It will come as no surprise to any of you that teenage pregnancy, reproductive choice and contraception came up as topics of conversation at my house this Labor Day. As the mother of two teenagers and one former teenager, I have been party to any number of awkward, heartwarming, grave, entertaining, lame and marvelous conversations on these topics.
This one started humorously, at least on the surface, when Snowman, 17, asked me: "Would you be proud of me if I got some girl pregnant?"
"I," I replied, "would kick your butt."
Of course after saying that, I had to stop and think about it. I feel confident that my children are well-informed about contraception and safe/safer sex. Our schools in City By the Sea do such an excellent job of teaching these subjects, all three of my children have claimed to be terrified by what is taught at the middle school, terrified enough to put off activities that might lead to trouble.
I write that and feel the need to knock wood, but so far, so good.
Still, if Snowman, as he put it, "got some girl pregnant," I would start with the butt-kicking, if only because of the choice of these words: "some girl." Now, we were speaking in familiar tones, and I don't believe he would choose to put "some girl" in such a tenuous position, that if such a thing were to happen it would more likely be a case of a particular partner, perhaps even a treasured partner, certainly someone about whom he cared enough to not be stupid.
We've talked a lot around here about not being stupid, about making choices based on a Love Ethic, about treating others in a spirit of respect for the other person, for yourself and God.
It all turns on choice, when we have it.
I must admit to being fascinated and horrified by Sarah Palin. I've always had an issue with seeming Super Moms, those women who can look great and work hard and raise a family and hold onto a marriage and find success in worldly terms, never seeming depressed, never having a hair out of place. When I read that she dismissed the staff at the Governor's Mansion in favor of doing her own cooking and cleaning, I felt like crying.
I wish I were kidding about that. She has given me a tough weekend. And it's not just her Super Mom credentials, being able to juggle breast pump and Blackberries, that gets to me. I'm disheartened by her personal story, by her shining confidence that a special needs baby will not slow her down one bit. I'm disheartened by the voices in the blogosphere, otherwise pro-choice voices, that can't understand why Trisomy 21 would even be a consideration for terminating a pregnancy. And perhaps I'm disheartened to consider how unsupported I felt when I made that decision, that even though I knew it was a choice, it didn't really feel there were viable alternatives at the time.
I've written about it a few times, the decision to end the pregnancy in 1992. I've touched on it, glided past it, circled around it. As an adopted person, I have a conflicted perspective, but in the end, when I had to make a choice myself, having it be legally and medically available mattered. It mattered a lot. It mattered especially because the lack of support came not from the doctors or the nurses involved but from a sense that I didn't have an extended family that would welcome a disabled child, and a certainty that it was more than I could handle, or would want to handle, alone. Given that my marriage did not survive even without the added challenges our son would surely have brought into our family life, I cannot say I feel that was the wrong conclusion to reach. My other sources of potential support would have been my parents, still living then, and you might think, surely they would have stepped up and provided help! But I remembered my first meeting with a person who had Down Syndrome, a little girl in an adorable bonnet being carried in her mother's arms at a church fair, and I remember my mother's shock, the way she turned, my question to her — I was 7 or 8 — and her sharply whispered reply, a reply I hesitate to record, because although we had a difficult relationship, she wasn't the worst person in the world, but in this case she would sound it.
She came from a time, you see, when anyone not "normal" went away, not to be seen or spoken of again. And when she learned of the prenatal diagnosis, she responded matter-of-factly. It was good to know and be able to decide not to continue the pregnancy, she thought, just as her friend, Nan, had been spared going to full-term in the 1950's when her young children exposed her to German Measles, and her doctor intervened.
This is the decision of the vast majority of parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21. I've seen figures quoted in the 85-90% range, and the numbers in the "What to Expect" book I had on hand in 1992 may have been a little higher.
I know there are other women out there who have made the same choice. And I wonder how they have been feeling this weekend? I wonder if they read the news stories and then peruse the comments, as I have, some threads of which devolve into characterizations of Obama as a baby-killer for his *legislative* acts. Where would that leave me in their estimation?
I once had to stop reading a blog because the author made it clear in a direct conversation with me that doctors who made this recommendation were engaged in eugenics, and I had clearly been brainwashed by them.
I told you before, we speak frankly in this house. Everyone here knows what happened in 1992. They all understand, even in those moments when I might be tempted to doubt myself, that I made the choice that seemed best for all of them at a time when it seemed clear they and I would fully bear the consequences, two little boys, one 6 and the other not yet 18 months; one little girl dreamed of but not yet with us, who perhaps would never have been. I was not brainwashed. I looked around and saw a world that was unkind to people who were perceived as different. I looked around and saw a family system that would not be welcoming to the baby or helpful to me. I looked around and saw two children who had no say in how this might draw my attention away from them. I looked at myself and saw a woman just figuring out what she might do with her life, just ready to choose to be herself and not the person others told her to be. I looked, as much as I could, at the baby himself, and realized I was making a choice for his soul, too, a choice I did not feel empowered to make, to live a life of limitations, when I felt perfectly sure that no soul would be wasted by a loving God, that the body was not an idol but a container.
Perhaps if I had been a person–well, I want to say something about courage or determination or strength, but in fact it took all those things to live through the four days between getting the news and going to the hospital. If you read the other things I've written about this experience you'll hear of my grief and the way I came to understand it. You'll know that I learned to be less sharp in my judgment of others after venturing into the greyest of grey areas in my life. I chose as well as I could in that time and place, through the filter of my own limitations.
But for now I'm a person who feels tender-hearted and defensive all at once, vulnerable yet awkwardly shielded. And I know I cannot be alone in this. I know I am not, by myself, the 90%. So tonight I write this to the women who have been where I was, who may feel as I do, or not. I write to them although it feels risky to put it out here. I write to them and say, I'm thinking of you ton
ight, because I read the news today. Oh, boy.