Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's Personal

Today is the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade, so I'm giving you, one more time, a (lightly edited) re-post of my 'Abortion' post.  In past years, I've tended to put it up around the time of the anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother, but it might be even more appropriate today.  It's one of my better items, 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), the topic resonates with me at a deeply personal level. . .


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, especially once Jen and I married and began having children together, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who, though I had never met her, 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. 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.”

I nodded sympathetically. . . until the penny fell all the way to the bottom.  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 would highly recommend her book which is the source of that quote; it's an utterly unique book, just for her refusal to take part in the standard shouting matches.).

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 my heart ached for her, wishing 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 merely a clump of cells, or a faceless ‘fetus’ (honestly, as we sit here, you and I and every other human being are living, breathing clumps of cells; but of course, we're much more than that, and so we were in our mothers' wombs, as well) – it was me, with my own genetic code, distinct from my birth-mother's (or my birth-father'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 (I've occasionally gotten a chuckle from the thought that I'm the personification of the 'population-control' movement's worst nightmare - an 'unwanted pregnancy that turned into eight more mouths to feed). . .

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 50-60 million by now - a sixth again of the population of our country (worldwide, the number would be many times that).  Do you ever wonder who those people might have been?

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, the late Steve Jobs (an adoptee like me) was so worthwhile for what he did, 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 bloodless, colorless statistics, what 'humanity-at-large' has lost for those tens of 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.

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, the only fitting response to which is gratitude.  I am as grateful as I can be for my life, my family, my wife and children, and all of my friends, including those of you who are reading this; for existence in this rich and fascinating Universe, and for the Hope of the World to Come.  And none of that could ever have come to pass for me, if I'd been snuffed out before I could be born.

So you see, it's 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. you're preaching to the choir, but you know that. i have had a female family member opt for abortion and a male family member lose the opportunity to take responsibility as a father when his partner chose abortion. i have had my mother say both of these situations were the best choice and i have challenged her with the notion that she'd not have a daughter if someone else has decided it was the right choice for her. and having been born in 1968 i am not so naive to think i could not have been aborted illegaly. i also know it cost my great-grandmother her life when she developed sepsis after what my grandfather termed "a knitting needle abortion." yes, it is personal, deeply so.

  2. Bijoux and George - Thank you both.

    Lime - I understand that I'm mostly preaching to the choir; but some things just need to be said because they're true, regardless of what anybody thinks. . . Solzhenitsyn said that "One word of truth outweighs the world"; and it can seem sometimes like the whole world is intent on believing the lie. . .

    I didn't know that (or didn't remember it, if you've mentioned it before) about your great-grandmother. I am so sorry, for her and for those who loved her. . .

  3. This is such a tough topic for me... on one side, I am personally very against abortion. But on the other, I struggle with anyone telling others what they should or shouldn't do.

  4. I read this yesterday morning and found myself nodding my head and thinking I have to comment. Then it was what to write. because it is so personal.
    In the end all I can say is, "Well said"

    So... on another note:
    Sometimes the verification word boggles the mind with its coincidences, if they're really coincidental. This V-word is peridei.

  5. Lime (I had another thought; hope you don't mind) - I do think you would really like Frederica's book; she comes at the whole question from a unique, and thoughtful perspective that just comes from a different direction than I've seen anywhere else. . .

    Me - Thanks for taking the trouble to comment on this; especially from a different POV. I understand what you're saying. But (if I may) - don't all laws 'tell people what they should or shouldn't do'? I mean, we tell people they shouldn't steal or murder, or own slaves, or any number of other things, by enacting laws against them. It boils down to what we as a society are willing to hold up as the kind of society we (via our elected representatives) want to have, doesn't it?

    Skip - I hope that the 'personal-ness' doesn't render it as insufficiently 'true' in a more general sense. The 'personal' is meant to illustrate the more 'cosmic' Truth; if I can say it that way. . .

    Thank you, though. . . very much. . .

  6. Yes you are right about laws. But I guess I just would rather see people obey laws because they understand and believe in them, not because they are told they have to. (hmmm... maybe that's why I always explained the "why" behind my actions to my children instead of just telling them what to do. I hadn't thought of it that way before).

    And as someone who struggled with infertility for several years and wasn't sure whether I'd be able to have children, I am not for abortion. I think I'm mostly against the methods that are used to vilify it... methods which generally attempt to punish the woman who is going through a very tough time, and needs support and love, rather than judgement about a (most likely poor) choice she is making.

  7. Just Me - I really do appreciate you engaging this conversation with me.

    There is a school of thought that recognizes the 'teaching' aspect of the law - that the law, just for being The Law, has a formative effect on the minds/consciences of citizens. Hence, no one really thinks of slavery as a matter of personal choice any more (there are probably better examples available, but that's one that immediately occurs to me).

    You and I would agree on how the mothers-in-question ought to be treated. As I said (and again, out of my own experience with my daughter), I have the utmost compassion for them. If I had to name a 'villain' of the story, it would be the 'abortion industry', which plays on the desperation of the women to maximize its own profit. . . To say nothing of what happens to her when, months down the road, she's dealing with her own guilt over what she did that was supposed to be such an 'easy fix'. . .

    I know folks who, when their son rendered a young woman pregnant, and she had no other means of support, had their son move out, and brought the mother of their grandchild in to live with them, until she was in a place to manage her own situation again. Real down-and-dirty heroism right there, methinks. . .

  8. "There is a school of thought that recognizes the 'teaching' aspect of the law - that the law, just for being The Law, has a formative effect on the minds/consciences of citizens."

    Interesting perspective, and I would expect it does have that aspect for many. I have one child who would almost always be swayed just by virtue of something being The Law.

    However, I have another who would question everything until something convinced him to choose a side. Just being The Law would not be any more of a valid argument to him than hearing a parent say "Because I said so." I would expect that life with him has somewhat skewed my thinking.

    But I've enjoyed the debate as well. :)

  9. Two bits of fun:
    - Cousin's spouse, very pro-'choice', was passionately declaring my immorality at forcing women to be involuntary incubators. Eventually (when she caught a breath) I replied "Well, at least we agree on one thing: we both believe in the death penalty, just differ in how to apply it." Yeah, she avoids me at nearly any cost.
    - Tebow. Ya know?

  10. Me - And then there's always the 'if you do that, you'll go to jail' aspect of the 'training effect' of the law. . . ;)

    I've had one or two of those kind of kids, too. . . I think that's why someone once called parenthood 'The School of Holiness'. . . ;)

    Xavier - I am often amazed at how many really sophisticated modern people seem so unable to make the connection between sex and babies. . . One supposes that, at least in most cases, the thing that brought on the 'incubation' was undertaken voluntarily. . .

    And yes, of course. . . Tebow. . .

  11. "involuntary incubators"??!!

    As we know from the feminist movement, pregnancy was invented by society to punish women for fornicating. Or it was invented by men to keep women in their place. Or something like that.

  12. Fed - And here I always thought it was co-operative venture for making babies. . .

  13. This is great writing, which is usually true of anything written from the heart, no matter the subject matter or whether one agrees with the sentiments expressed.

    (I do agree, by the way. I didn't always, but I do now.)

  14. Suldog - Thank you, my friend; I am humbled and honored to have that come from you. . .

    And, is it patronizing if I say 'thank you' for changing your mind? I hope not; I don't mean it to be. . .

  15. No, not patronizing at all. I am always willing to accept "thank you" with as much grace as I can muster.