Rethinking Abortion

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A friend of mine recently told me that she used to be strongly pro-choice but now, because of experiences she’s had in her own life and seeing what other women have gone through, she’s decided that she’s pro-life. She said she’s concerned about the psychological damage to women who have abortions. She also feels many women have abortions for selfish reasons and there are very few good reasons for having one.

To tell the truth, I was surprised at how much I agreed with her. I’ve never felt comfortable about women having abortions just because they don’t want to be inconvenienced or stressed out. I’ve even wondered if there’s ever a good reason to abort a baby other than rape, incest, severe birth defects or the health of the mother. I have four children myself and two grandchildren (with one more on the way) and I know how precious a new life is.

The problem is, the abortion debate forces you to pick sides. You’re made to feel that you have to be pro-life OR pro-choice. You can’t be both. But as I listened to my friend, I realized that I am both.

I believe that abortion should be a last resort. No woman should use abortion just because she was too lazy or irresponsible to use birth control. (However, this belief doesn’t address the issue of what to do when a mistake has been made.)

I also believe that once a fetus is viable (i.e., it can live outside the womb without heroic efforts to keep it alive), it should not be aborted. If you’ve gone eight months with a baby inside you, what’s another month? That child has a right to live; even if you don’t want to be its mother, there is almost always someone who does. Let’s face it: newborn babies are in demand. It’s the older child who is harder to place. So if you don’t think you want to be a mother, don’t “give it a try” for a few years. Make the responsible choice while the baby still has a chance to grow up from birth in a loving home.

When I had my abortion at the age of 19, I was a freshman in college, I didn’t want to marry the father and I was afraid to tell my parents. I was also pretty sure that I couldn’t give the baby up for adoption and I knew my life would be changed irrevocably if I kept him or her. I thought I’d have to drop out of college and depend on my parents even more than I already did (and which I hated). And I didn’t want to have to deal with custody and visitation issues with a man I didn’t want to be with.

Also, this was 1971 and unmarried mothers were not as accepted as they are now.

None of these reasons justified my “killing” my baby, but they added up to a compelling argument at the time. And since the man who’d gotten me pregnant was completely supportive of my getting an abortion, I have to believe that he had similar reasons.

So how did I feel after having the abortion? Was I overwhelmed with guilt and grief? No. I can honestly say that all I felt was relief, especially since I pulled it off without having to tell my parents.

But now that I’m almost 60 and can look back on a long life of mistakes and regrets, I realize that just because something feels right doesn’t mean that it is right. I was a moderately religious person, but I didn’t have a well-developed sense of morals or ethics. I didn’t approach the problem from that perspective at all. I didn’t go to a counselor or a trusted adult. I felt like I got myself into this mess, it was up to me to get myself out.

I have had feelings of guilt and grief over the years, but they’ve never been overwhelming. My main feeling was that the abortion was regrettable, but the right thing for me at the time. But I had some bad moments during each of my subsequent pregnancies, especially once the babies were born. I couldn’t help but think that I would have had another child three years older than my oldest daughter if I hadn’t been so selfish. Who knows what that baby might have been like? Was it the boy I never managed to have later on? He or she would have been forty years old this year. Would I have had other grandchildren? How would he or she have turned out?

Having an abortion puts you in a tricky situation. You can ask God for forgiveness, but you can’t ask your aborted baby to forgive you. Some people get around this by not believing that the fetus was a baby. Technically and medically, the fetus isn’t a baby (that is, it can’t live outside the womb). But is it a life?

One debate surrounding abortion is over whether life begins at fertilization or implantation. Medical science has always favored the latter. You’re not pregnant until implantation occurs and you can’t be carrying a new life until you’re actually pregnant.

People who hold the former view have arbitrarily decided that life begins at fertilization.  Some pro-life advocates are against birth control because they think that the contraception itself causes abortions. But what happens when a fertilized egg passes out of the uterus naturally? Is that an abortion? Carry that a step further: does that mean that even God “murders” babies?

Strong words, I know. But the point I’m trying to make is: Is it ever right to make decisions that only God used to make? If the answer is no, you might as well do away with medical science and research. No more transplants, no more medicines, no more fertility treatments, no more heroic measures. Who are we to decide whether someone should live or die?

The Bible says that God gave man dominion over the earth. You could argue that this doesn’t just mean that he is supposed to tend plants and animals. It could also mean that God gave us jurisdiction over questions of life and death. He gave us the intellect to develop those things that help to extend life. But the flip side is that we’re also allowed to decide when things can or should be prevented from achieving viability, or life.

There are many good reasons for not allowing an embryo to develop into a fetus, or a fetus into a baby. What about when the number of children a family has prevents those children from having a good quality of life? What if the resources and support systems don’t exist to ensure that a child will be raised in a loving environment?

And that’s not even taking into account the health of the pregnant woman. What if she has other children she needs to be there for? Is it right to allow a woman to die just to allow the birth of another motherless child?

There is no consensus about these issues. That means is there is no one position that is more popular than the others. And for that reason, I believe it is against everything this country stands for to allow one group’s opinion to prevail.

Being pro-choice doesn’t mean that women will be forced to have unwanted abortions. But being anti-choice does mean that some women will be forced to have unwanted babies.

Which is right: force or freedom?

For a doctor’s views of when life begins and the abortion debate, go here at “The Moderate Voice.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Making of a Mother

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In less than a month my youngest daughter is about to become a mother for the first time. Like most new mothers-to-be, she has a lot of concerns and questions. Many of them are about her baby: What are babies like? How do you care for them? What will her baby look like? What if she’s a difficult baby? Even more, at this point, are about labor and delivery. My daughter has done a lot of reading, but of course nothing really prepares you for the real thing.

But there’s one question that’s not addressed very often and that is: how will I know how to be a mother?

I try to reassure her that she’ll do fine, that she just needs to trust her instincts and get her cues from the baby, but the truth is, it takes a lifetime to learn how to be a mother. I’m 59 years old and I still don’t get it right. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the process of becoming a mother it’s that it only just begins when the baby is born.

The new mother is only on the brink; she doesn’t really have a clue what she’s in for. And I’m not talking about all the sleepless nights and demanding days. I’m talking about the changes that she will go through as she learns how to adapt to her new identity.

Because that’s what it really happening: you don’t just produce a new person when you have a baby, you become a new person. It’s like you give birth to two people: your baby, and yourself.

There are tons of books out there about child development, but not so many about the mother’s development. Everyone takes it for granted that a woman’s maternal feelings will bloom as soon as she sees her new baby. And while it’s true that a woman will feel different, she may not know exactly what it is that she is feeling. It’s not a given that she’ll be overcome with joy. She might also be hit with a huge sense of responsibility which scares the hell out of her. Or/and she may not feel anything at all except relief that her ordeal is finally over.

I can’t predict how my daughter will feel when she meets her baby for the first time. She’s a very wanted baby, so I don’t think she’ll feel dismay. But my daughter is also a worrier, and she might be overwhelmed by this tectonic shift in her life. And as the days unfold, she’s sure to wonder if she’s cut out to be a mother. She might even feel panicky about the fact that there’s no going back to the person she was before.

It’ll take some time before she’ll begin to feel comfortable as a mother. But she needs to know that it’s a continuing process.  There are tests along the way, but no final test to prove that you finally “get” it. In fact, there’s no guarantee that you will feel successful as a mother. Women tend to judge their worth as mothers on what kind of persons their children turn out to be. But there’s no magic formula for turning out perfect children.

When I had my first child, I was bound and determined to do everything right by her. I certainly wasn’t going to make the mistakes my own mother had made. And maybe I did avoid my mother’s mistakes (for the most part). I just made my own mistakes.

Probably the most important lesson a woman needs to learn about being a mother is that she is not, and never will be, perfect. And her children won’t be perfect either. We’re all flawed human beings trying to help each other to grow into the best persons we can be.

What I mean by that is: mothers are not the only ones doing the teaching. The process also works in reverse: our children teach us what we need to know to become better human beings. We just need to be willing students.

Don’t expect to learn to be a mother overnight. And definitely don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Just be patient and willing to roll with the punches. Life will teach you what you need to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What to Expect” Books Giveaway! Get Yours Free!

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What to Expect Cover Almost thirty years ago a young mother-to-be, frustrated by her search for a good basic guide for pregnancy, decided to write her own. With the help of her mother and her sister, Heidi Murkoff wrote What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Originally published in 1984, and now in its fourth edition, the book consistently tops the New York Times Best Seller list in the paperback advice category, is one of USA Today’s “25 Most Influential Books” of the past 25 years and has been described as “the bible of American pregnancy.” According to USA Today, 93 percent of all expectant mothers who read a pregnancy guide read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. [Source: Wikipedia]

There are now over a dozen books in the “What to Expect” series, covering everything from what to eat while pregnant to the preschool years. I’m excited to announce that WhatToExpect.com has generously donated two copies each of What to Expect While You’re Expecting, What to Expect: The First Year and What to Expect: The Second Year for Femagination’s first giveaway!

All you have to do to qualify for the giveaway is leave a comment telling me the following: 1) Any thoughts or suggestions you have about Femagination; 2) Which of the books you prefer; and 3) Why you want the book. You must also leave some kind of contact information so that I can get back to you.

The giveaway comment period will last until September 30, 2011. Shortly after that I will announce the winners and send out the books, free of charge. All your information will be held strictly confidential.

Me and the GRE, or The Many Stages of Womanhood

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I’ve been spending every waking hour (and some non-waking ones) studying for the GRE test I’m scheduled to take on August 31st. The other night I woke myself from a dream because I was so frustrated by what I was dreaming about: how to determine the dimensions of a triangle inscribed inside a circle. I got up and went downstairs and found myself studying more math, even though it was the middle of the night. I study when I get up in the morning, when I get home from work, while my husband is watching television in the evenings. And, it seems, I can’t even get away from it when I sleep.

For those who aren’t familiar with the GRE, otherwise known as the Graduate Record Examination, it’s the test many graduate school programs require so they can get an idea of your “critical thinking skills.” Apparently, my critical thinking skills are crap. I tested in the 40th percentile in math (or quantitative reasoning) when I took a practice test a couple of months ago and I managed to bring it up to 55% on a second one, but that’s probably not good enough. If I want to get a fellowship—which I desperately do—I need to score a lot higher.

I’m not doing nearly as badly with the verbal portion of the test, but math is, and always has been, the bane of my existence.  I’m even taking a preparation course with a real live teacher and I’m still having trouble with it. It isn’t just that I haven’t had math as a subject for forty years; it’s mainly that I just don’t think like a mathematician. It’s like learning another language, and God knows I have enough trouble with that.

So why am I even taking the GRE? This winter I’m applying to a Master’s program in social work which means if I get accepted I won’t start it until the fall of 2012. By the time I finish the program I’ll be 62, the age when most people are thinking of retirement.

What makes it even possible to think of starting a new career when I’m old enough to retire is the fact that women today have time for more than one focus in their lives. No matter which order we do it in we have time to raise children and have a career (or two). We can work before having kids, after they’re grown and while we’re still raising them. Women today have choices that were unheard of when their life expectancy was much shorter. At the turn of the 19th century, women were lucky to live long enough to raise their children. Now we have even have the time to have more than one family!

The fact that women are living longer has a lot to do with the rise of the feminist movement in the late 1960s. Women were finding that they had time and talents to spare. Why limit yourself to marriage and motherhood when chances are you’re going to live to the age of 85? Although you never stop being a mother, your children don’t need you quite as much when they’re in their thirties. So what else are you going to do with your life?

I’m not saying that being a wife and a mother isn’t a career or that it isn’t satisfying enough to last you a whole lifetime. What I am saying is that you have plenty of time to be more than a wife and/or mother. It doesn’t have to be paid employment; God knows there’s a tremendous need for people willing to do volunteer work.

Unlike most young women today, I dove right into marriage and motherhood before finishing college and starting a career.My daughters, who are all over 30, are either not married, or didn’t marry until they were at least 30. My oldest daughter is expecting her second child at the age of 38 and my youngest (age 31) is expecting her first. I married at 20 and had four kids by the time I was 28. But on the other hand, all my children were grown and out of the house by the time I was 48. My daughters will be raising kids far longer than I was (although I don’t think you ever stop raising them), but even they will have time after child-raising to do something else with their lives.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more studying to do.

 

Womb Transplants

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The latest news on the fertility front is that a 25-year-old Swedish woman is going to have her 56-year-old mother’s womb transplanted into her. Apparently the age of the uterus is not a problem as it would be with eggs or ovaries. This procedure has been successful in animals, but not so far in humans. The only human attempt, which failed after four months due to complications, was in Saudi Arabia eleven years ago. However, doctors are optimistic that womb transplants will eventually be a viable solution for the more than 5,000 women each year who lose their wombs due to various diseases, not to mention women who are born without them.

Dr. Giuseppe Del Priore, director of gynecologic oncology at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, said the procedure should work because of recent developments. “It’s been my opinion and that of my colleagues both in London and Sweden, we all maintain that it can be safely done at this point,” Del Priore said. Del Priore has spent a decade researching the procedure mainly on behalf of his patients. He also expects that once the procedure is approved, donors will come forward out of their desire to help women birth a child.

At present the only way for a woman without a uterus to have a biological child would be by using a surrogate. Some would argue that even surrogacy is tampering with nature more than God intended us to. But I think womb transplants would be a better solution because they would remove the emotional aspects of surrogacy from the equation. A woman is often bothered by the fact that another woman bore and delivered her child.

Ever since the first “test tube” baby was born in 1978, the treatments for infertility have become more sophisticated and successful. It’s now possible to imagine a future with artificial wombs. Why not? At some point in the future, women may no longer be tied to reproduction. A man could oversee the growth of his child in an artificial womb. All he would need would be an egg donor. Women could pursue their interests and careers without having to undergo pregnancies. (And yes, it would remove the danger of maternal mortality and possibly even lower infant mortality.)

If women aren’t the only way to “grow” a baby, will men feel more invested in their offspring? Will women feel less invested? How would it change the way men and women see their roles in society? Will women continue to be seen as the primary caretakers? Or will men begin to feel just as responsible because they would truly, for the first time, have an equal role in reproduction?

I don’t expect to see a day when babies are grown in artificial wombs, but I do think I will see womb transplants become commonplace. And that’s good news for thousands of women.

Mother’s Day Reflections: About Being a Mother

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"Mother's Kiss" by Mary Cassatt

It’s hard to imagine my life without children. And yet when I was young I didn’t particularly care for them. They seemed like alien beings whom I could never hope to understand, let alone control.

Well, I still don’t understand them, I never had control, but I’m glad that I had them. I don’t think it’s melodramatic to say that they changed my life.

I wonder sometimes what my own mother thought of motherhood. She wasn’t the maternal type, even though she had always wanted children. But she had hoped for six boys, partly, I think, because she thought they would raise themselves. Instead she got two daughters.

She loved us, I know, and was proud of us. But she either didn’t know how or didn’t want to be a mother to us. My father is the one I remember going to when I needed comfort and advice. My mother was too critical and too self-involved for me to feel a strong attachment to her.

But, still, she was my mother. And she shaped the kind of mother, and woman, I would become.

I was determined to be a better mother than she had been. I was successful in some ways; not so successful in others. And yet, the proof is in the pudding: I raised four daughters and they’re all wonderful and amazing people. So I either did something right, or God sent me four miracles.

I’m probably as self-involved as my mother ever was, but I keep quiet about it. And I rarely criticize my children, at least not to their faces. I believe in letting them make their own mistakes, even as I wish I could steer them away from them.

That was probably the one thing my mother did right: for someone who liked to control others, she was hands-off when it came to my making my own decisions. She had her fits from time to time, mostly about my quitting college when I was 20 to get married and have children. (Turns out that she was right about that; the fact that I didn’t finish school before I had children is the biggest regret of my life.)  But for the most part she kept her mouth shut and was supportive.

You don’t know how many times I think of her willingness to let me live my own life when I’m tempted to tell my own children how to live theirs. Some of the things I did must have alarmed, even grieved, my parents greatly. But they were always there for me.

Just as my parents put up with a lot from me over the years, so have my children. I haven’t been the mother I had originally wanted to be. Now that my kids are all raised and out on their own (one with a child of her own and another about to have one), I wonder sometimes if my being their mother matters that much to them any more.

But then one of them calls for advice or needs me to babysit or just seems to like my being there and I realize that once a mother, always a mother.

Turns out, I’m not sorry about that.