The Right To Live
Irene Vilar has survived personal trauma, family tragedies, and a shocking number of abortions to become a sought-after writer and scholar. But will her scandalous choices ever allow this devoted mother of two—or the rest of the world—to make peace with her past?
Impossible Motherhood hit the shelves with a glowing back-cover endorsement penned by Gloria Feldt, former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a prominent activist for women’s rights, and a onetime teenage mother. Feldt has since taken a dim view of Vilar’s efforts to dodge the pro-choice label. “Guess what?” Feldt says, “[Abortion] is politicized. It’s better to grapple with the controversy head-on. Pro-voice, to me, is a cop-out.” And although Vilar calls herself a feminist, Feldt isn’t convinced. “I really think that’s her intent,” Feldt says. “Her story is one of personal growth, and that is a feminist story. But I don’t think it serves the larger movement. Feminism is about moving social justice for everyone.”
Vilar says her confession is more about understanding, analyzing, and healing than taking a stance. “My whole impetus in writing was to own my story,” she says, “and to empower other people to own theirs.” She freely admits she may never fully recover from the trauma of her decisions. “I don’t strive for that,” she says. “I will always have an underlying, subterranean anxiety and fear that things will go wrong. But what I do have is an awareness of it.”
This heightened awareness comes from her personalized healing process. For three years, she saw a therapist three times a week, and she still checks in via phone during particularly trying moments. She turns to certain people who cross her path at serendipitous times—she calls them “angel beings”—such as her mother-in-law, Dorothy, who has mothered Vilar like her own mother never did. And Vilar believes in “Latina spirituality,” which she describes as “a faith inherent in yourself, no matter how bad you feel. I don’t have it yet. But I can smell it. It’s coming from my mothering.”
In fact, Vilar thinks of herself as a mother to three young girls: Lolita, Loretta, and “little Irenita,” the eight-year-old child who watched her mother kill herself, and who grew into the college student who chose abortion time and again to keep the Master. “With the language I have developed to understand my actions, I’m able to split myself off and feel remorse for the teenage girl I did this to,” Vilar says. “Now I’m able to mother her, with empathy toward the girl to whom I perpetuated all these horrors. Every day I have to talk to and soothe little Irenita. She was eight years old, sitting in the car when her mother got killed. But she won’t ever be given the keys to drive again.”
And what would happen if Lolita or Loretta came to her at 16 or 17 years old with the news that she was pregnant? A silence stretches before Vilar answers. “I’d try, as much as I can, to allow her the space she needs not to act out,” she says. “Hopefully, I would have raised the girls with enough compassion, empathy, and respect that they would make the most compassionate choice—for themselves.”