Last December, just before Christmas, we got the results of our first pregnancy test: “slightly pregnant.” They said we had something growing in there, but that viability was questionable. Two tests later we finally got a solid positive, and the go-ahead to schedule our first ultrasound. At that stage, there was very little to see – just a yolk sac, which looked like a donut inside a larger donut. The baby, our current-day little Peanut, was the size of a poppy seed.
The ultrasound tech, Tara, said I had passed the first test of a solid pregnancy – the presence of a yolk sac. But the real test was a visible heartbeat.
“At what point can you see the heartbeat?” I asked her.
By this point, I was a frequent flyer in the ultrasound room, and I’d gotten to know Tara pretty well. She knew I’d be disappointed that it was so close, yet not quite visible today. “Tomorrow, maybe. Three days tops.”
I was floored – the heart starts beating when the baby’s barely big enough to be seen on ultrasound?! I couldn’t believe it, but pictures don’t lie; when my husband and I went back 6 days later, we saw a tiny, pulsating heart hard at work. Peanut was a white blob little bigger than a blueberry that looked more fishlike than human, but at that moment, something shifted in me. It was the first step toward a major change in the way I feel about a very complex topic: a woman’s right to choose.
Up to that point, I subscribed to what I assume is the typical pro-choice view: as long as the baby isn’t viable outside the womb, it is the woman’s choice to terminate. But I don’t feel that way anymore.
Stay with me here – I’ll explain. First, I think the timing of terminations should be restricted to the first trimester. By 12 weeks, all the major organs and systems have formed. It looks like a person. There’s something there that you can see, touch, and recognize. Because of that, I just can’t stomach the thought of ending a pregnancy beyond that point because it’s inconvenient. I can’t explain it, but this new way I feel was triggered when I became a parent myself to an innocent and vulnerable infant.
Many states are passing laws forbidding abortions after 20 weeks. Most pro-choicers are against these restrictions, but I’m fully supportive. Babies are viable outside the womb at around 23 weeks. They’re tiny and need medical support, but they can survive to live full, happy lives. It boggles my mind that we would terminate a pregnancy so close to viability. Besides, who doesn’t know they’re pregnant for five months, besides the idiots on that TLC show “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”? Come on. If you honestly have no inkling that a human is swimming around inside you for five months, then you deserve a little distress. Pregnant women don’t have periods. The symptoms are, in 99% of cases, unmistakable. Denial is no excuse.
That said, I remain supportive of abortions in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is at stake, provided it’s the mother’s choice and not something forced upon her by someone else. But in rape/incest cases, if the baby is healthy, I really feel like abortion should be an absolute last resort. Why? Because none of us have any choice in how we are conceived. It’s not the baby’s fault. Biology doesn’t care that he or she was conceived in a violent act. How can we argue that the baby should pay the ultimate price, and be denied life and all the potential it holds?
That’s a hard stance for me to justify, because I can imagine how difficult that would be for the woman, carrying a child that is the result of an evil, horrible act. In those cases, if the woman isn’t able to mentally withstand the stress of carrying that baby to delivery, I can understand if she feels terminating is the option she must take. I would hope that in cases such as those, adoption is the way they’d go first.
I’m not sure how I feel about the laws requiring women to see an ultrasound before terminating. I honestly think there would be fewer abortions if women saw what I saw – that tiny being inside them with a teeny-weeny beating heart. It changed everything for me. But I don’t want them to go from wanting an abortion to begrudgingly raising a baby. No woman should be forced to raise a child she doesn’t want. Instead, I want them to find a way to give their child the best possible life, even if that means allowing someone else to raise them, whether that’s a stranger or a family member.
As a society, it’s our job to remove the stigma of giving babies up for adoption and make it a common and viable first option instead of dishonorable second. So many couples out there (straight and gay) would be wonderful parents. There are thousands of foster parents who have love to give and only need a child to give it to. If your choices are (a) interrupting a potential life and living with the guilt and questions about what your child might have become; or (b) giving your baby to a deserving family and living with the discomfort of knowing that someone else, somewhere, is raising your biological child, wouldn’t the latter be an easier discomfort to handle long term.
I’ve never been in that position myself, so I can’t really say why more people don’t give their babies to deserving families. There’s some stigma to it, but I imagine a world where a teen who’s giving their baby up for adoption is celebrated rather than talked about in whispers. Giving a baby up is the most selfless thing one can do, and teenagers aren’t exactly known for making selfless decisions. Many of the abortions I know about happened because teens didn’t want to get into trouble with their parents. They’re ending a life to avoid being grounded. Are you kidding me?! If a kid can’t go to their parents with their major screw-ups, then that’s a parenting fail. A big one.
(I’m grateful that my mother was always very open about birth control. She talked about it with us, and my older sisters paved the way by going on the pill first. So when the time came that I was thinking about having sex, I went to Planned Parenthood, with her blessing, and got on the pill. Was she wild about the idea of me having sex? I’m sure she wasn’t. But she knew the alternative, dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, was much worse.)
Fortunately, some teens are capable of braving their parents’ anger and making a selfless decision. I’ve seen it. Back in 1999, a friend of mine found herself pregnant her freshman year of college. I don’t remember why she made the decision she did (I blame the copious amounts of beer I consumed at that point in my life), but she chose an open adoption. I remember going through stacks of “hopeful parent” sheets with her late at night, flyers covered with photos of attractive couples with their pets, their words imploring us to put them at the top of the stack. I think about that now, and imagine couples sitting around the kitchen table, crafting these pleading paragraphs, trying to write words that will appeal to 19-year-old pregnant girls and their silly friends.
My friend chose a couple that she connected with, and when the baby was born, she filled out the birth certificate with the birth name they wanted for him. From moment one, she always thought about that little one as theirs, not hers. I think it made it a little bit easier for her, but I’m sure nothing about giving him up was easy for her. I’m proud she made the decision she did. Was it easy to be pregnant and in college, to answer people’s questions about it, to endure her parents’ occasional sniffling remarks about “losing their firstborn grandchild”? Nope. But she did it anyway because it’s what she felt was right.
What hasn’t changed about my pro-choice views? My feelings toward hard-liners, those people who believe the woman should have no say in terminating a pregnancy at any stage, for any reason (Paul Ryan, I’m talking to you, dick). There are situations where termination is and will continue to be the best option. So I feel it should never be completely outlawed. But it should be, as Bill Clinton eloquently said, “Safe, legal, and rare.”
The key to making abortion rare is education; that means sex ed should be required in all schools early on (because kids are hitting puberty sooner), and Planned Parenthood should be fully funded, so it can provide free or nearly free birth control to women who need it. It also means that Obamacare’s very popular provision that requires employers to provide birth control coverage should stay firmly in place, regardless of what Catholic priests say about it. If we don’t want people to terminate pregnancies, we have to help them to not get pregnant in the first place.
I recognize that abortion is a very complicated subject. I’ll probably make a few of my liberal friends mad, and I’m sorry about that. My feelings about it used to be simple, but they’re not anymore. I just know too much. Because of IVF, I literally watched my baby develop from a cluster of cells to a 7 pound, 1 ounce human over the course of an embryo report and six ultrasounds. The act of terminating now seems too extreme to be taken so lightly. I’ve seen too much to feel any other way.