How losing a wanted pregnancy cemented my support of other women’s right to choose.
Just about eight years ago, I was sitting in a dark auditorium, chaperoning a weekend-long high school church retreat with a few hundred high school Lutherans. My mind was drifting, in part because I was apparently three weeks pregnant, still a mystery to me at the time, since I was at least a week away from being able to take a pregnancy test.
In the midst of that huge, dark room, weighed down by the exhaustion of a teenage-hormone contact high, my tired brain started to wander. The room fell silent, and I heard a voice, clear as day, talking directly to me. “I love you, and I love her.” I turned around to admonish the student who was talking when we were all supposed to be quiet, but there was no one there. A week later, I found out I was pregnant, and I knew I was having a girl.
We had already lost two pregnancies at this point, so I prayed every day that I would be able to keep the little girl growing inside me. I’ve written previously here about my struggle to meet a healthy baby earth-side [I’m Starting to Forget Some of My Babies], as well as my dedication to feminist Christian theology [I am a Feminist Christian Parent], and those two desires of my heart were in full collaboration during this third pregnancy.
Just a few weeks later, at approximately six weeks gestation—and while teaching other people’s children and struggling with bouts of morning sickness and questioning a misguided attempt to eliminate caffeine—I came down with a terrible case of the flu. I had a temperature of 104 and missed two consecutive days of school, unheard of for practically every teacher. A few short days after that, I realized that my sickness had resulted in another pregnancy loss.
But the doctors wanted to be sure. So I underwent tests. And invasive ultrasounds. And a million insulting and offensive inquiries, all calling into question whether or not my life choices made me an unfit parent. “So you didn’t get a flu shot? Hmm. You probably won’t make that mistake again, huh?” Finally, the male doctor admitted that a fetus just barely starting to grow cannot survive an internal body temperature of 104, and I probably didn’t do anything wrong.
Not wanting to prolong the inevitable, I elected for a D&C, the common name for “dialation and curettage,” a surgical abortion of a pregnancy that is no longer viable. The cervix is opened, and the contents of the uterus are removed by a physician.
Literally the moment the procedure was complete and the anesthesia was turned off, I sat up, visibly startling everyone in the operating room. “I need to say goodbye,” I said. “I need to tell her goodbye.” One of the nurses held up a small glass vial, no more than a few inches big. It contained some blood and tissue. No more than a heavy period. I collapsed back on the operating table, tears streaming back into my hair.
I cried not because the pregnancy had ended or because of what I saw, but because I knew my baby was still there, very much alive, and I was both burdened by that understanding and paralyzed by the fact that no one else in the room would understand. Still, I also felt a very tangible comfort that this was not the end of my journey to become a parent. I could feel my baby’s spirit, brushing my hand and wiping away my tears, telling me she would find me someday.
If we are spiritual people who believe that our souls find some sort of celestial home after our physical bodies pass away, it should not be surprising that a soul at the beginning of its journey was also able to comfort me in that cold, lonely operating room. My daughter was not in that vial. She was with her mama.
My third pregnancy ended in devastation and tears that day, but it also gave me a renewed appreciation for the power of a woman’s body. My deeply desired pregnancy ended with a profound sense of gratitude that I live in a place where a procedure like a D&C is safe and routine. It also left me dejected that my male doctor had to determine that my pregnancy had terminated on its own before I had any say over what happened, even though I knew in my heart what had to happen. But most women aren’t even that lucky.
According to the World Health Organization, roughly 7 million women in the developing world are admitted to hospitals every year as a result of unsafe abortions. As many as 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide—including the United States—can be attributed to unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization further notes that almost every abortion-related death and disability could be prevented through sexuality education; use of effective contraception; provision of safe, legal induced abortion; and timely care for complications. This doesn’t happen when we criminalize women’s attempts to welcome their pregnancies when and how and if they choose to.
If anti-choice zealots believe that the body is secondary to the soul, and that spirits who are determined to meet us earth-side will inevitably find their way, then their fervent opposition to women’s choice is, at best, misguided. The movement is ultimately more about judgment and contempt and superiority over a female life that is already here, as opposed to concern for a life that someday may be.
Since the days of the red tent, men have been threatened by the power and abilities of the female, and have been doing their level best to control them. Feminist leaders and feminist parents, on the other hand, are not threatened by the abilities of a woman’s body. After spending so many years struggling to maintain a pregnancy of my own, I am vehemently anti-abortion, but that is a choice I have made for myself. I also know that taking this choice away from women is less about protecting babies and more about a red-tent-era desire to grasp at control that just isn’t there.
About a year after I was comforted by the spirit of my daughter in that operating room, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The moment was one of the most beautiful and empowering of my life, but I also knew this wasn’t the soul who had wiped away my tears. I did finally meet her, and she truly is one of the strongest and most compassionate souls I know. My pregnancy may have ended in that vial, but my baby’s spirit lived on, patiently waiting for the right time to meet her mama.