A Name, and the Choices It Represents

The first gift parents give to their children is a name. For commentator Laurel Snyder, the name her parents chose is emblematic of the way she came into the world. She's named after the Laurel Clinic, where her mother almost got an abortion. Snyder lives in Atlanta and is a podcaster for the Web site www.nextbook.org.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The first gift parents give to their children is a name. For commentator Laurel Snyder, the name her parents chose is emblematic of the way she came into the world.

LAUREL SNYDER:

My mother almost killed me in the spring of 1973. She was 22, fresh from college, crashing with some guy she knew in Baltimore. She didn't want to get pregnant or married. She'd never crossed an ocean or eaten lobster. To hear my mother tell it years later, in 1973 abortion was a foregone conclusion in her circle of friends. Roe v. Wade had passed into law four months earlier, and it was a political statement to have an abortion, an automatic decision. An abortion meant freedom.

So my mother made an appointment and rode a filthy Greyhound bus to DC. Surrounded by sticky vinyl, cigarette smoke and smelly strangers, she was forced to spend a long hour thinking. She chewed her nails and each time the bus stopped to let a few people on or off, she stared intently out her window. By the time the driver braked a few blocks from the Laurel Clinic where she had an afternoon surgical appointment, my mom had changed her mind. She found a pay phone, called my dad--that guy she was crashing with in Baltimore--and told him he was going to have a baby. So I was born after all and they named me for the clinic, Laurel.

I've known about the Laurel Clinic since I was a teen-ager. When my mother, a realistic parent, saw me becoming sexually active at 16, she made sure I understood I was an accident, unplanned. She didn't try to scare me with it, but she did use it to illustrate the obligation of sex. She explained that we all make choices and then we live with our choices. She said she'd never regretted her decision to have me, but that she really would have liked to backpack through France before becoming a mom.

So I think a lot about what we mean when we say we have a right to choose. Choice isn't about doing the first thing that pops into your head or doing what your friends tell you to do. Choice is about considering all the information at your disposal and the honest feelings in your belly and then making a decision. Choice is hard. Choice is about living with your decision, accepting responsibility for what you've done. If a choice is easy, it really isn't a choice.

My mother chose to give birth to me and accepted one set of burdens and gifts. If she'd had an abortion, she'd simply have had a different set of burdens and gifts. So my story doesn't support a political agenda, but I hope it makes an argument for care and consideration.

Last year I miscarried in the middle of a step aerobics class and I was really scared that the loss of my child would, in some way, awaken latent feelings about my mom's choice. I thought I might mourn the miscarriage as a real death and judge my mother for what she almost did. But that didn't happen at all. Instead, my miscarriage just felt disappointing, like a job I'd applied for, really wanted but not gotten. I've thought a lot about this, and here's how it makes sense to me. If you plant 100 seeds in your garden, you can expect to find healthy plants growing from about three of them. Some seeds will die because of forces completely beyond your control and some will die because you're a bad gardener. Well, I'll just have to live with that.

NORRIS: Laurel Snyder lives in Atlanta. She's a podcaster for nextbook.org.

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