When I was a teenager, I was homeschooled in a deeply conservative, deeply pro-life homeschool group. Everyone had as many children as they could. I used to watch the parade of sixteen-passenger vans arriving at the old brick church downtown for daily Mass before our homeschool enrichment lessons, and I’d swell with pride.
It was impressed on us in that homeschool group that pregnant women had to be careful. It wasn’t just abortion, the travesty of directly killing a baby, that was wrong. We also had to be careful not to accidentally hurt or kill an unborn baby. Pregnant women were careful to take vitamins and see the doctor; they shouldn’t lift things that were too heavy. Everyone pulled together to help pregnant women because we knew that these duties took a lot of work. I remember the times I went to a mom’s house to watch the children and clean up the messes, so she could rest, which was good for the baby. I remember babysitting and fixing dinner for her other children while she went to the hospital to have the baby. The whole community came together and helped.
That wasn’t extraordinary. It was everyday life. The alternative was that we might let a tiny human being suffer and die through our negligence.
And this is the point where everyone wants me to decry my abusive past. Some aspects of my childhood were absolutely spiritually abusive and ought not to have happened. I’ve written about those with brutal honesty before. You can trust me to say when something is evil. But the fact is, the genuinely pro-life way I saw people coming together to help a pregnant woman was wonderful. I’m glad that I helped. I’m glad that I saw the valiant witness of so many mothers being careful to do the best that they could and all their friends helping so diligently, so that they would not cause death or injury to a helpless human being. That’s respect for the human person from conception until natural death. As a Catholic, that’s something I think we all must do.
When I grew up and got married, I got pregnant. I immediately went on prenatal vitamins even though they made the nausea worse. I tried to get roughage and vegetables into my diet even though I was so finicky. I didn’t take hot baths. I stopped eating raw sushi and I microwaved my cold-cut sandwiches– but I stood with my belly to the side of the microwave, because I’d read in some hippie magazine that microwaves might hurt a baby if I stood too close. I went for walks, and in summer I joined a pool. I knew that it was important for me to act responsibly, so I wouldn’t accidentally hurt the baby.
I was irritated by how nothing I did seemed like enough, for some people. They chided me to not walk so far. They warned me not to take the medicine the doctor prescribed for nausea in case it might hurt the baby’s developing intestines. They chided me about going to the wrong obstetrician, the one who might not take enough care. They lectured on the dangers of epidurals and unnecessary Caesarians, because I should be willing to endure any amount of pain or injury rather than accidentally injure Rosie. Everyone had an opinion on how I could be even more careful to protect that human being– not only not to directly kill her, but not to cause her any harm by accident through negligence.
I obeyed them far more often than I should have. I put myself through a great deal of anxiety and trauma, trying to take every nervous Nellie’s advice to not hurt the baby. In the end, I took some very bad advice and was nearly killed by a con artist fake midwife. I had a horrible, traumatic childbirth and Rosie and I almost died. That never should have happened and I learned not to take everybody’s advice. But I don’t regret for one minute that I always did the best I knew how to keep from hurting Rosie.
I’ve only ever managed to be pregnant that one time. But when it gets toward the end of my cycle, if I’m a little late and start to feel nauseated and wonder if it’s really happening again, I take certain precautions. I make sure not to drink any alcohol or treat myself to sushi. I stop taking those of my supplements that might not be good for a baby, even though that makes my fatigue a little worse. I don’t take any NSAIDs for my aches. And then, when I get my period and find it was a false alarm, I go back to living as I did before. That’s not heroic or extraordinary of me. That’s what I’ve always been taught I’m supposed to do, because not being careful not to hurt people is wrong. You are supposed to look out for human beings and not do anything reckless that might hurt them, even if that’s not convenient. It is poverty to decide that a child must die, so that you can live as you wish.
And I’m not alone in this. I know women who have gone to far greater lengths to keep a a baby alive. I know heroic women who have had to stay in bed for months to keep from losing a baby, and they do it. I know women who have to go on special diets and take all kinds of medication and medical interventions, to make sure they don’t hurt their baby, and they accept all of that. This is normal. This is part of life, and we do it. Because you’re not supposed to hurt people, even if that’s inconvenient for you. Even if it keeps you from doing things you like to do. Even if, God forbid, it costs money.
And conservative pro-life blowhard commentators are the first to remind us that this is our duty.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic getting worse every day, we’re in a new situation. It’s not just pregnant women who have to be careful with what they do so they won’t accidentally hurt a human being without knowing it. It’s everybody. Even men, believe it or not. Men can get COVID-19 germs on their skin or clothes without knowing it; they can be infected and not show symptoms yet. They can breathe that infection on every human being they come into contact with, putting all of them in danger– and then those human beings can breathe on others and the infection will spread exponentially. That’s already happening. We’ve gone from a few hundred confirmed cases, an eternity ago in February, to 75,000 as of the moment I started writing this piece. It will be more by the time I hit “publish.” Well over a thousand Americans are dead, the hospitals are overcrowded, doctors and nurses can’t even find enough protective gear to wear. And that’s just the beginning of the carnage this pandemic can inflict. Millions could die.
And I still see pro-life leaders, most notably R. R. Reno, doubling down on the idea that they shouldn’t have to do anything to keep others safe. Reno’s highly disturbing article in First Things has launched a little avalanche of conservative pro-lifers saying he’s right– and he himself has doubled down.
Reno, and many others following his lead, insist that shelter-in-place and social distancing are “demonic” and foolish. The conservative pro-life blowhard commentators have suddenly decided that it’s only wrong to directly kill people. All of a sudden, now that they are the people being told not to do exactly as they please, they say it’s not wrong to act recklessly, knowing that doing so will allow a natural thing like a virus to kill others.
If I managed to get pregnant again and walked up to any of these people eating a pack of raw sushi, I’m sure they’d smack the sushi out of my hand. I mustn’t act recklessly for my own pleasure. I have a responsibility not to allow my baby to be hurt. The baby could catch a germ and I’d be responsible for a miscarriage.
But when they have to take responsibility? When they have to stay indoors and not go to dinner parties and galas and whatever else they were going to do in the next few weeks, just in case they become the domino that knocks over a thousand others and overcrowds the ICU? That’s demonic. They should be allowed to do whatever they please. There are more important things than acting to carefully preserve a human being’s life. Their freedom to live as they wish is more important than human life.
And meanwhile, the morgues keep filling up, and we are sliding closer and closer to the precipice of disaster. It may already be too late to mitigate the death toll.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what the difference is between them and me– between their perceived right to have a good time over all other considerations and my obligation to do the opposite, their total lack of responsibility for the good of other people and their insistence that that’s all I think about.
Perhaps some of my readers have drawn a conclusion as well.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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