There’s just something about driving in the car with their kids that makes mothers confess long-kept, awkward secrets. I had a friend in college, W, who told me that when he was 16, he and his mother were driving somewhere, and she, out of the blue, busted out with a previous marriage he hadn’t known about. Apparently she’d been married in her early 20s to a dude she’d met in college, and when that didn’t work out, she went to grad school and got a job at a diner, where she met W’s dad a few years later.
My mother chose a similar moment to reveal her secret to me. I was 20 at the time, and she and I were driving somewhere to eat lunch when she mentioned casually that I had been an accident. She told me that she and my dad had aborted an accident four years before me, and that when she got pregnant a second time, she had every intention of aborting again. “I had a good job and a good life, so I didn’t want a baby,” she explained to me. My dad, who wanted children, disagreed. They argued, and when she refused to listen, he enlisted his mother to argue with him. I’m sure they spouted all manner of Chinese patriarchal discourse in the name of propagating their line that my mother considered absurd. My dad, in the manner of a traditional Chinese man, even took the argument to my mother’s parents and turned the subject into a multi-family affair. I’m not sure if his in-laws were as supportive as he hoped, but at any rate, he won. (In case you’re wondering, my parents are still married, and my dad’s mother lives with them.)
I was surprised but not insulted by my mother’s revelation. While her secret was something I could’ve lived without, I was glad that she had waited until I was old enough not to be traumatized by it. I listened to her whole story, responding with the occasional non-committal grunt, and then we talked about something else and never brought it up again. But at least I know now that I have the Chinese patriarchy to thank for my existence.