How I see the abortion debate now that I’m pregnant.

Cross-posted from Secular ProLife

So I’m pregnant. I’ve been relatively active in the pro-life movement for about 8 years now, and I’ve never been pregnant before. I’ve tried to listen attentively to the experiences of mothers in general and pregnant women particularly and understand where they’re coming from. And of course I still think attentive listening is a good step, but there’s no substitute for experience, right?

I suppose the abortion debate is a bigger part of my life than I realized, because, at every step of this pregnancy, I’ve thought about the many abortion-related discussions I’ve had over the years.

I thought about how women with unplanned pregnancies may not realize they’re pregnant, or may even be in denial about their pregnancies, for several weeks at least. I can see how easy that would be to do. I had only one minor symptom leading up to when my next cycle should have started: sore boobs. Barely. At night only. Mine is a planned pregnancy, so I was on the lookout for symptoms, and even then I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining things. Besides, many women have the same symptom before they start their cycle anyway.

I took a pregnancy test a few days after my period should have started, and it was immediately positive. But I didn’t experience any other symptoms for another week and a half or so. For those of you doing the math, that’d put me at about 3-4 weeks gestation before I really started getting symptoms. The next major symptom was exhaustion. I suddenly found myself drained of energy much more quickly during the day. For awhile I wasn’t sure whether my tiredness was really due to pregnancy or I was just experiencing a placebo effect because I knew I was pregnant. It wasn’t until about the 5th week of gestation, when nausea set in, that I was sure my experiences were not placebos.

In any case, that was my first observation: it’s pretty easy to not be sure you’re pregnant, even when you want to be pregnant. I can only imagine how easy it is to deny the reality when you really don’t want to be pregnant.

The next major realization I had was how difficult it is to bond with the kid in the first trimester. Obviously I can’t see the kid. I can’t feel any kicks or movement. I don’t know gender, so I can’t even refer to the kid as “he” or “she” much less by a name, which would feel much more personal. I have to opt for the awkward “they” or “the kid” or, worst, “it.”

If we didn’t live in a time and place where I have the resources to know how pregnancy and fetal development work, if we didn’t have cheap books and free websites and ultrasounds, there would be nothing inherent about my experience that makes me feel overwhelmed with love and connection. The only immediate signs I have that there’s someone growing in me are exhaustion, soreness, nausea (sometimes with vomiting), and random hormone surges. What in that list would make you feel affection, hm?

I’ve seen a lot of pro-lifers talk about how women who get abortions must be crazy (sociopathic) or evil or heartless or in deep denial. But I don’t think that follows at all. The vast majority of abortions are done in the first trimester – when it’s hardest to emotionally bond with the kid and very easy to feel physically and emotionally miserable over being pregnant. I can easily imagine many perfectly sane, non-evil women wanting to believe in and obtain a brief procedure to end a pregnancy. We shouldn’t vilify post-abortive women not only because it’s morally wrong and strategically foolish, but because it’s probably almost always totally inaccurate.

I’ve taken this view long before I was pregnant, but, for me, experiencing pregnancy has just underscored my perspective all the more. It’s so easy to imagine how women would feel both emotionally disconnected from their unborn kids and averse to being pregnant. It’s a theme I’ve ruminated on a lot during my first trimester.

(I can anticipate the comments now: “That doesn’t make killing your unborn child okay!” Yeah, I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m saying these women aren’t crazy or evil.)

Another observation that surprised me a bit: until recently, I haven’t felt super-excited and all mommy glow about being pregnant, though most people seem to expect that reaction.

When I took the pregnancy test I was overcome with joy and couldn’t wait to tell my husband. I couldn’t even sit still, I was so happy and excited. And it was delightful telling our parents and immediate family that same night.

But that initial excitement ebbed quickly as various symptoms took its place. And mine hasn’t even been a particularly difficult pregnancy. From what I understand, it’s been pretty much textbook so far, with plenty of unpleasantness but nothing really extraordinary. I’ve had morning sickness but it’s confined itself to mornings, and not every one of them. Some women feel nauseous all day every day, and even struggle to get enough to eat because they can’t keep it all down. Ugh, I can’t imagine. Being nauseous flippin’ sucks.

Anyway, I was surprised to realize how not-that-excited I felt about being pregnant. If I focused on the idea of having a newborn, of having a nursery and cuddling and things like that, I still felt quite happy. I’m happy that I’m pregnant in the sense that I’m happy we are having a baby. I’ve long wanted kids. But at no point have I been happy to be pregnant in itself. I’ve known one or two women who enjoyed the actual process of pregnancy, but most of the women I know agree that pregnancy kind of sucks, and if we could have our little ones without having to go through pregnancy, I expect the great majority of women would choose to do that.

But my emotional ambivalence wasn’t just because of pregnancy symptoms. I also found myself getting pretty stressed about whether we’d made the right decision to have kids now. How will we handle division of labor? I’m working on a post-graduate degree and he’s working on his bachelors. We both want to keep pursuing our educational and career goals, but we both want at least one of us to be home with the kid at the outset. And what about money? We currently make just enough to cover our expenses, and now we need to get a bigger place, we need to get all the baby supplies, there are medical expenses, and we learned our insurance deductible resets with the new year (I’m due March 1st). I started to feel very overwhelmed about all the uncertainties in our future and how we will navigate them.

Of course we had talked about all of this before getting pregnant, and we decided this was still the right time due to other factors. I got pregnant on purpose, knowing in advance about all these concerns, carefully considering them, and deciding it was still the best decision. And I still think it was the best decision. But for awhile after finding out I was actually pregnant, it was a bit scary. There’s no going back now, better hope you’re right!

So between the tolls of pregnancy itself, the nervousness of having our first kid and how that will affect the rest of our lives, and a few other factors going on for us this summer, I just wasn’t feeling this giddy I’m-a-mommy feel that I had sort of expected. And this ambivalence is all for a planned, wanted pregnancy! I can only imagine the emotional roller coaster when the pregnancy is unexpected.

I feel better now. My symptoms are lessening as I enter my 2nd trimester, we’ve already moved to a larger apartment where I can start Pinteresting away for a Harry Potter-themed nursery, and we have a more concrete plan of how we will handle finances and so forth as we go.

But it was enlightening getting a taste of the stress and varied emotions that can come with even a desired pregnancy in a stable, committed relationship. I suspect it’s actually very common for women to feel ambivalent—especially about first pregnancies when we have no experience with the process—but I suspect it’s also very common for women not to talk openly about their ambivalence. When everyone is reacting with “Oh my god you must be so excited!!!” it can feel awkward to say “Hm, well not really, not right now.” I bet a lot of women worry that if they aren’t gushing with happiness there is something wrong with their feelings or with them as mothers. But it’s not true. I think ambivalence is probably more common than people realize in all huge, life-changing events.

Oh, one last observation: the ultrasound was a thrill! We got to see the kid squirming and kicking (even though I can’t feel that at all yet) and being able to see the kid made me feel so much more connected than any fetal development book or website could. I can definitely understand how ultrasound technology could influence some women to carry on with their pregnancies.

What about you other mothers? Were you in the pro-life movement before you had kids? If so, did you think about your pregnancies in that context? What did you notice?

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