Thursday, October 27, 2005

Birth Control

This post

over at Pandagon reminded me of an exchange that came up in my class the other day.

We're doing Major Barbara: as you know, a main character in that is a foundling, and has to adopt another foundling. My students want to know what a foundling is.

Ah, well, I say. It's a baby that's found on the street.

Found on the street? They say. What do you mean? Like lost?

Oh, well, no. I say. Like left there. Abandoned.

Oh -- like dumpster babies?

Well. Kind of. I look around at these innocent children. What do you know about the history of birth control? I ask them?

They look puzzled. What can I mean? History of birth control?

How long have we had reliable birth control? I ask them. When did it appear?

They look at each other. Surely reliable birth control has always existed?

One older student knew. (Thank God for older students.) She says, 1962. Which is close enough.

Right, I say. And before that, what did people do?

The students are mystified. One guy says, They didn't have sex.

I laugh. The students laugh with me.

Not hardly, I say. They had sex. No birth control, no abortion. So they had lots of babies. Twelve, fifteen, twenty per family. What did they do with all these babies they could not feed?

Didn't lots of them die? One student asked.

Yes! I agreed with enthusiam. Luckily lots of them died. Or, well, not luckily, in fact. Many parents farmed their kids out to wet nurses, where the kids would just happen to die, by accident, you understand. Sheer luck, that. Other kids, whose parents were too poor to afford wet nurses, kids belonging to the working poor, they were drugged all day long to keep them quiet while their parents were at work, or so malnourished, lots of them died that way, don't know if it's sheer luck -- what about others, though?

They're staring at me like they've been jack-hammered.

Foundlings? I say.

They left them on the street? one kid said.

Right, I said. So when you go home tonight, what do you want to do?

They kept staring at me.

Get down on your knees and thank science for Birth Control, I said.

They laughed. But they were convinced, too.

Not that I preach in the classroom or anything, mind you.

1 comment:

zelda1 said...

In 1974, I was in nursing school and there was a nurse who worked in labor and delivery. She and I became friends, she was 26 and had six children and had two miscarriages. Birth control pills didn't work on her and she became pregnant again and begged me to help her perform an abortion, which I didn't know how to do and was so not going to do it not for any moral reason, but I was afraid that I might hurt her. Two days later, her husband called, she was found in the tub, well she tried to do the abortion and her oldest kid found her. See, in 1974 you couldn't get an abortion in Arkansas.