Carolyn Main

I HAVE REVOLTING childhood memories of fetuses. Pamphlets glorifying their translucent skin and beady little eyes were always displayed on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in our evangelical church. This subtle display at my elementary-school eye level created a fear of these alien-like beings. It seemed insane that we were engaged in a holy war for these tiny monsters.

We wrote letters to our congressmen demanding an end to abortion. We walked with parade floats. When I was six, we formed a "chain of life" along Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

The thing about being a prepubescent radical anti-abortion protester is that it's extremely boring. During the chain of life, I waved a large cardboard sign until my legs gave out several times from sheer boredom. I twirled and fell into the grass.

"If you're going to stand with that sign, you're going to have to be serious, Suzette," said my father. I could tell he was also bored and a little jealous that I was lying in the grass.

Around that time in my life, I misunderstood a talk my mother gave me about the dangers of molestation. I decided that "not doing anything that made me feel uncomfortable" meant I didn't have to pretend to accept the Holy Spirit or orate Bible scriptures in front of community news crews. By age 11, I had a pretty bad reputation in the church, so I upped the ante and began demanding a female Jesus.

This is why I lived as a pariah for most of my adolescence, sometimes in the company of my sister. She was older and has her own story of rejecting the church that has to do with calling everyone an idiot.

During college, my sister volunteered for Planned Parenthood and loved to read old issues of Ms. magazine she found at the library. I loved to read Ms., too—but mostly for the liquor ads and articles on witchcraft.

My sister, home from college on break once while I was in junior high, set about making a display of different birth control devices.

"Suzette," my sister asked, "Help me think of forms of contraception. Condoms, pills, the shot..."

"Abstinence?" I offered.

"Abstinence is not a form of contraception. It's a trap," my sister snapped back. "Think about all the people you and I know who got married just because they had sex. How could it be anything other than a trap?"

She was right. My childhood was full of invitations to guilty, hurried weddings and at least one mom-of-a-friend who neglected her own daughter because she was often in jail for chaining herself to abortion clinics.

It's hard to say why my sister and I didn't grow up to be our parents' perfect, pro-life daughters. But in my late teens, I reconnected with the women on my father's side of the family. It turned out my grandma Ruth had worked as a therapist for Planned Parenthood in Des Moines, Iowa, in the '70s, counseling women before and after their abortions. Following in her mother's steps, my aunt worked as a volunteer counselor for a woman's health organization in Boston before abortion was legal in Massachusetts. My aunt and grandma were as baffled as I was about what led my gentle father into cahoots with the fetus holy war. I was just glad to find the Smith genes had some "uppity" traits on the female chromosomes.

My aunt thinks my sister and I are so charming. She likes all the fighting we had to do, and often says this nice thing: "Who knew the recipe for such funny nieces was to take my genes and raise them evangelical?"

I still don't really recommend it.