In reading the book How to be A Woman by British author Caitlin Moran recently, I was struck by a statement she made regarding the power of personal stories and how they lend credibility to greatly contested subjects. Moran is a journalist who offers her own experience of having an abortion long after giving birth to her first two children. Much earlier, she’d lost her first baby to stillbirth just before her wedding day. There seemed to be some equalization present there – in my opinion – one lost by chance and the other by choice.
Moran talks about what happened in an unashamed manner that I admire, mentioning a very private experience in a public forum with no excuse necessary. She is strong enough to air her own story so readers may stop to think of her circumstances as more real, more immediate, not speculative. Doing so helped lend to her credibility in my mind. She wasn’t proselytizing on an unknown topic. It was real for her.
Her words reinforced my belief that people don’t need to justify themselves to anyone. A wise woman I know always says, “Your friends don’t need an explanation, and your enemies won't believe you anyway.” Moran is confident of having made the right decision for her and drives the point home with her brave openness about it.
That chapter of Moran's book took me back to the memory of a gynecologist‘s waiting room several years ago. Patients were called to a separate “holding area” to be weighed and have urine samples taken for pregnancy testing. Some eyes were downcast, most likely of those woman crossing their fingers for a negative result. Others waited, nonplussed, dreading the cold steel exam table, stirrups, speculum, and backless gown of a routine checkup. And some likely sat anxiously hoping for what they considered good news of being pregnant.
A particularly joyous young lady was there giving up her day's fluid intake to the sacrificial paper cup in hopes of her own positive reading. I, being at what is considered “advanced maternal age,” unwillingly eavesdropped on the ensuing glee at her test results. What a happy day for her and her partner -- if he was, in fact, a willing participant in co-parenting. Good for them.
My husband and I married in our 30s, and I doubted whether we’d ever have children. Throughout childhood, and even into my teens and early 20s, I had always wanted to eventually be a mom. I had taken it for granted there would be babies in my future, not a life without kids. It just didn’t happen, and I'd accepted the facts. My life was happy, and I'd accomplished lots in my 37 or so years on the planet.
But I gave the woman a sidelong glance as she gushed about her impending motherhood. Young, inexperienced, over the moon with happiness, she had no idea what other people around her were experiencing at that moment. Justifiably, she wasn’t thinking of anyone else’s reason for being there – only the insular bubble of her own proverbial pee stick. So, once again … good for her.
The first-time-mom-to-be had no concept of how her actions were perceived by other women there. Someone like me, who was there under the not-so-happy conditions of her first exam post miscarriage. Our chances at having a family grew even slimmer with the subtle creep of the clock on the wall and the one in my body with its ever-dwindling yet life-sustaining hormone levels.
I wasn’t really bitter toward her, then or now, but the circumstances gave me pause to reflect on my own behavior. Maybe it isn’t always a good idea to put on such an emotional display in public. I’m not much on acting a certain way because of what other people think, but I was given a new perspective on that October day in my now distant past.
In facing the death of a loved one, most people wish they hadn’t left a word unspoken. They mentally beg for another chance to tell that cherished family member or friend how much they cared about them. There is no opportunity to tell your unborn baby, especially at fetus stage, goodbye. If abortion protesters feel life begins at conception, I wonder what they think of a fetus having a soul, a persona, an identity. What about having a chance to tell that “baby,” that person, goodbye? So many words left unspoken there, especially with no physical presence to make our baby a real person.
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My husband and I are now lucky enough to have a happy, healthy almost six-year old son. He completes and enlivens our family, so this chapter of our life book has a good ending. What happened at the doctor’s office that day put me in the other person’s shoes, so to speak, where I could look at circumstances in a different light.
This is the first time I’ve opened up to anyone outside my immediate circle about losing that first pregnancy and do so only to encourage empathy. It’s not the same as sympathy and takes even less effort. I simply hope sharing my experience might urge someone else to think of how her/his actions, even good ones with no malice intended, might affect another person. Take a minute to think or act compassionately. I believe our world could greatly use more empathy and less judgment.