more emphatically pro-choice with every pregnancy

Safe, legal, affordable abortion access is something I’ve felt strongly about since I was a child. I don’t remember quite what brought twelve-year-old, southern, Catholic me to feel that way: it was not exactly taught at my school! But it felt big in my heart, a revulsion at the idea of forced pregnancy and at the rhetoric of the “pro-life” movement around me.

Many years later, I have had two babies. I have held my breath hoping not to miscarry two very-much-wanted pregnancies, hoping to have healthy little humans join our family, and I have been so lucky to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to have unambiguously healthy planned ones. I have felt two beloved fetuses moving inside my body.

It’s interesting to me to hear how individuals’ gut feelings and beliefs about reproductive justice–and specifically about abortion and fetuses–are affected by personal experiences of pregnancy. People seem to expect for folks who’ve birthed babies to question whether terminating a pregnancy is acceptable, at least at an emotional level, as a reaction to All the Love and All the Cute (of which, certainly, there is a great deal).

My own reproductive experiences have pushed me in the other direction, to more passionate and visceral revulsion at the idea of requiring anyone to carry out a pregnancy and birth against that person’s wishes.

I had no idea, before experiencing it myself, how whole-body and huge and permanently-changing pregnancy and birth are. I also had a less-direct understanding of the process of fetal development and what all that means as a physical and emotional reality for the person whose body creates and sustains that other/same body. I had no idea how loaded and immense–physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially–the pregnant, birthing, and postpartum body/self truly is. No idea.

After my mostly-wonderful pregnancy and birth with Noah, I thought, wow, no one should ever have to do that unwillingly. After my extremely unpleasant and challenging pregnancy and amazing (and challenging!) birth with Simon, I thought, I would have killed myself if I hadn’t wanted a baby and I’d been forced to continue that pregnancy. It was a meaningful family experience for me because I wanted the pregnancy, I wanted the child: I could appreciate the lovely bits and bear the awful grind because of the love and also the sense of freely choosing to go on. Without an out, I think I would have been swallowed up in hopelessness and anger and found my own out.

I know very well that my second pregnancy–the hard one–was easy and complication-free compared to many people’s pregnancies. The idea of forcing an existing person to carry a pregnancy to term doesn’t just seem wrong, now: it seems gruesome.

It’s not that I’m “pro-abortion” or somehow interested in convincing people to terminate their pregnancies, as some anti-choice folks suspect of pro-choice ones. Why on earth would I object to someone staying pregnant? (Guilty as charged re: pro-contraception-access and sex-positivity, though.) It’s just that I can’t wrap my heart around forcing anyone to stay pregnant, and I can’t wrap my head around the idea that a potential future person’s right to join the human community trumps an existing person’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination.

Does your community have these “Maybe Your Baby” anti-abortion billboards? Maybe your baby will be a great artist, will be super-cute, whatever. Do these people seriously think people terminate pregnancies because they figure their baby won’t be pretty or talented or otherwise high-quality enough to merit the trouble? Before my pregnancies, I might have rolled my eyes at these signs, slathered in appealingly chubby nine-month-olds. After my pregnancies, I am insulted by their patronizing and totally clueless approach not only to Possible Mommy Ladies but also to pregnancy, birth, parenting, and human beings. The anti-abortion rhetoric that I heard at my Catholic grade school and church, that I witnessed at a large Southern university, that I read from politicians, that I see on outdoor boards today all seems to exist in some alternative universe.

Here’s my reality: My body will forever be marked by pregnancies and births and breastfeeding and all the physical interactions of parenting. My sense of self, my social status, my economic realities, my memories, and my emotional well-being will be, too. I embrace all that, in part because I chose it.

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9 Comments

  1. nsv
    Posted 3 July 2013 at 8:04 PM | Permalink

    Molly, I thank you so much for this post, which expresses exactly what I have felt since the birth of my children. I had easy pregnancies and wonderful births and (knock wood) healthy children. But it’s work – very hard work – and it takes away from other hard work. Which may be hard work that cures cancer or hard work that keeps a roof over your head or anything in between or beyond.

    In the Reproductive Justice framework, we talk about the human right to have children, not to have children, and to parent our children in a safe environment, with dignity. (And those of us who are white should REALLY be thanking our sisters of color for evolving the RJ framework and its human rights/social justice analysis.) We have to make the decision about when to have children in an imperfect world, where giving birth to a child may imperil our ability to care for the children we already have, the children we may have someday, or to simply care for ourselves and accomplish what we see as our mission in the world. The best judge of these decisions is the woman carrying the child. Period. She may consult whoever she wants and take support from those who offer it, and consider her decision in the context of her family and community and faith tradition, but the decision has to be hers. Because, ultimately, she’s the one who can do the work of bringing the child into the world and – socially speaking – she’s statistically likely to be the one providing most of the care to the child.

    We have to trust women to make these decisions – and it is our duty to support them as a society.

  2. Posted 5 July 2013 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

    Molly,

    Thanks for this great post! I am the Rev. Rob Keithan, a Unitarian Universalist minister serving as Director of Public Policy at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, DC. I just posted a link to your blog on the RCRC facebook page, which I hope you’ll check out. Also, I want you to know (and of course you may already) that there’s a Minnesota RCRC as well, http://www.mnrcrc.org. The leader is Rev. Kelli Clement, who’s awesome.

    Keep up the good writing!

    Rob

  3. Love
    Posted 5 July 2013 at 5:13 PM | Permalink

    I cried at your sixth paragraph:
    ” I thought, I would have killed myself if I hadn’t wanted a baby and I’d been forced to continue that pregnancy…
    Without an out, I think I would have been swallowed up in hopelessness and anger and found my own out. ”

    I had a lot of reasons to not want biological children, from my body to the environment.
    My life events (family issues) affirmed this decision as being the right choice for me…
    My spouse wanted to be childfree as well. We were both abstinent until marriage.
    We were never accepted and loved by others for this decision, which hurt no one…
    Less than four years into marriage of nothing but protected sex, we got pregnant.

    The only counsel we could turn to that would understand was Planned Parenthood- who listened to us fully then spoke with us neutrally advising us professionally of ALL choices. We were not pushed into abortion or parenting (adoption was not an option for us).

    It was a very tough time to make a decision… every day we regret what we did at the same time we regret not doing what we could have… Our child is beautiful but this world is ugly…

    The bottom line is… The depression I had during the pregnancy was the darkest despair I’ve known in life. The hopelessness I’ve felt with God and the anger I feel with humans has been exacerbated more than ever in my life- not a statement made lightly. Having a child has harmed- not healed- my spiritual well being. (Never mind my physical body!)

    Contraception reduces conception… but obviously, God’s will is stronger than any human’s best efforts.

    But like you, I also became “more emphatically pro-choice with every pregnancy.” I did not feel actual life in my womb until the third trimester which convinced me about ensoulment. I now believe that while the process of life may begin at conception, the moment of life itself does not begin until farther in pregnancy.

    • Denise Lozier
      Posted 8 July 2013 at 6:53 AM | Permalink

      Wow, how courageous of you to share. Thank you! Maybe you can help people see that it is not just unmarried individuals that experience unwanted pregnancies. It is such a complex issue and I hope we do not go back to the old ways.

  4. Posted 6 July 2013 at 1:40 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this eloquent, personal, thoughtful piece. I hope you and your readers/admirers will check out the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women with health decisions. http://oursilverribbon.org/

    We would be happy to send you a ribbon and would be honored if you would wear one.

    The Silver ribbon represents science over ideology.

    We who proudly wear it:
    - support reproductive rights
    - support free access to birth control
    - support keeping abortion legal and accessible

  5. Marian Hennings
    Posted 7 July 2013 at 6:12 PM | Permalink

    No one should ever be forced to endure a pregnancy and childbirth against her will. As with this author, my beliefs in this regard were strengthened by bearing two children.

  6. Patty O'Reilly
    Posted 7 July 2013 at 8:06 PM | Permalink

    Thank you, Molly, for your powerful words. I am the mother of 3 children, 2 adopted and 1 “home grown”. Because of their ages I am sure that neither of my two children’s birth mothers had any choice in whether to carry/not carry the babies to term. One was obviously a serious drug user, judging from the problems we had to deal with. I will be forever grateful that their babies lived. But that does not change my deep conviction that all women deserve and are entitled to the right to make their own deeply personal decisions on whether to bear a child or not. I applaud you for so eloquently verbalizing the thoughts of hundreds of thousands of women. We may each and every one of us decide differently and for different reasons, but in the end, only we can know in our hearts that we have done the right thing. Or not. And it is most definitely NOT up to anyone else to make those decisions for us…and absolutely not up to legislators or righteous others of any sex or stripe. Trust women. Period.

  7. Posted 11 July 2013 at 11:51 AM | Permalink

    So beautifully put, Molly. Truly a moment of “mixing the personal with the political” at its finest.

  8. ThankYou
    Posted 11 July 2013 at 12:11 PM | Permalink

    Thank you for your eloquent and thoughtful words. I had an abortion when I was young because it was the wrong time in my life to parent. Fourteen years later, and I gave birth to my wonderful son. I worried about how I would feel about the abortion while pregnant, but it just solidified that I would have been miserable, inhumane, and unjust to continue the unwanted pregnancy. I will never understand how someone can try to legislate someone else’s body. If you don’t want to terminate a pregnancy, then don’t, but why stop those who want that choice?

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