WVU Professor Shares Personal Story, Tackles Reproductive Rights in New Memoir
When author Christa Parravani, a professor at West Virginia University, found herself pregnant for the third time, she worried she was unable to provide for her family so she sought to end her pregnancy. Ultimately, she was unable to find the services she needed and had the baby.
Parravani recently wrote a book about her own experiences as she came to grips with the decision and struggled to get help. She also looked into the healthcare system when it comes to infants and children, along with mothers in states with restrictive reproductive rights.
Parravani spoke with Eric Douglas about the book.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: The topic of the book is a difficult one to even discuss. Why did you decide to write it?
Parravani: It was not an easy decision. It was not what I imagined doing with my writing life. To be honest, I'd been working on another book when the events that take place in this book happened to me. It was a year of my life that changed me, and had me asking really fundamental questions about what it means to be a good mother and parent in the United States.
I was living in Morgantown, teaching at WVU in the English department as a creative writing instructor, which I still do. I had moved from Los Angeles to Morgantown to take the position and I had a second child while in Morgantown, and then, after less than a year, I found out I was pregnant with a third child.
It was really hard already to make ends meet. At that point, we did not have enough money to afford a third child. It was an awful, awful time in our lives. So I looked into my reproductive choice options in West Virginia and discovered that they were incredibly limited. That moment in my life led to a year of uncertainty and feeling a lack of agency and really a total lack of confidence, because I thought, I am not allowed to choose for myself.
Douglas: When you hear people discuss abortion, and reproductive rights, it's often painted as promiscuous 20 year olds who are irresponsible. You're 40 years old. You're a college professor, you're an educated woman, you're a parent.
Parravani: I am all of those things.
Douglas: And you were still faced with this struggle. You had to make a difficult choice. To me, it turns the whole discussion of reproductive rights on its head.
Parravani: Which is why I wrote the book. The thing that I discovered, after I had my son Keith, was that the majority of women who seek to terminate a pregnancy are already mothers. I mean, there is a large misunderstanding about that. People think that women are using abortion as birth control, which is just not true at all. There are very few women, they would be in the probably a fractal of a percentage of women, who are using reproductive health care callously and not understanding that this is an incredibly hard decision. Nobody wants to have to make this decision.
I realized that as a woman who was a professor, as a woman who had a salary, as a woman who was already a mother, that I was in a minority of people in some ways, and especially in West Virginia, who would have experienced this and have been able to tell this story. And I felt a large obligation to do that for the women of this country. And for the women of West Virginia.
Douglas: You teach creative nonfiction, right?
Parravani: I do.
Douglas: Is this the ultimate example of well, I teach my students this, I have to do it for myself.
Parravani: That is an excellent question that no one has ever asked me. But the answer to that is yes, I felt a huge responsibility to my students. I've been teaching at WVU since 2015 and I have been teaching my students to reach for things that felt uncomfortable, to write about difficult topics, to embrace the moment that we're in. I wanted to show them that I was willing to risk myself in that way, because I believe in the power of writing, and I wanted to give that example to my students. I think they have appreciated it.
Douglas: Let's talk about the reactions to the book, both from your students and from the general public.
Parravani: The reaction to the book has been generally really positive. I’ve heard from a lot of mothers who have made the choice to terminate a pregnancy or did not have the option to terminate a pregnancy after having been in abusive marriages or not being in an economic position to be able to raise a child. I've had a great deal of thanks for that because they had felt silenced.
Parravani teaches creative writing at West Virginia University. “Loved and Wanted: A Memoir of Choice, Children, and Womanhood” is available through MacMillan Publishers.
This story is part of a series of interviews with authors from, or writing about, Appalachia.