It is possible that my most unhinged moment came the one and only time I had a serious pregnancy scare. I say possibly because, to be honest, there are several in the running for the title of 'most unhinged moment,' but there was only one pregnancy scare because of how desperately I wished not to be pregnant. I took the pill religiously, and when I missed, I made my partner use a condom for the seven to ten days prescribed by my birth control for a single day's missed pill. Even when I had no missed days of taking the pill, I would often ask my partner to not finish inside me, due to my fear of becoming pregnant, and god bless him for being willing to accommodate me in that request. I am sure doing so sometimes denied him pleasure he deserved.
Why was being pregnant such a terrifying thought for me? I am a woman with childhood sexual trauma in her history, although the memories of that trauma were suppressed until about ten years ago, when I was thirty-five, and I am just now beginning to navigate those truths with a modicum of steadiness now that I am forty-five. Prior to my remembering, I experienced deep panic at the thought of being a mother. I knew myself to be barely capable of taking care of me, and the thought of being responsible for another human life seemed beyond my ability. And underneath that fear, sat a bigger fear. Even though I was oblivious to my memories, I had the sense that something was really wrong with me and I was afraid that I would unwittingly hurt my child. I know it is a widely accepted fact that most survivors of sexual abuse do not go on to become abusers themselves, and I tend to agree with that statement. But I am not sure there has been much study on the outcomes of sexual trauma survivors who have memory loss. I remember reading a passage in a memoir, where the author recounts the experience of a friend who confessed remembering their own trauma only after repeating an act while bathing their baby; they literally began to remember as they found themselves in the middle of an inappropriate act. Forgetting trauma is a coping mechanism that is difficult to overcome. I believe that many of us never remember and that some of us remember through subconscious repetition of acts, whether that be mimicking what was done to us or recreating our own victimization in a stream of unhealthy relationships that we may or may not ever be able to transcend. In the cases where people with memory loss mimic damaging behaviors, I believe they often can't even remember the abusive acts they commit, as that would force them to remember their own traumatic experience, which they are too damaged to do. Now this semi-functional person bears the added trauma of being righteously condemnable by a society that doesn't have the first clue of what justice truly looks like. How do we heal something about which we cannot even speak, whether because we cannot remember it or because we will be damned if we do? All of this combines to seemingly perpetuate damage and trauma for all time.
I share all of this to say that had I become pregnant, abortion is an option I would have wrestled with deeply, for reasons that I find extremely moral. Like many if not most Americans, I was raised in an ostensibly Christian home that claimed abortion was an evil barely rivaled by anything in this world, so I can't really say what I would have done. But I can unequivocally say that I believe abortion to be a right, and a moral right at that. In my case, it would have been responsible for me to abort rather than to continue a pattern of abuse, whether that be the continuation of sexual inappropriateness or an inability to provide a safe psychological space in which my child could grow up.
This, of course, is where the self-righteous chorus of voices chimes in to say that I should carry my baby to term and give it up for adoption, as there are so many couples who want babies they themselves cannot have. I have nothing but compassion for those couples, but their difficulty does not deserve precedence over my own difficulty; no one besides me has the moral authority to say what I should or shouldn't do with my own DNA. The choice to procreate is a monumental one, not to be taken lightly or dictated on us by another. It is also worth mentioning that very few adoptions occur where the baby is born and is immediately paired with suitable parents. Our foster care system is rife with abuses of all kinds, be that sexual, psychological or physical, so my choosing to give up my child to adoption is still no guarantee that my child wouldn't suffer the traumas I so desperately would want them to be free of.
Something else in this equation that doesn't get enough discussion is the fact that survivors of abuse often have body issues that center around control, as we had no control over what happened to our bodies in the past. I can think of few things more invasive or indicative of a loss of bodily control than being pregnant. I honestly don't think I could have tolerated pregnancy without a psychological breakdown, which would have endangered the life inside me, and I believe, passed on my trauma as my growing child would have experienced my breakdown with me. Add to this the fact that these United States have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and ask yourself why you feel you have the right to force any woman to give birth against her will, much less one with trauma issues.
I can hear some of you saying, 'but what about the rights of the father? Isn't it his DNA as well?' Yes, it most certainly is his DNA, but the father lacks the biological ability to gestate his DNA into a fetus, let alone a baby, and every man knows this. That means that if a man desires to procreate, it is his biological imperative to cultivate a consensual contract with a woman who can gestate his DNA into a fetus. This is the only honorable option available to him. Conversely, women have a responsibility to form consensual contracts with men when it comes to procreation. I don't want anyone dictating to me what I can do with my own DNA and I have no wish to force a child on an unwilling man. That is also dishonorable. This country and this world are in desperate need of comprehensive, science based sex education to address these and many more issues of morality as it relates to procreating.
Now to the address the 'pro-life' canard that life begins at conception and that God deems it murder to abort a fetus. First of all, none of us can speak for God or even prove that God exists, so therefore none of us can say what God actually thinks about the beginning of life or about abortion. But I can tell you this, any 'God' that deems a life that cannot exist without a host as inherently more valuable than the life that already unequivocally does exist is not a god to be trusted. This world has shown me time and time again that as a woman, my life has less value than a man's and that's a lie too. Then again, the 'God' that is against abortion is modeled as a man, so it's all beginning to make more sense. The pro-life argument is nothing more than a disingenuous power play intended to prop up patriarchy, when the truth is, there would literally be no men without the existence of women.
So much of this debate revolves around 'respect for life.' I am asking that we expand our definition of respect for life to include quality of life, and rather than just insisting that people give birth in obeisance to 'respect for life,' we shift our focus to implementing policies that bring about a better experience of life for all of us. What would that look like, you ask? I don't have all the answers but it would definitely include an overhaul of our justice system so that it is restorative rather than punitive. I would venture to say that very little about our present healthcare is more respectful of life than a dollar, so we would have to address that as well. A compassionate and functioning mental health service would immeasurably improve our shared quality of life by reducing the amount of trauma that gets passed on endlessly and needlessly. And for the love of all that is holy, we would offer science based, age appropriate sex ed that begins in grade school, where abstinence is offered as only one available and largely unrealistic option.
Impossible, you say, these reforms will never happen. Well, it's certainly much easier to continue on screaming about life beginning at conception and making abortion illegal, and while I should and would respect your right to that opinion, I feel zero compunction to respect your intellectually bankrupt opinion in action. I am reminded of the maxim to not be so spiritually minded that we are of no earthly good, but that is exactly what the pro-life movement does; it holds a specious religious conviction above the value of the lives of women and the children we bring into this world, which is about as disrespectful of life as it gets. In my opinion, the truest way to respect life is to work towards a world that is as free of trauma as possible, and until we accomplish that, abortion is one tool that can be used responsibly to help us get there.
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