Wednesday, October 7, 2015

It's a beautiful life.


I read those words. Although given the Internet's propensity for hyperbole, I didn't take them seriously. So I clicked the play button on the YouTube video and proceeded to watch. It was an abortion in which a very young yet clearly human-looking fetus was pushed out of an anonymous vagina and then put into a metal bowl and prodded with a pair of scissors as it continued to move. I'd seen still photos of aborted babies. Unsettling as they were, they didn't have the staying power of a live video. Some things you can't unsee. And as that image played itself over and over in my mind, my thoughts picked up speed and began spinning and swirling. What to do? I started a post on Facebook and then hit backspace through all the sentences I'd so carefully crafted. It wasn't the right place. I thought about not saying anything at all, but the tornado in my mind wouldn't have it. 

So I landed here. My haven.

I generally avoid discussion of abortion. My inborn desire to discuss hot topics, to challenge beliefs—including my own (although that happens more internally than visibly)—ends at this subject. I know too many people with strong feelings on either side of the debate, people I care about and don't want to upset with my beliefs on a subject that isn't one of my core causes. (I'm more the animal-welfare, healthy lifestyle, education-is-power, dabbles-in-politics type.) I've never felt the urge to share my multi-layered thoughts on abortion.

Yet here I am. I'm not sure where to go from here.

Abortions happen to other people: acquaintances and friends and close friends. I have never and will never know intimately this experience. My first exposure to it happened fresh into my first year of college. My good friend, let's call her V, told me her roommate had terminated a pregnancy. No, that's not how she said it at all. As I leaned against a counter under the sharply angled ceiling in the tiny kitchen/living room of V's attic apartment in a grungy, gray college town somewhere in West Virginia in the mid 90s, watching her gathering whatever to take to her boyfriend's place, a moment arrived. Mid-scurry, in a low, semi-deadpan delivery, V said these words: I guess Sandy had an abortion. I found the papers. 

Although neither of us had prior known anyone who had been pregnant, much less ended a pregnancy, we took in the statement without much to say. Sandy had an abortion was ingested like cold pizza for breakfast. 

Is here where I should say what I think of abortion? Or should I pile on more tales and metaphors in the spirit of building an effective narrative? Well I can't now. I've gone and ruined it. So here they are, the words that come to mind: Sad. Confusing. Conflicting. Empathetic. Agonizing.

There. Done.

But wait, you say. Are you for or against? 

It doesn't matter.  

I've supported friends through abortions. I never gave my opinion. Because it didn't matter. 

Ah, that's not good enough is it? Fine. Here's where I'll say what could've happened that never happened: Had they been late-term pregnancies, I would've struggled to be the good listener I was at the time. I would've had to try to change their minds. 

Still: It wouldn't have mattered.

I've never had to choose a side. No one has ever asked my opinion on their choice. I don't vote according to a candidate's stance on when life begins. So I'm off the hook. And I think it's okay to be glad about that. 

I can only fathom abortion through the eyes with which I see my world and my world only. In my world, right this minute, I'm surrounded by ornate woodwork: built-in shelves, beadboard, pocket doors, and hardwoods heavily scratched by the landlord's giant Old English Sheepdog (more like Joydog, because when I met her, her sloppy, overgrown-Fraggle appearance made me endlessly giggle). The room is filled with all the things I've gathered over the years, plus a few new ones, namely my boyfriend's banjo and two framed photos: One of him with his boxer and one of him holding my son at eight months old.

My first son, I should say. As of recently, I'm a mother of two. Two boys. Two pregnancies. Each unplanned. Each shook me, straightened me, altered me. Each, as they say, a gift. 

I have a family. I never thought I'd have one. Didn't ache for it. Didn't think much about it, other than general curiosity about the logistics of having one, which would occur occasionally when confronted with families belonging to other people, friends or family members. Now I'm a full-blown family woman. A mother of two boys who embody all the adjectives any loving mother will use, all of which seem generic in expressing the singular love I feel for them. I have a partner whom I love in a way I didn't think I possessed, and he loves me in the way I always knew it should be. The old me, I don't miss her as I feared I would. I remember that girl, though. Fondly. She's who got me here, after all. Here, to this place called Content. 

Now that I've gone down this road, I'll tell you more of my feelings about abortion: I know why women have them. I know because I've had unplanned pregnancies. I've had those moments of Holy shit. This is happening. What's going to become of me? And I wish I could impart to some of those women the happy endings of my own experiences. But I can't. Not because I don't have the words but because it's not my place to push that on them. 

My place is here. Here is where my thoughts matter. Here is a safe place where any woman is free to take in my opinions and let them settle in her mind wherever her gut guides them—maybe in the forefront, or instead far down in the deepest, darkest folds to be forgotten. 

Pregnancy and motherhood aren't anything we imagine or are told before we actually experience it ourselves. We hear parents say I don't remember life before my children. It's the thing all parents are supposed to feel, isn't it? Well, it's not true, not for me, at least. I remember life before my kids. I remember how easy it was to go to the grocery store. I remember being able to run six miles a day. I remember when the weather didn't matter. I remember sleep.

For me, two pregnancies came with few certainties: I knew I'd love my children. I knew my first pregnancy wouldn't involve the father. I knew my second would. I knew I'd have to give up more and more selfish luxuries. 

In the end, the little I knew didn't matter. 

In the end, I ended up with motherhood and a family that I never expected. A love that is at times ordinary, at times extraordinary. A love whose complications are outshone by its rewards. It's a beautiful life. 

On the subject of life, I believe my story is more powerful than my opinion. May it help whomever wants or needs it.