A pro-life colleague in Ireland sent me the following link, which was posted on the website for the Association of Catholic Priests. She said that she would be interested in my comments from my perspective as a mother of four.
I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw the logo on the sidebar, here is a website purporting to be representative of Catholic priests publishing a post which advocates abortion, in contravention of clear Catholic teaching on the matter. Further enquiries tell me that this group are the equivalent of Ireland’s Call to Action. They’ve gained a bit of credence for successfully defending Fr Kevin Reynolds against false and malicious accusations, but other than that their orthodoxy or formal representation of the Catholic Church can not be taken as read. That they choose to host a piece of pro-abortion propaganda (albeit couched in a thoughtful, hand-wringing and compassionate tone) is beyond contempt. The sooner this group is kicked into touch, the better.
Originally I intended to fisk the post, which covers familiar Irish pro-choice ground – misrepresenting the case of Savita Halappanavar,about which everyone should really keep quiet until the enquiry has reported its findings and stating that the life of the mother should take precedence over that of her unborn child, when in fact Irish law currently treats the two lives as of equal value. The law in Ireland is clear that no woman should be denied treatment that will save her life, even if the consequences of that treatment will result in the death of her unborn child. Since 1992, not one single Irish woman has come to the UK for an abortion under ground F (to save the life of the mother) of the 1967 Abortion Act.
The post includes a reflection on behalf of the writer as to how her two children were wanted and loved, how she cherished them in the womb, but what about those women for whom pregnancy is more difficult? Of course she side-steps the whole issue of personhood, but it was this passage that struck me and to which I want to offer a general response. I’m wary of giving too much of myself away, for obvious reasons, I hope this isn’t too difficult a read, I’ve prayed over whether to disclose this and my hope is that it will be an effective, if gritty, pro-life witness.
So, basically, I loved the nine months that my babies spent in my womb.
But this isn’t The Waltons! Pregnancy was a long and difficult time in ways – the nausea at the start, the feelings of being like a beached whale as time went on, the utter discomfort and aches and pains that even the most straight-forward of pregnancies brings along with it and ultimately the utter agony of childbirth itself, were all part of the package.
Oh yeah. I hear you sister. It does pregnant women no favours at all to pretend that pregnancy is all about the blossoming and glowing. For some women it can be like that, but it certainly isn’t for me. I’ve been pregnant and/or breastfeeding continually since February 2009. That’s 3 continuous years of fluctuating hormones and sleepless nights. I don’t fare at all well either physically or mentally in pregnancy. Fortunately, this last pregnancy was the only one in which I didn’t get hyperemesis, but not needing medication to stop the nausea, is not that much of a consolation, when you’re only being sick a few times a day and are absolutely exhausted, not only from the physical effects but also from the demands of three existing children, two of whom were two and under. The whole nine months was beset with crippling deja vu – I’d conceived child 3, when child 2 was 8 months, child 4, when child was 3 was 7 months, every symptom was met with familiar resignation – “oh, this. Again…”
There is an assumption that pro-life Catholic women are full of the joys of spring, happy, expectant creatures, nurturing another precious child, doing the Lord’s work and offering up any suffering in silence for the souls in purgatory or whoever. If only. I was a misery. Sick, exhausted, scared, miserable and guilty that I wasn’t bearing it as a good holy pious Catholic woman should, and guilty that I wasn’t like the pregnant celebrities gushing forth their gorgeousness onto the pages of the Daily Mail. Guilty that my body seemed to be so rubbish at what should be a natural process and I couldn’t give birth naturally. Resentful too. I really did not want to be having another baby so soon after the last two, I had already had to defer my university place once, now I’d have to do it again. I had no idea as to how I was going to cope. Which leads on to:
But what of those who are not so blessed in the circumstances in which they become pregnant? What about the woman who is raped; the stressed out mother who’s already at her wit’s end looking after young children, who’s partner has left and who has no support system to fall back on? What about the victim of incest? What about the teenager who’s terrified about what’s happening to her body? And there are so many more “What abouts”!
Is it truly right and morally justified to demand that such women carry a burden (literally!) that they find unbearable? If every moment of every day is spent in horror and anguish that the ‘growth’ inside them is something they cannot bear and that will have consequences for the rest of their lives, have I the right to say “You must do so”? And who knows what effect the feelings of such a woman might have on her unborn? If feelings transmit themselves into the womb (and I felt MY feelings of love did transmit themselves to my as yet unborn babies), then what kind of a start is it to come into the world unwanted, unloved and a cause of anguish?
OK, I’m not comparing myself to a victim of rape of incest, but I think it’s fair to say that I fall into the stressed out mother already at her wit’s end looking after young children. The pregnancy was a source of anguish. My husband hadn’t left, but he was working really long hours, including weekends on call and I had no support system at all, both sets of parents living at least two and half hours away. We were in a tiny 2-bed bungalow, with no garden suitable for the children and when recently two bloggers came down for Theodora’s Baptism, they really appreciated first-hand what I’d been on about, in terms of not only the size of the house, but its location. I was completely isolated, living at the top of a steep hill, with the nearest bus stop fifteen minutes walk away, which was a real problem, when trying to negotiate a double buggy with baby and toddler whilst pregnant. It sounds trivial, but I was very isolated, trapped in a tiny house, no bigger than a flat and no friends or support network nearby. Added to which, there was the whole ghastly business of the onslaught of a relentless bullying campaign, by a few very noisy detractors, hurling wild unfounded allegations, and, I later learnt, ringing up and emailing other people with demands that I was isolated, shut down, forced to withdraw from the internet and “flushed out of the pro-life movement”.
I don’t want to re-hash in great detail but I came dangerously close to a nervous breakdown. I always suffer from a touch of ante-natal depression in pregnancies, but this was really severe. Getting through the day became a major achievement. I couldn’t actually bear to think about the baby, or what life would be like with 3 under 3, it was all just too frightening. Added to which was the terror that constitutes a cesarian section looming large on the horizon.
In short this last pregnancy was a perfect storm of fear, anxiety, dread and illness. Which is why, I think, I innately ‘get it’ about crisis pregnancies and why I feel so strongly about the outreach work that is performed outside the clinics. On those occasions where I have participated in vigils, I’ve recognised the pallor, the drawn expression, the dark rings under the eyes and I’ve wanted to have the courage to go up to women and say ‘look, I’ve been there, I know it feels like there is no hope, but trust me, there really is, there will be a solution and there will be a way forward.’ Recognising that pregnancy is far from easy, that a situation seems hopeless, is the first step to finding a solution. Pretending that pregnancy is a carpet of roses sets up unrealistic expectations.
For those who think this is mere hyperbole, or exaggeration, or that my circumstances or situation could not in any way be compared to someone in a crisis pregnancy, I will be even more explicit, if a little guarded. I’ve mentioned I had ante-natal depression. Because of the bullying, I was too scared to seek help. I’d received an email from another blogger, stating that because he felt that my pro-life writing was of such good quality, (I wish) he was concerned that there were people out to get me, who would use any excuse and who could not only use my mental health to discredit me, but, more seriously, have the children or baby removed, and implored me not to talk about it. After all, we’ve seen various cases in the press of late, where membership of UKIP has entailed foster children being removed and we all know that as a faithful Catholic I am a ‘homophobe’ who will undoubtedly instil hate into her children whilst simultaneously religiously indoctrinating them.
I was mentally really struggling to stay on an even keel and thank God for my husband, who also had a hard time of it, helping me to stay centred, keep up my prayer life and keep receiving the sacraments. Part of the bullying had included several really unpleasant slurs calling my ability as a mother into doubt – cleverly crafted insults, designed to hit my pressure points and they succeeded. I began to wonder whether these complete strangers who had never even met my children, might be right. If, after all enough people start to call you despicable names and use the same repeated insults, then you begin to wonder whether its true and certainly that was the case for me. I fell into the sin of despair. Was I good enough for my children, didn’t they deserve better than a permanently pregnant, miserable and tired mother?
At one very low point, I seriously considered and made tentative enquiries into having the baby adopted, or placed with Catholic foster parents, because I genuinely believed that I was in no situation to be able to look after her, physically, logistically or practically and I thought that she would be better off with a good Catholic couple, perhaps one who’d never had children of their own? Fortunately those with whom I discussed it, including a pro-life organisation told me not to be so ridiculous, although they were kind enough to offer me a short-term au-pair, saying that their mission was to help anyone who was suffering through the sacrifice of bringing a child into the world.
Far too much personal information, probably more than I should have shared, but I wanted to convey that yes, I know exactly what it is like to be pregnant and to think that you don’t want the baby. I heard the phrase that an unplanned baby is not the same thing as an unwanted child and despaired, because, and yes, I know this is a terrible thing to say, I did not want the baby. I was too caught up in my own feelings, too caught up in looking after two very young children, and an older one, too caught up in trying to support my husband, too caught up in the chaos and maelstrom of hormones, illness, despair and anxiety to actually bond with the baby and that bothered me. I was scared that I wouldn’t love her, we wouldn’t bond, that I’d get post-natal depression and that life would be too difficult. I also blamed myself for contracting pre-eclampsia.
Intellectually, I knew that I probably would love the baby and bond with her as I had all the others, any depression I’d had in previous pregnancies had lifted, but there was still that nagging doubt.
Had I gone to Marie Stopes or BPAS, they would have undoubtedly confirmed all my negativity and I could well have been persuaded that aborting my unborn child was justified. When you are in the depths of despair, it’s difficult to see a ray of hope and all I could see and feel was darkness and negativity and you talk yourself into a worse and worse place. Without the consolation of faith, I would have been finished.
Things are so much better now. As predicted, as soon as Theodora was taken from me and placed into my arms, immediately the veiled lifted, which had begun with a pilgrimage to Lourdes a few weeks previously and then with the breast-feeding and taking care of her, the bond deepened and developed and now when I look at her, I am horrified that I was self-indulgent enough to think about giving her away. I’m also not too concerned about her knowing that she was unplanned because she was always loved, even if at the time I felt rather numb and she knows, as do all my children, without a shadow of a doubt that they are adored and loved. We also moved house and things which had been so far up in the air, all moved into place. It really was Providence.
So, why the long and painful testimony? Because I know, that no matter how bad things may seem, even to a rational outsider my situation wasn’t great, that sometimes, sticking to those first principles, that to kill an unborn child is wrong, is sometimes all you need to see you through.
I guess you could say that I’m a strong and resourceful person. I really am not, but effectively I had little other choice than to endure a demanding unwanted pregnancy and give birth to a child, whom I thought due to depression and all sorts of other factors, that I did not want. I had no other option, my deep-seated and unshifting faith told me that to kill my child would be an act of unspeakable evil. That didn’t make life any easier, but it saw me through. The baby was unwanted and a source of anguish, but she was never unloved. It is not abnormal not to feel overcome by feelings of love and tenderness when pregnant and women should not take the absence of the rush of maternal love in pregnancy as being proof of anything. It certainly doesn’t follow that the child will be unloved or will suffer. The mothers who genuinely wish they’d never had their children are exceptionally few and far between – I’ve never encountered one. This idea that the baby picks up love or lack thereof from within the womb, is specious. The baby knows its mother intimately before it is born, the baby loves their mother, but the only sense it will have that its mother doesn’t want it, is when it starts to flinch away from the cold hard steel of the abortionist’s instruments heading straight towards it.
When you see the women who appear to be in terrible situations, the ethical principle, the fact of the existence of their unborn child, can be all they need and acts as the small glimmer of light or ray of hope. And this is why, all women should worry about cases such as this one, where a decision as to whether or not a woman with a mental disability was allowed to have her baby, or whether she would be forcibly sedated as it was aborted.
Different day, different judge, different decision. When I was in the throes of depression and when I had “high risk” scrawled all over my notes, could that have been me, not deemed fit to have made a decision about the life of my own baby?
Which is why sometimes, all the compassion, all the empathy in the world, such as that expressed by the pro-choicer above must not trump the basic morality, that an unborn baby has as much right to life as its mother. And that no matter how hard the circumstances may appear, a new baby will always be a blessing. To those genuine pro-choicers for whom this is not about ‘reproductive rights’ but about caring for the mother, I would urge that compassion to be put to more productive use in terms of helping pregnant women.
St Maximilian Kolbe said “only love is creative”. Abortion is destructive and not love.
Sticking to first principles, that the deliberate taking of innocent life is wrong, is a decision of love. And love is never easy. Which is why we are commanded to do it.