Writing on Archbishop Crammer’s site, Sister Tiberia has commented on the appalling case where a court has overruled a consultant psychiatrist and allowed a suicidal woman to abort her 23 week old baby.
Though I don’t suffer from bi-polar, I have experienced the hell of ante-natal depression, particularly in my last pregnancy.
I know all too well what it is to be pregnant, physically ill, to once again feel the debilitating effects of morning sickness, anemia and other symptoms a mere 9 months after delivering a previous child, who had also been conceived 8 months post-partem.
I know how it feels to be terrified, not only about whether or not one will be able to cope with yet another newborn, but actually not to want to have to endure another grueling pregnancy or birth.
One thing that only became clear the day before I gave birth, was that I had been suffering from birth-related PTSD, which had been causing a not inconsiderable amount of anxiety. Even my husband hadn’t realised how severe it was, until I had a meltdown in pre-op and refused to sign the consent form for the cesarian section I needed.
After I had rationalised my fears to the anesthetist it transpired that they were more than valid. Due to a known sensitivity to the spinal block given as anesthesia during my previous section, requiring frequent adrenalin top-ups, not enough had been administered, upon looking at the notes. Therefore whilst the sensation had not been painful, I had felt every single cut and stitch towards the end of my previous birth and it had been indescribably unpleasant, like a form of torture. Like someone sewing and tugging and stapling your innards whilst you lie paralysed, not knowing whether this was normal, trying not to vomit or kick up a fuss.
Fortunately I received excellent care to ensure this did not happen again, but I’d been carrying the fear, dread and anxiety for 9 months, together with the worry that I wouldn’t be able to look after any of my children properly. Which is why some of the revolting trolling and spite that came my way from strangers telling me that I was a dreadful person and terrible mother touched such a raw nerve. Perhaps they were right, all this crowd of people telling me and anyone who would listen that I was so despicable? Perhaps I should have the baby adopted or fostered and maybe I should get the children taken into care after all?
I came through it, as my husband and friends knew I would, I received the right medical and spiritual support and am, on the whole, in a healthier place, but the point is, I understand pregnancy -related depression and anxiety only too well.
During this time, it was tweeted that I secretly wished that my baby was dead, because I had stated that I didn’t want to be pregnant or to have another baby.
Whilst not wanting to be in the situation I found myself in, I knew that the baby had the same right to life that I did. I knew that I had a duty to look after her and protect her, even though I hadn’t actively chosen to conceive her. By considering options about adoption or fostering (which in hindsight were more a cry for help) it was for me about doing what was best for her.
Every unborn child has a right-to-life. Pro-life has to acknowledge (and for the most part it does) that care of the pregnant mother is synonymous with care of the unborn child. The mother is as important as her unborn baby.
But here’s the elephant in the room. Sometimes there will inevitably be a clash between the wishes of the mother and the right-to-life of a baby. Which is where the sophistry of the feminist movement comes in and the dubious attempts to use science instead of ethics. Whether or not the baby may stand a chance outside of the womb, or whether he or she will experience a painful death are all side-issues as to whether or not it should be acceptable to kill them. In the case of babies such as the 23 week old, the fact that they may well be viable outside the womb adds an extra tragic dimension, but it still amounts to the mother’s wishes (even if well-intentioned) superceding a baby’s right-to-life.
I effectively had no choice when it came to whether or not to abort my baby and it never crossed my mind as an option, though it was mooted as a solution several times by medical professionals. Perhaps if it wasn’t available I would have had better care. I stopped going to the community midwife and got behind with medical care because I was fed up with being constantly hectored and, I felt, being looked down upon by the smart middle-class, double-barreled lady for being an irresponsible breeder. She tutted through every appointment that I attended with two small children and kept trying to refer me/my husband for counseling to discuss sterilization. I was too scared to discuss depression with her.
Sometimes I wonder whether invading my own personal space when blogging is wise, as not only does it open one up for hurt and abuse, but more importantly will it affect my children if they one day learn that most of my pregnancies have been traumatic? That like many mothers I have struggled to bond with them in pregnancy?
The response has to be that actions speak louder than words. There can be no doubt how loved they are or how much mummy loves the baby that she struggled so much with when she was pregnant.
This is where Christ’s commandment to love comes in. Loving is not an automatic sloppy sentimental feeling but takes an act of will. In the case of a crisis pregnancy, the act of choosing to protect the child’s life, is in itself an act of love, regardless of a woman’s personal feelings.
I share what happened to me because it is a testament of hope. In my case, as always happens, once the baby was delivered and I had her to hold in my arms, I never wanted to let her go. Many mothers in crisis pregnancies relate similar post-birth experiences.
In those cases where bonding is delayed, this is more often than not, attributed to post-natal depression which can be overcome with the right help. Advocates of abortion for mental health reasons claim that a woman’s right to choose applies even if a woman’s ability to consent is impaired by her condition and furiously reject the notion that a pregnant woman may be affected by the onslaught of mood-altering hormones sloshing around her pituitary system.
That’s not to dismiss those who feel that they ‘need’ an abortion as being incapable of rational thought, but I as a staunch pro-lifer, have experienced the draining and mood altering effects of pregnancy hormones, combined with feeling physically awful.
If we know that post-natal depression exists, if we accept that conditions such as pre-menstrual syndrome exist, then why are feminists so keen to dismiss the notion that a pregnant woman in crisis may not have the clearest perspective? I certainly didn’t.
Let’s phrase it another way? Would the court have allowed a woman who is exhibiting signs of mental illness to consent to an amputation to cure body dysmorphia? It’s highly unlikely. A limb is more important than the life of another. Someone who is suffering from severe depression is unlikely to be able to make a valid will or consent to any major financial decisions, but they are ruled capable of being able to take the life of their unborn child.
Ante-natal depression is a serious condition affecting as many as 15% of mothers. Women often become suicidal, believe they are unfit to mother even much-wanted children and are terrified that social services will take their children away. The stigma surrounding mental health as a whole, means that people don’t get the help they need.
Loving the mother does not mean co-opting into her mental condition. Loving the mother does not entail validating her belief that her baby would be better off dead. Loving the mother does not mean allowing her mental illness or hormonal imbalance to dictate the fate of her baby.
Loving a mother means giving her the proper care and support that she needs to get through pregnancy and beyond to ensure that she becomes the mother that the baby needs and deserves. Loving a mother means trusting that she does have the ability to overcome adversity and actively helping to empower her.
I don’t dismiss the fears of those with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. My AND was severe enough to make us decide that there is very good reason to consider delaying another child in the near future.
But abortion solves nothing in terms of mental health. It won’t cure the underlying factors behind depression or suicidal tendencies, it only validates them. It leaves a woman bereft and empty and with a dead child. What if she subsequently comes to recognise that she was incapable of taking that decision?
Keeping a child, against one’s intuition or rationale is an act of hope and of love, the first flicker of light shining in a tunnel of darkness. Abortion is a betrayal and negation of the care owed to the vulnerable pregnant woman and her unborn child.
We need to keep this woman and others like her in our prayers.