Sometimes our minds must take a back seat to our bodies. No matter what we may want to accomplish, no matter our mental and emotional potential, if our bodies are ill or injured, we are at the mercy of our physical experience. I have learned this lesson—quite painfully, at times—both as a self-contained person and as a mother, incubating, feeding, and caring for the bodies of my children.
This week, I have been reminded of the lesson again, not by my own body but by my daughter’s. She has been ill, and both her life and mine have pivoted for days around her pain and our attempts to diagnose and relieve it. The energy it has taken to nurture her through this illness is comparable to the energy it took to grow her body in mine, to feed her body from mine, and to teach her body to be independent of mine. Our bodies have been connected since she grew within me—a connection that has caused me both pain and joy, and has challenged me to grow in ways I wouldn’t have believed possible before becoming pregnant.
Such is motherhood.
Motherhood requires a woman to set aside her own needs—not permanently, but unexpectedly and often—to meet the needs of her child. This necessity can lead you down a slippery slope of abandoned needs—you walk away from the work that is integral to your sense of self, or the rest or exercise or recreation that your body needs, to care for your child who needs you right then—and sometimes you forget to return to yourself. But if you don’t meet your own needs (and each woman must define for herself what that means—in terms of work and play, friendships and intellectual stimulation and exercise and rest), you can’t completely meet the needs of your child. Plus, you get really grumpy.
Such is selfhood.
As I have been experiencing this difficult and stressful week, in which I’ve been (sometimes unsuccessfully) trying to balance my own needs with my daughter’s, the question of how we draw the line between a woman’s body and her potential child’s (eventual) body has played out rather dramatically on the national stage. In Mississippi, there was an initiative on the ballot (Initiative 26) that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. The ramifications of this initiative were frightening in their scope—from allowing the death of a woman with an ectopic pregnancy (which couldn’t possibly develop into a child) to outlawing contraception.
I am deeply relieved—like relieved on a cellular level—that this measure was defeated. It was unreasonable to the point of ludicrousness, and it was recognized as such and dismissed. But it is an extreme example of a far more mainstream debate—if (and if so, where and when and how) we should mandate that a mother’s body take a back seat to the developing body of her potential child.
In my opinion, this debate—the “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” debate—has all of the conversational acumen of a Bud Light commercial (Tastes Great! Less Filling!). The conversation around motherhood and selfhood has devolved to the point where we are standing on opposite sides of a line, yelling slogans at one another. We take our positions, hold our signs, and yell about a woman’s rights and a developing child’s rights, as if everything in the debate could be boiled down to one or the other, as if the two aren’t so deeply interconnected that, nine years after having a child, you have a week or a month or year in your own life that pivots around your child’s body. And as if the decision to carry a child to term doesn’t take those years into account.
Oh, we know this, about the interconnectedness. About motherhood, and bodies, and brains, and sacrifice. We know it. We just don’t talk about it.
For example, I’ve noticed that rarely, if ever, do you read or hear this as part of the abortion debate:
Setting aside one’s own needs for the good of another—sacrifice, altruism, love in its highest and truest form—is sometimes easy as pie, when you love someone the way you love your child. But sometimes, even when you love someone the way you love your child, it can be emotionally and physically crippling. I can’t imagine how difficult this kind of altruism would be when you never wanted the child in the first place. And the ramifications of not meeting a child’s needs—emotional, mental, and physical—are enormous for the growing child, and for the adult that child eventually becomes.
Why, when discussing bringing children into this world, do we never talk about what it takes to raise a well-adjusted child? Why don’t we ever talk about parenthood? (Which, by the way, includes fatherhood—something else that never seems to enter the conversation.)
It seems to me that any real conversation about pregnancy and abortion and contraception and sex and blastulas and fetuses and eggs and uteruses and vaginas (but so rarely, if ever, penises and sperms) should include a conversation about motherhood.
Let’s talk about not just the nine months of pregnancy—the discomforts of which are numerous and not to be discounted—but about the eighteen (or more) years full of potential weeks like the one I’ve just had. Weeks where your smart mama brain has to take a back seat not to the needs of your own body—which are probably going to assert themselves soon in the form of stress and backache and who knows what all—but the needs of your child.
Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, mind, body, or soul. It is also not for the uncommitted.
If a woman is forced to have a child against her will, she’s likely to be fairly uncommitted. Maybe even downright resentful. I sure would be.
And that, my friends, is why, even after becoming a mother and fully understanding the emotional and physical ramifications of abortion, I am still pro-choice.
Not because I’m anti-life, but because I’m pro-life.
I fully respect those on the other side of the fence—we are, after all, talking about a potential life. If we can all agree that life is precious, and that children deserve the best of who we are and what we have to offer, that’s a place to start having a real conversation. One that includes not only selfhood (for both the mother and child), but motherhood.