Monday, September 29, 2008

It's Personal

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother. . .

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Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world.

Along with that realization, I came to realize that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My younger self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.


I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”

Um, excuse me? You realize, don’t you Mom, that the ‘choice’ you’re talking about wishing you’d had, is whether or not to kill ME? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re talking about, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .

She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that.

Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg”. And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when they don’t want to be. My daughter was one of those women, just a couple years ago. And I wished there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for her. . .


But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. Not a clump of cells, not a faceless ‘fetus’ – it was me. And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.

And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone you never even knew existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Molly would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; how could she not?); but she wouldn’t have married me. And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely. . .

And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who would have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, were never allowed to be born? What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who would have done those things, but were never born?

My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and encourage anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not so much as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.


I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her (honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise). No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other these 19 years. I understand how trapped she felt 52+ years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.

But I have to tell ya, it is a strange, strange thing, to be told by your mother that, as much as she loves you, she wished she’d had the choice of whether or not to kill you before you were born. . .

22 comments:

Cocotte said...

It really gives you something to ponder, doesn't it? Have you ever seen those lists of famous people who were adopted at birth? The one that blows me away is Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple computers. Our world might be 10 years behind what we are now if he had been aborted. OTOH, maybe we'd be even further ahead if someone else out there had been given the chance to live.

Sad, sad business, no matter which direction you come from.

FTN said...

Thanks for this post. This is a great one, and as you said, there's no better way to put a "human face" on a topic like this.

It makes me think just a bit of Saving Private Ryan -- a great movie, although not one I could easily sit through more than once. The story is bookended by the James Ryan character as an old man, taking his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids -- people who wouldn't be around if he hadn't survived -- to the grave of one of the men who died for him. He's crying at the end (and I'm crying and everyone in the theater was crying) as he talks to the dead man about trying to live up to what those men had done for him.

It's almost gives us ALL a bit of responsibility to lives our lives "more fully" just because we were given the opportunity to live.

Therese in Heaven said...

Thanks for writing this. I will never be able to understand how people can equate healthcare, abortion, the economy etc. as all equal issues. The value of a human life will always outweigh everything else to me.

And sorry to get political here, but that's why even though I think that the Republican party and John McCain and President Bush have all made serious errors, I could NEVER cast my vote for a man who voted against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act (and flat out lied about it) and wants to lift every ban on abortion, even if everything else he says is brilliant and good. That one issue is the deal breaker for me.

And I know too many people who have been adopted or adopted someone to believe for one minute that there is ever a child who no one would want. There is enough love in the world to go around for every human life to receive a piece of it.

Tulipsanticipation said...

Very neat post.
I still cannot fathom how Christians can support abortion. I agree with Theresa, while I'm not always thrilled with everything Republican, the abortion issue is what will always keep me from voting Democratic.
I can see how an someone who's not a Christian could support abortion, but Obama, a Catholic, it just doesn't correlate.

Therese in Heaven said...

Oh, and one more thing. Your post reminded me of a Mother Teresa quote:

“It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

Thanks again for writing this.

Desmond Jones said...

I usually wait a couple days before responding to comments, but this is a good batch of comments, and they provoke responses in me that I don't want to lose track of, so I'll jump in a bit early. . .

Cocotte - Of course, the 'who might have done what' argument was quite secondary to my larger point. The point is not so much that, eg, Steve Jobs is so worthwhile for what he's done, as that every human life is intrinsically valuable in-and-of-itself. And 'humanity-at-large' benefits from every one of its members, whether they 'accomplish anything' or not. But yes, we all benefit from the fact that Steve Jobs, or Beethoven (or anyone else), were born, and not aborted. And we'll never know, other than statistically, what 'humanity-at-large' has lost for those tens of millions who were never born. . .

FTN - Thank you. The connection with Private Ryan is one that wouldn't have immediately occurred to me, but it fits; with my birth-mother in a parallel role to the soldiers who saved Private Ryan.

And I would say that absolutely we ALL have the responsibility to live our lives 'fully', out of gratitude for the sheer gift of our own existence. . . (John 10:10, and all that. . .)

Therese - I know how 'political' an issue abortion has been, these past 35 years. And it certainly has obvious political implications. But I am pretty completely disgusted with what 'politicizing' the question has done for it. Because (let me reiterate), abortion is NOT, fundamentally a 'political' issue - it is a human one.

And you're right - human life outweighs economics, and anything else we could discuss politically. . .

Tulip - Just for the sake of saying so, I don't view this as particularly a specifically 'Christian' question, either. I think it's one of those 'Natural Law' things that is just 'built into the Universe' - it is a matter of how human beings are made, moreso than any particular Christian revelation. . .

And FWIW, I agree with you. I am no Republican, to be sure. But I simply cannot vote for any Democrat who stands with his party on the 'moral' issues. . .

Anybody got any viable ideas for a new political party?

Therese, redux - Good quote. And you remind me of another one from Frederica Mathewes-Green:

"Any society that pits mothers against their own children in a struggle to the death, is going insane."

BTW, I did link to Frederica's book, Real Choices, but, just to make it explicit - that is the best, most insightful, thing I've ever seen on the topic. . .

lime said...

well, my friend we have had our own discussion and i am of the same mind as you. i have not yet made contact with my birth mother but that is a fairly mind bending prospect for conversation. i do remember a friend of mine who was adopted saying if she found herself in the situation her birth mother did she'd abort and i was astonished. later when a family member who was very much mirroring the circumstances surrounding my own conception it was a very difficult thing for me to process. even my mother felt this was a good decision and though she is not the one who carried me i couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. she didn't really have an answer when i asked her, "what if my birth mother had made such a decision?"

Therese in Heaven said...

Yeah, unfortunately making abortion a political and religious issue has been very polarizing and unhelpful. There are many pro-life atheists out there.

I absolutely agree that its a human issue, not a religious one.

Desmond Jones said...

Lime - Good to hear from you on this. I greatly appreciated our earlier conversation, and I'm glad to have met you there. . .

Both of the cases you cite are quite similar to what my birth-mother said, aren't they? I mean, you'd want folks to think all the way through to the implications of what they're saying, but alas. . .

And, as much as I say 'it's personal', you can't really 'take it personal' when your mom (or my birth-mother) says what she did. She didn't mean that you should've been aborted, even tho that's where her thinking leads. . .

The line between thinking and feeling can be a hard one to negotiate, sometimes. . .

Therese, again - Yeah 'politicizing' the issue has pretty effectively shut down all rational discussion - there's only a lot of shouting back and forth, intermixed with meso-digital gesticulation. And that's a shame (*sigh* - it seems so lame to say, 'it's a shame'), because there really is a rational conversation to be had, if anyone would bother. Again, I'd refer to Frederica's book. . .

And, one of my favorite essays on the topic is by Nat Hentoff, who is certainly no 'religious nut'. . .

Trueself said...

To those above who mentioned that they would not vote for someone strictly due to their pro-choice stance, would you please read this article and then give me your reaction to it? I have read it, and most of the comments that have been posted there so I understand what arguments are being put forth on both sides. I'm just curious what some of the bloggers I "know" think of it.

Thanks.

lime said...

i think you truly sum it all up when you say there's a fine line between thinking and feeling. and so many on both sides of the argument have failed to negotiate that balance.

Recovering Soul said...

"Deliberately killing innocent human life, or standing by and allowing it, dwarfs all other social issues."

C-Marie said...

Obviously this offers you a great deal of reflection and a huge dose of "what if".
I believe that fate plays a very real and natural part in the decision your birth mother made.
I do agree that the very discussion of abortion is a human issue. It plays no part in political parties nor can any denomination have influence.

The very word human speaks volumes and part of being human is to escape that of which burdens us or makes us uncomfortable. To be human is making right or wrong choices. Being human can be a selfish and savage image.
I'm not in any way, in favor of abortion. I can only imagine what a horrifying and inhumane act it can be, right along side of senseless war, genocide, torture, abuse, murder, famine....

Having the complete right to voice my opinion doesn't allow for me to sit in judgement and those that have made that choice to extinguish a life should carry the burden of guilt for the rest of their lives.

Having children is a sacrifice and a worldly responsibility.

Desmond Jones said...

Truey - Thanks for stopping by, and engaging the discussion.

I did read the article (altho, I gotta tell ya, the Register has a well-earned reputation as a clearing-house for 'dissenting' Catholics; but, since you asked me to, I read it), and maybe the first 1/3 of the comments (that was a LOT of comments). So, I'll try to scrape such thoughts as I have into a semi-coherent pile. . .

First, point well-taken re the Republicans and abortion. From Reagan to the present day, they've given us a lot of agreeable rhetoric, but much less when it comes to real actions. Still, 'much less' is much more than what the Democrats have given us - it was not lost on anyone when Bill Clinton's first executive order (issued on the 20th anniversary of Roe v. Wade just to emphasize the point) was to restore government funding of abortions in military hospitals (thus implicating me in paying for at least some women to have abortions). Nor when Bob Casey was refused even the opportunity to speak at the '92 national convention. And frankly, there's nothing anywhere in Obama or the Democratic platform that suggests that that is even up for discussion, much less open to change.

Second, I would echo the commenter who said that the distinction between 'pro-choice' and 'pro-abortion' is a phony one. 'Personally opposed, but. . .' has long since been exposed as the morally vacuous position it has always been. No-one would for one second countenance a 'personally-opposed-but' position on murder or slavery (which, btw, was essentially Stephen Douglas' position in his debates with Abraham Lincoln). As Lincoln said, "There can be no right to do wrong."

It has become common in certain 'social-justice' Catholic circles to argue that the superior economic policies of the Democrats (at least, so they are perceived to be) override the concern that is raised by the Democrats' 'pro-choice' position. But economic policies, and their effects on, say, the poor, while a very valid and proper concern, are matters of prudential judgment, on which people of good will may form varying opinions. Abortion is not such a matter - there is no 'prudential judgment' to be exercised. It is wrong, and evil, without exception. So, while I might possibly think that the Democratic position could possibly result in a more just economic order (let's just say, I have my doubts on that account, but for the sake of argument. . .), that is not sufficient to override the fact that the same party is utterly committed to the perpetuation of the abortion license, in the most vigorous possible terms.

Finally, the Democrats have been abundantly clear that they regard people such as me as their enemies - as benighted bigots not deserving of a voice in the public square. And so, I take them at their word. . . As I said above to Tulip, I am by no means a Republican; but the Democrats have made it impossible for me to give them my support. . .

Sorry for the length of my comment, but you asked, and I didn't want to answer too glibly. I hope I haven't. . .

Lime - True that. And that's why I don't take my birth-mother's comments personally - she's talking out of her own emotional experience, more than anything rational. But those feelings, multiplied many times over, have brought us to a nasty, nasty place. . .

RS - Good quote. Where is it from?

C-Marie - Thanks for stopping by again. I've had many conversations with fellow-adoptees, and it is a fairly common theme to wonder if our lives were 'a mistake'. But, I have to know (and all the moreso as a committed Christian) that God knew what He was doing when I came to be, even if my birth-parents didn't. . .

And, the terrible burden of guilt that birth-mothers bear, if they abort their children, is yet another indication of the evil of it. As I said above, women who have aborted are victims of violence themselves, and at least on some level, have been sold a bill of goods. So my heart goes out to them, too. . .

Desmond Jones said...

Whoops! In my reply to Trueself, above, I said, 'the Register', meaning 'The National Catholic Register', when I meant to say 'the Reporter', meaning 'The National Catholic Reporter'. The Reporter has a well-earned reputation as a clearing-house for 'dissenting' Catholics. The Register is a very orthodox Catholic paper. And that, alas, is a confusion that gets made all-too-often between the two 'NCRs'. . .

Yeef. . .

Recovering Soul said...

Archbishop Chaput in his new, best selling book, "Render unto Caeser"

Trueself said...

Desmond - Thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate getting your point of view on it. I must say that I'm going to have to give this statement, "Abortion is not such a matter - there is no 'prudential judgment' to be exercised. It is wrong, and evil, without exception.", some more thought. I'm not sure that I can say I agree there. However, as I recognize that I've wandered into hostile territory I'll back off quietly and cogitate elsewhere.

Desmond Jones said...

RS - Thanks. And hey, good to see you out-and-about in the 'hood, for just a minute. . . And the next time you see the archbishop, tell him I said, 'hello'. . .

Truey - Aw, I didn't mean to run you off. . .

While I certainly don't retract anything I said above, in that particular paragraph, I was meaning more to speak to the position of those Catholics, such as the author of the article you linked, who would say that other things might override the huge 'negative' of a 'pro-choice' position. I understand that you're not Catholic, and might see it differently, and I would probably frame the argument differently to you. But, for a Catholic it is certainly true - there is no 'prudential judgment' with regard to abortion; it is wrong, and evil, without exception.

But, just for the sake of clarity, let me say that my main point with this post is not political advocacy. It is simply to say that the entire question took on a very different aspect once I understood that 'unwanted pregnancy' is what I was, once. . . And I would urge others to try to understand how it looks from that angle. . .

Emily said...

I am just wondering, Desmond, if you are sure she meant a choice to have an abortion.

Women have quite a few choices nowadays when they have an unwanted pregnancy that they didn't have then. If they are not sure about the man, they can live with him and see what it's like without having to marry him and feeling stuck with him forever. They can work to support themselves and the child and put the child in childcare. They can stay at home with the baby and get income support from the state. Their parents can support them and help them with the baby without social disgrace. They can have an open, rather than a closed, adoption. These weren't choices that were widely available when your birth mother was young. Abortion was only one of the choices she may not have had.

You were in the conversation - I wasn't - so perhaps you know. But I just wonder.

On the general subject - I have a lot of sympathy with your view. As a woman who has had to go through a lot of fertility treatment to get pregnant, it's hard for me to picture being in that position and feeling that way - to me, a baby is such a miracle, such a gift, that I just can't image throwing it away.

But I have known a few women who have had terminations and in each case it must be said it was a situation made in extremely difficult circumstances and with very little real emotional or practical support to make a different choice.

Just quietly, I wish that people who work to ban abortion would put more energy into supporting women who are facing unwanted pregnancies. Too many of these organisations ultimately focus on political action on legislation, guilt-tripping the women and the occasional hand-out of baby clothes. Not enough of them help women with what they really need to raise a child, probably alone - helping them find work that will pay them enough to live on while giving them some flexibility to care for a child, ongoing personal support with the isolation of raising a child alone, babysitting to give the single mother a break, etc etc.

Emily

Desmond Jones said...

Emily - Thanks for weighing in here. I really do appreciate hearing from you.

First, I can assure you that the 'choice' my birth-mother was referring to was, in fact, the choice to terminate her pregnancy. It would be extremely tedious to go into the conversation in detail (to say nothing of the fact that it occurred roughly 19 years ago), but it was quite clear that abortion was what she was talking about.

An open adoption might have had some appeal to her, altho it must be said that her adoption of her daughter was not an open one, so I can't really say about that.

I agree with you that 'pro-lifers' need to do a better job of 'putting our money where our mouth is'. Your criticism of folks who bang the drum for legislation without providing real support for women in 'crisis pregnancies' is more fair than I wish it were, alas. Molly and I have some experience of just what is entailed in such 'support', from helping our daughter deal with her own pregnancy (and I have to say that the agency that handled her adoption did a fantastic job, both during and after the pregnancy and adoption, of supporting her, so points for them. . .)

And I do understand the kind of 'extreme circumstances' that are behind many women's 'choice' of abortion. To return (yet again) to Frederica Mathewes-Green's book, I think she does an amazing job of putting across the reasons why women choose to abort, even overriding their own consciences to do so. I remember one woman saying, "If even one person had offered to support me, I wouldn't have done it." That has stuck with me, and I think that my birth-mother would find some resonance with that.

Sadly, I think many (I don't know enough to say 'most', but it wouldn't surprise me) women who have had abortions don't need pro-lifers haranguing them to go on a guilt trip. I perceive a similar 'disconnect' between words and deeds on the 'pro-choice' side, with folks who will go to the wall to protect a woman's 'right' to abort her child, but when it's over and done with, and she's tormented by guilt, the message becomes 'shut up and deal with it.' Abortion is supposed to be simple and 'safe', and make women 'free'. When it has unhappy ramifications in the mother's psyche, folks tend not to want the hear about those. There is a lot of 'pro-woman' rhetoric on the 'pro-choice' side, but I don't see the same level of 'deeds' to help those women deal with the unanticipated consequences of their 'choice'.

It's always a pleasure to hear from you, Em; you invariably bring something thoughtful with you when you come. . . Thanks for that.

Just a Girl said...

I've offeneded people when I've said that if I found myself pregnant ouside of marriage that I'm sure I'd consider an abortion if only for a moment.

I'm a child of adoption and a christian so they are baffled by my response.

Best way to avoid the question is to skip the sex. :)

Desmond Jones said...

Girl - Thanks for stopping by!

You know, there's 'considering' and there's 'considering'. On one level, you can hardly be blamed, in the desperation of the moment, for at least thinking about it. And that's really how I understand what my birth-mother said.

But yeah - the time for 'having control over your own body' really does start several months before the popular slogan is typically invoked. . .