Sunday, September 21, 2008

Since we are talking...

Time melts around here. I blink, and it's the next day. Or the next. Usually evening, and I am wondering, again where the time went.* We are in a prolonged, waxing and waning growth spurt, complete, as it turns out with Baby's First Thrush. Mommy's too. Ouch.

Given the cause of my sleepless existence, just about the only truly regrettable thing about the whole deal is my apparently complete inability to keep up with the blogging world. My reader has began counting backwards (which means that it now contains posts too old to be considered new) and currently stands at 865. And here, in my very own digs, I abandon hotly contested conversations I myself start, and promptly disappear. Yes, ladies (and gents?), I am a sucky host these days. I mean, I appreciate every single comment, and I very much like that even while disagreeing mightily we can still all remain respectful, AND I did finally reply, but by the time I did, I am guessing at most two and a half people still cared. Oh well.

So in the comments to that very post Christa brings up the question that I actually think could use some discussing (especially in light of the 2-3 Supreme Court Justices the next President is likely to appoint)-- the question of abortion and our views on it as affected by particular life experiences. By discussing, interestingly, I do not mean what passes for the same on the talking heads shows-- each side lobbing zingers and cliches at the firmly entrenched other. I think the issue deserves a much richer treatment then that, so I am going to give it a try. BTW, did I mention how much I liked that the comments on the last post remained respectful and all topic-at-hand oriented? I believe I did. But I am mentioning it again so that I can ask everyone to please do that again here. This is a somewhat hotter issue, I realize, but I have faith in our collective ability to stay on topic and not go the name calling route. Help me keep my faith, mmmmmkey?

So Christa asks: ...has infertility and/or the loss of a child at any stage of development changed your view of abortion?

First, Christa, I need to say that I am very sorry about your miscarriages. It's not a small or insignificant loss. I am truly sorry.

Now, short answer: infertility, miscarriage, and child loss have all made me a lot more thoughtfully pro-choice, pro-choice in a more examined way. By which I mean that before I was pro-choice sort of on general principle, for reasons many people easily site. Now I have a much more nuanced understanding even of those reasons, and I have acquired others. Long answer involves a number of components that I am going to try to summarize (briefly-- I am still not the master of my own time-management-related destiny, and the shorter this is, the more likely I am to actually finish it) below. So here goes.


My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 6 weeks, the day after we saw the heart beating on the ultrasound. Three days after that I had to run a quick errand to a supermarket. It was around 7am on Saturday. The supermarket is near the local Planned Parenthood clinic. As I walked towards the store, I could see the lone protester near the clinic, holding a sign and a doll. The sign said something about killing babies and something about God's attitude towards it. I walked very quickly by her and into the store. And then spent the entirety of my time in the store mentally mapping out ripping the protester woman a new one. She was gone when I came out. Probably a good thing. What I wanted to ask her, then, was how come, if her God was so opposed to killing fetuses, how come her God just killed mine?

For the record, I do not think that G-d, hers or anyone else's, is really micromanaging this. For one thing, if G-d supervises chromosome replication, errors in which are one of the big ones among the causes of miscarriage, well then let me be the first to say that G-d needs a hobby. Seven plus years on from that encounter, though, the thing I would ask the lady, if I could, would actually be about how she can be so sure of G-d attitude on this. There is not so much text on abortion in the Bible (though if you want your brains to explode, try Exodus 21:22), but there is plenty on treating people nicely. And it could just be me, but the last thing I would call accosting a girl or a woman on her way in to a procedure that is already likely to be traumatic is "nice."

See, that's the thing, I think. I have this inherent trust in women. I believe that an overwhelming majority of those who have had to make this decision made it after a thorough and deliberate consideration. The conceptual artist with unfortunate lack of understanding of the female reproductive system notwithstanding, I have yet to hear of a woman who woke up one morning, looked at her bucket list, smacked herself on the forehead for forgetting to do that, and ran off to get herself knocked up just so she could finally have that abortion she always wanted. C'mon! Do we really want to, as a society, to think so low of half of the population as to believe that women are incapable of grasping the implications? Or that we can't make these decisions responsibly?

But what of my own miscarriage? I mourned it. I was devastated. It was my first pregnancy, finally achieved after two years of IF, PCOS diagnosis, and a whole lot of hoop jumping that did in the end result in spontaneous ovulation. We saw a heartbeat. After the non-doubling betas, the heartbeat, we were told, was reassuring. We had one good day after that before the blood came. I barely made it through Mother's Day that snuck up on me only weeks later. But see, that was all because that pregnancy meant things to me. I imbued it with meaning, with hope. It was supposed to grow to be our child.

But here's the thing-- I would never presume to think that everyone is supposed to feel the same way about their pregnancies. For an obvious example, I can see how a 15 year old, accidentally pregnant girl might be mostly relieved to have miscarried at six weeks. That goes both ways, of course. I can honestly say that though the miscarriage was devastating at the time, it is not now. But I know there are people who mourn their six week miscarriages very deeply, and I would never deny them that.

I think that to some people stillborn babies are also mostly constructs. Obviously not to me. To me, my son was a very real baby, a very real person. And yet, as I think about the grief that his death brought, I also think that no-one should be made to feel that pain under duress, so to speak. If abortion is outlawed, there will be bereaved parents who didn't even mean to become parents in the first place. Would you want to be them?

Imagine, if you will, a young woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. The pregnancy messes up all of her life plans, but since she lives in Sarah Palin's America, she can't get an abortion. Gradually, she makes her peace with the pregnancy, makes preparations for the baby, and is even starting to look forward to the arrival. Only the baby dies. What is your estimate for how much time it will take her to do a dive, head first, into a giant vat of magical thinking and self-blame, to become convinced that the baby is dead because she didn't want him/her right away? My money is on two seconds flat.


This should be a very short paragraph. Some abortions are done to save the life of the mother. I like mothers. I think they should live. Again, I trust women and their doctors to make the best decision for the woman and her family. The end.

Oh, wait-- a caveat, I guess, but really a furtherance of the argument: I think every individual woman has the right to decide to prolong her pregnancy in order to try to reach viability even if it is threatening her life. What I think shouldn't happen is the government telling all of us that we must. I do not want to be considered only as important or as useful as my uterus. In fact, I don't think one has to be suffering delusions of grandeur to appreciate that one is important to at least a few people in this world. Helping Monkey make sense of her world after A died was not the easiest of jobs. The mind boggles at considering the job of the surviving parent in a family that would lose a mother. The decision to risk this particular outcome can't belong to anyone but the family, can it? And I haven't even touched on all the other interested parties-- parents, siblings, friends.

Health. Which certainly includes mental health (I am looking at you, Senator Obama). Much like it shouldn't be up to anyone but my family and my doctor whether to put my life at risk, the decision on how much my health is risked is also nobody else's business. There are severe conditions that show up or are aggravated in pregnancy, and I think those pretty much move over to the life argument above. But there are smaller but still significant issues, and I gained first hand appreciation for these lately.

The last two pregnancies have not been easy on me. Aside from the psychological, there is the sheer physical part. I get episodes of post-partum thyroiditis after each delivery. The one I had last year was sever enough to require medication. Heart medication. Temporary, but still. I have PCOS, and it is getting worse with each pregnancy. I have started monitoring my blood sugars again because I am afraid my glucose tolerance is still impaired, five weeks plus after giving birth. There is other stuff too, but this should be enough to make my point. Which is that pregnancy is not guaranteed to be a walk in the park, and it can lead to/exacerbate long-term health challenges, and that nobody should be forced to assume these.

Pregnancy should not be a punishment. Not for being young and stupid, not for being subjected to the abstinence only sex education, not for your birth control failing, and certainly not for being raped. This last one deserves a bit of a special mention, in light of the Republican platform this year and their Vice Presidential nominee's views (both are against abortion for rape victims).

Being pro-choice doesn't mean that if you are faced with this choice you automatically make the decision to abort. And, in fact, for myself, with my fairly comfortable economic situation and my proximity to the highest quality medical care, something very serious would have to be at play to point me towards choosing termination. One thing that absolutely without a doubt would have me making an appointment would be getting pregnant as a result of being raped. Not only would I not like to experience all of the physical issues to bring into the world a constant reminder of being violated, but I wouldn't want to put my family through watching me do that.

Hell, yes, mental health is important. I would argue that this part is important not just for the mother, but also for the immediate family. This was an extreme example, but there are others. In short, I'd say that ideally family planning should mean not just the process of planning when to try to add to the family, but also to the consideration paid to existing members of the family and their needs.

Public Policy/Morality

I hate the phrase value voter. I believe that it is misleading because it limits the things that can be considered values, and, more importantly, because almost all of us vote for or on our values. My values just happen to include less legislating one's particular brand of morality and more being your brother's keeper.

During Republican convention, I happened to catch a radio program where Phyllis Schlafly, responding to a caller's question on what the Republican machine would react to a Democratic candidate for office going back to work only days after giving birth to a special needs child and having a 17 year old unwed pregnant daughter said that "If Sarah Palin were a Democrat, she would have aborted the baby. That’s the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats." Is anybody here surprised that this snippet had me hopping mad for the rest of the day?

I know Mrs. Schlafly was going for the shock value, and I know she was using that shock value to deflect the actual question posed to her, but I was just knocked over by the boldness and brutality of this willful misrepresentation. Let's try this one more time, slowly, for Mrs. Schlafly. What one would choose in a given situation for oneself is a distinct question from whether one would like others to have the ability to choose for themselves in a similar situation. It is, again, down to trusting or not trusting people to make their own decision.

Being pro-choice absolutely means supporting women who are making the decision to continue the pregnancy. It may also mean that you yourself are far more likely to choose this option. Being a Democrat on the other hand, likely means that you think every baby (and every adult) should have health insurance, and that other structures should be in place to help the child reach their potential. Interesting how if these things are implemented, it would become a lot less scary to choose to continue the pregnancy. And funny, not ha-ha funny, but you know what I mean, how being Republican doesn't seem to mean anything about the child once it is no longer a fetus.

And if we are talking about morality, let me tell you what I believe is immoral. Not providing education that would help limit the unwanted pregnancies in teenagers is immoral. Yes, I am talking about the ginormous failure that is the abstinence only sex education. I am talking, again, about my deeply held belief that pregnancy should not be punishment. No matter how it came about, it shouldn't be punishment. The other hugely immoral thing is to not provide the services the presence of which might make it a lot less scary/impossible to choose to continue the pregnancy.

So this is where I get... what do you call it? Pissy? Uppity? Oh, let's go with uncompromising and hard-line. Here's my categorical statement: if your personal solution for reducing abortions in this country does not include these here components-- paid maternity leave, universal health care, affordable child care, and affordable housing-- if your solution doesn't include these, then you are not pro-life. You are pro-birth. End of story.

I think this is it, though I might still be missing some aspects. Have a go at it, but remember to play nice. OK?

*I wrote that part six (holy crap! six!!!!) days ago. As I was saying...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Of celestial bodies and strong emotions

We interrupt our regularly scheduled inability to find words for that Big Post to bring you this post of inability to contain the rant. I have been trying since Wednesday night, and I have failed. So here comes.

One explanation I have heard time and again for the often sorry state of some of our interpersonal relationships is that while men are from Mars, women trace their ancestry from an entirely different body in the Solar System. As reasonable as that explanation seems some days, at least every two years, and certainly every four, it should become apparent to anyone with a habit of cursory perusal of print and TV news, let alone of the political blogosphere, that the gold standard for complete lack of ability to perceive another worldview as valid is the political process in our entrenched two party system. Of course, since I firmly belong to one of the parties (and have a sticker on my car to prove it), I do think that we are (mostly) right, and the other guys are (mostly) wrong. But that doesn't stop me from frequently despairing at the depth of the chasm.

This week was worse than most. I will spare you most of the really?ies that passed my lips this week as I watched Republican Party's quadrennial it wasn't us, it's all the other guy's fault routine, but as I am still bursting at the seams to address what for my money was the biggest indecency of Sarah Palin's speech, you are stuck with it. Not really-- you can always click away, but you know what I mean.

As the Dems collected a cool 10 million smackaroos in the 24 hours after the Governor's speech, many seem to have their favorite moment in the running for that title. Or maybe it's that there were so many, and of such outstanding quality, that for some it is simply too hard to choose. But for me there was never any contest. Perhaps I am cheating here, since mine isn't really a moment, but a more of a series of unfortunate events. No, I am not talking about the tone she used to deliver her speech, the tone of that one teacher in your middle or high school who was just sure that she was the best educator for miles around, and who wasn't ever going to let anyone forget it or question it, and, consequently, always spoke to the students in this most condescending of tones. Nope, not that.

In college, I spent a fair bit of time doing theater or a mix of standup and theater. So I know a lot about enunciating and projecting, a good deal about referring to current events in your script in a way that includes a punch line the audience will still be talking about when they get home, a fair bit about set design, costumes, and props, a respectable amount about sound, and even something about lighting. So I feel qualified to say that the people who worked on all these aspects of Governor's speech were, clearly, professionals. Sometimes very mean-spirited professionals, but professionals nonetheless.

And that is also why I feel that the Governor should have summoned some of her fabled moral fortitude complete with some of that unfailing politeness and used the "thanks, but no, thanks" line every time set designers, prop masters, or writers brought to her yet another way to exploit her children. Though it's not like this was new hat for the Governor-- she started the week by announcing her daughter's pregnancy in order, as the campaign said, to defend her against the big mean bloggers saying things about her last pregnancy. Right, because there is no better way to save your hide than by throwing your child out there instead.

So let me ask you, Governor. When they told you to exploit your son's imminent departure, possibly doing something illegal, and certainly ill-advised in the process, did you try telling them it didn't seem right to you?

Of course, since no reporter is allowed to subject her to the unthinkable scrutiny of, you know, asking her a question these days, I don't expect she would answer one of mine either. But I am going to pose a few more anyway.

What I really want to know is why did they bring the baby to the speech. It seems like in any time zone the shindig was way past his bedtime. I don't suppose the answer is that they couldn't find a qualified and properly vetted babysitter on such a short notice. No, I get a sinking feeling that it was so that they could show him off, to say "look, this is the baby with Down Syndrome I decided to keep" without saying it, without bringing up the unfortunate fact that in deciding to keep this baby Sarah Palin exercised the very freedom to make a choice that she would take away from the women of America.

"And children with special needs inspire a special love" Sarah Palin says, and I, predictably, bristle. Because what, my children only inspire the stale, unspecial kind of love? Actually and more importantly, Governor, can you explain to me how exactly is your love for your youngest son special? Because there was that pause in your speech, right around when you uttered this particular phrase, where the way you were triumphantly looking around, I could've sworn you were expecting your medal (for being so awesome and keeping the baby) to arrive at any moment.

And it irks me, a lot. Maybe it's because I believe that I had my children for a very selfish reason-- I thought that my life would be better if I had them, and so I went for it. Whatever happened along the way, I don't think I deserve any accolades. And I don't think Governor Palin does either. See, he is either a child to you or proof of her pro-life credentials. And if he is a child first then all of this is unseemly. IMHO, of course.

But, of course, this wasn't the extent of the little Trig's star turn as a prop. Did you see the Palin family make their way into the VIP box a speech or so before she spoke? I did, and let me tell you, I thought it was unfortunate. Not only was Bristol, Palin's pregnant 17 year old daughter carrying Trig, but suddenly the boyfriend (whose MySpace page explicitly states that he doesn't want children) was by her side, and there was rather a few empty seats around the young couple. Made for TV, anyone? Look how good we look with a baby. Aren't we just fit to be on the cover of some magazine or other?

You know what I realize? The campaign asked everyone to respect family's privacy. I realize that I would love to. As soon as the candidate herself starts to do the same.