a little more. So I did. Leslie was just as vague about having children.”
Shocking as it might seem to their mothers, who preferred to Vail the whole thing in reticence and look upon pregnancy either as an act of God or a cross to bear, most modern young women prefer to plan their romances, their marriages and their children. It’s only natural. Everything else about their lives is planned. This is especially true of businesswomen who marry. They want a certain number of children at a time when they can afford them and at a time when the birth does interfere with other important things.
Shortly after I turned down the case of the society bride, I did perform an abortion on a married woman.
A young couple came into the office. They were shabbily dressed but there was something clean and vital about them. They held hands shamelessly and came into my private office together.
The girl was slight with a mop of rumpled curl’s and big dark eyes. She was not really pretty but she had a vivid charm. The youth had a freshly-washed, boyish look that appealed to me.
They both started to talk at once, then looked at each other and were silent. Finally the boy acted as spokesman.
“I’m an artist,” he announced, “and my wife here is a writer. We’ve just been married about six months and we’re poor as church mice. We’ve got what are known as futures but very little present.”
I guessed immediately what they wanted but I let them go on. The boy, he was just that, introduced them. The girl’s name was vaguely familiar to me. She had sold some free-lance material to newspapers and to a few cheap magazines. I had read one of the stories. It was not smoothly written but it had life in it. The boy had painted pictures that were hung in good exhibits but thus far neither had had any financial success. But they were still hopeful. And now they had the chance of a life-time. A magazine had offered to sponsor them on a boat trip along several scenic rivers. The girl was to write the articles and the boy was to illustrate them. They had expended most of their capital on a boat, supplies and painting materials.
“It might be made into a book afterward,” the girl’s eyes were glowing. “But since we’re unknowns, we can’t get much of an advance. We got a little and spent that on the boat and our camping outfit. And then,” she flung out her hands, “then I had to go and get pregnant.”
“Can’t you go ahead with the tour?” I asked.
She gave me a sickly grin. “With me already having nausea in the mornings?” she asked. “I’m going to be the type that takes it hard. I’m so darned little in the first place and so excitable. We’d meant to go ahead and have the child and starve in a garret. And then along comes this opportunity. We’d written to the magazine about it and sent along sample sketches. And they’ve accepted and want us to start. It would all coincide neatly with baby’s arrival. I can’t bounce over mountain river rapids and sleep in a pup tent and eat when and what I can and work when I’m this way. And It’s our big chance. If we back out now, we’ll get a black eye with the magazine, especially since we’ve spent their advance. We’ve got about two weeks, but if we postpone it any longer, there’ll be another author available. To be frank, we’re about third choice with the editor, but we were selected because we were footloose at the right time.”
Here was a case where by a little lying I could have got the girl into a hospital and said that the abortion was necessary. As she said, she was in too delicate health to endure any hardships while pregnant. She needed the best of care. And they could not afford the best of care.
But hospitalization would also have been beyond their means. They told me frankly just how much money they could pay me.
“It isn’t what we can afford but what we have,” the man told me. “I don’t much like the idea of an abortion. But I don’t like the idea of taking Sally on a trip when she isn’t up to it nor do I like the idea of watching her work and suffer in a cheap lodging house because I can’t afford to buy her the proper food and take her somewhere where she could rest and have sunlight. Later on, when we can afford it, I’m all for having a lot of children.”
Sally was one of the most gallant patients I’ve ever had. She joked about the matter and made it into an adventure.
“I want children,” she told me in a more serious moment. “And I thought about this a lot before I came down here. I haven’t any scruples against abortions. Kent and I were just careless. I see nothing any worse about what I’m doing than in what we did the nights when I wasn’t caught. If we had even a little money, I’d never let poverty stop me from having this child. But it isn’t fair to either of us to let this happen now; not fair to me nor to Kent nor to the child. If we missed this job, it might be that we’d never have another one like it, although I think that sooner or later we’d crash into money because we work hard and we’ve got a little ability. But we’d always hold it against the child that we lost a big job because of it. And I couldn’t bear to have Kent think that I held him back when he got his first chance and he’d feel guilty about me. We’re young and we’ve got plenty of time for more children.”
The articles caught on immediately. I read every one of them. Sally had a blithe style of writing and Kent’s pictures were good. As they predicted, the articles were put into book form and had a good sale. Eighteen months later, Kent and Sally came into my office. At first I didn’t recognize them. They were deeply tanned, healthy looking and were well dressed, They no longer appeared hungry and haunted by poverty.
Sally handed me a book, autographed by both of them. It is one of my treasured possessions now.
“We intended to send it to you,” she said. “We were in the East when it came out. But we meant to come back here after a while and Kent said we’d bring it.”
Kent wanted to pay me some more money. I grinned.
“That’s the first time anyone has ever come back to make me another payment,” I told him. “Usually the return visits are to make complaints.”
“You cut your price for us,” he said. “I knew about what your lowest charge was when we came here. I was so thankful then that you left us a little grub-stake that I didn’t say anything.”
“That’s all right,” I told them. “A lot of doctors charge by the income of their patients.”
“Yeah,” he grinned. “But they usually charge more than $10 and a picture. The picture may be worth Something sometime, but you didn’t know it when you took it. Anyhow, our income is bigger now and I want to make it right.”
“I’ll just keep the picture and watch it increase in value,” I remarked.
As a matter of fact, later I was offered enough money for the picture to more than make up the difference between my usual price and what I had charged for the abortion. But I turned it down.
“In that case,” Sally said, “I want to engage you as my physician. I’m pregnant again.” Her eyes twinkled up at me. “It seems incurable in me. But this time I’m going through with it.”
I knew that they didn’t have much money even then. But they had the start they wanted. I felt pretty good about it. I’ll admit I was a little relieved when I learned that Sally meant to have a child. Irresponsibility can become a habit. There is an old saying that when a woman has one abortion she will have two more. And there’s a reason for it. If the first operation is comparatively painless and inexpensive, the woman may grow careless. Always in the back of her mind is the thought that she can afford to take a risk. There’s an easy way out for her. That is the type of patient I try to discourage.
Pearl had long ago recovered from her operation. She moved to another city, but Norma remained behind, and I continued to see her. Pearl’s lover had had his headquarters. transferred, and she could be with him more. Two or three months after her departure, Norma telephoned.
“Come over and Say goodbye to me,” she said.
I was shocked. I’d gotten into the habit of dropping in to see Norma two or three nights a week. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
Pearl has arranged a better job for me in her city.”
I hurried right over.
“I had a job here I was hoping that you’d take,” I told her as soon as I got in the door. “I know a doctor who needs an able assistant.”
She stared at me. “But I don’t know anything about medicine.” “You know a lot about this doctor,” I said. “It might mean a cut in pay, but I wish you’d stay and marry me.” She smiled. “You’ve hired a wife.” Later she told me that she had planned to jolt me into a proposal. “If it didn’t work, I’d have gone, of course,” she told me frankly. “Because I didn’t want to stay here any longer if I wasn’t married to you. But I hoped you’d take the hint.”
She looked at me anxiously “Are you sure this isn’t just a rebound from Rose?” She asked.
“No. Rose was a rebound from life. She was my calf-love affair and my revolt against the realities, all rolled into one. This is the real thing. I had to get over my rose-tinted spectacles stage. It may be unfair to you. This hasn’t been a glamorous courtship, by any means.”
She laughed. “We’re spared that re-adjustment, at least.”
And we were. We started with no illusions about each other. She knew all about my profession. I knew that she had had to face some harsh things. Our love was based on the solid foundation of friendship. We had simply become necessary to each other.
I’m not against glamour and romance. Every girl feels that she has a right to a romantic courtship. But glamour is also frequently a trick of nature to lure a girl into fulfilling her biological duties, and sometimes it backfires.
A Young girl came into my office late one afternoon.
“What’s the matter with you?” I asked.
“Too much moonlight and light fiction,” she replied. She was about 18, but she looked older and more sophisticated. Nowadays young girls dress and act as if they knew everything, and men are not always to be blamed if they take them at their face value.
Patricia, as I shall call her, told me her story with a sort of ironical amusement, the attitude of the newly-made cynic.
“I’d feel better if I’d been soused to the gills, Then I could have waved my hands and said that the cad took advantage of me when I was too drunk to know what I was doing.”
But she had been intoxicated on something headier and more dangerous than whiskey. She’d been drunk on the idea of glamour.
She was a debutante in a small city, Popular with boys she’d known since childhood. Pretty and clever in a superficial way, she imitated the mannerisms of her favorite movie stars and mouthed risque flippancies with only a vague idea what they meant.
Boys had tried to “paw” her, and she was a little intoxicated with her power over them. She easily evaded their advances, although she said she’d done a good deal of wrestling.
“Sometimes I wanted to go ahead,” she told me frankly. “But I was always glad I hadn’t when I got home.”
With three other girls, Patricia went to a resort to spend a week. They had a cabin and no chaperon. Chaperons are out-dated today. Anyhow, the girls were all grown and parents had become careless.
All the girls had vague hopes of meeting someone “really exciting” at the resort. They were tired, they said, of the youths they had been going with. There was no thrill in dating boys they’d known from childhood, boys with only a little pocket money and their fathers’ cars.
Unfortunately for Patricia, she met an “exciting new man” at a hotel dance. The girls’ cabin was close to a resort, and they went over without escorts.
It was fun, Patricia thought, to dance with a stranger. She’d been rushed by strange youths at college dances, although the man introduced himself or was brought up by a friend. This man only gave his first name and preserved a glamorous mystery about himself. He was well dressed, handsome and danced well. Patricia fell for him at once.
Girls of that age have an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate all their emotions. Patricia decided she had a violent crush on the man. She went driving with him and he kissed her.
“I’d been kissed before,” she,related. “But never like that. The boys I’d been going around with were pretty amateurish. I didn’t have sense enough to know that this was just good technique. I thought that it was the real thing.” She laughed a little. “Don’t think I’m so dumb. Men are mighty egotistical about the way they kiss or hug a girl, but a lot of them have the idea that the thing to do is break a girl’s neck or crush her ribs and then aim in the general direction of her mouth, This man was different. I wasn’t such an idiot as I sound in falling for him.”
She talked a good deal about it. I let her ramble on. It was for her nerves and I want to have all the details I can before I do anything about these cases. Success as an abortionist depends on a lot of things, and skillful handling of the patient is necessary to save my own neck. I must learn everything I can before I commit myself.
“When I was little,” Patricia went on, twisting her hands nervously, “I used to worry a lot about how I’d feel when I was converted to the Church. I thought there’d be a great blinding light of some kind. I thought falling in love would be about the same thing. Well, I saw the light all right. Or rather I felt as if I’d been shocked by a big volt of electricity.
She sat there, a pert, lipsticked young girl with frightened eyes. Her hair was smoothly coiffed. She was expensively dressed. But her manicured fingers twisted constantly with a handkerchief, wadding it and then unfolding it. The red lips trembled as she talked.
The money expended on her personal appearance, exclusive of the casual jewelry she wore, must have been at least a hundred dollars. Her parents had provided her with a good home. They spent money lavishly on her. Yet they had neglected to prepare her for life. Sex to her meant dates, dancing, light flirtation’s and finally marriage to the “right man” to be picked by heaven-sent inspiration. No one had ever told her to beware of passion, no one had ever told her that her own emotions were unreliable, that she carried within her enough dynamite to ruin her life. The thing that constantly amazes me about such gals is not that they get into trouble but that they do not get into more trouble.
“It seemed just like something in a story,” the girl went on. “Meeting a good-looking stranger and falling in love right away. I thought about how I’d gloat over the girls. It was just like a movie.”
She had been unresisting in the hands of an experienced man. The sex act had been disappointing. She was a little frightened and yet a little thrilled at the emotion of the man. She was so sure before that this was love that she was almost incredibly reckless. He didn’t even tell her his entire name until after her seduction. He simply touched a match to all the stored-up longing for romance and passion in her 18-year old body. I never laugh at jokes about girls who don’t find out the real names of their lovers beforehand.
Patricia had agreed to go to a little cabin he said he had. It all seemed thrilling. She had visions of herself, a gingham apron tied over her evening dress, cooking his breakfast. It was in line with all the silly ‘stories she’d read or seen portrayed on the screen in which the ‘heroine takes refuge in the hero’s cabin and he nobly surrenders his bed and sleeps on the couch.
This, she thought, was adventure, romance. This was heaven.
She spent a week end with him. It was a puzzling week end, but her faith in her lover persisted until he dumped her back at the resort and said he hoped that he’d see her again sometime. Then the whole thing burst upon her full force. She’d deliberately avoided asking about several things that seemed strange and had reassured herself by thinking of his love-making.
In a daze, she murmured some sort of excuse, telling her friends that she had been swept off to a house party and there’d been no telephone or telegraph facilities. Fortunately they hadn’t notified her parents of her absence. She had meant to surprise them with news of her whirlwind courtship and romantic marriage.
She went home and tried to conceal her feelings. She was badly hit. She had fallen in love head over heels, and the disillusionment was bitter.
She felt that she had somehow been lacking; that if she had been prettier or more interesting or more passionate she would have held the stranger and he would have married her. She was especially worried about her lack of passion.
“He kept telling me that I was a sweet child and lovable,” she said. “But I didn’t want to be a sweet child. I wanted to be a woman.”
Then one day she picked up a paper and saw the picture of her lover. He was a notorious gangster. He had been hiding out at the resort. Most criminal’s are careful about the women they pick up. They’ve known of too many comrades betrayed, either intentionally or unconsciously, by a girl outside the racket. Their women have to be in the know. They must be able to keep their mouths shut when questioned by the police; they must know who is safe and who isn’t. But some of them forget — as newspaper headlines and pictures of “the woman in the case” show.
Patricia’s hero, however, was notorious for similar episodes. He could not resist a pretty face, and he preferred “nice girls.” He had left a trail of brief romances all through the Middle West. He was handsome, usually had plenty of money, was a liberal spender and appeared to be a wealthy young businessman on vacation.
He was, of course, a scoundrel, and his sexual crimes were worse than his robberies. But then a lot of factors contributed to Patricia’s private tragedy. One is that conventions have relaxed so that introductions are no longer necessary and young girls know little or nothing about the men they meet at parties and dances. Another is that while mother’s may warn their daughters vaguely against strangers, there has grown up a romantic tradition of the fascinating stranger. He is encountered in parks, taxis, at the theater, at parties, in lonely mountain cabins, on yachts, and, he is always at the scene of any accident. In fiction, he is invariably chivalrous and proposes after the first kiss, In real life, he’s a risky subject.
Patricia had not told her mother when she missed menstruation and decided she was pregnant.
“I can’t,” she said. “I’ll do anything before I’ll tell her. She thinks I’m such a nice, sweet girl, and it would break her heart. If I can keep her from finding this out, I will be a nice girl. I’ve learned my lesson. But she’d never get over it. She’d tell me that she’d rather see me dread. And she’d blame herself for letting me go on an unchaperoned house party. She’d always be suspicious of me afterward, She’d want to keep me under lock and key, and she’d be asking questions all the time about my friend’s. Father would have to be told and he’d say that I’ve brought disgrace on the family.”
She was crying now. I remembered the young girl who’d come to me when I first started to practice and how she’d killed herself. Here was my chance to wipe out that old feeling of guilt.
“There, there,” I said soothingly. “It’s all right. Your parents won’t need to know anything about it.” “I’ve got money,” she sobbed. “I’ve got $200. It’s my Christmas and birthday money. And I can sell my pearls.”
“You won’t need much money,” I soothed her. “But you’ll have to manage to be away from home for a few days. Can you do that?”
She nodded. Then she began to cry again.
“I’m all right. I’m just relieved. It’s been so awful, not daring to say anything. I worried all the time even before I knew I was overdue. And then I’d dream I was all right and wake up believing it.”
“I know,” I told her. Such dreams are common to pregnant women, just as women who are worried about themselves may dream of pregnancy.
I’ve heard women going into orgies of self-pity over their tragic lives when there’s been sickness in the family, financial distress and even death. And I always think of that gallant, tragic army of young women who march into my office on leaden feet. There’s a vast difference between trouble that can be shared, and trouble that must be kept secret.
The real tragedies are the young Patricias, who must pretend to be gay and guard carefully against any betrayal of their worries. Patricia had to stand alone. She had not even dared to go to her family doctor. She had got my name by accidentally hearing a conversation in which a girl said that I’d arranged an abortion for a friend ”
She had been afraid that her doctor would tell her parents. Of course, he would have kept the secret. But it is usually less embarrassing to go to strangers with humiliating confessions. Every time she saw her doctor thereafter, she would be reminded of her sordid episode.
It would have been safer for me had I insisted that Patricia tell the story to her parents and obtain their permission for the abortion. Her father was prominent in the town. If anything happened to Patricia, he would raise hell and might charge me with anything from murder to being the father of the unborn child. Patricia’s story, sounded a little fishy, which made me trust her. Stories that are too pat probably have been framed. The unexpected usually happens in sex.
Patricia was sure that her parents would object to an abortion.
“They wouldn’t do anything but make my life miserable,” she explained. “They’d call me a murderer and they’d make me have the child and then put it in an orphanage. An abortion doesn’t seem any worse than that. And they wouldn’t believe my story. They’d think I was shielding someone, and they’d talk day and night trying to get me to name the man. They’re old. They don’t understand how I wanted excitement and how tired I got of the nice boys who brought me home at 10 o’clock. But believe me, I’ll appreciate the nice boys from now on.”
I didn’t tell her what her parents would do to me if they found out. She was going to keep her mouth shut. And it would have frightened her needlessly. However, I’ve seen some “helping hands” get slapped.
A friend of mine helped his niece by marriage to get an abortion. She was an adopted child, and the family was puritanical. So the girl went to him, and he gave her the money and brought her to me. Her lover was a worthless scamp who went away at the first news of trouble.
Several years later she died. In her possession, were papers that revealed the story, but fortunately, not my name. However, her uncle’s connection was shown.
There was a great uproar. The abortion had nothing to do with the girl’s death. But her relatives professed to believe that it had “ruined” her. Furthermore, they declared the uncle must have been the man in the case. Otherwise, why did the girl go to him instead of her parents and why did he help her in secrecy?
He told his story, but they did not believe him. He had no right, they said, to take so much responsibility. His wife left him. The name of the poor, dead girl was bandied about by the people who had talked so loudly of their love for her.
“Everything I ever did with or for her was raked up wrong interpretation given it,” he told me. “I loaned her my car occasionally. She used it for dates. She may have told her folks that she was out with me. I don’t know. She was of age and I figured she knew what she was doing. She would have gone ahead with her affairs anyhow. And now, because she came to me when she was in trouble, they’re trying to make me out an absolute scoundrel.”
“I’d give her a drink once in a while,” he went on. “She couldn’t drink at home. And I gave her cigarettes. That’s dragged out now to show that I had a tremendous affair with this girl. I gave her the money for the abortion because she didn’t have any and she needed it at once and she couldn’t think of anyone else to go to. She knew that I had a good income and could get it for her without much trouble. And she knew I’d keep my mouth shut about it. She said she’d pay me back but she never got enough money together, and she knew I didn’t need it badly.”
“Calm down,” I told him. “I could tell the way you behaved when you brought her to me that you weren’t responsible for it. You were worried about the girl and you were fond of her, but I could see that you weren’t guilty, and you never tried to defend yourself then.”
I thought of this case and what happened to my friend when I agreed that it was best that Patricia not tell her parents. I’m not saying that it was best. As it happened, it did turn out all right. Patricia arranged a “trip,” and instead went to a discreet apartment hotel where she could have seclusion and be treated for colitis.
Naturally she was nervous as the dickens and I let her blow off to me. She had a nurse, but she liked to talk to me. While she was firm in her decision not to tell her mother, she fretted about it and conducted debates with herself.
“Mother is fine,” she said, “but she worries me so with questions about little things. Usually it’s something I don’t mind telling her. But she tries to worm it out of me in a tactful fashion and I can see through her little tricks and that annoys me. She’ll try to find out what time I came home. Instead of asking me a direct question, she beats around the bush. She doesn’t know I’ve ever had a cocktail and she disapproves of my smoking. And she talks about my boy friends in such a silly, areh way that it keeps me from being honest about my dates.”
“I know,” I said. “All mothers and daughters — or most of them — go through the same stage. The mother can’t become adjusted to the idea that her daughter has a right to private thoughts and a private life.”
Sometimes I’ve thought it would be a good thing if mothers could hear some of the things their daughter’s tell me — and I get the cases where the mothers apparently have made a failure of their job. I told Patricia that.
“I don’t think it would do any good,” she replied, “It might change mother in the long run. But she’d be hurt at first because I didn’t talk to her instead of a doctor. I can’t treat mother like a human being. She’s always reminding me that she’s my mother, and so I must give everything she says special consideration. For instance, if I do something silly, just a little harmless thing, I can’t tell mother about it and laugh. She will give me a lecture from a sense of duty. Even if I know I made a fool of myself and admit it, she’s still got to go motherly on me.”
If mother’s could only learn to graduate their supervision through the teens and concentrate on the bigger things, I’d lose a lot of my business but I’d be thankful to do it. But they are so accustomed to commanding their children’s lives, from what time they go to bed and get up to what they eat and wear and think, that they can’t get used to the idea that their children now have minds of their own and that these minds must be respected.
Patricia’s mother was fairly typical of a certain class of well-to-do women. Of course, Patricia’s case was unusual in that she met an utter rotter. But she might have received virtually the same treatment at the hands of a jaded businessman on vacation at a resort and a little plastered. Or she might have been knocked up by a reckless school boy who would be too frightened to be of any help. Such lads get panicky, try to evade the blame and in so doing spread the story and do the girl more harm. They rush to their parents, deny everything and the story is circulated that way.
Patricia’s mother lost her daughter’s confidence because she failed to give the girl the same friendliness and tolerance that she would give some one not a relative. She expected perfection from her daughter, and even the most modest mothers seem to think that this perfection can be attained by implicit obedience. Maternal orders usually are so vague or so contradictory that the daughter finally ignores them altogether and begins a series of minor deceptions which can never be ended because confession of one of them would cause the mothers to become suspicious or to discover the others.
“Mother is always telling me to be like Mary Warren, and she’s a pill.” Patricia said. “She never gets to go anywhere. Or she tells me to be like some girl who plays up to the chaperons and gets away with murder on the sly. She never gives me any practical advice. She just tells me to be a nice girl and to associate only with nice boys and girls and gives me a lot of platitudes. She told me once that I shouldn’t let boys kiss me. But all the girls pet a little, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t go anywhere.”
“She never told me anything about –” Patricia stopped rather than use any words for sexual intercourse. “She always says that she’ll tell me more about thing’s at the proper time. I suppose she means when I marry. She just says for me not to do anything bad. But this didn’t seem bad when I did it. I couldn’t help It. Or I thought I couldn’t. I got all dizzy when Darrell started kissing me, and then I was weak and burning all over.”
It sounds almost unbelievable that there could be girls as innocent as Patricia in the world today. But there are. Some of the girls who tell risque jokes so glibly are almost as ignorant of the volcanic properties of sex.
Patricia went home a sadder and wiser girl. As far as I know, she never told her mother about her experience. Later she married a young bank clerk whose chief characteristic seemed to be placidity. She had lost her taste for excitement and wanted the prosaic.
A mother I consider far above the average in intelligence told me that she had been criticized by her neighbors for bringing the confessions magazines home and allowing her daughter’s to read them.
“The literary standard may not be high and the stories may be written by staff members,” she remarked. “I don’t mind that. We have plenty of good books in the house to offset any lowering of literary standards. I told my girls the facts of life as early as I thought they would understand them. I was criticized for that, too, because the neighboring mothers were still favoring the stork theory and the doctor’s black bag, and they were peeved because my children explained the processes of nature to their youngsters. But I never saw any reason for lying to children if I could keep from it.
“I’ve had mothers say they didn’t wish their children to read the newspapers because they were so full of scandal. It’s my experience that adolescents don’t read the newspapers enough. I encourage that. I may be robbing my children of the bloom of innocence, but when my oldest boy has a hangover he tell’s me so with a sheepish look and I fix him a pick-up and he doesn’t need a lecture. I know he’s going to do a little drinking and I want to know what he drinks and see that he doesn’t make too big a fool of himself. I won’t find out if I try the heavy mother act. I let him give beer parties at the house and I don’t sit around telling the boys how nice it is that they come and how I want to know all Jimmy’s little friends. That went out after his 10th birthday. I tell them that the house is theirs, but not to break any furniture. I encouraged Jimmy to start dating when he was young because I figured he’d be safer with a nice girl than he would be hanging around pool halls or running the streets with a gang of sensation- hunting boys. I had his father give him a lecture on diseases and dangers of picking-up girls, too, with no mincing of words about it.
“I told my girls the same thing. I don’t want them to think that sex is a sordid matter, but I do want them to be able to distinguish between cheap thrills and genuine affection when it comes. I don’t want my girls to be manhandled and overkissed. But I want them to do enough kissing that they won’t be swept off their feet the first time anyone puts any enthusiasm in the embrace. I gossip with them, too, for that’s an easy way of putting in my opinions without a formal lecture on the style of ‘Now mother wants to tell her little girls something.’ It’s just as foolish to let a teen-age girl remain ignorant of the dangers of sex as it is to let her go motoring without warning her of the dangers of drunken driving.”
“How is it working out?” I asked.
“Fine,” she said. “I have to catch myself from relating to neighbor mothers some facts about their dear, pure daughters that my girls have told me. They’re still trying to keep that virgin bloom on the theory that the girls will be more attractive brides in the marriage market. But if my prospective sons-in-law are going to be frightened away because my daughters know the detail’s of their anatomy and the difference between a marriage proposal and a proposition, they can remain away. They’ll find out all the facts sooner or later and I’d prefer that they find out from me. That way, I know they’ll learn the truth and not a distorted version from some girl friend. It’s easier for them to hear it from me, and they won’t be afraid of shocking me with confidences. I want them to talk easily to me. If ever any of them need your services, doctor,” she concluded with a smile, “I’ll be right along. But I don’t think they will.”
And they haven’t either. If more mothers were like Mrs. X, the world would be a better place for everyone except abortionists. Some of the young girls who come to me have been warned sufficiently about the dangers of sex but in such garbled fashion that they received no practical information and sex held a morbid fascination for them. Some of them were frightened to death after they had their first sex experience. But when nothing happened, they recovered from their scare. They were excited over their initiation into womanhood and they went to extremes. Their mothers had tried to control them by fright rather than reason. When fright left, there was no longer any deterrent.
“I try to make chastity something besides just a word to my daughters,” Mrs. X said. “There are so many jokes about chastity and the scarcity of virgins that the mere terms are not enough to do any good. Common sense and good taste must be added.
“I tell them that they’re pretty girls and a lot of men are going to want them. But they must have a yardstick to measure the men and they must think of the future. You can’t expect girls to do much reasoning when a man is making love to them. But if you can get them to ask themselves if they would want to marry this man, you have a foundation for good behavior. If he’s attractive enough to be considered seriously as a husband, then the girl should not risk losing marriage by an affair. If he’s not husband-material, he’s not good enough to be taken as a casual lover. My girls must learn to make their own decisions, but they must have something on which to base their judgment. Just telling them to go around with nice men and to behave isn’t enough.”
She is right. Some of the mothers who come weeping into my office wondering why their daughters failed to follow their advice were always careful to tell their girls to be “nice.”
Even when confronted with evidence of their failures, many such mothers resent any insinuation that they did not follow the wisest course. They have the excuse of the weakling, “I did the best I could.” The favorite alibi is, “My children won’t listen to me any more,” These mothers never pause to wonder why their children won’t listen to them.
Patricia’s mother undoubtedly would have wrung her hands and justified herself by saying, “But how could I know that Pat would meet a horrible gangster?”
How could she know Pat wouldn’t meet a gangster? She knew there were such things. Pat might have received worse treatment. At least, she didn’t get a disease. How could she know her glamour- seeking daughter might not meet a blackmailer who would drug her and photograph her nude in an obscene pose? Girls of some of the best families have been treated in such fashion. How could she know that her daughter wouldn’t meet some diseased and reckless youth who thought it smart to give a girl a dose or to knock her up! How could she know that Pat might not meet some man with emotions so jaded that his ardor could only be aroused by fresh young purity or a pervert seeking new converts? How could she be so blindly optimistic as to think that a young girl guided only by platitudes would reach the altar without a single misstep along the way?
All my cases do not have happy endings. A young country girl was brought to me by her father. She was a rather attractive girl, but sensitive about her “country” look. She had gone to a town high-school and had been embarrassed by her sunburned skin, her work-roughened hands, her faded and old-fashioned dresses. She had no mother, and she had to work hard. Her father was a prosperous farmer, but it never occurred to him to hire a girl to do the housework while his daughter went to school.
As a consequence, his daughter was always a little harassed by the conflict between her housework, her studying and her school days. She had little time to devote to her personal appearance, even if she had possessed money and taste to buy clothes. I tell this because it was important from the standpoint of what happened to her.
Small town’s are more snobbish than cities, because lines are more sharply visible. The daughters of the town’s leading families sneered at Kate. And most of the other girls toadied to them. So she was deprived of the normal girl companionship of high-school. She had no chum with whom to discuss her crushes, and, anyhow, she had no time for walking arm in arm around the town after school, going to basketball and football games, having sodas in the drug store.
This lack of time would seem to prevent her from getting into trouble. But, instead, it had the opposite effect. She was So hungry for any sort of companionship that she proved a “pushover” for the small-town toughs. The high-school boys did not think it necessary to treat a “green country girl” with any respect or to ask her on regular dates and parties. One of the boys took her home one night from a play and “made” her. She was flattered because he came from a “good” family, and she was too dumb to realize that he was treating her like an unpaid prostitute. He had several similar “dates” with her, usually leaving her immediately after — sometimes making her walk home. Presently she learned that she was pregnant.
Her father found her weeping one day and forced her to tell him the story. She concealed the name of the boy from him and she refused to tell me. I gathered, however, from talking to her that she had been with several boys. I think she knew which one of them was to blame, but he had apparently threatened her with something, and so she protected him. Probably he used the old trick of telling her that he would deny everything and that he would prove she had gone with other boys.
She maintained a sullen, frightened silence most of the time she was in my office. Her father wanted me to get the man’s name from her so that he could either horsewhip him or force him to marry Kate.
“He won’t marry me, papa,” the girl said. “I told you that. Ain’t no use trying.”
The girl was diseased, too, and I refused to risk an abortion.
“I can cure the disease,” I told her father. “Then perhaps you can send her away somewhere to have the child.”
He grunted, and they left. Several days later I heard that the girl had hanged herself from a rafter in the barn loft. Maybe it was for the best. Life would have been a pretty dismal business if she had had to remain in the same community. Fundamentally she was a decent girl. She had simply been the victim of cheap small-town toughs and a social system. Probably she was wise in not telling her father the names of her lovers — although that is a strange word to use in such a case. The boy to blame might have been frightened into a shotgun marriage. But if he were under age, the marriage could be annulled by his parents. There would be an ugly quarrel in which the girl’s name would be drugged deeper into the filth and the whole incident made unforgettable.
I saw that happen in another small-town case. The boy, a son of the local banker, was called “wild,” but I have a more blunt term for youths of his type. He was spoiled by too much money, too much prestige. For several years there were rumors of how he had tried to assault various girls, but they were kept quiet for fear of parental wrath. The banker could make things financially embarrassing for a great many people. The boy behaved himself fairly well around girls of his own set.
Then he seduced the daughter of a widow. “Seduced” is the proper term, for I believe he led her to believe that he meant to marry her. Perhaps he didn’t say so in so many words, but he told her that he loved her, and to her 16-year-old mind that meant marriage.
He bragged to all the town youth of his conquest of a virgin. Some of the other boys tried to follow in his footsteps, but had no luck. Then the girl became Pregnant. She went to the boy and asked that their marriage be hurried. He took the refuge of such sexual cowards. He said that he was not to blame, refused to believe that she had been faithful to him and even that she had been a virgin.
She was a delicate little thing with an Irish beauty, smoky gray eyes, black curls and a fair skin with a few freckles scattered over her nose. Ordinarily she was shy, but desperation lent her new courage. She tried to see the boy’s mother. She failed, but the boy heard of it and got the wind up, He went to his father and told him that the girl was trying to force him into marriage. He painted the girl as a fortune hunter, knowing this the most powerful appeal to his money-mad parent.
The banker was enthusiastic about his Son’s plan of getting other boys to swear that they, too, had intercourse with the girl, Bessie, and that she had not been a virgin at the time. Then the father went to Bessie’s mother and accused her of trying to marry her daughter to his son. This was the first the amazed woman had beard of the whole thing. She knew Bessie had been dating the banker’s son, but she thought it just a boy and girl friendship.
For once, a mother remained loyal. Usually it seems to me that those whose love and faith should be bulwarks for our younger generation are the first to believe any rumors about their beloved offspring. I’ve had girls fell me that their mothers accused them of immorality if they stayed out late at night, and refused to believe their explanation of tardiness. Some of these girls eventually decided that they might as well play the game if they were to get the blame.
But Bessie’s mother, Mrs. G, refused to believe the banker’s lurid tale of how Bessie had been playing fast and loose with the town boys and was now trying to fasten the blame on his innocent son. Part of her loyalty may have sprung from the banker’s misstep in including her in the accusation. He blamed her for plotting the whole business and using her daughter as a willing tool.
Mrs. G. also refused to believe that her daughter had been intimate with any boy other than the banker’s son. Bessie told her the whole thing, and she upheld her daughter. The town was in an uproar. The widow and her daughter were requested to leave. A friend of Mrs. G’s brought her to me.
“I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry a boy like that, even if he were willing,” she said. “What kind of a life could she lead with him after this? And I certainly don’t want her to have a child by him. He isn’t fit to be a father. I don’t want any of his money, and I don’t want my daughter to have a child that would be supported by such horrible people. I’m going to leave the town and I want to get rid of the child. But X isn’t going to get off by paying me a little money.”
In the general uproar, some of the boys revealed — in youthful boasts — how they had lied about Bessie and how young X had bragged that Bessie was a virgin. The banker soon saw that he had stirred up a hornet’s nest. The whole story came out, and was whispered throughout the community. The banker’s enemies took delight in spreading it. Finally he tried to buy off the widow. She refused any of his money, even enough to pay for the abortion. The banker’s son was shipped off to a military academy.
The girl got her abortion. I saw to that. There was no time for arguing over who was to pay for it and who wasn’t. I admired the widow’s spunk in refusing the money that, according to any code, her daughter was entitled to. It was her best way of refuting charges that she was trying to gold-dig or blackmail the banker. She had to leave the town, of course, for the girl’s sake. But she was not entirely unavenged.
I don’t mean to paint all small towns as dens of iniquity where a poor girl is never safe. If I exaggerate, it is simply that I hear few tales of sweetness and light in my office.
Shortly after the case of Mrs. G, I got exactly the opposite. A designing mother accused the son of a prominent man of seducing her daughter. The son denied it, and the father believed him. They forced the girl to have an examination, which proved that she was a virgin.
In my business, you soon learn that truth about sex is stranger than fiction. A prosecuting attorney told me of a 10-year- old girl who came into his office with her mother. The child’s parents were divorced and she divided her time between them.
The father lived on a farm. The girl didn’t like it, and she wrote her mother making accusations of incest against her father. The mother rushed to her, and then went to the prosecutor to file charges against her former husband and to obtain complete custody of the child.
“The kid acted mighty funny,” the attorney told me. “I could see that she didn’t like to live in the country. She was used to town, where she could go to movies and have plenty of playmates. So I had the county physician examine her. Sure enough, he found no signs that she’d been ravished. The kid then admitted that she’d made the whole story up so that she could go back to her mother. I told the mother that she’d better drop the charges and work out some friendly agreement with her ex-husband.
He sighed. “Attorneys and doctors hear some queer things” he said philosophically.
He was right. When people ask the secret of my marital happiness I say that I see enough tragedy in my office and I learned my lessons without any experiments at home.
A colleague of mine told me about a prominent woman who was trying to divorce her husband. She told all her friends he was impotent. Just as they succeeded in agreeing on a friendly charge, she became pregnant.
I don’t know how she managed her divorce, but it probably was an embarrassing situation. My colleague laughed heartily. I didn’t. For a somewhat similar case was brought to me.
“I’m planning to divorce my husband,” the woman, whom I shall call Janet said. “I’m going to marry another man. And now to throw a monkey wrench into the works, I am pregnant.”
“Well,” I told her, “if you’re planning to marry the man, go ahead and have the child. You can get the divorce in Reno in plenty of time. It may be a bit embarrassing, but that’s one of the risks you took. You and your lover will just have to face the music.”
“You don’t understand,” she said. “My husband is the father of the child.”
With difficulty I restrained a grin. “That does make it a problem.”
“I can’t go through with it,” she explained desperately. “You see, it’s like this. I’m divorcing my husband because of infidelity. We’ve been married about five years and I see there’s no hope of changing his ways. He’s fond of me but he can’t resist women — and they can’t resist him. I don’t think these affairs mean much to him — but they mean a lot to me.”
Janet paused for a few moments, searching for words. I waited. You can’t just walk into a doctor’s office — unless he’s an out- and-out quack — and demand an abortion. All these confessions may sound a bit queer, but if a doctor has any standing at all, he has to be convinced that for the sake of humanity this case is worth taking a risk.
“I stood it as long as I could,” she said. “Finally I was forced to realize that such a marriage would drive me crazy. I like security. I want to be respectable. Don made me feel casual, unimportant. I was his wife, but there was nothing that we had that he didn’t share with any woman of uneasy virtue. It was killing my love and my self respect. I was tormented by jealousy at first, and then I found myself becoming a little resigned. But I never knew when he’d meet some woman who’d make a fuss. One or two of his flames did come to me and demand that I give Don up to them. Don was horrified at that. He liked being married to me — because it gave him plenty of freedom. But I hate scenes.”
“And then,” Janet went on. “I met Andy. I admit I poured it on a little about being the misunderstood wife. Andy was sympathetic, and we fell in love with each other. With Andy I could have everything I want, security, comfort. I could be an actual wife. He is steady-going and he has high ideals. If I lose Andy, I’ll probably try the dismal experiment of becoming a philandering wife. I’m not cut out for that sort of thing and I’d make a mess of it.”
“I know,” I told her. I’d ‘seen plenty of women driven to extramarital affairs by unfaithful husbands. Frequently it wrecks their marriages because the husbands never feel that anything they have done justifies the same action in their wives.
“Andy and I agreed that I should get a divorce,” Janet continued. “I put off telling Don about it. I know Andy won’t understand that. He’s a matter-of-fact person who makes a decision and sticks to it. And he couldn’t understand how I could still be fond of Don and hate to hurt him, even if he has hurt me a lot in the past. Finally I just left the traditional note on the pin cushion and departed.”
“And then?” I asked.
“And then I discover I’m pregnant.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve got to do something about it, and I didn’t want to try any crude things that might keep me from bearing Andy’s children. It’s so early that it should be simple. But you can see my position. I could never make Andy understand that after I had agreed to a divorce I would take my husband as a lover. I’ve thought of all the possible reasons and none of them would be credible to Andy. He’d feel that I didn’t really love him — and I do. He’d think it my duty to stay with Don if I loved him enough to go to bed with him, and he’d think me utterly a hussy if I told him I didn’t want to live with Don any more.”
“And why did you do it?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Janet flung her hands up. “Why do we do anything? Why did I marry Don when I knew pretty well what he was then? I did it because he was so attractive to me that I felt I’d rather risk a little unhappiness than lose him entirely. And oddly enough I’m still a little fond of him. We’ve lived together five years. It’s hard to wipe all of that out. To be honest,” she turned and faced me, “I think it was more or less force of habit. He came into my room late at night when I was asleep, and the next thing I knew he was making love to me. That was always Don’s way of starting a reconciliation after he’d been unfaithful. And I had submitted to him before when I was angry or sad, and, anyhow, there wasn’t time to think. I suppose I could have made a scene and told Don I meant to divorce him. But the fact remains that I didn’t.
“Maybe there was a little sentimentalism about it, too. A desire to have one pleasant night with Don before our life was closed entirely. Anyhow, he stayed the rest of the night with me, and I didn’t use any preventives. And, of all the nights, it had to be that one on which I was caught. I once wanted a child thinking it would help me hold Don. Later, I decided it would be bad because Don didn’t care for children; he would assuredly be unfaithful while I was pregnant and I would hate that and the child would make me even more helpless. Now, just as I had put an end to the whole dismal mess, this had to happen.”
“Don’t you think you ought to tell Andy the truth?” I asked.
“What is the truth?” Janet asked. “That I, being still a wife in name, did not refuse my husband? I can’t ask Andy to marry me when I’m carrying Don’s child. It would be an impossible situation. If the child already were born, it would be different. He might not object to a two or three-year-old child, although Andy is great on doing his duty and there would be difficulty about the custody of the child. But I couldn’t go to him like this. There would be jokes — he’d be suspected of being the father, of course. It might seriously hurt, his business career if there was scandal.”
“Can’t you blame it on Andy?” I asked.
She shook her head. “He’s too honorable. We haven’t been lovers, and he won’t take me until we’re married. I know; I’ve offered myself to him.
“He isn’t as much of a prig as I’ve made him out to be. Just as I suppose I’ve given Don a little too much of the worst of it in talking to Andy. A woman probably would understand how I automatically let my husband make passionate love to me when I was half-asleep. And she could understand how, even when I had decided it was impossible for me to live with Don any longer, I could have a sort of affection for him, a remembrance of our honeymoon days and early married life and the fun we have had together, that would make it pleasant, even more pleasant when I thought that it would be our last time together.”
“I know,” I said. “Over-compensation. You find it in men and women who are being unfaithful or have decided to separate. The guilty person feels that he or she has taken something important away from the other mate and by way of compensation lavishes tenderness on them.”
She nodded. “But Andy’s never been married, and I’m afraid he’s never had any really passionate love affairs. I say I’m afraid, because I’ll probably make a lot of little slips, such as calling him Don or talking about Don without rancor. But he’s what I want, and he’s what I need. I’m not going to let Don or Don’s unexpected child cheat me out of it.”
Here was a neat problem. She could have gone back to Don. She had not committed adultery, and she said Don would take her back, although he did not seem greatly upset over. her desertion.
“He fancies I’ll come back of my own free will if he lets me alone,” she said. “And he’s too lazy to exert himself. Out of sight is out of mind with Don. If he happened to meet me he’d probably make an eloquent little speech urging me to return and saying he is broken-hearted. But if he doesn’t see me, he’ll let the whole thing slide and besides he might take the attitude that the child is Andy’s and I’ve been jilted by Andy. He couldn’t understand Andy’s attitude in not making passionate love to me. Anyhow, as I said, I don’t want to go back to Don.”
Perhaps she should have told Andy. After all, the child was not illegitimate. She was not disgraced. She had made Andy no promises. Janet was not a loose woman. But, as she said, a bachelor of Andy’s type could not realize how after several years of marriage sex becomes more or less automatic. Don, of course, was innocent of blame in that particular instance. He did not know that Janet was planning a friendly divorce. The interlude did not change Janet’s mind. She merely regarded it as the close of her sex life with Don, and she felt that it was really no more of an infidelity to Andy than any similar experience she had had with Don since she had met Andy.
On the surface, it looked as if she should take it on the chin and go through what would simply be an embarrassing situation; perhaps wait until after the child was born before she got her divorce. She was still fond of Don and perhaps she should take up her married life again. That probably would be the viewpoint of the moralists.
But Janet was not stupid about herself or her condition.
“My pregnancy is an accident occurring at the worst time,” she said. “I’m not dumb enough to think that it was an act of God at a dramatic moment to keep Don and me together. Don doesn’t want children. I want them, but I don’t want Don’s. If I stayed with him, I should hate the child, hate myself for being a darned fool and hate Don for getting me into this fix, although it really isn’t his fault. I’d think that his selfish desire to have me when he wanted me ruined my life. I’d reached the limit of endurance in my present existence. If I felt that sex had cheated me out of my chance for happiness, I’d fling my cap over the windmill for good and try to outdo Don. Then things would be in a mess.”
So she got her abortion. Then she obtained a quiet divorce and married Andy. They seem very happy. She has never told him of the incident. I think she is wise. She understands him as well as one person can understand another. And so she knows there are certain things that he could never understand.
A second husband or wife is always vaguely jealous of the first. A second wife was pregnant, and came to me — not for an abortion — but for other medical advice. As it happened, she had had an abortion before marriage.
“I’ve never told David about it and I won’t,” she said. “He talks to me a good deal about his first wife and that’s bad enough without my chiming in with tales of my past lovers. If he were jealous, it would be bad, and if he weren’t, it would be worse. I tried asking David not to talk about Alice, his first wife, but he looked surprised and hurt and said one of the nicest things about me was that he could talk about such things freely. He doesn’t see any danger in it, because he knows that it is all over. But I am forced to realize that he must once have been very fond of Alice and wonder if his affection for me will dwindle just as quickly. Also, I can’t keep from feeling somehow that his first wife had the best of it. She had him when he was youthful and idealistic and more romantic than he is now. Of course, I know that my marriage is safer because my husband wasn’t romantic and impulsive when he selected me. All the same, I wince, when he talks of some youthful and quixotic thing he did with her.”
The more I see of the mistakes made in sex, the less I think of the noble idea of a man and woman telling everything in their pasts before marriage. Of course, if there is something that the husband is sure to find out, such as a previous marriage or a scandal that will be immediately resurrected, then the woman had better beat the gossips to it.
“When I became engaged, my husband began asking a lot of question’s, in a joking way,” a woman once told me. “He smiled, but he was serious behind his light manner. I hadn’t given him an opening by asking him about his past. I didn’t want to know about it. I knew he was virile and he was not diseased. I liked him for himself, not for any record as a Casanova or a monk. So after I had answered or evaded several questions, I said, Look, John, if you want virginal innocence in a bride you have asked the wrong woman to marry you. I’m not a virgin and you’d be sorry if, at my age, I were. I have done a few things in my life that I regret and very few that I’m ashamed of. Probably I’ve been a fool at times, as who hasn’t? But I’ve a sense of loyalty to the men who’ve been in my past and I’m not going to talk about them. I took my affairs seriously then or I wouldn’t have gone through with them and they deserve some reticence now.'”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He was a little offended at first,” she replied. “I told him that I hadn’t asked him any questions because I thought that a man I loved would naturally be all right. I thought I deserved the same faith. I was 30 years old when I married. It would have been odd if there had been no men in my life. Some of the men had asked me to marry them. One of my former lovers still lived in my town. Had I told John all about my past, it would have risen to haunt me from time to time. John would have looked at my former men friends with jealous and prejudiced eyes. He would have suspected me of lingering affection for my former lover. Or he might have thought that I was regretting not having married some more prosperous man. Then he would never understand the accidents.”
“Accidents?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yes, accidents. He’d think they were planned or I was weak or something was wrong, although he probably has had the same type of experiences. I mean things like going somewhere and having the car or the motorboat break down and staying the night. Maybe you just sleep. Maybe you sleep together. I’ll give you an example. A man and I went on an all-day picnic to a cabin omened by some mutual friends. The whole thing, I warn you, sounds like a plot for a romance except for the ending. We went in a car. when we started the man said, ‘Now remind me to get some gasoline.’ I agreed. Well, it was one of those trips when you whiz past a filling station and the driver says, ‘I should have stopped there,’ and by that time you’re a mile on down the road and you wait for the next one. Finally we ran out of stations because we were in a wooded country and off the highway. Jack thought we had enough gasoline to get us there and back to civilization. There wasn’t anything. deliberate about it. We were just careless.”
I grinned. “So you ran out of gas.”
She nodded again. “We didn’t discover it until we got ready to go home. We’d spent a perfectly congenial day, had our picnic, walked around, admired the views and it was dark when we started to go back. The car wouldn’t start. I was dead tired. So was Jack. Something had gone wrong with the gasoline gauge. It showed about two gallons. Jack looked at me and laughed and we decided to stay there. The next morning Jack could hunt around for a farmhouse. It seemed utterly silly to go barging around in the dark when there was a snug cabin stocked with wood and groceries.
“Plausible enough,” I agreed.
“Yes. But here comes the part that is hard to explain to a man you’re about to marry. I’d met Jack about three years before had been attracted to him. But he was going with someone else then and so was I, and nothing came of it. About a week or so before the picnic, I’d met Jack again. He was just back from a long trip, and he gave me a rush. I wasn’t going with anyone in particular. We’d done a little petting, nothing else.
“Jack hadn’t been with a woman for months. The inevitable happened. I liked and respected Jack. He was very attractive physically. But I wasn’t in love with him and he wasn’t in love with me and we didn’t pretend to be. I like to look back on the episode as being an adventure. The next morning, we found a tin of gasoline in the back of a woodshed. If we’d rummaged around a little more or had a flashlight we’d probably have found it the night before. We laughed, but both of us said that we were glad we hadn’t discovered it.”
“And you don’t intend to tell your husband about it?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “You see Jack and I had a couple more dates and then his business took him away, probably forever. If he’d stayed, we might have had a long love affair; we might even have been married by now. I don’t know. I’ve heard men say that when two nice people meet and have a powerful physical attraction the thing to do is, well, to do something about it. But I once ruined a beginning love affair by telling this story to the man. He had told me of experiences which seemed much more casual to me. But it ruined his idealistic view of me, and he couldn’t bear that.”
“So I learned my lesson,” she concluded briskly. “I’ve thought a lot about that since. I was going to be frank and straightforward with that man. I was being idealistic when I told him about Jack. I thought the man was so fine and understanding that he deserved nothing less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I thought he’d appreciate my frankness and my confidence. I should have known better. He was extremely jealous, and in his jealousy he said things that hurt. Afterward he felt that he’d made a fool of himself and he tried to salve his vanity by convincing himself I was not what he had thought. This is getting a little complicated. But it was a matter of his egotism. He took it calmly when I first told him, and afterward he started thinking of it and began to get more jealous; and he exploded and insisted I had done an awful thing, so he could excuse his own spasm.”
“I agree with you,” I said. “There are only a few things any woman needs to tell her husband. I think she should say whether she had been married before or that she doesn’t really love him and loves someone that she can’t marry for some reason. Then she should tell him if she can’t have children, if she doesn’t like children or if she has a child already. I mean, of course, an illegitimate child whose existence is being concealed. Chances are, he’ll find out about the child later and then it will be worse. And she should tell him if there is anything wrong with her physically so that she can’t do her share in the sex partnership. That seems to me all the information any woman needs to or should give her husband and all any husband needs to give his wife. I include abortions in the list of things she doesn’t need to tell him, unless there is a big chance that he may find out about it or unless the job has been bungled so that she can’t have children.”
There has always seemed something grisly and morbid to me about raking over the past just as a marriage is about to begin. It is unhealthy emotionally. Why drag out the dead on the eve of a wedding? It turns it into a wake. An emotional woman probing into the past may become upset and wonder if she’s doing the right thing or start thinking of what might have been. Likewise, tiny doubts of the other person must creep in after detailed reminiscences of the past.
A young girl came to me for a physical examination before her marriage.
“I’m going to have a clean bill of health for my husband at any rate,” she told me. “If I’m pronounced sound of wind and limb and technically a good girl I think that’s enough. I’m not going to drag out the love letters. I burn them as soon as I get them, anyhow. And any girl past her middle 20’s is a fool if she confesses her life and loves; If she’s been at all popular it’s going to sound pretty over-whelming to the gentleman in love with her, and if she hadn’t been popular, she doesn’t want him to know it.”
She smiled at me. “Some girls get too modern. But it isn’t modern to know when to keep your mouth shut. Our grandmothers knew plenty about maidenly reticence. The trouble with the modern girl is not so much what she does but her habit of talking about it at the top of her voice.”
Which seemed words of wisdom to a man in my profession.
Ordinarily, as I have said, I tried to keep Norma separate from my professional life. Of course, I talked over my cases with her and frequently I relied upon her decisions.
When we were first married, she wanted to act as my office girl.
“It would save you money,” she insisted. “Then you’d need only a nurse for operations. I could keep books and answer the telephone and sterilize instruments as well as a nurse could.”
I shook my head. “No. I’ve found out by now that most of the old platitudes are true. One of them is that you can’t touch pitch without being defiled. I don’t want you to come in daily contact with the most sordid side of sex. One of the nicest things about our marriage is that I can look forward to coming home at night and finding you serene and lovely. I can talk over anything that bothers me, but you haven’t been upset by seeing these people and hearing their stories.”
She laughed. “Darling, don’t think I don’t hear about sex just because I keep away from your office. When two women get together, the conversation goes from clothes and diet to its logical end of sex.”
I grinned. “I didn’t know. I know that women talk to me mostly of sex, but in a strictly professional way.”
“I went to a bridge luncheon today,” Norma said. “And we got to talking about abortions and miscarriages. Don’t look shocked. These were all nice women. It just happened that one of them had had an operation. She said it was a curettage to stop a hemorrhage, but we were all a little suspicious, I think. Anyway the conversation turned to Women Who Do Things. And such a lot of gossip as you wouldn’t hear in days, I heard that Doctor B does abortions, too. I didn’t know that before.”
“I don’t know it yet,” I answered. “Doctor B might do one for a close friend, but I rather doubt it. He’d probably send the friend to me or to another doctor here who has some shady practice. Don’t believe all you hear about such matters. A lot of women who come to me thought that they could persuade their family physicians to help them out of jams, but they were mistaken when it came to a showdown.”
“I know,” she said. “Women will say something as rumor and when it’s next repeated it’s a fact and next time it’s doubled. For instance, some one told me that Mrs. G had had three abortions.”
I grinned again. “Mrs, G had an operation several years ago that would prevent her having any children. She had a tumor, and she didn’t menstruate for some time. What happened was that the tumor made her abdomen enlarged and there were rumor’s that she was pregnant. Since she didn’t have any children, a lot of gossip- minded women supposed that she was doing something about it.”
“That’s what I suspected. But you know I hadn’t been around married women much before I married. I am still a little amazed at the way the wives all seize a chance to talk about sex. I suppose they feel that this is one of the privileges of wifehood, to drop all reticence in such matters, and they make the most of it. Before, they had to be careful, for nice, unmarried girls aren’t supposed to know about such things.”
“That’s why my practice grows,” I remarked flippantly. “But a lot of married women don’t know very much about sex, and that causes trouble when they go to dishing out advice. A woman who has escaped having more than one or two children, chiefly through luck, isn’t in a position to give much advice to a woman who doesn’t want them.”
“I’m very popular,” Norma said, “because they know I’m a doctor’s wife and they all figure they can get some free information as well as a lot of gossip from me. I just tell them that my husband never discusses his cases with me. But I was surprised at how much talk, true or otherwise, there is floating around about women. If a woman has a bad time at menstruation, half her friends jump to the conclusion that she’s had a miscarriage. And if she has an abdominal operation, everyone wants to know if she had her ovaries removed. If she did, a lot of women think she probably was diseased or she didn’t want children. And how they dwell on the detail’s of their menopauses.”
I grinned. “Maybe you’d better come to the office, where the air is pure and clean and disinfected.”
“I Almost burst out laughing at one fat woman,” Norma told me. “She has two children, and she said that when she knew she was pregnant the second time she was so irritated. I got so mad at Frank that I just went out and jumped off the porch two or three times, she said. ‘But it didn’t do any good. Of course, I don’t think it’s right to do anything about such things.'”
“What she meant,” I interrupted, “was that she didn’t think it right to go to a doctor for such things because that would cost money and she’d probably have to tell her husband and it might get out. So she’s willing to risk her health by some such silly trick. A fall might have caused her to abort and on the other hand it might just have injured the child or broken her leg. Probably she braced herself for the jump so she landed lightly.”
“Another woman said that she got nervous and so she took something,” Norma went on. “It just made her awfully sick and about a week later she had a normal menstruation. She said she was ashamed of herself and never told her husband.”
“Of course not. She wouldn’t tell her husband, but she probably was irritable and nervous and raised hell about something else and he wondered what was the matter with her and why she didn’t seem to want anything to do with him sexually; and he decided that she was tired of him. And it may be that at that psychological moment he met an attractive woman who didn’t seem to have many scruples, and the next thing he knew he was having an affair. That’s the way those things usually go. Then the wife talks about how she was dishonored and betrayed and men are only animals after all. She say’s that she’s always been faithful and she’s suffered agonies of anxiety on his behalf and that is the way he treats her. But she never let him know about her worrying.”
“I don’t know,” Norma mused thoughtfully. “You’d think that two people who are married could talk anything over and reach an understanding. But sometimes it seems to me that love causes misunderstanding. At first the wife hates to do anything that would spoil the romantic attitude of the honeymoon. Later she’s afraid of discussion that will cause her husband to be less ardent.”
She smiled at me. “We started with less disadvantages than most couples, because we had talked over so much of this before marriage and understood each other. But I can see how wives would hate to bring up such things. You, being a doctor, ask me personal questions that an ordinary husband probably wouldn’t think about. For instance, you check my periods, and if I’m delayed you do something about it. But no average husband would think of that. And if he comes home worried, the wife hates to add to his worries. If the husband seems gay, she feels that she doesn’t want to Spoil his mood by dragging up a disagreeable subject. So she just lets it go, waiting for the perfect opportunity. And the opportunity never comes.”
“I know,” I agreed. “And oddly enough, some women resent their husbands asking them questions. I’ve had women say that their sex life was marred because their husbands asked them how they felt and how they enjoyed intercourse. The men were merely trying to make Sure the wives were satisfied. They were unusually thoughtful and knew that some women are slower than the man. But the wives got self-conscious about it.”
I used to be constantly amazed at the many mental quirks women have regarding sexual matters. But most of them are easily traced to a desire to calm their consciences and to the idea that anything that isn’t found out is all right.
For instance, a woman will excuse home attempts to abort herself. Going to a doctor seems to definitely ally herself with the wrong kind of woman and forces her to come out in the open and admit that she doesn’t want a child and is willing to enlist assistance to get rid of the fetus.
She will risk injury to herself by several such attempts, and then go ahead and have the child if she fails, rather than go to a doctor and do the thing scientifically and safely. Then she may preen herself later because she didn’t do anything, forgetting that it was because of ignorance that she didn’t succeed in aborting herself.
Likewise, many women feel that it is all right to have abortions up to about two months, explaining that the fetus is “nothing much but a germ.” Of course, the danger increases as time passes, but five days after conception there is life. What these women really mean is that if they wait until they are far along people will notice the change in their bodies and suspect something if there is an abortion.
Similarly, women, especially religious women, feel that withdrawal on the part of the man or continence during dangerous periods is all right, while use of artificial devices to prevent contraception is sinful. Here again the fear of being found out enters into it. Most women hate to purchase any type of contraceptive. Likewise, they hate to ask other women for definite advice.
Some of them might be shocked out of this false modesty if they knew the freedom with which men, both married and single, discuss such matters. Men have far less hesitancy about going to a doctor for an examination or information and they buy contraceptives calmly at a drug store.
One woman almost broke up her marriage because she refused to go to the doctor. She had a physical defect which made intercourse painful. Yet she delayed a visit to the doctor. Finally her husband forced her to go. Even then she sulked about it. She even tried the argument that her husband should be willing to abandon sex life.
On the other hand, there was another young bride who was a virgin before marriage. For several weeks she had intercourse every night. Then came a night when her husband was tired and did not make love to her. She seemed a trifle upset but he paid little attention to that. He thought that she surely knew that there were limits to the man’s physical powers.
The next day she hastened down to my office, greatly disturbed. She had been filled with the usual mass of misinformation that seems to be dished out to virgins by their feminine relatives and friends and she thought that her sex life was over just because she had missed one night I assured her that her husband’s love hadn’t cooled, and that he hadn’t suddenly become impotent. She went home a wiser wife.
I told Norma about it, but she didn’t laugh.
“That isn’t so uncommon,” she said. “And on the other hand, there are girls who have been told that once a week is the limit and they are afraid their husbands are over-sexed if they want intercourse more often. This girl’s case was no joke. A friend of mine divorced her husband because she wanted intercourse every night and he couldn’t stand it.”
Such women are usually dismissed lightly as over-sexed, but in many cases that isn’t true. The man may be too hasty, and the woman therefore does not get satisfaction. The partly-completed act on her part leaves her restless, nervous and irritable and desiring intercourse again as soon as possible, Some men cannot tell when their wives have had an orgasm, and if the woman doesn’t tell them they may postpone the second act. Too, some types of contraceptive devices prevent the normal culmination of the sex act.
As I said, I tried to keep my home life separated from my practice, although I discussed things freely, with Norma. After the birth of our first child, of course, she was too busy at home to want to work in my office. But from time to time she did bring cases to me. I objected, because I didn’t want her placed in the position of a go-between for an abortionist. She laughed when I told her that.
“Don’t you remember how we first met?” she asked.
The first case she called to my attention went smoothly. A friend came to her and said that another woman, whom I shall call Gladys, was pregnant and wanted to do something about it.
Gladys was married, but she already had four children, and she and her husband could not afford any more. She was not in good health and she hated her present condition.
She had told her friend, Anna, about it and Anna had gone to her own doctor. The doctor refused to take the case. It was another example of how a woman optimistically declares that her doctor will perform an illegal operation and then is turned down. The doctor, I gathered, had been a little indignant and had asked if Anna had used his name in any way. Fortunately Anna had not — or at least she said she had not.
The next time she tried a more round-about way, by approaching Noma. Anna said that Gladys had tried the more common home methods, without success. She was desperate, and was in a continual nervous state. She had been warned at the birth of her last child that it would be better for her to wait several years until she had another one.
“She’s one of these helpless women who don’t know how to manage anything,” Anna said with a shrug of her shoulders. “You know the kind. She means well, but somehow she always manages to muddle things. She didn’t have sense enough to insist that her husband be more careful, and now she’s with child again.”
Norma saw Gladys and was upset at her weeping. So she, came to me.
“She’ll keep on doing things until she gets herself in such a condition that she’ll either die in childbirth or she’ll kill the child beforehand,” she told me. “She’s in that hysterical state where she’s willing to try anything. And, you know, old women can offer more methods of abortion than they can for curing colds. She’ll keep it a secret, and Anna has promised to see that you will get your money.”
I told them to bring Gladys in. She was what I call the “faded petunia” type of woman. She worked so hard fixing things for her husband and her children and keeping her house clean that she never had any time left for herself. Her skin was wrinkled and her hair lacked luster. She was not the “good manager” type, and it showed in her last year’s clothes and her bedraggled hair and work- roughened hands. Of course, her husband did not make much money. But some women seem to be able to keep themselves up in spite of being pinched for funds. She was the sort of woman who will make a martyr of herself and then wonder dumbly why she isn’t appreciated, why her husband doesn’t stay home and why her children, when they grow up, seem to lack respect for her but give her, instead, a sort of pitying affection.
I told her I would help her out. Her husband didn’t object, although he was the sort of man who didn’t exactly approve of abortions, just as he liked to pretend that he didn’t use contraceptives because he “disapproved” of such things. He was willing, it seemed, as long as he did not have to do much about it. There was nothing to do but give Gladys temporary help by aborting her and then try to frighten her into being a little more firm with her husband.
“Isn’t there a way that you could fix it so Gladys wouldn’t have any more children?” Anna asked.
I looked my most professional. “She could, of course, have her ovaries removed. But they are in good condition and I would refuse to perform such an operation or to advise it.”
Anna hesitated a moment. “I’ve heard that operations can be performed on men so that they can’t become fathers but they still have their normal sexual feelings.”
“Don’t believe all you hear,” I evaded. “I wouldn’t attempt such a thing. If that’s what you mean. In the first place, you’d never get the man to agree to it. In the second place, the woman might regret it later. These people want some children. The children they have might die, and then they couldn’t have any more. I’ll give temporary help, but I won’t perform sterilization operations. And don’t let anyone fool you with these theories about hypodermic injections that will make the man sterile for a few months. Most of the talk about magic and simple operations, is quackery, along with sure-fire cheap abortions and positive contraceptives.”
Anna, who had gone to school with her, brought me the money beforehand. Gladys got along as well as could be expected. When she was well, I sent for Anna.
“I know you’ve impressed the need for secrecy on her,” I said. “But for some reason I’m upset about the woman. I can’t help feeling sorry for her. For the love of Mike, try to get her to understand that unselfishness is not always a virtue. Too much unselfishness makes other people uncomfortable. As long as she has that air of hang-dog devotion, she’ll be run over. She’s made a mild rebellion in having an abortion. See if you can keep up the good work.”
I don’t know what Anna told her. Probably she hinted that if Gladys didn’t pay more attention to herself, her husband would start straying. There were plenty of examples she could point to. Later I saw Gladys and she looked amazingly better. Her children were no longer dressed in the most expensive coats and hats and the daintiest of handmade frocks and I doubt if she still slaved hours over a pet dish of her husband’s. I remarked about it to Anna. Anna looked vague and mysterious.
“Her husband took his stenographer out to lunch and dinner while she was “sick,” she said. Then she grinned. “But he doesn’t do it now,” she added.
Which reminds me of a young bride who came to me for information about birth control.
“I thought I heard you say once that you wanted children,” I said. “You came in here before marriage for a physical examination and said you wanted to be sure that you could bear healthy children without much pain. What’s made you change your mind?”
“Just before I was married, I saw something that gave me a decided shock,” she replied. “One of my best friends has only been married about a year and she’s pregnant. She’s the sort who takes it hard. She had a lovely figure, and she hates to go around now that she’s big and clumsy. Besides, she’s ill, nausea in the morning, headaches, general listlessness and all that. Betty was the sort who was always the life of the party, and she won’t go anywhere feeling bad. So she stays at home.”
“Yes,” I told her, “but the chances are you’d got by pretty easy if you took care of yourself”
“Oh, I’m going to have children. But in my own good time. I hadn’t finished my story. Betty’s husband, Jim, married her because they had so much fun together. He likes to dance and get around. They decided after marriage that it would be more fun to just forget precautions and let nature take its course. Jim fancied that it would be fan to have a toddler around the house. And they said they wanted to be young enough that they could grow up with the children.”
“Yes,” I responded, “I’ve heard that. It has its points. But one of the disadvantages is that children need a civilized adult for a parent and not a happy-go-lucky playmate.”
“Well,” she said, “I saw Jim lunching with an attractive girl the other day, and then I saw him dining with another girl. I know it’s no fun for him to go home and find Betty moaning on the couch or to learn that she’s at her mother’s and have her mother looking reproachfully at him for what he’s done to her darling girl. But at the same time, Jim is doing considerable partying and in the company of a good-looking divorcee who always had her eye on him. I don’t know how far the affair has gone, and I didn’t tell Betty, because I’m not the sort of girl who rushes to her friends and says ‘I think you ought to know.’ Betty isn’t in any condition to have to face too many facts.”
“Anyhow,” I suggested, “her husband probably will repent sooner or later and rush back to her.”
“Maybe. But I’ll admit I didn’t like to see this on the eve of my own marriage. For Jim and Betty were one of the good examples that caused me to take the leap. But I’m no babe-in-the-woods. I realize that it’s fairly common for a man to do some playing around while his wife is pregnant. I know that a lot of men feel that it’s unfair for them to be denied sex life for three or four months. Personally I feel that’s a selfish viewpoint. But I believe in facing facts. I thought it over and decided that my husband was a normal male, and that, being so, the wedding ceremony was no insurance that he really was going to cherish me forever and be blind to all other women.”
“Yes,” I agreed. I like to encourage these girls to talk to me because I may be able to pass some of their good advice on later.
“So I decided that since I loved the man and had gone this far with the engagement, there was no point in being a coward. But there was no point either in making things too hard for myself. What I want is to have as much fun with my husband as I can for a year or two. We can’t keep the rose-colored spectacles on forever. But I want to have a little care-free youth together first.”
“And,” I said, “You want your husband to get into the habit of thinking of you as his permanent partner in fun so that you’ll be more certain if he does stray a little he’ll come back to you.”
“Certainly,” she agreed. “And I don’t believe that six or seven. months is enough time for that. I want our marriage to be well established before I take on any risks. If after two years of married companionship I get pregnant, I can more easily condone any lack of attention from my husband. I’ll remember that we’ve had a lot of fun and maybe a slight marital vacation wouldn’t hurt either of us. Furthermore, Bill would be used to regarding himself as a married man. He’d have got in the habit of making small adjustments and sacrifices for our mutual welfare. And people would be accustomed to regarding him as a married man, which is important.
“I don’t want to wait too long. For if I do, I may wait until our marriage is beginning to pall a little on Bill and my pregnancy would be the one thing needed to cause him to seek diversion elsewhere. It’s all very well,” and she grinned at me, “to talk about baby hands bringing people together and husbands rushing back to their wives when they find them sewing tiny garments. But while the husband may be pleased, he may also be annoyed. And he isn’t going to enjoy having a wife who is just a human incubator for several months.”
“Well,” I told her, “I’m thankful that you’re thinking of this before and not after you’re pregnant. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with Bill. Just remember that it’s important not to go to thinking you’re too smart and let the iron hand come out of the velvet glove. Don’t ever let your husband know that you’re managing him. You can be too modern in this sex game.
And you can. Which brings me back to my wife again. I came home one knight to find her laughing.
“I think I’ve got other case for you,” she announced. “I demand, of course, that you split your fee.”
“Split fees are unethical,” I said sternly, and then kissed her, “Who’s been bothering you now?”
“It’s really funny and yet it isn’t. Kitty was over here today.”
I knew Kitty and I grimaced. The last time I saw her she was playing her usual good Samaritan role. She married a wealthy man and the marriage turned a little sour. So she finds her pleasure in doing as much good as she can with her social prestige and her money. I like Kitty, but she usually finds good works for her friends to do.
“She hasn’t found another old woman trying to trick a young man into marriage, has she?” I asked.
Kitty had once brought me a middle-aged widow who urgently wanted to marry. She’d started an affair with a young man, taking him as her protege. The man was a young artist; and she bought some pictures from him and also got some of her friends to help.
Then she’d used her help to get the man to become her lover. it was a disagreeable story. The woman appeared very pleasant and cultured, but she really was an unscrupulous hell-cat. The artist was a handsome young idiot, and, like many creative workers, he had little common sense about finances or about his social life. It was simply that most of his intelligence went into his work. He drifted into the affair, and the woman persuaded him that she was using contraceptives. Then she told him that she was pregnant and they must marry. I gathered that she had used other wiles without success. Part of the time the boy simply did not know what she was getting at. He really thought she was interested in his work and in himself only as an artist. He became her lover because he thought that would make her happier. He never dreamed of marriage until she came out flat-footed with the demand.
He went to Kitty in horror. She felt responsible, for she’d bought some pictures from him and had introduced him to the other woman. Kitty came to me.
“The old hag has her hooks on him and she won’t let him go,” she said with brutal frankness. “And he’s still got enough ideals and chivalry to think that he must marry her if she wants him to. He knows that it’s her fault, but he feels that if she loved him enough to do a thing like this he ought to marry her and give her what happiness he can. Then he feels indebted to her.
“Understand,” she went on. “He isn’t the gigolo type. He really has talent, if not genius, but he had a lot of hard luck. And this old dame looked like a god-send to him. She’s clever and she arranged it so that he wasn’t suspicious of what she wanted until too late. I should have guessed what she was up to, but I didn’t think that he was so dumb, and I thought she merely wanted an affair.”
“Well,” I asked, “why doesn’t he marry her, and play her own game. He can wait until after the child is born and then sue her for divorce.”
“You don’t get it,” she responded. “I told you he wasn’t the gigolo type. Probably she’d soon tire of him, but I don’t know. She’s the sort who would feed on youth. But even if she’d let him get a divorce soon, she’d absolutely ruin him first. Alone, he might get to be a great artist, but he won’t if he marries her.”
I talked to the boy, and I saw some of his work. He hadn’t fallen yet for his patroness talk about an easy road to fame and fortune. He was bewildered at her failure to understand that he had to have rest and solitude to do any work. He was already in a bad physical condition from too much drink, late hours, rich food and hectic gaiety.
“You see,” Kitty told me, “the boy’s not spoiled yet. But it isn’t good for young artists to have too much money. He’s got to work hard. What he needs, if he marries, is a woman who will sacrifice herself to his art, see that he eats, sleeps and has plenty of time to work. Mrs. D will ruin him forever in a year. And he’s good. I know about such things.”
He did have a picture of a young alums madonna that haunted me. But Mrs. D wanted him to paint pretty women, society ladies. He didn’t want to. He said there was no truth, no art, in that.
So I agreed to help Kitty. She brought Mrs. D to me, and I examined her. She was pregnant, all right. Then I told her vaguely that she was going to have a bad time. I gave her some medicine which increased rather than helped her nausea. Kitty laid it on pretty thick about how she’d lose her figure — she was one of those women who dieted and massaged in order to keep slim. And she was afraid of pain. Her idea seemed to be that with enough specialists she could somehow slide through, but I really believe she had never intended to go through with childbirth. She probably meant to have an abortion as soon as the marriage was performed.
But she had an abortion first. I performed it. She wanted it kept secret and this fitted in fine with Kitty’s plans. The engagement hadn’t been announced, and I pretended ignorance of the whole business. I was simply a doctor who had been called in. As soon as the abortion was completed, Kitty got the boy away. Mrs. D suspected some underhanded work, but she had no comeback. She’d asked for the abortion, and she got it. She certainly wasn’t going to picture herself as a jilted woman. And when the young idealist learned that his fiancee had had an abortion rather than lose her figure, he forgot everything she’d said about the sacredness of their perfect love and its culmination in the birth of their child.
Naturally, however, I was wary of any more of Kitty’s plans for saving humanity. My role is not persuading women to have abortions.
“What did Kitty want this time?” I inquired bluntly.
“It’s a little complicated,” Norma explained.
“All Kitty’s stories are complicated. And I don’t like your being mixed up in them. You can get burned putting out a fire as well as playing with one. But go ahead.”
Kitty, it seemed, had a friend, a small town girl who had run away from home, come to the city and drifted in with a Bohemian set. Like most girls of this type, she went to extremes, or wanted to. She got a good job and she had a couple of love affairs broken off before they really got started. That gave her a sort of phobia. She felt that she must have a really modern liaison. She talked the usual hooey about liberating herself and being utterly free.
Her set did a lot of preaching about free love and the advantages of illegitimate children. Most of them practiced free love all right, but they confined their love children to writing pamphlets about them and long discussions in cigarette-smoke filled garrets and tea rooms.
Then the girl, Clara, met a middle-aged man who was married and had three children. He was satisfied with his marriage, but he was still handsome and since he worked in town and his home was in the country, he took advantage of “business conferences” to have a series of love affairs.
Blair usually pictured his wife as a dull housewife whose sole thoughts were about the children. He was whimsical about his own “dreary” existence, and he kept a flat in town where he entertained his lady-loves in the best romantic fashion.
He met Clara, and in an exceedingly short time took her for his mistress. She was filled with ideas about the beauty of free love and she thought it romantic to have an affair with an older and a married man. Blair, on the other hand, had just been given his dismissal by a married woman who preferred not to risk losing her husband, and it soothed his vanity to immediately take a young and good looking girl.
Kitty said that he was a romantic lover, having his meetings in a flat decked out like an Oriental harem and going in for poetical thoughts and tenderness. Clara immediately fell deeply in love with him, so much so that he began to get worried, for she wanted to go away on week ends with him and finally asked him to desert his wife. This didn’t suit him. Like most men of that age and type, be, wanted adventure, but wanted it adjusted to a comfortable routine, one that did not interfere with his business or his family.
Clara suspected that he was tiring of her a little, and she conceived the idea of having a child by him: Then, she thought, he would remain her lover forever, she could move into his flat or perhaps have a little place in the country. The latter idea seemed more romantic; he could go out there for week ends and nights and they could be closer than ever. It would keep him from having to go to parties, which, he said, bored him, and save him from too much time with his wife. Eventually she thought they might be married, but that was not important.
She didn’t tell Blair this until she actually got with child. As soon as she had missed her period she informed him of it and waited for his gratitude for what she had done. It didn’t come, Blair was tiring of her and of her demands. It had been fun to initiate this girl into sex life and watch her respond and her passion grow. But she was becoming too demanding, and he was no longer as young as he used to be. He was about ready to break it off.
He was horrified when she told him. He urged her to do something immediately, and offered to make all the arrangements or to give her the money. She refused, and he then jumped at something she’d said and broke up the affair.
Since then, she’d tried to see him but failed. And she couldn’t decide what to do.
“Tell Kitty to let her make up her mind,” I growled irritably. “You know, Norma, that I lean over backward in this business rather than have any insinuations that I try to build up my practice by urging abortions or even consenting to do them without A very good reason.”
“Anyhow,” I added. “the girl sounds like a fool.”
“She isn’t a fool. She’s just got some silly radical notions. Kitty said that Blair is an utter cad, and he will deny all blame. And Blair’s wife is a fine woman. She knows about Blair, but she takes it rather than break up the home and ruin her children’s lives. Clara just needs a little time to settle down.”
“I’ll talk to Kitty,” I promised.
Kitty had about persuaded Clara that giving birth to a free- love child was not the noble thing she’d thought it would be. She’d lose her job and it would be hard to find another one when she was burdened with the child. She was thoroughly disillusioned now about Blair, and there was no point in having a child as a souvenir of the affair.
“Clara had a pretty hard time when she first came to town and I hate to see her make a fool of herself,” Kitty told me. “But I’m really thinking more about Blair’ wife. If Clara has this child, it’s going to be pretty hard to keep Dorothy from finding out about it. Clara had some haywire ideas about going to Dorothy and asking her to give up Blair. But Blair knocked that out of her head.”
“I can’t see it, Kitty,”, I said. “It’s too risky. I’m not going to be put into a position of persuading this girl to abet me in a crime. If she’s the fool she sounds, she’ll spread it all over town as evidence of her emancipation.”
“You trusted my judgment once before,” Kitty reminded me. “I think this will teach Clara a lesson. But to be frank, I’m afraid that she’ll later go to Blair’s wife and demand help in taking care of the child. Dorothy has had enough punishment. I’m willing to pay the fee to spare her constant humiliation, either directly or indirectly, from Clara.”
I hesitated. “You talk to the girl again,” I urged.
She did, and Clara agreed to the abortion. I was nervous about it. I figured it was a case in which we were meddling too much. And I was right.
But I never suspected what would happen. Clara went through the abortion all right, although she had orgies of self-pity. She did have some intelligence, but she was so filled with silly ideas and so self-centered that she was doomed for trouble. I’ve seen many people like that. They are so absorbed in themselves that they utterly disregard other people until too late.
To please Kitty, I was pleasant to her. And I stressed that this was a favor I was doing her and was not my usual practice. That was, of course, just a line that I used on most patients to keep them from spreading the news indiscriminately that I was an abortionist.
But Clara took the whole affair the wrong way. She’d been badly upset by her affair with Blair, and sympathy went to her bead. So she fell for me on the rebound.
It was the first time this had happened to me, to my knowledge, at least. A great many of my patients became my friends. But the very nature of the work kept sentiment out of it.
Clara, however, was so filled with the idea that she must be ultra-modern that she felt it dramatic for there to be some physical-bond between us. She exaggerated everything I said to her. She kept coming back to my office when there was no need. She twisted what I said to mean that I considered myself her guardian. She invited me to lunches, to dinners. She would call for me to come to her apartment.
I was irritated, but I didn’t take it seriously. I knew other doctors who had to be diplomatic about calls that were obviously subterfuges. I kept myself impersonal and was as polite. to her as I could be.
Then she went to Norma and made a scene. She told my wife that the needed my perfect understanding and sympathy; that Norma had had several years of marriage with me, had a child by me and should share me with her. She was positive that it was only Norma’s mid- Victorian scruples and selfishness that kept me from having an affair. And she wanted Norma to consent to it. She said that she had made a mistake before in not going to the wife, but she wanted this to be open and aboveboard.
Norma kept her head and, thank God, had sense enough not to lose her temper or to take it too seriously. But she was upset about it and told me.
“I’m telling you this, darling, because I trust you,” she said to me when I came home. “I know that you’re not having an affair with Clara because you have more sense. I’m egotistical enough, too, to think you have better taste. But I don’t want Clara broadcasting that I’m interfering with your life.”
She grinned at me. “Darling, if you ever do have an affair, for God’s sake pick out a woman who is so charming and so beautiful that I can see she’s superior to me and you couldn’t possibly resist her. Otherwise, it will ruin my self-respect.
I was furious. I called Kitty and told her the whole Story.
“Quit pampering that fool,” I demanded, “and shut her up somehow. Make her understand that I don’t want to see her. I’ll go with you to do it. She’s had too much done for her. I thought this was a mistake.”
And for once I didn’t use any tact. I took Kitty along, for I didn’t want Clara to have any excuse to misinterpret that visit. And I told Clara frankly why I had helped her and what I thought of her. She started to act, but Kitty put an end to that by telling her not to be a fool; that she’d done enough emoting off the stage to last the rest of her life.
I never saw Clara again. Kitty was deeply apologetic. I heard afterward that Clara went out to the country, got good and sick of the rural peace she’d wanted, came back to town and got a job. She kept her mouth shut about the affair. and that was all I wanted.
At first I had been constantly amazed at my lack of trouble. I had feared in my first case that the sheriff would come in any moment.
Gradually I began to take it all as a matter of course and to think myself a pretty clever fellow. I grew more prosperous. Norma and I moved into a nice little house in the better part of town. We felt that we could afford children.
I took as many precautions as I could in my business. My apparent immunity was also due to the fact that any girl who goes to a doctor instead of a quack or a midwife in such cases usually is intelligent enough to keep her mouth shut.
Then I had a whole series of lucky breaks. Not in my actual work. I was constantly improving my technique and I never lost a patient. But in other ways I was lucky.
My home life continued serene. Norma and I started out with few illusions, and we followed the French idea of a marriage for happiness rather than pleasure. I was teased a great deal when we had our first child.
“So you don’t let your practice interfere with your home work,” a colleague told me.
Once a woman asked Norma if she wasn’t jealous of my many women patients. She had come to me professionally and noticed that there were several unusually pretty girls in the waiting room each time.
“Most women who come to see my husband are not feeling flirtatious,” Norma said calmly.
Not long after that, she did have a disagreeable experience. An acquaintance of ours came to me for an abortion. She was a married woman, she could afford the child and I saw no reason why she should have the abortion, especially as she was very anxious to keep it a secret from her husband. I declined to have anything to do With it. The woman was healthy, and I told her that she exaggerated her fears of childbirth and that if her husband had any objections he’d forget them after the birth of the child.
I had a feeling that Mrs. C was lying to me. It usually is easy for a doctor to tell when a woman is keeping something back. Sooner or later, the patient makes a slip. The “friend” for whom they are making these embarrassing inquiries becomes a pronoun in the first person.
Mrs. C made her slip when she said that she and her husband were not getting along well.
I remembered the case when a woman was planning to divorce her husband and became with child by him.
“Do you intend to divorce him?” I asked.
“Oh, heavens, no,” she said hastily.
Her husband had a good deal of money and I thought that any temporary fuss probably would be settled soon. Anyhow, I refused to take the case.
Then she went to my wife and threw a hysterical scene, begging Norma to interfere and get me to perform the abortion. As a final argument, she told Norma that I was the father of the child. Norma merely laughed.
“I said it was your business,” she told me afterward, “and that if It were your child you’d undoubtedly perform the abortion or divorce me and marry her. That frightened her. I regret to say, darling, that she didn’t seem to desire your private attention’s — only your professional services.”
I heard the whole story afterward. Mrs. C and her husband were not getting along well, and Mrs. C had taken a lover. Since marriage, she had let her husband take care of contraceptives and she expected her lover to do the same. He was careful in the early stages of their affair. Then the mutual ardor cooled. Mrs. C was afraid her husband would hear of the romance, and the man soon tired of her. I can’t believe that he was deliberately responsible, but, anyhow, she was caught.
Mrs. C and her husband had not lived together as man and wife for several months. They were amiable enough, and Mrs. C hoped for a reconciliation. Like a great many philandering wives, she was much more cowardly about paying for her fun than the unmarried woman. She wanted to have her cake and eat it, too.
She finally went to a quack, he bungled the job, and she almost died. Probably it was the best solution she could have arranged, for her husband was so anxious about her health that he took the blame for everything and there was no divorce. I think she may have told him that she tried to commit suicide and that caused a miscarriage. Faking or threatening suicide to force a reconciliation with a husband is a fairly common trick of the neurotic.
It may sound as if I were quibbling in this case when I had performed abortions on married women. But Mrs. C was a thoroughly selfish person, and there was no question of wrecking a subsequent marriage as in Janet’s triangle. C had not been unfaithful. Mrs. C had merely tired of him and sought thrills elsewhere.
I draw a distinction between a married woman who has affairs with single men and a single girl who has affairs with married men. The married woman usually allows her husband to support her while she’s being unfaithful. She takes his money to make herself attractive to her lover, and frequently uses his home for her assignations. She usually has her affair with some man who shirks the responsibility of matrimony. She is secretly taking away from her husband what she has publicly promised him. Sometimes she is endangering the future of her children.
The bachelor girl who has an affair with a married man may be almost forced into it for social reasons. Most such girls hold jobs which are not good enough to give them much money and prestige. They usually come from families having little social standing. They are unable to get single men who attract them. They come in contact with intelligent, attractive and married businessmen. They know better than to have such affairs but when the alternative is to sit alone in a tiny apartment or bedroom or go to the movies with a girl friend. I don’t blame them overmuch for succumbing to the overtures of the man and their own natural desire. Women cannot get physical relief from prostitutes. Frequently the single men they meet treat them with less respect and consideration than the married men. So they drift into liaisons with an attractive and moneyed husband.
Fortunately, Norma did not believe Mrs. C’s wild accusations, but it did start a time of trouble for both of us. I am not superstitious, but I do believe that every person gets a few good breaks that are due as much to chance as to hard work, and I think we all get some bad breaks we don’t deserve.
Immediately after Mrs. C’s outburst, I began getting mine!
Police found the body of a once-beautiful young blonde girl in the river. She had apparently died as the result of an illegal operation. Detectives took her photograph to all the doctors to see if we could identify her. She had not come to me and I said so, but the police asked me to go to the morgue and look at her.
Eventually she was identified as an out-of-town school teacher. Her mother saw her picture in an old newspaper and claimed the body. If the detail’s of the crime were discovered, they were never published. But there was a howl about quack doctors preying on young girls, editorials in the newspapers and one minister preached a sermon on abortionists.
It was comparatively easy to guess what had happened. The girl had gone to a quack and had died as the result of his ignorance and carelessness. Then either her lover or the quack had become frightened at the responsibility and had dumped her body into the river. I don’t believe she was physically able to kill herself. Nor could she have destroyed all the clues to her identity and effaced her trail so skillfully alone.
I didn’t like detectives snooping around, and I got the wind up. My legitimate practice was growing and I couldn’t afford to jeopardize it as much as when almost all my livelihood came from illegal work.
It was while the investigation into the girl’s death was still going on that the head of a vice combination came to me with a proposition.
He beat around the bush for quite a while, but the general gist of his offer was that I should devote all my time to his combination which included a variety of rackets.
I was amazed at the information he had about me. He knew the exact state of my finances, that I was paying for a new house, that I had a wife and a child and was expecting another. He also knew that I had performed many abortions. He made me a flattering offer as far as money was concerned. But I declined it.
Although he’d been purposefully, vague, I knew what my duties would be. I’d treat diseased prostitutes, perform abortions, extract bullets and probably have to do a little facial surgery.
A year or so before I’d pulled a few wires attempting to get a job as city inspector of houses in my town. He knew that. He pointed out that this would be about the same thing, only on the wrong side of the law. I am in favor of strict supervision of houses and I’m in favor of preventing childbirth among women who are still in the profession. But I did not intend to become a gangster physician. Such doctors have a way of disappearing mysteriously.
“Better think this over again,” the vice lord told me. “That’s a lot of money, and people who go against us have a way of being sorry.”
“You mean you’ll take me for a ride?” I asked. “Don’t be foolish. I’m certainly not going to go to the police and report your visit. For you to kill me would be a pointless murder and dangerous. I could leave a message to be opened in case of my death. You don’t want a doctor who is against your organization and would betray you if promised protection from the police. And if you mean to rake up a scandal about me, try to do it! You may have some vague rumors but no proof and you’re not likely to go to the police or the medical association just to satisfy a small grudge.”
He grinned at this, said that he was only bluffing, but that I was a smart man and if I ever changed my mind to insert a personal advertisement in a newspaper in another city and leave it in for a week.
“No hard feelings,” he said, and sauntered out.
But he left me with some hard feelings. I smelled danger. I didn’t like to be in a position where detectives called on me when bodies were found. Of course, their excuse was that the girl might have come to me for an examination or to ask me to perform the operation. I didn’t like to be in a position where gangsters felt that they could approach me. I couldn’t express too much righteous indignation. To the criminal mind, I was outside the law and the gangster was outside the law and why didn’t we get together? My fine shading of gray between the black of crime and the white of law would be lost on my caller.
There was a chance that he had proof from some patient of mine and could make me serious trouble. I resolved to temper my sail’s to the wind and turn down all such cases for a time.
And the very next day, I had a chance to try my new resolution. A man and woman came into my office. They were not recommended, that is, no other doctor had sent them to me, notifying me by telephone beforehand and sending a letter of introduction with the patient. Those were the cases I liked best because another doctor shared the responsibility and the patients were hand-picked. Such persons were responsible citizens who went about an illegal business as discreetly and efficiently as possible.
the situation. He was married, he said, and the man explained while he and his wife did not live together, she would not divorce him and he had no cause for divorce against her. She was willing to live with him, and had never been unfaithful. He meant to keep away from her until eventually she decided it would be simpler to divorce him.
In the meantime, he had met this girl and they had drifted into an affair. He meant to marry her if he ever got the divorce. But now she was with child and he was willing to pay for an abortion for her.
I didn’t like either the man or the woman. And when all is said about questions and promises, I must trust a great deal to personal judgment of patients. The average doctor may not like his patients, but it really isn’t going to hurt him if they blab all over town that his medicine did them no good.
The girl sat in sullen silence. She was unattractive, thick- browed, with small gray eyes, too big a mouth and thick, bushy hair. She had a chunky, peasant’s figure. She stared at the floor, her lower lip protruding. The man was glib and talkative; a little too talkative. He was nervous, and said too much about how he was “Willing” to pay for the abortion.
He was rather flashily dressed, and wore a big diamond ring on his little finger. I stared at that ring and wondered if this were a frame-up job designed to force me into the vice combination. But I doubted that. The girl looked too dumb and inexperienced to be associated with a vice syndicate.
The girl didn’t seem to be taking any interest in the conversation, and I didn’t like that. Unless she were anxious to have an abortion, she might be a trouble-maker. Nothing was said about whether she was a virgin when she met this man. That’s usually important. A girl who’s had several lovers regarded pregnancy as one of the risks of the game, and isn’t so likely to, try to force marriage. She’s probably had to worry about an abortion before, and she takes it more or less for granted. Her feeling usually is that she’s been lucky to escape one so far, and it’s up to her to stick her chin out and take her punishment.
If the man was so anxious to brag about how he was “willing” to foot the bills, he’d probably be the sort to quibble over the price. Besides, as I said, I had the wind up. So I told them curtly that there was nothing doing. I offered to examine the girl to make sure that she was pregnant but I told them they had been misinformed if they thought I took such cases.
The man was nervously apologetic, and I went on stressing the enormity of the act he was asking of me.
“Do you know of any other doctors who would do it?” he asked. “I’d pay anything.”
I shook my head. “No registered doctor would do it,” I said. “You might find a man whose license has been taken away from him but who still does some hole-in-the-wall practice. However, I don’t know of any.”
They went away, then, the girl still sullen, the man trying to placate her. I felt sorry for him. It didn’t look to me as if that girl had been seduced. I couldn’t imagine her believing anything but an affidavit. I could see that he was afraid of her.
He had good reason to be frightened. Two days later the news papers were full of the story. She had shot and killed him. She surrendered meekly to the police and told her story. She worked at a cheap lodging house where the man stayed. She claimed that he promised to marry her, but I’ve always doubted that she was seduced in the literal meaning of the word. Also, I didn’t believe her statement that she was a virgin when she met him.
At any rate, when she became with child she demanded immediate marriage. Then, she said, he told her that he was already married. Police discovered that his story of his separation was false. His wife had divorced him several years before. However, I can’t blame him for trying to evade marriage with the sullen, black-browed girl.
The girl did not want an abortion, She was the animal type, insensitive to everything except pain and passion. She was afraid of an abortion and she wanted to hang on to her man and had sense enough to see that if she got rid of the child she’d probably lose him. So she proposed that they go away and live as man and wife and have the child. He refused, saying that it would cost him his job. She found him packing his clothes, and killed him.
I heaved a sigh of relief that I’d followed my intuition. The man already was tired of the affair, and he would have fled as soon as be arranged an abortion. The girl would have raised hell and either followed him or gone to the police. Then the story would have come out and I would have been implicated in a much more dangerous fashion.
As it was, the police came to me and I had a straight story for them. I simply said that the man brought the girl to me, wanted an abortion and I refused to take the case. My Story tallied with that of the girl.
“He promised to marry me and then he wouldn’t do that,” the girl told the police. “Then he said it would be easy to fix me up, and the first doctor we went to said that he wouldn’t do it for anything, that no good doctor would and that it would be dangerous to go to a bad doctor.”
So unwittingly my warning against abortions had sent a man to his death. Everything I had said about quacks was true of course, but it had been the one touch needed to set aflame the shouldering wrath of the girl. I had made her lover a liar on all counts.
I can’t say that I felt sorry. The man was no loss to humanity. He would have left me holding the bag if I had done what he wished. And I would have been in a damned awkward position if the girl had killed him after I’d performed an abortion and perhaps had shot herself, too.
All the same, it gave me a bad scare. The defense brought me into court. It didn’t do me any good to appear as a witness for the defense in a sordid sex murder and have it broadcast that the murdered man brought his mistress to me for an illegal operation.
I talked it over with Norma after the trial closed, with the woman receiving a light sentence. Her counsel had pleaded emotional insanity.
“Maybe it would be better for me to stick to straight practice now,” I argued. “After all, a lot of young doctor’s do this stuff just to get started. I’ve paid my debt to my father and we’ve got a little money ahead.”
“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “Remember how we met?”
Of course, I did. She had come in with a friend who wanted an abortion.
“You seemed to us an angel in disguise. Pearl had expected some rather nasty man who’d treat her as if she were a prostitute. You were so gentle and considerate that you made the whole thing a lot easier.”
“So,” I grinned, “that’s why you fell in love with me.”
She took it seriously. “Partly,” she admitted. “I could see that it wasn’t entirely for money that you were breaking the law. You actually wanted to help people in trouble. And you did it with gentleness and consideration and courtesy — all admirable qualities in a husband. It looked to me as if you had tolerance and a breadth of vision.”
She looked at me. “I’m feminine enough to hope that other women who come to your office won’t think so much of the same things. But at the same time it doesn’t seem to me that because none of my friends happen to be in trouble now, I should urge you to quit that part of your practice and force girls to go to other doctors who are in need of money and aren’t good enough to get a legitimate practice.”
“I was quitting chiefly for you,” I said. “I didn’t want you to have to tell the children that their papa is in prison.”
“You haven’t been in any serious trouble yet,” she reminded me.
I knew that, but I still had the feeling that trouble was in the air. I’m not superstitious, and there had been three times I had skated on thin ice, the girl in the river, Mrs. C’s hysterical visit, and the trial. I have heard people say that suicides go by threes, explaining that there usually are several persons thinking about suicide. The publicity given the first one to take the leap serves as an impetus for the others.
However, I began taking abortion cases again. A prominent businessman brought his daughter to me. His story was one that was all-too-familiar to me, although I heard it from the girl more frequently than from the parent.
The girl was a high-school student, who had got mixed up with a set of sensation-hunters. They were all sons and daughters of well-to-do families and had liberal allowances. There were two or three leaders who, had they come from less wealthy families, would have been the moving spirits of juvenile gangs. Some of them were children of divorce, given cars and too much spending money in lieu of parents.
They started going to dances too soon, drinking too much, driving too fast for a thrill. Then they took up marijuana. It was considered a great joke to give a girl a marijuana cigarette instead of the regular variety.
Jane Alice had received bids to all the Christmas dances given by high-school fraternities and sororities. I have always felt that these high-school organizations are a mistake. Their members attempt to imitate the college Greek-letter ‘Societies’ but do not have strict supervision by national authorities, nor are the members old enough to know how to take care of themselves.
The Christmas dances in my city were marked by a lot of drinking, usually bad liquor, since the Christmas expenses put such a drain on the purse of a high-school boy that good liquor could not be included. A lot of the girls drank because they were afraid if they were not “good sports” their escorts simply would not call to get them or they would be wallflowers at the dance. This “good sport” fallacy causes more trouble than any one other thing in modern youth. The idea that popularity must be had at all costs is another road to heartbreak.
“Her mother and I knew there were chaperons at the dance’s,” Mr. B told me. “And we were slightly acquainted with most of the other youngsters who went. We knew that Jane Alice came home pretty late, but then the dances lasted until 2 o’clock. Most of the kids usually went somewhere for coffee and sandwiches after the dance.. We didn’t want to keep Jane Alice from being popular by making her punch a time-clock.”
Jane Alice was one of those “average” girls who must work hard for popularity. So she had weakly submitted to a high-school boy, drunk and amorous. He had given her a brief rush and she felt that she must pay with her body.
Fortunately for the girl, she was a weakling and accustomed to going to her mother with all her complaints, her need for a new dress, her desire for a party, for a new permanent, for an increase in her allowance. She didn’t have the courage or self-reliance to keep her secret. The boy had dropped her after he found her “easy.” so she went to her mother and told the whole story.
The mother was shocked, but luckily she had sense enough to keep the matter quiet and consult with her husband. They decided that Jane Alice was far too young to marry, even if the boy were willing, which was doubtful. Besides, Jane Alice now had a nervous, hysterical hatred of the youth. There is a superstition that a girl always has a special tenderness for her first lover. But this is not always true. Jane Alice now regarded the experience as virtual rape.
The affair had seared her back into a desire for normal girlhood. She had a glimpse of what it meant to be a woman, and she was thoroughly frightened and disgusted. She hadn’t got any pleasure out of her sexual experience. And the boy, who had appeared glamorous when she was tight, now seemed only a pimply- faced, callow high-school youth.
I have seen the same thing happen after a hasty elopement. The girl, who was all for being an adult, wants to hurry back to the warm protection of her family and her care-free adolescence.
So the B’s decided not to tell the youth or his parents.
“He isn’t old enough to be married,” Mr. B said, “and even if Jane Alice did act the fool, he isn’t good enough for her. His parents might stir up trouble by believing the boy if he denied the charge. We figured that the less said about the whole thing the better.”
I agreed. There was no point in letting the boy know the results of his carelessness. It might have frightened him into being more careful thereafter, and then again it might have made him think that he needn’t take any precaution’s because if the girl were caught her parents would take care of everything. Too, he might have started boasting about what a man he was and how he had knocked up the daughter of one of the town’s leading citizens. The much-vaunted chivalry of man usually comes only when he has acquired enough sense to see the value of silence — not only to protect the girl but for his own benefit.
The abortion was a success. Afterward Jane Alice wanted to go away to a girl’s school, but I advised against it.
“You’re asking me and I’m telling you,” I said frankly to Mr. B “Jane Alice is just a kid, but she’s woman enough to get herself into a mess of this type, and so she ought to be adult enough to face some of the less disagreeable of the consequences.”
“I know,” he agreed. “That’s what I told my wife. Sooner or later Jane Alice must learn to take things on the chin. She’s got to learn that she can’t run away from everything. She may not spend her life in this town, but on the other hand she may live here for several years. The only way she can get over the idea that she can’t face her friends is to force herself to do it. She wanted to resign from her sorority, but I told her that would cause talk. I think that she’ll be able to avoid any wild parties and that she’s learned her lesson. I’ve promised her that if she finishes this year here, she can go away to a girls’ boarding-school.”
I nodded. “But there’s still another reason. I don’t agree with people who say that all boarding-schools are hotbeds of perversion. But I do think that it is unhealthy to bottle up girls who have had dates and a few sex thrills just at their most dangerous adolescent period. It’s natural for a young girl to be restless and to seek excitement. And if she’s subjected to too strict discipline and her normal contact with boys is taken away, she may find the wrong outlet for her energy.
“And that is particularly true in Jane Alice’s case. She is slightly over-sexed. Right now, she feels a natural aversion to men and to sex. She feels that she got a dirty deal. That might recoil into Lesbianism. I’ve seen young girls turn pervert from being jilted, the death of their fiances or through unpopularity at a sensitive period. Too, Jane Alice doesn’t want to forget this too easily for fear she may decide that the whole business wasn’t so bad. She needs a normal life, but she also needs the supervision of people who know what she’s done.”
Mr. B was a sensible man, as I have said. “I see what you mean,” he agreed. “I’ve given this matter a lot of thought, because Jane Alice is an only child and it looks as though two fairly intelligent persons ought to make a success of one child.”
He sighed. “I’ve tried not to be the sort of father who forgets all about his youth and does a lot of aimless preaching. That’s why I gave Jane Alice as much freedom as possible and didn’t blame her over-much for what happened. And I’m relieved that Jane Alice isn’t posing as a sort of young Madame X, betrayed before she was of age and being very dramatic in the best motion picture form. She admits it was partly her fault. I’m under no illusion about my child. She isn’t overloaded with brains. She’s too docile, and I should have realized that and instead of trying to develop initiative I should have relied more on obedience. But it’s hard for a man to judge his own child, and it’s hard to remember the damn-fool things I did when I was young. I never got any girls in trouble,” he added, “but it’s a wonder I didn’t.”
“Sometimes,” he went on, “I think the savages handle these things better. They pay more attention to puberty. They make a ceremony of it and the girls have their womanhood more forcibly impressed on them. Here we pass by puberty with a little bygienic lecture and continue to regard the girls as children until they’re 16 or 18, forgetting that from the ages of 12 to 14 they are, physically, women.”
“I know,” I told him. “Parents hate to see their children grow up. It’s worse in the mothers. They feel they’ve gone through more for the children and they resent their sons’ and daughters’ leaving home as soon as they’re able to take care of themselves. A mother bird will push her fledglings out of the nest. But the human mother is more possessive. The children usually are ready to leave about the time the mother’s own sex life is going or gone. And somehow that makes it harder for the mothers. So we get a mother who wants her big son to escort her around and tries to behave like his sister. And we get the type of mother who keeps her daughter at home, preaching duty to her, and begging her not to marry until after the mother’s death. What she usually means is that she can’t bear the sight of her daughter having a happy sex life when she is lonely and her own life is virtually ended as far as personal pleasure is concerned.”
Mr. B went out after thanking me again. I heard afterward that Jane Alice stayed in school and went in for athletics, hiking and all sorts of outdoor sports which used up her dangerous energy. I have never believed in the creed that children should be seen and not heard, and I wince when a nervous mother urges her daughters to sit in the corner and be quiet. The girls should be taught to be well-mannered, of course, but they should have some outlet for that well of restless energy. Otherwise they may come to me.
About a week later I got a case that admirably illustrated Mr. C’s sympathy for the daughters of neurotic mothers.
A very pretty young girl, with a defiant look in her soft dark eyes, came in to see me. She had refused to give the office girl her name, and I suspected immediately what she wanted.
“You’re going to say that my story sounds exactly like the hokum in cheap magazines,” she began.
I smiled. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Nor that the stories in magazines aren’t true to life. I know a writer who gets all his material from the correspondence of a ‘lovelorn’ editor. He’s accused of being unreal and melodramatic, but he told me that almost invariably he had to tone down the facts.”
“I’m in one of the usual triangles,” she said. “And I’m in the usual jam.”
“Tell me about it,” I invited.
“I want to begin way back. Because,” she paused and gave me a teary smile. “You see, I know something about you and I was told to tell you the entire story because if I didn’t you’d turn me down. So I’ll start with my very beginning. I was an unwanted child. My mother had been a belle, and she made a good marriage. And then right away I came along to spoil the fun — and my mother’s figure, as I’ve had dinned into my ear’s since childhood.”
It was a pathetic story she told, but I don’t believe it was exaggerated. She had been paraded around as a baby and her mother had posed as a martyr to motherhood. But when she outgrew the cute roly-poly stage and began to have long legs and arms and be a big girl, she was shunted off to school in winter and camp in summer rather than spoil her mother’s lies about her age.
“Mother has always claimed that she was a mere child when she married,” Dorothy said bitterly, “As a matter of fact, she wa’s 24, and getting pretty nervous about being an old maid. I was kept in short socks as long as possible. Finally father died and left me some money, but in mother’s care, and I wasn’t to get it until I am 21. I’m 20 now, but I’m still mother’s little girl. I’d started in school so early and had it so concentrated that at 18 there wasn’t any place except college she could send me. And mother was afraid of college. I don’t know exactly why. She had the old-fashioned idea that college made blue stockings out of women and I’d never marry. She is vain enough not to want an old maid for a daughter, although at the same time she doesn’t want me to marry because then she’d be a mother-in-law and perhaps a grandmother. She was afraid, too, that college would make me strong-willed. Too, when I was away at boarding-school it sounded as if I were about 12. She never had any pictures made of me after I was 10. But a girl at college sounds grown-up.
She smiled again, a smile with no mirth. “That sounds awfully bitter, but you never had it drilled into you that it was a crime for you to grow up normally. Mother is always talking about what a pretty child I was and sighing. And she worries for fear I’ll be as pretty as she was. I won’t. I look more like father. Well, I came home and I started dating a little in spite of anything mother could do. I went away to visit some school friends and I met a young engineer. I fell for him — hard. He loved me, wanted to marry me. But he wanted to do everything in the traditional fashion. He wanted to ask my mother for my hand. I was against that. After all, I’m 20. And, I forgot to tell you, if I marry after I’m 18, I get full control of my money without waiting until I’m 21. Sometimes I think father put that clause in to encourage me to marry and escape from mother.”
I nodded. “Go on,” I told her. I knew the girl either had to tell her story or go into hysterics. She’d been bottling it up too long.
“I fought against telling mother,” Dorothy went on. “I knew she’d do something to spoil it. Sandy couldn’t understand. He wanted me to meet his mother, who is also a widow. He thought it would be nice for our mothers to get to be good friends. His mother is a dear, old-fashioned but sweet. I knew mother wouldn’t like her and would make fun of her and I couldn’t bear that. Sandy had a job offered him with an engineering firm here and he wanted to take it so that we could live close to our relatives. He’d been wandering over the world, but he said it was no way for a woman to live. Anyhow, he wanted children.”
“I knew it wouldn’t work,” she said, almost hysterically. “Mother would fight it. She couldn’t bear to have me living in the same town and raising a family. She’d break up our marriage, if we were allowed to be married. I wanted to elope and go to South America where Sandy could work. But he was tired of living there.”
She smiled ironically. “Finally, I did get him to go away with me for a week-end or so. I told him that I was modern and believed people should find out if they are sexually mated before they were married. He was a little shocked at first, but he wanted me, too. After that, he insisted that we must be married right away just in case anything happened. And he was more determined to meet mother. So he came here. I thought that I could tell mother that we had been lovers and shock her into letting us marry. But she beat me to it.”
She shuddered. “Oh, it’s too horrible to talk about!” “I can guess,” I said. “You mother is shrewd and she saw what sort of a man your lover was. So she told him you weren’t a good girl.”
“Worse than that. She first told him that I was under 18 and couldn’t marry without her consent. But he knew better than that because I’d told him about all the schools I’d gone to and pretty well outlined my life. But I’d never told him the truth about mother. His own mother was so different, you know, and I hate to play the mistreated daughter. I thought he’d think less of me and might wonder if I weren’t like her, or if I were exaggerating. Anyhow, I am well dressed and well fed and fairly well educated. I don’t look mistreated.”
“And you were too happy to want to spoil it by talking about your past sorrows,” I suggested.
She nodded. “They seemed somehow unimportant if I could escape them with Sandy. But when mother saw that the under-age gag wouldn’t work, she went on. She got panicky and she didn’t really mean to say as much as she did. She’s apologized since. But she told him that I didn’t want children and that I was over-sexed and she’d had to send me to girls’ schools to keep me out of trouble. That wasn’t true, of course, although,” she hesitated for a moment, “I’d done some rather indiscreet things in rebellion, such as getting drunk with the wrong people, and going on wild parties. I hadn’t been a plaster saint, but I’d never had any sex experience before. Mother is charming, she’s, a good actress, and of course Sandy believed her. It all fitted in neatly with my frantic desire that we have each other before marriage. Mother even told him that doctors had talked of giving me a sterilization operation but she had refused, thinking I’d outgrow my indiscretions.”
The tears were rolling down her cheeks. She cried naturally. like a child, not bothering to wipe away the drops. “I suppose I behaved in a peculiar fashion, too, and that made things worse. I knew mother was lying to him, but I didn’t know what about and I made some silly explanations designed to cover virtually everything or anything. The next thing I knew, he told me that perhaps I was right in saying it was all a mistake — I told him that when I saw him regarding me oddly. Now he’s gone to South America. And,” she spread out. her hands, “here I am.”
“Have you told your mother you’re pregnant?” I asked.
“For God’s sake, no. She’d use it as a lever over me all my life or she’d ship me off to South America. As soon as she found out that Sandy had gone away to work, she was sorry for what she’d done. she’d thought, of course, that we’d live here. Then she told me part of what she’d said and I guessed the rest and made her admit It. Of course, it was partly, my fault. I was nervous, and when Sandy began acting strangely I flared up instead of telling him the truth. I was so upset I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Look,” I said. “You came here for an abortion, but you don’t really want one, and so I’m not going to give it to you.”
She stared at me hopelessly. “You must. I thought at first I’d have Sandy’s child and salvage that much of him. But it’s impossible. I won’t have any freedom until I’m 21. Oh, I’ve got a little money, and I can pawn some things and pay your fee. But I haven’t enough to support me somewhere and take me through all the trouble mother would make for me. She’d ruin it somehow.”
“I don’t mean that,” I told her. “You’re going to follow your man. You still love him or you wouldn’t want his child. The trouble with you is that all your life you’ve been afraid of your mother. You were scared, or you would have saved yourself a lot of misery, told Sandy the truth and gone with him to interview your mother. You were a coward then. You went away and hid while he talked to her. So now you’ve got to do something more courageous. You must go to South America and find him.”
“I couldn’t. I’ve got only the vaguest idea where he is. And I don’t want to force him into marrying me because I’m pregnant.”
I shrugged my shoulders impatiently. “And how do you think he would feel if he ever heard the real story and knew that because of false pride and cowardice you cheated both of you out of happiness? You come home with me and my wife will talk to you.”
The upshot of it was that Norma went with her to Sandy’s mother.
“She’ll be horrified,” Dorothy protested, “She’s one of those sweet, old-fashioned women.”
“Old-fashioned women know a lot about life,” Norma told her.
And Norma was right. She told me about it on her return.
“I almost lost my nerve when we got there,” Norma related. “The set-up was too mid-Victorian for words. And there was Mrs. S, a grandmotherly woman with white hair and an apple-blossom akin. Dorothy got cold feet and I had to tell the story. I meant to skip about Dorothy’s wanting an abortion, but she blurted it out. The old lady just clucked her tongue and kissed Dorothy.
“Then she said it reminded her so much of an old woman who wanted her daughter to look after her and so she told the poor girl’s beau that Maisie wasn’t a nice girl. She wound up by saying, ‘But poor Maisie didn’t have your courage, my dear, or your money and so there was nothing she could do about it.’ She wasn’t shocked that Dorothy was pregnant. She just said, ‘Such things happen to the young, dear, and we who are old should be ready to help. That’s why we are here after our child-bearing duties are over.'”
Mrs. S took things into her own delicate hands, and when Norma left she was busy getting passports for them. She had introduced Dorothy everywhere as her daughter-in-law and she had cabled her son that she was coming to see him and bringing along her new daughter.
“I just told him that I’d explain later,” she said. “I don’t think it best to surprise him. Sandy knows and trusts me, and he probably has had time to think things over by now and realize his mistake. But he’s a wee bit stubborn, like all the Scotch.”
I like to think of Dorothy and her happiness. She and Sandy were married upon her arrival, with Mrs. S beaming on them. It helps Whenever I hear abortionists described as monsters who fatten on child murder. I have never performed an abortion unless I felt that it was best for humanity. And I have prevented many of them, especially in the last few years.
As methods have improved and women are wiser in birth-control methods, more and more young women have lost their horror of the whispered, “She got rid of the baby somehow.” They come into my office seeking an easy way out of their difficulties. But a lot of them have gone out convinced that the hardest way might be the best after all. To many of them I said, “Bring your man in here and let me talk to him. This is his business, too. Don’t get too modern. You’re not modern enough to escape the oldest of all biological traps.”
There is something about a doctor’s office that make’s people more humble, more ready to listen. I think it must be that each sick, hopeless or hopeful patient leaves something of his patience or his despair or his resignation in the atmosphere. People will listen to things from a doctor that they will not take from anyone else. Possibly it is because few doctors ever preach, and the patient realizes that the doctor knows what he is talking about.
When marriage to possible, I refuse to perform an abortion merely to cover up carelessness. The patient may regret it later. I am not in favor of shotgun marriages, but I have had literally dozens of cases where abortions were refused and the marriages were normally happy. Sometimes there is a difference in social position and moneyed prestige. A society girl has an affair with a workingman and is caught. She hates to face the disapproval of her family, the possible ridicule of having married beneath her. If it was purely momentary passion, I am not in favor of forcing a union and allowing a child to be born when a divorce is inevitable and the child will always be under a handicap.
But if the affair has been going on for several months — and despite all the stories of conception after one sex act, it is a rare thing — then it seems to me that there is no reason why marriage shouldn’t follow, and I say so. And when two young working people are selfishly intent on leading their own lives and want an abortion for the girl because they are afraid the child and marriage might interfere with freedom, I refuse to act.
There has grown up in recent years a group of modern mistresses, workingwomen who are afraid that marriage might interfere with their jobs, who want to artificially prolong their youth by not having children or other responsibilities. They say that they intend to have sex anyhow, and they indulge in affairs of long duration. Sometimes these women actually would make poor mothers, and in that case an abortion is advisable. At other times, I try to exert the slight pressure that is necessary to overcome the idea that marriage would interfere too much with the designs of their living.
I have tried in this casebook to present a random selection of patients. I have made mistakes. I have had women come in and blame me for their sterility. They do not believe me when I tell them that they have undoubtedly done something since the abortion to cause their barren state.
Likewise, I have had wives blame me for urging them into marriages which proved unhappy. It did no good to point out that there are many divorces not caused by the handicap of premature childbirth.
I played God a little in the case of Dorothy and Sandy because I thought it worth the risk. If she had stayed with her mother, she might have become promiscuous out of sheer rebellion. She admitted having gone on wild parties as an emotional relief after a quarrel with her mother. I wanted to avoid what happened in one case that came to me.
June’s mother had been a pretty, spoiled village girl. She had married a city man and lived happily for a while. But eventually June’s father was unfaithful to her mother. The mother discovered it, and they were estranged. Denied his wife, the man went in for a series of affairs. The wife had expected to find her husband at her feet, begging for forgiveness, and became bitter when he was not abject.
She eventually separated from her husband and he gave her a handsome settlement. The mother now exacted the utmost in slavery from the daughter. June in rebellion took the obvious course. She began a clandestine affair with an utter cad. She knew what sort of a man he was, that is, she knew that he was reputed to be “wild.” But that lent more glamour to the affair. She went farther than she intended, and found herself in a jam. So she came to me.
“I didn’t really love the man,” she explained, “and I knew I Was cutting off my nose to spite my face, but somehow I just went on and on. If I tell mother, she’ll say I’m my father’s, daughter and all the rest of my life she’ll talk about how I ruined myself and broke her heart.”
“When you get out of this mess, get a job and a little more independence,” I told her. “You’re too old to be so childish. I can understand how your mother drives you to do wild things. But you don’t want to spend your life playing the fool just because you feel you’re getting even with her. You can’t be happy that way.”
“I know,” she answered meekly. “I know i’ve made a darned fool of myself. And I don’t understand why I picked out this way of trying to get even with mother. I just did. It seemed the worst thing I could do to her.”
I didn’t find that extraordinary. Sex is used frequently as a weapon by the woman. The young girl, angry at her mother, thinks “I’ll run away” and adds as a postscript, that she’ll run away with some boy her mother dislikes. The angry wife withholds her caresses and looks around for someone to whom she can give her body as additional punishment to her husband.
A young woman who frankly admits to 30 was talking to me the other day about woman’s use of sex.
“People talk of feminine wiles and age-old tricks,” she remarked scornfully. “They talk about women not being straightforward about sex. How can they? You’ve seen what happened to girls who tried to meet man on his own ground.”
She paused a moment. “Probably I’m malicious. But I’ve got so sick of men who want my body for a night or a few nights and expect me to be delighted because they say so and because they admit that they like me and are attracted by me. They feel that the mere fact that they want me should cause me to submit immediately. They never bother to inquire whether I feel the same way or whether I object to being shopworn. But I’m going to have my fun some of these days. There are two or three men I’m watching and I mean to have some quiet laughs at their expense in about 10 years.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I know about half a dozen attractive men in their late 20’s and early 30’s. They’re all earning enough to support a wife but they don’t want one. They say that they want sex as an adventure. They usually want one girl as a self-supporting mistress and then perfect freedom to date any other girls they are attracted to. The women don’t like the idea; it robs them even of the security of a steady boy friend. They can’t even count upon an escort whenever they want one; they have to find out whether their lovers have other plans, and it keeps them from getting a matrimonial-minded man. I know a couple of these gay dogs who are past 40. One already has lost his manhood and another is losing his. Now they’re beginning to see the woman’s viewpoint. They have to stand by and watch younger men get the women they want. The women their own age don’t appeal to them, and they’re having the novel experience of being a little abject, of pleading to see women, of asking small favors.”
I grinned. “I know what you mean. I’ve seen some of those birds who claim they’re prematurely impotent. Some of them are, of course. But you’d be surprised to know how many men in their middle 40’s, men who haven’t taken any care of themselves and are in generally poor physical condition, are hollering their heads off in the privacy of a doctor’s office.”
“Sure,” she agreed. “I know one man who wasn’t willing to make any sacrifices to insure a lasting companionship. He didn’t see any women worth marrying or worth giving up his freedom for. Now he’s consumed with self-pity. He sees old age approaching and not much more fun. So he wants some attractive woman to fall in love with him and spend her life taking care of him. There are still women who would marry him, but he doesn’t want them. He’s used to the best. And he can’t adjust himself to the idea that he’s no longer in a position to take what he wants. he’s like a woman now. He has to take what he can get.
“A man told me the other day that he’d always been fair to women; he’d never promised to marry any of them; they knew what they were getting into when he had a sex affair with them. And he never got them into any jams. Now he’s full of self-pity because he wants a woman and can’t get her. She has never promised to marry him, either. It never occurred to him that some of these women who gave him pleasure may have fallen in love with him — he was a handsome devil — and concealed it from pride. If a man tells a woman he loves her, she usually feels that sometime he may get around to proposing. And a man has no compunction about asking the girl if she loves him. That puts the whole affair on a higher plane. And if she doesn’t have hysterics or shoot him, he feels that this is all right with her.”
“I know,” I said. “A man cane to me the anther day and asked if I could predict how much longer he could have an active sex life. He was beginning to weaken. I told him it was impossible for me to tell. He was about 50, and wasn’t in very good physical condition. He said that he wanted to marry a girl of about 25. He would do it if he thought he could have sexual relations with her for four or five years. He said that if he became immediately impotent, he would not feel right about marrying her, but he thought that after four or five years of married life he could expect her to be faithful.
“He was an old friend of mine, and I told him that he was just laying up misery for himself. I asked him if he expected a girl of 30 to be faithful to a man of 55. He hemmed and hawed and said that he knew she must have a sex life — he thought in terms of sex still rather than love — and he wouldn’t object as long as he didn’t know about it. He was willing to condemn the girl to clandestine’ affairs, to being the unfaithful wife of an old man, in order to have four or five years of happiness. And, of course, he would be jealous and suspicious. Most of these old men with young wives are.”
“Naturally,” the woman said. “He’d tell her that he understood her need for sex, but he’d see that she felt guilty, and he’d torment her by trying to find out about it and telling her that all her men friends were scoundrels.”
I chuckled. “You’ve got him right. He then told me that he’d let her divorce him if she wanted to — but I didn’t take that too seriously, either. Men in that condition will promise virtually anything. Then he said that she’d be left a moneyed widow when she was a little past 30, and she could have plenty of time to have her fun.”
“It would serve him right if he married her and she was flagrantly unfaithful and let him know she was waiting for him to carry out his promise to die and leave her his money,” the woman exclaimed. “I told you I was a little soured on this sex business. In the past 10 years, I’ve had several affairs. Some of them have left pleasant memories and some not so nice. But when I try to count the men of all ages, descriptions and previous, condition of servitude who have made me proposition’s, and men who have let me get into trouble through their carelessness and expected me to get out by myself, well, it doesn’t seem very pleasant.”
She looked at me and grinned. “I don’t mean the time I came to you, either. Larry was all right then. He did his duty. But I must say that he was content to sit back and furnish his share of the money and let me make the arrangements. Which is one reason why I didn’t use any of the much-vaunted feminine wiles to try to trick him into marriage. Of course, I know it was in character for Larry to be quiet and easy-going. But I admit that I would have admired him more if he hadn’t stood back so meekly and let me handle it.”
I laughed. “You modern girls yell for equal rights, and when you get them you’re peeved because men don’t try to dominate you and don’t do everything for you.”
“Well put,” she agreed. “But there’s another viewpoint, Martin, in my world, where sex frequently is a casual matter — to judge from some of the propositions made me — there are only a few ways of knowing when a man really cares for a woman. I’m always skeptical of the word, love. There are so many varieties, ranging from momentary passion and infatuation or friendly fondness to the honest to gosh till-death-do-us-part kind. And this womanly intuition business has been greatly overrated. I’ve heard men say that a woman always knows somehow when a man really loves her. That’s bosh. Women have a keener eye for deception in people they don’t love; and frequently they try to kid themselves and others when they really know better.
“When it all boils down, there are only three or four ways in which a woman can be reassured that a man loves her. And those don’t always work. One is when he offers her a wedding ring. Larry, for instance, told me that he loved me as much as if we were married, I always thought when he said that, ‘Well, why don’t you ask me to marry you, then?’ He got angry once when I said I couldn’t believe in him, and asked me whether a wedding ring were the only way I could be sure of him. He pointed out that there wasn’t anything sure about marriage. I knew that, of course, but what he didn’t realize was that to a woman a proposal doesn’t merely meat that the man is signifying his willingness to be branded as the woman’s property, but that he is anxious that the woman be known as his wife.. No woman like’s to be told merely that she can be sure of the man. She wants the man to want to be sure of her. Otherwise, she has a feeling that he’s a little condescending.”
“Male egotism,” I explained. “So that’s why you didn’t want to marry larry?”
“Partly,” she admitted. “And he wasn’t jealous enough. I had no way of knowing whether this was perfect faith or utter indifference, and sometimes I needed assurance that it wasn’t indifference. As it was, at times I got the idea that he didn’t really give a damn what I did so long as it didn’t interfere with his having me when he wanted me, or reflect on his reputation, or keep him from his other social pleasures.”
“Marriage and jealousy then,” I ticked them off on my fingers. “What are the other things a woman needs as proof of love?”
“illustrated again by Larry,” she replied. “Now Larry said later he would have been glad to arrange all the disagreeable preliminaries for my abortion. But the point is, he didn’t rush up with the offer at the time and he didn’t insist. God knows how many times I’ve heard men say — after I’ve expressed the suggestion — ‘If I had known you wanted to go, I’d have been delighted to fix it.’ They may have been sincere, but it sounds like lip-courtesy, especially since they didn’t do anything more about it. Now I will ask favors of men who mean little to me — or who perhaps are good friends of mine. But I want my lover to make offers of service because he wants to, not because I suggested it. And once in a while I want him to override my wishes if he thinks it is best for me. Now you are a friend of mine. But if I told you I was going to get drunk, you’d shrug your shoulders and think it was my business. As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t care enough to find out who I’d be drinking with. I don’t expect more from you. But from a lover, I’d want a little more interest in my welfare.”
“You want perfection,” I told her.
“No,” she protested, “I don’t mean that I should always be the passive member of the couple. But I’d want some assurance that he thought of me without my having to call his attention to me. Otherwise, I’d never know whether he was genuinely anxious to be with me.”
She grinned. “We sound so smart we ought to write a book about clandestine sex.”
“I am,” I told her. “I’ve kept a sort of casebook and I’m compiling an informal record of them. I thought it might show some of my stuffed shirt friends there’s more to sex than the birth and wedding notices,”
“How are you going to end it.” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve been lucky so far. I’m happily married, with two children. Sometimes I think that the reason I am happily married is because other people make my mistakes for me. And so far I’ve been pretty lucky. Of course by the time the book comes out I may be in prison.”
“Let me finish it,” she asked eagerly. “I like to come over here and talk to you, knowing that you’ll regard it as a confessional. I can’t talk about these things to the men and women I know. It might do me some good to get it off my chest, and it might do others some good to hear the woman’s side of the case.
“All right,” I agreed.
“You can present the sex situation from an impersonal viewpoint,” she explained with an ironic grin, “and I’ll give the story of the fallen woman, 20th Century style.”
“So be it,” I said. “I am never satisfied with endings, anyhow. The happy ending’s make me feel that if I look on the front page tomorrow I’ll see a divorce suit being filed. And when I see tragic endings I know that presently the characters will begin to feel that life isn’t so bad after all and a good meal or a stiff drink is in order.”
And so my book ends, appropriately enough, with the first person story of one of my patients. Its writer will remain anonymous, without even the cloak of a fictitious first name. A week after our talk my patient brought it to me, neatly typed. I found it an absorbing human document. She told me that she had kept a diary at the time. I present it in her own words.
When you mention the word “abortion,” most people either laugh or look avidly interested, depending on whether you are being general or personal in the discussion.
The discussion won’t be in the first person, singular, because an abortion is one strictly feminine operation women don’t talk about. That sounds like a joke. It isn’t to one who has gone through the hush-hush business of having one.
Married women have bored we by dwelling on the details of their sacrifice and pain in childbirth. But the unmarried girl is silent about the torture, mental and physical, she endured to prevent an unwelcome child entering a hostile world. Her silence is part of her punishment. And no small part. Not for her the sympathy lavished on the ill or the bereaved. She has to smile before, during, and after her premature accouchement.
By my code of ethic, an abortion was the only possible curse. My lover and I had not wished to marry, before I became pregnant. There was no reason why accidental conception should force us into a repugnant marriage. I had no moral scruple’s against ridding myself of the “mistake.” I could see no difference between an abortion and use of contraceptives.
At times, I felt that I would like to have a child. I even speculated regarding its probable traits and appearance. Even now, I sometimes find myself wondering what the child would have looked like, figuring out how old it would be and speculating regarding any change it would have made in my life. But thus far I’m glad that I did not have it.
I did not want to bring an illegitimate child into the world. I had decided ideas upon what a child’s upbringing should be. It would not be fair to myself to jeopardize my reputation and my possible career, and the same thing was true regarding my lover. I did not want the responsibility; neither did the father. It would be impossible for me to even support the child decently. I had no right to bring a child into the world under such circumstances.
I was, I believe, exceptionally lucky. I obtained, easily a small amount of ready money. I was able to spend a short time away from my home without suspicion attaching to my sudden departure. My lover shared the expenses, and we were able to keep the affair secret. At times during that dreary period when my family doctor thought it best to wait and see if my menstruation had not simply been delayed, I wanted to talk about my fears, to argue aloud. in order to convince myself that I was being foolish. Again, I wanted to try to forget the whole business. I even thought about remaining drunk or at giddy parties the remainder of the time I must wait, I resent my constant worry. I sought easy physical tasks which would occupy my hands and mind and shut out thought. It was a strain to carry on a normal conversation. I’d forget for a few minutes. and then back would come the nagging worry.
The doctor had thought I might have just skipped a menstruation period, because there had been a tiny flow. As time approached for the deciding period, I was obsessed with a desire to get it over with. I was optimistic with the doctor. But I was secretly convinced that I was pregnant. Time dragged and then spurted. I had the usual wish-fulfillment dreams in which I fancied that I was menstruating normally. They caused me unpleasant awakenings and a dread of going to sleep. I acquired an unhealthy curiosity about my anatomy. Was my indigestion nausea? Was a chance abdominal pain the stirring of menstruation? I feared to complain about any petty ailment, thinking it might be recognized as a tell- tale symptom. Any chance joke about pregnancy made me grow cold.
Since childhood I had suffered from nervousness. Now I feared that the additional mental strain might cause me to become hysterical and blurt out the truth or might cause a nervous breakdown which would make more difficult the coming ordeal.
I was in a state of complete jitters during the all-important few days when I should have been menstruating. Then I bolstered courage for a decisive visit to my doctor.
An hour’s wait in the outer office gave ample time for phrasing and rephrasing the essential questions. I eyed the other patients and envied them their ailments. They didn’t have to hide their symptoms or worry about a listening nurse.
I told the doctor that nothing had happened. Afterward it was odd to think this was the worst of many visits to doctors. Later it became a matter of course, the way was smoothed before me, doctors were more adroit about relieving nervous strain.
This doctor wasted no time in being tactful. He put his fingers together and looked thoughtful. “You’d better have an examination,” he advised.
I kept up a running flow of chatter which deceived neither of us into thinking that I was taking the matter lightly. All the time my mind was repeating, “This can’t happen to me. Not to me. This is the sort of thing that happens to stupid girls.”
The doctor probed. It hurt. I winced.
“You’re pregnant all right,” he said. “Two months.” I felt a little numb, a little relieved. At least I knew. But I wanted to get out of there quickly.
“So that’s that,” I remarked. “I’m a fallen woman. How much do I owe you?”
“Two dollars.” He helped me with my coat and gave me a friendly slap on the back. “I’m sorry,” he observed. “It’s just a bad break.”
I went out into the waiting-room. I said something funny to the girl attendant. I met some old friends on the street. They were genial.
“How are you getting along?” asked a man who had once had a romantic attachment for me.
“Just fine,” I smiled. It was funny, I thought, how many people must be saying “just fine” when they felt like the devil.
I flattered myself that I was taking all this very well. I hoped that I could maintain my composure when I got into a sympathetic atmosphere. I went into the hotel room where my lover was waiting for me. I tried to keep my smile from sliding. I was afraid my eye’s were filling with childish tears. I told myself that I must behave like an adult, facing a problem that had been met by thousands of persons.
“I want a drink,” I told him. I held the highball in my hand and sipped it while I gave the doctor’s verdict. I lit a cigarette. I thought that it certainly helped along my appearance as a fallen woman to sit in a hotel room with a cigarette and a highball while I listened to what, in my hyper-sensitive condition, seemed an interminable discussion of plans and the necessity for secrecy.
God knows that I didn’t want to broadcast the news. But I felt so ungodly tired. I wanted bed and rest and the friendly unawareness of my family. I knew these arrangements had to be made. But it seemed to me that the same things were being said over and over again. I suppose they were. My lover probably was nervous, too, although he didn’t show it. His very calm irritated me.
I wonder now if I had to do it over again whether I would try to be so gay and gallant. Probably it looked as if I were frivolous and didn’t take it very seriously. Maybe if I hadn’t tried to act so brave and efficient, Larry wouldn’t have seemed so far away. Perhaps I should have gone feminine and helpless. I don’t know.
Anyhow, it was decided that I should go to a nearby city where a friend of mine would arrange things. I live there now. I made a suitable excuse and drove away. Ordinarily I like going anywhere and part of the day I managed to enjoy the trip. But there was the strain of explaining things to the friend, getting his assistance. I had told him during my waiting period that I might require his help. I knew that he was a friend of several doctors and would be in a position to help.
I told my friend, and I tried to tell myself that the reason Larry did not go along was because it was difficult for him to get away from work, it would be doubly expensive for us both and it would increase the danger of being found out if we were both away from home at the same time.
I realized that there was no real need for him to go with me. X could handle this business with more efficiency and more secrecy, but at the same time I wished Larry had wanted to go or had asked to come up and bring me back. That trip home was beastly lonely as I remember It.
I checked in at the hotel and went to see X. He was sympathetic but a little brusque about my foolishness in getting into a jam. He asked why I didn’t marry the man. I tried making explanations, and they all sounded foolish, so at last I said bluntly that I didn’t want to and that was that. He agreed to help, and I went back to my hotel. Books I had brought failed to hold my attention. The room seemed first too hot and then too cold. My dozing was nightmarish.
There were moments that first night when the whole thing seemed to be only a trifling incident; others when it loomed up as a calamity and I broke out in cold sweat, remembering my cowardice about physical pain, my utter ignorance of the whole procedure. I had to trust blindly to X.
I told myself that it was foolish that I should be so upset. The morning dragged while I waited for a telephone message from my friend. On the radio a laconic female voice chanted, “Everything’s been done before. I just want to do what’s been done before.” The telephone rang. “Everything is O.K.,” X said.
I rushed over for a conference. A medical friend had agreed to arrange it. But he refused to take my doctor’s finger examination verdict. There must be a laboratory verification. So I bought a rabbit.
The rabbit cost me $15 and 36 hours of waiting.
Oddly enough this period of waiting, while nerve-wracking, did bring a strange relief from other worries. My fate for the next few days was in the hands of impersonal scientists. I hoped, of course, that the test would be negative. But this was one decision I did not have to make. And suddenly it seemed to me that I was unutterably weary of making decisions. People had said that I was gay and carefree, with ‘nothing to worry about’ They little knew of the complications of my private life, my worrying over whether I had made a mistake in turning down a man who loved me and wanted to marry me in order to pursue a futile affair with a man who did not; the constant speculation over, whether I hadn’t better leave the hole thing behind and go somewhere else, start life over again.
Finally the 36 hours were over. I went back to the doctor’s office.
“We can kill it any time now,” he reported cheerfully. “Come on into the laboratory. A magnificent rabbit, must weigh four pounds. We’ll have it for supper tonight, in a stew.”
The thought of the doctor’s family dining with pleasure on my rabbit amused and yet slightly irritated me. After all, I had paid $15 for that rabbit, and spent 36 hours worrying over its health. I Wondered if medical etiquette required my presence while. it was being eaten. Apparently not; and I was a little relieved, for it would have seemed like cannibalism to me.
The doctor killed the rabbit by injecting air into its arteries. Then he opened it, and fished out two tiny pink objects with purple spots on them. They were the ovaries.
“There you are, my dear,” he said genially. “Very positive reaction. Those purple spots are hemorrhages on the ovary. It’s the only positive test. You’re pregnant. No doubt about it.”
He carefully put the pink objects away on a piece of paper. Then he cleaned the rabbit in the sink and wrapped it in a section of brown paper before putting it in a refrigerator, crammed with specimens of one kind and another.
“I’ll save these ovaries,” he observed. “Some of the younger doctors are interested in these tests, and may want to know what they look like.”
So, indirectly, I was making my contribution to science.
He telephoned the surgeon, and they amiably discussed their respective healths and when I should appear on the scene. It seemed that the surgeon was ready to leave his office, so I should come the next day. This meant an extra day’s waiting, of course, but time and tide in such things mean little to the doctor.
“Now cautioned the doctor. “You must remember not to breathe a word of this to anyone.”
“Of course,” I agreed.
“The surgeon is not doing this for financial reasons,” he went on. “He is no quack. But he and I feel that there are times when it is better for humanity that some children should not be born. I understand that in your situation it would mess up the child’s life as well as your own and that of your lover. It is a racial waste, for your child probably would be a fine, healthy one. But I believe we are justified in aborting you for sociological reasons.”
My friend, I think, had exaggerated things Slightly in explaining to the doctor why I could not marry. But I did not feel it best to say anything Just then. So I went back to the hotel, which was beginning to pall on me. I didn’t think it best to spend too much time with my friend. I realized that at the moment I was far from an agreeable companion. I read until my eyelids would close in defiance of my will, and my mind would refuse to concentrate on the contents of the printed page.
The next day I went to the surgeon’s office. The first doctor had given me a note of introduction. Life seemed to be a succession of appointments and introductions and doctors’ offices.
Doctor A was a likeable middle-aged man with a friendly manner. He frightened me at first by telling me briskly that I would need a nurse and probably would have to stay in the city for at least another week and possibly 10 days. It would be best for me to get a little apartment.
Obediently I checked out of my hotel and registered in the apartment hotel he suggested. Then I returned to his office and waited while the reception room slowly cleared of patients. There were magazines that I tried to read without much success, The office attendant telephoned for my nurse.
“You won’t need her until tomorrow,” she explained casually. “You’ll get along all right tonight. Then tomorrow, about 11, you can come down here and meet her.”
“Here?” I asked incredulously. I fully expected to be borne away from the doctor’s office in an ambulance. The next day I supposed I would be moaning and tossing in my bed, yelping for morphine.”
“Sure,” said the nurse. “You’ll be able to walk a few blocks tomorrow, all right. Walking’s good for you, anyway.”
Doctor A stood in the doorway.
“You’re the next victim,” he grinned. “I’ll give you a little treatment and send you on your way rejoicing.”
I didn’t answer. With all the joyous sensations of a condemned man — there wasn’t even a hearty breakfast to cheer me up, for I’d been too nervous to eat — I walked into the office. The low tones of the nurse and the doctor, the whispered consultations, had been entirely too reminiscent of the death room.
“Better take off your coat and hat,” he suggested.
I obeyed, and began unfastening my dress, looking around for the traditional white nightgown buttoned down the back.
“No need to take off your dress,” he explained cheerfully.
I sat down on a white table, of a type that was becoming all too familiar, and hooked my feet in the stirrup-like circles. The doctor squeezed some white salve out of a tube, and then I felt him probing. “Don’t I take an anesthetic?” I asked, although nothing very painful had been done to me so far.
“Of course not,” he replied, and launched into a discussion of the jitters he’d had when his tonsils were cut out.
He was probing with some instrument now, and I winced a little.
“I don’t see how you girls stand this,” commented the doctor cheerfully. “It hurts me just to do it.”
“Oh, it isn’t so bad,” I hastened to assure him.
He turned away and washed his hands.
“You can sit up now,” he said. “That’s all.”
I sat up. I stared.
“You mean,” I paused for emphasis. “You mean that this is all you do?”
“That’s all the first treatment,” he answered.
I felt like laughing. I felt like crying. There was such a sudden let-down in all the courage I’d bolstered for a painful operation. I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel as if I’d had an abortion. It wasn’t any more painful than the examinations I’d had before.
“Sit down and get your breath,” the surgeon suggested.
“But I thought you had to cut something out, and then stuff me full of medicated gauze,” I protested. This abortion business seemed too good to be true.
“Oh, that’s the old French method. That’s a barbarous business, and dangerous. I never do that any more. Nowadays I just loosen the membranes, and let nature expel the thing in the natural way.”
He told me the name of this new method, but the word meant nothing to me. It seemed to have something to do with heat.
“I’ve had thousands of cases, and never a failure yet. High school girls, girls your age, older women — all ages. You’re healthy and fit — you won’t have any trouble. Keep on your feet, eat and drink anything you want, except alcohol, but don’t smoke too much. Take these two pills tonight, and your nurse will tell you what to do tomorrow. You’ll run a temperature tonight, and perhaps have a chill, but don’t worry. You’ll be all right.”
I was all right. I went jubilantly back to the apartment, too jubilantly I learned later. I felt like toe-dancing. Instead, I ate five sandwiches, drank a bottle of beer and literally quarts of water and felt very good indeed. The high temperature came in due time, I took the pills, which were shiny, black, deadly-looking things. I learned later that they were merely laxatives. Then I settled down to await developments.
Developments arrived promptly the next morning. First came the original doctor, with the cheering news of the price, which was $50 more than I had been led to expect. I was to pay $125. But before I had much time to worry about that, there came a peremptory telephone call, urging, me to hurry down to the surgeon’s office to meet my nurse.
“Better get a rubber sheet,” urged the first doctor genially. “Be sure to get it right away, before you expel this thing, because it won’t do you any good afterward. And your worst is yet to come,” be added. “You won’t get off this easy.”
The “worst” began within 15 minutes. I perceived now why the surgeon had said “your first treatment” on the preceding day. Treatment Number Two hurt more. I began to feel less gratitude toward the surgeon. He was no longer one of the Lord’s anointed tome. He was, I thought bitterly, getting plenty for what little he’d done. I remembered the first doctor’s admonition to keep quiet about this matter. It gave me some pleasure to feel that Doctor A was partially in my power. I could hurt him, too. I could send him to jail. I toyed with the idea.
My thoughts were interrupted by the entrance of a tall gray haired woman. She was wearing rubbers, and carried an umbrella. She was the nurse.
“This is Miss K,” said the surgeon. “She’ll tell you what to do.”
She certainly did tell me what to do, and I obeyed meekly. She began immediately by commanding me to walk back to my apartment hotel where she ordered some groceries and hurried the maid around with a great air of authority. Everybody around the hotel seemed to know her. Evidently she had had numerous patients at the same place.
The first part, and apparently the most important part, of my program was to get plenty of exercise. My God! I’d thought that for once in my life I’d be coddled. It seemed to me that I’d done a God’s plenty of walking. Now I felt I should lie in bed and be waited on by this scrawny female. Was I paying this homely woman $6 a day just to make me walk and boss me around?
We walked downtown and Miss K ate a hearty lunch at my expense. Then we shopped. We bought a pink rubber sheet for 29 cents — the clerk said that pink was best for babies. A huge package containing four dozen sanitary napkins of a popular brand cost me 62 cents, a package of safety pins was 10 cents. Then we added a 25-cent bottle of a well-known disinfectant, two shiny pie pans at a nickel apiece and two wash cloths ditto. After that we walked back. The nurse went to bed.
I bought two dollars’ worth of groceries to feed her, and 30 cents; worth of newspapers for her to read. The newspapers would come in handy later, anyway, she said. They did. For days I had to lie on newspapers atop a crib sheet. A smooth sheet felt utterly luxurious to me after hot rubber, rough towels and crackling newspapers.
Miss K lay comfortably on the davenport while I walked the floor, according to her instructions. Occasionally she would inquire how I was feeling. I gathered from the conversation with one of the maids that I was supposed to be taking treatment for hemorrhoids at a nearby clinic. The maid had hemorrhoids, too, and I had to listen to a long dissertation on her symptoms.
My friend purchased a small bottle of whisky the nurse ordered for me. She thought that he was my lover, and called him “your friend” with tactful emphasis. This amused me considerably. She was always suggesting that I go to the movies or something with him, and, I had to tactfully decline and stay at home with her. I surely was taking good care of that nurse.
I escorted her downtown again at night to fill her to the brim with expensive grub. She had a mania for cafeterias, where shed displayed an uncanny knack at picking out the most costly dishes.
Accustomed to walking, I took a malicious delight in leading Miss K at a rapid pace. She had corns, I learned early in the day. Thereafter, I was hell on exercise, except in domestic duties around the apartment. She stopped in front of every fur shop to gaze in admiration at the mink wraps. I reflected bitterly that I could have decked myself in splendor on the costs of my present pleasure-excursion. It was getting pretty monotonous, this patrolling the city and waiting for The Pains, which were always capitalized by Miss, K’s slow voice. I vented my irritation in malicious thoughts about, my nurse, who wasn’t a bad sort at all.
Promptly at 9:30, I was sent to bed. Miss K was horrified at my suggestion that we leave the light on for a while, so that I could read myself to sleep. I lay there in the dark, feeling aggrieved. I am accustomed to reading before I go to sleep. It helps me to relax. The more I thought of it the more militant I felt. I rolled; I tossed. By God, if I couldn’t read, she shouldn’t sleep. I was beginning to have aches and pains, too. I felt very bad.
I had to lie there in the dark and suffer in silence, because this old dame didn’t read anything but the newspapers. Naturally she had no sympathy with night consumption of great literature. I began thinking of all the nasty things I could say about her. Greatly pleased with these fancies, I drifted off into a series of hellish nightmares and chill’s. My nurse had appropriated two- thirds of the blankets. In the morning I was delighted to learn that she had slept badly and that her head hurt. My head hurt, too. I, hurt all over.
She cooked my breakfast and washed the dishes. Meanwhile, she informed me that the doctor almost had pneumonia. I was overjoyed. She forced me to walk to the doctor’s office. I grew sick to my stomach sitting in the close, hot room. My pains were worse but as yet I knew I had not had The Pains.
I viewed with interest the entrance of a pretty young girl I had noticed with an elderly couple at my first visit. I had thought it odd the way they had entered the doctor’s office, first papa, then mama and daughter while papa came out. Then mama and daughter stood in the hall while papa went back in. Daughter hadn’t looked very happy.
Today she whispered something to mama and remained standing. I glanced downwards. By their feet ye shall know them! Her trim pumps had been replaced by scuffed oxfords suitable for walking.
She looked worried. She glanced at me curiously. I resisted an impulse to say, “Walking certainly is fun in this damned cold, rainy weather, but if you get tired of it you can climb stairs or get some lovely jolting on street cars. Come over to my place. We’ve got a roof garden and we can walk together.”
The doctor treated with glee the news that I felt terrible. He gave me another treatment. I was getting along beautifully he observed. A doctor doesn’t believe beauty is only skin deep. When be wants to flatter you, he talks about your healthy liver and kidneys, A doctor’s courtship ought to be a novel experience.
We walked, Miss K ate a delicious lunch at my expense. I was getting it in the neck for all the times I’d been entertained at lunch. I couldn’t remember ever having paid the cheek for any woman before and I sure wouldn’t pick out this half-deaf woman for a boon companion. I brought her home and put her to bed. I was sick to my stomach and couldn’t sleep. It was no hardship to keep from smoking. I couldn’t even consume the three cigarettes a day I was allowed.
“That’s fine,” the doctor exclaimed, clapping me on the back next day. “We want you to be sick to your stomach. Are you holding your meals?”
“That’s fine,” he commented. “You must eat to keep up your strength. But we want you to be sick to your stomach. And ache. You must ache. You’re doing fine.”
I wasn’t really sick to my stomach, anyhow, he added. It was my uterus being disturbed. I didn’t know anything about cause, but I knew how I felt.
Nausea returned three-fold that night. I refused to go to a restaurant, and my nurse allowed me to purchase half a grocery- store. She had told me previously that she had lived for years with her mother. Mama must have done the marketing, for Miss K, who was quite at home in a cafeteria, was nonplussed by the absence of price signs in the grocery. She couldn’t pick out the most expensive items. It seemed to me that in my nervous condition I should not be required to struggle with menus and marketing, along with The Pains.
I won my fight to read in bed and I went to sleep like a baby, after my reading, while Miss K tossed restlessly all night. She won her bacon for breakfast, but I absolutely refused the cooked cereals. Abortions are bad enough, without oatmeal.
The next day was Sunday, and the nausea became much worse. About noon, we went to the surgeon’s office again, and he gave me another treatment — like the others but much more painful this time. During the process I burst into tears. Doctor A patted me comfortingly on the back.
Then came the long street-car ride which the doctor prescribed, the idea being that the jolting movement was good for what ailed me. After that I strolled through a zoo, where I peered at a hippopotamus in a tank of water, and watched some kangaroo’s scratching themselves. That’s what their small front legs are for, I was told: to convey food to their mouths, to scratch themselves, and to clasp the mate.
I began to feel like hell on the way home. My nurse chattily decided which of the town’s most exclusive restaurants. would be best, and we got off the car. Miss K lost interest in my jolting as soon as her stomach began to feel empty., Once off the car, I became so ill that I could hardly stand. I burst into tears again, and I felt a cold, deadly fury against the nurse. Was I paying her $6 a day to drag me about to expensive restaurants, when all I wanted was to lie quietly in bed? She suggested that I sit down on the cold, concrete curb and relax, but it didn’t appeal to me. Finally she hailed a taxi, and I wept quietly all the way back to the apartment.
Once in my flat, I gave Miss K a dollar and invited her to go out for her own lunch. As soon as she was out of the room, I defiantly ate some cheese out of the refrigerator, and began to feel a little better. Her starched smock, the general air of neatness and what she called genteel conversation was getting on my nerves.
That night The Pains began. There was no difficulty in recognizing them. They began slowly around the back and side, and worked up to a grand climax in front. Miss K gave me a few lessons in the ancient art of “bearing down.” All the positions she recommended seemed rather silly to me. I should stand up and put my hands on the edge of the bed and “work!”
Early in the evening “the Water burst.” This seemed to please the nurse. I hoped that everything would come to pass immediately, but I wasn’t to be a lucky patient. I had to “work” for what I got and hard work, too. I spent a night of feverish agony and finally went to sleep in the wee hours. I awakened very early, deathly sick and having more pains than ever.
“That’s fine,” said the nurse. She always hailed any symptom of excruciating agony with pleasure. “I hope you vomit now,” she added. But I didn’t. Just gagged and moaned loudly.
“You mustn’t make so much noise,” she told be, when I wanted to read the newspapers while I was “bearing down.” “The people next door will hear you.”
I felt like saying “To hell with the people next door,” but I didn’t. You don’t talk back to the nurse. But in my torment it seemed a small matter whether the people next door heard me moaning or rattling papers.
Then she made me walk. When my whole body ached horribly, I had to pace up and down the room until I collapsed on the bed with a chill. The apartment seemed frigid, but Miss X was a fresh-air fiend. She cheerfully invited me to breakfast.
“Eat heartily,” she urged. “It’ll be good for you. You must keep up your strength.”
But the thought of food nauseated me. I lay limp on the bed. It seemed to me that Heaven could be no more than a bed and sleep. “If you haven’t done anything by 11 o’clock, you’ll have to dress and walk to the doctor’s,” the nurse threatened. I chilled again at the thought.
She gave me some quinine, but I was unable to swallow the first capsule. It floated around in my mouth until it melted and I got the full benefit of the flavor. But I managed to down the second one.
The Pains went lower now. I was put to bed and a towel tied to the end of the bed was given me to pull. I sat over one of the shiny pie pans. I pulled. I grew red in the face. But I triumphed. There was a sudden gurgle just as I thought I would explode — and the thing came.
A wave of relief overwhelmed me. I felt a tremendous sense of personal triumph. But the pain’s were not over yet. Nor the working. “Don’t stop,” the nurse warned. “If you have another pain, work just as hard. We’ve got to get the afterbirth.”
I worked hard, but without success. Miss K sent me to bed.
“Keep off your feet,” she ordered. “We don’t want to risk a hemorrhage. Don’t move any more than necessary.”
Her words were needless. I never wanted to stir again. I rested. blessed rest, until the doctor came an hour later. But he blasted my peace.
“What are you doing in bed,” he demanded.
“The nurse put me here. She said to keep off my feet. The most blessed words of tongue or pen. And I’m obeying orders implicitly.”
“Get back on your feet,” he said. “There’s some membrane yet I want to see. Get up and move around.”
Wearily I shook the crumbs of toast from my bed-clothes. I crawled out of bed, the bed I wanted to remain in the rest of my life. I walked. Not much, but I walked. The whole discouraging process had to be gone through again.
There is a gap in the diary I kept then. I didn’t feel like writing. I didn’t feel like walking either. But I had to walk. Each day I had to walk to the doctor’s office. He inquired if I were flowing. I said I was. Then he told me to go home and walk some more. He said I was getting along fine. I felt terrible. I was no longer so horribly nauseated, but I was sore in every part of my body. I alternately perspired until the sheets were drenched or chilled all night long. Sleep was an unknown quantity. So was even rest. The nurse had asked me whether I fainted easily. I said I did not know; I had never fainted. But I felt if I got in crowds, I would soon acquire the art of swooning.
I could not eat in restaurant’s. I simply groaned and looked at the food. Finally Miss K allowed me to eat in the apartment. I walked in the roof garden. I refused point-blank to go out except to the doctor’s office. I didn’t want to faint on the streets or be overcome by hysterical weeping in a restaurant. I didn’t want to see healthy, happy people.
It is impossible, writing this later, to recapture the spirit of dull, weary resignation, alternating with periods of frantic worry about whether the afterbirth ever would come. I blindly followed the nurse’s orders. I even tried to be gay about it. She said one patient had an easy time because she did the laundry. So dizzily I stood in the bathroom and washed out hose and lingerie. I even laughed. I marveled at myself. I wisecracked. The nurse enjoyed it. She made me repeat it all to the doctor. He enjoyed it, too. He called me “darling” and said I was a star patient.
The nurse said that I would have fun doing anything. It required little effort for me to think of things I would enjoy more. But I was determined to be gallant, so I kept up my hectic gaiety. It helped. It kept me from weeping.
Days lost meaning. I went in the morning or early afternoon to the doctor’s office. But he gave me no treatments. Then came another night of sickening pain. My nerves were shattered. If I dozed off uneasily, I had horrible nightmares. I spent a morning pacing the floor and groaning. Part of the afterbirth came with what seemed to me terrible straining. I took another capsule. The doctor came to see me. Again the monotonous repetition of “Stay on your feet. It has to come and it will. But it’s being stubborn. It’ll take it’s own sweet time. You can’t tell from one patient to another. It’s really better to be slow. There’s less danger of hemorrhage.”
Then, unaccountably, I quit worrying. I ceased straining at every pain.
I knew that there were two things the doctor could do if I didn’t get results soon. He could give me a hypodermic which would cause my muscles to move of their own accord and relieve me of some of the pain and perspiration-evoking effort of “bearing down.” Or he could pack me, and that would bring the afterbirth immediately. The last would be painful, but I was past caring about pain. I was deadened by pain.
Suddenly I felt care-free. They wanted me to walk, didn’t they? Well, I’d walk. I’d try the doctor’s latest position. But I was through worrying. Let them worry for a change.
I slept better that night than I had for a week. The next day I walked in the roof garden with the radio turned, on. I laughed. I even danced a few steps. I felt better. I came downstairs and sat up all morning. When the nurse asked me if I wanted to lie down, I refused. I was tired of lying down. I ate some breakfast.
I prepared to go to the doctor’s office. But suddenly the after-birth came. “I don’t have to go to the doctor,” I said as calmly as possible.
My battle was won. I submitted to going to bed, although I felt fine. I wanted to go parading up and down the halls shouting that the whole business was over. I wanted to go down to the doctor’s office and laugh in his face about this bearing down business.
But I went to bed. The nurse telephoned the doctor discreetly. She smiled. The doctor came to see me and drank up the remainder of the whisky I had not needed. I felt somehow proud that I had got through it without drinking any whisky. I told the doctor I felt fine. The nurse went out to eat. I lay in bed and read. But I no longer wanted to stay quiet and rest. I wanted to get up.
Miss K soaked my breasts in camphor and tied me up tightly with muslin, like a mummy. I looked thin-chested, The whole business amused me. It was to prevent my breasts filling with fluid. Some patients have a great deal of trouble with that, I was told, and even had high fever. But I didn’t. I lay in bed and read and asked when I might get up. After all my desperate craving to stay in bid for weeks, I now wanted to be up and going.
There was one big pain when my uterus contracted. Then there was peace. My nurse gave me sponge-baths and washed me with disinfectant. I smelled like rotten eggs. But I felt fine. She gave me castor oil. I didn’t even mind that. I told the nurse it was a conspiracy to keep me in the bathroom constantly, on one excuse or another.
I stayed in bed all that night and the next day. The next night I was allowed to get up for a few minutes. I felt shaky and weak and I broke out in perspiration when I moved. But there were no pains. I had no hemorrhage. I was getting by fine.
Next morning the doctor came to see me.
“When can I go home?” I demanded. “I feel great. I don’t want to stay in this bed. My breasts aren’t filling. Miss K took off the bandage this morning. I’m all right.”
“Go home now if you want to,” he told me.
He shook hand’s with me and departed. That afternoon I paid the nurse. Sixty dollars — but it, too, was virtually painless. I felt a slight regret at seeing her go. Suddenly she seemed pitiful to me. Poor Miss K with her life filled with patients and her dreary home existence. I asked if she wanted the afternoon off. She hadn’t had any time off or much sleep.
But to my surprise, she wanted to spend the afternoon with me. She had another patient moving in that night. She said I had been pleasant. We exchanged polite statements about how nice every thing had been. She said I got along fine and told me the troubles some of her patients had. She didn’t even mention the ones who paid her $10 a day.
I was still weak. When I washed the dishes, I went to lie down twice. But I was restless. I couldn’t remain quiet. I wanted to go home. Now with the ordeal over, and the danger past, I worried about trifles. Would I be able to stand the trip? Would I be able to carry my luggage into the house? Would my alibi for the trip stand up?
Miss K moved out. I read in bed until late. But it seemed odd without her lying on the davenport. It seemed so quiet without her asking me if I hadn’t read long enough. I missed her slow voice interrupting my reading with what at the time seemed tedious anecdotes.
My world had been composed of a doctor, a nurse, and a few visits from my friend for two weeks. Now that world had disintegrated. I felt lonely. I thought about telephoning a few persons I knew in the city. But that would be foolhardy. I was registered under a false name. I didn’t feel like entertaining or giving any sort of story. I felt like getting tight. But I didn’t want to drink alone. Anyhow, I was still on a diet, no milk, no cream soups, not much to drink in the way of alcoholic liquors.
It was amazing how quickly the ordeal began to fade. It took an effort to recall how the pains slowly surged forward, beginning at my back and going all over my abdomen and increasing until they were almost unbearable and then slowly going away. They had been difficult to describe. Miss K would ask if they were worse than the day before, but I could not tell. The day before had passed into blankness.
I cooked a leisurely breakfast. Then I took my crib sheet, my pans, the remainder of the castor oil, the muslin I hadn’t needed, the disinfectant and the groceries I had left, in to the girl next door. I felt it would be somehow fitting to make a gift to my successor.
She was a slim, pajama-clad girl with huge dark eyes and jaunty dark curls piled atop her head. She moved restlessly around her tiny apartment and smoked incessantly.
“You’ll have to cut down on cigarette’s,” I warned her.
She gave me a startled look. “They hadn’t told me,” and she crushed out her cigarette.
“I’d forgotten,” Miss K said. “But you have been smoking too much.”
She looked in bewilderment at the pie pans. Miss K had washed and disinfected them.
“What are they for?” she asked.
“You’ll find out,” I laughed.
Miss K had asked me to tell her to relax. But I knew it would be useless. You can’t relax just because someone tells you to, You can’t be calm because someone say’s that it’s better for you. So I told her. “It isn’t so bad.”
“I’m not dreading it,” she replied. I knew she was lying.
“But she says she’ll be home in two or three days,” Miss K chuckled. We were old-timers together.
“That’s what I said,” I remarked with a grin. “Are you nervous?” Miss K gave me a warning glance. She didn’t want me to make the new patient fretful.
“No. I’m not the nervous type. All that worries me is that I wish it would hurry up and happen and they won’t tell me when it will.”
I laughed. It was remarkably easy to laugh that morning. I was going home that afternoon.
“That’s all that worries anyone. But you can’t hurry it. just walk and forget about time.”
“My feet are sore now,” she complained. “They walked my legs off yesterday. But I’m going home by Thanksgiving. I’ve got to get home by Thanksgiving.”
It’s a long time until Thanksgiving,” the nurse soothed her.
“You’ll be home then,” I said.
She thanked me for the stuff . I’ll pay you for it,” she offered. I shook my head. “You’ll be paying for plenty of things.” She reached for a cigarette and then drew her hand back and glanced at the nurse. Then she put her arms over her head.
“Don’t do that,” I cautioned. “You’ve’, got to keep your arms down.”
“I didn’t know.” She meekly folded her hands in her lap.
I felt sorry for her, and I wished I could make things easier for her. But I couldn’t. She looked at me curiously and I knew that she hated my leaving her alone with the nurse. There was a strange kinship between us. I was introduced to her, but I didn’t catch the name nor did I ask for it to be repeated. We were part of an army of nameless women. I rather wished that she’d been there when was and we could have walked together and exchanged complaints. But I went away. We both smiled. And that was that.
I thought that would be the end of my story, But it wasn’t. I went home. Everything went smoothly. My parents accepted my story of an extended visit with friends. There was not much pain — a little, but nothing serious. But the nervous shock lingered on. weak, irritable. I quarreled with my lover. He felt that I blamed him. I felt that he blamed me. I wanted to be coddled and he wanted to forget it.
We had several serious quarrels about it and finally made up. I felt that it would make me out a damn fool to go through that ordeal for his sake and then quit going with him immediately. And he may have felt the same way. But I fancied myself neglected. I was sarcastic. My nerves gave way, and I had tantrums, not because I wanted to but as a reaction from what I had gone through. I tried to stop fussing, but it was a physical and mental condition beyond control.
I tried to explain this to him, and for a while we drifted on. But looking back now at the wreck of our affair, I wonder just how much effect it had on our breaking up. I believe a great deal. Subconsciously I always felt that he should do something to make up to me what I had suffered. I know, of course, that there was no reason why he should. Certainly he regretted it and the whole affair was an accident.
But from time to time whenever I felt that I was being neglected I would find myself thinking, “After all I’ve gone through for that man.” And if he took another girl out on a casual date I resented it. I’d think bitterly, “And what has she endured for him?”
Before we had boasted that ours was a free and easy companionship. Now I rather resented that term. I had refused to assert my claims at the logical time but somehow I felt that my ordeal should give me some privilege and I was exasperated when treated as just the “girl friend.” I felt like flaring up and saying, “Oh, no, there’s nothing really between us. He was just the father of my unborn child.” But I didn’t. And eventually I went away. He was a little bewildered and a little angry. But I had been bewildered and angry too long.
I know that the episode had one lasting effect. It made me take sex more seriously. It gave me a horror of “free and easy” companionship.
One of the first people I looked up when I moved to the city was the doctor. One reason was that it gave me mental relief to talk over the case. I got rid of a lot of bitterness by dragging it out of the past and learning that other girls had quarreled with their lovers and that my nervousness and resentment were natural.
The doctor says that as long as he continues in his profession there can be no logical ending for his “confessions.” Likewise there can be no real ending for my story, for there always will be a tiny mental sear.
But now that I have come nearly to the close, there are a few things that I would like to say to other girl’s. Don’t confide your own story even to your closest friends unless you have used them for alibis. Then better make up some other story if you can. There will be a slight coolness or you may imagine there is, which is just as bad. You’ll be greeted with, “But how did you happen to get into such a fix?
It’s useless to make any explanation other than that accident. will happen in the best of families. And it’s better to keep yourself in a position where no explanations are necessary.
Think it over pretty carefully before you tell your future husband about it. He might think you didn’t want children at all. He might believe you had been pretty wild in your youth. It’s terribly easy to misunderstand these things and sometimes words make them worse.
When you go home, ask your doctor about birth-control information and stick to what he says. Don’t change around because some woman dishes out a lot of “absolutely safe methods.” Usually the more positive the woman, the more inaccurate her information. I know one woman who discovered a new and pleasant system and rushed around telling all her friends. She neglected to say that this system depended on the woman being regular in her periods, and that it had to be adjusted to her cycle.
Likewise, what works with one woman may not work with another. I know girls who get along all right with certain douches and others who can’t risk them. Before any woman convinces you, ask a doctor.
I know that you will be irritated when you hear people talking as if any girl who got into a jam was a fool. But realize that it is futile for one girl to crusade against the campaign of secrecy, scandal and disapproval waged by society. If you really feel deeply about this matter, join an organization for that purpose. I am annoyed when I hear women say that abortions are cheap and simple affairs and they are confident that their doctors will help them out if they need help. But I find it wisest to remain silent.
Similarly if you really want to give advice adopt a very impersonal, “several friends of mine,” instead of the thin “a friend of mine” with a mass of details. Be very careful before you recommend your doctor to anyone. Never give letters of introduction to him. If you really want to help, make the doctor a personal visit before you mention his name to the girl.
If you haven’t become one of the initiated, let me give you a few words of advice. Don’t wait and worry if you’re overdue. Go immediately to the doctor, your family doctor. If you are caught, ask his advice. He may help you, and thus you’ll be saved a lot of additional expense.
Don’t let false modesty keep you from telling your lover about it and asking his help. Unless he’s an absolute rotter, he’ll arrange things. If he is a cad, you want to find it out. And if you intend to marry him and have children, now is the time to do it.
I made a mistake in trying to protect my lover, and so I was accused of being bossy. Don’t repeat my error. Let him take as much responsibility as he is willing to. That will prevent a lot of resentment later on. Go to him first, before you go to a friend. Then he’ll feel that you trust him and later on you won’t quarrel about that. Furthermore, there’s a danger if you go to a man friend that your lover will feel that perhaps he isn’t the father of the unborn child.
This sounds pretty disagreeable but it’s better than bitterness and squabbling afterward. If your lover wants to pay all the expenses, lot him do it. You’ll have the suffering to do. But don’t let yourself get to feeling that you are a martyr, that all men are selfish, and sex is an ugly trap. When you begin to feel that, look around at some of your friends and remember that you are only one of thousands of girls with secrets in their eyes and smiles on their lips.
Don’t degenerate into a whiner because you had one bad break. But on the other hand, don’t make any mistake and try to be too brave and too gallant. If you do, your lover may think that you don’t take this very seriously and he will dismiss it lightly. Let him know that you’re scared, you are suffering and that you need gentleness and consideration. Don’t be too modern.
And another thing. This is not the time to skimp on expenses. Go to the best doctor you can, even if you have to borrow the money. But don’t hesitate to let the doctor know if you’re hard up. If you are staying at a good hotel, are well dressed and don’t mention money, he may charge you more than his minimum price, send you to an expensive place to stay and give you a more expensive nurse. Most good doctors charge according to the estimated income of the patient.
When you’re ready to leave, ask the doctor about any possible danger from going back to work, when you can have intercourse again and what to do if something happens. Chances are there will be a slight flow for perhaps a month. But if you are in pain, rush right down to a doctor; don’t wait and worry.
Your mind is going to be filled with the subject. So be careful about drinking. You’re not supposed to do much anyhow. Remember that there is no subject on which there are so many violent opinions. The woman who talks tolerantly of birth control and abortions may speak in an entirely different way regarding some friend or relative.