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Friday, August 22, 2014

How I see the abortion debate now that I'm pregnant.

So I’m pregnant. I’ve been relatively active in the pro-life movement for about 8 years now, and I’ve never been pregnant before. I’ve tried to listen attentively to the experiences of mothers in general and pregnant women particularly and understand where they’re coming from. And of course I still think attentive listening is a good step, but there’s no substitute for experience, right?

My recent pregnancy FB announcement.

I suppose the abortion debate is a bigger part of my life than I realized, because, at every step of this pregnancy, I’ve thought about the many abortion-related discussions I’ve had over the years.

I thought about how women with unplanned pregnancies may not realize they’re pregnant, or may even be in denial about their pregnancies, for several weeks at least. I can see how easy that would be to do. I had only one minor symptom leading up to when my next cycle should have started: sore boobs. Barely. At night only. Mine is a planned pregnancy, so I was on the lookout for symptoms, and even then I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining things. Besides, many women have the same symptom before they start their cycle anyway.

I took a pregnancy test a few days after my period should have started, and it was immediately positive. But I didn’t experience any other symptoms for another week and a half or so. For those of you doing the math, that’d put me at about 3-4 weeks gestation before I really started getting symptoms. The next major symptom was exhaustion. I suddenly found myself drained of energy much more quickly during the day. For awhile I wasn’t sure whether my tiredness was really due to pregnancy or I was just experiencing a placebo effect because I knew I was pregnant. It wasn’t until about the 5th week of gestation, when nausea set in, that I was sure my experiences were not placebos.

In any case, that was my first observation: it’s pretty easy to not be sure you’re pregnant, even when you want to be pregnant. I can only imagine how easy it is to deny the reality when you really don’t want to be pregnant.

The next major realization I had was how difficult it is to bond with the kid in the first trimester. Obviously I can’t see the kid. I can’t feel any kicks or movement. I don’t know gender, so I can’t even refer to the kid as “he” or “she” much less by a name, which would feel much more personal. I have to opt for the awkward “they” or “the kid” or, worst, “it.”

If we didn’t live in a time and place where I have the resources to know how pregnancy and fetal development work, if we didn’t have cheap books and free websites and ultrasounds, there would be nothing inherent about my experience that makes me feel overwhelmed with love and connection. The only immediate signs I have that there’s someone growing in me are exhaustion, soreness, nausea (sometimes with vomiting), and random hormone surges. What in that list would make you feel affection, hm?

I’ve seen a lot of pro-lifers talk about how women who get abortions must be crazy (sociopathic) or evil or heartless or in deep denial. But I don’t think that follows at all. The vast majority of abortions are done in the first trimester – when it’s hardest to emotionally bond with the kid and very easy to feel physically and emotionally miserable over being pregnant. I can easily imagine many perfectly sane, non-evil women wanting to believe in and obtain a brief procedure to end a pregnancy. We shouldn’t vilify post-abortive women not only because it’s morally wrong and strategically foolish, but because it’s probably almost always totally inaccurate. 

I’ve taken this view long before I was pregnant, but, for me, experiencing pregnancy has just underscored my perspective all the more. It’s so easy to imagine how women would feel both emotionally disconnected from their unborn kids and averse to being pregnant. It’s a theme I’ve ruminated on a lot during my first trimester.

(I can anticipate the comments now: “That doesn’t make killing your unborn child okay!” Yeah, I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m saying these women aren’t crazy or evil.)

Another observation that surprised me a bit: until recently, I haven’t felt super-excited and all mommy glow about being pregnant, though most people seem to expect that reaction.

When I took the pregnancy test I was overcome with joy and couldn’t wait to tell my husband. I couldn’t even sit still, I was so happy and excited. And it was delightful telling our parents and immediate family that same night.

But that initial excitement ebbed quickly as various symptoms took its place. And mine hasn’t even been a particularly difficult pregnancy. From what I understand, it’s been pretty much textbook so far, with plenty of unpleasantness but nothing really extraordinary. I’ve had morning sickness but it’s confined itself to mornings, and not every one of them. Some women feel nauseous all day every day, and even struggle to get enough to eat because they can’t keep it all down. Ugh, I can’t imagine. Being nauseous flippin’ sucks.

Anyway, I was surprised to realize how not-that-excited I felt about being pregnant. If I focused on the idea of having a newborn, of having a nursery and cuddling and things like that, I still felt quite happy. I’m happy that I’m pregnant in the sense that I’m happy we are having a baby. I’ve long wanted kids. But at no point have I been happy to be pregnant in itself. I’ve known one or two women who enjoyed the actual process of pregnancy, but most of the women I know agree that pregnancy kind of sucks, and if we could have our little ones without having to go through pregnancy, I expect the great majority of women would choose to do that.

But my emotional ambivalence wasn’t just because of pregnancy symptoms. I also found myself getting pretty stressed about whether we’d made the right decision to have kids now. How will we handle division of labor? I’m working on a post-graduate degree and he’s working on his bachelors. We both want to keep pursuing our educational and career goals, but we both want at least one of us to be home with the kid at the outset. And what about money? We currently make just enough to cover our expenses, and now we need to get a bigger place, we need to get all the baby supplies, there are medical expenses, and we learned our insurance deductible resets with the new year (I’m due March 1st). I started to feel very overwhelmed about all the uncertainties in our future and how we will navigate them.

Of course we had talked about all of this before getting pregnant, and we decided this was still the right time due to other factors. I got pregnant on purpose, knowing in advance about all these concerns, carefully considering them, and deciding it was still the best decision. And I still think it was the best decision. But for awhile after finding out I was actually pregnant, it was a bit scary. There’s no going back now, better hope you’re right!

So between the tolls of pregnancy itself, the nervousness of having our first kid and how that will affect the rest of our lives, and a few other factors going on for us this summer, I just wasn’t feeling this giddy I’m-a-mommy feel that I had sort of expected. And this ambivalence is all for a planned, wanted pregnancy! I can only imagine the emotional roller coaster when the pregnancy is unexpected.

I feel better now. My symptoms are lessening as I enter my 2nd trimester, we’ve already moved to a larger apartment where I can start Pinteresting away for a Harry Potter-themed nursery, and we have a more concrete plan of how we will handle finances and so forth as we go.

But it was enlightening getting a taste of the stress and varied emotions that can come with even a desired pregnancy in a stable, committed relationship. I suspect it’s actually very common for women to feel ambivalent—especially about first pregnancies when we have no experience with the process—but I suspect it’s also very common for women not to talk openly about their ambivalence. When everyone is reacting with “Oh my god you must be so excited!!!” it can feel awkward to say “Hm, well not really, not right now.” I bet a lot of women worry that if they aren’t gushing with happiness there is something wrong with their feelings or with them as mothers. But it’s not true. I think ambivalence is probably more common than people realize in all huge, life-changing events.

Oh, one last observation: the ultrasound was a thrill! We got to see the kid squirming and kicking (even though I can’t feel that at all yet) and being able to see the kid made me feel so much more connected than any fetal development book or website could. I can definitely understand how ultrasound technology could influence some women to carry on with their pregnancies.


What about you other mothers? Were you in the pro-life movement before you had kids? If so, did you think about your pregnancies in that context? What did you notice?

50 comments:

WomenDeserveBetter said...

I wasn't at all maternal growing up, never had dolls, never babysat. I don't think I had ever changed a diaper until we brought our first little burrito-wrapped baby bundle home from the hospital, so I can understand the ambivalent and oftentimes overwhelming feelings, but overall, my recollection, twenty years later, is that I loved being pregnant~ it was such an empowering and exhilarating experience, changing my life forever. I had happy, healthy, easy pregnancies, so understandably my perspective is very positive. However, I could have done without the birthing "experience"... ah, but that is another post :) Love you, Monica...

Janet Susan said...

M, this is so insightful and helpful to the pro-lifer, like me, who had a good advance arrangements (except financial--that was iffy, but I didn't care!) to have my babies and felt so excited and especially *protective of* my little babies from the first moment I thought I was pregnant--all 5 times. I am guilty of having difficulty understanding how people cannot feel like I feel (in many more circumstances than pregnancy), probably because I'm blessed with not being as deep a thinker as you are. :P So this description of your own different experiences helps to underline how pregnant women can--and do--experience different experiences, thoughts, emotions that would put that pregnancy in grave doubt. Thank you for your continued work in bringing understanding to the forefront.

Stormii said...

I can imagine how hard it is to bond with the child in the first trimester. You have nothing solid to go on, except fuzzy ultrasounds. While I thought about how abortion minded women feels about being pregnant, I never thought about how they feel about the actual child. Probably nothing, since there is nothing they can really grasp onto. Even those who know about fetal development may feel similar. Their feelings may be more of "I know how this is my child" then "I feel this is my child". I wouldn't know, never been pregnant.
Oh, and congratulations.

micaiah said...

Thanks so much. I actually was thinking about this exact thing yesterday. I've never been pregnant, and I work in pro-life, so I really appreciate the insight. And congratulations!

Jameson Graber said...

Congratulations, M!

You may not want to read this article just now, but at some point it might be worth reflecting on the evolutionary biology of pregnancy as you consider the emotional and physical experience of it. (Fair warning: this is not for the sentimental of heart.)

http://aeon.co/magazine/science/pregnancy-is-a-battleground-between-mother-father-and-baby/

Hollie Rebekah Sramek said...

See, as soon as I got a positive test I felt so powerful and heavy with responsibility about making A PERSON I still cant imagine! My first was unplanned when I was 15. Many people encouraged me to get an abortion, but that feeling of it being someone else's life was too much. He didn't ask for my birth control to fail. So I had him. I always say 9 months of discomfort is totally worth allowing someone to live. I have had 3 more children and that child has a life of his own, not with me. How has adoption somehow been taken out of the discussion? There are SO MANY people waiting on a baby they cant have! It's an excellent answer, if people would forget the old way adoptions used to work.

JDC said...

Congratulations, M!

Tatiana said...

Hey girl, loved this post. I completely understand. I've been working in the pro-life movement since i was a teenager & currently work for a national pro-life organization. No matter how pro-life you are, until you're pregnant you can't imagine how it truly feels emotionally. Great post!

I'm 34 weeks pregnant & it's been a bit of a game changer in more ways than just becoming a parent. I actually just wrote a blog post about it: http://themrsbergum.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/the-7-stages-of-my-pregnancy/

Thanks for your honesty.

Tatiana said...

P.S. congrats on your pregnancy!!

Anne Hijme said...

Personally I find the article uses very sensational words that aren't fitting for what is happening in the womb.

Reason I say this is evolutionary wise it makes no sense for the child and mother to be fighting one another. It points out the maternal death rate and miscarriage ignoring that the rate death rate to those born as well. If the mother dies, in many cases the child will. It just doesn't fit in the slightest to try to kill off the number 1 thing that will help you survive, which is what her language implies.

Sure the child wants more resources and the mothers says no, but that isn't a war. It be like calling a child having a tantrum the equivalent of declaring war on the mother and beginning the embargo process. It is a gross stretch to compare the two as one and the same.

I have to agree with a comment by the 'SmilingAhab'

"The paragraph about blood sugar is a prime example: there are two sets of hormones trying to balance sugar levels. The language used makes it sound like two people trying to stab each other with diabetes needles.

Semiotics matters, especially in the sciences."

Jocelyn said...

Agreed. I'm about 26 weeks pregnant (planned) with my first and all I did the first trimester was throw up and get infections and go to the hospital and take zofran so I wouldn't vomit on clients (I do massage which means being locked in a room for and hour growing ever more nauseous). I felt no connection until the 12 week ultrasound, and even then it didn't feel particularly deep. When the nausea stopped and I could feel the baby is when I started to really feel different....but now is when the fear about my ability to do this has set in.
I couldn't imagine being alone and caught off guard with no plan.

Jameson Graber said...

I like your comment. Semiotics does matter, and this article is trying a little too hard to contrast the biological reality with the dominant sentimentality. The use of words like "competition" and "war" is, in general, misunderstood in evolutionary theory. There's certainly no conscious war going on. There's only what gets passed on, and what doesn't.


Still, I thought it was worth reflecting on the main scientific point that, when compared to other species, human pregnancy is remarkably dangerous and violent, and to ponder why that is.

KelleyAnnie@Over the Threshold said...

I'm due October 31 and while this will be my first baby to take home, it is my second pregnancy so my experiences are coloured a bit by that first loss. However, I completely understand everything you said about wondering if this really was the best time to have a baby. I think actually being pregnant really gives a good perspective. I also learned a lot about choosing abortion with the first pregnancy because my baby had a condition that was incompatible with life outside the womb and being pregnant in the first place was risky for me. Even a pro-life doctor advised me to have an abortion. It was really eye-opening to be in that situation. He ultimately passed on his own, but it was quite an experience.

conversate said...

Its called genomic imprinting and is quite common in mammals. The father's genes "want" a big healthy baby, even if it comes at the expense of the mother. Selfish genes in action.
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/health/the-push-to-understand-the-placenta.html?referrer=&_r=0
http://harvardmagazine.com/2006/09/prenatal-competition.html
http://edge.org/conversation/genomic-imprinting

Nature does not care about your feelings. All that matters at the genetic level is passing those genes on.

EdinburghEye said...

Congratulations!


So, you're actually prochoice?

Chalkdust said...

In the context of the pro-life movement, dehumanizing rhetoric about
unborn babies from pro-choicers started bothering me even more than it
did already, especially after I had to go to the ER at thirteen weeks
because I started bleeding and we thought I was having a miscarriage.

In that situation, though, the other side's rhetoric is going to bother you no matter which side you're on. There are a bunch of pro-life billboards up on the highway near where I live that tell me that the heartbeat starts at eighteen days...and ever since my miscarriage they've really bothered me.

colleen10001 said...

Congratulations :)

m17l6s85 said...

I wish I found that to be the case. I read multiple comments like those I reference here on the SPL FB page just in the last couple weeks, and I find the SPL page tends to be less accusatory then some of the pro-life pages I follow.

m17l6s85 said...

I think for the most part abortion should be illegal, so I consider myself pro-life or anti-abortion, whichever.

m17l6s85 said...

That sounds very difficult, I'm sorry you went through that. I hope this second pregnancy goes as smoothly as possible.

m17l6s85 said...

It's been really good to hear your story and the others on here. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has felt this way. :) Sorry about your nausea and everything though, that sucks.

m17l6s85 said...

That's quite a story. Would you consider writing it as a guest blog post for SPL?


I don't check Blogger comments regularly enough, so if you're interested please email us at info@secularprolife.org.


I'm really glad everything is okay for you now. I hope the rest of the pregnancy goes really smoothly.

argent said...

In regard to the name--a friend of a friend who became pregnant and hadn't decided on or didn't want to reveal their birth name had a "codename" for them: "Ziggy", an abbreviation of "zygote"!

Chandler Klebs said...

I think it is nice to see women honestly explaining how they feel during pregnancy. I don't think that tv, magazines, books, or movies could present it as accurately as personal experience. I think this applies to other subjects as well.

I will never be able to fully understand pregnancy, but what I read about what you and others experience will help me understand it as well as I can.

EdinburghEye said...

Odd: nothing from your account of being pregnant sounded like you felt you had to be forced through pregnancy against your will. Prochoice for yourself but not for other women, then - the standard prolife-woman position?

EdinburghEye said...

Absolutely. Prolife is basically a movement about forcing and abusing women.

myintx said...

Are laws saying you cannot kill your newborn 'forcing' and 'abusing' people? No, they are about protecting innocent life. Just like laws against post-viability abortion. We need more laws protecting unborn children from being killed simply because they are unwanted or inconvenient.

m17l6s85 said...

Nothing from my account implied I should have the legal option of killing my kid, so where did you get "pro-choice for yourself"?

EdinburghEye said...

Fairly obviously: I've never known a prolifer who would refuse an abortion for herself - if she needed one. If you needed to have an abortion, from your own account, I'm quite sure you would do so. And you come across as an intelligent, well-informed person, so I'm sure that you know that abortion is a necessary part of women's healthcare - that wherever abortion is made illegal / inaccessible, women die preventable deaths of pregnancy-related causes.

But you actively want the women you don't know/don't care about to have no choice but to be forced through pregnancy/childbirth, regardless of the death toll this causes.

No one wants you to "kill your kid". That you refer to having an abortion as killing a child does prove that the faux-compassion in the original post that you were trying to show to women who need abortions in early pregnancy was as fake as any other prolifers.

EdinburghEye said...

In fact, right on this discussion thread there's a comment from myintx in response to my last, explicitly comparing a woman having an abortion to killing a newborn baby.

And upthread, m1716s85, the OP, also explicitly compares having an abortion to killing a child.

Every time I see abortion discussed by the prolife movement, you get the same ugly, cruel comments from prolifers about women who have abortions being babykillers. Every single time.

conversate said...

Yeah, they go to great lengths to specifically say that pro-choicers, and specifically, pro-choice women, are bloodthirsty baby killers who just want to kill kill kill, yet if you ask them if these women should go to jail for their crimes (should abortion be illegal) they say no.

m17l6s85 said...

Well, I counted at least 6 (IMO, incorrect) assumptions you made about me in a single post. This isn't an honest conversation, it's just you venting about your worldview. I'll leave you to do that on your own.

lady_black said...

Congratulations on your wanted pregnancy, and best wishes for you and your family. May everything go well with you. Because they do not go well for everyone, I was and am still pro-choice. I was way before my first pregnancy, and through two more pregnancies, pro-choice. One of my pregnancies didn't go well, and I was lucky to get through it with my life and my son's life both intact.

lady_black said...

You cannot kill your newborn. You can hand the newborn off to someone else. Good luck doing that with a pregnancy, Yes, you ARE abusive, myintx. You are free to go through all the risky pregnancies you wish. You can't make that kind of demand on someone else.

lady_black said...

Adoption is not a solution to an unwanted pregnancy.

EdinburghEye said...

Fair point.


I really don't believe (and real-world data backs me on this) that any woman who needs an abortion will reject getting to have one, as safely and legally and possible - no matter what prolife ideology for forcing other women she adheres to.


But for a wanted pregnancy, the only reasons for needing an abortion are appalling to disastrous, and I absolutely hope and wish for you that your pregnancy goes well and so do all future wanted pregnancies and that you never need an abortion.

Hollie Rebekah Sramek said...

It was for me was all I was saying.

lady_black said...

No. It was a solution to unwanted parenting. You still had to be pregnant.

conversate said...

Oh like this:

http://blog.secularprolife.org/2014/08/do-abortion-advocates-believe-their-own.html#comment-1551327960

And this

http://blog.secularprolife.org/2014/08/do-abortion-advocates-believe-their-own.html#comment-1551347383


Yeah, s/h/i/t agrees that pro-choice = heartless baby killer

m17l6s85 said...

Thank you. And I'm sorry to hear about your difficult pregnancy, but I'm glad you and your son are okay.


I'm sure there are different types of pro-choicers, just as I've met very different kinds of pro-lifers, but my friends who are pro-choice are pretty much always pro-choice *because* they care deeply about women and believe the pro-choice philosophy is the best way to protect people. I respect that. We differ in our conclusions but I suspect, many times, there's more common ground than people think.

I know that sounds very Kumbaya, but I actually do believe it. :-P

Hollie Rebekah Sramek said...

Okay . Didn't come here to argue with you. Go troll another commenter. I stand by OPINION. Don't worry, I won't be posting again to inflame you with opinions different than your own lol

myintx said...

Duh... I know you cannot kill your newborn. We have LAWS against killing newborns - even ones born alive after botched abortions. I'm sure many pro-aborts were against those laws. We should have more laws against killing unborn children.


Most abortions have NOTHING to do with health risks to the woman. They are done for convenience. It's horrible to kill a human being simply because that human being is inconvenient or unwanted.

K said...

I'm curious what you mean when you say "need an abortion". I assume you mean in order to save the life of the mother, am I correct? If so, I can assure you that most pro-lifers would agree that abortion is ok in that case. I mean, we're not all woman-haters like some of you believe (which I don't understand, because many of us are women ourselves).

eroteme said...

What if she dies giving birth? Too late for a lifesaving abortion.

K said...

I wasn't maternal growing up either. I even remember as a preteen/early teen saying that I didn't like babies. When I got pregnant (unplanned) at 17 though, it was different. When I found out, I was utterly horrified, but once that wore off, I went straight into being excited and amazed and full of love. Good or bad, it was never dull for me.

EdinburghEye said...

It's up to the woman in question to decide if she needs an abortion. Her reasons are her own.

The lie that prolifers promote that they'd be OK if abortion was performed only to save the life of the woman, is not borne out by prolife campaigns or prolife laws, which do not pretend any concern for the life of the pregnant woman.

EdinburghEye said...

In countries where abortion is legal only when performed to save a woman's life, and doctors and nurses are prosecuted for doing anything to help until they are sure the woman is actually dying, pregnant women tend to die with their foetuses, and prolifers express no concern whatsoever for this. Apparently, if you're a prolifer, two deaths are better than one.

crystal said...

I am a prolifer who would refuse an abortion for myself. Our second daughter has an inherited disease that has consumed our lives. When I found out I was pregnant again, we knew we had a 25% chance of this new baby having the same disease. Terrified? An understatement. We refused to find out in utero because we knew we could not abort, believing that the "mass of cells" inside me was indeed human.

The whole pregnancy was awful. In addition to fearing the disease she might have, I had an unusual fear that something was wrong with her head. At a 37 week ultrasound, confirming her breech position, the technician flagged our baby's head size and shape. More terror. In this pregnancy I continued fearing the worst, and still could not bring myself to consider abortion because I believe my baby had a right to life.

After an emergency csection, our daughter was whisked away under concerns for a physical syndrome. In the recovery room alone, my husband with the baby on the nicu, I thought I would die of the heartbreak.

Turns out our daughter did not have the developmental syndrome doctors feared but does have the disease.

And she, like her sister, is a beautiful, wonderful human being.

My heart breaks for women with pregnancy health concerns. It breaks for women fearing for their unborn child's life. I believe that child is as human as its mother. To abort a child to save a mother who may die is a terrible, horrible and painful choice that I will never judge. To abort a child because a woman does not want the inconvenience of pregnancy or the responsibility of a child is another thing. And while I may feel tremendous compassion for the challenges she faces, I do not (read, can not, with integrity) believe her. Hold is not human and alive, and therefore can not believe the mother's right as a woman trumps that of her child as a human.
My

Gaiuse Strome said...

Women don't abort for mere "convenience"

Give me a break.

EdinburghEye said...

I am sorry that you believe that women are not, each and every one, beautiful, wonderful human beings. I'm very sorry that you think you should have been forced through your own heartbreaking experience against your will, not permitted the human experience of free choice. But you did have free choice, and you were not forced. No woman should ever be forced.