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?
It’s a tranquil night in July, and Vilar is relaxing with a glass of red wine in her backyard. She’s reflecting on her recent trip to Louisville, Kentucky, where she addressed the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, including the governor of Puerto Rico, about mental health issues in the Latina community. She’d stood before the mostly male attendees and told the story of her dysfunctional family life, her mothering fantasies, her feelings of inadequacy, and her political ignorance. “With each pregnancy, I defied him as much as I defied the politics of sterilization that took my mother away from me,” she told the audience. “I wanted control over my body, and the way I chose to have control could not have been more terrible. By the time I lay in an abortion clinic waiting for the procedure to begin, I would feel nothing but disgust and shame. When I left the clinic, I felt a calm respite, surrender. I always said to myself then, ‘This has to end.’ ” She told her story so movingly—exposing her rationalizations and explaining the powerless anguish so many Latina women have shared—that when she finally looked up at the audience, most of the men had tears running down their cheeks. It was, for Vilar, the ultimate pro-voice moment.
The trip to Louisville had taken only a day; Vilar scheduled it so she could be back to tuck in her daughters that same night. It was her first time away from the girls, and she laughs now at how she panicked when her flight home was delayed, ruefully recounting the anxiety she now realizes was irrational. Then, softly, a noise escapes a bedroom window upstairs: the sound of crying. Vilar stops mid-sentence with a barely audible gasp. Without a word, she runs through the back door and up the stairs, all pretense of conversation abandoned. In seconds the crying stops. The next 20 minutes go by with only the sound of crickets chirping in the night air, her hosting duties on hold, as Irene Vilar soothes her little girl back to sleep.