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I’m 100 percent pro-life: No exceptions for rape or incest, and opposed to all the research and fertility treatments that involve creating zygotes to be left in freezers or destroyed for testing. But I have to admit, I am ashamed to call myself pro-life.
Part of that shame stems from why I am pro-life. I grew up in a family that was both pro-life and adamantly devoted to the bourgeoise American Dream. Children were a gift from God, to be sure, but they were also a gift that should only be accepted when the circumstances were right; i.e., after one had a college degree, a remunerative career, and was married to productive man after buying a nice house in the suburbs. Having children before that point was to throw away one’s life, and a woman staying at home to raise children was a waste of her education. The night we announced our engagement, I overheard my mother flatly say, “Maybe after she pops out a couple kids she’ll realize college is more important.” Having unplanned children was, I understood, a mark of failure to control passions and failure to control fertility.
Moreover, I grew up on a hobby farm. We may not have raised animals for meat, but we lost enough of them that I understood why euthanasia is considered humane: better a quick death by injection than for a cat to suffer through internal bleeding from a car collision, or see the ducks and chickens attacked by coyotes, or a thirty-year-old horse die of dehydration because she couldn’t get up on her arthitic legs. I learned the hard way that sometimes the kindest thing one can do is to let death come quickly and cleanly, as Mother Nature doesn’t let animals die peacefully in their sleep.
With these kind of premises, the pro-life stance I grew up with seemed unfair. If children really did forestall any further education or career potential, maybe it was better to abort a child now so as to build a better life for future children. And maybe it was better to let a fetus die cleanly than to be trapped for nine months with the kind of terrible, thoughtless woman who managed to get unwantedly pregnant in the first place. An abortion was a horrible thing, to be sure, but maybe it was the least bad option.
Things changed. First, my bourgeoise expectations crumbled around me. My husband lost his job as a computer programmer and couldn’t find better paying work than washing dishes. I graduated from law school into a major restructuring of the legal industry and ended up selling shoes to try to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the ends didn’t meet in the middle, and we lost our house in foreclosure. By our tenth anniversary, everything I thought my adult life would be was gone
I began looking enviously at the Facebook pages of high school friends. They’d married their high school sweethearts and stayed in our small town, but they’d had children. For years, I had privately looked down my nose at them, imagining the upper-middle-class life I’d soon have that they’d envy; less than a decade later, I was envious of their children and their husbands who made enough for them to stay home in their modest houses. Children had gone from a curse on the imprudent to a luxury beyond on our means to afford.
My husband and I started working toward being able to afford children, and life improved enough that we felt ready to start trying. So we tried, and tried, and tried. After two years of trying every friendly tip — yes, I even tried dramatically giving up to get pregnant ironically — we brought in the doctors. The verdict was we’d never have children naturally due to a birth defect.
The second change was that, as I was going through this, I changed denominations into a sect of Christianity that takes the pro-life message seriously and became aquainted with pro-lifers who took their call to defend the unborn more seriously than what I’d been used to. Through their influence, I began to learn what abortion really entailed. Far from the clean, humane, and sanitary process I had imagined, I learned how the fetus is ripped apart limb from limb or mashed to a pulp by a vacuum. This wasn’t a humane death: This was a gruesome, torturous execution. If someone killed a puppy in this way, the howls of the internet mob would never stop. Surely, a human fetus deserves at least as much concern.
The third fact came when I decided to look into adoption. I’d had second-hand experiences that didn’t give me good feelings about the system. An aunt and uncle were (and are) foster parents, and it took three years of legal wrangling to finalize my cousin’s adoption because the case worker would rather have seen an unwanted black child with her drug-addicted single mother than with married white social workers. Additionally, a couple we know had been fostering two girls for a year and lost them when the “father” gave one girl a well-earned spanking. It appeared that whatever money one saved by trying to adopt through the public system would be spent either on legal bills to keep a child one had come to think of as one’s own, or would be paid in heartbreak, as a foster parent is less a parent than a landlord for very picky tenants who can move out at a moment’s notice.
If anything, the private systems were more depressing. Domestic adoption fees range from $12,000 to $22,000, plus the ability to pay for any of the mother’s remaining medical bills. International adoption is expensive enough to constitute a status symbol. (Seriously, how many children would there be if every parent had to pay $40,000 to bring them home from the hospital?) For comparison, the average abortion costs $400.
I thought about how my child-free life had not brought me the material success and contentment it was supposed to bring. I thought about how unlikely it would ever be that I could afford to adopt. I thought about how adoption was so expensive, in part, because there were so many parents who wanted to adopt and so few children who were both unwanted and survived to term. I thought about how those children who could have been mine were brutally killed because other women — women lucky enough to conceive — decided they couldn’t be bothered. I envied them, and I hated them.
In the end, I’m ashamed that what convinced me to become adamantly pro-life was not a new-found respect for the worth of all life, or a utilitarian analysis that the potential for each person to help make the world a better place outweighed the significant inconvenience to parents, or even a humble submission to the teachings of the church I joined. No, what finally pushed me over the edge into a 100 percent, no-exceptions, pro-life stance was the deep visceral hatred I felt for the women who’d been given what I so deeply craved who would rather destroy that gift — kill that child — rather than be inconvenienced long enough to regift it to me and my sisters in barrenhood whose arms ache for a child.