Ask Your Mother: for Lena Dunham

by francine Hardaway on September 30, 2015

I graduated from Cornell in 1962, before Roe v. Wade. I got a posh but poorly paying job at the Macmillan Company on downtown Fifth Avenue. It was my first full time job, and I was a novice at everything from work ethic to women’s place in society.

In theory, I was a copywriter, writing flap copy for books published by their educational division. In practice, I was little more than a typist, and everyone else in the office who was a woman was also a typist. So I started to go to lunch with Carol, a secretary.

Carol had been there much longer than I had, and she knew the ways of the world. She seemed to be very wise and experienced, although not much older than I. She had not gone to college, so she’d been working for several years.

Carol had an apartment of her own in the Village (I was living with my parents), and she was dating a dentist who was married. He showed her a very good time, taking her to all the places for dinner that I had only heard about and buying her expensive gifts. I thought it was incredibly glamorous. Having not yet had an affair with a married man, I didn’t understand how trite all this really was.

One day Carol came in crying. We had to wait until lunch to discuss, because she didn’t want anyone else in the office to know why. We went to a coffee shop nearby and she confessed she was pregnant.

This was way above my pay grade. I was not a virgin, having been through three and a half years at Cornell, but I carried a diaphragm in my purse (it was before the pill), wadded up in a pile of Kleenex. Why hadn’t Carol done the same thing? Well, it turned out she had been raised Catholic and she hadn’t been told about birth control. Things quickly got complicated.

I advised her to ask the dentist to do the right thing — leave his wife and marry Carol. You can see right there how naive I was. Over the next couple of weeks, I spent every day consoling Carol as she examined her options. The dentist was not going to leave his wife. But he would pay for an abortion.

Abortion was, in those days, illegal. I had never met anyone who had had one. In fact, the only girl I knew who even got pregnant at Cornell married the boy on graduation day. Also Catholic.

It was no surprise that there was an underground of people in New York City who knew someone who knew someone who performed abortions. Carol found an abortionist in New Jersey who came highly recommended. In the light of The Sopranos and every mafia movie ever made, I should not have been surprised. Everything questionable was in New Jersey at that time.

There was no one to go with Carol to her abortion but me. I was scared shitless. I’d never been to New Jersey on a train before, although we had summered at the Jersey shore when I was a kid. This was somewhere like Newark or Jersey City, however, in someone’s house on a side street. I sat petrified on the train, trying to make conversation with Carol. She tried to act cool.

I sat in the living room of the abortionist’s house, waiting. To this day I still wonder how and why I got there. Carol came out, pale but composed, and we got on the train back to New York. She was fine on the train, but by the time we got on the subway, she was cramping and bleeding and I had no idea what to do. I thought she would die and I didn’t want to see it.

Unbelievably, I ran from the situation, praying she’d get to her apartment safely and in so terribly over my head that all I could do was flee. And of course I didn’t tell my parents.

Fortunately, Carol survived. She showed up in the office two days later, depressed but alive. She had made the right decision.

In 1970, I became pregnant myself by a married man who was also my boss. By that time, abortion had been legalized in California. I told him I wanted to go to California and have an abortion, but he promised me he was going to leave his wife and marry me. I was very naive, but remembering Carol I took a deep breath and abandoned the idea of an abortion.

John Hardaway left his wife and married me. Everybody who knows me knows how having children transformed my life. I made the right decision.

And yet, when one of my foster children got pregnant at age 16, the third generation of women in her family to do so, I took her right down to Planned Parenthood and got her the morning after pill. She is a happy mother of three sons now, and she thanks me for that decision we made together.

In the lifetime of one woman, me, the abortion issue has come up at least three times, each with different circumstances and decisions. Sometimes abortion is right, and sometimes it’s wrong. But the choice to do it should exist.

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