Whatever it Takes

Will and Me 1992
My son and me in 1992

Twenty-three years ago today, I was preparing for the biggest event of my life. A blizzard was raging outside, I was having frequent contractions, and I was worrying about how long I would be unemployed after my baby arrived.

As my girlfriend sat on the edge of my bed in my new apartment, my sister drove my mother hundreds of miles through the blinding snow from Kingston to Toronto, escorted by a team of side-by-side snow plows. Nothing was going to stop them from coming to greet the new arrival and to help me in any way they could.

Nine months earlier, at 30 years of age, I had found myself unexpectedly single, unemployed, homeless, and pregnant. I had been pursuing a career in the theatre, having earned my Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) in Directing two years earlier from the University of British Columbia. But most work in the theatre is unpaid or virtually unpaid, at least for beginners, so I had been supporting myself on a starvation wage earned from cleaning houses part-time while attending rehearsals, writing scripts, and applying for writer’s grants. I lived in a basement apartment with no furniture and no belongings other than the clothes I had moved with from British Columbia to Ontario a year earlier. I slept on a piece of foam on the floor. It was a bohemian lifestyle, to be sure, and not the right kind of environment for a baby. Some hard choices needed to be made.

I was “pro-choice” before my unplanned pregnancy and, even though I decided to continue with my pregnancy, I remain “pro-choice” to this day.

I don’t believe someone has to be able to have a baby in order to have the right to have an opinion about these important matters, and I think I understand the pro-life point of view. But I can tell you that nothing is more invasive in life than having someone insist that you must continue with a pregnancy or, for that matter, that you must end it. I was handed down both directives simultaneously, as if I were not an individual in my own right, as if I were unable to make a determination about my own life, my own future. Suddenly my body was everyone else’s possession, it was no longer mine. My baby’s father was adamant that I should have an abortion; my mother, a Registered Nurse, told me that I must not end the pregnancy, since she believed that abortion is “murder”.

Imagine. I was either going to be an irresponsible single parent (ie. a bad mother and a drain on society) or a murderer. Going through with the pregnancy and giving the baby up for adoption was not a possibility for me. I knew that, when the time came, I would never be able to part with my child. With that pressure upon me, and while suffering from extreme “morning sickness” and being overwhelmed by emotions, I chose to continue with the pregnancy – and to keep my child.

Every part of my body had changed so drastically within such a short period of time that I was very, very aware that I was pregnant. Not all women experience this feeling. For me, the extreme physical changes were accompanied by what I can only describe as a “fierceness”, a defensive response, a protective response. Only seven weeks into my pregnancy, I already felt like a mother. I would have had to have been dragged, kicking and screaming, to abort this fetus – and I told his father so in the presence of my family physician. The debate was over.

Seven months (and two moves) later, William Stuart French arrived with the help of a pair of forceps, having survived a 30 hour labour and a posterior delivery. He had been stuck face down in the birth canal. Had we not had medical intervention, it is likely that we both would have died.

After he was warmed in an incubator, William was brought back to me and I began nursing him. I then had to have a shot of demerol to stop the pain in the area where I had been stitched up and so several women – relatives and friends – took turns cuddling my baby as I rested. Within 18 hours of giving birth, I was nursing him and changing him frequently, and having visitors, even though my throat was raw from pushing for so long and I still had an IV needle in my hand. We were discharged from the hospital on New Years Eve. A week went by. My stitches were healing, “Willy”, as my mother called him, was doing well, the sidewalks had been cleared, the freezer had been packed with food. And then William’s Grampa arrived. It was time for my helpers to leave, to return to their own very busy lives, hundreds of miles away from us.

I will never forget the moment when my mother was ready to leave. She and I looked at each other and we both knew that I was now totally on my own with this child. We burst into tears and just held each other, holding William between us.

Well, William does not like to be called “Willy”. He’s “Will”. And I am proud to call him my son. He is now 23 years old. He has learned how to play the guitar, how to Olympic lift, how to box. But William is following in his grandmother’s and mother’s footsteps by choosing writing as a profession. Writing has clearly emerged as his passion and, having been granted the Creative Writing Award during his Grade 12 graduation, it is obviously a talent that others have recognized in him.

will-at-8-months 2
William at 8 months

My blog is dedicated to William. He means the world to me. I have never loved anyone or anything as much as I love him. I remember the Social Worker asking me in the hospital how I planned on caring for this child, with no husband and no job. “I will do whatever it takes,” I told her.

Whatever it takes.

Will and Me in 2015

This post was first published on my first blog, Lift Heavy, Make It Beautiful, on December 26, 2012.