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.

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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://onecatholicmama.wordpress.com Amelia

    I love this part especially!!

    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.”

    I really believe that our words matter so much..and that many people..especially vulnerable people (as a woman in crisis is very vulnerable) tends to live up to the expectations of others. If everyone tells a mother she can’t raise a child, can’t have a child, is too young, too poor, too addicted, too whatever then she will believe that. She needs to hear people say that she CAN do it.

  • Gretchen

    You’re right that women do not need to be told that they can’t be mothers. But they also don’t need to be told that they MUST be mothers. That’s the operative word: choice. I’m so glad it worked out for you. It doesn’t work out for everyone. All women must be givent the choice to figure out the best course for their own lives, and the support to carry out their choices. Your choice worked for you. Other choices work for other people in other circumstances, and women must have the freedom to weigh their options and make their choices.

    • calahalexander

      Gretchen, I agree with you. I don’t think women must be mothers. I think that is absolutely a choice we must retain as women. But it needs to happen before sex, not after the positive pregnancy test. I know it sounds cold, what I’m saying, and I remember the agony of that positive pregnancy test, and several since that first one, with chilling clarity. But I truly believe it is more loving to respect all life, and that only by respecting the life of both the mother and child can true healing begin. Their lives are intertwined in ways we’ll never fully understand, even from the very beginning. Science has shown how drastically a woman’s body begins to change with the implantation of a fertilized egg. How can those massive physical changes not effect a woman’s psyche, even if only on some subconscious level? Killing the baby is only killing a part of herself. A woman who gives a baby up for adoption is making a choice not to be an active mother without destroying a something crucial to the very framework of her being, something that has changed her utterly and forever. Something that has its own DNA, its own heartbeat, its own life.

    • Amy

      I think the trouble with this is that there are some hurdles so intimidating, that we merely need to be told, “Well, there is another option, you don’t have to do this”, in order to tell ourselves, “Right! Not gonna do it then!”
      I love being a mother. I loved being pregnant, carrying, growing and supporting life. But it has its terrifying moments. I tripped over once while pregnant. I instantly wrapped arms around my head and abdomen, protecting the crucial stuff. Bub was monitored for several hours afterwards, was perfectly fine, and is perfectly fine to this day. But the experience terrified me! How could I stand the thought that this little defenceless being was going to be dependent on fallible, clumsy, confused me?!
      Now, if I reacted like that, with all my support and advantages of marriage, family support, reasonable financial situation and a chosen pregnancy… what do you think a person with a lot more hurdles is going to think? To the extent that they love that growing foetus (and I can’t imagine anyone would have *no* love or sense of responsibility at all – it may be buried, tiny or hard to find, but IMO it couldn’t be non-existent), they’re going to think, “No *way* can I mother this child!” The only thing that will convince them to even consider motherhood will probably be someone saying, “You can and will mother this child.” Full stop. Not, “You can, but don’t have to.” Not “You probably can, but if you can’t, we’ll help out.” Just “You can, and you will.”

  • Jasper

    “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.”

    You’re an ignorant jerk who knows nothing about pro-lifers.


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