Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Abortion and "The Health of the Mother," in scare quotes

I have never been in a crisis pregnancy - or in any pregnancy. For physical reasons it's unlikely to happen any time soon, and I ache for a child. Holding a baby is a spiritual experience these days. Seeing a toddler at the grocery store makes me giddy or depressed, sometimes to be point of sobbing. My friends talk of "the horror" of being saddled with pregnancy, of being "tied down" to a child, and I never know what to say. When my twenty-something co-workers talked about children, it was as if they were discussing a flesh-eating bacteria that must be kept at bay. When I said that I would be happy with "even more than" four children some day, it was as if I had sprouted large antennae.

However, the thought of pregnancy also fills me with dread: I am a woman with severe mental illness, whose equilibrium is largely dependent on medication. This medication is not compatible with pregnancy or breastfeeding. I also think of my childhood. My mom is/was depressed and, though she was never suicidal, it obviously impacted my life in dramatic ways. I worry about the effect on our children. Moreover, my husband already carries the burden of my health and the stress of never knowing when I'll crack again. To put it mildly, getting pregnant right now would be devastating. 

At the same time, I am also fiercely pro-life - the very idea of killing my own baby makes me physically ill. Almost every day something reminds me of the fact that in our country it is legal to kill developing babies, even those capable of feeling pain, even those viable outside the womb. The tragedy of this cannot be overstated: it is our genocide. The weight of slaughtered infants grows every day, and yet there are people I know and love who don't even see the problem.

That's why it fills me with rage when Republican politicians mock the problem of pregnancy and mental health, or when McCain put air quotes around "the health of the mother." The problem, apparently, is that "the health of the mother" can include mental health, and therefore we can't use the health of the mother as an exception to possible abortion bans.

What many people don't realize is that mental illness is fatal if left untreated. Most medications are incompatible with pregnancy, which means that a depressed woman in a crisis pregnancy situation has the rug jerked out from under her in more ways than one. The risk of suicide - of the deaths of BOTH the mother and child - is huge.

Does this mean that I think abortion is the solution? No, I don't. Our culture of death looks to abortion as the quick solution to our ills, and we can do better. Women need mental health care in addition to obstetrics. We need to find alternatives to medicines during pregnancy that don't leave women in the lurch. It's not fair to expect women to chose between themselves and their unborn child.

At the same time, I don't believe in mocking the plight of women in this terrible situation. If you don't care about the health of the mother, then you're not pro-life. Stop pretending to represent us. Start putting your money where your mouth is and actually listen to those who deal with these issues. Listen to those who struggle with suicide, to mothers who put their own lives on the line for their children every day. Get the fuck off your pedestal and stop pretending you have even a clue what you're talking about.


  1. It is true, that things that under the banner of "pro-life" some cruel and crass things are flung out. Having had an abortion myself, I recall there was a period of time that went by before I fully understood the gravity of what I had done. My age, circumstances, relative naivety stood in the way. It wasn't until I began having subsequent children that the light bulb went on. All that to say that there was a time when I couldn't see the reality of abortion. When I had to breach the line of protesters on my way in to the abortion clinic, I didn't hear what they were saying, only the cacophony of shouting voices. I truly believe there is a way to go about pro-life work, even protests. I am a part of a group that only prays, and has one or two trained people who approach and speak softly, hand out literature, and offer alternatives.
    I also was depressed during and after the birth of my last child. I wanted to keep nursing, so I turned down the med. During that time, I went and got a tubal ligation. It was before my conversion to Catholicism, so I had no idea of the Church teaching. Now I believe differently about it, but there was I time when I did what I did with the information I had. As I did with the abortion.
    Everyone is where they are in life and has a different set of experiences and perspectives. It is not easy to be truly pro-life, I believe, in the world as we know it today. It requires a perspective that is a rare commodity, not fitting with our modern culture. I feel truly sad for young women who are taught to view abortion so callously, who don't value motherhood and children, The politicians can be crude, trying to fit pro-life messages into sound bytes. Priests for Life do a good job conveying care for the mothers as well as the unborn.
    My heartfelt prayers to you. For all matters,
    Just as a note, I have had trouble commenting here. About half my comments never appear. Just to let you know I have been trying more than is apparent!
    Blessings and cyber-hugs~ Kelly

    1. Crap, I'm sorry about the commenting problem! I'll look into it.

      Is it on older posts? Were you using a computer or a phone?

    2. Thank you for your comment Kelly, and for your story. It seems that many people have abortions not knowing the "full gravity" until it's too late. Being pro-life is a strange thing: in some of the circles I'm in, abortion is this unpleasant reality that polite people don't talk about, and for others it's a necessary "reproductive right" (whatever the hell that means). One of the scariest things I've done was to tell a group of people I liked that abortion is a terrible slur against human rights (we were discussing injustices in America).

    3. Oh, I think the problem originated on my end somehow. I use a desktop. laptop, Kindle Fire and Android phone interchangeably. And I've been snowed under with stress, anxiety/depression, an Epstein-Barr flare up, and more stress. Interchangeably. lol. So, if I wrote a lengthy comment and it didn't post, I couldn't summon the strength to do it over. I know you understand this. :)
      God Bless