Infertility sucks, but no one owes you a baby

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.

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Why Health Exceptions Aren’t Enough

I made the mistake once again of arguing about abortion on Facebook. I pointed out that SB5, if passed, would harm or kill women who have unhealthy pregnancies. (And gave a couple examples of issues that can occur.) The guy I was arguing with waved that off because he’s talked to more than one doctor who says he’s never seen any reason a woman would need an abortion to save her life, and that it’s just an “excuse.” (I’m sure he’s operating with *no* personal biases whatsoever.)

Well, there you have it. These two medical professionals (and no, he didn’t say that they were even OBs) said it, that must settle it. I’m glad I never have to worry about having an ectopic pregnancy, or pre-eclampsia or hyperemesis gravidarum (extremely severe morning sickness that causes malnutrition, dehydration, and weight loss) because they apparently don’t exist. Though, I’d love to know what Savita Halappanavar actually died of, since it totally couldn’t be the pregnancy.

This is why, even if you think that abortion is immoral if the pregnancy isn’t going to kill or seriously injure the mother, abortion for any and all reasons still needs to be legal. (That’s not my position, but for this particular post, I’m going to focus on health only.) Because if you just have a health exception, those same doctors will be the expert witnesses testifying at some woman’s trial when she ends her pregnancy so she can have chemo. Or speaking to Congress about how those exceptions should be worded.

Not to mention, limiting abortion to only “medical necessity” does not mean that every woman whose pregnancy is likely to kill or cripple her will have an abortion. What it means is that you need to:

  1. Find a doctor willing to bet his medical license and his freedom that not only are you really at that much risk, but that a court of law will back his decision. (That’s a much higher bar than just a doctor’s opinion that it’s necessary.)
  2. Jump through all the hoops set up by a legal system that doesn’t want you to get an abortion—maybe a waiting period, maybe multiple doctors’ sign-off, maybe a court order.
  3. Get all that done and actually have the procedure while there’s still actually time, before the condition that made an abortion necessary in the first place worsens.

I bring up Savita very deliberately, because it was supposed to be legal, even in Ireland, for doctors to complete her miscarriage and save her life. And yet, that didn’t happen, and she died unnecessarily. Just the fact that something is technically legal is not enough to mean that it really is available when it’s needed.

Edit: I added a couple more examples of fatal pregnancy complications, because putting “ectopic pregnancy” and Savita in the same sentence made it sound like that was the condition she had, when in fact it was septicemia that resulted from the hospital’s refusal to complete her miscarriage.

How I became pro-choice, part 3 of ? – Unplanned but not unwanted

Previous posts in this series are here:
How I became pro-choice, part 1 of ?
How I became pro-choice, part 2 of ?

Also, now that I have 3 posts, I’m going to actually subtitle them for easy reference from here on out.

I used to be pro-life in part because I’d been an “oops” baby. I felt that my parents had taken an unintended and not necessarily happy situation and made the best of it, and I’d turned out all right, and if they could, other people could too, right? That was a little naive. My parents had a rough time early on, but there were also hardships plenty of other couples face that they never did. For example, there was never a point when either of them was unemployed, other than my mom staying home for a short time after I was born, and again after my brother was born. There were times when money was tight, and times when their jobs sucked, but there was always at least a steady income. So, what they did, not everyone could have done.

And even with that, I wonder if things might have been different if “continue this pregnancy and start a family now” hadn’t been a choice my mom made, but something she’d been legally forced into. Would it have been harder for her? Would she have felt trapped? Even if it had been the decision she was going to make anyway, what would it have done to her if it hadn’t been her choice.

And what would it have meant to me if my mom had been legally forced to give birth to me. Knowing that I was unplanned was hard enough to swallow–what would it have done to my self-esteem if I’d had to wrestle with the idea that I might not have been wanted.

I’m pro-choice because I think people should get to make ethical decisions for themselves, not be forced into what someone else decides. *Especially* not by people who value the life of a fetus or even a zygote infinitely higher than the life of a pregnant woman.

All those bumper stickers that say “Choose life”? Yeah, there’s something ironic about using that word when you don’t want women to be able to choose anything at all.

How I Became Pro-Choice, Part 1 of ?

So, for a while now I’ve wanted to explain how I went from being extremely anti-abortion to being pro-choice. This took place gradually over years, and there were a lot of reasons for it, so I wasn’t quite sure how to start putting it together. So, I’m breaking it into smaller pieces. I’m not certain how many, really. As many as it takes.

The order won’t necessarily be sequential, either. This post, for example, talks about one of the last nails in the coffin of my pro-life-ness. I’d previously defined myself as pragmatically pro-life, basically acknowledging that a lot of women’s options as far as preventing pregnancy are crap, and as long as we’re going to teach abstinence only in schools, and have insurance companies cover viagra but not birth control pills, and do a crappy job of helping out people who can’t afford to raise a kid, having abortion be illegal would be complete BS.

A couple years ago, I started reading Shapely Prose. Not only did I learn about the revolutionary concept of fat acceptance, I also got an education in the basics of feminism. I had considered myself mostly a feminist before that, without knowing more than a rough summary of what that meant. And I usually caveated it with “not that I really count as a feminist, because I’m pro-life.”

Anyway, it was after I’d developed a major blog crush on Kate Harding that Dr. George Tiller was murdered. And I read about Operation Rescue’s comments, which can pretty much be summed up as callous and evil: We really hope this doesn’t negatively affect our ability to keep intimidating and harassing people. So…terrorism. You’re for it, then. Nice.

Between reading that, and reading these stories about the situations people are actually in when they have late-term abortions. This was a sad and scary revelation for me, because all I’d ever heard on this topic was the rhetoric around partial-birth abortion, nothing about the fact that it’s pretty much always done for major medical reasons, not somebody changing her mind at the last minute. In a lot of cases, these abortions are essentially taking a baby who isn’t going to survive off life-support, rather than condemning them to a short and excruciatingly painful life. That analogy brings up a whole host of other contentious subjects, but when the life support apparatus is a *person,* it should be her call.

Around the same time and from a lot of the same sources, I started reading about crisis pregnancy centers, and learning that they are often sources of misinformation and manipulation.

I went to an evangelical church since I was a teenager, and having heard that crisis pregnancy centers were there to help women in desperate and difficult situations. I remember thinking that they were a good thing, a “money where your mouth is” kind of pro-life stance that was actually compassionate and helpful.

So, between those two things, the realities of late-term abortion and the dishonesty used by crisis pregnancy centers, I felt betrayed in a pretty personal way. I thought about the change I’d collected in those little baby bottles for CareNet, in a program sponsored by my church, and I felt kind of ill.

I already had more than a little bit of cynicism toward the more fundamentalist parts of Christianity at that point. And I was familiar with the evil and vitriol spewed by guys like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. So I suppose I shouldn’t have really been surprised that I’d been lied to, systematically and deliberately.

And as much as I felt used and betrayed, all I’d been conned out of was some spare change. How much worse for a pregnant woman who goes to a crisis pregnancy center who lies to her about the risks of abortion, or withholds her test results to make it harder for her to get one. Or promises support and provides help, right up until the point where she can’t abort, then tosses her out to fend for herself.