Last week, or maybe the week before, I read a blog post titled How Abortion Has Changed the Discussion of Miscarriage. I shared it on my Facebook page, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Reading it helped me understand some of my own thoughts and feelings on the topic. I hadn’t fully realized just how much the dominant view of society had shaped my views of developing life until reflecting on that post. I’ll explain.
Last January, when I had my miscarriage, I struggled with the thought that I was making too big a deal about it in my own mind. I almost never actually talked about it (only two people other than my husband knew I had even been pregnant), but the few times I did, or when I thought about it to myself, it was with comments like, “Well, it was super early. It was just a chemical pregnancy.” I was so sad about the loss, but I felt like it shouldn’t have been as big of a deal to me as it was. And then I didn’t understand why I felt the need to minimize it.
Now I do.
Now I get it. I was confused about my grief because in our culture, discussing developing babies as “tissue” or “cells” is so, so prevalent that the idea of a five-week pregnancy as involving a baby, rather than just a few multiplying cells, isn’t the norm.
At the time of my miscarriage I was still a firm believer in the right of a woman to choose an abortion. I felt adamant that a woman’s choices about her body were no one’s business but her own. I absolutely identified myself as “pro-choice,” even though every time I heard about an abortion, it made me very sad. Unfortunately, I was mentally lazy about understanding what I was supporting. It was easy to nod and agree with slogans like, “My body, my choice” and “Stop the war on women,” but I really had no idea.
It wasn’t until I started researching abortion in the past year and actually learning about what is done during one and how it is done that I began to change my mind on this issue. Our society presents abortion as a matter of fact part of life that everyone should be accepting of and have access to. Nowhere, ever, in mainstream media and culture, is it discussed in terms of the facts of what actually occurs during an abortion.
For example, in its description of the abortion procedure, Planned Parenthood’s website states, “Either a hand-held suction device or a suction machine gently empties your uterus.” Gently empties??? On their website and lots and lots of other sites, words like “tissue” and “pregnancy” are used in place of “baby” (or even “fetus”) and “life.” As in, “The tissue is removed” or “The pregnancy is ended.” No one talks about it as a living being, a baby, that is removed from its source of life.
I am embarrassed to admit that I spent my whole life, that I can remember having an opinion on the subject, as pro-choice, though I didn’t really have much of an idea how abortions really happen. For example, I vaguely assumed that it was always illegal to have an abortion after the first trimester. And I never thought at all about what is done to the baby when it is removed. Because no one talks about this.
So it was taking the time to think about and research the reality of abortion (i.e. this info) that led me to change my position from pro-choice to pro-life. But it never really occurred to me to extend this change in thinking to my own experience. I didn’t realize how my own formerly-held-but-sometimes-still-stubbornly-hanging-around thoughts about developing life, inherited from the dominant voices in our culture, continued to impact my own feelings about the baby that we lost. It actually took me a long time to think about it, in some ways, as a baby.
Over the past year I have pretty much worked out, in my own mind, my conflicting feelings about this. I know that the life that was lost did not physically resemble a baby yet, but if you believe in the Catholic view of human life (which I do), then life begins at conception. And each life contains a soul. Is valued and loved by God. But somehow I still had some lingering hesitation about referring to our loss as a miscarriage rather than a “chemical pregnancy” (which makes it sound sort of fake or less important it seems), or to the lost pregnancy as our baby. In discussing it with a dear friend, I even agreed when she said (in a completely well-meaning way), that the hardest part of my miscarriage was the disappointment over the lost anticipation of a baby. I “Mmm-hmmm-ed” when she said that, and that part was hard too, but in my head I thought, “No! The hardest thing was losing a baby!”
But I didn’t say that because I wasn’t sure if my feelings about it were melodramatic. And I didn’t fully realize the continued impact of our cultural views on conception and developing life on my beliefs about my own experience. I cannot believe how much societal messages had skewed my thoughts about abortion and miscarriage, and how difficult these long-ingrained messages have been to sift through and discard. I suspect this is the case for lots of people.
Alllll that said, I want to veer off course for a sec to add that I have been very hesitant to write about this topic. Not really because it’s a touchy subject or a “hot button” issue, but because I cannot think about the pro-life movement without also remembering the people who have been affected by abortion. I’m not talking about just the babies. I mean, yes the babies, but also the not-babies. The mamas and daddies and grandparents. ALL the people.
I know people who have had abortions. I love people who have had abortions. And every time I have thought about writing something about abortion since changing my position on the issue to pro-life, I have decided not to, because of them. I really don’t even know if any of them will read this post. But I do know that if I’m fearing that something I write might be hurtful to those I know and love, I also need to think about how it might affect those I don’t know who might read this. I don’t want anyone who has had an abortion, or has considered an abortion, or has wished for an abortion or a miscarriage, or has wished she wasn’t pregnant, to read this and feel judged or shamed or degraded.
Pregnancy is so huge and emotional and scary and awesome, and I cannot pretend to know what it would be like to be pregnant and not want to be. Someone in that situation must need so much. Support, caring, information, understanding, love. . .
I like to think most of the time pro-life people who are trying to argue their position do so kind of like this:
But unfortunately, it sometimes seems more like this:
And I know it’s because people are very passionate about this issue, about defending precious human life. But the lives of the women who consider or have had abortions are precious too, and if we’re fighting for respect of life, we should be respecting all life.
Okay. I digress. The point I’m trying to make is this:
The messages that our society at large advances regarding developing babies are so prevalent, and kind of subliminal it seems. Thinking back, I don’t even know when or how I became pro-choice. I did not get pro-choice messages from my parents or others in my family, so I know I began believing this was the right way to think about the issue because of messages from peers, and society, and who knows where else?
Realizing that I spent years supporting a practice that I didn’t fully understand because the mainstream view of it is presented in as much of a watered-down way as possible, and then that I was minimizing my own grief because of the deep-seated beliefs I internalized from years of accepting the cultural status quo on abortion and the “not-a-baby” campaign, shocked me and then made me sad.
To use sugarcoated descriptions of abortion procedures and their outcomes, when discussing them with a woman considering abortion so that she won’t feel “uncomfortable,” is disrespectful and demeaning to her. And the avoidance of ever referring to a developing life as a “baby” in abortion talk and general discussion is marginalizing the experience of the many families who have experienced the pain of loss through miscarriage, as Becky wrote about in the post I linked above.
I wish our cultural messages about life were different. I wish it was the norm to view every life as sacred from the moment it begins, even when it begins in less-than-optimal circumstances. I know that I will continue to work on changing how I talk about it.