I am not, by nature, a politically active person. For better or for worse, I tend to focus on making my little corner of the world a slightly better place and avoid trying to decide what’s best for other people. This post isn’t meant to wade into the political or even the moral side of the abortion issue; it is simply my reflection on my own experience and beliefs.
Let me start by saying that I believe life is precious and that loss of any life is reason for grief. (One of the reasons I can’t listen to the news too much or I’ll just fall into an endless sneaky gloom spiral.) For a long time, I was pretty staunchly, though not militantly, “pro-life.” (I’m just using the most common terminology here, despite its drawbacks.) But my perspective was extremely limited to that of a young girl who had never been pregnant or borne a child or even known anyone facing an unplanned pregnancy.
I certainly wouldn’t call our pregnancy unwanted or even fully unplanned…more like soonerthanplannedoops. True, raw confession time: I thought about ending it. Not seriously, but during those first few moments in the bathroom staring at those wretched blue lines in utter, abject terror, when all I could think was, “I’m not ready. We’re not ready. Can I get out of this?!“…I thought about it. I don’t love our son any less now for having had those thoughts. But they did cross my mind.
I remember talking to a friend during my pregnancy and she expressed some hesitation about whether she wanted to have children. I told her emphatically, from my place of increasing second trimester discomfort, that she “should” only have children if she wants to. Because no matter how much society progresses (and there’s a lot of ground left to cover, mind you) the woman will make the greatest sacrifices, of her body, of her time, of her career, of her heart. I told her that I’ve wanted children since I was 15 years old and that Science Guy and I talked about starting a family long before we were engaged, much less married. And even with all that desire and longing for a family, there were many times during pregnancy (and labor and the first month of our son’s life) when I have thought (and sometimes said), “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”
Despite having a relatively easy pregnancy, I can’t say that I enjoyed having heartburn and hip pain and the inability to roll over for six months. I was in labor, depending on how you count, for THREE DAYS. The first four weeks of breastfeeding was a truly miserable death march of engorgement, tongue tie, chewed nipples, and thrush. Until yesterday, I hadn’t slept more than three consecutive hours for a month. (And the price of that sleep, enabled by a pumped relief bottle, was dealing with Niagara Falls the entire rest of the day.) Throughout this process, one thought has been most salient: Good grief, no one should do this unless they REALLY want to.
I could have quit at almost any point in the process. (Well, maybe not labor because that’s just not how things work.) The fact that I chose not to is, admittedly, partly evolutionary biology, but also a choice made out of love. And as I’ve gotten older and seen more of the world, I’ve come to believe that our actions are most meaningful when they are freely chosen based on our convictions, not forced on us or even willingly undertaken based on convention, others’ expectations or desires, or the rule of law.
Of course I know that it’s not as simple as, “Only have kids if you want to.” I certainly don’t think we should only ever do what’s easy or what pleases us. But I do think the ability to choose not to carry a child is actually what gives the choice to be a mother its greatest meaning.