NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marianne Sung lives in a small brick house in a sleepy town outside Nashville. It’s quiet and quaint, surrounded by rolling hills, and she likes that cell phone coverage is spotty.
Marianne lives with her partner, two dogs, and two sons — Eli, age 11, and toddler Charlie. She says she feels at peace with her life, but admits she sometimes wonders about how it might have turned out differently — if she’d made a different decision, more than a decade ago.
“You know, had I known more, had I been able to talk to my parents, talk to my sister, I probably wouldn’t have two kids right now,” Marianne says.
Marianne got pregnant with her first son when she was 16 years old.
Her story is a familiar one in Tennessee, which ranks among the top 10 in the country for the number of teen pregnancies.
Marianne says growing up there were things her family just didn’t discuss, sex included. So when she started feeling nauseated and missed her period, she didn’t say a word.
Instead, she rushed out to buy pregnancy tests.
“And I took five tests,” she says. “Because the first one was positive. So then I just kept taking them thinking, like, surely, it’s wrong.”
But, it wasn’t.
Marianne hides her pregnancy
Marianne’s first instinct was to find a way to get an abortion.
But the only research she’d ever done was for school projects – nothing this consequential or overwhelming – and she couldn’t figure out if she needed her parents’ permission. And there was no way she’d tell her parents she was pregnant.
“A lot of fear got in the way,” Marianne says.
So, she hid her pregnancy for six months.
“If I just pretend like it’s not happening, it’s not happening, right?” Marianne quips.
Eventually, her belly got too big to hide under baggy sweatshirts.
Her mom noticed, and called Marianne’s sister, Fanny, to come home.
The one family meeting in 40 years
“I don’t know that we ever had a family meeting until this moment,” Fanny says, laughing. “Just the one in the past 40 years.”
Where Marianne is shy and quiet, Fanny is boisterous and uninhibited.
Fanny is 11 years older than Marianne. She remembers the family meeting vividly. She was 27 at the time.
“My dad was just sitting at the kitchen counter eating his dinner, like while this is going on,” Fanny says laughing. “My mom was like, ‘Well, is it too late to get an abortion?’ I was like, ‘Yes, look at her!’ ”
Adoption was briefly on the table, but Fanny says her parents were against it. They’re Taiwanese – the sisters are first-generation American – and culturally, they didn’t feel like they could give up a child they could take care of.
Fanny has a secret of her own
Unbeknownst to everyone at this family meeting, Fanny was sitting on a secret of her own.
Fanny had gotten pregnant years before, when she was 21.
“When I came to that crossroads — the path that her life took is the path that I avoided,” Fanny says.
Unlike Marianne, Fanny had an abortion.
“I felt a lot of relief because my life could move on in a way that it wouldn’t have been able to,” she recalls.
Afterward, Fanny traveled internationally. She graduated from college. She met her future husband.
Marianne’s parents expected her to follow a similar path, and getting pregnant as a teenager wasn’t part of the plan.
Marianne says she remembers feeling, “that overwhelming weight of like, I’ve really messed up like now.” She says both of her parents were upset, “And in that moment it’s like, are they ever going to love me the same? Will it ever be the same?”
Marianne left high school. She skipped college and started working.
And Fanny has always wondered if Marianne’s life would have turned out differently — if she’d shared her secret and told her about the abortion.
“I think at that time, I probably had more shame and more secrecy around it,” Fanny reflects.
Plus, Marianne was only 9 then.
Once Fanny found out Marianne was pregnant as a teenager years later, Fanny didn’t feel like it would help to share her experience because Marianne was too far along to consider an abortion.
Fanny shares her secret
It wasn’t until Fanny heard the news about the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn Roe Vs. Wade that she finally told her sister.
Marianne understands why Fanny kept it a secret.
But she wishes she’d known sooner.
“I would have known, like, oh, like I’m in this situation — let me talk to somebody who might be able to help me, who has been through this, who is close to me,” Marianne says.
Without someone to help her, she said it felt like abortion wasn’t really even an option.
It’s a glimpse of what life will be like for others if Roe is overturned, Marianne says. Tennessee is one of several states with a so-called trigger law on the books that would effectively outlaw all abortions.
“Until you’ve gone through something like that, you don’t truly know how hard and how scary life can be,” Marianne says. “Like your life, your whole life changes in an instant.”
Fanny said that Marianne wasn’t alone in feeling that way.
“I had options, and I was fearful,” Fanny said. “I cannot imagine not having options. I cannot imagine not having options. You’re already afraid.”
As many as 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if the Supreme Court strikes Roe down.