Unwanted Babies
Diana Altman

Unwanted Babies

“Yes. A lot. They knock you out.” This was a disappointing description. Why were women so impossibly mute about this experience? It was as if they didn’t want to betray their children by describing their gruesome arrival. “They took her away,” Lily said.

Why did she keep harping on that instead of telling me what I wanted to know? I’d been patient for the big reveal, and here it was, useless. “But you didn’t want it. Did you?” Lily was surprised by my blunt and unfeeling reply. I had no idea what giving up a baby meant. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than having to take care of one. Had she thought of keeping it? What kind of seventeen-year-old person with good SAT scores wants a baby? But I was sorry for the impatience in my voice and for causing her to wilt. I had wanted her to tell me, but now I understood myself to be an inadequate recipient of this most private confession. To break the silence that had engulfed us, I said, “Who was the father?”

“My boyfriend.”

Boyfriend? What boyfriend? She hadn’t arrived at school with any boyfriend. “Does Lou know?” I wondered if Lou found her diminished, besmirched.

“Yes. I told him.”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know. Nothing.”

“How come you didn’t have an abortion?”

“Because I was in denial. I didn’t get my period until I was fifteen. My periods were always irregular. When I didn’t get it, I didn’t worry. Then it was too late. I was already four months along. They sent me to a home.”

“What home?”

“A place in Greenwich Village.”       

“They have such a thing in Greenwich Village?”


“But you just live uptown. Why didn’t they let you stay home?” By then I’d visited Lily’s home on the Upper West Side, a spacious pre-war with moldings, floor to ceiling bookshelves, and oriental rugs. Lily was the daughter of a famous psychiatrist, who taught at Columbia and had books on the bestseller list. I assumed such a person would be enlightened, would understand that his teenage girl needed love and help during her crisis. But he was just like everyone else! Ashamed. Horrified. Angry. He kicked her out of her bedroom, and there she was downtown, with a bunch of other outcasts.

“Why didn’t you take precaution?” I asked.

“We only did it once.”

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Diana Altman

is the author of Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer and the Origins of the Studio System and the novels In Theda Bara’s Tent and We Never Told, selected by NBC News as one of twenty great summer reads. Her short stories have appeared in Trampset, Notre Dame Review, StoryQuarterly, and other journals, and her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Yankee, Boston Herald, Forbes, and other magazines. She is a graduate of Connecticut College and Harvard University and lives in New York City.