(As is my custom, please be advised that this is an "issue" post, about what sadly is an incendiary topic. Please don't read further if you are offended by a perspective that may be different from your own. And, this is my own perspective; I realize that not everyone feels the same way. I'm also not sure how long I am going to leave this very long post up. I do write anonymously, but is there ever really anonymity on the Internet?)
I mentioned in my breastfeeding and feminism post that I'd changed my position on some social issues over the years, moving from pro-choice to pro-life, and from being for capital punishment to being against it. I do think that this is internally consistent, but my feelings didn't move in those directions because I was concerned about consistency. I've been thinking about this again lately, because I got into a discussion with my boss about this subject, and she said that she thought that it was simply impossible that someone who was pro-choice could ever become pro-life, implying that I probably wasn't really ever pro-choice to begin with. Not so.
Abortion was always available as a choice for me, unlike many older women. I was completely oblivious to the Roe v Wade battle that had come before, and how polarizing the decision must have been at the time. I was certainly aware of how babies began, but I deliberately never connected embryos and fetuses with "life" and personhood. This is really hard to put down into words, because I'm having a hard time believing what I am writing as I write it. But it's true. I never gave it much thought. I guess my disconnect was similar to ignoring the possibility that my former pack a day smoking habit might at all be related to an increased risk of lung cancer (fortunately, I quit the evening before my embryo transfer that resulted in my little princess, and the pregnancy and breast feeding kept me away from cigarettes).
Abortion was an acceptable alternative to pregnancy for as long as I can remember (part and parcel of the feminism package that I'm not so thrilled with in retrospect). I didn't think about the pain or fear that the fetus might experience; I honestly thought that if an abortion was performed before the nervous system was in place, it was OK. I guess I thought that if there were no pain, no consciousness, then that would be the best of a bad situation.
I disassociated myself from believing that these babies were, well . . . babies. Men weren't allowed to intrude or even offer an opinion really. Well, they could opine, but they didn't get a vote. Not fair - but my body, my choice. The child inside was not a child. Instead, it was a primitive group of cells with no identity. I'd drunk the Koolaid and believed that this was true. It was a complete and total disconnect.
My mother, in a misguided effort to steer me away from teenage premarital sex, told me that if I were ever to get pregnant, she would insist on an abortion so as not to "embarrass the family." Yes, she really said that. She did not discuss birth control with me, though I had a rudimentary understanding of it. And, when I started having sex with the man/boy that I thought was the love of my life (holy cow, was I wrong about him), I was sloppy about birth control. We used condoms; they broke from time to time.
My mom once told me that she'd had difficulty getting pregnant. I thought maybe that was hereditary. And guess what? It wasn't. At 17, I did get pregnant. And because my mother had essentially cut off communication on the subject, I had an abortion. And I simply did not appreciate the gravity of what I had done. Not then anyway. Many of my friends already had (or were going to have) abortions close in time to when I had mine. It wasn't something we discussed very much. The feeling afterward was more relief than anything else.
I remember that one of my friends became really ill shortly after her abortion and during our senior class trip. She hadn't followed up with the clinic. She was flushed, feverish, crampy and miserable. She didn't tell a chaperon what was going on or even that she wasn't feeling well. Years later, she learned that her tubes were scarred from PID, and she never was able to conceive, not even with IVF. I've always believed that her problems started on that class trip and wonder if things might have been different if she'd had some antibiotics. But, she eventually became a mom through the miracle of adoption. I was "lucky"; I had no lasting physical effects.
Shortly after my abortion, a 16 year old friend of the family became pregnant. The people in this family were more than friends; the daughters were more like cousins to me. She decided to keep her baby. Her mother was horrified and confided to my mother that she was very embarrassed about her daughter's pregnancy, because what will all of her friends think? And my mother told her that it didn't matter what they thought - if they were really her friends, they would be supportive. What the hell? So, my mother was apparently supportive of other daughters, just not her own? I didn't think that I even had a choice about what to do - apparently, I might have. And honestly, the fact that my mother had closed that door to me, even if her intentions were good (though misplaced), infected our relationship for years. At some level, I hated her, but it took years to understand why. Though she had found out about it eventually (and accidentally), we didn't even discuss my abortion until I was in my 30's, opening up that festering wound and letting in the healing light of day. After that, we started to become close. I forgave her. She forgave me. I thank God that we were able to talk about it, because I had many years of true friendship with her after that.
But still, it wasn't until my first round of IVF that I truly understood the meaning of it all. You see, before they transfer the embryos, they show you a picture of them, taken only hours before. Right there, in glorious back and white - our last name, the date, and the time. I've saved the photos from each of my transfers. Back in December of 2003, they transferred three of these lovely embryos. One didn't implant. Two did. And one became my daughter. A miracle of life. Something that I never, ever really appreciated before. But in an instant, I knew. This is life. This is when it starts. Quiet whispers in my heart that I never took the time to listen to hear over the cacophony of misguided logic. Even though I had come to regret not knowing the child from years before. Even though I had come to a full personal appreciation that what I'd done was wrong. Even though I had come to own responsibility for my decision. It had been easy to blame my mom, but while she might have made it difficult, I could have at least tried to approach my parents. I didn't. I could have married my boyfriend. I didn't (he was really, really a bad apple, and I was astute enough to realize that marriage would have been a big mistake).
I remember being at a gas station during that first set of infertility years (I consider life today as my second set of infertility years. I looked over at the next car and saw a beautiful little girl in the back seat. I complimented her to her mother, who said that her daughter was "proof" that God forgives, because years before, she had to make "the choice." I silently nodded, thinking that was a dangerous thing to believe. I know that God has forgiven me, even if I haven't forgiven myself. I know because I have crawled on my belly in anguish and asked - no begged - for forgiveness and mercy. And in God's mind, my sin is as far from me as the east is from the west, because He keeps His promises. So, I know in my heart that just as a cancer patient doesn't deserve that diagnosis, my infertility didn't happen because I haven't been forgiven. It just is what it is.
So, where does that leave me to today? Pro-life, definitely. But what exactly does that mean?
It does not mean that I am filled with hate. It does not mean that I will ever threaten or picket at an abortion clinic. It does not mean that I will scream at someone and call them a murderer as they walk through those doors. (Honestly, Christians, do you really believe that's what Jesus would do?)
It does mean that I believe that we should do everything in our power to create a culture of life, an understanding and appreciation for that small lump of cells as being human. I believe that we should provide birth control for all who ask. Sterilization for all who ask. Support for the adoption process, meaning that we protect the child from potentially abusive adoptive parents, while keeping things affordable for people who would be good parents (adoption is unbelievably expensive). Support for moms who decide to have and keep their babies. Support for programs like Head Start and school choice. You know, I'm sad to say that many Christians purport to be pro-life, but they don't actually support the things that are pro-life. It seems as though their interest in the matter stops with the birth of the child, but there is no concern for the life of the child.
I have been struggling with the rest. I think that religiously run governments are oppressive (Shari'ah anyone?), and I don't suggest that our government should be a mirror of church doctrine (any church doctrine). I don't understand the bible to impose that, though some might. While I know that abortion is wrong, I can't bring myself to say that no one should ever be able to have an abortion. Rumor has it that one of my great-grandmothers died from a self-induced abortion. She had sufficient resources to have another child. She just thought that five children were enough. And she paid for that with her life. Would things have been different if birth control were better available then? I will never know. But she left her five children, nine years old and under, without a mom. So very sad.
I do often wonder what my child would have been like. She or he would be old enough to perhaps have started a family on his or her own. Would we have grown to be friends? Would I be a grandmother now? The friend of the family who had her first baby at 16 is now a grandmother four times over now. What a blessing to have grandchildren when you are so young!
And what would I tell my daughter if she became pregnant at 17, as I did, even though we would have discussed birth control and sexual responsibility well before that would have occurred? Again, more questions than answers. I would not close the door to her, as I believed it was closed to me at the time. I would make sure that she had all the resources at my disposal. I would pray, hope, and encourage her to choose life. I couldn't hate her if she didn't, though my heart would break knowing that inevitably, she would likely regret that decision.
As it is with most hard issues, I'm left with more questions than answers.