Last week on the Daily Politics show, Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing who has been openly encouraging the pro-choice group, Sister Supporter, appeared to waver slightly on her stance.
When it was pointed out to her that it was in fact the pro-choice group Sister Supporter who have been turning the clinic vigils into something of a circus, Ms Huq responded as follows in relation to the protestors, “Clear them all” and “I would like to keep these pavements a safer space and clear of protestors from whatever side”.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not Anna Vegilo-White might not have seen that as something of a betrayal coming from the MP who has supported and encouraged her group . Ms Huq appeared to be saying that they were all as bad as each other.
The point made by Clare McCullough, one of the founders of the Good Counsel Network was a valid one. Until the emergence of Sister Supporter about a year ago, there had never previously been any complaints of nuisance by the local residents.
The vigil consists of a handful of mainly elderly people, on the green across the road from the abortion facility, who quietly pray the rosary. They have a couple of signs, one of the Virgin Mary, one a nice picture of a baby in utero, and another which invites women to approach them if they are in need of any assistance. Slightly more controversially, placed on the ground in front of them are three models of plastic foetuses, all anatomically correct and in proportion, corresponding to different stages in pregnancy. One volunteer stands near the clinic entrance offering passers-by a leaflet, which they are free to accept or decline.
If there was harassment of the nature alleged by Sister Supporter and Marie Stopes, including that which stops women and supposedly staff, from entering and leaving the clinic, then existing legislation, such as the Public Order Act, which has been successfully used to prosecute anti-vivisectionist and animal rights campaigners, would already have been used. In an age where the camera phone is ubiquitous and the clinic has two cameras permanently trained upon the vigil, why has there been no footage released of women being harassed, shouted at, abused and even, as Pam Lowe attempted to claim on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live, having what she sincerely hoped was, holy water, thrown over them. A particularly vicious lie.
The fact is that no criminal prosecution or even arrests have taken place, because no criminal activity has occurred. The Public Space Protection Order, which Ealing Borough Council hopes to impose will criminalise the activities of those on the vigil. Activity, which could arguably be defined as freedom of speech and the right to protest, which is covered by sections 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.
Every Saturday, Sister Supporter and their pro-choice rentamob (consisting of an existing London network of pro-choice supporters), pitch up wearing pink high vis jackets, brandishing megaphones and boomboxes and attempt to disrupt the prayer vigil. They sing erudite songs of female emancipation such as Abba’s totemic ‘Dancing Queen’, before tailing off and launching into other classics, such as ‘If you like Pina Colada’. Let’s be honest, it’s about the only pain relief that’s going to be on offer inside a Marie Stopes, according to the recent findings of the CQC.
I’ve blogged about the antics of Sister Supporter before, but they have happily disrupted a peaceful religious procession which departs from Ealing Abbey every Saturday and also attempted to prevent Mass-goers from leaving the building. Their aim is to put as much pressure as possible on the abbey in order that they will then discourage Catholics from participating in any kind of pro-life activity in public. It seems that Sister Supporter aren’t very tolerant when it comes to religious freedom.
As Clare McCullough pointed out on a number of different media, it’s actually far worse for women entering the abortion clinic to be faced with a confrontational throng and an atmosphere of hostility, where they can’t tell who is who, rather than one single person, offering them a leaflet.
Back to Rupa Huq and today in the House of Commons, Ms Huq raised a question about the proposed PSPO in Ealing and whether or not these can be extended across the country, to which Conservative in name only, Amber Rudd appeared to signal her agreement. As part of her question Rupa alluded to the pro-choice demonstrators who have for the past year been creating a situation of hostility and chaos outside the abortion facility, making it very difficult for the general public to pass. (Unlike our quiet rosary prayers who stand on the grass).
It’s clear then, that Rupa Huq sees both sides as a nuisance and equally vexatious. Which begs the question, why does she regularly join in and lead the protestors such as she did this weekend, the day AFTER she had called for them all to be cleared on the Daily Politics show.
And riddle me this. Why then this morning, did Marie Stopes have to ask a group of pro-choice students from a local university not to film their clients as they entered the clinic? Did Marie Stopes note this pro-choice harassment in their log book? Did they film the pro-choice students filming? You can bet your life that had this been pro-lifers the footage would have been all over social media quick sharp complete with obligatory rosaries and ovaries hashtag.
A cynic would suggest that the new pro-choice tactic is indeed to cause as much disruption outside of the clinics as possible in order to get everyone tarred with the same brush and banned as swiftly as possible. No more women helped to choose life for their baby outside of the clinic and no awkward visible reminders of the humanity of the child whose life is at stake. How very convenient.
A few weeks ago my friend posted a status update on Facebook highlighting a plea for help from a forum mainly populated by men. A poster’s girlfriend had found herself unexpectedly pregnant and the young man simply didn’t know what to do.
Without going too much into the specifics of the situation, he was a mature student, his girlfriend was slightly older than him, had a well-paid secure job and a child from a previous marriage. On discovering she was pregnant, her initial reaction was one of delight she assumed that they would be having the baby and set about telling all her friends and family.
Though the young man shared some of his girlfriend’s excitment, he was at the same time, daunted and understandably so. Although he loved his girlfriend, he took the responsibilities of fatherhood seriously and wasn’t sure whether or not now was the right time to take their relationship to the next level. The news that she was expecting sent the woman into what seems to be a frenzy of nesting. Immediately she made a series of demands upon him which involved him making a series of unnecessary and excessive sacrifices. He would need to abandon his plans for a PhD in a specialist scientific discipline, take up extra shifts on his minimum wage job and move in with her. He’d also not be allowed to take any of his pets into her home and neither would he be allowed any space of his own to study. He’d have to make do with the family’s kitchen table. Furthermore the baby’s arrival date was causing him some concern, it was due to coincide with his finals. He’d therefore had a major panic, feeling trapped, that she was bouncing him into a baby that he wasn’t ready for and while he wasn’t averse to the idea of a baby, he just couldn’t see how things were going to work out.
The replies to his request for advice made for uncomfortable and depressing reading. They ranged from the uncharitable to the downright misogynist. The general consensus was that nobody with any ounce of intelligence ever became accidentally pregnant. His girlfriend had obviously done it deliberately to trap him and he’d be best off getting rid of the pair of them. The mother of the baby was put on trial, her contraceptive arrangements were analysed in minute detail with all the blame for the mishap laid at her door.
Which is where I came in. Under the use of the pseudonym for obvious reasons, I weighed in with some friendly impartial advice. I pointed out that his girlfriend would likely be feeling physically dreadful as well as emotionally vulnerable. The effects of progesterone, in particular, should not be underestimated. It was only understandable that she might want to go into a ‘everything needs to be instantaneously perfect’ tailspin, but that she also needed to understand that while everything would be fine in due course, not to fret or sweat the small stuff right now. The issues about the kitchen table, workspace and so on could all be sorted in due course. Likewise, while she would need his support when the baby was born, the University should be able to be flexible in terms of timings of exams and that actually, a newborn baby is not perhaps as time-consuming as he may be imagining. While he’d need to be on hand, that would be more to help his girlfriend, rather than be responsible for all of the care of the baby. Newborns tend to sleep for the first few weeks or months of their lives and most men don’t tend to take huge amounts of maternity leave. Being there for his girlfriend didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be able to have a few hours to himself every day to catch up on study or revise for exams. The woman’s daughter would be at school, so he might have to help with school runs etc, but it wouldn’t be an unmitigated logistical nightmare. All relationships involve an element of compromise and sacrifice.
I also pointed out to the assembled posters, that contraception can and does fail. We shouldn’t automatically assume the worst of people, especially when BPAS are quoting that over 60% of those presenting for an abortion claim to have been using some form of birth control. Some of the posters had been suggesting BPAS counselling – I pointed out in a matter of fact way that I hadn’t found abortion clinic counsellors either impartial or helpful and that there was the tiny matter of vested financial interests.
So, anyway, having given him some food for thought, without proselytising, but just helping him to see that it could be logistically possible, he countered that having given himself some time to think about it, actually he really did want to have the baby.
But by then it was too late. Thanks to his wobble, his girlfriend had decided that he was too immature and too unstable to be a father and booked in for an abortion. He then began to message me and then text me privately to ask what he should do. His girlfriend claimed that any normal man would have been overjoyed at her news and gone straight round her house with a bunch of flowers to celebrate.
The guy doesn’t deny he messed up, his prevarication had cost him dearly. She was terrified at the prospect of becoming a single mother of two children, she believed that all the work would fall on her shoulders and was unprepared to take the risk. What could he do, he begged me, to convince her how serious he was about her?
Err, get married, I suggested tentatively. Funnily enough, he said, he had planned to propose to her early next year when it was their anniversary and they had a country hotel booked for a friends wedding. He had even asked one of her female friends to scope out a ring. Tell her that, I urged. He did. It was not enough. Start making concrete plans to show how serious you are, was the next suggestion. He did. He already had a savings account set up which he had designated for the baby. Just keep talking to her was my advice, tell her not to rush things.
But no, she repeatedly told him that she needed to be ‘realistic’, she couldn’t trust him and that she would only bring him down. He was going out of his mind with anxiety, texting me to tell me that he thought she might have mental health issues because since deciding to abort she had gone sick from work and was hiding away from the world.
He spoke to her parents, who already knew and they were in agreement with him, feeling that she had been unreasonable and unrealistic in her demands, but understanding that following the collapse of her previous relationship she was feeling vulnerable. They also did not want her to abort the baby.
The young man was worried about the effect of abortion on his girlfriend’s physical and mental health as well. He didn’t identify as ‘pro life’ but he could not see a good reason for her to abort the baby. He desperately wanted to be a father to his little boy or girl. He sent her a series of impassioned and harrowing texts begging her not to take the life of his baby, telling her what a great mother she was, how he wanted to be a proper family with her and her child, how the child would love a sibling. Please, he said, talk to me, cancel the appointment, please don’t kill our innocent baby, please give them a chance. He said that he would take custody of the child, if she was so adamant that she did not want him or her.
I informed a Facebook pro-life group who, together with a monastic community, were storming heaven. The guy had no idea where the abortion was going to take place, or at what time. His girlfriend had shut him down. She wasn’t responding to his texts, apart from to say ‘if you love me then you’ll support and respect my decision’. To which all he could say was that loving someone doesn’t mean validating their destructive actions.
All day my phone was pinging. He hadn’t heard from her, perhaps, he said, our baby is being killed right now. I kept trying to hold out hope for him that she may have had a change of heart, although counselling him that he had done all he could. If she was dead set on the idea, then there was very little he could do to stop her. She didn’t deny it was a baby, but this was all about doing what she believed was right for her. Her last text to him was ‘you need to stop this’.
Anyway, at about 6pm he discovered that she had gone ahead and had the abortion this morning. She had spent most of the day groggy in hospital, but he was angry, because she had appeared to spent much of the afternoon on Facebook instead of telling him. I have told him not to be angry – she is obviously feeling defensive and wanting distraction.
The point of all this? Anecdote is not the plural of data, but here is the story of one baby who has lost their life to abortion this year. A baby who was much wanted by their father and grandparents and initally by their mother. Sharing stories and personal experiences help us to make sense of the world. I want to write this down and share it, by way of memorial to just one of the unborn children who will have lost their lives today. Rest in peace little one. Know that many of us prayed for you. We have the consolation of knowing that you have gone to the Lord.
My thoughts are pretty simple. This is just another demonstration for me of what a wicked and insidious development abortion-on-demand is. There is no happy ending here. A baby has lost their live and a man is at home beside himself with grief. He says he hasn’t been able to sleep or eat properly for weeks or concentrate on work. A formerly loving relationship is in tatters, with both parties harbouring feelings of anger and resentment. A mother has to deal with the repercussions of her decision while at the same time, caring for her child.
Not once in his man’s decision was there an element of patriarchy, wanting to control her uterus or chain her to the kitchen sink. This guy realised that he loved his unborn baby and wanted them to live. The reality of abortion means that every single pregnancy becomes a lifestyle choice and children are given a specious right – to be meticulously planned and born into ‘perfect’ circumstances which supercedes their basic right to life. Had abortion not been an option, he wouldn’t have had his damaging wobble and would have stepped up to the plate sooner. But we are all now conditioned to think not of new life, not of a baby, but of choice.
The abortion clinic who carried this out have neglected their duty of care and potentially broken the law. If there were mental health issues necessitating abortion then these needed to be further investigated and treated. Though they only appeared to manifest once the decision had been taken. But if the mother gave the reason as being that she had trust issues with her boyfriend, this case wouldn’t seem to neatly fall within section C of the act.
There’s also a lesson in there somewhere about the wisdom of believing that committing to have a baby with someone is a different thing from enjoying a long term sexual relationship with them. The greatest commitment one can give to another is to be open to the possibility of having a baby with them. Stripping sex of a procreative element, inherently strips it of an element of commitment. But that’s for another time. I think the guy has been foolish, but I don’t blame him for it, he’s no different to most men in contemporary society. The feminists who would shout their abortions would no doubt lynch both him and me for being manipulative, but I see no winners, no victory, no progress and certainly no joy in this woman having exercised her ‘reproductive right.’.
Ask me what comes to mind when I think of a ten year old girl and I immediately picture my own, recently-turned-eleven, daughter. Her school has just transitioned into summer uniform and so I imagine her in her striking and smart tartan dress with puffed sleeves and a white collar, a red wool blazer and fetching straw boater with school badge and red ribbons. I image her spindly legs in white ankle socks, think of the tangle of hair that she’s not very adept at brushing, the knots I have to tease out for her and I think of her mannerisms and personality. Sometimes desperately childlike, mad on chocolate, overuses the word ‘adorable’ (especially when referring to dogs and babies), sometimes socially awkward, shy and introverted, sometimes the polar opposite, photo-bombing at every opportunity, sometimes the stroppy, lazy adolescent that she potentially will be in a few years time and sometimes an incredibly mature, thoughtful and considerate young lady. One who will pro-actively shepherd her younger siblings up to bed, into their pyjamas, brush their teeth and read them a story at bedtime, in an attempt to help, as she sometimes did when she spotted that mummy was exhausted in the latter stages of pregnancy.
What doesn’t come to mind when you ask me about a ten year old girl is the image of a pregnant woman. Such a thing is just too dreadful to contemplate, not simply because of the loss of innocence, but because for such a thing to have happened would mean that my little girl had been through a brutal, violent and phsyically agonising ordeal which her little body is not ready to take and which no child should ever have to endure. A pregnant ten year old is the victim of child sex abuse and what mother or father ever wants to envisage their child in that situation? As for were she to be pregnant – I’d be terrified that her little body would snap and break under the ordeal.
Naturally then, this case of a pregnant ten year old in Paraguy, raped and pregnant by her step-father fills the world with horror and repugnance, not only at what the poor child has been through, but at what lies in front of her, be that a late-stage abortion or childbirth. When we think of ten year olds, we don’t think of women but of underdeveloped girls, most of whom bear no outward signs of womanhood and who have not undergone puberty. I’ve only recently been through pregnancy again myself; the relentless sickness, the crippling tiredness and the embarrassing intimate problems. It’s nine months of discomfort, of confusing symptoms, complete abandonment of control and of tremendous emotional and physical upheaval. For the most part in today’s society the experience is rendered more acceptable because it’s a freely undertaken choice with a desired outcome. An adult means to an adult end. Not an ordeal inflicted upon an ill-equipped, vulnerable young child.
But then how much of this is projection? While most Western 10 year old girls have not yet reached puberty, evidence suggests that not only is puberty beginning earlier, hence the drive for sex education at an ever-younger age, but also that different ethnic groups, such as African and Hispanics, may start puberty at around the age of 8. The idea of a pregnant child ought to continue to horrify us, but put very crudely, if a 10 year-old is actually able to conceive a child, presumably her body ought to be sufficiently developed to bear it? I can think of a few children within my daughter’s peer group who unbelievably already tower above me height wise, who have begun puberty and who most definitely look older than their years. It might be that this poor abused 10 year old is actually physically capable of delivering her child.
For the avoidance of doubt, that a child is able to conceive, is not an argument to suggest that they should conceive or even deliver a child of their own – the late stages of pregnancy and childbirth exact an enormous toll on even a fully-developed adult woman, but there isn’t evidence to suggest that pregnancy for every single, pre-teen is life-threatening. In this particular dreadful instance, nobody save the clinicians knows the medical specifics and so all the talk about it being life-threatening is a mixture of understandable projection and hyperbole. We imagine ourselves or children we know and love, being pregnant at the age of ten and are horrified. Currently the UK’s youngest mother was a 12 year old, who conceived at the age of 11 and a quick Wikki search demonstrates that there have been some mothers as young as 9 and 10.
What we do know, is that this pregnancy was discovered when the child was 22 weeks pregnant. The short-term future is none too pleasant either way. The fetus, if we going to pander to the popular de-humanising euphemism, is already a fully formed human being, discernably a real person with a face, eyelashes, hair, arms, legs, fingers, toes who will be kicking, swallowing, smiling, sucking their thumb and whatever. There’s no ‘easy’ way to abort at that stage. There’s no pill to pop to bring about an early miscarriage and no quick suction procedure. We’re talking about a 10 year old being asked to deliver a deceased 22 week baby, or a difficult, gruesome, potentially dangerous surgical procedure. Afterwards the child can expect to experience her milk coming in and will have the trauma of a lost baby to deal with, as if she didn’t already have enough to cope with.
The other option is for her to give birth. Again, not something that one would wish to inflict upon a 10 year old. But given the stage in her pregnancy, taking at face value the assertions that her life is at risk (which don’t seem to be evidenced anywhere) surely the kindest, most compassionate thing to do would be to continue to strictly monitor the child and then deliver her baby via cesarian section, under general anesthetic, as soon as it becomes necessary.
In terms of whether or not the girl ought to raise the baby, that surely ought to be a matter for her. What isn’t being reported is what her feelings are on the matter, all we know is that the mother has requested an abortion for her daughter, although the mother has also been arrested for breaching duty of care and being an accomplice to child abuse. According to Fox News Latino, she reported that her daughter was being sexually abused last January and yet continued to live with the perpetrator. She has also provided a number of false clues as to his whereabouts. We do not know and we cannot speculate on the mother’s motives, however it’s interesting to note that the mother’s wishes are being given weight or seen as taking precedence whereas in other cases in the UK of a pre-teen requesting abortion or contraception, provided the child is deemed to meet Gillick competence, the parents’ wishes would be overruled or they would not even be informed.
But it’s difficult to see how abortion could serve to make the issue any better in this unimaginably awful situation. Even had she been immediately granted a 22 week abortion, it would have been no walk in the park, however surely even a 10 year old, while she might lack the emotional maturity to cope with pregnancy, childbirth and a young baby, surely ought to be given the time to come to terms with the situation and have some input into the decision. Why would instantly whipping the baby out in a late-stage abortion have been the right thing to do, it would only have served to inflict more violence upon an already abused and hurting child and removed yet more autonomy from her.
And the elephant in the room is of course the unborn child, who is deemed to be of no consequence with no right to exist; their very presence being synonymous with atrocity. Why would it be so unfeasible for the child to be adopted and raised by a loving couple, or for the child herself to keep her baby, presuming this was what she wanted? Why is abortion being touted as the only solution in this instance?
I’m not denying that the pregnancy can not sometimes be high risk for adolescents, one of the factors being lack of prenatal care, I’m not advocating that ten year olds ought be having babies, I’m not assuming that a ten year old giving birth is like shelling peas, however what I am questioning is why it is being reported that the child’s life is at risk if she does not have an abortion. What health condition would the proposed abortion treat? As she is under the care of the authorities, then surely her pre-natal care will be better than for many others in her situation?
The other pressing question is why on earth Amnesty International have seen fit to get involved, what has this case got to do with someone being detained or imprisoned for their political beliefs? It is claimed that the girl is being forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, which is tantamount to torture and indeed no-one would want to inflict an unwanted pregnancy or child upon a child, however we are only being told that the mother requested the abortion for her daughter, not what the daughter’s thoughts are. Since when did Amnesty become an organisation about promoting pro-choice, abortion ideology instead of being about basic human rights, of which the right-to-life should be paramount? The word Amnesty is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘forgetfulness’, clearly the organisation has forgotten the Catholicism of their founder and there is to be no amnesty for the unborn children deemed burdensome due to potential maternal poverty.
Just as various groups exploited and politicised the tragedy of Savita Halapannaver to lobby for liberal abortion in Ireland, the same thing seems set to be happening in Paraguy.
What has happened is revolting and indefensible. It really is one of those compassionate hard cases for whom the Abortion Act in 1967 was devised. But it’s not clear how a latej-stage abortion performed upon a 10 year old girl by request of her mother, who happens to be married to her abuser, would go any way towards helping the girl on her long journey of healing.
Easy to say when it’s not my daughter, especially as I hear the strains of her earnestly practicing the piano floating up through the floorboards, bashing out Beethoven without a care in the world. But then I think of her cradling her baby brother, or tenderly helping her younger sisters and know that however terrible the ordeal she had been through, coaxing her to get rid of her own baby, even if it was with her best interests at heart, would not necessarily be the right answer. Please God, it’s something with which few mothers will ever be faced.
Today’s political discourse could have been lifted straight out of the pages of Animal Farm: progressive good, reactionary/conservative bad. Generally speaking whether one’s political sympathies lie to the left or right, all mainstream politicians are jostling to claim the ‘progressive’ mantle, whether it be David Cameron with his push for gay marriage or Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ Labour party.
Like most political tribalism, this label is a simplistic one and it certainly looks as though the scales are finally beginning to fall from the eyes of former metro-libs, with even the very pro-abortion Diane Abbot MP decrying the hyper-sexualisation of today’s society. Not all social change or progress furthers the interests of the common good, whether that be the excesses wrought by the sexual revolution (of which the pedophile scandals of the sixties and seventies is a fruit), or the closing down of the industrial areas of the north with no replacement, by Margaret Thatcher. Progress for its own sake does not constitute a good. The majority of the UK population could be placed in the ‘reactionary’ category in at least one area of our views.
Watching some of the media coverage of today’s tragic fortieth anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision in which the US Supreme Court legalised abortion , it struck me that far from flying the vaunted ‘progressive’ flag, it is actually the pro-choicers who are the reactionaries here. They aren’t fighting for any social change, other than to retain the same old status quo that has been in place for the last forty years, one that has resulted in approximately 54 million US abortions, or missing children since 1973.
Perhaps that’s why, as Time magazine pointed out in its January edition, pro-choicers are losing the battle and pro-lifers are hopeful. Faced with an army of young grassroots pro-life activists, Nancy Keenan head of Pro-Choice America has resigned, stating that in order to successfully defend America’a abortion rules the movement needs to emulate the pro-life youth. The tactics of the pro-choice movement in the UK are certainly looking in need of a re-vamp, reverting to the same tired modus operandi of turning up to scream abuse, chant the same old stale slogans and wave the same placards every time they get an inkling that a group of pro-lifers might be getting together. As opposed to any sort of positive action that might actually help women and give them that Holy Grail of ‘choice’, all they can do is turn up like a bunch of rabid old reactionaries, resistant to any positive action that might actually help women chose to be mothers.
The treatment of @londonistar, who has recently set up the Marie Copes blog for victims of abortion to anonymously tell their tale in a safe, non-judgemental space, best exemplifies the attitude. Having discovered that her unborn child had Downs Syndrome and having been given an extremely negative outlook by the doctors, her and her husband took what was an extremely painful decision to abort a much wanted child. Her experience was utterly horrific from start to finish – she was let down by the medical profession who gave her a very limited and one-sided view of the condition and prediction of the quality of life of her child, leaving her with what she felt at the time, no other option. The procedure itself was botched, the nursing ‘care’ was brutal, leaving her in agony, needing reparative surgery, facing infertility and an unacknowledged need to grieve. The pro-choicers and feminists reacted in anger when she told them her story; instead of being outraged at her presented lack of choice and campaigning for better information for pregnant women with difficult diagnoses or even a better standard of care from the abortion clinics, they simply raged at her for having related her experience and daring to feel any grief. It was the pro-lifers, those whom one would expect to be judgemental and angry who reached out to her in a spirit of compassion and love, not only for her in her grief, but also so that they could better understand and learn from the needs and emotions of a woman faced with an agonising dilemma, whereas to use her words, the pro-choice feminists treated her like a ‘political pawn’.
Far from being solely concerned about the cute little baby, pro-lifers are intuitively concerned with the woman, the mother and her needs and rights, which is why at the Vigil for Life which took place in Dublin’s Merrion Square on Sunday and attended by 25,000 people, the crowd was awash with banners stating “Love them both. Abortion kills one, hurts another” together with a picture of a mother and her baby. It isn’t pro-lifers propagating the culture wars, pro-lifers are successfully engaging with women, with appeals to those attending America’s March for Life taking place this weekend, to avoid using graphic images in order not to distress vulnerable and post-abortive women. Equally at the 40 days for life prayer vigils, it isn’t the volunteers quietly and peacefully praying for those inside the clinic and offering help, who are upping the emotional ante, rather the vociferous, angry pro-choice opposition.
But this isn’t simply about the words. Pro-lifers are also attempting to progress women’s rights in a way that leaves the traditional militant feminists way behind. Feminism tends to treat children as an encumbrance or a burden to equality and seeks to circumvent them, in order that women may be seen to compete on an equal footing with men. A pro-life feminism embraces motherhood and child-rearing as being an authentic part of a woman’s femininity and actively campaigns for solutions which means that a child is no longer an obstacle to an education or to a woman being able to be financially self-supportive. That’s not to say that an authentic feminism rejects men as unimportant or irrelevant in the process of child-rearing, but accepts that in today’s increasingly feckless society, women are often faced with no other choice than to raise a child alone.Feminists for Life is a good example of how pro-lifers in America are reaching out to college students.
In the UK, the Alliance of Pro-life students has, in a short period of time, made enormous progress. Speaking last week at the launch, Eve Farron, their 22 year old leader, talked of how they have made common cause with feminist groups on campus, forcing them to address the lamentable lack of provision for pregnant students and working together to ensure that college students really do have a choice if faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
She described how young freshers are handed a welcome pack consisting of a free pizza voucher on one side with an advert for Marie Stopes at the back. That was certainly the case for me when I started at the University of Sussex recently. We were given a compulsory talk by the ironically named Student Life Centre who made it clear that there was an abundance of sexual health-care services, including abortion on offer. When I went to them to ask for help in terms of essay deadline extensions, being 9 weeks pregnant with three existing children and incredibly sick, they were not exactly forthcoming, neither were the faculty staff. The baby was due in the summer holidays and when I asked whether or not I would be able to bring her to lectures and seminars, as the creche would not take babies under 6 months, and breastfeed, obviously taking her out if she caused a disturbance, the answer was a resounding no. I could not quite believe how a university, that prides itself on its diversity, that strives to teach everything through a prism of feminism, gender and queer theory, could be quite so obstructive. Furthermore, the creche was scheduled to close, due to cuts and not being cost-effective, before finally being out-sourced to a private provider after a huge outcry. When I approached the student body for help, I was told it probably wouldn’t be worth pursuing the matter, it would get me a bad name, the best thing to do was defer, and of course, be liable for the new higher tuition fees. Had I not been of a strong Catholic and pro-life persuasion, I could well see how having an abortion would have seemed the only feasible choice in that situation and where were the feminists then? Any advocacy was totally non-existent.
I digress, but it goes to show that by contrast to shouting catchy slogans, the pro-lifers are actively working for social change, not only by convincing people with the overwhelming scientific evidence and intellectually rigorous arguments but also by their deeds and actions, whether that be the peaceful, non-confrontational outreach on the streets to women in need, advocacy for students and young people, or working for political solutions and social change. Pro-lifers also seek to advance the rights and cause of the disabled, recognising that every life is of equal dignity and worth and that the two causes are immutably entwined.
Pro-lifers don’t want to turn back the clock to a time when abortion was illegal, they want to strive for a society where abortion is unthinkable and unnecessary. Pro-lifers want a society where women can have children at an early age and yet still be educated and professionally successful, we want a society where fathers are held accountable for their children and not let off the hook by abortion. We want women to contribute to society, through child bearing and also through professional employment, if that is their choice. We want an authentic feminism that allows women to fulfil their natural vocation as mothers, not one that makes work and child rearing mutually exclusive, which is what current strands of feminism and pro-choice rhetoric seek to reinforce. The most exciting thing about this – it is being led by women themselves!
Pro-lifers are the real progressives, working for true social change, one that supports and upholds the dignity of women whilst protecting the right to life of all our unborn children. We recognise that for a society to be welcoming of life, a myriad of complex social problems need to be solved, not least that abortion disproportionately affects the poorest and are working for a better society for all, instead of banging a single issue drum. Whereas the pro-choicers are clinging to their outdated mantras of the seventies, fretting over fripperies such as gender appropriate lego and squabbling over internal victim hierarchies, pro-lifers are solidly working for a radical solution so that no unborn child ever need to be killed in utero again.
This is why the pro-life movement should wave its progressive credentials with pride.
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.
Fr Ray Blake said something that gave me pause for thought the other day.
We should recognise most women have abortions because of economic reasons, that controlling the size of families through contraception for most people is an economic decision. We need to promote an authentic feminism (and masculinism) that is based on relationships, we need to promote the real rights of women to be parents, simply to be able to have children without the constant anxiety to find childcare and to be able to afford it.
I wouldn’t disagree with any of the above, but I think it’s worth unpacking and exploring a little further. Most women do have abortions for economic reasons, the increasing numbers of abortions performed on women who already have at least one child, as capitalised upon by BPAS in their recent advertisements for abortion claiming that 50% of women who abort are already mothers, indicates that for many this is an economic decision. Most women who have already given birth are well aware of the various stages of foetal development and the reality that this is an unborn child whose life they are choosing to terminate, but feel that they have little other choice.
Few women who abort their pregnancies take the attitude of Caitlin Moran who claims (and I would posit that she’s in serious denial) that she gave the matter less thought than choosing her kitchen worktops. Most women would not choose to abort if they genuinely believed that they were killing a living human being, which is why so much sophistry is employed by the pro-choice advocates as well as attempting to involve irrelevant scientific arguments about sentience. Either life begins at conception or it does not. If the latter, at what particular point in its development is a foetus deemed ‘alive’, at which point science is invoked to justify philosophy. The biology is simple. A new independent human being is formed at conception, with separate DNA and capability to develop itself to the mature stage of a human organism given the right environment.
It is precisely because the human conscience is pricked on the issue of abortion that women become quite so aggressive and defensive on the matter. If abortion is not the destructive of unborn life, then why do women get quite so angry about it and why are they bothered by the peaceful prayer vigils? If abortion is a difficult choice that isn’t undertaken without much soul-searching, why is that and why are they so bothered by the presence of people praying for them or trying to offer an alternative? Even the most well-meaning of pro-choicers will claim that abortion is an economic decision, women genuinely don’t have a choice and so abortion must be available for the most pragmatic and compassionate of reasons. The old “I wouldn’t have one myself but I wouldn’t deny it to those who need it” adage.
But undoubtedly there are a few women who abort, not solely for economic reasons but simply because a baby will not fit into their current plans. That’s not to condemn or cast judgement, society has to bear as much responsibility in that it implicitly encourages and coerces women into abortion, with babies being little more than a lifestyle choice, who aren’t fully alive until such moment as becomes convenient in the mind of the individual.
But regardless of whether babies are aborted because of lifestyle choice, economic necessity or even thoughtless recklessness in those rare cases where we see young women having undergone as many as 8 abortions, (I really don’t believe that many women have abortions because they can or because they are inherently cold-hearted or even evil) there is one factor in common and that is that a baby is seen as a burden or difficulty and never a blessing.
Whilst pro-lifers have to be careful not to overdo the sentimental saccharin schmaltz when it comes to the indisputable beauty of a newborn child, we have to ensure that we don’t fall into the opposite trap of over-emphasisng the gritty reality of child-rearing in an attempt to make our society equipped for unplanned pregnancies. The truth of babies is that they encompass both extremes. Having a baby does entail a lot of hard graft and often economic difficulty but it also brings with it an outpouring of joy, blessings and love to which no language can do adequate justice and which compensates for the difficulties. There isn’t a mother I know, not even mothers of severely disabled or terminally ill children, who wishes that her child had never been born, or that she hadn’t experienced the love of her child. Even mothers in the most challenging of circumstances wouldn’t wish away their children, but instead wish that their lives could be easier.
What pro-lifers need to do, is work for ways to make life tenable for women with unplanned pregnancies, whether that is the mother of 3, expecting her fourth child, the pregnant teenage mother, or the young woman with a career that seems to be going places.
Pro-lifers often focus upon the idea of free or cheap state childcare in order to incentivise a woman not to abort her baby and to help her back into the workplace. I’m not so sure that this is the right answer, admirable though it may seem. The problem is that for the overwhelming majority of women, having a baby will have an enormous financial impact upon them if they are already in full-time work. Although women can now, quite rightly, enjoy up to a year’s paid maternity leave, most do not look forward to the idea of returning full-time. And who can blame them? You give birth to a beautiful child, you spend at least six months giving them your full attention, nurturing them, feeding them, helping them roll, sit, manage solid food, you know them, you can recognise the signs when they are tired, hungry, you know how they like to be settled or held, which is their favourite cuddly, they haven’t been out of your care for more than a few hours at a time, maybe 24 hours at granny’s at a push, then all of a sudden you have to hand them over to a stranger for at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s no wonder that most women do not want to return to full-time work, but feel that they have little other choice. In addition it tends to be just as your baby is getting interesting, beginning to walk, talk and most mothers are devastated that they will miss their baby’s first steps or key milestones.
Perhaps because the state is becoming ever more intrusive or presumptive, but there is additionally, something a little sinister about having to hand one’s child over to state-approved childcare for the majority of the working day. For me the approach is summed up in our attitude towards single mothers who are expected to go out to work, as soon as is feasible after having a baby. The attitude of the former government was equally disturbing with Tessa Jowell trying to formulate policies to encourage mothers to go out to work and Patricia Hewitt describing mothers who stay at home with children under two, as being a ‘real problem.‘
Again we see how modern feminism has failed women, who are expected to be on equal terms with men in the workplace, to be able to work full-time, or work at all, as well as bring up children. I’ve been a working single mother and it was horrific. I had little other economic choice at the time, but on average I saw my daughter less than an hour and half a day, Monday to Friday, having to drop her off early in the morning before work and then having precious little time to spend with her in the evening, to ensure that she got a good night’s sleep. Quality time consisted of bathtime, stories and bed and I put myself through agonies of guilt. It meant that I had the worst of all worlds in that work saw me as not fully committed and I felt that I was selling everybody short. It is only now that society is realising that unless you are a wealthy fund-manager with a bevvy of nannies and housekeepers, that the idea of ‘having it all’ is nothing more than a myth.
So, what’s the answer, especially from a pro-life perspective? The problem with childcare, is that not only is it expensive and puts pressure on a woman to go out an earn her keep, but it also treats women as if they are only valuable if they contributing to society in a purely economic sense. I think if we are going to promote an authentic version of feminism, then we have to promote the innate value and worth of motherhood on its own. That’s not to denigrate women who do go out to work, but actually women need to be supported by economic policy to stay at home with their children, until such time that their children are of school-age, particularly if they are single mothers. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive and contrary to normal feminist principles an authentic feminism recognises the value women have as mothers and how the opportunity to spend as much time as one can with one’s children, is actually of benefit to society.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, because clearly the state is not a bottomless pit and clearly one can’t have policies in place, be they encouraging mothers to stay at home, or work, which will encourage state dependence, but I think to a certain extent society has to bite the bullet and accept that a single mother is facing more difficult odds than a two parent family and so enable a mother with children under school-age (say 5) to stay at home, regardless of her marital situation whilst implementing policies such as, for example, forcing employers to be more flexible and creative in terms of the working hours that they can offer to mothers and phasing women back into employment when their children are of school age. It is a difficult balance and most of us know of families who do not work, simply because with the cost of childcare it is not in their interests to do so and who are as a result, reliant on the state.
This is not to attack mothers who do want to work, often women say that they need the stimulation of a work environment, that they lack the patience to stay home and several women are trapped in the situation where they need to work for economic survival, but I wonder, if we began to value motherhood more, if we began to give examples of how intelligent, educated women can be stay-at-home mothers, or work part-time and still be happy and fulfilled would it transform society? I think so. I often think that women who state that they don’t have the patience or wherewithal to full-time parent their offspring, under-estimate themselves and with the right examples and in the right environment, would surprise themselves. I can think of at least ten of my friends who have Oxbridge degrees but who have eschewed the work environment to be full-time mothers and who have never been happier.
One of the reasons that families are financially struggling is not only due to rise of consumerism and the idea that it is only through material goods that we can find fulfilment, but more importantly because the expectation that women will automatically work, regardless of whether or not they have children, means that two income families entailed bigger mortgages which fuelled the rise in property prices. Every family should be able to afford or live in a decent home with access to a small garden. Affordable housing alongside the removal of the expectation that a woman should and must earn her keep would be another small part of the strategy. If we have more mothers at home, then our communities which have been so fractured will begin to heal. It was traditionally women who were at home with the children, who provided a mutual support network, who passed on valuable skills and knowledge in terms of child rearing and helped each other in times of trouble, with babysitting etc instead of having to pay a stranger. It was also the same women who helped to look after the elderly, who had them either living at home, or who would drop in and help their neighbours, enabling them to be supported at home, instead of reliant on a government for care and assistance. I’m not saying that women should be expected to do this kind of work, but it is a natural by-product of what happens when we have communities and besides there is nothing demeaning about caring for other people.
True feminism should allow women to have the choice as to whether or not to enter the workplace (something I’m hugely in favour of, if women want to work then they should and on equal terms) but equally, a real authentic feminism values motherhood as a vocation in and of itself.
We need to stop looking at motherhood as being demeaning, inadequate or beneath a woman’s dignity and celebrate it as a worthy vocation, one that benefits her, her children and society as a whole. We need to re-gear society to remove the current expectation upon women to work, unless and until men have the ability to bear children in their wombs! There is nothing innately sexist in stating that as women give birth to and nuture their infants, then they are best placed to provide the primary care. By all means allow women to work on equal terms, introduce legislation that gives women watertight protections to allow flexible working, allow women to reach the top of their profession, but by no means force a woman to work or define success in purely professional terms. Staying at home to help one’s children reach their potential, is not demeaning by any means.
A pro-life society does not buy into the notion that a child is a burden or economic problem that needs to be overcome, but celebrates motherhood and enables women to have real choice as to how best to raise their children, instead of expecting them to be handed over to someone else from an early age. And if this puts more responsibility on men to work and provide for their offspring – sorry but them’s the breaks. No wonder so many men identify themselves as “feminists”. Authentic feminism recognises motherhood as an innate good and children as a gift, flowing from the consequences and blessings of being part of the feminine sex. It recognises our ability and responsibilities as bearers of life, given to us from the Creator himself.
A very bizarre thought popped into my head when praying for my Nana earlier, not the most seemly of thoughts and indicative that I need to focus more, but interesting nonetheless. She was born in January 1913, which makes me wonder whether or not she may have been conceived in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster. Though I haven’t been able to find any evidence to corroborate whether or not there may have been a surge in the birth rate following the tragic sinking, there is a known phenomenon of minor surges and fluctuations in birth rates following national disasters – sex is an affirmation of life, when faced with our own mortality, a theme aptly explored by Albert Camus.
Why would I be thinking about the circumstances in which my Nana was conceived? Though I had always associated her birth with occurring shortly after the Titanic, I had never previously made the connection, however the circumstances of her birth are somewhat mysterious and tragic. During the 30 years that she lived with us, she rarely talked about her childhood or her family, which were all veiled in secrecy. Whenever I had to complete any family tree projects at school, she always clammed up when asked to assist, angrily shouting that it was none of anybody’s business.
My mother confided that there was some kind of mystery, Nana had not in fact been brought up by her birth mother, but by an “Auntie and Uncle” in rural Devon, two very lovely, kind and caring people, but it was not clear what blood relationship, if any, they had to Nana. This couple had children of their own and brought my Nana up as if she was part of their family, but she was always aware of being different, of there being some kind of stigma. Apparently her mother was a “grand lady” who would occasionally come to visit, my mother noted that clearly there was money there: Nana often talks about the fact she had rickets as a child and was sent to specialists in London to correct the bows in her legs. ‘When you see photos of children in leg braces, they always look terribly uncomfortable’ says Nana, ‘but mine weren’t at all. They were made of the softest leather and sheepskin. I can still remember how soft they felt even now’. Maybe I’m playing amateur detective here, but one thing that has always struck all of us in the family, is that specialists in London and high quality orthopaedic braces would not come cheap, they would not be the preserve of a farming family in pre-war Devon.
A few years ago Nana was on a nostalgia trip, unwrapping and showing me all the trinkets and knick-knacks from her wedding, incredibly enough she still has the decorations from the top of her cake. One of the things she painstakingly unwrapped was some exquisite solid silver photo frames and candle sticks from Mappin and Webb, which had never been on display. She explained that her mother had not attended her wedding, but had instead sent her some silver as a wedding gift.
All of which has led all of us in the family to ponder who my great-grandmother and my mother’s grandmother was. We have a surname, but that is all. We assume that there was money in the family and some reputation. We have no mention of a father and the subject has always remained strictly taboo. It has always been a source of great sadness to my mother, she lost her own father at the age of 22, and though she has maintained close relationships within her paternal family, there has always felt as though there was something missing. Though I try not to dwell on it too much, my curiosity is piqued, all of us like to know our identity of our forefathers, from whom we hail, it helps us in terms of establishing our own sense of identity and context in relation to the world around us. The BBC programme, Who do you think you Are, has proved enormously popular for that very reason.
With the advent of the internet and the rise in genealogy websites, it has occurred to us on more than one occasion that some amateur sleuthing might be in order, although not in the period of Nana’s lifetime, as she is incredibly touchy about this subject and it would seem, rather ashamed. It was only a few years ago, at the age of 95, that she finally admitted that she had no idea who her father was, she no longer had a copy of her birth certificate, but that the father was marked as unknown. It seems to have been a source of great shame, stigma and sadness.
I would love to know about my maternal family, but have to concede that this will be lost in the mists of time. Perhaps one day I’ll investigate more as to the identity of my great-grandmother, just to satisfy my innate curiosity. But it would certainly seem to fit that some clandestine relationship may have taken place in the Spring of 1912, almost certainly in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster – not that I am claiming any link whatsoever or hinting at any James Cameron style story, merely noting a historical fact. Perhaps the two events were entirely unrelated and it’s just a fanciful whim?
So what does my Nana’s history have to do with the price of eggs? Not much really, other than personally I am glad that the stigma of illegitimacy has largely been wiped out. Children should never be blamed for the circumstances in which they were born, nor the indiscretions of their parents. Having seen how my Nana has suffered in many ways as a result of never having known the love of her biological family (she was cared for, but knew she was different), I am glad that mothers are no longer routinely forced into having to give their babies into the care of someone else in the name of respectability. I can understand the physical need for contact and close loving relationships with both biological parents and the damage that can be done if a parent is deliberately withheld. This happened also to my father, whose parents divorced in 1945 upon my grandfather’s return from the war. My father was brought up without any contact with his own father until he reached the age of 21, this being deemed in his best interests, in an era in which divorce was still a dreadful scandal. Both my nana and my father, whose knowledge of his paternal family is scant, feel somehow incomplete.
I am relatively sanguine about it all, but there is some innate desire in me to find out more about from whom I hail. I know that my maternal grandfather was Italian and my father’s family were King’s Lynn fisherman and Norfolk agricultural labourers (I think) but that’s about it.
When I think about my Nana’s circumstances in particular, I give thanks that abortion was not an option in 1912. Though my Nana has missed out in many ways, she had a happy marriage, a child of her own, 2 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. Though I am sure that my great-grandmother, whoever she was, must have endured a lot of suffering, she also brought forth much joy and happiness. One ‘mistake’, one clandestine relationship has borne much fruit for which we are all grateful. It made me wonder how many other potential families are now wiped out before birth as a matter of routine?