Today is March 31st: the day after our 3rd anniversary, and the day before my first pregnancy was due. We had a little celebration of marriage year #3 last night, but today I feel like grieving a little. So I’m sitting at my desk, feeling the baby we call Butterball kicking in my belly, and these are the things I want to tell you.
Pregnancy is scary. The first time I wrote about being pregnant, I said so. “Despite financial stability, loving husband, supportive family, health insurance, and everything else on my list of privileges, I was scared…” I can’t imagine how much scarier it would be to carry a child without any of those things. But I do think about that, because I know that thousands of women do have much scarier pregnancies than me. And with that fear and that lack of resources comes a lot of judgement from people who think they should have done things differently. I’m guessing that judgement feels even heavier than a full-term belly.
But when it comes to this family planning thing, I did everything “right.”
I was raised surrounded by pro-life messages.
I’ve supported children’s charities.
I’ve worked with orphans.
I married a good Christian man.
We talked about children during engagement.
We didn’t have sex until we were married.
We work hard to be financially responsible.
When we decided it was baby time, I stopped drinking wine and started taking all the right vitamins.
Didn’t I do everything right?
So when we lost our first pregnancy, I got a few messages that, while well-intentioned, clearly expected that I think a certain way about my experience. People said things that might have been helpful to others, but they fell flat to me. They even hurt a little. But worst of all, some people tried to tack their own political narrative onto my loss. One person even said,
“In our pluralistic society, if you hadn’t wanted this baby, it would just be a medical issue, not a child.”
I read that, and I was mad. Oh, you mean different women have different experiences with being pregnant? That’s your critique of “society”?! Sit down, sir.
I’m still so indignant about that comment and the others like it.
I’m mad because I realized that I am allowed to feel whatever I want about what’s happening to my body. There is no such thing as having the wrong experience.
A few people insisted on reminding me that life begins at conception. I used to think that made sense, too.
But you didn’t feel the churning in my belly. You didn’t feel the crash of hormones wreaking havoc on my whole body. You didn’t watch unfathomable amounts of blood pass out of me. You didn’t hold clotted tissue in your hand, looking for some semblance of the baby that was supposed to be. I did.
And since I did, I don’t know what to think anymore.
I would love to call myself pro-life, to declare my unwavering fight for unborn children. But I just can’t do that. Because this movement that calls itself pro-life has stolen so much joy from me.
That’s right. Me, the Jesus-loving, church-going, former missionary, married woman who did everything right.
Extreme pro-lifers first stole something from me when I realized they had already decided what my doctor could or couldn’t tell me about my options, or what she could do for me even after finding out that my baby had never really developed.
In one of the most helpless moments of my life, I felt like the room was suddenly full of 60-something white men telling me, “You don’t have a say in this process, either.”
They wanted so badly to prevent some procedures from ever happening, that they never realized that the girl who did everything right might need those procedures. They didn’t care.
Again, they stole from me when they insisted I lost a child, not just a pregnancy. (Sometimes it was important to my healing to call the bloody clots something else. Our loss happened so early, neither I nor the doctor could find a human form in what should have been.)
They stole from me when they told me I should now be even more angry at women who choose to end their pregnancies. How could I respond that I felt like I finally understood those women?
They steal my joy now that I am pregnant again: I cannot find diagrams of what my new, healthy baby looks like without seeing graphic propaganda of what that same developmental-staged baby would look like if murdered.
They have so pervaded the search engines that I cannot excitedly get pregnancy information without seeing murdered babies.
And what’s worse? They’ve stolen my compassion, telling me that I can’t exercise it for less fortunate women by voting for people who would support their contraceptive needs, their prenatal care, or their adoption services.
They want all women to make the choices that I made. But even when I did everything they would want, they robbed me of joy in their indifference to every woman who is not like me.
One of the best things about my life has been experiencing so many other lives. The best things about other people’s stories is that they are so different from mine, full of things I’ve never lived. And I thought that’s what being American was about, too: freedom to live the way we each choose to, with respect for our neighbors, with recognition that they, too, are human.
But so much of what I’ve seen of the extreme pro-life narrative has been about discounting some women as less-than-human, as undeserving of basic care because of… whatever thing pro-lifers see that isn’t the story they like. That’s not the way to better our communities. It’s certainly not the way to teach people what a loving family looks like.
So I’ve stopped calling myself pro-life. Maybe that makes some people angry, but that’s where I’m at. Losing my first pregnancy made me realize just how complex a woman’s life can be, how even all of the “right” choices could leave my heart a tangled mess of anger and compassion and outrage and love. I’m still figuring it out.
Some women’s stories might seem very similar to mine, and I’ve found a lot of comfort in knowing I’m not alone. Maybe that’s why some people expected me to feel that certain way; some women have had the same bodily experience I did, and have come out of it with the exact opposite feelings about the related issues. But neither story discounts the other. They are vastly different and equally true.
So please let this story be just that: mine. Not your issue, not your cause, not your mission. Just mine.