The tragedy of being pro-choice

Having a miscarriage did not make me any less pro-choice. But it did make me more pro-life.

I have always been staunchly pro-choice. But when I got pregnant for the first time, I gained a much better understanding of those who aren’t. Even before I had a positive pregnancy test, I knew my daughter was there. I was on vacation in Ireland at the time, and I went to a pharmacy to get something for heartburn — a condition I’d never experienced before. I asked the pharmacist if the medication was safe in pregnancy. My husband smiled, humoring me, because we had only started trying to conceive two weeks before. I had taken a pregnancy test the night before, and it had been negative (of course). But I was right. She was there.

Later, when I was only six weeks along, I would find myself in the passenger seat of my husband’s car holding my seat belt away from my belly, just in case the pressure might damage her in some way. The fact is, I felt fiercely protective, and I was surprised that my maternal instincts could kick in so early in pregnancy.

So yes, my daughter was a person from the moment I conceived her — to me, at least, and to those who identify themselves as pro-life. She was my responsibility from the moment I knew she was there. So what if I had found out about her severe genetic condition before she passed away? What would I have done for her? What was my job as her mother?

I have a living child now. A healthy, vibrant, loving child. I look at him and I can’t imagine the world without him in it. And yet he almost died at birth. I almost never knew him. I almost never saw him smile. The world was almost darker.

I have a child now, and that makes it harder to know what I would have done. Let her go, and possibly deprive the world of a great light? Or bring her into the world, only to let her suffer?

I deeply admire women who can bring to term children they know will die. I am not one of those women. I know this, because when I was induced and delivered my daughter who had died in utero, I couldn’t bear to see her after she left my body. I am ashamed of this fact, sometimes, but as I’ve written in the past, this was the choice that was right for me and for my family. It still remains one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. She remains beloved to me, and I remain her mother. I remember her.

Had I known about the severity of her condition, I might have chosen not to bring her to term. I fear that her light would have been dimmed by suffering, and I did not want her to have to live in darkness. I may not have been strong enough to watch that, knowing that even though I was her mother, I could do nothing to help her.

Would that have been selfish? Maybe. But maybe it would also have been a kindness, to her and to me. A mother with a dying child is no less of a mother. She is no less conscious of her responsibility to her child, even if she hasn’t met that child yet. Her loss begins the moment she knows her child will die, or will suffer, irrevocably. Her grief is no less great because she can exert some control over her child’s pain and the timing of the inevitable. And it is not just unfair, it is unjust for others to tell her differently.

I am a mother now. And so I believe in the right to choose, more fiercely than ever. And I am also far more aware of the tragedy of that choice.