Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Regret and the Right to Choose

It may seem surprising that a woman who had an abortion and now works in an abortion clinic would admit this, but here goes: I've never been quite sure if abortion is morally okay or not. Certainly, if a pregnancy has progressed so far that it can sustain it's own life outside the womb, given a reasonable level of care, of course, then there is no question. But in the meantime, it always made sense to me that the choice should belong to the person who's body the growing pregnancy depends on.

When I started my job at the clinic, my new boss gave me a tour of the facility, pointing to a picture framed on the waiting room wall, a sepia-toned photograph of her great aunt. Unable to face the scandal her pregnancy would have caused, and without the option of abortion, my boss explained, her aunt chose the only course of action she could face: suicide. "She's why this place exists."

I got a chill when I heard this. I wonder what I would have done in her shoes.

As a teenager, I felt a strong bond to the life growing within me, I would even go so far as to say I loved it. But the potential scandal terrified me, and besides, I wasn't ready. And I didn't want my child to be raised by a resentful, immature mother. Adoption was never an option for me: If I could survive the humiliation of a teen pregnancy for the love of an unborn child, if I could sweat and strain and struggle to give birth, I knew I would not be willing to hand my child over to anyone.

I've been told that I did the right thing, the compassionate thing, by sparing that child a difficult life. But I don't buy it. I can't imagine anyone, unless mentally ill, agreeing that they would be better off never born.

But then again, does the potential child's rights or feelings carry any weight at all when still dependant on the potential mother's lifeblood for survival? I use "potential child" rather than "clump of cells" or "embryo" or "fetus" because I don't want to pretend that a potential child is anything less than just that. I don't say "baby" because, though it may look like the baby it promises to become, it isn't. Not yet anyway. I say this, not because I'm pro-choice, not because I discount the possibility of a soul, but because I've had two miscarriages and I don't want to go into another attempt with false expectation. We must keep in mind that not every pregnancy, and I'm talking planned pregnancies here, results in a child. In fact, it isn't uncommon for a woman to come in to a clinic for an abortion and learn, upon ultrasound, that there isn't a viable pregnancy to begin with. Two out of the five women I counseled last clinic were disgnosed with "missed abortions" — in other words, pregnancies that weren't going to make it anyway.

Sometimes, I do wonder what would have happened if I had been brave enough to go through with my first pregnancy. I can't deny that it scares me to think that I may have lost my only chance to have a child. That fear, that potential for regret, for a long time clouded my ability to think about whether I wanted to have children at all. Better not to want chidren, I thought, than to face the possibility of such a deep, primal, life-purpose desire left unfulfilled. It seemed too painful to even think about it.

Whether abortion is morally justifiable or not has become a moot point for me for three reasons: because I'm not facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy of my own, because time moves in only one, uncomprimising direction and therefore the past is unrevisable, and because I don't believe in a God that punishes. In my work counseling, I stick by my orginal certainty that the choice belongs to the individual woman. I'm only there to listen, to care without judgment, and to provide information.


Anonymous said...

As a counselor, have you related your situation to your clients? I think this is definitely part of the information giving that you could do, as well.

Good Luck getting pregnant.

Amy said...

I was thinking about this question today, and the fact that I never answered this comment. I wanted to, and I'm glad I've found the time right now.

The short answer is yes, sometimes, when appropriate, I do talk to my clients about my own story. It is rare, though, that I think it will be useful. Mostly, people just need to be listened to and have their situations witnessed, and honored. I am happy to do that alone. But when someone asks me about whether or not I've had an abortion, or whether or not I have children, I answer truthfully and openly.

Thanks for the good wishes, by the way.

Angela said...

"Better not to want chidren, I thought, than to face the possibility of such a deep, primal, life-purpose desire left unfulfilled. It seemed too painful to even think about it."

I appreciate your honesty about your feelings. I've thought the same thing myself. But, for me, I realized that it was a lie to say I didn't want kids because I couldn't have them (6+ yrs w/o contraception...also, not fertility treatments b/c money and gut). I felt like my "coming to terms" amounted to stages of grief and this one was denial. Now I'm at the exceptance stage where I'm learning to be content with my situation, knowing that if/when I have kids (either bio or adopted) I may long for the "carefree" days when my time was my own.

Thank you for being so willing to put your feelings and experiences out there for us all to read and relate to.

EWO said...

Through a random clicking session during my lunch break, I found your blog. I know you're in a very, very different place now, but I just want to thank you for writing this when you did. When I was 22 I terminated a pregnancy at 8 weeks. I am now, 8 years later, married to the man I became pregnant by, and we just experienced our 4th miscarriage. It is a special kind of hell wondering if that pregnancy we chose to end was the only one that would have worked out in the end. This post meant so much to me because, though I am not religious, I was raised a strict Catholic and it's hard to shake that guilt. When you wrote you don't believe in a God that punishes, I literally felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I don't either, and you helped me to remember this. Thanks.