This is a guest post by Melissa Weininger. Melissa Weininger is an academic who currently teaches at Rice University. She writes frequently on literature, gender, and religion and blogs about these and other topics at forty40blog.wordpress.com.
In August of 2008, I became pregnant with what I thought would be my second child. A few weeks later, I lay on a table in a darkened room in my OB-GYN’s office while a sympathetic ultrasound technician shook her head sadly and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t find a heartbeat.” A few hours after that, I was in an operating room having a D&C, having chosen, on the very good advice of my doctor, to get it over with sooner rather than later. A few months later I peed on a stick and saw two pink lines, and my miscarriage was largely forgotten.
That’s not to say that I felt nothing about miscarrying, or that I denied the feelings I did have. I was sad; I was anxious; I was disappointed. I cried and felt sorry for myself. I worried that I might not be able to get pregnant again. But I realized, as I experienced the hormonally enhanced emotional aftermath of my miscarriage, that even the source of my sadness was a powerful argument for choice. I was unhappy because my expectations had been radically and unexpectedly altered by circumstances outside of my control. The thing that upset me most was that I had chosen one future, and my body had chosen another. This understanding in and of itself was enough to cement my previously untested feelings about reproductive choice. Because whether you choose to have a baby or you do not, the most crucial thing is that you are able to choose.
In addition to this intellectual understanding of my emotional reactions to miscarrying, I also experienced a kind of physical revelation. The actual fact of the fetal tissue that had been removed from my body (my own tissue, after all) didn’t bother me in the least. I had to undergo a somewhat uncomfortable medical procedure, sure, but I knew definitively, even physically, that I had not lost a baby. There was no baby to lose; there was only my idea of a baby, and my sense of loss was a feeling I only had for myself. This is not a story about conversion or conflict, but about certainty: after miscarrying, I was now absolutely sure that safe, legal abortion was necessary and morally neutral. I became more pro-choice than ever.
In the last few months, I have read two articles about the nexus of motherhood, miscarriage, and reproductive choice – specifically, abortion. In January, in the Motherlode blog on The New York Times’ website, Christina Loccke described her conflicted feelings about abortion now that she is a mother, and how those feelings of ambivalence were amplified by her own miscarriage. A few weeks ago, I read JJ Keith’s account in Salon about how her multiple miscarriages complicated her feelings about abortion and caused her to temporarily question her commitment to reproductive choice. Both of these articles were thoughtful and well written, and although my experience has been completely different than theirs, I understand and respect their positions. Nonetheless, I wondered: am I the only pro-choice woman to miscarry who felt it produced no conflict with her political support of abortion rights? Or does nobody want to read the testimony of women who are unconflicted about miscarriage and abortion?
The current mantra of the pro-choice movement is “legal, safe, and rare.” Pro-choice organizations like NARAL also work to decrease unwanted pregnancies through giving women access to subsidized and convenient birth control methods. And we – even those of us who believe abortion should be widely available – should work to make sure that it’s not the only option. Choice, after all, means you have to have choices.
But what sometimes gets lost in the rhetoric around abortion – even left-wing pro-choice rhetoric – is that abortion should also be ok. A woman shouldn’t have to have a “reason” to have an abortion beyond that fact that she chooses to do so, and she shouldn’t have to feel conflicted in order to prove her worthiness to choose. People love stories of moral or emotional conflict, so I understand why personal narratives about the clash between political ideals and individual feelings are popular. But when we privilege stories about the conflict between women’s experiences and their commitment to their own pro-choice ideals, we do everyone a disservice. These stories are real, heartfelt, and necessary, but so are stories about women who had abortions and felt empowered by it, or women who miscarried and, like me, felt more strongly pro-choice.
The writer Emily L. Hauser has written one of the few stories of this kind about her own abortion. In a story published in The Chicago Tribune in 2006, she wrote of her own decision to have an abortion precisely to normalize the experience and destigmatize stories of abortion. Most importantly, she defends her right to decide without explanation of her decision: “And why, in the end, did I have my abortion? I’m not going to record that here. You and I don’t know each other, and my reasons are personal. I don’t need to defend them, and neither does your neighbor, the stranger at work — nor, perhaps, your girlfriend.” I would argue that the corollary to this claim is that neither do we have to engage in a staged morality tale in which we advertise our internal conflicts over intimate questions of health and reproduction. There are those who are conflicted – I wish them nothing but peace and comfort. But the very experiences – miscarriage, abortion, motherhood – that cause some women a moment of ambivalence with regard to dearly held political and philosophical beliefs have occasioned certainty in others of us.
I am a mother, and I love having kids, but I wouldn’t think twice about having an abortion if I got pregnant again. I miscarried, and it confirmed my deeply felt commitment to reproductive choice. Certainty may not be sensational, but talking about it may be crucial to the preservation of our reproductive rights and the normalization of women’s everyday experiences with pregnancy and its end.
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