This is a photo of my 3X Great Kashubian Polish Grandmother, Mary Januzik Skorz, and her daughter Aniela.
Aniela Skorz-Szweda was my grandmother’s grandmother. My grandmother worshiped her grandmother, and told me often about her reputation as a midwife. A few years ago, when abortion was becoming more polarizing than it has ever been, I wrote a story about a fictional situation where abortion may have been both the right and the wrong answer for Aniela.
The story is set in the early 1900’s, in a Polish immigrant community. The main character is Aniela, an aging midwife who finds out that her 13 year-old granddaughter Lodja is pregnant, having been raped by her older cousin, another of Aniela’s grandchildren who she considers to be the embodiment of evil. By modern standards, Lodja might be considered emotionally challenged.
At the same time, Lodja’s mother Pelagia (Aniela’s daughter) is pregnant with her sixth child. Aniela fears for both daughter’s and grand-daughter’s well being. She decides that the pregnancy that will cause the most havoc is her grand-daughter’s and chooses to induce an abortion. She does not tell Lodja what she is doing, just asks her to come stay with her for awhile. Aniela’s choice is not easy. It tortures her. Her method – tansy tea, administered over a few days – gives her the opportunity to abort her abortion attempt. She does. Lodja loses the child, anyway. The story hopefully leaves a reader in total grayness.
Writing this story helped me put the abortion question into a historical perspective. I am curious about that world not so long ago where abortions happened outside of the realm of politics, in the private realm of women, where the decision could be made discretely by pregnant woman in collaboration with midwives who knew natural remedies. Of course, both midwifery and herbal remedies are now held in suspicion by many, thanks to a profit-driven medical industry. And of course, abortion – the most troubling decision any woman ever has to make – is politicized beyond discretion.
Not until 2021 USA has the woman’s body and her personal decisions been so totally violated. In the Texas SB 8 ruling, that grandmother could be turned in and prosecuted.
I ask readers of “Tansy Tea” to consider the moral dilemma the grandmother is put in, to recognize that rightness and wrongness have gradations. Sometimes the “right” thing to do is actually the “wrong” that comes closest to being right. I’m sure the story and its scenario could be read in a number of ways. I invite friends to read the story, and share comments below. Don’t simply spout off 2021 political memes. Get inside the historical moment where such a story is possible. Consider every aspect of the grandmother’s decision before saying anything.
“Tansy Tea,” was a finalist for december magazine’s 2018 Curt Johnson Prize in fiction, judged by Ann Tyler. It was published and is still available for purchase in Zone 3 magazine’s Fall 2020 issue.