By Molly Westerman / First the Egg
Safe, legal, affordable abortion access is something I’ve felt strongly about since I was a child. I don’t remember quite what brought twelve-year-old, southern, Catholic me to feel that way: it was not exactly taught at my school! But it felt big in my heart, a revulsion at the idea of forced pregnancy and at the rhetoric of the “pro-life” movement around me.
Many years later, I have had two babies. I have held my breath hoping not to miscarry two very-much-wanted pregnancies, hoping to have healthy little humans join our family, and I have been so lucky to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to have unambiguously healthy planned ones. I have felt two beloved fetuses moving inside my body.
It’s interesting to me to hear how individuals’ gut feelings and beliefs about reproductive justice–and specifically about abortion and fetuses–are affected by personal experiences of pregnancy. People seem to expect for folks who’ve birthed babies to question whether terminating a pregnancy is acceptable, at least at an emotional level, as a reaction to All the Love and All the Cute (of which, certainly, there is a great deal).
My own reproductive experiences have pushed me in the other direction, to more passionate and visceral revulsion at the idea of requiring anyone to carry out a pregnancy and birth against that person’s wishes.
I had no idea, before experiencing it myself, how whole-body and huge and permanently-changing pregnancy and birth are. I also had a less-direct understanding of the process of fetal development and what all that means as a physical and emotional reality for the person whose body creates and sustains that other/same body. I had no idea how loaded and immense–physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially–the pregnant, birthing, and postpartum body/self truly is. No idea.
After my mostly-wonderful pregnancy and birth with Noah, I thought, wow, no one should ever have to do that unwillingly. After my extremely unpleasant and challenging pregnancy and amazing (and challenging!) birth with Simon, I thought, I would have killed myself if I hadn’t wanted a baby and I’d been forced to continue that pregnancy. It was a meaningful family experience for me because I wanted the pregnancy, I wanted the child: I could appreciate the lovely bits and bear the awful grind because of the love and also the sense of freely choosing to go on. Without an out, I think I would have been swallowed up in hopelessness and anger and found my own out.
I know very well that my second pregnancy–the hard one–was easy and complication-free compared to many people’s pregnancies. The idea of forcing an existing person to carry a pregnancy to term doesn’t just seem wrong, now: it seems gruesome.
It’s not that I’m “pro-abortion” or somehow interested in convincing people to terminate their pregnancies, as some anti-choice folks suspect of pro-choice ones. Why on earth would I object to someone staying pregnant? (Guilty as charged re: pro-contraception-access and sex-positivity, though.) It’s just that I can’t wrap my heart around forcing anyone to stay pregnant, and I can’t wrap my head around the idea that a potential future person’s right to join the human community trumps an existing person’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination.
Does your community have these “Maybe Your Baby” anti-abortion billboards? Maybe your baby will be a great artist, will be super-cute, whatever. Do these people seriously think people terminate pregnancies because they figure their baby won’t be pretty or talented or otherwise high-quality enough to merit the trouble? Before my pregnancies, I might have rolled my eyes at these signs, slathered in appealingly chubby nine-month-olds. After my pregnancies, I am insulted by their patronizing and totally clueless approach not only to Possible Mommy Ladies but also to pregnancy, birth, parenting, and human beings. The anti-abortion rhetoric that I heard at my Catholic grade school and church, that I witnessed at a large Southern university, that I read from politicians, that I see on outdoor boards today all seems to exist in some alternative universe.
Here’s my reality: My body will forever be marked by pregnancies and births and breastfeeding and all the physical interactions of parenting. My sense of self, my social status, my economic realities, my memories, and my emotional well-being will be, too. I embrace all that, in part because I chose it.
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Molly Westerman is a writer, book nerd, literature PhD, and parent of two. Her current projects include a book for feminist parents and the pregnancy/birth/parenting blog First the Egg, where a version of this essay was originally published in July 2013.