I loved the boy; in retrospect I can’t imagine why. Still, I was head-over-heels smitten, the sort of smitten that had me sketching his picture in my notebooks and skipping classes to be with him. I hadn’t completely lost my mind, however: I knew I didn’t want to get pregnant. I needed to get The Pill.
The year was 1968 and the pill had only been approved for use as birth control a few years earlier. Nervously, I made an appointment with a gynecologist in my small college town and endured the embarrassment of my first pelvic exam. As I sat up afterward, trying to cover myself with the crinkly paper sheet, I told him I wanted the pill.
He slowly shook his balding head.
“You’re a pretty girl,” he said. “You need to put the mistake you’ve already made behind you and wait until you’re married.”
Needless to say, I didn’t get the pill that day and I learned from talking to other young women that his response was common. That conversation was much on my mind as I wrote my new novel, Necessary Lies, set in 1960 North Carolina. My protagonist Jane, a soon-to-be-married social worker, requests the new birth control pill at her “premarital exam”–something else that used to be common. She’s turned down by the doctor who tells her he’ll prescribe it after she’s married . . . if her husband calls with his permission.
Her experience sets the stage for the rest of the story, which has a lot to do with who had the power over child bearing in North Carolina half a century ago. As a naïve and idealistic social worker, Jane is put in contact with women, men and children who are slated to be sterilized because of perceived or real mental illness, retardation or epilepsy. It’s one thing for Jane to hear about the state’s sterilization program in the abstract, but when she realizes the toll it might take on her client Ivy, an endearing fifteen-year-old girl she’s come to care about, she knows she must take action, and that her action will cost her dearly.
While the forced sterilization program truly existed, it only forms the landscape for Necessary Lies. It’s Jane and Ivy’s story that I hope will touch you the most and that will leave you wondering, “What would I do in their place?”
Sometimes I think back to that gynecologist I saw when I was so young and unsure of myself. Maybe he was right. Maybe his advice to wait was sound and wise. But I remember thinking as I got dressed after the exam, my cheeks red with humiliation and anger, that it wasn’t his decision to make. It’s that idea that drives Necessary Lies. I’ve loved hearing from those of you who’ve already read the book, and I look forward to hearing from more of you soon!