Monday, October 4, 2010

It's Personal

I'm giving you another re-post today. One of my better ones, if I may say so myself; perhaps even the best I've ever done. Whether or not it was my best, though (by whatever standard such a question might be decided), it got more comments at its original posting than anything I ever wrote. I'd love to know what you all think. . .


Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world. (And just as an aside, for me as an adoptee, even such a basic concept as that I'd been carried in someone's womb once-upon-a-time could be disconcertingly abstract).

Along with that realization, I came to understand that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My younger self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.


I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion (of which, coincidentally enough, the 21st anniversary was just last week). She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”

Ummmmm. . . you understand, right, that we're talking about ME here? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re alluding to, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .

She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that. Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written and spoken insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg”.

And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when it is nigh unto catastrophic for them to be so. My daughter was one of those women, not so very long ago. And I wished there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for her. . .


But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. Not a clump of cells, not a faceless ‘fetus’ – it was me, with my own genetic code, distinct from my birth-mother's. And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.

And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone who, as far as you know, never even existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened.  Jen would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; she'd have had guys standing in line for her); but she wouldn’t have married me (and who can say how that might have gone for her?). And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely. . .

And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who might have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, or heck, husbands or wives, were never allowed to be born? Cold statistics tell us that, in the US alone, the number would be on the order of 50 million by now - a sixth again of the population of our country (worldwide, the number would be many times that).

But just to cite a number misses the point. What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who might have done those things, but were never born?

And even still - to talk in terms of 'who might have done what' misses the point, too. It's not so much that, eg, Steve Jobs (an adoptee like me) is so worthwhile for what he's done, but that every human life is intrinsically valuable in-and-of-itself. And 'humanity-at-large' benefits from every one of its members, whether they 'accomplish anything' or not. Certainly, we've all benefitted from the fact that Steve Jobs, or Beethoven, or anyone else, were born and not aborted. But we'll never know, in terms other than colorless statistics, what 'humanity-at-large' has lost for those millions who were never born. . .

My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them; they've been sold a bill of goods, given a false promise. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and challenge anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.


I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her (honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise) (but, to be utterly clear - the very last thing I mean is to trivialize what it cost her for me to be here).

No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other for all these years. I understand how trapped she felt 50-odd years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.

But it is personal - it involves persons, created in God's image and likeness, with inherent worth and dignity not conferred on them by any other human being. Mothers and fathers and children - persons, one-and-all. And my birth-mother is one of them. And so am I. . .


  1. Well, that is heavy.....I guess I'll just say, 'Glad you're here!'

  2. Every issue takes on an entirely new light when it involves oneself, or someone one knows. Having been the male person "set free" via the expedient of his sexual partner having had an abortion, when I was a teenager (and which decision I agreed with wholeheartedly, at the time) I'm hardly one to pontificate - either way.

    I'll echo Cocotte and say that I, too, am glad you're here!

  3. Choose Life. It's so very simple. Not easy, but simple.

    I lend a hearty "Hear, hear!" to the other comments. Glad you're around!! Thanks for sharing. As always, lots to think on.

  4. Yay, to birth-mom that made that decision; and even if she felt it wasn't an option, even then, it was possible, so yay that you're here.

    Further, and this may be choices that women today have, yay that she didn't try to bring you up as a single-mom, or whatever the circumstances may have dictated. I say that, because without your experiences of being raised as an adoptee, and all the nuances *that* brought to you- well, quite a few of us would be less well-off.

  5. Cocotte - Are you sayin' I'm fat? ;)

    Seriously, tho - thank you; I am, too. . .


    Suldog - Can I say I'm so very terribly sorry, without it seeming condescending?

    And also that I'm honored by your candor. . .

    Flutter - "Not easy, but simple". . .

    See, you get it. . . Thanks.

    Sailor - You raise some really good points. I have often pondered my good fortune in not having been raised by a single mom (nothing against my birth-mother, to be sure; but boys needs fathers). And also in having been raised by the man who raised me. . .

    And I've also come to deeply appreciate the whole rich tapestry of the events of my life, and their contributions to who I am today.

    Thank you, my friend. . .

  6. very late to the post here. i think you know me well enough to know how deeply this resonates with me. i was born only 5 short years before roe v wade and i am not naive enough to think that the abortion option wasn't available to a young woman who had enough resources to secure an illegal one at that time.

    i recall being shocked when i heard another adoptee say if she found herself pregnant at an inopportune time she'd have an abortion. really??? i've also lost 2 family members i will never know on this side of eternity to abortion and each time i learned of the loss (after the fact) i felt like i'd been punched in the gut. i also sought to reach out to the respective family members with love because i know they were in dire pain and i have often considered how painful my existence must have been over 4 decades ago. i have countless times prayed that my birthmother's pain has been replaced by a sense of peace in having considered my well being in her decision.

  7. Like re-fried beans, some things get better second time round; re-posts, too. Good one.

  8. Lime - No worries; stop by whenever you can. . .

    And thanks for your comment; lots of chewy stuff there. Alas, we are often unmindful of what we ourselves have been given, much less what that might imply for how we ourselves ought to live. . .

    And you know, the grateful awareness that my existence came at a significant cost to my birth-mother has been very salutary for my own life. . .

    Nick - Thanks for stopping by; glad you liked it. . .