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Sometimes I feel like this

December 31, 2007

“An Open Letter to 21 Million Women” by B.J. Isaacson-Jones ( 1988 )

. . .

Where are you?
For over 16 years we have provided
you with choices
Painful choices
I remember—
I sometimes cried with you.
Choices, nevertheless, when you were desperate.

Remember how we protected you privacy
and treated you with dignity and respect
when you
were famous
had been brought to us in shackles
with an armed guard, or
were terrified
that you would run into
one of your students?
I remember each of you.

Our clinic was firebombed.
Do you recall?
Exhausted and terrified we had
been up all night.
We rerouted you to another clinic
because you wanted an abortion that day.
Where are you?

Priding ourselves on providing abortions for
those who cannot pay, we have spent millions
of dollars that we never really
had caring for you. We wanted
to give a choice.
I also gave you cab fare and
money for dinner from my own pocket.
Have you forgotten?

I remember you cried and asked me how
you could carry this pregnancy to term when
were abusing the children you had,
were having an affair,
tested positive for AIDS,
could not handle another,
were raped by your mother’s boyfriend,
pregnant by your father and
shocked and torn apart when
your very much wanted and loved
fetus was found to be
severely deformed.

Your mother picketed our clinic
regularly. We brought you in after dark.
Have you mustered the courage
to tell her that you are pro-choice?
You are.
Aren’t you?

I recall shielding your shaking body, guiding you
and you husband through the picket lines.
They screamed adoption, not abortion!
You wondered how you could explain your
choice to your young children.

You broke our hearts.
You had just celebrated your twelfth birthday
when you came to us. You clutched
your teddy bear, sucked your thumb
and cried out for your mom who asked
you why you had gotten yourself pregnant.
You replied that you just wanted to be grown.
You’re twenty today.
Where are you?

I pretend I don’t know you in the market,
at social gatherings and on the street.
I told you I would.
After your procedure you told me that you would
fight for reproductive choices (parenthood,
adoption, and abortion) for your mother, daughters,
and grandchildren. You will . . . won’t you?

I have no regrets. I care about
each and every one of you and
treasure all that you’ve taught me.
But I’m angry. I can’t do this alone.
I’m not asking you to speak about your abortion, but
You need to speak out and you need to speak
out now. Where are you?

. . .

I have been reading books about abortion lately. I think it’s a combination of the fact that Ron Paul believes that the defense of human life from the moment of conception is part of upholding liberty and that usually libertarians believe that the government should not make reproductive choices for women any more difficult than they already are. At about the time I decided to support Ron Paul’s candidacy, I started this blog and I went to an Ani DiFranco concert. This combination of decisions has been hard on me. I have never considered the abortion debate in depth before (as in reading books about it and willfully informing myself about its history) and now I understand why not. I feel physically and mentally exhausted. I think it is because there is no conclusion. I always get myself into these kinds of conclusion-less debates of life’s big questions.

I have recently read Abortion: A Doctor’s Perspective, a Woman’s Dilemma by Don Sloan, M.D. and Paula Hartz (1993), and I am currently reading Crusaders: Voices from the Abortion Front by Marian Faux (1990). I found both of those books at the public library. B.J. Isaacson-Jones is featured in Crusaders because she is the director of the abortion clinic Reproductive Health Services in St. Louis, Missouri. Yesterday I ordered This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund and Alan Kesselheim (2007). I am also reading Ani DiFranco’s book of poems, Verses (2007), in which she has included her poem about abortion. Usually, when I am listening to a CD that has “Tiptoe” on it, I skip that track because it is too visceral for me. I feel like it’s just too much. Too much information. Too much revealed. I am sure that this post will feel like that for some of you.

Lately, because I am reading these abortion-themed books, my husband has noticed that “something is wrong” with me. My face all too easily reveals that there are storms brewing in my head and in my heart. Sometimes, when I feel like this, I write messages on the refrigerator that no one takes notice of:

magnets on my refrigerator

When I realized (Oh Fuck!) that I was pregnant with my son, I was not happy about it. I didn’t want to harm myself or this thing (not yet calling him my son) inside me but I did want someone to talk to who would not judge me. I think if Dr. Ron Paul had been my obgyn I would not have talked to him about my feelings. He looks a lot like my dad, and I imagine that his insistence that he has never had to assist in an abortion or never dealt with a situation where abortion was of consideration is due to his fatherly demeanor. It makes him at once approachable and yet unapproachable. He believes in absolutes, so if a woman were feeling undecided I imagine that she would not seek his counsel for fear of being spoken to condescendingly. I would have gone somewhere else, as I imagine that his own patients have occasionally done. Somewhere I would not be judged for my struggle between the Id and the Ego. I wish Ron Paul knew that about himself.

In 2005, at my first appointment that confirmed my (Oh Fuck!) pregnancy, the midwife sensed that I was on the verge of tears and asked me to tell her honestly how I felt. I told her the pregnancy was unplanned, but that my husband was excited about having another child. She gave me choices and she pledged to support my choice. I told her that I was not looking forward to my pregnancy or to having a baby. But I also told her that I held out hope that I would eventually accept becoming a mother to a second child. Which I have. Mostly. Except the moments I feel exasperated and I say to myself, “Oh Fuck!”

I had thought of myself as the mother of one, and it was a big adjustment to think of myself as the mother of two. I had a choice, and I believe that other women should have choices (even if they choose differently than I would have) too. I’ve definitely discovered that if you are pro-choice you should not rely on one politician or one Supreme Court Justice to provide you with choices. Which is why I share this 20 year-old poem with you all.

. . .

  1. rosiemolinary permalink
    December 31, 2007 4:30 pm

    Thank you for this honest and gripping poem and post. I appreciate your candor, your heart, and your ability to see things with both your smallest eye and widest lens.

  2. emleedickinson permalink
    December 31, 2007 4:39 pm

    Oh dear…. how hard this time must be for you. I, too, have fought on the front line for year for abortion rights. I’ve not been pregnant since taking a stand, but have been with my daughter who chose to abort. Hard decisions for us all. I do wish you a peace within yourself as you come to terms with this 2nd pregnancy. My prayer-thoughts you. I would wish to be able to wrap my arms around you and give you a mother’s hug.

  3. December 31, 2007 6:04 pm

    This son I write about was born in 2006. I am glad that he is here and I enjoy him very much. But I am glad that the midwives I saw throughout my pregnancy were able to give me lots of choices and support when I was feeling awful about my pregnancy. πŸ™‚ Thanks for your comments.

  4. January 2, 2008 10:45 am

    Thank you for sharing. So many shades of gray to political issues that seem to force fit it all into black and white. I agree; these tough issues hurt my head and ache my heart.

  5. Kathie permalink
    January 2, 2008 5:55 pm

    Thank you for the poem; it sums up many emotions you go through during that time. It is also the hardest decision that you can ever make; nothing even comes close. Curious C is right there are many shades of gray and they always make your heart ache. I am sad that I had to make the decision at all. I didn’t have any other options; but you never forget and it changes a part of you forever.

  6. pppj permalink
    January 3, 2008 10:09 am

    This was a great post. I just wish politicians could agree that we don’t want anyone to get pregnant who doesn’t want to get pregnant and therefore we are going to teach sexual education in high school. Then, if they do get pregnant there are options, BUT let’s teach about birth control.

    I am pro-choice, and I get angry at some of the pro-life people. In my view, pro-lfe should be about ALL life and I wish the picket people would go picket the White House to get our troops home. What about their lives? Are all lives equal then? That is one question I have for pro-lifers. Why make it just about the unborn?

    Fighting, I’m glad you are happy with the choice you made.

  7. January 4, 2008 1:29 pm

    pppj, well said. Thanks for your support of my post and of me in general. πŸ™‚

  8. January 5, 2008 6:11 pm

    Curious C, thanks for the comment. I am struggling with shades of grey because it seems like everyone should have a clearly defined opinion, especially about abortion. But even after all my reading, I can still sympathize with both sides. If I had to err on the side of caution I would have to say that each woman deserves to choose whether or not she becomes a mother, if it’s her first pregnancy or even if it’s her 16th pregnancy. Each time the choice should be hers. Somehow I feel that the pro-life crusaders are right, though. There is no other way to define when human life starts aside from conception. How can I have both of these opinions at once? Argh!

    Kathie, thanks for adding your story. I agree with you that no other decision in your entire life even comes close to weighing as heavily on your heart as this one. Although, having lived in Japan, I know that this moral dilemma is not “universal.” Doctors in Japan are typically not at all sympathetic and just want a straight answer to the question, “do you want to terminate your pregnancy?” The first time I was pregnant it was a “blighted ovum” and I was not given a choice because it wasn’t viable. I had to have a D&C because there was no baby growing, just something that went inexplicably wrong. The doctor kept pointing to the word “abortion” in the dictionary and telling me I didn’t have a choice. He didn’t talk to me or counsel me at all. They didn’t tell me about the procedure, so I didn’t know what was going to happen to me while I was completely unconscious. That was scary and I felt so powerless. That’s part of why I am pro-choice because I think that a woman should feel in control and well-informed when she is under a doctor’s care.

    I struggled to find the words in Spanish to express to my husband’s family what had happened: “PerdΓ­ el bebe” didn’t work (in the same way that “I lost the baby” doesn’t work in English) because there never was any baby to speak of and it wasn’t my fault; I didn’t “lose” it. It was such a hard time for us emotionally because we were in Japan and had such a language barrier with the doctors and attendants.

    I’m sorry I didn’t respond to either of you earlier.

  9. January 5, 2008 7:00 pm

    Several of your recent posts have been so thoughtful, but I haven’t commented since I am intending to blog less and live life more! But this one I’ve been thinking about since you posted it.

    I had to grin just a bit, because of your choice of words… yep, that’s what causes it.
    So I wonder, isn’t approachability at least partially in the eyes of the beholder? I don’t look like your dad, but I do believe in the same absolutes as Dr. Paul regarding abortion, very strongly. Does that automatically qualify me as unapproachable, or judgemental? I hope I am not that two dimensional; I suspect Dr. Paul is not either. Because I’ve been there too. Some of what you wrote was oh-so-familiar. My second child was a surprise pregnancy, my first just six months old, and as much as I loved my dd, the reality of motherhood was still sinking in and I felt unprepared and ambivalent about having another one so soon. I spent my pregnancy confronting the darkness and the ugliness in my own soul; I spent my post-partum year with PPD. It was a very lonely time. I wish someone had told me then that scared, overwhelmed, and less-than-excited are pretty common feelings about pregnancy — even planned-for, hoped-for pregnancies — and that they they are . . . just feelings. They pass. Things change. You get through it. Love, thankfully, is not just a feeling, and I was glad when the long dark night ended two years later and discover that that was still true.

    I’ve lost one “blighted ovum” baby as well. I found out I was pg and miscarried the same day…on my birthday, no less. I cried, but only for few minutes, not for a month like this last one at 12 weeks — but that was because I had not had time to form an emotional attachment, not because there was no little life lost.

  10. January 5, 2008 10:31 pm

    I feel like if Dr. Paul were my obgyn I would want to be really clean and smartly dressed and super excited at all of my appointments. I feel like I would want him to think that I was really amazed at the miracle and privilege of carrying a baby. I wouldn’t want to be in tears in his office or admit that I was feeling scared or not ready. But that is just me wanting to pretend in order to impress him, because I really respect him and I wouldn’t want him to think badly of me. That’s me judging him as judgmental. Of course I don’t know him in real life so I don’t know how much he permits his patients to discuss doubts or choices.

    Rebecca, with you and other women that I trust, I want to be real and let my guard down. I can’t usually do that with men. Even my husband. I once confided in him that I didn’t always like being a mom and that I was having dark thoughts and he didn’t speak to me for 2 days. 😦 Your comment means a lot to me. Thank you.

  11. rosiemolinary permalink
    January 6, 2008 1:59 pm

    I love your realness. It’s like a gift made new with each post.

  12. January 6, 2008 2:41 pm

    Rebecca’s comment: “Love, thankfully, is not just a feeling”. Wow, yes. Thankfully, and even this is misunderstood, by a lot of people, imho. What honest sharing here. Such heartfeltness.

  13. January 6, 2008 10:05 pm

    I think we should all have places and spaces to talk about these things with this kind of honesty. I’m glad that you were able to find that in your midwife, and that you are posting about it here. It is the essential point to me, that we are all free to make these choices of what happens to our own bodies. I don’t know what I’d do if I found myself pregnant (and I hope I never get pregnant), but I support the basic right of every woman to make that decision for herself.

    I also understand your ambivalence – life is an amazing thing, for sure. But pregnancy is something that blurs certain lines, such as where the boundary between two beings and the (moral) rights of each stand, and even when exactly the new life is a life of its own. Where does sentience start? That’s unknown, which isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of opinions. However, it is an issue that is so filled with gray, which is at least part of the reason I feel that every woman should be making the choice for herself, and have the options (and information) that make it a real choice.

    Thanks again for posting about this.

  14. January 9, 2008 9:51 am

    Rebecca, you are right. Some women are able to get past the “feeling” of not wanting to be pregnant or raise another child. That’s why my post was framed the way it was. For me, the devastation was a “feeling” and I realized that. But I still believe that other women do have crisis pregnancies and I do not judge their decisions since their experience is framed differently.

    I just finished Dr. Wicklund’s book This Common Secret this morning. I cried the whole way through it. I highly recommend reading it.

  15. January 9, 2008 11:54 am

    This post took great courage for you to write and I commend you for it. The poem was moving and written from a perspective that I haven’t previously considered. This is such a difficult subject and one that doesn’t have a definitive yes/no answer for most people.

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. January 11, 2008 11:44 am

    Thanks, Brian. I like when people can learn from each other and consider other perspectives. You facilitate that a lot on your blog, too. So the compliment goes both ways. πŸ™‚

  17. Endlessly Rocking permalink
    January 12, 2008 7:42 pm

    What a great post. You commented on my wife’s blog today (Whole Cloth Designs) and that’s what led me here. I am always on the lookout for intelligent “parenting blogs” (not to reduce your writing to a single issue, but it’s an issue that resonates with me). I’ll definitely come back and check your site out again.

    I am strongly committed to reproductive rights for women, including access to abortion. At the same time, in my heart I am not convinced that abortion does not entail the ending of a human life. Once people figure out where they stand personally on the issue — a hard enough task — there is still the matter of what we as a society are to do about it. How people can take care of each other in times of need, hold each other accountable for our actions, respect each other’s liberty, and do all of this within a democratic legal structure…it’s an immensely complicated problem.

    If it were possible to put my own feelings in a nutshell, I would say this: even if abortion is murder, to force a woman to carry a fetus to term against her will does not create any more justice than to allow her to terminate the pregnancy. And even this formulation of the problem leaves out so many important aspects that have to be considered. I think that if more people could admit that abortion rights are not a black-and-white issue, there would be a great deal more understanding on both sides.

  18. January 12, 2008 7:58 pm

    Endlessly Rocking, thanks for coming over and commenting. Your comment makes me misty-eyed, but that’s okay. You are very wise to phrase your feelings in the way that you do.

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