Let me start this post off with a little about my own infertility. I have PCOS, and have been unable to have a child. I’ve had two miscarriages (at least), and another failed IUI. After three rounds at the fertility clinic, my husband and I decided it was time to give up. The stress and near-daily doctor’s visits were taking their toll. The expense didn’t help either. We could have afforded as many rounds of IUI as we’d wanted to do (though IVF might be a stretch), but the idea of spending all that money and not necessarily having a baby to show for it was hard for me. I felt like I was putting my life on hold in hopes of something that might never happen, so I chose to let it go and live the life I have, even if it’s not the life I wanted or imagined.
Anyway, Kate Harding pointed out a really gross Federalist article, whose basic gist was that women who can’t raise children are there to be brood mares for infertile couples.
With the help of the many people everywhere in this country and world who are waiting to surround and support you, you can go through pregnancy and birth and raise your child. If you are really young or in really terrible circumstances, that might be exceedingly difficult. So you have another option to give your child a happy life with a mother and father who will read him or her picture books, take your child on walks, hold your child’s hand during an emergency room visit, and wake up a dozen times a night when that sweet baby has a fever.
It’s called adoption. Thirty-six vetted, loving, wonderful families are on waitlists to adopt every single available baby in this country. That’s right: for every child in this country up for adoption, 36 families desperately yearn for the opportunity to care for that baby. They are aching to give your baby a good life.
First off, raising a child is difficult for *everybody,* not just teenagers or people in really terrible circumstances. It’s more than a lot of people can handle, whether that’s due to age, money, temperament, health, or any number of things. It may be hard for an infertile person who’s desperate for a baby to believe, but there are people who just flat-out do not want to be parents.
Secondly, can we please stop pretending that pregnancy itself is, at worst, mildly inconvenient? Women die in childbirth. At higher rates in the US than is acceptable for a supposedly civilized country. And those rates are higher for poor women and women of color, or for women with existing health issues that make a pregnancy more dangerous. Even if a pregnancy doesn’t kill or cripple you, it’s still a potentially disabling condition, especially if you’re disabled or ill to start with. I somehow doubt that all those so very supportive people are going to move in with a woman whose chronic pain is exacerbated by pregnancy, and help her stay bathed, fed, dressed, and gainfully employed with free 24/7 care. Or baby-sit the other kids of the woman with severe depression, so she can go get a massage, or do yoga, or whatever other self-care steps are serving as a poor substitute for the psych meds she can’t take while pregnant.
But third, and the focus of this post, is that infertility does not entitle you to the use of another person’s body. Yes, I understand the empty sense of loss and the aching jealousy that can boil into rage and hate if you let it. I still remember sitting in my OB/GYN’s waiting room during my first miscarriage, *hating* the heavily pregnant teenager in the room with me. Because why should she have what I wanted so badly? (Those ugly thoughts passed, and I try not to resent people for having things I want, when they have struggles of their own, and it’s not their fault I’m infertile anyway.)
Sadly, the truth is that life is not fair. I didn’t “deserve” infertility, nor does anyone else who suffers with it. No one deserves war, or famine, or illness, or racism, either. But the fact that you’re suffering doesn’t mean that someone who has a thing that you want owes it to you. Especially when that thing is a pregnancy that will take nine months of their life to complete, will permanently alter their body, and may injure or even kill them. This is major, life-altering stuff. It’s not like we’re talking about making the five-year-old who’s hoarding all the candy share some with the other kids.
It’s deeply *wrong* to treat women with unwanted pregnancies as baby-making machines who exist for the benefit of those who can’t have children but want to. It also results in all kinds of abuses. In the course of a discussion with another pro-lifer, I came across this article, about a woman who was charged with murder for refusing a C-section. He had painted it as a heartless woman risking her baby’s life because she didn’t want a C-section scar. But that doesn’t necessarily hold up, considering that she had had previous C-sections. Between her mental illness and her cocaine use, she may not have been thinking clearly at the time, but there’s much more to the story than a vain, selfish woman who’s okay letting her kid die so she doesn’t get a scar.
But what struck me the most about this story is that this was a mentally ill woman who’d been transported by an adoption agency from Florida to Utah, to take advantage of lax adoption laws and provide babies for someone who wanted them. They’d put her up in a hotel on a $100 a week allowance. So, here she is, all by herself in an unfamiliar place, being treated by doctors she doesn’t know. She described a C-section as “being gutted from breast bone to pubic bone,” so clearly she was terrified of the procedure. Anybody would be scared in that situation. So, she fled, like scared people do.
But the big take-away for Twitter Pro-Lifer had nothing to do with the woman’s health or safety, and everything to do with how evil she was for not consenting to a C-section. But what if she had actual support? Not an adoption agency who wanted to use her as a brood mare and doctors who were openly hostile to her, but people who actually cared about her? What if she’d gotten to have her babies in her home state, surrounded by people who care about her? Would she have been more willing to undergo a C-section with a doctor she knew and trusted? If she really wasn’t competent to make the medical decision, she deserved to have a family member there who could do so on her behalf, or at the very least, a social worker who’s job it was to advocate for her. There’s no way to say whether the overall medical outcome would’ve been better, but the stress she underwent certainly can’t have helped.
The Nation article pretty well covered what Utah’s reaction should have been:
Melissa Rowland’s case is one that never should have happened. Instead of arranging her auto-da-fé, whether for murder or child endangerment, the State of Utah should be asking itself how it can improve services for poor, pregnant, mentally ill substance abusers–and maybe take a look at adoption agency practices, too. When doctors and nurses take the time to know their patients and treat them with empathy and respect, patients usually follow their advice.
The thing that I cannot stress strongly enough is that pregnant women are people, not walking incubators. Melissa Rowland was treated like a walking incubator, and that should never have happened.