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Writing Ambivalence:
Kathryn Trueblood's Novel The Baby Lottery
by Kate Hopper

Kathryn Trueblood's second novel, The Baby Lottery, tackles a divisive issue: second-trimester abortion. It's a topic that makes many Americans raise their voices and sling one-liners, and it's a topic most often presented as black and white—either you are pro-choice or pro-life, period. This polarizing debate leaves little room for ambivalence, for the complicated human emotions and experiences that often accompany the difficult decisions we make about when and whether to have children. In her latest novel, Kathryn Trueblood makes room for the ambivalence that many women feel about abortion by giving voice to the mixed emotions surrounding the issue.

The Baby Lottery is a novel about five women, old college friends now in their late thirties, who find their interlocking relationships strained when one of them decides to have a second-trimester abortion after delaying the decision in the hope that her husband will change his mind. The novel records the voices of her four friends as they struggle to bridge the gap between what they should feel and what they do feel. The women—Nan, an obstetric nurse; Tasi, a public relations writer; Jean, a former social worker; and Virginia, a state college professor—tackle issues of pregnancy vs. abortion, marriage vs. divorce, and career vs. motherhood as they react to their friend Charlotte's decision to terminate her pregnancy.

Each of Charlotte's four friends take turns narrating the novel in alternating chapters, a structure that allows Trueblood to capture a range of emotions and perspectives about abortion. "This structure allowed me to present multiple, disparate perspectives and not settle on one attitude as the correct one," said Trueblood. "People are complicated and passionate, and I wanted each character to be as compelling as the next. My hope is that you will identify and sympathize with each of the characters and that your sympathies will shift."

Your sympathies do shift as you read The Baby Lottery because Trueblood has created complex, complicated characters. Jean, who struggled with infertility for years and is recently divorced from her husband, is very angry Charlotte for having an abortion. Nan, whose mother was an obstetric nurse and whose father was part of the Clergy Consultation Service, helping women obtain illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade, tries not to pass judgment on Charlotte. At the same time, she wishes Charlotte would have made her decision to terminate the pregnancy earlier. Virginia, a mother to a five-year old and recently separated from her husband, is trying to juggle teaching and writing and parenthood, and she finds she has little sympathy left for Charlotte.

Charlotte has one chapter in the novel, the only chapter told in the first person. "I did this," said Trueblood, "because Charlotte has no distance, no perspective on her own life, so it worked better in the first person. I think readers change their minds about Charlotte a number of times before they hear from her, and when they finally do hear from her, they feel sorry for her. Her behavior is so self-destructive."

Trueblood's desire to show a more complicated and personal side of the abortion debate stems in part from her father's experiences as an obstetrician. Prior to Roe v. Wade, he worked at Los Angeles County Hospital in the OB Infection Ward, where women with botched abortions ended up if they didn't die first. It was he who helped give Trueblood a solid background and understanding of reproductive justice. "Having reproductive rights means more than just having access to safe and legal abortions; it's about affordable childcare, fair parental leave policies, access to health care and insurance and adequate medical care," she said. "We've boiled it down to mean abortion, but it's about so much more than that. We need to start looking at all the social issues that affect women's reproductive choices."

The Baby Lottery also addresses many other issues that women in the United States face today: how to navigate friendship in the context of personal disappointment, how to live with the different choices we make throughout our lives, and how to balance work, raising children, and caring for ailing parents without losing ourselves completely. Kathryn Trueblood has proven that she is not afraid to jump into the cauldron. She is not afraid to write the hard stuff, and she refuses to reduce complex social issues to a black and white debate. I look forward to the next issue she decides to tackle.

Kate Hopper is a Minneapolis-based writer, teacher, and mother. She teaches "Mother Words" at the Loft Literary Center and blogs at Mother Words: Mothers Who Write.

feature added on 2008-03-02 :: ::

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