Finding Common Ground

Finding Common Ground

I’ve never been inside a Planned Parenthood clinic. Picketed them when I was in high school. Driven by. Known people who worked there. But never actually been inside. Neither have I ever been inside a religious-based pregnancy counseling center. I can imagine what both might look like – each “side” vilified by the other in their collective imaginations.

Anyone know if there’s a movie or book out there similar to Dead Man Walking, but about the abortion issue? That movie captured, as well as I’ve ever seen it done, the two opposing sides of a very controversial issue. I went into it adamantly opposed to capital punishment. But even as he strove to present the humanity and repentance of Sean Penn’s killer character, never did director Tim Robbins let you forget who he killed and how merciless he was when taking those lives. Abortion needs one of those books/movies – because there are always two sides, and if you listen to the “facts” as presented by either side, you’ll never get the full picture. And you’ll definitely never get the unbiased picture.

I met a woman recently who told me about her experience getting pregnant out of wedlock in a small Texas town. Kelly wasn’t a teenager, but she was still young and scared and needed some advice about how to make such a challenging, potentially life-altering decision. She told me the most disconcerting part – back then, and as best I can tell, to this day – was the lack of impartial information available to pregnant women. In her opinion and experience, the pro-life/anti-abortion camp is never going to give you any information other than about adoption or keeping the baby, while the pro-choice/abortion-rights advocates are usually going to steer you clear of any counseling that smacks of faith or adoption as an option. I cannot comment empirically on this, as I knew from the earliest days that I would choose adoption. But I can imagine the anguish and confusion of a young girl, just wanting a kind, maternal person to help her navigate all the options and examine the potential consequences of each.

Those pro-life folks would have you believe that adoption is a panacea – but we all know that’s not true. Yes, the baby lives, but what becomes of him or her? What becomes of the birthmother? How many under-counseled prospective adoptive parents promise the sun, the moon, and the stars to the birthmother, in terms of openness, and then disappear as soon as the papers are signed, never to be seen again out of fear of the woman who carried and birthed their baby? As for keeping the baby – it’s hard to believe, but young women are still hurtled from their homes when tyrannical, abusive, and/or “religious” parents learn that their little girls are not no longer chaste, but are unwed and with child. What kind of parent does that? Probably a very damaged one. And suppose a young woman does choose to parent. So many sacrifice their educations and career potentials to care for their infant children. Is it impossible to rise above such circumstances? No, of course not. But you’ve got to admit, they are going into adulthood with the deck stacked against them.

And don’t get me started on how so many of these same, allegedly well-meaning folks, who want nothing more than to see that baby born, also think it’s a really good idea to cut money for childcare, healthcare, education, and nutrition because public funding of those things is “too costly.” You can’t tell a woman she has to carry a baby to term and then squawk at the idea of offering her aid to care for that infant once it comes into the world and needs, say, diapers and formula and well-baby checkups and childcare and, one day in the not too distant future, an education. Or are those just fringe items – luxuries that should be available only to women who can “afford” them?

That’s just one side, though. Then there’s the other side – the idea that all legal abortions are safe and that no harm is done when making that choice. We can probably agree that most women would rather not find themselves in the position to need an abortion. Who gets up one morning and thinks, Today I think I’m going to have sex that will lead to an unplanned pregnancy? No one – ’cause that’s the whole meaning of unplanned, right? We didn’t mean for it to happen. Now I’m not saying there aren’t careless, selfish, lazy women who have a pretty cavalier attitude about sex and have had more than one abortion, perhaps several. But I believe they are the exception. Neither is this to say that every woman feels angst or guilt or shame about the abortion, either. And who am I to tell them that they should? I wouldn’t do it – didn’t do it – because I would have had a miserable time living with that decision. Abortion, like adoption, can and does leave lasting scars for some women. When it comes right down to it, our choices are between us and our god/creator/consciences. No one else should really be involved in that part of our decision-making – the living with it part.

I have heard first-hand accounts from women who’ve had heartbreaking reasons for ending pregnancies. Who am I – or you – to tell them that their decisions are immoral? Who is anyone to try to impose their own personal beliefs on another? This is the conundrum of lawmaking – balancing the needs of the class that needs protecting against the freedom of the rest of us.

I saw a billboard today that said, “Take my hand, not my life.” Poignant and heart-rending. And still, as a middle-aged woman who has left Catholicism and organized politics behind, I stand firm in my position that each woman needs to make this potentially life-altering decision for herself. Do I believe that life begins at conception? Something like that. Do infants in utero feel pain? They very well might. Do I think there’s such a thing as a safe abortion? No, not really. Safer, perhaps – but not safe. Of course, that is also my position on many things medical.

Yet the Religious Right – which does not realize the role of patsy it has been playing for lo, these last 50 to 60 years – has given us an ultimatum. They don’t just want to make abortion illegal – their efforts now extend to sacrificing all of women’s healthcare to make their point. And that is where I draw the line. The more male politicians work to diminish our access and RIGHT to basic healthcare, the harder I will push back against them.

Let’s meet in the middle and agree that EVERY woman – regardless of age, race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, education level, or any other label or divider you can think of – deserves access to healthcare and deserves dignity when seeking it. Let’s reduce the need for abortion by providing common-sense sex education to every boy and girl. And let’s make access to birth control free and easy. This does not mean that we stop teaching the value of a committed relationship and the benefits of waiting to have sex. Easy access to birth control and common sense are not mutually exclusive.

I believe that by putting women first, we can find common ground regarding an emotionally charged subject we have been taught will only divide us.

Is There a Birthmother in Your Life?

Is There a Birthmother in Your Life?

When I was 12 years old, attending St. Agnes Catholic School in Phoenix, we had a remarkable assembly in the parish hall one afternoon. To my recollection, it was the only assembly of its kind we ever had. I have no idea who orchestrated it, or to what end. The meat of the presentation was an adoptive couple telling their story. What I took away from it was: Be a good girl. Don’t have sex, or you could get pregnant. But if you do get pregnant, choose adoption, not abortion. And definitely don’t even think about keeping and raising that baby.

I’m not sure why the memory of this assembly still aggravates me so much, but I get agitated as I recall it because it strikes me today – 38 years later, in the midst of an open adoption with a seemingly well-adjusted kid who is, himself, 10 years older than I was at the time of that presentation – as brainwashing and/or propaganda.

I was 27 years old when I got pregnant – and yet my very first instinct upon confirming my pregnancy was that I wasn’t going to keep the baby; I would place him for adoption. Who does that? What kind of mother even thinks that way? Why, when the birthfather asked me to, did I consider abortion for two days but never, not once, seriously consider parenting?

I also remember being 14 and thinking that I was never going to have children. So maybe it was just a thing with me – the biological clock skipped over me. My younger sister got married and pregnant at 22. Her first husband made Tony, my son’s birthfather, look like Ward Cleaver by comparison. David did eventually mature and mellow out a bit over the years, but he was fairly irascible and somewhat easily triggered until his death of heart failure nearly five years ago. He wasn’t marriage material, though, and my sister soon found herself a single mom, so I had a front-row seat for all that entailed. Additionally, my mother had raised my older sister on her own, and I saw the results of that relationship in my dysfunctional sibling. Come to find out, my mother had health issues that did not make her the ideal candidate for single parenting – but these were the facts, as I knew them, when I found myself pregnant.

I have heard that birthmothers tend to go one of two ways, when it comes to having additional children. They either never have another kid, or they get married/find a partner very soon after the placement and have several children in quick succession. I most definitely fall into the first camp.

I was 42 when I met my husband – first marriages for both of us. We hit it off well from the start and were pretty sure we were going to get married by about four months in. His sister and I are the same age, and she had a 1-year-old daughter at the time. Because of my age, John and I were forced to have a difficult conversation very early in our relationship: did we, or did we not, want to have children? If we were going to, the timer was ticking loudly. Even had we decided that we did want kids, nothing was guaranteed, and health-wise, things could have gotten dicey. As it turns out, we decided – together –that we were fine with not being parents. I did occasionally ask John for a long time afterward if he was really OK with our decision. You see, because even though I did not parent Eric, he is still my son and we have a nice relationship. John won’t ever have that, and I needed to be sure he wasn’t feeling bad about it. He finally had to tell me to stop asking. Yes, he was fine with the decision. No, he did not have any regrets. Yes, really.

I don’t know who that couple was who first planted the adoption seed in my head. Their child would be about 40 now, I’m guessing. I hope whoever he or she is, that they grew up well adjusted. That adoption would have taken place about a dozen years before open adoptions began to become more commonplace. I hope that he or she found their birthparents – if they wanted to – and that their reunion was a positive one.

I’ve no idea who is reading or will read this blog. No idea what kind of influence I’ve had over anyone with regard to adoption through the years. If I could leave one lasting legacy with regard to this crazy, mixed up, incredibly peculiar way to build a family, it would be that birthmoms embrace their roles in their children’s lives and be fearless in claiming that role – to themselves and to all who know them. It’s time for birthmothers to come out of the closet. Everybody knows an adoptive parent and someone who was adopted. The thing is, there’s a third side to the triad. The stork didn’t bring that baby, a birthmother did. And you probably know a birthmother, too – you just may not realize that once upon a time she placed a baby with another family. That she is also someone’s other mother.