Saturday, January 31, 2009

There is no answer

In the last twenty four hours I have felt a decided shift in my emotions. I feel like I have returned to normal life, as though I have been away. I find myself reflecting on my abortion in those rare moments of quiet and solitude, but abortion is no longer the overriding thought on my mind.

In those moments today, I have ruminated about how I made my decision. I knew that in order to feel sure that I was making the right decision I needed to consider the very difficult ethical conundrums raised by abortion. I suppose that says it all. I do not see abortion in absolute terms but rather in terms of unanswerable dilemmas.

My body has created life twice. It is impossible for me to deny that with time, good luck, and no accidents of biology, the fetus grows into a baby, who is born, and then develops into a person. In the days before my abortion, I force myself to wonder if this fetus would become a person who looks like my other children, who bear a striking resemblance to one another. I contemplate whether it is a male or female. I think about my two children’s distinct personalities and about what kind of person this fetus might have become.

Those thoughts are difficult to have, but for me they were important. My answers reflect my fundamental views of personhood. I do not think of the fetus as the “unborn” but rather in terms of “potential life.” Miscarriage occurs in one out of four pregnancies. Sadly I know of too many cases, even well after the supposed mark of fetal viability (24 weeks) that ended in badly. I myself endured pre-term labor at 24 weeks with my first pregnancy which ended happily, while many other women on the maternal-fetal ward had far sadder outcomes. I mourn with friends who have terminated pregnancies for medical reasons, or endured a stillbirth due to medical complications during delivery. The process of creating life is sadly fraught with many moments that can go terribly wrong.

I believe that each unique combination of an egg and a sperm creates a different potential life and that personality is the result of a complex interaction of biology and environment that occurs over a lifetime. I do not believe that a specific fetus was destined to be a specific person and that if that fetus is aborted or miscarried that the world is missing the next “Beethoven, finder of the cure for cancer, or fill in the blank” any more than I think that the miscarried or aborted fetus might have become “Hitler, Charles Manson, or another potential blight upon the world.”

It turns out that the answers to my hard questions really were not the important part of my process. It was the asking that proved most valuable. Avoiding the hard thoughts, the conflicts with moral, ethical, religious, or philosophical beliefs seems to me the surest way to make the wrong individual choice about abortion. To me however that is the best answer anyone is going to get, their individual answer because really there is no answer.

1 comment:

  1. The hardest part of dealing with my abortion has been what you talked about in this post: the potentiality that was ended. Though I am decidedly childfree and have not changed my stance despite my experience, I did find it very difficult to deliberately end the unknown potential I carried inside of me. I couldn't help the desperate, romanticized flights of curiosity: what kind of person would it have turned out to be? Whose features would it have, whose temperament? How much like us would it have been? How amazing, or terrible, a person could it have turned out to be, and what kind of parents would we have become?

    I started reading Richard Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene" shortly afterward, and it incidentally helped me to see that the biological process of bringing life into the world is not the be-all, end-all aspect of having a child. It's not the having that is ultimately significant, but the raising. What we think of as "our" genes do not describe us as individuals very accurately, nor do they persist in an especially identifiable way beyond one or two generations. Our biology mostly dictates physical characteristics, and the diseases or weaknesses that will eventually kill us. The biggest influence parents have on their children is in nurture, not nature--overwhelmingly so. And in that regard, my partner and I will always be able to nurture those around us, without needing biological progeny in order to pass on the best of ourselves.

    Though I'm still curious about what a child of ours may have looked and acted like, I realize now that it's a selfish and superficial curiosity, and not a true maternal instinct of any kind. That unique and unrepeatable combination of sperm and egg was nothing more than a blank canvas that happened to be tinted a certain shade and made of a certain material, nothing more. Whatever image may have emerged there would have been painted by many hands, not just ours, and would have become an autonomous entity in its own right, to the point that its underlying base would be all but forgotten except for things like questions about family medical history on hospital forms.

    I'm still curious, and I still regret a little that I could never have known what it might have been. Even at conception, it was never really a potential anything--its fate was determined. In a strange way, it reminds me a lot of a breakup after a serious relationship: it seems terrible when it ends, as if a potentially beautiful future was snuffed out of existence, but after a while you gain distance from it and can see that that future was never a real possibility. There is sadness that it didn't--couldn't--work out, but also a great, astonishing relief.

    If anything, I wish I never knew this curiosity for something I will never know.


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