Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Choice"

It is with great risk of being totally slammed that I write this post. I thought about it a lot before writing, and realized I still wanted to despite what might happen in the aftermath. I ask only that if you disagree with anything or feel a need to comment (which I hope you do) that you do so respectfully and thoughtfully.

It must be summer, as I finally have time to sit down and pursue one of my favorite pastimes, reading. I have been an avid and eclectic reader since Kindergarten, and was lucky enough to be given a brain that just "got it" when it came to reading and comprehension...I was reading at a college level by 3rd grade, I read Alex Haley's "Roots" in 4th grade and it was one of the most profoundly moving and maturing experiences of my childhood as I felt in some ways that the reading of that family's story somehow opened my eyes to the larger world, a world I had...in my innocence...never really imagined. I also had a mom who, thankfully, recognized that I was ready for far more adult content and didn't see a need to hide me from it, but to gently allow me to explore it. By "adult content" I don't mean anything obviously profane or pornographic, but she in all her wisdom easily recognized that if she didn't allow me to develop my mind at the rate that God intended, I would be forced back into the more childish world (and by then quite dull) of "Nancy Drew", "Trixie Belden" and Judy Blume which I was really quite beyond at that time. I have been forever grateful for my mom's understanding of what I needed in many ways...socially with allowing me to have much older friends, educationally by allowing me to pursue the things that interested me, and intellectually by having long conversations with me and never shying away from any topic even if at moments I know from her background it must have mortified her. My early maturity was going to happen whether or not she wanted it to, so she quickly realized she could fight it or guide it. I hope that all these years later she felt she made the right choice in guiding it. I lost none of my innocence and gained all of my insight through her carefully made choices.

And that leads me to the book I just finished, "Choice". It is a series of 24 essays compiled and edited by Karen E. Bender and Nina de Gramont. The essays revolve around the true stories surrounding birth, adoption, contraception, abortion and parenting choices to be single or married. I am going to take a lot longer to digest this book, these opinions from some fine writers. There were some very moving experiences shared, and the idea of choice about procreation and it's myriad outcomes was a terrific topic for a book.

I came away from reading this though with many conflicting thoughts. My first thought...and perhaps the one that would be the most unpopular with a lot of people...was that this book was a tome about selfishness. It was in large part about women making the choice that was right for them, which I applaud, but I also can not get past the self-centered tone of it all. There was, as there often is in many women's conversations today, a sense of the man being pushed to the sideline, of him being a necessary but not necessarily integral part of the process. There was no thought given in most of the essays to the man's rights where his children were concerned, most of the stories showed men at their least gracious...as if all men are insensitive buffoons and should have no say in anything. It generally portrayed men as drifters, as uncommitted, as uncaring. I am all for women's rights, to me it feels as if we have swung so far the other way that men's rights are often completely ignored when it comes to conception. And I also wonder if a woman's "choice" was to build a relationship with a different kind of man, would she then be in the position to make other kinds of choices that are less conflicting.

I also thought that so many of these reproductive choices were not at all "options" for the birth mothers of our children. Often, choice is the privilege of the wealthy...and compared to so many other women throughout the world, I know I am wealthy. For many mothers in other countries, choice means deciding between feeding the children they already have versus adding another which would mean further slipping into poverty for the entire family. For many other mothers, choice means having to make the gut wrenching "choice" to give up a child with a medical condition there is no way they could ever afford to care for. For some of our children's birth mothers, their choice was to give up a child or carry it to term and have their entire family ostracized because of the shame brought on the family by an out-of-wedlock child.

Choice...it is all relative to where you live and what your life circumstances are. The choices for some women are extremely narrow and limited, while others sit back in their comfortable existences and have choices that are unimaginable to others...and they have the time to write about them, contemplate them (just as I do with this blog), debate them. For others, choice really comes down to survival or death.

I found this book, overall, to be very pro-abortion...pro-life ending...pro-"do what I want" with very little consideration given the "fetus", which for me is a child. I know this may not be true for everyone, and I honestly have a great deal of respect for that. I am pro-choice only for the reason that I understand that for many, many women...life does not begin at conception, it begins at birth. For them, it is a medical procedure just like any other. It is not mine to tell others when life begins, but mine to hold true to my own values and not do something that for me, would be tantamount to murder.

I remember the very moment when my mind clamped down on this firmly. I was in 11th grade and in a Family Life Class. I had already started dating Dominick, my husband to be, and could already envision the family we might one day have for I knew with all certainty that my path had been altered the night of our first date when I was 15years old. There, I had the unusual opportunity to hold in my hands, in little glass jars, children whose lives had been lost due to miscarriages. They were at various stages of development, these little ones floating in a sea of formaldehyde, forever suspended in a liquid artificial womb. I could see little fingernails, the formation of facial features, the fully recognizable form of a human. I thought to myself "This is what women are choosing to rid themselves of, this is what they think is not a human being.", and right then and there...for me...I realized that my decision should I ever find myself in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy would be to validate the humanity inside me and give birth. For others in that same room, the impact of holding these fetuses was very different and for them, it appeared to be nothing more than incompletely formed tissue, and I came to a quick understanding what the crux of the whole Roe versus Wade argument was about...some see it as life and others don't. You can't really change that core belief in someone, and for those who don't see it as life I don't feel I have the right to tell them otherwise, for I am not "All Knowing". I just know what is right for me.

And, I guess, the Victorian prude in me...or for others the Child of God that I am...dictates that "Choice"...real "choice"...comes before you jump into bed with someone, not afterward. It is a much simpler, much less heartbreaking choice to make.

Another thing I felt from reading all these essays was how very unhappy so many women are, how unfulfilled many of their lives appear to be...and often admitted within the essays. I am NOT saying that the only fulfilling life is one like mine, so please don't misunderstand me. I know for a fact that there are lots of different paths to joy and happiness, and for many that does not include marriage or family. But I was struck by how many of the women wandered aimlessly in their lives, either in reality or figuratively...how many of them came across as feeling so lost at times, so much yearning for things they couldn't put their finger on, so much time spent chasing the "dream" of what they thought their life should be or of running away from a less-than perfect past. I felt grateful as I read over and over this depressing theme that I had not had a life like that. I have had my share of sorrow and searching, but not to this degree and not for as long as so many have. I wonder what the difference is between these women and I, what is it that makes me feel happy with a husband and children, what has kept me from the desperate yearning so many expressed in this book as they struggled with infertility or went to extremes.

What bothered me the most though, was the one story in there that delved deeply into international adoption and was about a family who adopted a little girl from Guatemala. This adoption ultimately led to birth mother contact through a string of events, and the grief this mother obviously felt at having to relinquish her child. I quote a line from this essay "If someone had told me that a fraction of the $30,000 we spent on the adoption would have allowed a poor Guatemalan mother to keep her child, I would have felt guilty, but my decision wouldn't have changed.". What bothers me about this statement? It is the thought process that shows flawed thinking and generalizations about international adoption. While I recognize this fact with Guatemalan adoptions that are different than Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, it leaves one thinking that if we only throw money at the problem, there will be no unwanted children, no sorrow-filled birth moms, etc. What about the millions of children...and yes it really is millions...who are languishing in orphanages all over the world for whom a few hundred bucks given to the birth mom would have made no difference. What about kids like my own sons whose parents made the choice to relinquish long before we entered the picture and for whom no cash payment could be received...should I be filled with angst at knowing that perhaps if I had just donated money to them, they would have been able to keep their children and raise them? Then how does one resolve that with the hundreds of thousands of kids being raised in foster care right here in the US, where Social Services provides a safety net of sorts, where millions of dollars are pumped into the system annually and where Medicaid and Welfare are available...and yet there are still parents who are unable to properly parent. Is money a solution? Sure, in some cases it can be...but it doesn't remove the stigma still present in many places of an an unmarried mother, it doesn't remove the burden of a family with multiple children who feel they simply don't have the energy for yet one more child. This single representation in this book of my..and of many of yours...life experience was included for the sole purpose of showing one side of adoption, one filled with guilt and remorse on behalf of both moms...adoptive and birth.

I guess I should have expected to be disturbed by a novel filled with essays that were gathered to reflect a particular perspective which I do not completely hold myself...that we should have every choice available to us so we can live the life we want without regard to the effect it has on others. It bothered me tremendously to read of so many women who saw abortion as a solution to a problem, and perhaps that is because I parent children who were a problem for someone and yet their moms chose another route...to give them life. It skews my thought processes on this issue, and I know that. I can't look at any one of the boys and imagine our life without them, can't imagine the world without the light they shine on it. So perhaps I can be forgiven for being more closed minded about all of this, my own personal life experience speaks to the opposite side of the argument.

I think what I most took away from the reading of this book was I was so happy I had the "choice" I had, to adopt, to parent other people's children, to have a life filled with laughter and messes and chaos. My "Choice" was to embrace a child whose blood flows with none of my own intermingled and look them in the eye and call them my own.

I guess I agree with all this "choice" business after all.

4 comments:

Foxxy One said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and hope you don't mind the random comment.

The book sounds amazing and one I must read. Thank you for posting such a heart felt and honest opinion. It's very rare these days.

Hilary Marquis said...

I agree with everything you just said. Thank you for having the courage to write it. You have an incredible gift and talent for writing with such a heartfelt passion. I can't wait to follow along on your journey to your girls!

Dee said...

I am once again in awe of your ability to write with such clarity AND sensitivity - what a rare gift! My position on abortion is exactly the same as yours, BTW.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Dee

Jeanne said...

Cindy, I enjoy perusing your blog from time to time. I haven't read the book you discussed, however there is an aspect I think you overlooked. At one point, you comment "real "choice"...comes before you jump into bed with someone". Another way of saying women should have choices is that they should be empowered. They are empowered by their education, culture, family, background, and even friends. Many, many girls and women in this country and the world do not have the advantages that you or I have enjoyed in life, the ones that empower us to make really good decisions for ourselves. Even if you feel many girls and women make bad choices, perhaps you can also see that there may be a context for that, something more complicated than "jumping into bed."