Mary Ann Sorrentino's 2 Cents Worth

Opinions, Observations and Musings

Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Location
RI or FL depending on season, USA
Birthday
June 19
Bio
Mary Ann is a columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel, the Providence Phoenix and other newspapers and has appeared on Salon.com She was an Associated Press Award-winning radio talk host for 13 years and the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of RI 1977-1987. Her most recent book, ABORTION - The A Word (Gadd Books) is available on line and in major bookstores.

MY RECENT POSTS

Editor’s Pick
MAY 7, 2010 9:25AM

A Mother's Day Wish for Someone Who Never Had One

Rate: 20 Flag

            This post is from my book Abortion:The A Word  and I am reprinting it in honor of "Juanita" -- a good mother who probably didn't get remembered or honored on too many Mother's Days.

Juanita edit 

                                (Photo -Laguardia & Wagner Archives)

As a young bride I worked as a social worker in a metropolitan ghetto. Stretched to the limits because of insufficient staffing, most of us were serving, as best we could, caseloads those far-exceeded reasonable limits. I had 100 families on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as well as another 50 men (mostly alcoholics) who today would be called, simply, “homeless.” At that time they collected what was called General Public Assistance.           

My AFDC clients were mostly single mothers of color. A handful had husbands at home who were unable to work for one reason or another, but, mostly, they were women raising children alone.           

It was frustrating work; my clients either couldn’t or wouldn’t help themselves, and most of them knew little or cared nothing about birth control. When I tried to educate them I was eventually called into the main office of my state’s welfare department. One Irish-Catholic supervisor informed me that the, “…Catholic taxpayers of the state…” were not paying my salary for me to disseminate,” birth control information which they [didn’t] believe in.”            

As part of my reprimand, that supervisor came to accompany me on some home visits; so, periodically she would arrive, unannounced, in my office. When we would go to the home of a client, she could be brutally punitive, once yelling at one of my clients for wasting state money when she was cooking frozen spinach that cost more than the fresh spinach which she said “working people” used.           

One of my clients stood out in my mind, however, because she was the only one of all these women who ever discussed the possibility of an abortion with me.           

Her name was Juanita and she was a dignified black woman raising three children after her husband left her for a younger woman from Canada. Her youngest child, an infant boy, was 14 years younger than his next youngest sibling, a girl named Lina. Young Lina was, apparently, so upset when the baby came, that she began to act out and had become a troublesome runaway by the time Juanita became my client. The mother had to make almost daily trips to the neighborhood school because of Lina’s truancy or discipline problems in the classroom when she did bother to show up.           

The baby, Charles, was the product of a brief affair Juanita had had several years after her husband left her. She was mortified to tell me that story. She seemed embarrassed to have given in to the loneliness and frustration most women would have felt in her position. Ironically, Juanita had used birth control, but the method had failed as sometimes happens.           

The father of the baby had, predictably, disappeared and now Juanita’s meager budget was stretched beyond the federal poverty level so she applied for AFDC benefits for the first time in her life. This was another source of shame for her. Even so, her dignity always impressed me.            Her oldest child, Rosaria, made Juanita proud. She was a high school sophomore on a full scholarship at a local Catholic girls’ school. She was a straight-A student and clearly headed for great things in her life.  Unfortunately for Juanita, however, Charles’ birth had also signaled an end to her relationship with Rosaria, and the girl had refused to speak to her mother since the pregnancy had been announced to the children.           

Juanita said her daughter actually screamed at her, begging her to “get rid” of the baby she felt would ruin their lives. Lina never talked to her mother about terminating the pregnancy, but she did often express her wish that Charles had never been born.           

Juanita had evaluated the possibility of an illegal abortion in those days, but rejected it as impossible. She had the baby, she said, not because of any moral objections to abortion but, frankly, because at that lonely time in her life she thought the comfort of a son she had never had would be good for all of them. She added that she had no money to pay for an abortion, or any way to arrange for the care of her other children while she went out-of-state for the surgery or healed at home from it. Besides, she would have been even more ashamed to tell anyone of her situation.           

Instead of being a comfort, the birth of that child had put her on welfare and turned her two daughters against her.           

Juanita forged ahead, nonetheless. She never looked back and she never complained about the choice she had made. I admired her for her thoughtfulness and her conviction.           

Eventually I moved on to other career challenges, but I never forgot Juanita and several other women I had met through AFDC. Many of them had lessons to teach me that would be invaluable to my work and my worldview in the future.           

Almost two decades after I had last seen Juanita, I received a call one day from a high-ranking medical director of a federal program calling me as the Director of Planned Parenthood. The person on the line was named “Dr. Rosaria Rogers” the same name given to that young and bright eldest daughter who built a wall of silence around Juanita.            I took the call and spoke with this colleague about the business at hand. At the end of the conversation, I excused myself but said I couldn’t help wondering if she knew an old “friend” of mine named Juanita Rogers from the city where I once lived.           

There was a long silence and then the answer, “That was my mother: she died two years ago, I’m told.”           

The phrasing told me everything. They had never reconciled.           

 I said my good-byes, hung up the phone and my thoughts raced to that dignified lady so determined to have and raise the love child she thought would make her life better.  I wondered if that had been the case. At the very least, Juanita had had one child and lost another – maybe two.            

I never did know what happened to Lina, but the last time I read about her in the local paper she was being arrested in a city crack house on prostitution charges.           

I never knew Charles.                                                            _________________________ 

Your tags:

TIP:

Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
Remarkable story. Stars in heaven for remembering this woman and her plight. R.
Thanks, Shiela. I thought we should remember a woman who didn't choose abortion and paid a big price for her choice.
Thanks for this story, it's moving and so sad.
Thanks for appreciating it, Nerd-
The compassion in this story is evident, and important to the issue . . . this is a completely different take on mothers day, and very powerful.
Thanks Mary Ann for this moving and insightful story. We needed this reminder that the prospect of motherhood does not always bring joy.
Stories like this one always make me think twice before judging whether or not someone's choices are good or bad. Those choices belong to the decider; the rest of the world does not matter. It's why I'm pro-choice, which doesn't mean pro-abortion, but pro-whatever-a-person-can-live-with. I am grateful for the people who fought for that right.

While some states are busy putting laws on the bodies of women they do not know, it's touching to read the story of one woman and know her heart. I can't imagine the struggles this woman endured to raise three children alone, but it was her choice and she endured the consequences.

While I hate the fact that so many people use my taxes and resources to fund their foolish decisions, I'd rather pay for the care of mothers and children than waste it on killing mothers and children in foreign wars.

Kudos for sharing this excerpt of your book.
Such a sad story about a sad life.
r.
I was a Welfare worker years ago in New Jersey and dealt with the same programs, AFDC, etc., nor were we allowed to mention birth control, either! Social evolution has yet to progress beyond the mentality that anyone with the physical equipment to produce a baby can do so, whether or not that person is mentally, financially, emotionally, or intellectually capable of raising a child. And at least here in the great USA, we have yet to provide a future, even a quality education and health care, for all our children, and certainly not for the 20 million living in poverty and hunger right at this moment. But, hey! Keep those unwanted babies coming! The Fascist military-corporate complex needs soldiers, after all!

But the abortion issue is a smokescreen issue and employs the ancient standby of our male-controlled planet: blame women. Women as blame targets is an old ploy, thanks to the Catholic Church and Islam. Even though male sexual perversions and violence are in the headlines daily, nothing compares to the crime of "those whores who have abortions"! Those "hormonally unstable women" are the REAL problem, not unstable and violent men who kill women, rape children, stalk, sexually harrass, etc.

Abortion and infanticide are as old as the human race. Almost every society to exist on this planet has devised a means to induce abortion, and most recently, the practice of infacticide is widespread in China and India . Of course, now there are huge numbers of males in both countries with no one to marry.

But the most ridiculous part of the entire abortion argument is still the fact that we don't take care of the children already living, but we should worry about those "who don't exist, the unborn"? How absurd is that!?!!
Very powerful and moving.
Juanita's story sounds like a Thomas Hardy novel: Tragic, fated. You wrote another good post.
Thanks Deadzoned and Barbara for appreciating Juanita's story of strength, tough choices and courage...and thanks to Soap Box Amy for such a thoughtful comments
You always have to watch out for those
"younger woman from Canada".


{[R]}
Damn! You made me cry with this story. I'm glad you've chosen to honor the memory of Juanita; a good and brave mother.
So sad. I think that the one daughter will always regret turning away from her mother. R
Such a tragedy with no real turning point. It makes me sad to know that her daughter never understood (of course we don't know the daughter's perspective).
A beautiful, tragic glimpse.
I'm glad for Rosaria that she made it through. If I was her I'd love to read this testament to her mother.
Or if were Lina, or Charles ...
Thank you.
Kim- Thanks for the kind words which, I just almost deleted by mistake trying to get rid of one of those damn spam ads I wish OS would block! Anyway, proud to be read by someone "down under!"
Thanks for the reads, Larry and Eva T and welcome...I'm not sure we've met before. Come back any time and have a greatg weekend!
To all the Juanitas who find love and hope for love only to be judged most harshly by those they already love.
Yes, anna1liese...here's to all the Juanita's! Thank you.
I had a friend who was a social worker. She and her fellow social workers figured out how to get the state to be more cooperative. They had a work-in. That's right. They worked overtime, finding more benefits they could assign to their caseloads. It cost the state plenty, and they got some concessions, including a raise.
Sadly, the girls blame their mother, when it was as much their father that put them into poverty by abandoning them. I remember working some shifts that were sponsored by a catholic mission. We could ask if the patient was on birth control (it's a medication/device) and we could tell them if they were or weren't pregnant, and then we had to stop pretty much right there. Not even refer them to anyone, other than, you will need to find "women's services". More than one of the catholic nurses tried to shame me for asking about reproduction. Sad day telling the totally poor woman who went and got a depo provera shot to avoid any more children that she had still managed to get pregnant. She was married too.