Monday, January 22, 2007

Tycie's Story

As we grow older, the epiphanies become more tangible and fewer in number. Perhaps that is because in childhood, we often have epiphanies that hit us like sledgehammers pounding multiple concepts into our young brains. All at once.

This is the story of one of those. One of those moments when pretty scales were pulled off of young eyes. To balance the terrible ugliness of one of those realizations, an equally beautiful one was well as a few more.

This is the story of how, in one day, I was shown what it meant to be without a choice, that adults and newspapers didn't always tell the truth, and most of all, how my mother was a rebel, a hero and freedom fighter. I think I was ten.

The telling of this story would not have been necessary had I not been attending Catholic parochial school. We were Episcopalians, but when it came time for me to go to school in Savannah, my mother gave me the choice of attending Country Day or Cathedral Day School. I chose Cathedral Day, even though I had a serious nun phobia.

One day, I came home from school and mentioned something about abortion and that it was wrong. I didn't even know what abortion was. All I knew, was that it kept being parroted around the school. Everyone seemed to assume that this was true and that this was how the entire world saw this.

My mother looked at me with those ice blue eyes of hers.

"Who told you that?" She asked, cocking her head.

I told her they had been teaching that in my religion class at school.

"Let's go for a ride."

We got in the big station wagon and drove around Bluffton. First we "cut the beach", then headed downtown towards Scott's Meat as she told me the story.

This was the story of Tycie, who didn't have a choice.

It happened sometime in the sixties in Bluffton, SC. Black and poor children were starving to death in Bluffton during that era. It was a very different place than the cushy resort town that it is today. It definitely had a dark side. Dr. Donald Gatch was practicing there then. After he testified before the Citizens' Board of Inquiry into Hunger and Malnutrition in 1967, complaining about the discriminatory medical practices against poor and black people, a carefully orchestrated smear campaign was launched to deprive him of his medical license. Dr. Gatch lived near our house just off the causeway to Myrtle Island.

Tycie was the niece of one of our domestics at the time. My family has a history of forming close bonds, going back generations in many cases, with the families of the people we hired to help us. I know that's not the most PC thing to say aloud these days, but it was just how it was then. The bond I shared with the black woman who raised me was just as strong as the one I had with my mother. I even inherited Katie's laugh. She was the one who held me when my mother died. Katie and I, we loved each other.

But this is Tycie's story. Tycie got pregnant. The circumstances do not matter. Any more than it matters how someone got HIV or Hep C. It's really none of our business. What matters is that she had no choice. No ways or means to deal with a situation that was intolerable for her. She had no legal recourse to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. She was too poor to afford to have this done safely in the "gray market" as more affluent women of the time were able to.

So she stuck a coat hanger up into herself to deal with the situation.

She contracted a life-threatening infection.

Tycie certainly wasn't alone in her situation. Between 5,000 and 10,000 women died and as many as 350,000 women were injured by illegal abortions each year in the middle of the 20th century. 1 Before Roe vs. Wade, illegal abortion was the leading killer of pregnant women.

So Tycie's aunt called my mother. My mother got Tycie to a doctor. It was probably Dr. Gatch since he was known for standing up for the poor and underprivileged. And he was a neighbor. I'm not actually sure where Mom took Tycie. But that makes sense.

There was a concern that Tycie would get in trouble for what she had done to herself. I'm not sure if that was a valid concern or not. I'm not sure if they prosecuted you for doing that to yourself. But the fear was there.

So, my mother arranged to get Tycie to another aunt in Atlanta where she could recuperate.

My mom didn't do all that much. She just basically paid for Tycie to get treatment and to get out of town. But to my ten-year old mom seemed like a super hero. I was just so proud of her. She had been part of something that made a difference and possibly saved someone's life. I can remember sitting next to her in the car, my eyes shining, big, like saucers.

So, Tycie's story has been the bedrock for my pro-choice stance. I've added other ideas, like the concept that we should probably first learn how to take care of everyone who is already walking the planet before taking care of those who aren't. Or the wrongness of taking away a person's free will...which basically is the same as slavery, isn't it? But my basic stance is that abortion bans are not only a women's rights issue, but a civil rights issue as well. The middle and upper class will always have access to safe abortions, illegal or not. It is the poor who will be victimized. They will be the ones on the killing floor, bleeding their lives out.

And isn't life hard enough for them without making it even harder?

I don't know what happened to Tycie. I hope she still walks with the proud, straight posture of a Lowcountry Gullah woman. I hope she went on to have children. Children she wanted with someone she loved dearly. I hope she is sitting at a large table loaded down with too much good food surrounded by her children and grand-children.

Children and grand-children who have the choice that she was denied.


  1. Anonymous said...
    Preach the Word, Sister.
    Trish said...
    Wow, very moving story. Thanks for sharing it.
    Johanna for Justice said...
    Thanks for stopping by, Rosie. I very much enjoyed your post as well - it's so important that we remember what life was like before Roe, and what's on the line for all of us.
    googiebaba said...
    This is such a powerful story. I got chills reading it.

    And thanks for stopping by my blog.

    helen_boyd said...
    thanks for coming to say hi - one of the best things about blog events like this is getting more exposure to what people are up to.

    i like this especially: "we should probably first learn how to take care of everyone who is already walking the planet before taking care of those who aren't."

    & imagining what it would take to put something like a hanger into my body... what kind of desperation that demonstrates... will keep reminding me why abortion must stay legal
    CSL said...
    Nothing to say here, but Amen.
    luna*tic said...
    Yeah, what they all said! Your stories echo through me with such truth! xoxo kirsty
    Carrie said...
    When I read this post I immediately think, "There but for fortune go you and I."
    Thanks for telling this story!
    Anonymous said...
    Me again, Sister Rosie. You got some mighty intristin readers, you do.

    Rosie said...
    I know, JohnieB! Folks have been really nice to stop by.

    Thanks so much for welcoming my friend that I wrote the funny story for. I've been trying to get him blogging more but he's much more geared toward oral tradition storytelling. And he's awesomely good at it.
    Anonymous said...
    I got no doubt of that; that summation was superb: good as a great Blues line.

    And it was my pleasure to make his acquaintance, though I've not read any of the other stories you may have written about him.

    Elvis Drinkmo said...
    Great work, Rosie. This story is another exapmle of how the anti-choice movement bases their stand entirely upon emotion and a false sense of religious duty without carefully weighing the real effects legislation might have upon real people.

    Thanks for sharing.
    arse poetica said...
    Rosie, that was simply amazing. I had to read it twice, it was so good. Three cheers for your mother and her deeply humane act, and I hope Tycie found what she needed, too. I really hope she is happy and healthy and sitting at that table.
    Anonymous said...
    Hi, I don't know you. I just found out about Blog for choice day, and if I had know I would have done it and I still might, just a little later than usual.

    Not the point though, I've spent at least an hour just flipping through blogs, and I have to say yours was beautifully written.

    It was wonderful.
    -Maria B, Texas.
    Katy said...
    Very moving story, chills up and down my skin. Thank-you for sharing.

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