What a Woman in Crisis Really Needs

I had a post I wanted to write today, but I’m having trouble saying it the right way. At the risk of not doing justice to the cause so many are marching for in Washington, DC today, I’ve decided instead to re-publish an old post of mine. For a different perspective on the pro-choice vs. pro-life argument, go see Kassie, who’s pondering the lives of the women in China and India who do not freely choose abortion and infanticide.

***

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://Californiatokorea.com Micaela

    This is incredibly moving. Thank you for sharing your struggles and triumphs.

  • http://www.betterthaneden.com Mary

    Thank you for sharing this. I admit I sometimes struggle with that “pro-life” line of thinking that you mentioned and this is really good for me to read.

  • Pingback: What a Woman in Crisis Really Needs | CATHOLIC FEAST

  • Elena

    I am so happy for you, your baby, and your recovery.

    But remember, you were able to make the *choice* to keep her. Your pregnancy was unplanned, but it was ultimately wanted. The fact that you had a baby and it changed your life for the better does not mean that it will be the same for every woman. We all have the right to choose whether we want to use our bodies to incubate a child or not. You made the right choice for you, and every woman should have that right.

    • Scratchy

      People should always remember, the choice is to have sex. I don’t find that trying to change facts after the fact is useful. Same as saying to drink drivers who run over people, “It’s OK, the choice is to take your punishment or try and avoid it with no apparent consequences, you had no choice to get drunk or to drive.”

    • Frank

      If someone makes the choice to engage in activity that produces children they have already made their choice. Its shameful to make an innocent life pay for that choice. Not too mention in direct opposition to being a follower of Jesus.

    • Anita

      Children are not incubated. Women’s bodies are not machines. An incubator is a machine that takes the place of a mother’s body. Children are nourished in a womb by a living breathing person – a mother, not a machine. Maybe your vision of the human person is a little off if you think you are a machine.
      The choice comes when you decide to have sex. Sex is intended to make babies, as well as bring parents closer together in love so as to be able to stay together and raise the child in a healthy family. So, if you *choose* to have sex, you are choosing to have a baby, even if a new life doesn’t happen each time.

    • Pilgrim

      I’ll second what Scratchy says. You’re right, Elena, no woman should be forced to carry a child. But the choice comes with choosing to have sex or not have sex. Once a human person is brought to existence, a mother has no more right to choose murder than anyone else. Don’t you see how far we’re gone as a culture when women are under the delusion that killing their own child in their womb is an option to handling their problems? And you obviously aren’t aware of the horrible consequences mothers suffer from abortion, which is only second to the horror of the murder of an innocent child.

  • Jessica

    thank you for being brave and honest enough to share your powerful story!! I think that when pro-choice arguments center around the woman’s needs rather than the fundamental dignity of the human baby, stories like yours show how abortion is often not a true choice for a woman, but rather an act of desperation and hopelessness.

  • http://tablereading.wordpress.com The Table Reader

    I incorporated an excerpt of your original post into a blog post today, a collage of voices, for and against abortion, that point to the way that legalized abortion has ultimately failed women, as well as their children. I’m looking forward to seeing the post that you wanted to be able to write for today; I’ll say some prayers that the words work themselves out. If your post provides a perspective that will challenge aspects of my own perspective on or approach to this issue and force me to refine them, so much the better. http://tablereading.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/40-years-of-choice/

  • Alissa

    I know what motherhood is. I have two beautiful children and I am doing as well by them as I am able. And it was mostly for their sake that I chose to abort. Our lives are better because I was able to make this choice. I stand by my decision; I have never regretted it, not for a single moment. As for the reasons behind my choice? They are good enough for me and nobody’s business but my own. I am an adult and capable of making an informed decision about what is best for me and for my family. People are not ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to major decisions that will have far-reaching repercussions. I am glad your story turned out well for you. Mine has turned out just as well for me.

    • Alix

      There is nothing more valuable you can give your children than another human being who will love and cherish them for their whole life.

      • Alissa

        You don’t know my circumstances but I can guarantee you that this would not have been true in my case. I am utterly satisfied that my decision was the best one for me.

        • Frank

          Well at least you admit your choice was a selfish one.

          • calahalexander

            This is a terrible comment. I rarely step into the combox this way, but although I let comments stand (with one notable exception), I want everyone reading this to know that I think this is a hideous thing to say to someone in the callous medium of a combox. Unfortunately, I have to let the ugliness of the pro-life side show itself now just as I let the ugliness of the pro-choice side show itself when this post was originally published. I don’t agree with Alissa’s choice. I’ve made myself clear on the issue of abortion numerous times on my blog. But the self-righteousness with which Frank so flippantly condemns her is equally wrong. Perhaps even more so, since he claims to have a knowledge of Christ which Alissa does not. In that, he has a greater responsibility to bear witness to the truth and love demanded of Christians.

          • Frank

            She stated herself that this was the best “choice for me.” So while I agree with another poster that my comment was unhelpful, based on what she wrote it was accurate. The truth at times can be very ugly and we should not shy away from it.

          • calahalexander

            In an impersonal medium, in conversation with a woman you’ve never met who did not seek your opinion, yes, you should shy away from it. It’s called TACT. Not to mention charity, kindness, compassion. Jeez.

          • Frank

            This is a public blog. So yes posting publicly opens up an invitation to respond. Not posting would be not asking for mine, or anyone else’s opinion. My statement still stands.

          • RLM

            Calah, I love your blog and I am not usually comfortable posting comments, but I just couldn’t let the following two comments stand, one from you and the other from Cordelia. I think compassion is important, but not to the detriment of reason. We are not supposed to only feel, we must also think and make sure that our emotions are under control of our faculty of reason. It seems as though, in this thread, the faculty of reason is being subjugated to the power of emotions:
            (1) “I’ve made myself clear on the issue of abortion numerous times on my blog. But the self-righteousness with which Frank so flippantly condemns her is equally wrong.”
            First, I’m going to assume that you are right about just how wrong it was for Frank to make such an assessment, although what you have said so far does not convince me that you are actually right. Nevertheless, how is making an allegedly offensive comment just as wrong as the premeditated taking of unborn human life? Equivocating the two defies reason. Saying something that betrays a lack of compassion is nowhere near as bad on an objective level as the intentional taking of human life.
            (2) “Regretting an abortion is one of the most God-awful painful things a person can go through – and unlike Frank-the-unhelpful above I do NOT think your decision was simply “selfish” – so in a way I am glad you are satisfied that you made the best decision possible.”
            Cordelia, how can you really say and mean this? When someone commits serious wrongdoing and does not feel an ounce of remorse, our reaction should not be relief. A lack of remorse shows under such circumstances betrays a lack of conscience, which is something to worry about, not to be relieved about!

            Look, I understand the need to be compassionate, but there is also such a thing as false compassion, i.e. compassion that is not grounded in truth, which I think is what is happening here. Such compassion does not serve anyone well; after all, how could it, if it is not grounded in truth?

        • Cordelia

          Alissa…if you were right here, I would want to give you a big hug for the pain I’m sure those circumstances and that decision must have cost you…and I praying my words will come out in a loving and sisterly way, because that’s how I’m thinking about you.

          One trouble with having abortion as a choice at all, though, is that it can close us off to other possibilities – partly because the decision is (most understandably) one that is usually made early in the pregnancy. We can’t ever truly *know* how things would work out if someone – anyone – who died had lived instead. Death stops things with an absolute finality.

          And that’s another trouble with abortion – we’re not just talking about doing the best we can with our own life and the lives of our other children. We have to do the best thing we can by the life of the small child within us, too. You’ve carried babies to birth (as I am yet again, a one-pound person kicking within me as I write this); however hard life gets, we never look at our born-children and say with sad and final decision, “Everyone else would be better off if you were dead.” We just never do that, do we? Because we know them as people in their own right, and, however unlovable they may be acting, we love them as our children.

          Regretting an abortion is one of the most God-awful painful things a person can go through – and unlike Frank-the-unhelpful above I do NOT think your decision was simply “selfish” – so in a way I am glad you are satisfied that you made the best decision possible. But, please – for the memory of that baby you will meet again someday in heaven – consider whether there might be a better way for us women than the false choice of surrendering our babies for their deaths.

          • calahalexander

            Cordelia, I wish I could hug you. You are just…you’re just so wonderful.

          • Alissa

            I really don’t know what to say. Thank (some of) you for your words of support. I agree that it was partly a selfish decision; of course I was considering what I needed for myself going forward with my life. It was also something I did for my children- they deserved better than what our life would have been if I had carried that pregnancy to term. Those are not just empty words I tell myself to make myself feel better- if you knew the particulars you would see that it’s not a simple matter of baby/no baby. When my girls are older I will certainly tell them about my experience. It’s not something I’m either proud or ashamed of, and it’s part of my life story, which also belongs (in a way) to my daughters. A part of me wants to share my full story, to try and show you what things really, truly like and how a baby would only have made them worse. The bottom line, though, is that I don’t need to justify myself to others in order to feel at peace with my decision. And even if I shared my personal circumstances there are many people who still would not agree with my choice. But as long as that choice remains mine to make, I’m OK with that.

    • Karen

      Of course you’re right and we don’t know your circumstances. I do want to ask you one question, though–will you tell your living children about your decision? When my grandfather was dying he confessed to me that my grandmother (who I did not know, as she died when I was four) had insisted on having an abortion when she was pregnant with her second, and my mother was a toddler. She was certain they did not have enough money to support two children at the time. This was in the mid-1940s, and the post war boom had not hit yet and my grandfather was struggling to make his farm profit and find a job outside the farm as well. He was reluctant, having been brought up Catholic (as was my grandmother) but she was adamant, so they found somebody who would perform the abortion. He asked me to not tell my mother or her younger sister (as it happened they had another baby when my mother was five, I guess by then either my grandmother felt they had enough money or she was terrified to go through another abortion). He said that my mother and her sister would not want to hear about it, that it would ruin their perception and memories of their mother. To this day I have not told them, but I do know that learning my grandmother had an abortion has skewed my opinion of her, whether or not I completely know and understand her circumstances.

      I guess I am just wondering if you are worried at all about that, what your children would think, or if you feel they would understand completely and be grateful that you made that choice.

    • Frank

      Sorry but it seems you are trying to make right that which is wrong. We all do it. We all try to justify our choices, mostly the bad ones.

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    Brilliant.

  • Kelly

    Im glad you turned your life around. However, your personal positive outcome related to the choice you made is not a reasonable argument to revoke the rights of others to choose. You state women who are pregnant need love and support, and recognition that they are capable to be mothers. However, love and support mean respecting personal choices and decisions, and surely if one is capable to be a mother they are also capable of making decisions about their own reproduction. The story is moving, but the conclusions are anecdotal and not based in reason.

    • Cordelia

      Kelly – like you, I am always deeply skeptical of “reasoning” based on personal anecdote! That’s a very short road to la-la land… However, I didn’t read Calah as saying that her own story *proved* that the right-to-abortion fails women in crisis. She thinks it does, of course (and so do I), but her story was simply a real-life example – the kind of thing you put forward AFTER the reasoned argument to more fully illustrate the principle.

    • Pilgrim

      Kelly, it’s never loving to support a decision that is wrong, bad for the person, and bad for the baby. Would you have supported Calah’s use of drug use if you had known her back then? I suspect not. Why? Because she was ruining her life and badly affecting the lives of those around her! Whether you see it or not, abortion does the same thing to a much greater degree. Again, the choice whether to reproduce comes with choosing the reproductive act. Once you’re pregnant, you HAVE reproduced, and there is no undoing that. Just killing a child who already exists.

  • Corita

    I am highly, highly swayed by every argument for the rights of women to control their bodies and to have the freedom to be unburdened from children, especially because the agency of women is still so very restricted.

    Yep. Women in crisis need a whole damn lot more than they get in most places. Because they so rarely get it, I am totally on board with the prochoice argument; I believe in all of it…… except for the fact that that is another person, albeit at a different stage of development. I just can’t justify killing it to save myself, nor can i support the hugely problematic idea of sanctioning killing off dependent people based on individuals’ personal determination of that human’s value and right to live.


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