Until Justice Alito's leaked, malignant and misguided opinion hit the news, I never thought much about unwanted children; then, I realized I was one of them.
I'm a card-carrying liberal and an avid supporter of a woman's right to choose. Here's my story, which you can read in more detail in my book, Almost An Orphan, available on the BOOKS page of this site.
I don't know the details of what happened in my case and never will because all the people that knew the story died long ago. My father left the family when I was an infant. I saw him once when I was four years old and never saw or heard of him again. I had no memory of my mother, who I finally met at age thirteen.
My first life memory is around age two, living at my aunt and uncle's house, sleeping on dining room chairs tied together for my crib. My next stop was my paternal grandmother when I was about three. We lived in an upscale sharecroppers cabin with a pump bringing water from a well below into the kitchen; and an outhouse. A few weeks before my fifth birthday, a man came to the house and dragged me kicking and screaming to a station wagon, and off I went to an "orphanage." The Omaha Home for Boys in Omaha, Nebraska, was named The Masonic Home for Boys; the name changed when the facility changed to public donations for financial support. I remember standing at a window in the cottage to which I was assigned and crying for weeks as I looked out the window, picking out a rooftop among the trees that I decided had to be grandma's house and pleading to be taken back.
I spent the next ten years at the Home. My mother, who I could never have recognized on the street, showed up, and after a couple of years of legal maneuvering, I was released to the custody of her and my stepfather. I'm one of the lucky ones. My childhood didn't involve abuse, except for not being wanted by anyone and passed from home to home and finally to The Home. I had a roof over my head, three meals a day, and adults intent on raising me in the strict style of white protestants of the time.
I didn't realize until many years later how underdeveloped my emotional skills were in forming and nurturing relationships. I've talked to my wife of almost fifty years, Gale, about how my childhood left my relationship skills almost nonexistent. In the autobiography mentioned above, I've tried to apologize to my first wife and mother of my three children, Mary, and my children because they had the misfortune of having a husband and father lacking in emotional development.
When you spend the first almost twenty years of your life without having anyone declare their love for you, or hugging you, or kissing your ouchie when you were small and fell, I believe there are emotional connections in the brain that remain disconnected; you are something of an emotional eunuch. The paths in the brain that inform you about love, compassion, caring, and all the emotions that go into being a good partner in a relationship have to be created when you are pretty young, the same way that you have to learn a language, or how to read. That doesn't happen by magic; it occurs through interaction with loving adults and siblings in your life.
As I had to do, you can learn some of this when you're an adult. But, as with learning a new language, it happens much easier and quicker if you learn when you are young, between birth and about age twelve or thirteen. It's a slower and more difficult process when you're an adult, and I'm not sure you ever become as proficient as you might have if growing up in a loving family environment.
The impact of unwanted children on society can be tremendous. If the child stays in the home where the mother was forced to give birth to an unwanted child, the odds of a dysfunctional family are high. This can easily lead to the mother having mental issues or turning to addiction to mask the psychological pain of bearing children she never wanted. And the child is likely to be psychologically scarred due to growing up in a home where they are clearly not wanted.
If the mother abandons the child, then, like me, they may be passed from one family member to another and eventually to foster homes or an institution like the one in which I lived. The receiving organism, be it a family, foster home, or an orphanage-type of environment, are probably doing its duty instead of reaching out lovingly; for many, it's a job and source of income.
The odds are pretty good that a child passed around like this will get in trouble in many phases of their lives. The burden falls on society to pay for this unwanted child, both in terms of the costs of raising the child and then later the cost of judging and perhaps incarcerating the child if they follow a life of criminal behavior.
Fortunately, I did not end up in an abusive situation. However, when I went to the Home, the superintendent was both verbally and physically abusive to many of the boys and would ultimately be fired from his job for such abuse. I was fortunate that I wasn't yet five when I entered the Home, and the woman - they were called housemothers - whose charge I became stood between the superintendent and her boys and refused to allow him to interact with us for the most part.
I tend to think I also have a robust coping mechanism that allowed me to deal with the mental stress of being bounced around from one family situation to another, including a failed adoption when I was about eleven years old. While a bit of an emotional cripple as a young man in terms of forming and sustaining relationships, I didn't suffer any mental issues, and my one scrape with the law was a one-off.
The potential pain and suffering of unwanted children can be avoided by retaining the legal option of abortion for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. It can be done before the collection of cells reaches the point of viability as a person. Some may wonder if I am saying that I wish I had been aborted. No, I'm not saying that but if legal abortions had been available to my mother, who already had two children ages six and ten and was almost forty years old and living in near poverty, had chosen to abort the collection of cells that ultimately produced me, neither I nor the world would have suffered anything as a result of her decision.
A collection of aborted cells, whether in a miscarriage in the first twenty weeks or via a medical procedure, can't suffer, think, or have any sense of self or future.
As I've said, the burden of unwanted children will be borne by society, both economically and by the disruptions caused for society. The very people, mostly conservatives and religious individuals vehemently opposed to abortion, are the same people who will rail against funding the social services required to assist these many unwanted children and their parent(s).
We can only hope that a majority on the Supreme Court will consider the human pain and suffering and the damage they will be doing to society and will not agree with the religiously restrictive views of Justice Alito.