Abortion and The Myth of the Unwanted Child

Abortion. The topic immediately polarizes. Hackles are raised and you, as a reader, are waiting to be either irritated or relieved by what I’ll say next. Am I on your side or am I wrong? Because in this politicized, highly sound-bitten world, sides are what we’re left with in discussing individual lives and impossible choices.

It shouldn’t be.

I’m very open about being a follower of Christ. I have personally been on the receiving end of eight positive pregnancy tests and given birth seven times. It should surprise no one that if I had to choose a side it would be pro-life.

And yet, I almost cringe at that moniker, so filled with loaded political baggage I am loathe to embrace. Author Rachel Held Evans wrote a post a few years ago on this topic. While I disagreed with some of what she wrote, it resonated strongly with me because of all I did agree with that had been previously unwritten. I get frustrated when the pro-life side seems only interested in banning abortions and actively seeks to undermine programs that would likely stem demand, for example free contraceptives, low cost healthcare, non-abstinence based sex education, subsidized childcare, etc.

But, I digress.

I want to address a pro-choice slogan that I hear bandied about that no one seems to dispel, on either side. That of “every child a wanted child.” The pro-choice side likes to insist that if a child is not wanted at conception, he is going to end up a statistic of abuse. The pro-life answer to this is “adoption” as if that’s always a happy ending all tied up in a bow and not a potential minefield fraught with complication, loss, and heartache all its own.

Abortion is in the news again and I keep reading comments that it’s better for women to abort than for these kids to grow up abused. Never mind the logic that death is preferable to abuse which must surely rankle abuse survivors, I want to know why we just accept that thinking.

Why are we all so quick to accept that women who are very unhappy to find the line turn pink on the pregnancy test will, of course, become unfit mothers should they carry to term?

Because that’s crap. 

Yes, children are abused. Miserable, sometimes sick and twisted, sometimes just overwhelmed and unsupported, parents abuse children all the time. It is heart wrenching.

But conversely, women are devastated by positive pregnancy tests all the time, and for various reasons, continue to term and simply become mothers. No negative statistics, no fanfare, no CPS investigations…just moms.

I’ve had eight positive pregnancy tests. Three of those times, I was very unhappy with the results. (UpcycleDaddy and I really stink at birth control.) My very first pregnancy was a complete surprise. We’d been married two years and I had mono. When I returned to work an older co-worker of mine asked how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling better, but the nausea was getting worse. She looked me in the eye and informed me, “Mono doesn’t cause nausea.” Oh dear. Surprise!Mickbikini

We were married, sure, and I had a good job. I didn’t want a baby then, but we wanted to be parents eventually, So we figured it out. Even though I was deathly ill and lost weight. And we lived in a one-bedroom apartment and I thought you had to have way more space for a baby (you don’t.) Even if I had believed abortion was an option, I doubt I would’ve considered it. But, never one to suffer silently, I expressed displeasure about pregnancy in general and that pregnancy in particular at every turn. Once she arrived, however, I was crazy smitten. My co-workers, reluctant witnesses to my miserable pregnancy, later admitted to being shocked by my sudden maternal joy. She was delighted in, adored, spoiled, and never abused. She’s eighteen now and will soon leave home to be an urban missionary with ServeSeattle.

The second unfavorable positive happened when our second child was only seven-months-old. Looking back, I now realize I had post-partum depression, but nobody ever talked about it then. The babies were going to be only fifteen months apart. I was reeling. I was already in a fog from the depression, and this sent me into shock for weeks. The shock returned when I went for an appointment at eleven weeks to find no heartbeat. My doctor allowed me time to miscarry naturally and it was so much more painful physically and emotionally than I expected. The amount of tissue and blood loss were another surprise. The guilt was worse. My theology was a little screwy in those days and I thought somehow my displeasure at the pregnancy had killed my baby. I named him Spencer. If grief is an indicator, he was indeed loved, despite my initial misgivings.

Our third unfavorable positive is now my Keturah Joy. KJsunglassesShe’s four-and-a-half, a spitfire of goof, love, and sweetness. I wish I could give a glimpse of her to my then-self, the devastated mama of six, sobbing in the bathroom over that pink line. Forty-years-old, I had given everything I had to the care of our sixth child, Eon, who was only fourteen-months-old at the time of that test. He has Down syndrome and had turned my world upside down with his diagnosis. I had only gained weight since his birth, and with all his extra appointments and therapies, I’d had no time for exercise. I was in no physical shape to carry a child at my age. Plus, Eon probably wouldn’t be walking before the baby came. How could I handle carrying him, too?

What would this do to him? He needed so much from me. A baby would take too much of my time, attention, and energy away from him. And, frankly, what if this baby had special needs, too? I was forty. While I was less concerned with Down syndrome, other, more serious or even fatal conditions terrified me.

Then there were financial considerations. UpcycleDaddy had his own business and we were barely getting by. Our insurance policy with the extravagant deductible did not have maternity coverage. How in the world could we do this? Plus, logistically speaking, our small, three-bedroom house was already at capacity. We had three girls in one room and three boys in another.

Every new thought just brought on more tears. I was scared. Scratch that. I was terrified. When I get scared, I often get angry. So, I did. God got the full vent of that. Weirdly, I don’t remember UpcycleDaddy’s response to it all, but I’m sure he got an earful, too.

My point is, I could’ve been the poster child for a Planned Parenthood abortion. I had all the reasons and they were good ones. I had all the emotions to go with them. I did not want that baby.

But, I didn’t have an abortion, nor did I consider it at the time.

I went on to have a baby. Even though my doctor wanted to induce at thirty-nine weeks and I bawled and fought him because, “I’m not ready and I still have another week!” (because, even then, I was scared.) She was not a wanted child in the beginning and by current, accepted logic, she should not be wanted, still. But she is amazing and deeply loved, wanted, and adored.  EonKJShe and Eon are best friends and she has been the best thing for him. She has only known love. She has never been abused. She is delighted in, always.

I’m not here to talk about banning abortions or to say that because I had a happy ending they will all be happy, amen. I’m simply saying that a woman’s feelings about her pregnancy during her pregnancy are no indicator of what kind of mother she will be. To say otherwise, is undermining her strength, her integrity, her character, and her maternal fierceness. And it offends me as a woman, as a mother, to hear it bandied about as fact that if a child is not wanted during pregnancy it should be relinquished, one way or another, because we cannot trust its mother.

I call bullshit.

It’s okay, actually normal, to be scared, terrified even, when faced with a positive pregnancy test. The fear of the unknown is an equalizer among us. All of us have it. Every pregnancy is the great unknown, no matter how planned. There are things beyond our control. Wonderful, amazing, terrifying things. Some of them are called “children.” We cannot know in advance exactly what blessings or challenges each will bring to our lives. We can only know with certainty they will bring both.

Don’t let either crowd tell you that you are destined for failure because of your fear. You are not. You can rise above. You can let love win. You have strength they’ve never seen. You have depth, and creativity, and resourcefulness and you can do this! Let me be the one person to tell you that you have what it takes to do this mama gig. Just because your child didn’t start out a “wanted child,” does not mean you won’t adore him later.

I’ve written and rewritten and erased these thoughts countless times over the last four years. I’ve never gotten them just right. They’re not right, still. But, I’m hitting “publish” on this post because it needs to be said. I’m tired of the lies that undermine us and tell us we are weak. I’m tired of seeing fear prey on vulnerability and win.

Because fear is always harder than reality. Because love really does win. Because you are fierce. Because there is grace for that.

Vows

Let’s talk about weddings. No, not about those. I already offered up an opinion on that topic. No, I want to talk about weddings in general, vows specifically.

I’ll tell you my bias right off the bat. I’m old. When I got married a hundred, er, twenty-two years ago, there were set vows that were repeated in pretty much every wedding.

I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to obey/cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

The only real trend in that regard was to substitute the word “cherish” instead of “obey”. And we thought we were being so cutting edge.

A few years later, writing your own vows became a thing. As a writer, I think that sounds amazing. UpcycleDaddy gets hives at just the thought. Clearly, it’s not for everyone, but it has definitely become mainstream.

I think it’s romantic, and entertaining, and sweet, and personal. It endears those of us in attendance to the bride and groom and gives us a sense of who they are as a couple.

But, somewhere along the way, we’ve lost sight of what vows are.weddingrings

I’m not a marriage counselor or an expert, by any means. But I have been married a long time. And I like it. A lot. We have a great marriage! I think sometimes when you say that people think you lucked out. But the truth is, we worked really hard for the right to say our marriage is great. It didn’t just happen. So I do know a little bit and can speak with some authority.

Vows are a promise, a commitment, a covenant to your spouse and to God of what you will do during your marriage.

They are not a statement of how much you love each other. They are not a short anecdote of your life thus far. They are not a list of what you hope to accomplish or who you wish to become.

Vows are a promise.

Here are some examples of modern vows from the knot in an article titled “Real Wedding Vows You’ll Love”:

Danielle to Gregory

“You have been my best friend, mentor, playmate, confidant and my greatest challenge. But most importantly, you are the love of my life and you make me happier than I could ever imagine and more loved than I ever thought possible…. You have made me a better person, as our love for one another is reflected in the way I live my life. So I am truly blessed to be a part of your life, which as of today becomes our life together.”

Ryan to Tara

“You know me better than anyone else in this world and somehow still you manage to love me. You are my best friend and one true love. There is still a part of me today that cannot believe that I’m the one who gets to marry you.”

Yuval to Dina

“I see these vows not as promises but as privileges: I get to laugh with you and cry with you; care for you and share with you. I get to run with you and walk with you; build with you and live with you.”

These are lovely sentiments and very sweet additions to the ceremony.  But they’re not vows. 

Again, a vow is a promise made to your spouse and to God that you intend to keep forever. There is a reason that the traditional list is brief and non-specific.

Recently, I heard a young man vow to his bride that he will “dance to the music in your head.” That’s adorable, poetic, and crazy romantic. It made me smile on one side of my brain and cringe on the other. Because while the smile side envisioned them both waltzing like Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, the cringe side imagined him staring at her like she’d grown a second head while she, dealing with nasty PMS, had Guns N Roses, “I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Kill Her” playing out her ears.

The bride, in turn, pledged to “always nurture your dreams”, which sounds so supportive. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens when money is tight, she finds herself exhausted staying home with three small kids, and he suddenly decides his dream is to restore an old Camaro. (Sometimes, the best thing a spouse can do is shoot down a stupid dream before it gets beyond a gleam in the eye.)

bouquetThis couple is not alone. Almost every wedding I’ve attended in recent years has included a lovely list of impossible goals disguised as vows. Promises no human being could ever hope to achieve.

The problem with having lengthy, specific, and unrealistic vows is that you can’t possibly keep them. You’ve set yourself up for failure at the start. Because, if you have nine unmeetable vows that you’ve already broken two months in, why bother to keep the one that really matters…’til death do you part? It’s demoralizing.

The truth is, marriage is hard and painful. It’s tough enough to stick to the basic, traditional vows, as boring as they may seem. But actually, they’re not boring. They’re basically saying:

I choose you, above all others, from here on out, even above someone I haven’t met yet that will show an interest in me when maybe things aren’t so great at home. I promise to hold only you, even when things are tough and we’ve allowed busyness and children and hurt to come between us. I will stick it out for stinky stomach viruses, icky colds, or even chronic illness or pain. I will be by your side through injury that leads to disability or life threatening battles with cancer or mental illness. I will be here when the bottom drops out and we find ourselves broke and hopeless. I will love you in a thousand different ways and I will try not to fail you a thousand more. I promise not to let disappointment in you, my own disillusionment, selfishness, boredom, unmet expectations, grief, or anything else break our marriage covenant. I vow to you that the only thing that will shatter our bond is death.

I have to wonder if the old geezers among us don’t bear some of the responsibility for the astronomical divorce rates when we don’t speak out to young couples. When we don’t talk about things like vows, or let them have an authentic look at a working marriage, or speak up about the foolishness of spending so much time/effort/money on a wedding and zilch on the marriage after, it’s like we’re willing them to fail.

Those of us with some experience, who have been there, need to keep it real for those just starting out. They need to know that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies and empty promises. It’s work. Keeping those vows, is work. It’s harder than anything they can imagine, but it’s completely, unequivocally worth it.  

They need to hear that from us so that when life happens, and feelings fade, and these two people realize they don’t actually even like each other anymore, they won’t be quick to remedy their assumed mistake and throw in the towel. They’ll know they and their marriage are completely normal. Instead of leaving and wondering what went wrong, maybe they’ll stay and figure it out. Maybe they’ll choose to live by the vows, the actual vows they made once upon a time.

As they stick it out, they’ll find their groove. Twenty-two years later, when Guns-N-Roses is playing out her ears, maybe then he’ll laugh and sing along, and maybe he’ll even dance. Because when vows are sincere, attainable, and kept, there is always hope.

And for all the mess in the middle, there is grace for that.o-WEDDING-PRESENT-ETIQUETTE-facebook

To My Mom

Dear Mom,

Let’s be honest. It’s Mother’s Day and I dropped the ball. Like hugely. Between a massive IEP fiasco and packing up a family of ten for a beach vacation eight hundred miles away, I just spaced the whole dang thing. You are clear across the country and I can’t even drop off a planter and pretend it wasn’t an afterthought. I’m so sorry, Mom! You, of all people, know that I don’t have my, ahem, act together.

I want to talk a bit about you, Mom, and let my readers know Linda Frances Berry Bristol. You were born the second child to your mom and dad. For reasons unfathomable to me, your birth mother chose to leave you and Aunt Becky when you were just a baby, in pursuit of another man. Your dad did the best he could and you two were left in the care of his mother until she fell and fractured her hip. Your sister, older and needing less care, went with your dad and his new wife. You were placed with your dad’s sister who raised you, a woman known to me as my Grandma “Bebby” or Grams.

Grams never had any biological children and she made it clear in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want any, including the one she felt saddled with. You suffered a bizarre childhood filled with emotional abuse including taunting, severe rejection, and manipulation at her tongue. Looking back, I’m pretty sure Grandma Bebby was a narcissist. No matter, although I adored her as a grandmother, she was a terrible excuse for a mother. The stories you’ve shared have brought me to tears on many occasions.

I remember my first awareness that something was odd about your relationship. I was probably ten-years-old. We were visiting Grams at her house and she was fixing us one of her lavish spreads she always said was “just something she threw together.” You were in the dining room setting the table. She was in the kitchen taking the green beans off the stove when she tripped and spilled them all over the floor. “LINDA! Look what you made me do!!!” she hollered. As you came to help her clean it up, you winked at me, while I stood there baffled as to how she could possibly find this your fault. It was many years before you shared the truth, that everything was your fault according to her.

You escaped as soon as you could, after high school throwing a dart at a map with a friend and landing in San Diego. In true Linda fashion, you scored a primo job at Sunbeam and got yourself a great little apartment. It was good until a bunch of drunken sailors moved in next door and partied all night. It was during one of the many times you beat on the wall with a broom handle telling them to knock it off, you found one of them to be tall and handsome and funny. Nearly fifty years later, I think it was meant to be.

You were both broken, wounded people from dysfunctional childhoods. Marriage was not easy.

Somehow, you were introduced to Jesus and everything changed. 

You taught me redemption is possible simply by giving us a normal childhood. The rejection and ridicule that seared deep wounds into your soul as a child had no place in your parenting as a mother. You broke the cycle. My childhood was filled with board games, camping trips, and picnics. Encouragement and a listening ear were the norm. And, boy, did you have to listen! I had no idea how much your eyes must have glazed over when I launched into yet another story about the inner workings of the junior high social scene until I became a parent.

While as a teen I was mortified by your example of engaging perfect strangers in conversation, I am grateful for it now. You taught me how to talk to people. It’s a huge part of my job and you showed me how to use humor to put people at ease and how to engage them. By getting people to tell you their stories, you instilled in me empathy and the realization that everyone has a story to tell.

By example again, you taught me forgiveness, Mom. You taught me the meaning of this: Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied. “Seventy times seven!” When many would walk away from the adoptive mom that treated them so horribly, you chose instead, to honor her and to allow her to have place in our lives. Once you realized she would not harm us, her grandchildren, you encouraged our relationship. It must have been so painful to watch her delight in us when she withheld that very thing from you.

You forgave her your childhood, but then had ample opportunity to forgive again and again and again as the verbal digs continued. I know you weren’t a doormat. That’s never been your way. You defended yourself and stood up to her so many times. Boundaries were established and reset. So many reasons to walk away and treat her as she deserved yet you always chose forgiveness.

In the end, when dementia and paranoia crept in and she could no longer live alone, you opened up your empty nest and cared for her. Words cannot adequately describe the impact this had on me, Mom. I loved Grandma Bebby. Our history was fun and good and still I found her to be difficult. Throw in complications of dementia and I can’t imagine taking her on as a permanent roommate. What an amazing picture of forgiveness, sacrifice, and undeserving love you provided.

Most people lose the idea that their parents can do anything some time before they reach adolescence. I am still convinced it’s true of you, Mom. I’ve watched you excel at every job you’ve ever had, working your way out of some because of your extreme efficiency. I’ve seen you conquer so many giants over the years with your tenacity, grit, organization, and aplomb. I’ll never forget you squaring your six-foot-frame and intimidating the Indiana State Prosecutor so much he asked you to sit down. That was when you were trying to get me out of jail due to a clerical error and, of course, you went straight to the top because that’s exactly what you do.

You always go above and beyond for the people you love, slaying any dragon in their path. You are bold and no-nonsense and yet, vulnerable and even fragile at times. Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if you hadn’t let Jesus turn yours around. I shudder.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for loving me, for teaching me to see people, for living forgiveness, for walking redeemed.

I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

P.S. Next time you’re in town, I owe you lunch. 🙂