Dear Little: When A Choice Isn’t A Choice


Hey, Kiddo.

A few weeks ago I had an abortion, and we made the decision to tell you all about it. Here’s why we told you at age 6, and here’s why I’m making the decision to put this here for you for later.

Going into the pregnancy, I felt OK, which was surprising given how sick I was carrying you from the jump. But, somewhere around week 8, I went from “I’m pregnant and feel OK” to full-blown sick. Thinking it was normal morning sickness, I carried onward. I was pretty sick with you – let’s face it, downright miserable as a pregnant person – but I was technically fine. Just sick but not in danger. Starting at week 9 of this pregnancy, I missed two consecutive weeks of work- my assistant covered the classes like a boss, but it was unfair to throw her into the deep end like that, and it was more unfair to the students going forward who signed up for 6 weeks of classes they wouldn’t get. That on its own? I wouldn’t have done it.

But then I rapidly lost 10 pounds I didn’t have to lose. My blood pressure was 74/40. My body was eating itself. I was stuck in a couch for two weeks and couldn’t make it to the kitchen without the feeling of inevitably passing out. Dark tunnels, light-headed, all of it. There was a great risk of passing out with you here… Or worse, with no one home.

It dawns on me that with cell phones, you might not know how to get into my phone to call 911, or might not be able to find my phone in case of an emergency. It’s not like when I was a kid and there was a 12″ magical device with a rotary dial connected to the wall, hanging in the same place, consistent place, with the cord wrapped up on itself from the years of twirling the cord we paced while talking for hours on end.

At week 10, dehydrated, miserable and disgustingly thin, I needed IV fluids which isn’t that unusual in pregnancy.  The unusual part was the IV was due to regurgitating water and Gatorade for two weeks. The doctors and nursing staff couldn’t keep anything in my system which was becoming quite problematic.

When it came time to medicate, things went from bad to worse. I threw up every anti-nausea medication the doctors threw at me. Because I’m an overachiever, I even threw up the medication that is designed to dissolve on the tongue so people can’t throw it up. Special, right? It was terrible and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. But when I couldn’t keep the smallest amount of water down for two days in a row and the dissolvable medication wasn’t working, it became quite clear that things were not just “uncomfortable”. I was in real, genuine danger.

The very worst part for me, even beyond all the sickness, vomiting, blood, all of it, was I  couldn’t play with you, read to you, color with you. I showed you how to use the remote control to turn on the television and that was it. I had a kid I couldn’t engage with, let alone take care of. That was the worst feeling of all of this.

People stopped on the street to ask if I was OK after yacking up what little I could get down in the median, like an overachieving Bostonian on St. Patrick’s Day in the college district – but instead of a typical Thursday night after the bars close, I was heaving at 2:00 in the afternoon, stone-cold sober, in front of the mailman. The dog was quite helpful in his drive to want to clean it up, but I stopped him.


But here’s the thing, kiddo.

I’m not even sad.

Abortion doesn’t mean you have to be sad. Abortion doesn’t mean you have to be heartless, either. The choices laid out for me were such that I could continue with the pregnancy but likely go back and forth to the hospital for 7 months, being fed through an IV, missing you, not being present for your dad, missing work and letting down my students, not being able to walk our dog… Or, I could terminate the pregnancy and be there for you, the kid I already have. In a way I didn’t feel like there was a choice – but there was. I made the right one for us.

A very smart friend pointed out, “Your body was eating itself. You were dying.”

Do I wish it played out differently? Of course. But if given the same hand, I would do it again in an instant.

I was back on my feet after one week. There were side effects that were not disclosed – like the acne breakouts that brought me right back to being 14 years old, and pants (jeans specifically) were uncomfortable for months. Luckily, leggings were fashionable at the time, so I could be comfortable and go about my day.

More than the luck of a stretchy, forgiving wardrobe, I had an amazing support structure with friends, co-workers and family who I told from the jump because secrets don’t help anyone. And now I’m telling you. Again.

I’m telling you here so when you are older you can see what this was like at the time for me. We did tell you when this was happening because I feel strongly that our country is in a big mess because we hush things up that are uncomfortable. We don’t talk to family members about politics, religion, abortion, women’s health, or race. We just don’t. That stops here. You have been fully aware that I was carrying a baby, and then wasn’t because it was making me very sick, to a point of great personal danger, and you knew that. We never lied to you about this.

The tooth fairy, Santa, sure – those are lies I’ll keep telling you because those myths are, I think, important to childhood. But this? You needed to know now and you’ll need to be reminded when you are older. If it’s not you, it’ll be a friend who will need you there for her and I want you to know the gravity of this.  The emotions that showcased in media are sometimes projected what we’re supposed to feel. That’s bullshit. You feel what you feel, and for me, for now, I feel relieved. And that’s perfectly OK. Some women are really emotionally raw after such an event, understandably so. Some are sad, depressed, angry, pissed, and yet others relieved or content. There are many feelings, many that play off each other from day to day, and they are all valid.

I’m sad that I’ll never have another kid, but your dad and I were talking: We consider it quite a stroke of luck and good fortune that we have you.  Given the miscarriage before and this toxic pregnancy (a term a friend used and it really hits the nail on the head), it’s quite possible that we wouldn’t ever have had the opportunity before or after you. It’s weird to think about if I’m being totally honest.

And oddly, we’ve been a lot closer since this event. Maybe because you’re older? Maybe because I see things differently? Maybe both? Either way, here we are.

After I publicly came out with my abortion story, I had scores of women email me privately to tell me their stories. They aren’t ready to come forward yet and that’s completely normal, fine, acceptable, and their choice, as it should be. Their stories told privately to me gave me more strength than imagined. Many were heartbreaking. Many were similar in that they found relief. Some had miscarriages and elected (like I did a long time ago) to have a doctor get involved. There are many stories – people make choices like this for so many reasons, and it’s not at all what might be portrayed in certain circles.

So I’m putting this here for you, Little. If ever you are faced with such a choice as hyperemesis gravidarum (or worse) and difficulty with carrying a baby can be genetic. I had no idea going in, but I do now. I won’t let you go in with blinders on.

You need to know you are supported. You need to know you are not alone. You need to know that whatever choice a woman makes is hers to make and does not need to be defended to anyone.

I hope when you are an adult and might need to make such a choice, that all your options are safe, legal and on the table so you can make an informed decision that works for you.

I was particularly lucky to live in a state where abortion services are accessible, where there were no picketers screaming at me, calling me horrible things. I had peace, was surrounded by women who were going through a hard decision for a variety of reasons, and found relief. We had to drive a little out of the way to get such services, but they existed and I recognize the great privilege we were afforded by only having to drive 30 minutes for such an event unlike in other parts of the country where women have to jump through more hoops, face greater blow back, drive for hours just for relief.

So with this, Little, you’re likely going to be an only from here on out.

And that’s perfect.



Flashback: Be Prepared

Two years ago. Local library. Somerville, MA.

Oh, Little.

Today, you were a big girl and packed your own bag. A small purse that you now own and typically put juice boxes, snacks and picked roadside flowers in.

Today was not typical.

Today, you packed your own bag. “I got it, Mommy.” My first mistake was not checking your bag before we left for the library reading hour.

Today, you unpacked your bag in front of Max and Trudy – the adults who were there to put on a puppet show – and the 15 parents, kids, and librarians attending the puppet show.

Today, you pulled out a juice box, toy pony, dead flowers and what you proclaimed – loudly – to be your favorite pair of underwear.

Today,  you made the library roar.

I’ll handle the packing from here on out.




Dear Little: Skool


You just used the phrase ‘old skool’ in context, correctly, and impressed a cashier at the comic book shop.

Our parenting work is clearly done. We did a perfect job. There’s nothing else left for us to do.

I mean, sex, drugs, attraction, BFFs falling out, politics, calculus, whatever. You’ll figure it out.



6 Years, 3 Months, 12 Days

I filled up the bathtub and added some bubble bath because it’s traditionally been a big hit.

But not today.

Today is the day you say goodbye to bubble baths.

Weird milestone, I know. I just thought all kids loved bubble baths – but I guess you’re already outgrowing them in favor of fancier shampoo and conditioner.

bubble bath

But, just when I’m sobbing over the quickness of your growing up and started writing this, things took a turn.

You’re now sitting in the empty bathtub with a handful of conditioner – the same amount you would use if your hair was still long but you are actively rocking a cute pixie cut. You won’t rinse the conditioner out because the water is too cold.

It’s too cold because I filled a bathtub for you with hot water, that you drained because “bubble baths are for little kids” and decided to take a shower, like a big kid, with no hot water because we used it all in filling the bathtub. While the water is lukewarm, you’ve decided it’s simply too cold for you to rinse your hair so you’re sobbing in the bathtub.

So, bubble baths are for little kids, ok. But coping skills are not programmed yet, so here we are.


Ah, you’re ready to rinse. I think. Let’s see how this plays out.


Lockdown. Third time’s a charm?

These don’t get easier, Kiddo.

Someday, you’ll get it. For now? After a week where you’ve been particularly clingy and worried (though you refuse to say why), I suspect it has something to do with Lockdown day.

Or maybe I’m just reading into it.

Regardless, I’ve written about this twice before. Once when you were in Preschool – in a letter I wrote to you that went “Somerville Viral”, and once last year in Kindergarten.

And today, on the 312th day of the calendar year, a year that has had 307 mass shootings in schools, places of worship, malls, grocery stores, and more – you get to practice yet another lockdown drill with the fire department and police department inside your school, a school where I can see clearly how a locked door won’t stop someone from getting in because of the glass windows on the interior doors, and still nothing has been done from our country to keep you safe.

It makes me physically ill, and I can’t tell you that. But I can write for a third time that you had a lockdown drill and how nothing continues to be done.

All I can do is send you to school with this little piece of chocolate because you are now only 6-years-old, are not quite sure why the parents are so upset – just two days after more people were slaughtered in a restaurant including one man who survived a shooting at a concert in Nevada earlier this year – give you a big hug and say “I’ll see you at pick up.”

And I hope I’m right.



November 8th, 2018

This date, November 8th, 2018, marks an important milestone in your education. It was going to happen someday, however, I really thought it would be much further down the road.

Today is the day that neither of your parents could figure out one of your homework problems when you asked for help.

I knew this would happen eventually, but I certainly didn’t expect it in a language problem specifically designed for first graders. I had my money on 5th grade math if we’re being honest.

Your dad? English major.

Your mom? Published author.

Neither of us could figure this out and I know when the comments rush in, well look at this like, “Ooooooh! Of COURSE!”

But not now. Not in this moment. The entire McGrath household was stumped by first grade English.


Mom (and Dad)

PS: A Twitter user actually ended up answering this, which is a relief to the adults who were losing their minds on this puzzle.

It’s not WoodIN (which isn’t a word). It’s not “KINdling” because it’s not following the convention set up in the exercise (last letters stay the same). I think @CompanionAnimalPsych is correct. It’s “Thin”.

Dear Little: The Tooth Fairy (or: It Wasn’t Supposed To Go Down Like This)


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Dear Little –

A little over a month ago, we were in SF (which was on fire) visiting Auntie Sip and Uncle Doug where you celebrated your 6th birthday. They put together a cute little birthday party for you but you were too sick to even eat any of your birthday cake. The next day, we boarded a flight to Seattle (also on fire) so we could see Uncle Ben and Auntie Kate’s wedding ceremony at Fort Warden…and you yacked all over the aircraft.

So, yeah. You were ill. Sorry about that.

I was personally ticked off when the attendant showed up after you vomited all over the plane with two tiny bottles of vodka. I thought one for me, one for your dad, what a nice way to offer a bit of an assist in an otherwise unpleasant experience. Thanks, Delta! That was until the attendant informed us that this was going to be used to clean the seats because they were out of rubbing alcohol.

I had to tell him to NOT rub you down in vodka, not even to clean you off because I could see where that would backfire later in our day.  Explaining to security, the cops, or Child Protective Services why you are covered in vomit and smell like a bar was not going to make an already long travel day go any smoother. Plus, jail isn’t on my bucket list. We settled instead to just change your clothes and do our best with paper towels and a hand dryer in terminal A after landing.

After a few days, you started to recover! Relieved, excited, and feeling SO badly that you couldn’t have cake, Daddy and I took you to get a cake pop around the corner. How could a cake pop go wrong? It can’t.


Hopped up on sugar, no sleep and post-ill kid hyperdrive, you started skipping down the street, and promptly fell on your face.

We checked your teeth, your nose, your forehead – all of it. Everything looked fine. But for the next few days you seemed off. Well, concussions do that to a kid, so does a 3 hour time change, so we just figured you’d be fine. Eventually.

However, getting back to Boston you kept saying your teeth hurt. You’re 6, your teeth are supposed to come out soon, so maybe the tooth fairy was going to visit soon! How exciting! By Tuesday, five days after your faceplant, you stopped eating food because “food hurts.”

That’s not good.

I looked in your mouth and noticed the front of your teeth, where we looked before was still fine. But behind your front teeth, I thought I saw a crack.

Dentist confirmed – a cracked tooth.

We thought, “Perhaps this will just be a quick glue job.”

We thought wrong. Kiddo, when you go for it, you REALLY go for it, and usually, that would be the thing we encourage. Live your best life! Be your best self! Don’t half-ass something when you can whole-ass it. You know, give it 100%.

But when it comes to fracturing teeth, you get the gold star. You didn’t just crack the tooth. you cracked BEHIND the tooth and all the way through the root. I don’t even know how you did it.

So here we are, you on the precipice of losing your first tooth. Most kids go through a wiggly phase, push the teeth with their tongues, and anticipate for a few weeks about the loot the tooth fairy would leave as a present under the pillow, maybe figure out how to game the system so they could catch her (or him – it’s 2018) in the act.

But you are so, so good at fracturing teeth, I had to hold you down while you got not one, but TWO shots of novocaine and a set of pliers to yank a fully rooted baby tooth out of your skull.

Fun Fact: as the adult tooth comes down to push over a period of months, it rubs the root of the baby tooth down, which makes it wiggly. The baby tooth is a tiny little nugget that kids can put under their pillow.

If, however, you fracture a baby tooth that is by all x-ray evidence a year from an adult tooth coming down to wear down the root, you get this fodder for nightmares:

Girrrrrrl, this came out of your face. Took a few yanks of the pliers. That black line is the fractured root. This whole thing was the length from the tip of my index finger to the first joint. 

Suffice it to say, as far as you are concerned, the tooth fairy “myth” is something your parents say when they take you to the dentist, give you several painful shots and use tools found under the sink to forcibly yank a bone from your jaw.

You think the tooth fairy is a sadist.

Had this been your second tooth and you had a normal experience, I wouldn’t be as worried, but Kiddo, we have another … what, 36 teeth* to lose?

*I’m a dog trainer, not a dentist. I have NO idea how many teeth are in a kids’ head, and I’m too lazy to look on Google despite typing this on a laptop connected to the Internet.

You seem to know as a concept that this is unusual (or as you currently say, “Unuthual”) but I’m not convinced every time you have a wiggly tooth, you’ll have a flashback to that time all of this happened. Time will tell.

You are so cute, with or without a full set of teeth. I am sad though that I will never see all your baby teeth again.

I can say this – the next time there is a lost tooth, I’m pretty sure she/he won’t have a large bill handy. That might have been a one-time sympathy trauma transaction. I think that was also a fluke, and coincidently, the exact same amount of money your father happened to have in his wallet after our trip and short notice.




Dear Little: Change of Plans

Dear Little,

Today, we were going to go to the comic book shop and then to a street festival.


So, here’s a picture in case you just remember at some point in the future that we didn’t take you to Somerstreets. We aren’t terrible parents. You just kept throwing tantrums and falling asleep.

Growth spurt?


Mom (and Dad).