Friday, September 05, 2008

More Bathwater, Please

I need to say a few more words about pregnancy. I firmly and unshakably believe in the right to choose to be pregnant. Contraception makes that possible, and I am appalled by those who think that self-control is a substitute for it.

I also believe in the right to choose not to be pregnant, which would be far less frequently exercised if all women had access to cheap, effective contraception that didn't require a whole lot of thought in that heated moment before it's too late, and if we forgot once in a while about the dewy glow of Angelina Jolie's pregnancies and thought more about how many people she retains to tend and enhance that glow and to take care of all those babies.

No one really wants to have an abortion, especially not a late-term one. So I bristled when I read in the Times that Sarah Palin "has been a hero to the anti-abortion movement since she gave birth to a child with Down syndrome last spring." This does not make her a hero; it makes her a mom who had amniocentesis because she knew that genetic defects are far more common the older a mother is. She confronted a choice by doing that, and decided to continue the pregnancy.

I have been there, and if the test results had showed Down syndrome, I would be the mother of a loving eight-year-old now. But they did not; they revealed that Lily had a devastating condition that meant that, if she made it to birth, she would survive less than a week and be in constant pain.

I couldn't do that to her. So I opted for a D&X, the safest procedure for both of us. In the process, I nearly died, as I stopped breathing due to a bad reaction to general anesthesia.

This was not birth, not even partially. This was death, and there was no joy in it, only the knowledge that one suffering had ended and another would continue. Over the three agonizing days the procedure requires, I saw other women in the waiting room at the secluded clinic in West LA, grieving and terrified.

None of us wanted to be there. We were among a tiny percentage of women in the US (the Guttmacher Institute has statistics that show it to be less than a tenth of one percent of women 15-44) who felt that we had no other choice.

So I have been where both Bristol and Sarah Palin have been. Those two pregnancies bracketed my childbearing years (though it's not impossible for me now, it's highly unlikely). And though I dearly wish that one had not happened and that the other had had a different outcome, I am glad to be alive.

And I can never support a candidate who would deny me the awful choices I had to make, even - and especially - if she too has had to make them.

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