Thursday, June 11, 2009

Abortion: The Non-Debate

In the immortal words of some pathetic character in a Muriel Spark novel, 'It is with great trepidation that I take up my pen,' to make a few observations on the unending, unresolvable question of you-know-what. Ordinarily I don't get involved. My private opinion on abortion is that it sucks, and that banning it is not the way to end it. Your mileage may vary; I certainly will not try to alter anyone else's opinion.

No, I merely have a couple of observations, speaking as a woman who has now traversed two pregnancies. The second resulted in the most objectively wonderful baby ever conceived in all of time :-). The first miscarried.

The first time I was pregnant, I felt like a glass bubble full of magic. I tiptoed around in a state of exaltation. I made sententious speeches to long-suffering friends, about how my attitude toward abortion, gender, politics and life in general was transformed; how I could never, ever conceive of having one, even though I had been pro-choice for twenty years previously.

Then I came down with a raging fever and strep infection. I was terrified, particularly as a dear friend had recently lost a pregnancy under similar circumstances; I hastened to a doctor, got a blood test and some antibiotics, and miscarried eighteen hours later. The doctor later informed me that my hormone levels indicated that the pregnancy had probably terminated before I'd come down with the strep.

Whatever. I didn't want to talk about it, mainly because if I didn't talk about it, I was okay. It was only when someone said something like "I'm so sorry" that I had an emotional breakdown. It is worth mentioning, however, that exactly one regular reader of right-wing extremist web fodder bothered to say, "I'm so sorry." The rest either ignored the issue entirely or said actively cruel things.

But whenever I did tell people, I discovered that first trimester miscarriages are incredibly common. At least sixty percent of the women I confided in replied with, "Yes, I had one too." It almost came to seem that a miscarriage was a prerequisite for a healthy pregnancy. People just don't talk about it.

So when anti-abortion activists count every first trimester abortion as 'one murdered baby,' this is, on the most fundamental level, not true. A pregnancy in the first trimester is a potential baby, whether abortion is legal or not. Nature is not moral; it is profligate, extravagant and wasteful. It flings the seeds of life around with wild abandon, letting them blossom or rot where they fall, without a focused plan. Human intention is not the master of all.

When I got pregnant again, I didn't tell anyone for quite awhile. My attitude was, "okay, we'll see." When I had my first ultrasound and they said, "There's your baby," I said, "Really? Are you sure? Is it alive?" I got attached gradually, fearful of another betrayal.

But this one was, of course, wildly successful. Which brings me to my second observation; that bringing a baby to term is, in the most literal sense, labor. It is really really hard. I didn't expect to get so stupid; I lost nearly all creativity, mental acuity and physical power while I was pregnant. I didn't make art, I scarcely wrote, I got breathless going upstairs. By my eighth month I was unable to give a massage without almost passing out. Pregnancy was comparable to building a house with my bare hands, in terms of the drain on my mental and physical resources.

It would behoove anti-abortion activists, then, to recognize this fact if they are truly interested in ending abortion for good and all and forever. Expecting a woman to undertake this task without physical, financial or emotional support for the duration is absurd. Too many (mostly male) persons seem to believe that babies are things which just happen if you don't interfere. The reality is a bit more complicated than that.


Spatula said...

I am pro-abortion on demand, pro-sex education and pro-contraception, because every woman has human rights that include control over her own body, and because every baby that comes into this world should be welcome, cared for by people who chose the job and are capable of doing it.

That said, I have always felt abortion to be... in the realm of murder. I know, I know, not a baby yet, may never be a baby - but if I were having to make this choice, it would be a heart-wrenching, agonizing one that would leave a wound, something I would grieve and grieve and grieve.

I think if you are pro-choice, there is this pressure to be all black and white about it, like abortion, hooray, I wish I were pregnant just so I could have one right now! And the right wing people certainly paint feminists and pro-choice people in this light. I believe it should be a choice, and I also believe that everything should be done so that it's an institution of last resort, so that most women don't have to make this choice or live with it.

When I first started to have a steady, sex-having boyfriend, I was so terrified of accidental pregnancy that we would double-bag AND I was on the pill. All so that I wouldn't have to extinguish a life trying to happen inside me, and cry my face off about having to do it.

Abortion: not exactly murder, but not exactly a joyous occasion in any woman's life. And yet, the lesser hell for all concerned, much of the time.

Life: all about nuance.

Pretty Lady said...

Yes, exactly. I had a boyfriend once who got angry when I talked about a friend grieving an abortion; he declared, "That's ridiculous. It's just like having a tumor removed." I would like to say I dumped him right then, but I wasn't yet so wise; I just dumped a pint of beer over his head.

LXV said...

The grieving that follows the loss (by whatever circumstances) of a pregnancy never goes away; it just doesn't happen every waking moment after a while. As one who has wept to the point of dehydration, I just wanted to thank you for this post. I generally admire the strength and believability of your writing as well your your style, but you have outdone yourself here. I hope a lot of people read this.

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks, Lady X! Oddly enough, I have started linking the RSS feed of this blog to Open Salon, and this post got Editor's Pick. So you may get your wish!

LXV said...

Wow, I checked it out and you are right. Congratulations.

I remember my middle-teens (the pill had just been invented) and the horrors & humiliations we went through just trying to get a doctor's appointment (sneaking around, pretending to be married etc.). My own mother (Catholic) had 10 kids without a single miss and so I was naturally very wary. They used to say, in the most moralistic tones, "there's no such thing as being just a little bit pregnant." And then, when it was finally my turn to try, I found out, yes there is. And I was never quite pregnant enough.

You have introduced a great dialog and lots of women have stories that men can never ever understand. Unfortunately it's men who have made these judgements and decisions for far too long.

Chris Rywalt said...

Men can, I believe, understand. Not all men but then not all women, either. All it takes is empathy and sympathy, which are in short supply all around.

Kate said...

Fantastic post.

I have always seen it as a feminist issue: if men & women are to truly be equal, an unintended pregnancy should not be something that a man can walk away from, while the woman's life plans get put on the back burner.

The issues surrounding each person's decision on abortion are so complex, and become even more so if the issue moves out of the theoretical realm and into reality.

I was recently so frustrated when my little niece and nephew came home from Sunday school reciting to us the numbers of "how many babies were killed each year from abortions". Black and white religious indoctrination perpetuates the silence and shame that keeps people from discussing the more complex issues, keeping solutions further at bay.

That said, I was relieved to hear that someone else's experience of being pregnant was as difficult as mine, particularly in the brain-turning-to-mush area. It was so scary & frustrating, and something that few people mention.

I got winded on stairs, and I remember being in NYC several times while, and wondering how those other women did it... all the subway stairs. My heart goes out to you, retroactively.

Pretty Lady said...

Forget subways, even--I live in a fourth-floor walk-up.

...particularly in the brain-turning-to-mush area. It was so scary & frustrating, and something that few people mention.

Kate, women who don't have to maintain the myth of the Artist as Obsessed Superwoman mention it all the time. It's called 'baby brain,' and among the soccer mom crowd it is an acknowledged, accepted fact of life.

It's very easy to feel shamed by the people who have never been pregnant, and expect that you are doing all this creative stuff while pregnant--getting it all in before your time is taken up by the baby. I expected the same thing of myself, and made a long list of plans about how much art I was going to do, how I was going to revamp and monetize my blog, expand my Cafe Press site, etc., etc.

Then pregnancy brain-drain hit me like a brick, and I suddenly understood what Sylvia Plath meant when she wrote, 'her body a bulb in the cold, and too dumb to think.' Turns out that creativity isn't just a matter of will and synapses; it also requires blood to the brain. And the pregnancy sapped that necessary physiological edge.

It was humbling and instructive.