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Thursday, October 14, 2004


posted by bitchphd
I found this blog through majikthise, and I want to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about what I think on the subject. For whatever reason, it seems to have been coming up a lot in my life recently: on blogs I read, in terms of political discourse (and what's not being said), in my personal life, and so on.

I've always been pro-choice. But. I remember feeling a shift, when I got pregnant, from being pro-choice as a more or less intellectual position to being pro-choice as a strongly emotional and moral position. At one point, I think I would have said, "abortion bothers me, but I think women should have the right to decide on their own." Now, I would say "women need to decide because no one is better qualified, and whether or not one is bothered doesn't even enter into the equation."

When I got pregnant, it was a profound shift in who I was. I wasn't terribly sentimental about pregnancy, and I strongly resisted the messages about what I "should" do, choosing instead to do my own research and make my own decisions. I smoked once or twice, I had a drink when I wanted one, I ate whatever the hell appealed to me and lots of it. I listened to my body, and napped when I felt like it, puked when I felt like it, spent hours and hours in search of comfortable bras (someone needs to get their act together on the pregnant & maternity bra thing, I'm telling you, b/c decent ones just do not exist). Oh, I hated being pregnant. I remember crying in anger at 4 am because my body had forced me out of bed to make a peanut butter sandwich because I was famished. I remember resenting how much of my time was spent fixing food. I remember puking at 7 months and having my heaving diaphragm press on my bladder so that I peed the floor because hey, we only had the one toilet and pee is easier to clean up than puke.

But even so, or rather precisely because of the way my body took me over, I realized, in a way that I do not think anyone who hasn't been pregnant, or lived with someone who's pregnant can, that this is a major, major thing. At least, I know I would never have realized it if I hadn't lived it. People like to say, when you're pregnant, "it'll change your life!" and I got sick of that. It's true, and it's not true. It didn't change who I was, or how I do things. But it did, in ways that are impossible to articulate, make me more myself. There is nothing in my life more important than my kid.

So, I lived through this awesome experience of being pregnant, and the awesome experience of realizing that now I would have/do have someone, who was made by my body, who for the first several months of his life ate food that was made by my body, who for as long as I lived I would love more than anything else on this earth, be more responsible for than anything else, feel more strongly for than anything else. It's a sea change, bearing a child. And I realized that being in the process of going through this change and not being able to make decisions about it was a fucking terrifying prospect.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Pregnancy is, even in the industrialized world, dangerous. Women get preeclampsia, they get gestational diabetes, they puke until they're dehydrated and need to be hospitalized. Even a fairly unremarkable pregnancy like my own changes one's body forever. Giving birth is dangerous: after 24 hours of labor in one of the best maternity wards in the country, I had a cesarean. Yes, they're fairly routine: but they are major surgery. Your abdomen is cut open and a major organ is removed, opened, sewn up, and replaced. This shit is not minor.

And motherhood, too. The studies I've read show that women are vastly responsible about children. Give women economic power, and the status and well-being of children rises. Educate women, their children will be educated. Give women power over their lives, including the power to decide when to become mothers, and children are much, much better off. I went to the March on Washington in April, and I took pseudonymous kid and carried him sleeping the whole way, and I have never, never felt so safe as a mother, so sure that my kid was adored, as in that crowd of feminist women who know that motherhood is something to be taken seriously. We passed protesters yelling "baby killers" and I, carrying my son, and seeing other women with their children, thought "who yells baby killer at a woman carrying her child? In front of the child?" We passed protesters carrying signs that said "abortion harms women," and I laughed, thinking "there are three people saying abortion harms women, and a million women here saying they have the right to decide for themselves. Who are you going to believe?"

My experience, my belief, my knowledge is that women take children incredibly seriously. It seems to me that so much of the abortion debate is predicated on an abstraction that fails to acknowledge that basic fact. Read the stories in that blog I linked: over and over the women in those stories say, "I can't do that to a child," meaning, "I can't give birth to a child with a drug addiction," "I can't raise a child in my abusive relationship," "I want the best for my child, and that includes giving my child a mother who has achieved something."

I know women who have had abortions. My sister had one. She told no one for years. The father went scuba diving while she was in the clinic. She painted a picture about it, a picture of a woman writhing in pain with a fetus attached to her through her open legs and open cunt via an umbilical cord. The abortion was a shitty experience for her. But it was absolutely the right decision for her, and for the potential child, at the time. She was so very not ready to be a mother then. Young, lots of drugs, incredibly irresponsible. But she would have, did, love the child she might have born too much to have given it up. A couple of years later she got pregnant again, and straightened her life out, and she is one of the fiercest, best mothers I know. She's far from perfect: but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that her daughter is the single most important thing in her life. It's because she is that kind of mother that she chose not to have a child before she could do it right.

It is precisely because having children is so important that abortion is something that can't be legislated away. When it's illegal, desperate women who know the importance of children will still abort pregnancies they know they can't bring to term. Because women will do anything, including risk their own lives, for their kids. Women have had abortions from time immemorial. To call abortion "selfish," as some do, is to completely deny that women are moral agents, to completely deny the importance of motherhood. I have no doubt that there are women who are selfish, who have abortions for idiotic reasons, who do stupid things. Women can be fucked up. But fucked-up women make fucked-up mothers; more importantly, the vast, vast majority of women take this whole question of children incredibly seriously. It is one of the most serious things we have to deal with (whether or not we have them, because having them will, as people say, "change your life"), and there is just no way that it's right to take away from women, to take away from mothers, the right to make decisions for their children. Because no one is better qualified, no one cares more, no one knows better than I do, or than any woman does, what is best for my kid. Period.
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