First, some caveats. I'm a bit of a fence-sitter when it comes to abortion rights. That is, I would never exercise my right to abortion (other than, perhaps, in the case of life-threatening complication or catastrophic birth defect such as anencephaly). At the same time, I'm not about to impose my views on abortion onto other women, or wider society, in the form of a legislated ban.
So here I am on Mother's Day, reading the following, by feminist theologian Kristine Holmgren...
...and I'm also of two minds regarding its message.
In a perfect world, no woman would be faced with the difficulties involved in the necessary decisions following an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy. In a perfect world, the only children conceived would be wanted, and the only children born would also be wanted.
By both parents.
I recall the day I told my ex we were unexpectedly pregnant. I was 30. He was pushing 50. Neither of us could have conceived (ahem) of such a thing happening. We took precautions. Every. single. time.
He turned to stare blankly at his computer monitor for a moment, and then unleashed a diatribe of frustration that began with the words, "Great! JUST FUCKING GREAT!" I'm sure you all can imagine the monologue that followed, given our ages, the ages of our two kids (both in school full time), and the fact that we were supporting the entire household on less than $30k/year.
Don't get me wrong. He didn't blame me or accuse me. But he wasn't going to conceal his outpouring of anger, frustration, grief, despair, worry, terror. And I didn't hold it against him. I felt the exact same things he was feeling. In particular, "how the hell are we going to afford another kid?" I'm sure he could see all those same fears in my face when I broke the news.
After shouting his piece, he stormed out of the house. I let him go so he could be alone with himself and collect his thoughts.
When he came back a couple hours later, he had flowers. To the best of my memory, this was the only time he'd ever bought me flowers (without my daughter talking him into it) in our entire 15 years of marriage. I'm not a "bouquet of flowers style of sentimentality" kind of woman, and never have been. But I think maybe the situation had so untethered him from any sense of normalcy that such a mundane and cliche gesture was comforting.
He apologized for shouting. He apologized for not being supportive, for not being steady. Told me we'd figure it out and make it work somehow. He knew me well enough to understand that abortion would not have been an option, even if I hadn't been weeks past the deadline before discovering I was pregnant, and I knew him well enough to understand that abortion wouldn't be what he wanted, either. We both knew from the moment the words "I'm pregnant" left my mouth, what we were going to do about it.
I hugged him and told him it was okay, that I didn't expect him to be a stone, and (good Canadian that I am) apologized to him for whatever vagaries of the universe caused the contraceptive sponge to fail at exactly the wrong moment on exactly the wrong day.
And make it work, we did, even though it was difficult.
My youngest, we'll call him Bubba (because that was one of the many nicknames we gave him growing up) knows he wasn't planned. What he's never heard or been allowed to believe for even one second was that he was an accident, or unwanted, or "my final mistake" (the heartbreaking "endearment" Holmgren's mother applied to her as she was growing up).
I recall an episode of Roseanne from ages ago, where the couple's youngest (DJ) tells his mom that his sisters said he was an accident, and he asks her if this is true. Roseanne pauses for a moment, and then replies, "You were a surprise." When asked what the difference is, she elaborates, "An accident is something unexpected that happens to you that you didn't want. A surprise is something you never realized you wanted until it happens to you."
Would that all mothers could see their children this way. As I've said in the past, given the availability of birth control and abortion, there's no such thing as accidental motherhood. Each child born is a decision made by the woman who brings it into the world. And the ability to bring forth a life created by the union of two microscopic cells is a power that should be respected--it is both a burden and a privilege.
So too is the power to shape that life once we have chosen to bring it forth.
And here lies the rub, and what the author of the HuffPo article seems unwilling to face. That even if we had no power to decide whether or not to bring a child forth, we DO have the power to treat that child with love, kindness, respect and dignity, or with resentment, anger and a cold, selfish withholding. We have the power to give that child the best life we can manage, or to give them the worst of ourselves. We have the power to treat that child like an accident, or like a surprise.
Women have this power, with or without the Pill, with or without accessible abortion. Because it's not a power we hold over circumstances or our practical ability to make whatever decision we deem best for us--it's a power we have over ourselves. We have the power to take our anger at our own mistakes, whatever they were, or our resentment at the vagaries of the universe, out on the little human persons who were created, through no fault of their own, as a result. And we have the power to transcend that selfishness and resentment and celebrate the wonder and joy that can, if we let it, be an emergent property of such surprises.
What Kristine Holmgren doesn't understand is that being angry at an innocent child because it unwittingly became a consequence of your own actions is a choice. She doesn't want to say her mother was a bad person for that cruel and dehumanizing nickname "my final mistake". She wants to say her mother's anger was justified by circumstance, if nothing else, and it may well have been.
But her mother's use of her as an outlet for that anger, as the whipping boy strapped to a post in order to spare herself, or as a more accessible and tangible target than "the vagaries of the universe", is not in any way noble or righteous or acceptable. It's not okay. It's the hallmark of a profoundly selfish and cruel human being. It's a transfer of blame: "MY decisions led to you, and that ruined my life. Therefore, despite your innocence, this is all YOUR fault."
And somehow, somehow, Holmgren believes that cheap birth control and accessible abortion will change this? How, when the problem lies not in these women's options or lack of them, but in the women themselves?
I'd like to thank Holmgren for writing an article that made me actually think about motherhood on Mother's Day. An article that describes mothers as they actually are--good, bad, loving, cold, kind, angry.
But I wonder at her naiveté that she could absolve her own mother, and so many other mothers, of the sin of punishing an innocent for the sins of others, or the remorseless caprices of nature.
Mother's Day should not be a day to pedestalize the biological ability to bring a baby into the world, nor a day to gloss over the many ways in which even the most dedicated of us fail our children, in favor of mindless worship of, and devotion to the sacred womb. It should be a day for us to see and acknowledge both the burden and the gift of the power nature has given us, rather than to demand gifts as compensation for a burden most of us these days had every right and ability to decline.
Happy Mother's Day, all.