Thursday, March 4, 2010

Family Choices

Back in the 1960s, my Giggy fell pregnant for the fifth time. She had been married before to the father of her first four daughters, but when the last one died of a congenital heart defect as a baby, she left him because she couldn't bear the pain of being in that house or with him anymore. It all reminded her of her dead little baby.

Early during this fifth pregnancy, Giggy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her doctors recommended a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion, and her friends and family largely agreed. "Stay alive for the three daughters you already have - don't risk everything!" But she did. At 6 months pregnant, my grandmother had an emergency cesarean and hysterectomy, or as she likes to say, "I lost 20 pounds that day!"

My aunt Kelly spent the first few months of her life in an incubator, but grew up to be healthy and strong (and built like Barbie). She's a mother of three and grandmother of two now, and has been the worship leader at each church she's attended for years and years. Two years ago she started training for a triathlon and competed so well she won a super-expensive racing bike.

She is one of my favorite people, and has always been my favorite aunt. Her first child is my cousin Jason, who was practically my twin growing up. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without them. My strong love for my aunt shaped my pro-life views as an asexual child. Even though I had seen horrible pregnancies and deliveries, I believed somehow that God would make sure each baby born would be healthy and happy and in a good home.

I also somehow thought that the person my aunt was had been determined before she was born; that she was somehow the "same person" she'd been as a zygote, embryo, and fetus. And of course, I thought maternal mortality only happened when people had C-sections or gave birth in hospitals. If people would just have their babies at home under God's supervision like they were *supposed* to, clearly nothing would go wrong.

I didn't have any sort of "life begins at conception" idea, because frankly I didn't know what conception was, or very much at all about how people *became* pregnant. I don't think I was even aware of women who were pregnant in early stages: almost every pregnant woman I saw was either in or about to be in labor, so it was unquestionable to me that pregnant women had babies in their tummies (somewhere).

All this is to say - I get it. I was a fiercely pro-life little girl. I wrote a letter to President Bush Sr. as a child, begging him to overturn abortion before the election. (That whole "Supreme Court" thing was still a mystery.) By the time I got a response form letter and signed photograph, Bush had lost and Clinton was in office. I remember sitting in the backyard tearing that picture into tiny, tiny pieces. It was obvious he had never read my letter, and I was being dismissed.

I just wanted babies to be okay, and to not be killed. Since I lived in a vagina cult*, it seemed perfectly normal to me that women would want lots of pregnancies and babies. And of course, by the time I was 8, I'd heard I could never bear children of my own. The idea of someone throwing away a life, when I couldn't make one, tore me up, and I must admit a lot of my original anti-choice stance was founded on either ignorance or jealousy. I've since come to realize it is not the obligation of fertile women to provide children for the infertile.

Nothing monumental here. I'm just saying that ignorance of biology, ignoring the women, and jealousy at their ability to bear children in the face of my (supposed) inability were my reasons. I know more about the early trimesters of pregnancy now, and how few of those early zygotes and embryos even make it to the fetus stage. As a Christian, when I first became pro-choice, I theorized that the soul didn't enter the child until birth or quickening or until the brain was developed (neurology was already changing my views on the soul). Of course, I don't believe in anything like a soul these days, but I also don't believe a zygote has a personality or a guaranteed personality. So much of who we are is influenced by our brains and our environments; even with a genetic predisposition, I might never have developed OCD if I'd lived in a less hellacious home.

So, to the pro-life advocates who really are concerned about the teeny tiny babies, I can sympathize - some. But I'm not so ignorant now about pregnancy and birth. I know a lot more about the toll it can take on even the healthiest woman, and I don't think my ideology gives me the right to tell another person what to do with her own body. Yes, you can go on and on about whether or not the embryo/fetus has its own body (debateable) or what rights we have to harm another, but the fact of the matter is, pregnancy occurs within a *woman's* body. And so I think no one but that woman can say what risks she "should" be willing to take.

I support my grandmother's right to risk everything and bring my aunt Kelly into the world. I support my right to risk little, and not bring another child into the world. That's pretty much what pro-choice means: I'm for the right of women to make their *own* choices.

* Kelly's a made-up name. What? Only cult leaders don't get a say in whether I talk about them on the blog with a real name or not.
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