Thinking Out Loud

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

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.

42 thoughts on “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy”

  1. (((Songbird)))
    There are no easy answers.
    I keep thinking about the lack of health care coverage for some people who find themselves making these hard decisions, too.
    As for Sarah Palin, well, we’ll see. I distrust someone who seems that able to juggle all the balls, so to speak. Something is bound to fall through the cracks: maybe her compassion?

  2. Oh, thank you so much for writing this. I so appreaciate your willingness to be vulnerable and honest (and also funny! that conversation with Snowman cracks me up!)
    I cant stop thinking about Sarah Palin either – something about her together-ness pushes my buttons, too, and you put your finger right on it. I both want to find a crack in her armor, and dont want her to have one, if you know what I mean…

  3. Songbird. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you had to deal with this, and I’m sorry it’s being brought back to you. How painful
    It bothers me that her son’s challenges are being used as a “badge” of honor for her. The same way she is asking for her daughter’s privacy, she should be giving it to her son.
    And I’ve never thought that there was anything super about super women. Yes, they seem to do it all. But seem is the operative word. There are sacrifices made, sometimes by the women, sometimes by their families, and sometimes in their job performance.

  4. Oh, Songbird. My heart goes out to the you of 1992 and to the you of 2008. Both are special people worth knowing.

  5. I can’t imagine how painful this must have been for you. And how courageous you were.
    You’re a hero too.

  6. The fact is that we all have a right to choose what is right for us. I would have done the same thing Songbird, as hard as it might have been. And, truthfully, had I known about Sam’s life before he was born, I would have probably as well. Not that I don’t love him with all my heart and soul, but life is very difficult for him. Why would I not spare that for him? The struggle, the confusion, the anger…
    I’ve also blogged about their revelation this weekend, and her Teflon response. She’ll eventually crack. Just watch.
    Love and warm hugs to you friend. You are so not alone.

  7. ((songbird))
    You never cease to amaze me. Thank you for sharing your story. Your courage inspires me.
    Peace and love,

  8. Ah, Songbird. When I heard the news of the VP pick, I turned to MB and said, “Songbird is going to struggle over this.” I’m sorry that I was right.
    We are thinking of you here.

  9. Oh, Songbird. Writing this was a huge act of courage. In my book, for all of the reasons you cited and others I’m sure you did not, you did the right thing. And you’ve walked on without regret and without apology. Hugs to you.

  10. I am so sorry. These decisions are horribly difficult. I’m sorry you are having to go through these emotions as you deal with so many other things. Love

  11. I love you so much. Thank you for your story and for the very human and wonderful you address this and so many other of life’s hard questions.

  12. Ach, what a heartbreaking choice to have to make, and what a horrible way to have it brought back up.
    I am so grateful that we are allowed to make the decisions (no matter how painful) that are best for each of us individually, and I really resent people who state or imply that their choices make them better than those who chose otherwise, nevermind that their circumstances are entirely different. My younger sister had two anencephalic pregnancies; the… flak (it’s the most polite term I can think of) she received from those who made a different choice than she did in handling the situation makes me sick to my stomach.
    I have a relative who is “down” on two other of my sisters because both have chosen not to have children. I say that with a Tourette’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome, and full-up Autistic in the family, they are probably making good choices. But either way, it’s THEIR choice.

  13. Your courage shines through. Thank you for it. Your choice, and your honesty about it, makes it possible for women and men yet to come.

  14. Thanks for sharing this. I went through similar. Twice. Different reasons. I’ve never quite gotten over it.
    And IMO you are far far more accomplished and strong than the current *it* girl.

  15. (((((Songbird)))))
    You are my hero. What courage, to write this and all your reflections on this painful memory. Much love to you this day.

  16. 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.
    Me too, Songbird. I didn’t have to make the choice you made, but I made another that had ramifications for every single person I loved. I hold on to the fact that I’ve become less judgmental and more compassionate as a result—it seems the least I could do.
    May the Holy Spirit grant you peace in these difficult days.
    Pax,
    Doxy

  17. Oh–something else I read: I don’t think Palin probably needed staff at the governor’s mansion, since her family has never lived there. Not much of an act of Supermom-ism if you ask me.
    Or maybe she just likes firing people. 🙂

  18. ((((Songbird)))))
    I’m pretty sure I would have made the same decision that you did. It’s really awful, the way that one person’s decision is being suggested as the ideal for everyone else.

  19. Songbird, I don’t think I knew this part of your story. But I want to say that I’ve been a little disturbed by the same seeming lack of empathy or understanding for women who do chose to abort a fetus with Trisomy 21.
    When I was pregnant with the Kid I had amnio (as recommended b/c of “advanced maternal age”–38). I was very fortunate not to be faced with the decision you were faced with. But I know that had the results been different, I would have had to seriously consider whether I should continue the pregnancy–for many reasons that I consider legitimate. And chances are good I would’ve made the same decision you did.
    And I agree about the whole Super Mom thing too.
    (((Songbird)))))

  20. RDM, I was just 30, and the amnio was recommended after the AFP test showed a greatly elevated possibility of Down Syndrome. I add this detail because it’s important to remember that many women who receive this diagnosis are relatively young.
    I want to thank everyone who has commented today, for your graciousness and kindness.

  21. (((Songbird)))
    Love you.
    And I’m trying to imagine your sweet voice saying, “I would kick your butt.”

  22. So I thought I made a comment earlier, but Blogger must’ve eaten it.
    I don’t think I knew this part of your story. But I have been having some of the same feelings about the apparent lack of understanding (and yes, judgment) of women who might chose to end a pregnancy after learning that their fetus had Trisomny 21. When I was pregnant with the Kid at age 38 I had amnio, and before I did I had to wrestle with whether or not I would consider termination if the outcome were T21. I was fortunate not to have to deal with that reality, but I would’ve had to consider termination seriously for a number of what I consider to be legitimate reasons (some the same as ones you mention). And there’s a good chance I would’ve come to the same decision you did.
    And I feel the same way about the whole Super Mon thing.
    ((((Songbird))))

  23. What a moving post. You are most generous to share with us and I’m sorry this weekend has brought it all back up. You are so courageous.

  24. Thank you for writing all of this out.
    It is nice to read words that don’t turn everything into a clear-cut “black and white” issue. The world is full of shades of gray and different people face different situations and make different choices.
    I hope your children realize how lucky they are to have such an honest, caring mother.

  25. It isn’t her alleged SuperMomness that bothers me. It’s the cynical reasons for which she was chosen. Her obvious unsuitedness for the position be damned. Although, you know, is she much more unsuited for the job than the current holder of the office of president?
    I know I would have done what you did.

  26. Comment disappeared or Typepad being naughty again? I said something like:
    I know I would have done what you did.
    And it isn’t her being superhockeymom that bothers me so much as the cynical reasons for her being chosen. I fear the people she is meant to attract.

  27. (((Songbird)))
    I had some of the same thoughts resulting from the coverage of Palin’s pregnancy. I’m glad you had the ability to make the choice, and recognize that there are just a tremendous number of factors that a loving person must take into consideration in that situation. You’re a good soul, Songbird; don’t let ’em tell ya different.

  28. Hi Songbird. Although I love to read your reflections, I don’t often comment ..because I don’t take time to stay long enough. Need to tell you tonight how much I admire you and appreciate what you share. Amen to all that’s been said here!

  29. I understand how you feel all too well. Had to make the same decision in the late 70’s. It is a choice that lives with you from then on. Thankfully the key word is choice. Earlier in the 70’s there were limited options, one of which was illegal.

  30. Songbird, thank you for saying this right out loud. You are a truly courageous person. I was once sort of in your shoes, and my decision went the other way. So we lived through many years of serious mental illness in our family. But you never get to go back and do over, do you? I think your decision was the right one, maybe mine was too, who knows now? We never get to know what would have been. I hate the idea of abortion, but I hate even more for the government to get into it. It should be between a woman, her God and her doctor.
    Your post has had had a powerful effect on me, and I don’t miss many of them. Thanks for being you.

  31. I’m slow to post comments. I hope you see this. I had dear friends, who had measles early on in a pregnancy. After careful counseling with seminary professors, they terminated the pregnancy. Our right wing friends deal out easy answers. But when it comes to social programs to make life worth living for mothers who don’t have staffs and for children who fall through the arms even of broken moms, they seem to have no concern. I wonder if the fires of hell do not get hotter every time somebody uses such anguish as a political weapon, instead of reaching out their arms to say, “You’re not alone, you are loved.” How many mothers (and fathers) reading this post will be blessed, freed from isolation and shame, by it. Thanks for your guts to share. John

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