Anne Morrow Lindbergh Looks at Her Life, Her Children, Pregnancy and Abortion
In 1946 Anne Morrow Lindbergh, poet, essayist, writer, pilot, wife of Charles Lindbergh and mother of five living children (her first child had been kidnapped and killed in 1932), found herself unexpectedly pregnant. The following is an excerpt from her diary entry of January 5, 1947. It is reprinted with the permission of Reeve Lindbergh from her new book, Anne Morrow Lindbergh – Against Wind and Tide: Letters and Journals, 1947-1986.
Trailer,* Contentment Island [Darien, Connecticut] Ianuary 5th, 1947 [DIARY]
This is the beginning of a New Year. I am back at the trailer again after a two-month absence. Such a difficult two months—so much learned from it——so much affecting this New Year that has been given to me that some of it must go down here, even if it is just a mental summing up.
As with all real conflicts, when one examines the particulars, they seem negligible. T he particulars, in fact, are negligible. But when they have been pared away, one finds the basic conflict which is not negligible—but the basic conflict coming up again in one’s life. The same old conflict that one can never solve once and for all—-the same patterns of behavior ready to catch you, the same pitfalls waiting for you. The trouble lies in believing one can settle these things once and for all. Why does one believe in the fairy tale pattern, the dragons killed at a single stroke and the Princess living happily ever after?
One wrestles with one’s dragons until the end of one’s life—it is a Constant and eternal process. The crises in one’s life only show up in intensity what is going on every day. The crises are there, perhaps in order to illuminate the everyday struggle, so that one may recognize the -adversary more quickly, so that one may learn the weaknesses in one’s own armor or tactics, so that one may be better prepared to fight, not “next time” but all the time—tomorrow and the day after.
With me it was again the basic conflict between the woman and the Perhaps there are other ways of stating it. Perhaps one could say the artist. I found I was pregnant for the seventh time and felt, with an intensity and wildness of rebellion, that I could not go through it again. I felt it was terribly wrong——a mistake and wrong and not meant to
“The trailer had been given to CAL by Henry Ford in 194.2 for use as an or writing
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be. I rebelled against it with every fiber of my being, physically, mentally, emotionally. I was frightened of it—terrified——both physically and mentally. Afraid of the months of illness at the beginning that I always have, afraid of the abdication of the artist, the ego afraid of the depression that follows, afraid of the actual delivery, afraid of the long convalescence afterwards.
It was not the unreasonable fear of a woman who had never been through this.
I had been through it six times willingly, although after the fifth I felt afraid. It was a difficult ordeal but I had gotten through it saying, “This is the last. This is for a sister for Anne, but this is the end. You Will never have to do this again.”
And after climbing up that long hill——the mountain of last Winter— feeling exhausted, ill, depressed all winter, finally——finally—climbing up at the end of the summer to free mornings at the trailer. Pushing the details back, sitting still, alone (how long since I’d been alone), quiet, passive. To first tender shoots of thoughts, of perceptions, of poems coming back. I could still write. I could write again! I wasn’t dead, as I had feared. My life opened up. I felt again, for the first time in years, young, alive, full of love and hope.
And then suddenly to be told, You must go through it all again! I felt unreasonably, irrationally despairing. This is the end. It will never come back again after this. This will kill me—probably not physically (though I dreaded it physically), but it will kill the person in me who writes. It will kill the real me.
At the same time I felt, perhaps equally strongly (and this grew as time went on), that I could not take it into my hands to interrupt the act already done. Would I spend my life then trying to justify it? Could I take what seemed to me the destructive, noncreative, negative way out? And if I did, would I bear incurable guilt over it——and what would that do to my life, my writing, my marriage? Could I say no to a child, to that act of God which had been the greatest experience in my life, from which I had learned the most? That experience—almost the only one—which I felt in other terms and had to put into writing the lesson life had taught me. “The word made flesh.”
How could I say no to that? And still write it? Would it not nullify
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all I had learned or believed? How could I justify it to myself, to my conscience? And yet instinctively, deeply, I felt it was wrong. I cried out against it. I would try to accept it and then fall back in a deep inner resentment and feeling of wrongness. I felt, in fact, exactly balanced between two wrongs. My body, my instincts and my ego said one course was wrong. My conscience, my patterns of behavior, and the patterns of outsiders said another course was wrong.
And yet one must take actions—to play the part of a rational being. And so I did. I went to my obstetrician (who had said after the last child that I shouldn’t have any more, that the uterus was getting thin, that after forty was when one got into trouble and he had also offered to perform an operation on me so I shouldn’t have any more—which I had refused).
He said there was nothing that he could do for me, that I was a “fine healthy woman” and to go ahead and have the child. “Give it away if you don’t want it!” (As if that were the point.) When I asked him about danger, he said there was no danger, that there was more danger in an abortion. When I said I was afraid, he said, “What are you afraid of? You’ve been through much harder things than this.”
I went away feeling bitter. I know that a friend of mine had been told by this same doctor that if she got into trouble” to come to him and he would fix her up. But she had had a nervous breakdown and I had not. As far as the doctors and the legal end went, you could just go on and have babies until you die or go crazy—-before anyone will help you. He was just scared to death to touch my case because I was famous. Also he embodies the world’s conservatism in these matters. “It’s taking life.” Well—I felt that too.
I found out that legally, before interruption could be legal, you would to prove permanent physical or mental disability would follow having the child. This let me out unless I was willing to get an old family and a psychiatrist and convince them that I would go crazy if I went through with it. I felt I could make out quite a good case, but I couldn’t stomach it, probably because I didn’t really believe it true.
I went to Dr. A.* at the Medical Center. At the first interview he said
Dana W. Atchley (1893-1982), a physician from Englewood, New Jersey, who practiced in New York City. He was recommended by AML’s friends Adelaide Marquand and Ellen Barry as a Physician with a warm bedside manner and excellent diagnostic skills. Among his other patients were Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Nancy (“Slim”) Hayworth.
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he would put me through a complete checkup but that probably Dr. H’s second estimate (“You’re just a fine healthy woman”) was more correct than his first warnings. He then swept the physical aside and said, “Why are you afraid of it?” When I finished talking to him he said, “You have told me enough to convince me that an abortion is completely justified.”
I then told him how strongly I felt against abortion and that I could not accept a merely mental reason to interrupt this, that it would have to rest on the physical side of it. If I could go through it safely physically, that was my choice. If I couldn’t go through it safely, then I would accept, with difficulty, the other course. This was C.’s feeling too.
He went ahead with the tests. Everything looked all right. I found I could, after talking to Dr. A., adjust much better to the ordeal ahead. I felt sure that if he checked me as all right physically, I would be. But more important, he accepted as valid all the other side of the conflict, the non—physical side, the non-physical fears and revulsions. He did not laugh at them, like Dr. H., nor find them un-understandable and untenable, like C. They were valid facts but not frozen facts. Something could be done about them. (I suppose this is basically C.’s thesis too—only it is easier to accept from a more dispassionate source like a doctor.) I felt, With this man’s help, I could go through this ordeal with more wisdom and ease than ever before.
The first tests showed everything all right. Then, on two small clues (“Probably nothing at all, but it is the kind of thing a doctor must run down”), I had more X-rays taken and it was discovered that I had a gall bladder full of small stones and that the “appendix attacks” I had had—especially that terrible one at the Ford Hospital after Scott’s birth, so much more painful than the delivery itself . . . after which I felt deeply and instinctively, “I cannot have another child” . . . which lay back of my dread of having my sixth child, Reeve——these were gall bladder attacks, not appendix.
Dr. A. explained that gall bladder conditions are irritated and increased by child-bearing. This had evidently been going on a long time. (An early report of an taken before Anne’s birth showed the same clue that Dr. A. had followed.) Dr. A. then felt that I should
*Dr. Everett M. Hawks, AML’s obstetrician. “Mrs. Lindbergh often refers to her husband as “C.” 01′ “CAL” (Charles Augustus Lindbergh. She is referred to in these notes as AML.
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probably not go through with it. It is easy enough apparently to take a gall bladder out but if a stone gets out and lodges in the intestinal tract somewhere (which possibly happened in the attack in the Ford Hospital, though if it did, it passed through safely), then you have a very difficult operation under any circumstances, and really a dangerous one in the middle of a pregnancy.
Dr. A. consulted with a surgeon and an obstetrician and the result was to advise me to interrupt the pregnancy and have the gall bladder out three months later. Here was my legal out. Even a moral one. I began to prepare to take it, somewhat reluctantly in one sense, but relieved. When C. brought up the possibility of my having the gall bladder out first and then going ahead with the pregnancy (“If it’s such a simple operation”), Dr. A.’s surgeon advised against this. C. then called two surgeons he knew and they said it was perfectly possible and could be done, etc., and weren’t worried about the situation at all.
On being presented with this, the doctors at the Medical Center then said they could do it. And the proposition put before me was: the safest course we still advise is to have an abortion and the gall bladder out in three months. However if you insist, the next safest course is to have the gall bladder out at three months and then go on with the pregnancy (in a semi-convalescent state). We do not advise, and consider dangerous, your going through the pregnancy with the gall bladder left in.
Again it was put up to me. I, who thought I had made the decision once and for all. I felt the trap had closed down again. For though the legal out was still there, the moral one seemed to me to have been taken away with the possibility of that mid—pregnancy operation. An operation which made the ordeal far more difficult than it was originally (when I had felt it was unbearable) but which made it safer. (Ironically)
Feeling desperately trapped and low, I again made the only decision that it seemed possible for me to take, the second and hardest course. I then went home and let down—or rather started to adjust to the long ordeal.
Two days later, apparently for no reason at all, I had a miscarriage. After the first shock, I was incredibly relieved. That is too mild a word. I as a pure act of mercy from God. An act of mercy to be accepted a shred of guilt but with a heart full of humility and gratitude. A sign from heaven, a rainbow, a promise of presence. A deliverance which exacted} not guilt from me, but a challenge—a sense of responsibility about what I was delivered for.
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The whole incident was perhaps a warning to me——before it is too late——that “I must be about my Father’s business.” This is now the task, to find out what it is—-for me – my special task.