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Friday, March 14, 2014

Thoughts about birthdays

On occasion, pro-choicers will argue that the government's use of birthdays as a starting point to measure age is evidence that life begins at birth rather than at conception. In fairness, these are usually not pro-choicers who are deeply involved in the debate. Intellectually honest pro-choicers realize that the argument from birthdays is extremely weak, and that they're better off making other points.

Birthdays are, of course, entirely arbitrary, and not an exact measure of age. As an example: my birthday is July 15. I was not born until three weeks after my due date. And even then, I was only born because my parents and their doctors decided that I needed to be C-sectioned out. (My family jokes that this was just the start of a lifelong pattern of procrastination on my part.) Some of the many other children born on July 15 of that year were born prematurely. That means that I could very well be two or three months older than someone who, for purposes of legal driving, voting, and drinking, is "exactly my age."

But since it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when fertilization occurs unless a baby is conceived in vitro, birthdays are a reasonable shortcut. Good enough for government, right? Age-related laws are so arbitrary to begin with (is a guy on the day of his 21st birthday really more mature than he was on the day before his 21st birthday?) that an additional layer of arbitrariness can't really hurt anything.

Oddly, though, I've found that when I wish a fellow pro-lifer a happy birthday, I feel compelled to say something more than just "happy birthday." Don't get me wrong: I like birthdays. One day a year is designated for your family and friends to let you know how much they appreciate your life. That's awesome. And of course the day you are finally able to see and hold a member of your family is worth celebrating. What's not awesome is when "It's your Xth birthday" is treated as synonymous with "You've been alive for X years." I don't want to appear like I'm making that concession.

And so I say things like this:


I'm also not the only one who does it:

Are we taking this birthday stuff too seriously? Yeah, maybe. But it's part of a broader point: the way that we use language is extremely important. Abortion advocacy groups are masters at obfuscation and euphemism. We need to clarify the truth however, and whenever, we can.

29 comments:

bakakurisu said...

The government prints "In God We Trust" on our currency. If they insist that reality comports to what the government recognizes, then they can't argue against Judaism/Christianity.

It's called "BIRTHDAY", not "beginning-of-life-day".

bakakurisu said...

The government prints "In God We Trust" on our currency. If they
insist that reality comports to what the government recognizes, then
they can't argue against Judaism/Christianity.

...And t's called "BIRTHDAY", not "beginning-of-life-day".

bakakurisu said...

The government prints "In God We Trust" on our currency. If they insist that reality comports to what the government recognizes, then they can't argue against Judaism/Christianity.

...And it's called "BIRTHDAY", not "beginning-of-life day".

Noodles said...

I celebrate the days I found out I was pregnant and also the days I believe were the conception dates (at least the days we had sex to conceive which may or may not be the actual date of sperm and egg joining but the day that made it possible. I don't celebrate them with my daughter or make a big deal out of them but I mark them to myself as really important days. To me the day I found out I was pregnant was filled with at least as much love and joy as the day my baby girl was born. I think of a birthday more as a special day just for that person than 'you have been alive so long' my little girl was alive weeks before I even knew and my second (due in July) is referred to as already being a member of my family by me and my husband, we are not 3 but 4 as a family, my daughter is already called a big sister by us. I think its important to think that way.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

Your point about language is very good. I've been noticing more and more the habit of referring to the unborn as if they're not actually present until birth, even in people I know to be pro-life. For example, "I have two children and we're expecting another." Well, from the pro-life perspective, you already have three children. Or "We're looking forward to [our family of] three becoming four in a month!". That sort of thing. In the past, I've had to consciously change the way I've talked about my own pregnancies and children. When people would ask me how many children I had, I would answer that I had three, with the third one due to be born early December. But it did take an effort.

argent said...

I really like this article, although my views are perhaps even a bit more extreme. To me, the fact that birthdays are celebrated both culturally and legally as if they marked the beginning of life is just another example of institutionalized and societally engrained bigotry against the unborn. And I actually do think we would be better off if we dated age from a better approximation, like LMP + 2 weeks, as our current system is biased against preemies--not only do they have worse health outcomes simply by being born prematurely, they also have to contend with the fact that society will continue to treat them as older than they actually are (comparatively speaking) for their entire life.


That said, I really appreciated this article, especially the suggestions for celebrating birthdays in a less anti-unborn way. I'm still going to celebrate mine as a "special me day"!

Guest said...

I think of birthdays as significant because it is the day that your family (or birth parents, friends, doctors, etc.) got to meet you. When I celebrate my own son's birthday, I don't think about it as "he has been alive for X years", but as "it has been X years since he came into the outside world, since I got to meet him".

Simon Jm said...

I have similar feelings but I think its more to do with practicality

Drew Hymer said...

Governments didn't begin to issue birth certs until 1853. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birth_certificate

Colin Gormley said...

Interestingly China and Korea count your birthday as "Year 1". So when you are born you are in fact a year old.

KB said...

Even as a little girl I understood the concept that my birthday was not the beginning of me. I would try to pinpoint the date using a sheer 9 months prior method, and say suddenly that March 6th was the real date I should be celebrating! (Or March 5th since I was due on December 5th). My parents took this as me trying to get extra presents, and they weren't entirely wrong, but it was more that I understood that was the beginning of me. (I was a little more horrified years later when I was under the erroneous impression that I would be celebrating a date my parents had sex that one time. That was a bit of a backfire, but of course all is well now that I understand conception can come as late as 5-7 days after sex... phew!)

I think it is great to celebrate birthdays. I think it's also great to consider that day we first came to be. The former has a clean date, but the latter is more important.

KB said...

Which makes sense in my opinion. Today is my 30th March 14th outside of the womb, not my 29th, though my age is 29.

kap65 said...

Exactly. I am often telling women to count all of their children. My only biological child was stillborn at 33 weeks, but he is still my son. When people ask me if I have any kids, I say "I am not raising any children now. My one son is in heaven (I'm clearly not a secularist, but I respect this blog a lot), and I helped to raise 41 foster kids. So yes, I am a mother." This way, I am valuing my own motherhood, and the life of each kid. At Christmas, we bought gifts for the youngest generation of kids on my husband's side, and we included my niece's unborn daughter. People were surprised at first, but then got it. If a woman is pregnant, she is not a "mother-to-be"...she is a mother. For years, I thought I had 3 siblings; but my mom had one miscarriage...so I have 4 siblings. I just didn't meet one of them. I am very particular about the words I use (maybe because my only bio child is no longer here), and I try to encourage others to be as well.

Kelsey said...

Wow, 41 foster kids! Many kudos to you. I have plans to become a foster parent, but it won't be for a couple years (I just bought a fixer-upper that needs serious renovation before it will be safe for kids).

JDC said...

That's very interesting. I guess nobody was really a person before 1853. :)

Elizabeth Doecke said...

No words can really express how I imagine it feels to lose your only child to stillbirth, but to go on and make a difference for so many children is really a beautiful thing. Thank you for the inspiration. I would like very much to be a foster-parent when my husband and I are able (our current house is too small, so we'll have to wait until I've finished studying and start working).

Sarah Muller said...

I actually never thought about birthdays like that...which makes it weird that I honestly usually say "Happy Escape from the Womb Anniversary" :)

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer said...

So anybody conceived before then was not a person and could be aborted or killed with impunity. —Okay, I'm just being silly now!

JDC said...

Luckily for them, this fact wasn't widely publicized until after everyone from that era had already died.

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer said...

Well, they didn't have the advantage of access to the all-knowing internet.

Michelle Ewing said...

You all make some great points. I was explaining to my husband that it really sucks being a mother of conditions. I have two step children and have 5 children that died before passing through my body (I'm a little hesitant to call it birth because it confuses people) My conditions of being a mother are if they live long enough for me to hold them, if they don't have a sitter, if it's on visitation, ect. It's very hard to know that society hurts me and my step children by putting conditions on my motherhood. My older step child thinks me being his step mom is something he has to hide, or wont accept me as family because of society. It's like, your not a parent unless you give birth to a living child, keep the baby, and raise it as the custodial parent. A parent that's lost a child to miscarriage should "get over it" a birth parent, "couldn't be a parent right now" and the non-custodial parent is "a dead-beat". This is really something we should work to change. I don't use the term post abortive woman, I use the term post abortive MOTHER, because I know and understand what she lost, even if she doesn't know

Coyote said...

In regards to birthdays, unless pro-choicers support legalizing elective abortions at all stages of pregnancy, one should ask pro-choicers why they celebrate birthdays and not dates of viability or whatever. This might very well be a great response to pro-choicers when it comes to this.

Coyote said...

Yes, I agree that celebrating birthdays is more practical and precise.

Coyote said...

For the record, though, Judaism and Christianity are not the only theistic belief systems out there.

Coyote said...

When exactly was this fact publicized? There were some people born before 1853 who survived all the way until the 1950s and even until the 1960s.

Chris P said...

You sound like you are a manipulator. Making a statement like "Oddly, though, I've found that when I wish a fellow pro-lifer a happy
birthday, I feel compelled to say something more than just "happy
birthday."" Your opinions are yours - please don't project them on others.

Drew Hymer said...

Excellent point. i hadn't thought of that.

Coyote said...

Thanks!

Catherine Wettengel said...

Can you imagine how it would change the way people view sexual intercourse if they really celebrated the day they came into existence? I mean, I was conceived around St. Patrick's Day in 1983. I wanted to know this from my parents. I think they thought it was odd. But...I wanted to know when I REALLY was born. And if we know that, then won't we view sex differently and value it more?