When Stories Develop Lives of Their Own
Moments before going public about my abortion, I’d boarded a city bus. The wheels on the bus go round and round, sang my toddler, for this was her first experience of public transit and her face now shone with glee. As we bumped and swayed with traffic, my editor called to say that my story was going live. I wished that I, and my child, and the kindly strangers who smiled at her, could stay on the No. 7 bus forever. By the time we got home, someone had already sent me an email. “I just read your story in the Texas Observer,” said the man, “I commend your strength in writing it.” With trepidation, I found my published piece and saw that it had already attracted scores of comments. Not all of them were kind. By dinner time, the Observer’s website seemed to be hosting a cage fight as pro-life and pro-choice advocates duked it out in the margins of my story. As my husband and I read what strangers thought about the most difficult choice we’ve ever made, our daughter sang careful nursery rhymes behind us. I was suddenly afraid of what I’d done.
What I’d done was write about having an abortion. It was a reluctant abortion: my baby’s brain, spine and legs had failed to develop correctly so we’d chosen to ‘interrupt’ my pregnancy rather than deliver him to a life of pain. But still, it was an abortion, and this was Texas. My story described our heartbroken drive from the obstetric office to the abortion clinic, and how new state laws meant that we were harangued about our choices. We’d also been forced to view sonogram images of the child we’d never meet, then were sent home for a day to consider our imminent ‘mistake.’ I was grief-stricken and angry and, because I’m a writer, I wrote it all down. Then I pitched my story to the Texas Observer. For weeks, the Observer’s editor hovered patiently over drafts like someone waiting for a complicated cake to rise. Finally, when the No. 7 bus pulled into afternoon traffic, he was ready for my story to be read.
Against all expectations, the story spread faster than a Texas wildfire. Influential publications forwarded it and tweeted it and recommended it; the Observer’s page views soared, thousands of commenters and bloggers across the ‘net discussed the article, and emails of support poured into my inbox. “I want to be sure you hear a thank you,” strangers said, and “It’s so important that stories like these are told.” “I hope your stories and others like it will help Texas lawmakers revisit and revoke this law.” Requests for radio and magazine interviews came in. My neighbor crossed the street to tell me she’d read about my abortion on Facebook. The New Yorker, the New York Times and TIME linked to the original piece. Meanwhile, as my husband and I watched, astonished, at how our most intimate of stories was going viral, our daughter put her polka-dot shoes on the wrong feet and zigzagged across the kitchen with a broom.