Here I go. Hot button item. Why am I repeating myself?
Why open up wounds and unanswered questions and misunderstandings and anger, to throw it all into the arena again for debate? Women’s rights are human rights everywhere.
There is one thing that should be perfectly clear. If you understand that women’s bodies are their own, do not vote for John McCain.
It goes like this
the fourth the fifth,
the minor fall and the major lift...
(Normally, I don’t like to retrace old ground. But the topic of human rights, women’s rights, pro-choice, pro-life, whatever your favorite tagline – is such a godd**m muddle for so many voters who don’t have the time, the backstory on the candidate, or the inclination to understand who it is they are voting for. So I’m throwing up an issue I’ve written about before, just a hair over two years ago to this day, revised it and dusted it off a bit, and added some newly relevant links.)
(crossposted at Docudharma)
As if the reasons actually clarify the choice a woman makes when she has an abortion. Or that statistics are needed to prove that a woman has primacy in the decision over what happens in her body.
You see, I had a difficult time uncovering the personal angle in that search. The personal is political to me and the political, personal. For those who've read any of my other diaries, at least the personal reflection novellas that I pour out on occasion, you know that "I" is prominent. In what might potentially be considered a lame defense, my intent is not "it's all about me"; rather, I draw out experiences that help me frame a topic of political debate, in hopes that it will resonant with readers. Sometimes, I get close; other times I fall flat.
The words that truly describe what choice means are out there. I see the stories on both pro-choice websites and on "pro-family" sites. I've never talked with anyone about abortion on a personal level as it relates to me; I've only discussed abortion on a philosophical and theoretical level. I've engaged in topics both objective and liberal with friends, other women, my kids. But how many times is abortion voiced from the personal viewpoint in the broader political arena?
I had the following conversation with my youngest daughter a couple of nights ago and I can't get it out of my mind. (author note: now two years ago)
My daughter described to me in an impassioned way how she could never have an abortion. I asked her how she would react if she found out her best friend was pregnant. You have to understand we had exchanged ideas for several minutes before I queried her. We covered the occurrence of her birth 16 years ago, at a time when my marriage to her father was beyond repair.
We discussed for the first time some rumors on family opinions that she had heard from her oldest sister. There were members in my family who had tentatively encouraged me to abort when they found out I was pregnant with her. My family was well aware that I would shortly be on my own, financially and physically, as a single parent with two other children at four and two years of age. We talked about this for a long time and I know my daughter needed some reassurance on who she was and how valuable a person she was.
My daughter had processed this knowledge on what my family had suggested as a personal affront to her existence. I attempted to explain the very good reasons why my family had discouraged her birth initially - I was in grad school at the time, attempting to get a better purchase on a more stable future for myself and my children; I had two small children of infant and preschool age; I was not only going to school, but working almost full time just to make ends meet. They suggested abortion not because they loved her as a person any less, but they understood the consequences of a single parent with multiple children who has no safety net in a society growing increasingly hostile to working families.
I also tried to describe to her that, from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew she was a child of great light and beauty. That no matter what was said around me and no matter how hard I knew it was going to get, there wasn't a chance in hell I was going to abort her. I've proved to be right in that intuition - her existence is a bright and glowing light in my life, as are the lives of my other daughters; she's extraordinarily beautiful and fiercely individual, and has had a sense of self-possession and style from the moment of her birth.
There's a blaze of light
In every word
In an extraordinarily mature and adamant way, she couched her opinion carefully.
"I would tell her that it is a decision that she would have to make, because it's her life, not mine. I don't believe I would ever be able to have an abortion, but I don't believe it's right to keep someone else from having that choice."
"Do you see any situation in which you'd make the choice?" I asked.
"I don't know. I don't know. I haven't been in enough difficult spots in life yet, so I can't say what might happen in the future or how I might change, but at this point in time, I don't think I could ever have an abortion. I think I'd adopt."
"Adopting means you still carry the baby for nine months and pay for prenatal care and possible days out of school or work. What happens if you have no insurance - like the way we are now? What happens if you get to the end of nine months and you've carried the child and you can't give it up, because the bond with your unborn child is too strong? Do you see how the future might be different for you and is that something you'd be able to handle?"
"I don't know. I just don't know. I just know I couldn't tell anyone else what they should or shouldn't do."
"What if your boyfriend doesn't want the baby or you to even be pregnant? How would you respond?"
"If he's pressuring me to have an abortion against what I want, then I don't think he's someone I'd want to stay with. It's still my choice."
This truly is the conversation I had with my daughter. A conversation that I had never had before in this depth, other than the standard parent patter. And then she turned my questions back to me.
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Within a year after her birth, I became that single parent my family feared. I moved to a different city with three children under the age of six and took a full-time job. Scraped by for too many years, years for which I'm still paying, both emotionally, physically, and financially. And six years later after her birth, I made a different choice.
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
Believe me when I tell you, please, that I cherished few things more than holding my infant to my heart, inhaling that sweet scent of baby skin and warm milk. I nursed my children all well beyond the age of one, treasuring that bond of nourishment, connection and love that cannot be replaced through any other act. I was lucky that I could do these things and still attempt to make a living.
When my children were 11, 9, and 7, I started dating a close friend of in this new city - we'd fallen in love over time and took that critical step towards marriage. Both of us were forty years old. He had no children of his own and I, of course, had my three young daughters. We both thought we had it figured out between us and we both strongly believed we knew the other well. Then I got pregnant.
Every time I've become pregnant in my life, I've been on birth control. I read that now, and perhaps, like you perhaps, I think, "Yeah, right". In my case, my doctors felt it may have been a condition of a combination of strong hormones that overcome the medication I was on, or a factor of a hereditary autoimmune disease I’ve had since I was in my late twenties. All explanations that make it no easier to comprehend the simple fact that I was undeniably fertile against the odds.
We thought we had it figured out, but what I didn't know was that he didn't want a child of his own; he wanted only my children (should have been a danger sign to me. That's a story for another time). He felt that adding a child between us would hamper his ability to bond with my three daughters at a critical stage in their lives. He also felt that at age forty, we had a new relationship that was not predicated on the creation of children, but on a connection with each other that would develop and mature into some kind of happy "golden years" scenario, once my kids became adults and left the nest.
Whatever the reasons, it left me with a dilemma. I hadn't anticipated this event and I wasn't prepared for his reasons and his strong aversion to the pregnancy. For the first time in my life, I was truly in love and felt that I was loved for me; additionally, I was now in a financially secure position with our two incomes, and I had, with the freedom of marriage, become a telecommuting contractor, working from home and spending more time with my daughters, taking vacations without financial stress, volunteering in the schools and community, which was something that as a single parent, I had no luxury of time or money to do.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
And maybe he was right. A child between us might have upset that delicate balance we were trying to achieve - the stepchild to stepfather relationship was a rocky one, at least with my oldest. Their dad was a present, if nonfinancial, factor in their lives and attempting to add another male figure to the mix proved difficult. In fact, it proved impossible. I found myself a referee between children and husband and ex-husband and had a difficult time triangulating the needs of all without affecting the direct interaction between the other parties, relationships that I felt had to grow without my constant input. High-minded ideals don’t survive well when only one side nurtures such thoughts.
Many other reasons and rationales were a part of the mix. For those moments in time when I made the decision to agree with him and choose abortion, I realize now that it was a turning point and opened an unrecognized and un-discussed fault line between us. I think the denial part of my brain (you know, that undetectable lobe right above the cerebellum) at that time realized that if the relationship fell apart - there I would be again, a single parent with a small child, and three other children dependent on me for emotional support and financial foundation. And I was older. It was my decision.
But I also grieved, because I was a mother.
I had options, of course. There was adoption. How do you explain to your friends and family, and most of all, your existing children, that you are going to give your next child up for adoption? I'll leave this question open - the answers for me are clear. I could not have dealt with that discussion. Others may well be able to deal.
I could have stopped right there and ended our relationship for the sake of a new child. But, as mentioned above, for the first time in my life, and that of my kids, I thought I had something that had been sorely lacking up to that point in all of our lives. Security and safety. To feel safe on many levels - in love and friendship, in the rigours of life, at the moments when you take risks or challenge yourself - safety is precious. Security is sexy.
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
I had the abortion. It wasn't painless. I’ll qualify this, as in my previous attempt at stating this, I screwed it up. But for me and me alone, there was something deeply horrible in the sound of the extraction machine and the subsequent clinking of the scraping tools. I do not profess to speak for any other woman, nor am I qualified to do so. And I am not making an ethical statement by describing what I felt and what I heard. I am simply placing my visceral reaction at the time, in words. I’ll leave it at that.
When I made the decision to clear the womb that has sheltered three previous children to full gestation and birth I found myself at a crossroad. Take one direction and I leave the door open to possibilities stretching out in an infinite direction for one unborn life. Take the opposite direction and I widen the path just a little bit and ease the journey for the nexus of possibilities in the existing lives of those I was already responsible for.
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
Inevitably, our marriage failed for numerous reasons beyond that original fault line.
I made the absolute right choice. I made the right choice and it was my right, my choice to do so.
You, the collective right who would adjudicate this choice if McCain wins, you have no say in this decision.
Having made this choice doesn't mean I don't see a child in my heart and sometimes follow one of those strands in that nexus of possibilities that I closed the door on. But I gave so many more possibilities and more of my time, a limited commodity on any given day, to the lives of the children I am already the mother of. That responsibility is far greater and more precious a gift to all of us.
You see, in choosing abortion, I acted as a mother both to the child inside and to the ones already born. Abortion is not rejection of motherhood; it is often the most responsible maternal act a woman can take.
The ethical and emotional swampland of abortion is filled with absolutes that are not absolute. In any given choice, the more you examine the emotions and what you think are the realities, the more conflicted and compromised your ethical foundations become.
Over the past few months I've built up anger over how abortion is treated on both sides. Every time I see a bumper sticker that reserves the right to be "pro-family" or "pro-child" by being anti-abortion, it angers me. There are so many people who are against abortion and yet would never consider adopting any of the millions of children who have no home.
There are those who agitate against abortion and yet refuse to fund critical social support programs or a full-fledged educational system that would provide a better life for every child out there - even the privileged children.
There are those who treat their own kids like shit, kill their children's self-value and esteem on a daily basis, devalue their own spouses, and yet they feel that it is okay call another person a murderer for making the choice of abortion. For those, the mantra of "quality of life" means nothing.
When I see new challenges to the availability of contraception, or a challenge to Roe vs. Wade, I am deeply, deeply alarmed at the polarized political environment surrounding abortion, contraceptive rights and the relentless erosion of a woman's rights. Make no mistake, a McCain presidency means a SCOTUS increasingly conservative. Sure, they will camouflage their decisions under the guise of "strict constructionism" and a professed bias against "activist judges", but if McCain gets elected, I’m convinced we will experience one of the most conservatively activist Supreme Courts that America has seen. When someone complains too much, they are often the most guilty.
All of us have a stake in this fight against the intrusion to privacy and deeply personal decisions. For too many children, life may start at conception, but becomes something much less than life after birth because of the world they are born into.
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
In the pathways of my memory, his name is Andrew.
Below is a handful of relevant diaries posted today.
(again, apologies to Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen for the use of lyrics.)