Thursday, June 11, 2009

No fairytale endings

I've been struggling about whether, & what, I should write about what happened in Kansas recently. (I've also been really busy at work, and blogging generally has taken a back seat -- boo, hiss...). While I have always been staunchly in favour of a woman's right to choose, I've also never been one to carry signs & chant slogans either.

I felt the first stirrings of a blog post when I read Judith Warner's Domestic Disturbances blog last week, about the murdered doctor, in which she makes the case that, by remaining silent and avoiding the sad & unpleasant stories behind the statistics, we've allowed opponents of the right to choose to shape the debate.

There was a quote that leaped out at me -- one sentence fragment in particular, that seemed like it could apply just as equally to pregnancy loss & infertility as to the A-word.

From Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation:
We’ve made pregnancy a fairy tale where there are no fetal complications... These are the realities of the story. That’s what Dr. Tiller worked with — the realities.” (Emphasis mine.)

Later in the same post, Warner writes:
"We have to face the fact that sometimes desired pregnancies go tragically wrong."

From commenter #28:
"For years we’ve left the ugly side of pregnancy... while we get all soft and warm about babies."

Commenter #103:

"He... understood well the complexities of pregnancies that do not fit the fairy tale image."

The tendency to sweep nasty (but very real) topics such as pregnancy loss, infertility and involuntary childlessness under the carpet -- while at the same time glorifying all things (conventional) pregnancy & mommy-related -- has long been a thorn in my side. Even if you've never had an abortion or a medical termination, if you're reading this blog, you probably know, firsthand, that pregnancy doesn't always fit the fairy tale image.

Miscarriages happen. Stillbirths happen. Neonatal deaths happen. Adoptions fall through. Some couples who very much wanted a child find themselves with none.

And some couples find themselves faced with a heartbreaking decision to make.

Dh & I were almost one of them (see these posts, here and here). And we have met many of them over the past 11 years, just in our one small pregnancy loss support group alone (a group which emphasizes that everyone's loss is signfiicant, regardless of the baby's gestation or the circumstances of the loss).

I've been thinking of them all, a lot, this week. The grief these parents feel over the loss of their child is the same grief that other parents in the group feel -- perhaps with an added layer of guilt on top of it. Some are "out" to their families, some aren't. All their babies were very much wanted. Many were initially shocked when the option of termination was offered to them. It's something you just don't read about in "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (or, if it is in there, you certainly never expect you're going to need to remember the information in those pages). These pregnancies weren't going to end in a fairy-tale way, no matter what decision the parents made.

Even though she knew dh & I would be sympathetic to the truth, it took one woman (who has become a close personal friend) several YEARS before she could bring herself to tell me she had actually terminated her pregnancy. I have been thinking of her, and of the other parents from our group, a lot this past week.

Some good reading on this subject:

The website A Heartbreaking Choice has been running Kansas Stories.

Andrew Sullivan has also been running readers' stories on his political blog, The Daily Dish, under the header "It's So Personal."

And I found this thoughtful article at Salon, with this observation:

"The stories are painfully similar: A couple is thrilled to be expecting a baby, only to see a doctor's face turn grim during a routine ultrasound. Something is terribly wrong."

Whether your story ended in miscarriage, stillbirth or a termination, this scenario is all too familiar to far too many of us.

I find it all too easy to put myself into the shoes of Dr. Tiller's patients.

Which is why I could never insist that they walk only in mine.


  1. The first comment after the story put it better than I ever could--I am pro-choice because I just don't believe the government should have the power to regulate this issue.

    I never considered that I would have to make the choice to terminate my pregnancy. Yet if I had been forced to carry Zach to term, I don't know what kind of damage that would have done to me. I would have become a much different person--answering bitterly whenever people asked me about my soon-to-be little bundle of joy while looking at my pregnant belly.

    I was one of the "lucky" ones, because I found out about Zach's "not-compatible-with-life" diagnosis while it was still legal to terminate. This doctor truly was a great man to reach out to those who weren't so "lucky."

  2. Very well written, thanks for the links.

  3. For some people, it's all black and white. They never stop to think about the complexities of life, lest it disturb their rigid sense of right and wrong.

  4. I appreciated Warner's article too. It is such a complicated issue, far too complicated to sit back as an observer and tell someone else what is the right or wrong thing to do in that situation. So many stories I've read about Dr. Tiller's work since his death seem to be true stories of compassion and love and caring, not what some would make it out to be.

  5. Thank you for writing this. A lot.

  6. I have always believed that there is no one but a mother who could ever make that decision and no one has a right to judge her, ever.
    I hate the right wing idiots who make late term abortion sound like a light decision made by careless, insensitive women who just 'don't want' their baby.
    Anderson Cooper actually did a good job over two nights, showing the painful decision on both sides, termination and proceeding to delivery only to have the baby die soon after delivery. Each equally heartwrenching and neither a wrong choice for the families involved.
    And each a choice I am grateful to never have been faced with.

  7. great post loribeth.
    I was one of those unlucky women, so shocked, shattered by the suggestion I end a wanted pregnancy late in my pregnancy. It makes me so angry that I was told I would have to travel to kansas as there was no diagnosis, only suspicion of problems.
    I believed as Canadian women we had a right to choose.