Looking for Jane – Heather Marshall

Looking for Jane is a fictional look at the choices women had regarding unwanted pregnancies during the period from 1960 to the time abortion was legalized in Canada.

The story opens in 2017, with Angela, who is managing her Aunt Jo’s antiques store. Angela was fired when her employer found out she is pregnant. Angela is gay. Angela and her wife have been trying for a baby for awhile. This pregnancy is a little scary because she had a miscarriage with her first positive test. As Angela is working in the shop, she opens a drawer and finds a seven year old letter, sent to Nancy Mitchell from her mother Frances. It’s obvious this was misdirected mail meant for the apartment upstairs. Frances had her lawyer send this after her death. She tells Nancy she was adopted and encloses a note from Nancy’s birth mother. Angela starts looking for Nancy and eventually as she keeps striking out, she also looks for Nancy’s birth mother, Margaret.

In 1960, when Evelyn’s fiancé died of a heart attack, she was already pregnant with their child. Her parents gave her no choice. She was whisked off to St. Agnes’ Home for Unwed Mothers and disowned. When Evelyn’s daughter was born, she too was whisked off– to be adopted. No choice there, although in this case, Evelyn desperately wanted to have her brother and his wife adopt her baby. The baby’s name was Jane. Evelyn secreted a note to the adoptive parents and a pair of yellow booties in Jane’s blanket and that was that. Evelyn always mourned this loss and made unsuccessful efforts to find Jane. Looking for Jane.

Years later, Evelyn, now a doctor, gets involved in providing women with illegal abortions that are carried out in a medically safe and very private way. Nancy has helped a cousin get a “back alley” abortion and she requires emergency room care due to bleeding. The male doctor is hostile and tells them that when Evelyn comes on for the next shift, she will likely call the police. Instead, Evelyn tells Nancy that if she ever learns of anyone else needing an abortion, the woman should call any gynecology office and ask for Jane. Evelyn has joined the “Jane” network, a group that is based on a similar network that existed in Chicago before abortion was legalized via Roe v. Wade.

Looking for Jane follows these women’s stories in a nonlinear fashion, drawing us into the past and present of these remarkable and very ordinary women. Marshall writes a compelling and entertaining story throughout, although the ending is a bit much. That’s all I’ll say about that. It was entertaining both because of and in spite of the ending. It’s impossible to write more without serious spoilers. I recommend this book.

NOTE: Two movies, one a documentary and one fictionalized have been made about the Chicago Jane Collective. The documentary, made for HBO, is called, “The Janes.” The fictional movie is called, “Ask for Jane.” The documentary was fabulous. I still need to watch Ask for Jane.

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