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Missing Pieces: The senseless death of a teenage mother

photos by Sandhya Graves


Missing Pieces: The senseless death of a teenage mother

I didn’t know I was a missing piece to someone else’s puzzle.  I didn’t know that my short conversation with them 30 years later would spark the same question from a mom and a dad. “Can you remember who it was?”

I have to admit, that there was not one single time over the past 30 years when I thought my short interaction with Becky Bell, (born Rebecca Suzanne Bell), was some significant piece of information that her family was searching for. Had I known, I would have sought them out shortly after she died. Well, at least I would have sooner than 30 years later. Yet, now when I think about it, I wonder why I couldn’t have had the hindsight to just know that they would want any piece of information, regardless of how small I thought it was. To them, it was one of the beginning pieces leading to their daughter’s death.

Becky died in 1988 from complications of a back-alley abortion. She was 17 years old, less than a year shy of her 18th birthday, which would have allowed her to have an abortion in a safe environment without the consent of her parents.  She terminated her pregnancy in an unclean, unsafe, uncaring, scary place because she was afraid to tell her parents that she was pregnant and her boyfriend left her. Her fear, and a law preventing her from making a decision about her own body, ultimately is what killed her.

I didn’t know Becky well. She was a year older than me and our paths crossed enough for us to say hello and smile at each other. Yet, we had our moments. One was during first period of class. She worked in the office because it was her study hall. I was the kid who was always running late with a note to excuse my absence. She would laugh at seeing me running in there and would give me a pass to get into my class.

Our other encounter was brief. We didn’t speak that time. Our eyes locked and I knew. I didn’t tell anyone, but then I didn’t have to because they all found out a month later when Becky took matters into her own hands and trusted the wrong people.

It was at Planned Parenthood. I walked in and went straight to the counter to get a refill of my birth control pills. I had to wait for a few minutes and I looked around the waiting room and saw her sitting there with her friend. She looked pale, frightened and lost. I gave a small smile and left shortly after that.

I didn’t see her alive again. She died a month later.

We didn’t have to wonder what happened for too long because her parents came to our school and shared with us what happened. It was a first step in their road to becoming activists on women’s rights to enable minors to obtain a safe, legal abortion without the consent of their parents. I saw them speak at Indiana University a couple years later and then we didn’t cross paths until about a month ago, May 6, 2017.

I went to a memorial for another classmate gone too soon and they were there. I didn’t recognize them, but heard someone say their names. I felt compelled to seek them out.

I went to her mom and introduced myself. I don’t know what made me share my encounter with Becky at Planned Parenthood, but I did. Her mother quickly told me that I needed to tell the same story to Becky’s dad, and she called him over. We stood at a table and quietly talked. I told him I saw her there and that when we locked eyes, I knew that she was pregnant. But, it was the “friend” who I spoke of that they were both interested in enough for them to ask me, separately, “Do you know who she was?”

Unfortunately, I had to say “No, I don’t’ know who she was.” I do know I recognized her, but I have yet to identify this “friend”.

I’m a firm believer in things happening for a reason. I feel I crossed paths with the Bells’ for a reason. Here it is 2017, and women’s reproductive rights and pro-choice legislation seems to be moving backwards in time. The rights of women to control their own bodies are being taken away by the conservative side of the aisle, the GOP stronghold, made up mostly of men debating whether women are smart enough to make the wisest decision for their own bodies and lives. And, women’s reproductive freedom is being threatened like never before.

Anti-choice advocates are shoving their own religious rhetoric down everyone’s throat, thinking only they know right and wrong. They protest safe abortion clinics and pray for the souls who enter such establishments. But what they don’t tell you is that they are not the people adopting the children that they prevented a woman from aborting. Nor are they available for help once the child arrives and the woman finds herself unable to support herself and her baby. They will shame you for being on welfare and paying for your food with food stamps.

Once a woman brings a child into the world, these “pro-lifers” are gone. Therefore, I choose to call them what they are “pro-fetus” individuals, who know nothing of empathy or how to put themselves in another’s shoes. And I also choose to use the word “hypocrite” when talking of the folks because, far too often, it becomes a “pro-choice” world when it touches their family.

I’ve always stood up for women’s rights and in the back of my mind, I have kept Becky Bell’s plight as an example of why we need to keep abortions safe and legal. The GOP may threaten Roe vs Wade, but it’s way too late. Women know that back-alley clinics exist, and if scared enough, they will go there as a last option.

I believe my encounter with the Bells’ was a reminder to me to not stop fighting no matter how ugly this becomes. We are smart, intelligent women, who should be trusted with a choice pertaining to our own bodies and lives.

Fate brought them to me and rejuvenated the fire in me to continue fighting for what’s right. In the meantime, I’m going to look for that friend I saw. Every grieving parent deserves to find all the pieces to the puzzle of their daughter’s death. If anything, they deserve a bit of peace to their never-ending aching heart.






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Sandhya is a wife and mother of twin boys (4) and little girl (3), first. She also goes by author, writer, caregiver, and the family-glue for her village. She’s a dreamer, a soul-catcher, lover of words, an empath and wanderer searching for lost souls, all while craving culture and diversity to bring everyone together. She is author of the book, When It’s Not As Simple As The Birds And The Bees: Finding Hope While Dealing With Infertility.  She enjoys writing poetry and has been published numerous times, as well as being a two time award winning poet.  She’s dabbled as a songwriter, but leaves that to the pros. Stay tuned, you will see all of it here.

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