Trigger warning: child loss
I grew up believing abortion was one of the ultimate sins, until I had my own crisis pregnancies. I was 30, happily married and pregnant with my firstborn when we found out she had a condition that was “incompatible with life.” I chose to carry her as long as I could, to term if possible. She was stillborn at 29 weeks. We were surrounded by friends and family when I delivered her lifeless body. Her funeral was horribly devastating but we were well supported.
Years later, when we decided to try for our fourth, I was 34 and a mom to our 4-year-old girl, our “rainbow baby,” and our recently-adopted 6-year-old boy. This baby was also diagnosed with a condition “incompatible with life.” Here we were for the second time, trying to make an impossible decision of death or death. This baby would die at or before birth. We’d have to buy a second, tiny, white coffin. We’d hold another lifeless body. It was surreal torture.
I chose life for two babies, knowing they would die. I do not believe that should be a choice women are forced into making.
We hesitated when the doctor asked what we were choosing after the diagnosis. We thought of our kids. How could we put them through this? How do we knowingly allow them to experience loss and pain? Would our baby suffer if we chose to carry her? We could avoid all of this if we terminated the pregnancy. I was only 8 weeks along at the time, and no one would know. We ultimately made the decision to carry her as long as she would live. It was the choice I made, due to my personal beliefs, that I had the freedom to make. She was stillborn at 36 weeks. My children held their sibling, not fully understanding the weight of death.
Being pregnant with her wrecked me; it has been different the second time around. I was bitter, depressed, and raging… at everything and everyone. It’s been 8 months since I delivered her, and my depression is deep from the loss of both girls. I do not regret my decision, but I would not wish or force this on anyone, no matter what my personal beliefs may be. And, had we chosen to terminate early, the grief and feelings of loss would still be the stuff of nightmares.
What really changed my view on abortion was watching a friend I adored go through her own crisis pregnancy and choose termination. She also had a baby with a condition “incompatible with life.” Every thought that raced through my mind when we received that news was racing through hers just the same. The devastation and searing pain of loss, the fear of having to hold her child’s lifeless body in her actual hands, the thought of having to prolong their goodbye to their only child. A swift decision needed to be made as time was running out on her options. Days later, she walked through a gauntlet of “pro-life” protesters at the abortion clinic. The graphic posters, the inhumane shouting and the horrific judgments only amplified her fear and shame and solidified her decision. She didn’t feel compassion or love, she just wanted this nightmare to be over.
We didn’t know each other well at the time, but that experience brought us closer. I was able to empathize with her and sit with her in her grief because of my own. I let her know that whatever she decided, I was behind her. I would never dare judge her decision, knowing how pained it was. She feels forced to grieve in the shadows, or even not at all, because of her choice. Her shame and guilt were exacerbated by people who believed the same as me, forcing her to hide her pain.
Abortion shouldn’t be viewed in absolutes, regardless of what the church or politics tell you. My personal religious beliefs that life begins at conception shouldn’t impact your beliefs or ability to make your own decisions. We are not a Christian nation, and many people do not believe like me when they make the decision to end a pregnancy. Even if they do, there are many reasons people make that decision. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 54% of abortion patients claim religious backgrounds. That means many, many women in the church have had abortions and may be hiding in the shadows due to church rhetoric. Regardless of beliefs, I feel the church should be the safe place where wounded people go to become whole.
As someone who has been in the anti-abortion camp for my lifetime, I have finally realized the ways we reduce abortions aren’t by bans or legal limitations. It’s not by judgments or harsh words. We eliminate the need for abortions by compassion, support, education and common sense. Roe v. Wade doesn’t need to be overturned in an effort to decrease abortions. We need laws in place to provide family planning options and support families, preventing the need for abortions. Abortion is a very complex issue. Most Americans don’t fall in one absolute or another, and many are uneducated on the subject. Politicians use it for votes, power, and control. However, historically, the majority of America supports the legality of Roe v. Wade. I believe if it were overturned, we would have more women and children dying from the other choices or lack of food, shelter, safety, proper medical care, etc. When forced into a corner, these women may get desperate. According to NBC News, abortion rates lower when countries legalize abortion.
Some examples of common sense policies to support holistic care of women, families and the unborn: comprehensive health care, affordable/free birth control, sentence reduction for drug use, equality in the justice system, higher minimum wage, quality public education, better maternal care for women of color, more capable families willing to foster and adopt, affordable child care, paid maternity leave, etc. Until we have those policies in place, we will have increasing abortion rates, increasing maternal mortality, and increasing poverty. These policies have more of an impact on abortion rates than electing a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court.
Choosing life isn’t easy when there is so much at stake. I am able to celebrate the dignity and worth of my two girls and empathize with and support women choosing abortion. In fact, I empathize because of their existence and the way they wrecked my life (both good and bad). Women who choose abortion shouldn’t have to feel like they aren’t allowed to grieve or love their children. They shouldn’t be forced into the shadows. My friend’s experience with abortion taught me that I want America to have the complex freedom of choice. Even though I made a different decision with my pregnancies than some women might have, I want all women to know: you are safe with me.