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Friday, May 7, 2010

Today is a very special Friday, as it marks the first official guest post this blog has hosted! Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a prolific writer and longtime activist for reproductive rights. She's also the author of the really lovely blog Standing In The Shadows, where last week she wrote a post in response to one of our posts (Desembarazarme's, actually), and we've been happily chatting about it since then. Sarah, thank you for letting us reprint that post here today!

I spent some of a cloudy Sunday afternoon walk thinking about whether to write another piece about abortion access, and how I am really, truly PRO-abortion not pro-choice. Earlier this month I participated in the National Network of Abortion FundsBowl-a-thon and Blog-o-thon. I wanted an excuse to give readers the link to donate one more time (my former work was as a reproductive rights organizer so what can I say: will-raise-money-for-important-causes, check).

Then, I read a wonderful post on the Abortioneers’ blog. This group blog talks about the daily work of people providing abortion services. Theirs isn’t always easy daily work, especially in a political and social climate that has essentially turned abortion into a bad word. Remember how then-Senator Hillary Clinton (in 2005) called abortion “very sad and very tragic?” The possibility that abortion might be one of many reproductive choices—take guilt off the table, please, and while you’re at it, unless the entire situation is tragic, take tragedy off the table, too—without such a sense of taboo and secrecy and shame has become quite radical these days. The post was called Utopia.

Here’s an excerpt:
Today’s the kind of nearly-perfect day that makes me think about what would be absolutely perfect: A world where Sunday means nothing but relaxing with a cat and books and tea, no matter how warm it is outside, and also, a world where OF COURSE everyone wants abortion to be included in the new healthcare plan, where woman talk about their (positive) abortion experiences in the same breath as they talk about the frozen yogurt they had last night, where Medicaid pays for all abortions, where birth control is affordable and accessible and side effect-free, where abortion providers are heroes to all, where every child is wanted, where every termination is a blessing, and where no woman has to panic or give up her dignity or feel complete despair because she doesn't have the money or the means to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. Oh, and also a world where I am 5'9" and I have chocolate pouring out of my kitchen faucet and I have a unicorn.

Well, I thought to myself; she said it beautifully—and even with a lighthearted touch. So, I did what I often do when I love something I’ve read; I posted it on Facebook. I wrote this: I heart this, the idea that utopia INCLUDES abortion access. I had been mulling a post about how my ideal world includes abortion, but now I don't think I need to write it: thank you Abortioneers!

I didn’t bargain on negative comments, which were along these lines: abortion is not to be defended with zeal. At best, it’s a necessary evil.

I strongly disagree. And here I am, writing.

My utopia isn’t exactly like the one described in the Abortioneers’ post. That’s to say, in my twenties, when I worked in the field, most of my peers were, like me, childless and our support for abortion rights often came personally—we’d had abortions or otherwise had our own reasons for feeling strongly about the option—and we were very much guided by feminism as our shared rallying point. By feminism, in this context, what I mean is that we believed strongly that for women to be equal in society, agency over reproduction—our bodies—to be essential. Punctuate that with a period. Actually, cap it with an exclamation point! It wasn’t an apologetic stance; it was a celebratory one. I think it more closely resembled the wonderful utopia described in the post I'd just read.

Two decades later, I know people whose views about abortion (from support to opposition or strong discomfort) have changed after 1) having a child, 2) losing a pregnancy or a child, 3) struggling with infertility, or 4) adopting a child. That hasn’t been the case for me. My sense of urgency about abortion rights hasn’t faded one bit over time. It has, though, been altered by parenthood.

What’s changed is that I now see all choices—and that’s really to say, our lives—as messier and more chaotic than I once did (I think I harbored some fantasy that when you truly grow up, you figure “stuff” out, something I now know to be just that, fantasy). I realize in a way that I didn’t back then when getting pregnant seemed to be the easy part—and lucky me, in my case, that remained so for all three babies I gave birth to—that so many things are complicated, amongst them getting pregnant or staying pregnant, not to mention the whole huge black hole of potential hardships raising children… I’ve garnered a new and vast appreciation for life’s complexities and how they don’t necessarily get solved.

And given the sheer weight of that responsibility—parenthood—along with the lack of adequate support for it—no paid parental leave, no single payer health care, women making much less than a man’s dollar, and that’s just for starters—in this country, I would never assume that it’s fair or reasonable or respectful of women to foist that awesome (as in, immense) responsibility upon any woman. I feel that is a tragic situation, although in the same breath, I absolutely know that for many individuals, an unexpected pregnancy and child can turn out to be the greatest of blessings. The one does not change the other.

So many years into the wash of pregnancy, infertility, babies, and children, I appreciate that each of us has a lot to carry and it turns out that how we carry our own experiences is a pretty complicated endeavor, too.


My belief given all these givens is that every woman should be very free to make her very own personal choice. Please imagine me, as a potential adoptive mother when Saskia’s birth (or first, or just plain) mother was pregnant with Saskia told me that she considered abortion but couldn’t have pursued it because she didn’t the money. To clarify here: she did not say that’s what she’d have chosen, only that she couldn’t even consider it due to cost. I said (and I cannot make this up): Had I known you, I could have helped you find the money. Why? I knew where money was. I’d worked with—helped to found—the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and because I knew, too, of the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund in Boston. And I meant it, much as I was waiting, and italics can’t adequately convey how fully I was waiting, for that baby, because by then, hers was a pregnancy with an intention and that intention was the baby I love more than I have words to describe.

While I feel, as the mother to Saskia, particularly because the warmth of our open adoption makes our personal story one of the happier ones, exceedingly fortunate, I also know that not all adoptions are so positive. Ours isn’t an easy situation always for all (and our daughter is two; we don’t yet know how she will feel over time about her situation).

No one decides upon placing a child for adoption and goes forth without looking back, as far as I can tell. My friend, Susie Book, wrote on her blog about participating on a panel with other birth mothers. One question was, “How often do you think about your placed child?” Susie wrote: “I think she (the adoptee) got the answer she wanted: Every day. Even the woman who relinquished better than fifty years ago said it immediately: Every day.” The bottom line is this: parenthood is a huge deal. And there are no easy answers.

I believe our best choice is to acknowledge that given the complexity and the responsibility, we must, must envision a world that supports women to make their own choices, without the hubris of shame or the crushing taboos that cast silence atop our most intimate—and sometimes painful--experiences. Now that I am raising a daughter, I want her future to be that much freer than the present. So, I’m going to continue to challenge us all to look beyond what we carry with us—important as those experiences are—to what it means to try to make this choice for another person. I’m not just going to hope for this; I’m going to work hard to try and ensure that you keep your hands off my daughter’s body.

Like it? You can find Sarah writing regularly at Standing In The Shadows.


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