When I was five months pregnant with Eldest, I found myself in extreme pain. The doctor said it was sciatica and put me on modified bedrest and Codeine. I would watch the clock as it grew close to when I could take my medication, the pain was so intense. Finally, after I noticed one of my feet was bigger than the other, I was rushed to an MRI and then into the hospital with deep vein thrombosis.
For six days, I was on strict bed rest and a Heparin IV lest the clot in my leg break off into my lung, heart, or umbilical cord. I remember being ridiculously calm and methodical — most likely because of the pain. It wasn’t until late in my hospital stay that I realized how seriously ill I was and the profound danger to both me and my unborn child.
For the remainder of my pregnancy I injected myself with Lovenox twice daily. The market price of this drug was over $1,000 per month. My insurance reduced the cost significantly. After pregnancy, I switched to Coumadin and continued weekly blood tests for three months.
When pregnant with Youngest, I began Lovenox injections immediately. I also saw a perinatologist who specialized in DVT as well as a hematologist. Despite significant testing, there was no identifiable cause. I had bi-weekly appointments with the perinatologist until the last six weeks of pregnancy, when I saw him weekly. I had numerous ultrasounds.
With preventative care, I avoided another blood clot. However, the birth was not as “easy” as the first. The umbilical cord was wrapped twice around Youngest’s neck. We were minutes away from an emergency c-section when he was born. His one-minute APGAR score was four. They rushed him to the neonatal ICU while I completed the childbirth process.
Everything ended fine. Later in the day, the doctor plopped down in a chair and asked me if I was going to have any more children. I said we hadn’t decided. He commented that I had two healthy children. I understood the message.
In both pregnancies and births, I was very fortunate. I had ample healthcare coverage to pay for the high costs of my pregnancies. I also had the resources to work with a home nurse when Eldest wouldn’t latch properly and lost several ounces his first week of life and the equipment for the bilirubin treatment Youngest needed in the first weeks of his life.
Both of these pregnancies were planned. We had been married five years when we had Eldest. I had long-term disability insurance that continued to pay me the last four months of Eldest’s pregnancy when I couldn’t work. I also had six weeks medical leave plus two weeks of parental leave. Adding saved and current vacation time, I took a full four months of paid leave from work with each child.
After my last year of college, I had just taken the LSAT and was considering going to law school after I graduated when my period was late. Dave and I had been together almost four years at this point and were engaged (you can read here what I’ve written about the Bible and premarital sex). The pregnancy test was negative, but in the time until I saw that result, a million things went through my head.
I thought about whether I would still be able to go to law school. If I waited a year or two until the child was older, there would be significant repercussions for my professional life. A child should change your life, but these changes weren’t my choice and the trajectory of our lives would have altered dramatically.
In 2004, when we were living in an apartment with our five and two-year old, building a house that only had three bedrooms, I found out I was pregnant. This was not planned. In moments, I thought of my high-risk pregnancies, working full-time, and caring for two children. How were we going to do this?
These were the thoughts that flooded through my head in those first minutes. By the next day, I was beginning to re-plan our lives. Regardless of the risk to my health (but not really considering the impact on my husband and children should I have a fatal blood clot during pregnancy), I called my perinatologist to set up an appointment so I could begin my medication. Assured of excellent medical care, I started to replan the next nine months (and the rest of our lives) and even began to think of baby names.
Five days later, I miscarried.
I took one day off of work. When I returned, one of the partners said to me that I didn’t look like I’d been sick. I didn’t say anything.
I became physically ill for weeks after the miscarriage from the emotional roller coaster and the stress of it all. Despite the shortness of my pregnancy, my miscarriage almost broke me. Miraculously, God had put me in a Bible study when all this was happening. A crisis of life and faith eventually led me to seek God more earnestly — eventually leading to my call as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.
These are my pregnancy stories. For the most part, they are happy, I guess. However, this isn’t simply due to the joy of children. When I thought I was pregnant in college, I was in a loving, committed relationship, one-semester from graduating with a professional degree. With the boys, I was well established in my career and in a strong, supportive marriage. We owned a house. I had health insurance, generous work benefits, could afford quality childcare, and had the certainty that we could provide for our children in the future.
The first time, though, there was the consideration that I had worked hard all though high school and college to achieve the reality of a professional career. In fact, when one recruiter asked me what I would change about my college experience, I said, “I would have had more fun.” I could have still worked professionally, but children are expensive and I was not leaving college debt-free. And let’s not kid ourselves about where the primary responsibility lies for childcare, doctor’s appointments, school responsibilities, etc. even though I have a wonderful, supportive, hands-on husband who is a great father.
But with a child at 22, should I be forced to forfeit my identify and what I had worked so hard to achieve? Would I have had the professional success and fulfillment I did? Should this matter? Some may say it shouldn’t when talking about a future life. But what about my future life?
I wouldn’t have had an abortion because I loved Dave, we wanted kids eventually, and we had resources (and at 22, I thought I could accomplish anything). However, when I was pregnant that final time in 2004, one of the first images that came to mind was my perinatologist dropping into a chair asking me if I was going to have more children.
Pregnancy is always dangerous. We forget that because it happens every day. But really, each successful pregnancy, delivery, and healthy child is a miracle. I would never fault a woman for choosing an abortion over adoption. In addition to the emotional connection of pregnancy, it is also the ninth leading cause of death for women ages 20-44 (and it’s even higher among women of color in this country). You should choose whether you accept this risk.
We also forget that pregnancy costs women a lot. Financially, my pregnancies would have been devastating if I didn’t have good insurance. Or, I would have been forced to make the impossible choice of not taking the medication that would hopefully keep me and my unborn child alive. Then, there is the cost of taking care of a child. At least on Medicaid basic care would be possible. But what about quality childcare? Is the least what we hope for our children?
And of course, the lost wages. Money isn’t the most important thing but it is a necessity. A woman accepts reduced life-time earnings when she has a child. There are many opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to accept if I had children when I entered into my professional career. I wouldn’t have promoted as quickly. I might not have been able to maintain a job that provided the health, disability, leave, and vacation benefits I had with my two boys. I might not have been able to afford the expensive equipment necessary for me to continue nursing my children when I returned to work.
What I’ve learned over the years, is that abortion is not about whether or not you want to be pregnant. It’s also not about whether you consider an embryo a person.
Despite the truth that free, effective birth control reduces abortions, reproductive equity is not available to every women because we allow our work places to determine it. I agree, late-term abortions are a horrible occurrence, but they are rare. And when they happen, it is not because a woman is using it as “birth control.” It is usually because something has gone horribly wrong with the pregnancy, including a threat to the mother’s life.
Might there be fewer abortions if we guaranteed maternal healthcare? What if healthcare was guaranteed for every child? What if child care was subsidized so a woman could work or continue her education? What if we had a more generous family leave policy? What if the wage gender gap was eliminated? What if birth control was free? What if the morning after pill was readily available?
And I can’t even about pregnancy in the case of sexual assault, especially for a minor. Dear Lord, can’t the woman have some say regarding her survival of the violence done to her? And don’t get me started on how an egg can’t be fertilized without sperm.
And that’s really it, I think. Pregnancy is considered a woman’s issue.
The risk to life, the impact on career and education, the cost of healthcare, the responsibility going forward, and the restriction of one’s personhood — these are not the concerns of the patriarchy. Therefore, they are of no concern to men (yes, it’s mostly men) who sit on courts and in legislative houses. And this is as old as time.
The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” – John 8:3-5 (CEB)
Well, Jesus didn’t anything, but he might have asked where the man was if this woman was caught in the act of adultery. Regardless, he did not commend the woman — maybe because the concern of the men who brought her was not justice but control. They didn’t wait around after all to see who got to throw the first stone.
Genesis tells us:
God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. – Genesis 1:27 (CEB)
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the human should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – Genesis 2:18 (CEB)
You can read about my theology of marriage here, which includes a theology of our humanity. Fully in God’s image, God created humanity with biological differences. Because one of the biological differences was muscle mass and the other a uterus, the physically stronger has dictated and controlled the hierarchal value of humanity.
This was not God’s creation nor was it upheld by Jesus. Reproductive freedom is a human right. The issue isn’t about abortion but a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and life. If the issue is about terminating a pregnancy, then we should first consider all the choices we could make to reduce these terminations without limiting the rights and endangering the health of women.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” — John 10:10 (NRSV)
I know God doesn’t desire a pregnancy to be terminated. I’m also certain that God doesn’t desire for women (or others with a uterus) to be enslaved or potentially forfeit their lives because two cells joined together. The full and abundant life includes being able to make important decisions about your body.
As a person of faith, I support greater resources for healthcare and childcare after a child is born. I also support a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. I earnestly pray that Congress will act to preserve this right.
For the woman who is alone
For the woman who is surviving violence
For the woman who has no healthcare
For the woman who is really just a girl
For the woman who cannot afford formula, diapers, and childcare
For the woman whose unborn child is gravely ill
For the woman who chooses not to take the health risk
For the woman who chooses to pursue her career or education
For the woman who cannot choose adoption
For all women who are God’s beloved, made in God’s own image
The choices we make are often difficult, but the decision to seek an abortion is possibly the most so. May God grant wisdom and grace to those facing this decision. May there be no condemnation by others. May we use our voices that those in power legalize a woman’s right to choose. Lord, in your mercy: God hear our prayer.