Her mother wanted a son…desperately. She already had two daughters close together in age, and was feeling overwhelmed enough without the prospect of another child.
Both girls were still in diapers, the oldest only at night. But in those days it meant cloth diapers that had to be lugged down multiple flights of stairs, boiled over an open flame, and then washed in nothing remotely as labor-saving a fashion as we now enjoy in America.
It was a difficult time. The economy was in trouble. Her husband worked hard — and she often worked alongside him — but the best they could afford was sharing an apartment.
Pregnancy and childbirth were not easy for her, and especially not under those conditions.
If the baby was a son, it might be worth it.
After a long, tiring labor, her daughter was born. Exhausted, she turned her head and refused to even look at the baby, telling the midwife she had wanted a son, not another daughter.
Years later, I would hear the story, about how the midwife insisted, practically forced her to look at her newborn — and how the very sight of my mother’s little face captured my grandmother’s heart. My mother went from unwanted daughter to dearly beloved, cherished daughter. My grandmother told me years later, “Your mother was our sunshine and, when she married and left home, it was as if the sun had stopped shining.”
Although my grandmother, on moral grounds, would have never done such a thing, today women have sex-selective abortions. It is girl babies who are most often aborted.
A teenage girl I had the privilege of meeting was raped at 14, and became pregnant. I was raped at the age of 23, and went through a time that I can only describe as excruciating agony when I feared I might be pregnant by one of my rapists. I cannot imagine going through that at such a young age. I held her beautiful son when he was still a baby — an adorable, much loved little guy. She says he saved her life.
A woman I knew was in a marriage that was disintegrating to the point of ugliness. She already had two young children and then discovered she was pregnant. The timing was, needless to say, terrible. Her husband left her to raise her three little ones in less than ideal circumstances. When the baby was tiny, he was diagnosed as failure to thrive. No medical reason could be found. One of her best friends finally sat her down and told her gently, “Your baby knows he is not wanted. You have to start wanting him or he will die.” I was there. I will never forget seeing her look her baby in the eyes, weeping, asking his forgiveness, kissing his little face, promising to change her mind, to want him.
Another mother told me, “I’m so glad we didn’t undergo genetic testing,” as she showed me pictures of her adorable, happy toddler with Down syndrome. “I didn’t want a handicapped child. Can you imagine? I would have aborted her and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Yet another woman told me of her crisis pregnancy, how it seemed as if her world had been shattered, turned upside down, torn apart, all her hopes and dreams demolished. “I felt like my life was ruined…forever.” Her pro-life friends somehow helped her through the difficult ordeal. “Now I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. My child was so worth it.”
I used to give talks about breastfeeding at a high school extension program for pregnant teens and young moms. Some of them weren’t even in high school yet. It made my heart lurch to see little 13 year olds, their child bellies swollen with their own child. “Everyone wanted me to kill the kid,” one girl told me fiercely. “They even dragged me into an abortion clinic and would have forced me to have an abortion if I hadn’t threatened to start screaming. They made me leave. It’s a baby, you know? Just because no one asked for it doesn’t mean we should get rid of it.”
Years ago, I asked some older women about unwanted pregnancies. They seemed baffled. Most of them had pregnancies that they didn’t want — at first. They viewed that as part of womanhood. “We grow into love,” one told me. Another laughed, “We’re women. We change our minds!” After a pause, she said more seriously, “Our babies changed our minds.”
When pregnant with my daughter, I was screamed at by a complete stranger who found out I’d foregone prenatal testing. He informed me that it was my duty not to bring an abnormal child into the world — my duty to him, to society, and to the baby. I wrote him off as a deranged crackpot until I started hearing people say, “How could anyone bring a child like that into the world?” — referring to a child with deformed hands as if he was some sort of monster needing eradicating.
There is a fantasy that we would love to have. In that perfect dream world, all babies are planned and timed perfectly, and wanted even before conception. They are all perfect, and they grow up to be perfectly delightful little beings who bring us unmitigated joy and cause us great pride. There are neither too many nor too few of them, and they fit perfectly into our perfect lives — and provide us with beautiful pictures and lovely anecdotes to post on Facebook.
If we must have a handicapped child, at least he or she should be inspiring, the sort of child featured in heartwarming videos that go viral.
Real life is way more complicated and messy.
There is a sad story that I’ve heard over and over again all my adult life. The women and their circumstances change, but the basics remain the same. “I would have kept the baby if just one person would have advocated for it instead of for me,” is the way one woman told me. The saddest version I heard was from a woman who told me that, while waiting for her abortion, a TV in the clinic was showing live footage of a protest going on outside of another clinic. She told me that she thought, “Why couldn’t they have come here instead? They could have stopped me. They could have changed my mind.”