What a Woman in Crisis Really Needs

Amidst the debates swirling around about defunding Planned Parenthood, some oft-repeated catch phrases are being tossed around like word grenades. One of these are “women in crisis.” I’m sick and tired of hearing about “women in crisis” and how they need access to emergency contraception and abortions. That is a huge, steaming pile of lies, propagated by people who like to murder babies. Women in crisis do not need access to abortions. What they need is love, support, a safe place to live, and people (even strangers!) who will tell them the truth: that they are more than capable of being a mother. That they can do this. That their crisis, no matter how terrible, will be healed in the long, sometimes painful, always joyful process of becoming a mother.

Think this makes me heartless, speaking from my comfortable suburban home, having never known trials in my cushy little life?

Think again.

When I got that positive pregnancy test, the one that changed my life, I was addicted to crystal meth.

And do you know what the people around me did? They didn’t take the secular line and say, “this baby’s life would be horrible. You’re unfit to be a mother. Better for it to not be born at all.”

But neither did they take the typical pro-life line in that situation and say, “you are clearly unfit to be a mother, but all you have to do is carry the baby to term and give a stable couple a wonderful gift.”

The Ogre said, “you’re a mother now, and I’m a father, and together we’ll raise our child.”

My parents said, “marry that man, and raise that baby. You’ve made the choices, you have to live with them.”

My friends said, “you screwed up, big time. But we love you. We’ll throw you a baby shower, buy you maternity clothes, and babysit while you finish your semester.”

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, being a newly-pregnant drug addict. But it gave me something to live for. Someone to live for.

Many times, women who are addicted to drugs manage to clean themselves up during the pregnancy only to fall back into old habits after the baby is born. This is why conventional wisdom states that a drug addict can’t raise a child, even if she manages to carry the baby safely, healthily to term.

In some women, this is doubtless true. But think of the message we’re sending those women.

You can’t do this. You are too weak to resist. You’re not a mother, you’re unfit to be a mother, we know you won’t make sacrifices for your child. Better for the child to not live at all than to be abandoned by a drug-addled mother. After all, what kind of life will she have. The daughter of an addict. 

We in the pro-life community need to remember that we stand for life…all life. Just as much as that baby needs to be born, the mother needs her child to be born. Becoming a mother is a powerful thing, and I can tell you from experience that a child can bring new-found strength to a woman in a terrible place.

I vividly remember one day, three months after Sienna was born. I managed to get us both dressed and we went for a walk. I walked around our apartment complex, unconsciously making my way to a friend’s apartment with drug connections. Before I had really decided to do so, I was knocking at his door. No one was there. I sat on a bench across from his apartment and waited. I waited for an hour, my  mind racing all that time. I couldn’t get over the one, obvious hurtle. If I were to use drugs again, I couldn’t breastfeed the baby. But what excuse could I give for not feeding her? What excuse would I have for using formula? And what if the Ogre figured it out? What if he told my parents? Would the drugs really enter the breastmilk? Would it affect her too much? Couldn’t I just smoke a little bit, and then see if she acted funny?

In the midst of this frantic train of thought, I happened to look down at my daughter. She was sleeping, her soft pink mouth open, her little hand curled up against one fat, rosy cheek.

She was absolutely beautiful, and absolutely perfect. I knew the hell of drug use, and in that instant I knew that I could not do that to my daughter. I couldn’t let that horror into her tiny, flawless body.

She opened her eyes, yawned, and smiled at me. It was a rare thing for her to smile at me. I was an absent mother, a source of food. We had almost no relationship at all. But at that moment, for the first time, I loved her. I picked her up and held her closely, shaky and nearly weeping from the adrenaline that had been coursing through me. Just as my friend’s car pulled up I held Sienna in one arm, turned the stroller around and went home.

From that moment on my half-formed plans to use drugs again began to dissipate. It took years before they were gone completely, and even still, on bad days, the thought sometimes pops into my head, unbidden and quickly chased out.

But my daughter saved my life. She saved me from that terrible crisis. The people around me didn’t say, “You can’t be a mother. You can’t parent. You’re addicted to crystal meth, there’s no hope for you.” They said, “You are a mother now. This is your child. You can, and will, raise her.” And I did.  I am.

That is what women in crisis really need. They need to be told that this is what they were made for, that motherhood is in their blood, in their very being, and that they can do it. Just as their babies deserve a chance to live, so do they deserve a chance to be a mother.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01347616073655350336 Manda

    Jake, ALL life has inherent dignity and value. A child with down-syndrome or fetal-alcohol syndrome is of no less value than you or I. Be careful when you start placing different values on human life. We have seen what can happen with such instances like Nazi Germany and the Slave Trade.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07632005486245515873 Calah

    Jake, thanks for the comment. I think this is certainly a valid question. I will always take the side of life, no matter what the results are. I do think that a woman with a drug addiction should immediately cease using (as I did, and believe me it was hell and I was literally not left alone for three weeks, as I couldn't be trusted to be on my own). The pregnancy should then continue. What if the woman doesn't have the support I did? What if she doesn't stop her drug or alcohol abuse? Well, then I believe the baby should still be born. I've seen meth babies, and I know how awful it is. I know how much pain they are in and how truly terrible their tiny lives are, and yet I still believe they deserve life. As far as the mother goes, if she's unwilling to discontinue her use, she should not be allowed to parent. There are many charities out there which specialize in children who are born with disabilities, and many adoptive parents who specifically seek out special-needs children, so the child would not necessarily be shuttled into the often loveless, dangerous foster care system. And even if the child was shuttled into the foster care system…isn't that better than being dead? A life of difficulty and disability is better than no life at all. You also never know what effect actually seeing her child might have on the mother. It could be powerful enough to turn her around. To everyone else, thank you all so much for your comments and support. I can't tell you how much I appreciate each one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04286757995048861826 PattyinCT

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for choosing life. God bless you for witness!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Calah, for your thoughtful post, and for your thoughtful response to Choice. I was Choice once (minus the atheist vitriol and the PETA rhetoric). I defended PP clinics and was furious at the religious folks praying in my direction. I saw the Catholic Church in particular for its human failings and focused on the flaws in its history. I was–even am still–a feminist, though I'd define that differently now. But I am now a Catholic, and the recognition I had that the failings of the Catholic Church are the failings of humanity was a real epiphany. Catholicism is a scapegoat for a lot of things, but whatever the atrocities perpetuated in the name of the Church, the Church is us: humans, God's people, the body of Christ. Accepting Catholicism is an act of humility: it means saying "yes, humans screw up, and the Catholic Church, based in God's love and taking up the mantle of Christ, is nonetheless human." And God knew this. Christ had to smack down Peter, the rock on which he built his Church, more than once for getting things wrong and even–let us not forget–betraying him! But this is us! For the non-religious readers, think of this as accepting Universal Love whose boundaries are infinite even though we are flawed and unable fully to grasp it. To make the Catholic Church the scapegoat for humanity's failings is proud, blind, and foolish. But I can see that in some ways, Choice is trying to articulate, sans religion, a similar idea: the need to be decent to others. She just can't maintain that decency long enough to accept a faith that is based in others and encourages humility as a path to that decency. Indeed, the atheist approach is pretty un-humble: it assumes that everything can be understood. Most of the best scientists don't actually think that, though neither scientists nor Catholics think we should therefore stop trying to understand. We just know that the human mind has limits, and we respect the mystery of the universe. Many philosophic, theological, and critical traditions get to this same place by different paths.

  • Anonymous

    continued from above…And to address Choice's comments about supporting life after birth: I've said the same thing. What most non-Catholics don't understand is that the Church does actually commit itself, doctrinally and practically, to helping the poor, to supporting women with difficult pregnancies, and in other ways putting their money where their mouths are! Indeed, I was told in no uncertain terms in RCIA that if I joined up, I was committing myself to the poor, that the face of Christ was there.I do believe that most pro-choice people hold their position through a sense of sympathy, empathy, even love. I was trying to "help" my sisters in pain. The blind spot I shared with her is the blind spot about why, as she said, abortion is a "awful, painful, terrible thing" and she "wishes it didn't exist." If it is awful and painful, why? Why should it be infrequent? Why avoid it? Why is it that so many people who call themselves pro-choice admit that abortion should be avoided? It should be avoided because they have a sneaking suspicion that it might be, well, killing a person. And they are willing to defend the right of everyone to "choice" and "freedom" even when that right extends to, say, ending the life of a 22-week-old fetus who may well be viable outside the womb (as my friend's 3 year old testifies) and who can certainly cry, suck her thumb, and feel pain like an extra-uterine infant, just to allow for the possibility that a woman in "crisis" might have a tough time raising a child. If that 22-week-old fetus travelled 10 inches, it would be a person and we would decry the murderer. Otherwise, yeah, it's the woman's choice to have it stabbed in the head, because to admit otherwise might mean that someone somewhere might have to raise a child she didn't want. It is, in my experience, an uncomfortable truth. Pro-choice people rarely look it in the face. We focus instead on the raped 12-year-old who might give birth to her father's child, or the ancephalic baby. Know what? Hard cases. But should every woman have a right to kill a baby because of those cases? Everyone? Here's a case. There's a black spot on that ultrasound at 22 weeks that COULD be a horrible birth defect that means the child might live a month or two. 37 weeks: ultrasound shows a child who might be borderline microcephalic. The child is born, head is 89th percentile, and guess what? No health problems, kid smart as a whip. Making it up? Nope. My kid. I would tell any pro-choice readers that it is really important to think through the full implications of your position. Assume the best of the people who are pro-life. And don't assume that all Catholics are brainwashed simpletons. Indeed, you might consider that there are institutions that benefits from contraception and abortion, and that maybe you are an unwitting participant in those institutions. I can tell you that very few Catholics are unwitting participants in their institution. How could they be? They just may not always take the time to explain their core values and logic to people who are treating them inhumanely. Chesterton once wrote of the madman, "perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large." Catholicism is, once you're inside, much larger than it seems; indeed, infinitely large. And once you're inside, some other things that seem perfectly logical are, to put it kindly, "perfect but narrow circles."

  • http://stmonicasbridge.wordpress.com Kristen @ St Monica’s Bridge

    Thank you for posting this Calah. In my last pregnancy, I was told (on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, no less) that my son via ultrasound may have a congenital heart defect that may result in immediate emergency surgery after birth as well as cysts on his brain that could be related to Trisomy 13, a death sentence. In that moment, I answered my MFM doctor with this sentence, I will carry him to term, he is still my son. A defect of any kind would not make him any less. The length of his life after birth do not make him less. He is a thriving almost two-year-old now with none of those issues. But I have been in the seat of a woman in a "crisis pregnancy" which is not only the definition of an unwanted, or unexpected pregnancy but one that results in a special needs child or child with physical or mental impairments. And for the record, I do have a special needs child. My daughter, my oldest, has autism. There are no pre-natal screens for autism (although I do not consent to any pre-natal screening regardless) and the world IS a better place with this beautiful little girl who some would see as a burden and would have chosen to murder if they knew.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, Calah. Just got here from Kate Wicker's blog and I am filled with emotion. After having just walked out of a meeting with pro-lifers about how we can best support women in difficult places to help them treasure life, the timing is God given.I have walked the road of a life saving (mine) pregnancy-and went on to have eight more. I have been married to their dad for nearly 27 years. When I came to my own father to tell him the news of that first baby, his exact words: "every child is a miracle, and that's my grandbaby. Your timing is bad, but you have the opportunity now to make everything that happens from now on good- for you, your baby, and his father." I am weeping right now at the memory, and it was 27 years ago. And things are wonderful.Thank you, sweet mamma.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17617227847364562989 NC Sue

    May God richly bless you for speaking words of truth, healing, and courage in a world which considers abortion to be an easy "out". Thank you – THANK YOU – for choosing life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05125631823780589014 Ranting Catholic Mom

    Callah, thank you for this post. In response to Choice: Having attempted suicide, I would say you have never known true despair. At the moment before I threw the plugged in radio into my bathtub while I was in it, I said a prayer. "God, if it is not time for me to go, if you have other plans for me, let me live." And so I did. I was married the next year, and my son was born a few years later. The despair of the drug addicted mother and the suicidal woman are not that different. But despair is the sin of Judas. Is that what you believe in?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your courageous story.As for the comments made by CHOICE: you claim to know all about the Catholic Church's intentions as to why they are against contraception!So the secret is our everyone the Catholic Church is against birth control because it wants to fill it's pews!How about you try reading the document written by Pope Paul Vl  in 1968 titled Humane Vitae before you go touting the Catholic Church's intentions! You'll see the Catholic Church has far more concern for the lives of people regardless of their faith and values women much greater than most so called Feminists do.Funny how Pope Paul Vl was years ahead of the scientific community on the fact that birth control pill are a form of aborficiants!I don't blame you Choice, your logic comes from not having belief in something that is greater than yourself! That's why all of your values, ethics, and beliefs are based within those limits and to you there is no absolute right or wrong answers. Everything is subjected to the limits of your own mindset, and with that level of self-centerness, what is right or wrong will always be relative to your circumstance and on your own self justification. Where as with God truth is not relative, it does not change, it has no adgenda.God created all the animals and gave man dominion over them, so please get off that PETA crap! I adore my cats as much as anyone, my heart breaks when I see animals abused or used for experiments, however, they are not on the same level as human life although they sometimes treat each other a lot better than humans, they at least give birth to their offspring!I will end with a favorite quote of mine by Ronald Reagan "I have noticed that everyone who is for abortion, has already been born"LisaC