I’ve been wrestling with my conscience lately and I’ve decided its time to hash out my feelings and thoughts in writing. Throughout this whole journey of losing my faith and coming to terms with life outside of Mormonism writing has been my therapy. For me, putting my thoughts on paper gives them credence. It helps me solidify my views and helps me gain confidence that my opinions are valid. So today I am tackling the extremely controversial topic of abortion.
I think it is important to start with the disclaimer that I am not 100% set in my opinions on this topic, or really any topic for that matter. One benefit of leaving religion is that you learn to be more open to being wrong. I have not researched abortion at all so I’m going from my gut feelings right now. There may be arguments that could still change my mind either way.
While I was a believing Mormon, and blindly agreed with any church teaching, I had no moral dilemmas when it came to the topic of abortion. I was okay with it in cases of incest or rape or when the mother’s life was in danger, but otherwise I was completely against it. When someone would argue that a woman should have the right to choose because it is her body I just fell back to the usual excuse of “unless she was raped, she should have made her choice before she had sex.” I still agree with this partially. I do believe that if you are not prepared to be responsible about sex, you shouldn’t be having it. (But my opinion on the matter is not stopping anyone from having irresponsible sex…) If you are irresponsible about sex, are you really going to be responsible about raising a child? But the more I’ve thought about the whole abortion issue, the more I’ve realized that abortion is not all about irresponsibility like I had previously assumed. In my mind, the only people having abortions were young, unwed, sexually promiscuous women. And maybe that is the majority. But its not the whole story.
I probably wouldn’t have given the issue too much more thought except that I just recently had my third child. Having a third child was a big decision for me and my husband. The hardest decision we had with our first two was when we wanted to have them. We already knew we wanted at least 2 kids. When the decision became not when to have another kid, but if we should have another kid, the narrative changed. And when we no longer believed God wanted us to have lots of kids or that any pregnancy that might have happened was part of the divine plan for our family, the narrative drastically changed.
No more belief that there are spirits waiting to come to our family. No more eternal family dynasties to be built. No more prescribed stance on issues to keep me from thinking for myself.
So my husband and I finally decided that another child was something we actually did both want. We were slightly hesitant, because as anyone with at least one child can relate to, we were still struggling to keep up with the kids we already had.
My first two pregnancies were fairly easy, but this last pregnancy was definitely the hardest. By the end of it, I undeniably appreciated the argument that a woman should have a choice about what she wants to put her body through more than I had before. You see, even an “easy” pregnancy is not easy. The physical and mental things a woman’s body goes through during and after pregnancy are not pleasant. So when someone argues that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy should “just” carry the child and give it up for adoption, here’s what they should keep in mind: morning sickness (from nausea to vomiting to food aversions to smell aversions, etc), headaches, heartburn, sore back, sore feet, sore breasts, sore everything, exhaustion, constipation, gas and bloating, swelling everywhere, feet growing out of your shoes, acne, gagging when you brush your teeth or wear a shirt whose collar even brushes against your throat—these are totally normal and MILD side effects of pregnancy. Then comes the labor and delivery. I’m sure most people are familiar with the horror stories here, so I won’t go into the details. But don’t forget the after-birth issues like post partum depression, breast engorgement and mastitis, bleeding for weeks and even months after delivery, stiches, hair loss, uncontrollable emotional outbursts, stretch marks, weight problems, more acne, more constipation, sore vagina and butt, etc. 9+ months is a long time to be miserable. (I know it is not miserable for all women. I know a few crazy ladies who say they love being pregnant. But from my experience, that is the exception, not the rule!)
I knowingly chose to put myself through these things. I knew it would be a huge sacrifice and I knew it would be worth it for my family. But a woman who is not prepared to make this huge sacrifice should not be vilified. It is not selfish or vain to say “no, I don’t want to have to go through that.” I think women who do put their children up for adoption are true heroes. But that doesn’t mean that the women who choose a different route are weaker or less brave or don’t care about others. Having a say in what happens to you and your body is something that should be respected. You should have a choice.
Next comes the argument of when does life begin. As a Mormon, that was easy. I believed in the pre-existence. I believed that all people lived as spirits before being born into this world to receive a body. There was no question in my mind that abortion meant you were killing a child. A child that was meant to be a part of your life. Without belief in the pre-existence, I don’t know when I think life begins. From my experiences bearing children, here is how I personally see it. I didn’t feel anything for at least the first 5 weeks of pregnancy. There could have been a baby growing or there could have been nothing. I was not emotionally attached to anything more than the idea of a child. Once I did feel something, it was not a child I felt. It was nausea and headaches. By this point, I had gone to the OB and had seen the initial ultrasound that yes, there was actually “something” growing inside me. But with the first two kids, all I saw was a speck. With my last child however, I had my first ultrasound at 11 weeks. I was very surprised to see that the thing growing inside me actually looked like a baby already. I never felt any of my children move until about 20 weeks. So for me personally, I guess I feel like “life” started somewhere around 10 weeks. But I had planned for and wanted these children, so I can’t say if I would feel differently if my pregnancies were not conceived under the same hopeful circumstances.
Then came the OB appointments were we needed to decide which tests we wanted to have done that could show certain genetic conditions. I decided I didn’t want to know. I really respect my husband supporting my decision on this. I never really opened the topic up to much discussion, because honestly, I didn’t want to have to think about it or deal with the hard questions at the time. In hindsight, I hate to think of the pain and internal struggle that less-than-ideal test results would have caused. I have had the experience of knowing and loving children with severe disabilities. But even in my ultra religious days I struggled with the idea that God would purposefully allow people to be born this way. I’ve seen some of the struggles that their parents face and I can’t even imagine how hard that life would be. Right now, as I am writing this, I feel extremely guilty. I don’t want to even write the words. But here goes. If I had known I was carrying a child with a severe genetic disorder or birth defects, I would have very seriously considered terminating the pregnancy. (Please don’t hate me!)
The last experience that really caused me to question my stance on abortion is the experience that I am living right now. Having three children has been a really hard change for me. The thought of accidentally getting pregnant right now scares me to death. Yes, we use birth control. But the thought that we could be the .001% is enough to make me panicky. So while I’m waking up at all hours of the night to feed my precious sweet baby who I love dearly, I’m wrestling with my opinions about abortion. While I’m screaming at the other two children who I have loved and adored everyday of their lives to please, for the love of God, just do one thing I’ve asked them to do, I’m struggling with my morality. While I’m listening to another mother say how she can’t imagine life without her new baby and I feel guilty because I can imagine my life with just 2 kids, I’m troubled about what my principles should be. Raising children is hard. More specifically, being a mother is hard. Being the primary care giver for little humans who suck the energy out of you in direct correlation to the amount of joy they bring to your life is hard. It is a lifetime commitment. Every day. You don’t get a day off. Ever. Even if you are not physically with your children, you worry about them, wonder about them, think about them, love them. This is no small thing. You should be able to choose this.
I guess the conclusion I’ve come to, for now, as I’ve guilted myself back and forth over my beliefs on abortion is this:
Politically, I am pro-choice. Personally, I am conflicted.
When I came to the realization that I no longer believe in a higher power who is concerned with my moral choices, I was adamant that I would not be what my Mormon friends and family expect me to be: a person who wanted to “sin” and has left all morals behind. I now consciously try to be a better person than I was before. But I also try to think more critically and examine different points of view than I would have considered before. My religious friends would probably read this and think I’ve lost my morals and turned into a baby-killing, ethically-delinquent sinner. That is not me. It has taken personal courage to allow myself this internal debate and I hope that can be respected.