“Did you know? My heart beat 18 days from conception!” A smiling baby peers down at us as we drive north from the Twin Cities to Duluth to start a much needed vacation. Thank you, Pro-Life America, for reminding me that the embryo recently inside me did not have a heartbeat when it should have.
“Real men love babies,” reads another, and I can confirm that the “real man” in my life does love babies. You should see him with our nephews. But my husband will not become a father in January as we had once thought. I had a miscarriage right around the time that another sign pointed out to me that my fetus would’ve had fingerprints, nine weeks after conception.
Had I not myself experienced pregnancy, I might have overlooked the nuance here. Nine weeks from conception sounds a lot sooner than 11 weeks, which is how the medical community and nearly every pregnant woman calculates the passage of pregnant time since their last menstrual period.
These signs infuriate me on many levels. I’d been pro-choice for as long as I could remember. A born and raised Catholic, the pro-choice stance my mom handed down to me in a church pew was exceptional. While the priest went on about outlawing abortion, I asked my mom what the heck an abortion was. She answered, and explained that if the priest got his way, women would get hurt trying to do it themselves with coat hangers. (She would later apologize to my adult self, who recalled this conversation, for being so graphic). I was indeed young and impressionable, and my mom’s words took hold over those of that priest.
The guitar I got in college, during a formative time when I assumed that learning to strum around a campfire would make me the coolest kid in the Outing Club, is adorned with, among other stickers, one that reads a “pro-child, pro-family, pro-choice.” The book my oldest sister gifted me, Our Bodies Ourselves, along with the friend who confided in me that she’d had an abortion as a teenager, confirmed that my guitar’s pro-choice persuasion, like my mom’s, was non-negotiable.
That is to say, that I never gave this stance much thought or emotional energy until recently. I feel as vulnerable writing this as I did sitting in a hospital gown at 4 in the morning discussing the contents (or lack thereof) of my uterus with an ER doc, but that served its purpose as I hope this will too. I know there are people whom I know and care about who disagree with me fundamentally on this topic. I am only sharing my journey — may we each have our own. My sympathies if yours is similar.
A month and a half prior to that ER visit, I had been ecstatic to find out I was pregnant. The internet advertisement stream I still get for baby products and services would tell you that my mind, and my search history, were bursting with babies. I am a planner by personality, and this fit with every plan I could possibly imagine: Our already-booked vacation would be in the “safer” second trimester. My maternity leave would wrap up before the busy season at work.
I tried to stifle my excitement by adhering to the tradition of not telling anyone (aside from my husband, of course), my good news for at least 12 weeks (as most of the world counts it, not from conception), or seemingly forever. Eight weeks in, my older sister texted me that she was 8 weeks pregnant. I was elated. How many people get to respond to a text like that with the words “me too!”? She thought I was kidding. I was ecstatic that we would be raising cousins so close in age.
This thrill subsided a few days later when I found out I was possibly miscarrying, then probably miscarrying, then definitely miscarrying. Sadness ensued.
The intensity of emotion I’d felt toward wanting a child was unreal and unexpected. It wasn’t something I’d felt before becoming pregnant, and certainly not what a formerly level-headed person who understands science, and the statistical likelihood of pregnancy loss, would expect to feel after a miscarriage. Biology (or bad luck?) stripped me of my choice to have this child. That was devastating.
I can’t begin to imagine how devastating it would be to have the choice to end a pregnancy denied by law. I suspect the intensity of the emotion these women feel toward their choice to terminate a pregnancy is similar to what I felt about my choice to be pregnant. I lay on the couch as my miscarriage unfolded reading and contemplating the news of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. I just can’t fathom denying a woman safe, legal abortion. Suddenly, I have a renewed sense of why I’ve always been pro-choice. If I want to choose to be pregnant, of course others should be able to choose to not be. Simple as that.
I’m infuriated by these signs reminding me that I’m not pregnant. I’m infuriated that I’m not pregnant. But mostly, I’m infuriated that these signs are here because someone thinks they know better than a woman herself about what should become of the contents of her uterus.
If you live in a state like I do with no billboards, you will know what it’s like to be so overwhelmed by their presence elsewhere that you must read every single one. As the drive continues, I turn my anger into humor. I begin reading every sign aloud and adding “begins at conception” on to the end. It’s like adding “in bed” to the end of your fortune cookie:
“Wendy’s French Fries Exit 11 begins at conception.”
“Recreational loans for ATVs and Snowmobiles begin at conception.”
Callous, perhaps. But those signs felt pretty callous too.