Trigger Warnings: Limits on reproductive choice, fatal birth defects, fetal distress / death, traumatic pregnancy and birth, post-partum depression
Some pro-lifers like to claim that if pro-choicers ever got pregnant or had children, the very act of parenting would turn their hearts and help them understand the sacredness of life. Bullshit.
First, 60% of women who get abortions already have children. They are making the choice that will allow them to care for their existing children in the best possible manner.
Second, at least in my case, I found that getting pregnant and having a child actually motivated me to be more pro-choice than ever. Now that I’ve had first-hand experience of pregnancy, birth, and parenting, I understand the stakes much better. While I still believe that abortion is sometimes morally wrong, it is the least wrong of the limited options available in an inherently difficult situation. I especially believe that no matter what your thoughts, every woman should make the right to make the choice for herself. Pregnancy and birth is a life changing experience, and not always for the better.
1) Pregnancy itself is hell on your body. And I’m not talking aesthetically.
I had an easy pregnancy – a very easy one compared to a lot of women. In fact, I was able to keep riding my bike through my 10th month. But despite that, I still had my share of issues. While morning sickness doesn’t sound that bad, it should actually be called “all-day sickness.” I only threw up once, but I had a constant low-level nausea throughout my first trimester. And that was mild – my mother-in-law was sick unless she was eating and some women can keep so little down that they need to be hospitalized. While I could walk up to a mile almost until labor (albeit slowly), I couldn’t stand still for more than 5 minutes. I couldn’t sit in chairs or couches that didn’t have good support without my back cramping up. My feet swelled so much there was only a single pair of stretchy shoes I owned that I could even put on.
And this was the easy version. 15 percent of women have life-threatening complications. Other women – healthy, young women – I’ve known have had life-threatening high blood pressure and months of bed rest. The risks are even greater if you are older or have an existing health condition.
And the fact is, no matter how good our medicine gets, pregnancy will always be this way. Unlike other animals, the fetus and mother’s body are actually in huge conflict, fighting over resources instead of the popular conception of some beautiful partnership.
2) Birth is still and will always be physically risky to the mother.
You are pushing something that is up to 10 pounds out of a hole that is 10 cm big. Even if you get an epidural, it will definitely hurt like hell before, during and after. After almost 10 months of your body doing weird, unpredictable shit, you can be in for hours upon hours of torturous pain.
Besides that obvious fact, the whole process is very poorly understood. We don’t know the details of what triggers labor (we just found out a key protein literally a few months ago) or why some women progress quickly while others don’t. We have only the bluntest of tools to deal with many of the potential complications. Women still die from birth in the U.S. The entire thing is chaotic and rather terrifying.
For me, it was worth it all to have my son. But to say to a woman with an unwanted pregnancy that they must go through this entire life-threatening, incredibly difficult process against their will is simply inhumane. I’m pretty sure if you asked most people if it was okay to force increasingly intense torture on someone completely innocent for 10 months to keep a different person on life support, they would say it wasn’t okay. But pregnancy and birth? Different story.
3) Many women are incapable of having a healthy pregnancy.
There are some women with existing medical conditions who know for a fact that they are likely to die if they bring a fetus to full-term. Even if the mother would be okay, there are instances where they would have no hope of giving birth to a healthy child. Some women have severe depression, multiple sclerosis, or other diseases that can only be treated with drugs that cause severe birth defects. Some live or work in areas where they are regularly exposed to chemicals that could interfere with a healthy pregnancy and aren’t able to move or leave for economic reasons.
Pregnancy itself can endanger your job, making it impossible for you to have the economic means to actually take care of a child. Officially, pregnancy is a protected class in the U.S., which means it’s illegal to fire someone just for being pregnant. But as with all labor laws, the reality is very different. Most working class women don’t have economic or social resources to get legal assistance if discrimination occurs and don’t have enough of a safety net to risk it.
Besides a straight up firing, there are plenty of ways employers can force out pregnant women. Employers can restrict the number of bathroom breaks, not allow women to take leave for prenatal appointments, and not allow women to carry bottles of water. (The Pregnant Women’s Fairness Act would fix this.)
Even if your employer is relatively accommodating, some jobs are made nearly impossible by late-stage pregnancy. One of my friends who is a professional baker had to quit her job two months before she was due. She simply couldn’t stand for hours at a time any more, which she absolutely needed to do for her job.
4) Even wanted and currently healthy pregnancies are risky and scary. Plenty can go wrong that can precipitate needing to make an awful choice.
For me, the scariest part of my whole pregnancy was waiting for the results of the chromosomal test and sonograms. Even if everything has been going well, the fetus’s development can go wrong at almost any point of the pregnancy. While some birth defects result in disabilities that we can accommodate in modern society, others can result in fetal death or no hope of the baby surviving more than a few days outside of the womb.
Thank God, I didn’t have to make that decision. But plenty of other women do, every day, through no fault of their own. The blogger at the Daddy Files wrote about how his wife had a relatively late abortion after they learned their fetus had “mermaid syndrome,” a far too cutesy name for a defect where most of the lower body fuses together. Even if the child were born, he or she would have very few, if any, functioning organs. His wife needed to either wait until the child died inside of her and have a still birth – possibly one of the most horrifying things I can imagine – or an abortion, which was most likely less painful for both her and the fetus. Despite the couple’s personal pain at losing a child they truly wanted, “pro-life” protestors harassed them anyway.
5) Parenting is incredibly hard and expensive, with little societal support in the U.S.
Being pregnant is really hard – but being a mother is even harder. Childcare alone has become staggeringly expensive, with the average in some areas being the same as college tuition. Add to that the costs of doctor’s appointments, diapers, formula or a breast pump, and the many, many other requirements for a newborn quickly add up. In the first year alone, middle-income parents spend $12,000 on child-related expenses. If you don’t use childcare, women are the large majority of stay-at-home parents, eliminating their income and minimizing their future career progression. In fact, if you want to have any maternity leave, you either need to be lucky enough to have paid sick/vacation leave available or just not get paid.
On top of the financial requirements, there’s an incredible mental toll to being a mother. 9-16 percent of women suffer from post-partum depression. If a woman has a very traumatic birth experience, she can have post-traumatic stress syndrome. Even if you don’t have full-blown depression, your mental health can take time to recover. Severe sleep deprivation – especially when combined with unexplainable crying from your baby (doubly if colicky) – wrecks havoc on your sense of reality and perception. Staying at home with a newborn is extremely isolating, as their nap and eating schedule can make getting out of the house feel impossible. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that in the U.S., we have incredibly expensive health care that provides inadequate post-natal care and awful mental health coverage.
Now, as someone who chose to become a mother, I knowingly took all of this challenge and risk on. But no one should ever be forced to take on this level of burden against their will.
6) Children shouldn’t exist to be the punishment for someone’s mistake. No one should be born into a family that doesn’t want them – all children deserve better.
I love my son more than I can even understand. Every child deserves to have this level of love. Every child deserves to have a family who have the capability to take care of them. No child deserves to be born as a way to “force” someone to take responsibility. Forcing women to have children means that either children are born into families that fundamentally don’t want them or can’t take care of them. And I don’t see how that can ever be “pro-life.”
So as a mom, I am pro-choice. Every woman should be able to make the choices that are the best for herself and her family, just as I have been able to.