Note: This piece may come across as trans-exclusionary. It's not intended to, and I tried in multiple ways to work it into something more inclusive, but it wasn't possible in this context. Because the focus is on the decision to become or not become pregnant--that decision that is constantly questioned in anti-choice rhetoric, the focus here is on biological women and their experiences. I hope that this doesn't piss anyone off, because I truly fretted over how to make it inclusive and still get my point across and came to the conclusion that I couldn't. It's from a singular perspective, but I welcome any commentary on the idea.
When I was eighteen, I sat down on a toilet, peed on a stick, and waited to see what showed up. It was a plus sign, and I was devastated.
I wasn't ready to be a parent, and yet, here I was, staring down the barrel of a positive pee stick. Damn.
If there is one point that I want to drive home from that moment, it is this: No one--NO ONE--understands the experience of being pregnant than women. No one. There's not a being on this planet that understands it better.
No one understands the full breadth of emotion that pregnancy evokes like a woman does. Whether it's ecstatic joy because you've been waiting for that moment, or absolute terror because you were not planning this.
For some, it is pure terror, either from the circumstances of conception, or from the social pressures from church and family and society at large.
This understanding isn't limited to individuals that have or want to have children, either--the simple ability to conceive, regardless of one's gender perception or desire for children, unites us in the biological reality. Each of us is able to conceptualize what children would mean to our lives, what having them would mean, and whether that possibility is a positive or negative to our existence. This isn't philosophical musing to us--it is reality. The ability to produce children shapes the way we order our lives--from avoiding that conception to encouraging and planning it, depending on what we see for ourselves. Those that struggle with infertility experience it just as acutely--this is truly a shared experience, a shared understanding.
We may differ in our understanding of the minutiae. We may differ as mothers in when we want to have children, how we want to raise them, whether we are super cautious or more laissez faire during our pregnancies. We may differ as individuals in whether we want to have children, whether we plan to have children, whether we even see ourselves as women, but the reality of this biological phenomenon is something that we can all understand.
Pregnancy itself is full of pressure, of pain, of joy, of fear, of excitement. It's hormones and rages and craziness. It's a singular experience, one that you cannot liken to any other. Ever.
Pregnancy itself is dangerous for us. It changes our bodies. It causes tremendous physical strain and pain. It can even result in death or serious, debilitating injury. For much of our history, pregnancy and giving birth have been among the most common causes of death for women worldwide.
And yet, you hear men who will never face the possibility of becoming pregnant, saying things like this statement, from William Ross in a letter to the Daily Herald:
...in my opinion health decisions should not include the taking of a human life. Sanitized jargon like "birth control" and "a private medical decision" mask the truth that abortion and drugs and devices that cause abortions kill babies.Sanitized jargon? Really?
No one understands pregnancy like a woman. No one. I come back to this point. I recently ran across a post titled "How Miscarriage Deepened My Thoughts On Abortion". You can read the entire thing here, but I was struck by this quote:
The capriciousness of miscarriage lays bare the tenuousness of life at that stage of development. It’s extremely hard to express just how dehumanizing it is to ban the loss of a pregnancy only if the person actually going through the pregnancy has any say in the process.Do you know who wrote that? A woman.
A woman who found out she was carrying a pregnancy, experienced the tremendous joy of a loved and anticipated baby, and then felt the devastating emotional loss of a miscarriage. A woman who understands what it means to be pregnant. Who truly understands what pregnancy means to a woman.
So pregnancy is one of our foremost concerns as women. Motherhood, in the positive or the negative, is a fundamental concern to women.
This is why it is so insulting to see the anti-choice rhetoric that is rife today with the minimization of individual experiences and capacities.
It's in the anti-contraception push: Why should they cover contraception, that just allows women to be promiscuous? Jessica Valenti highlighted this story in The Purity Myth, and it is still relevant today:
For example, when a bill prohibiting University of Wisconsin campuses to provide students with any form of contraception passed in 2005, state representative Dan LeMahieu, who introduced the legislation, said to the Capital Times that he was "outraged that our public institutions are giving young college women the tools for having promiscuous sexual relations, whether on campus or thousands of miles away on spring break." I find it telling that Rep. LeMahieu sees access to contraception only as a means to a slutty end, rather than as young women's taking responsibility for their sexual health. (130)Who understands the risks of promiscuity better than the young woman who's making her own sexual choices? What is promiscuity anyway, is a good question too, but one that will have to wait for another day.
The idea here, though, is that women cannot make their own decisions. We are not capable of making them, and we must be protected--from our own sexuality!
This is the idea that comes from the fundamental misunderstanding of our understanding of what sex means. Sex is great. Sex is fun. Sex can result in pregnancy.
We're the ones that get pregnant.
The same idea came up in the course of the debate over over-the-counter emergency contraception. Jessica Valenti faithfully documented it also:
It later came to light that FDA medical official Janet Woodcock wrote in an internal memo that over-the-counter status could cause "extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an 'urban legend' status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B." (129)And again, there it is. The fundamental assumption that we are incapable of making sexual decisions, and must be protected from them.
Again, we know.
We see these same ideas in the recent discourse over the Hobby Lobby decisions. "Why should I have to subsidize someone else's life choices?"
We've seen it in the Wisconsin "rape insurance" debacle: "If you want an abortion, you pay for it. It's your life choice."
We see it again and again in legislation that limits choice: wait periods, ultrasounds, mandatory counseling--all of this, under the guise of "protecting" women, is really just saying the same thing, again and again and again.
You silly woman. You don't really understand what you are doing. You don't understand it, and we will help you to understand it, because if you did understand it, you would never ever EVER make this decision. You would never choose not to be pregnant.
And that's simply false.
Because we understand what pregnancy--and motherhood!--mean, we are the ones that are most able to make decisions about the role that pregnancy and motherhood should play in our lives. We are the ones best able to do it. Each individual is the one most able to make that decision.
We are CAPABLE.
This is the underlying myth that unifies all of this rhetoric: The infantile woman, the frivolous one. The one incapable of making decisions. The passive one.
This woman is the one "preyed" upon by men that just want to use her and abandon her, by doctors that just want her money. This woman is a victim--and this is how they consistently paint her. A victim. She needs to be protected.
She doesn't understand the full breadth of her decision. She doesn't understand what it means to be pregnant. She doesn't grasp the full reality.
But she DOES.
She does. She does, and no one understands it better.
Back to the story from the beginning up above: I do not regret my decision to carry that pregnancy, and I am thrilled with being a mother. I love my children very, very much.
But I cannot bring myself to fault someone who makes a different decision, because I understand exactly what that decision entails. It's truly a moment, an experience, a decision that can only be understood by the person making it--and that person only.
And that person is capable. Truly capable.