Just before Christmas, my daughter was colouring in Christmas cards bought from SPUC. Though I am usually very circumspect in terms of keeping literature away from her, she caught a glimpse of the newsletter and asked “mummy what’s an abortion?”.
I’ve recently had to face a barrage of questions from her, such as “how did the baby get in your tummy” and handled them fairly deftly. I’m not a proponent of lying to children, preferring the age-appropriate response and therefore batted that one-off rather well with the “dad gave mummy a seed” response. Actually, that led to an interesting discussion about twins and multiples. Simple I thought. They should put me in charge of sex-ed for 6 year olds! No graphic explanations required, a few basic biological facts satisfied her curiosity. I came a bit unstuck a few days later however, when she started saying “if I have a husband and have babies…”. “Well you’ll need one if you are going to have babies darling, I said”. “No I won’t mummy, I’ll give myself as many seeds as I want to”. A generation ago this would have been dismissed as a 6-year-old’s whimsy, now it’s a scenario embraced as being an equally valid lifestyle option, why should she have to have a man to have a baby?
Without wishing to enter into a discourse on why single parenthood is not something I would wish for my children, I will undoubtedly raise the ire of the feminists, by my explanation that men had the seeds and women the eggs, so women needed men, ladies needed husbands, in order to make the babies. I also went on to explain that babies were very hard work as she has seen and could she imagine how difficult it would be for a lady to look after her babies if she didn’t have her husband to help her. She’s seen that first hand and stated that yes, it would be really difficult for mummy if dad wasn’t there to help with the baby. Who would give the baby the nighttime bottle? She went on to tell me “I don’t know how you’d cope with THREE children without dad to help you”. My daughter is fortunate to enjoy a loving and close relationship with both her father and step-father, so when she thought about “babies with no daddies mummy, that makes me very sad”. Of course where I did come even more unstuck is that she has picked up on the fact that this forthcoming baby is something of a surprise and not what we had planned. “How did dad give you the seed by accident mummy, tell me all about it?”. I think sooner or later “special married persons’ cuddles” are going to have to enter the conversation.
Getting back to the topic, does one tell a 6 year old what an abortion is? I briefly broadcast the question and the response was an overwhelming no, because she “wouldn’t be able to understand why”. That was an interesting and encouraging response, in that it admits that abortion is such an abhorrence, such a horrible thing, it’s not something that we should be telling children about, in the same way that I often switch the radio or TV off, if there’s a topic which might scare or alarm her. Added to which, children are natural little theologians. They automatically accept the existence of God and the concept of right from wrong. In both my pregnancies, my daughter has accepted that there is a tiny baby in mummy’s tummy, as soon as she has found out about it. We have looked at books together, detailing the growth of the baby, this week it can smile, this week it can hear, and at every stage she has embraced the baby as another person, never once asking about viability, or referring to clusters of cells. She loves looking at the pictures of the clusters of cells in rapt wonderment that those cells ARE really A BABY! No question. Angel in the Waters is perhaps her most treasured book, she used it almost as a safety blanket throughout my last pregnancy.
So how do I tell her that some mummies choose to kill their babies? I don’t think I could, although a part of me feels that I should, not least as I don’t like withholding information or telling untruths to my child. I know her reaction would be abject horror, shock and revulsion, I know, given her temperament that she would worry about it, and she also might worry that I would do that to my baby. I think she would project her worry onto other pregnant women. I haven’t been that heavy-handed about the perils of smoking, and yet she still worries aloud when she sees adults smoking. It genuinely upsets and shocks her that people smoke. I have absolutely no idea how she would process the idea of an abortion and thus I glossed over the topic, by saying that it was something that women could do that hurt their babies and that SPUC was there to help women look after the babies in their tummies. Lame I know.
It goes to show though, that sometimes children are just spot on with their instincts. A 6-year-old instinctively and inherently knows that it is wrong for a mummy to kill a baby in her tummy, without me needing to spell it out. Perhaps I am projecting, but I wonder if the thought of infanticide might disturb her to the extent that she won’t be able to contextualise it. If women might kill the babies in their tummies, then they might also kill their children? Most of us want to protect our children from the horrors of life until they are of an age to understand factors such as mental illness and abortion is included in this definition.
Or should it not be a taboo horror? If abortion is healthcare, then maybe we do have to tell our children about it from an early age, although I suspect that were I to have explained exactly what an abortion was, I would have been met with horrified accusations of propaganda and emotional manipulation from the pro-choice lobby. There is a part of me that feels that if my daughter knows about abortion now then it might help confirm her adult views.
As far as both of us are concerned abortion is filicide. I have read countless mothers describe how they wouldn’t hesitate to take a bullet for their children, how they would fling themselves in front of a car to protect their children, how they would sacrifice their life for that of their children, the maternal (and paternal) instinct to protect is incredibly strong. Not once would they weigh up the options, is the child’s life worth saving, how would the rest of the family cope without them, no, in the heat of the moment, God-given instinct takes over and the vast majority of parents would willingly sacrifice themselves for their children without a second thought. This is why the concept of filicide is so abhorrent, because it goes against the natural order of things and against natural law. This is why we see Abraham asked to sacrifice Isaac, to demonstrate his love and fidelity to God and yet God is merciful. This is how we see God’s love for us so painfully demonstrated in the incarnation of His Son, and yet God does not kill his son, a concept which, incidentally, Dawkins has failed to grasp.
And this is why, I feel so passionately about abortion, whilst having immense sympathy with women in incredibly difficult and desperate situations, I cannot ever justify the killing of an innocent human being, the choosing to take the life of one’s child. Currently I am fretting about the possibility of flu, having read the sensationalised headlines outlining the dangers of flu for pregnant women. Over Christmas a women and her child died in childbirth after she was admitted into hospital with flu. Another woman, a mother of four, who has fortunately now recovered, faced an abortion whilst she was in a coma in order to save her life. Should the same happen to me, unlikely and melodramatic as it sounds, I have made my wishes known to my husband and I will outline them again for clarity here. My child’s life comes before mine. No question, end of story.
When I saw a haemotologist a few weeks ago, I was informed that the “normal advice for a woman in your situation would be to seriously consider terminating”. No doubt some would consider me to be stupid, foolhardy and selfish, putting my needs and wishes before that of my existing family. When I think about what could perhaps go wrong, I am admittedly scared, so most of the time, I’m attempting to put my fears out of my mind, although I think I’ll probably spend most of Lent in the confessional and I’m definitely dwelling too much on the due date of Good Friday. The reality is things should be fine, it’s just not what the doctors would have preferred and it’s part of the reason that I have taken a step back from an online group, in that I need to come to terms with this myself, without approbation or condemnation. Instinctively and intuitively, my baby, who is physically dependent upon me and who unlike me is wholly innocent, must come first. I could not choose to kill either of my children who are outside the womb in order to save my own life and the same criteria applies to my unborn child. There is no implicit criticism of any others, that is simply my choice. If I lived in Ireland, I would live in a society that would accept and respect that choice, one that will not sanction the killing of the unborn, and one that has the lowest rates of maternal deaths in the world.
Due to an oversight with the altar book, we accidentally celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents a day early at Mass. The slaughter of the innocents seems an appropriate moment to pause and reflect upon the 50 million lives lost to abortion in America and the 6 million plus in the UK, since we as societies embraced and accepted the notion of filicide. May they rest in peace.