I’m up early to write this post. The house is quiet. David’s in the shower, getting ready for work. My kiddos are asleep. Little Emma is snoozing on our couch. In a short time this little house will be buzzing with children.
Yesterday was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Sunday was Sanctity of Life Sunday.
I really wanted to write this post both of those days but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
This series [will be four part], Rachel’s Children, is about the plight of children in our culture God’s and our response to it. We like to think that because there are parenting magazines and books enough to fill libraries end on end for miles or because pinterest is filled with “fun things to do with your kids” ideas and “the five things your daughter needs to know by age 10″ or even because our President has children standing all around him as his signs policy that somehow we place high value and esteem on children.
“You know, I remember when Roe v. Wade was being debated,” my mom recently said, while standing in my doorway, having one of our many passing and on-going conversations, “they said it’d lower the rate of child abuse since the unwanted children would never be born.” She sighed the heavy, knowing, sad sigh of a someone who has been in the trenches and knows better.
Did you know that in 1972 the number of reported cases of child abuse was 427,100? After decades of parents having the “option” to “end” pregnancy if they are unable or unwilling to have their child, how has the child abuse rate been affected? Has it gotten lower, as was hypothesized? Every year in America they are 3.3 million reported cases of child abuse. Adjusting for population, the child abuse rate is now nearly six times larger than it was in 1972.
With the election last year, my kids, like yours I’m sure, heard more about debt ceilings and tax rates and gay marriage and abortion than maybe any of us are comfortable with. David and I had many a spirited conversation over dinner about the candidates and their platforms and the morality of the election, etc etc. We explained to Co budgeting and bill paying from the national issues right down to our family’s money philosophy. He wanted to know. Given all of that, I shouldn’t have been surprised when we wanted me to explain to him about abortion.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it literally sucked the air out of my lungs. I was driving and he was sitting in his camo patterned booster seat, legs dangling, big blue eyes staring at me, having no real idea what he’d asked. We were at a stoplight. I adjusted my mirrors to be able to see him. My eyes filled with tears and spilled over my cheeks. “Mom, the light turned green! Go!” he said not understanding why our van was just sitting in the road.
Driving, I’d forgotten for a moment I was driving. I’d also forgotten for a moment the great fury and anger and politicalness of abortion and the grief of it overwhelmed me as I tried to find words, appropriate for a five year old, to explain honestly what abortion means.
I did the best I could to tell him as much of the truth as I felt he could handle without being too graphic, which as it turns out, it pretty hard to do. His first response was to ask again, like he’d heard me wrong. “I know, bud. Its terrible.” Then he was incredulous. “Mom! Call the police! Right now! Call the police and tell them!” I tried calmly to tell him it wasn’t against the law, so there was nothing the police could do. (Policemen are a final authority of kinds to school age boys). He was quiet a moment, then when he spoke his words were choked with tears enough to bring me to my knees. “Why, Mom? Why would a mommy want to do that?”
He was looking at Adler, asleep in the car seat next to him and I knew what he was thinking. He’d gone with me to OB appointments. He’d heard Adler’s heartbeat time and time again, he’d felt my belly move in eager anticipation of being a big brother, he’d gone with us the day we found out Adler was a boy, and he had begged to be there when he was born. I knew he was thinking of all of that, I could almost see the thoughts crossing his face, expression by expression.
As for me, I was thinking of the video of Cohen being born….too early. He was all over 4 lbs, 16 inches long. A friend took video since I was all alone when I unexpectedly went into labor. Scene by scene it flooded my mind. Me on my hands and knees, a few gentle pushes and then out slips this tiny bluish tinted baby, still in the water sac. I’ve only watched it a few times, but its amazing. Life is staggeringly beautiful and shocking and surreal.
I had gotten so wrapped up in how wrong abortion is and the debate of it, I had forgotten the sheer magnitude of grief and horror of it.
The “debate” itself is silly only as far as it is obvious. Its the mother’s body….except for the fact that the child may have a different blood type, does have separate genetic material, and 50% of the time is a different gender. I have two boys. At no point in my pregnancies did I personally have a penis. The fetus doesn’t feel pain…. except that after a few weeks it has a closed spinal chord and working nervous system. That’s how you and I feel pain, why would we assume the “fetus” doesn’t feel pain? The fetus isn’t “viable”. Babies born at 20 weeks often now survive. Oh but abortions don’t happen that late in pregnancy. Oh don’t they? Abortion is legal in the United States right up until the due date. What about rape, medical reasons for abortion? What about them? They make up less than 1% of all the 55 million abortions done since 1973. We can talk about that, but let’s be honest, its the exception to the rule. Well, until a baby is really alive (aka has taken its first breath of air) its not a human with full rights. Why not? In this country if your heart is still beating, your brain activated, even if you are in horrible pain or dying a debilitating disease we don’t allow “mercy killings”. We call them murder. Even if the person is hooked up to all kinds of medical equipment, unable to live without it, you can’t just walk in their room, smother them with a pillow and say “Well, he or she wasn’t really viable on his or her own.” I mean, you could, but you’d spend the rest of your life in prison for murder.
In utero babies of only 6 weeks gestation have a closed neural tube and a beating heart. They are at least as alive and viable as someone on a breathing machine in a hospital. How do when know when a person dies? Their heart stops beating….but we don’t consider them alive because their heart is beating? What kind of logic is that?
Well, its not basic biology, I can tell you that. Biologically, its all very obvious.
A friend of mine (whose blog you should read) told me recently about a news article she was writing. Some guys disturbed and broke the eggs of a protected bird in Arizona. Its crime and it came with a stiff penalty: large fines and jail time and their faces all over the news the wretched killers they were. Why? Because even a little kid can tell you that an egg of a protected bird contains a baby bird of the same kind. Its 2 + 2= 4. If you’re not allowed to kill the protected adult bird, you’re also not allowed to maim the eggs of the protected bird, even if the baby birds are not yet “viable”. Simple biology… the egg contains a bird with the same traits and characteristics of the adult bird. They are one in the same minus size and independence.
I guess its too inconvenient for us to apply that basic logic to humanity.
I’m not one to get into a tv show, but I absolutely love the show Parenthood. I happened upon it one sleepless Tuesday night several years ago and I’ve been hooked since then. Maybe its being from a larger family myself, but I just get the Bravermans. I’ve since worked hard to get my mom and sister in law hooked too so I’d have someone to discuss plot lines with.
“Oh, did you see last nights Parenthood yet?” Mom asked. She didn’t wait for an answer. She knew I hadn’t (we don’t have TV- just hulu so we watch it a day late). She went on, “I hope I can keep watching it.” I begged her not to give anything away. She let up for a few minutes and then, “Do you at least know what its about?” I didn’t. I suddenly wasn’t sure I wanted to.
But as soon as Mom left, I logged on and watched it. And then I called her.
“The thing I can’t believe is how little they talked about it. I mean, she found out and then the next day….” She interrupted me, “Don’t you think that’s the way it is though?”
I hadn’t until just then. A sick feeling filled my stomach.
The high school senior son, beloved member of the Braverman clan, discovered that his also high achieving, ready-to-go-to-college girlfriend was pregnant. For at least one of them, sitting in the car outside their school, there was really only one option. He pushes as much as you can expect a teenage boy to be able to push and then he gives into the line that he should be “supportive” of her “choice”. His support manifests itself in a car ride to Planned Parenthood, to sitting in on office listening as they both stare straight ahead numb and sober and then his support is a ride to the appointment and the money to make it happen. He sits in the waiting room as another teenage girl gets up and walks out, changing her mind. He wants to be a family, to try, to take some time to think it over, but she’s decided her life would be over if she doesn’t “take care” of “it”. So he sits there and waits. He drives her home and she does her best to look “normal” before going in the house to face and fool her unsuspecting parents. The final scene of the episode is the teenage falling apart in his mother’s arms.
That sick feeling pooled all around me.
I decided I was at least glad the tv writers had portrayed it as painful, hard, ugly, lonely and devastating.
I kept thinking of Cohen’s words, “Why, Mom? Why would any mommy want to do that?”
You know some years ago I sat in a large, very cool church in Seattle and listened as a local pastor journeyed through the book of Genesis. It was the one and only time I attended the church, partly because I instantly knew I wasn’t hipster enough for the crowd and partly because I felt the pastor was trying to be shocking in the sheer amount of times he said the word “masturbating”. I’m fine with pastors talking about sexuality (the Bible does, doesn’t it?) but don’t try to prove to me how unorthodox and unreligious you are by repeating the phase over and over. I got it already.
Anyway, he was preaching out of Genesis 39, talking about Judah’s sons. Judah and his Canaanite wife had three sons mentioned at the beginning of the chapter… Er, Onan and Shelah. Er was given in marriage to Tamar, but he was wicked and so God killed him. Even in the Amplified version, that’s all you get: “And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord slew him.”
It seems weird to us now, but it was customary if a son died without children for his brother or next of kin to take his wife and bear children with her in order for the dead man’s name to live on. (Think: story of Ruth and next of kin) It was a responsibility, however odd to us now, that their culture depended on.
So, Judah basically says to the next son in line, Onan, due your duty. Marry Tamar. Have children with her for Er. I can’t say it better than verse 9, “But Onan knew that the family would not be his, so when he cohabited with his brother’s widow, he prevented conception, lest he should raise up a child for his brother.”
Now here’s what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say he didn’t take his dead brother’s wife or that he refused to sleep with her. Oh no, he lived with her as though she were his wife and he had sex with her, but he made sure no children came of it. (This is the point the preacher kept making. Some versions say he “spilled his seed” and he was using the text as a reason to shun masturbation as wrong) So, Onan wanted the rights of being next of kin, but he did not want the responsibility.
And you know how God felt about that? His was “displeased” enough to also kill Onan. Now, that’s some serious displeasure.
So I’ve been asking myself, as this story has come to mind often, what was so displeasing to God? And while I’m not a Biblical scholar, he’s what I’ve come up with…. First of all, God is strongly displeased when we want our rights but refuse to take the responsibilities that are necessarily attached to them. And secondly, God is strongly displeased when we pervert and misuse the gifts He has created for us and given to us to steward.
We live in a culture that, despite all of our outward insistence that we value our children, sees them as possessions and often as an inconvenience. We insist that “fetuses” are not persons, at least not with rights, despite the fact that we know they are fully human right down to their sequenced amino acids. We give harsh punishments to those who hurt protected animals, but we voted in a leader who has said the killing of one’s own offspring is “the most basic right of women” [actual quote].
We want the rights, but not the responsibilities. We want to be able to express ourselves sexually, but when sex necessarily is tied to conception, we can decide to forgo the responsibility of our actions. We believe the lie that an unwanted pregnancy will “end someone’s life”. Change their life, yes! Whether they keep the child or give the child up for adoption, yes…it is life altering. And that’s because God designed sex to both a pleasurable right of humanity and also the greatest of responsibilities. That’s how it was intentionally made to work.
Children, even born into difficult or impossible situations, are still gifts. I know this firsthand. When Cohen was conceived, I’d just returned from a summer of separation, the third separation in a 15 month marriage. I remember grieving the timing, asking God why? Why now? How can this be happening?
And six years, a two year separation and a painful divorce later, I can tell you I had no idea what I was asking. How could it be happening? God why would you allow this? Those questions have no context now. They are square peg questions in a circular hole of my life. I had no idea the amazing, awe-inspiring gift and mercy God was showing me by placing that tiny little boy in my womb, despite all my efforts to keep it unoccupied.
Did he change my life? Oh yes! Make it harder? Of course. Being a single mom is not the same as being single. It would’ve been easier to find a job, reimagine my life, pay the bills etc etc etc than it was to find a flexible job that still allowed me to afford diapers. Harder and sweeter..so so SO much sweeter because of Cohen’s life.
Pleasures and rights can only go so far…. responsibilities and selflessness are extricably tied to what it is to be human. And perhaps that’s why legalizing abortion has not done as it promised… it hasn’t kept teens from being young moms or the poor from having children they cannot afford and it it certainly hasn’t done anything but help to skyrocket child abuse. Why? Because deep down in our hearts, the vast majority of us understand basic biology and have some basic logic, even if not a conscience we’ve learned to heed, and we know that abortion is the killing of a human. And once we’ve come to accept that children, though genetically separate, are an extension of our body or that they’re not really alive even though their organs are working, heart pumping and brain functioning or that their life is less valuable than ours if it interferes with our goals or perceived happiness or future plans, really how far of a leap does someone have to make to consider physically or verbally or emotionally abuse their child?
“Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15