I remember the day that I found out I was pregnant with my son. It was a few days after my birthday. My husband and I were sitting in our tiny, cramped first apartment (which we have since been so grateful to leave) when we saw the results. My first emotion was warmth and excitement; I had never felt closer to my husband. I felt as if I had found out I was part of some greater narrative, as if I was growing out of myself.
However, split seconds later, my emotions heightened and the second feeling began: fear and guilt. At this point in my life, I cared deeply about what others thought; for the rest of the day my mind raced, and my thoughts included:
We are so poor. So many people are going to think we're foolish and reckless to have a child.
We are so young (I was barely 23 at this time). How is anyone ever going to think I can make a good mother? Is everyone going to be afraid for my child? Will they feel bad for my child for having a mother like me? Should I be afraid for my child?
I am so selfish (which was, and is, very true). How can I ever care for something that is so helpless and so precious?
While the majority of my family and friends met the news with tears of joy, hugs, wry comments of "See? I knew it wouldn’t be long!" and "I am here to help when things get tough," there was a small minority of people who were shocked and uncomfortable that I was pregnant. Real comments such as "But you aren’t a nurturing person," and "You should have just waited!" still haunt me. They hurt because I felt that they were true; I was never a girl whose sole life goal was to be a mother. While I did want kids ("at some point"), and thought that children were pretty cool, I didn't constantly fantasize about babies the way I felt some of my peers did. I was selfish, absent-minded, and easily annoyed. I wanted to maintain a career and my independence. How could I balance these sides of my life without making anyone suffer . . . least of all the child that was growing inside me?
As my baby grew within me, the fear was slowly replaced by confidence. When I felt him move in utero, my heart skipped. I had the opportunity to plan to telecommute and work online after he was born; I can do this, I thought. Throughout my pregnancy my body was healthy and strong. Maybe I can do this.
Then the birth, and the ensuing hospital stay, occurred. I was given an involuntary, nonconsensual c–section that forcibly made me experience some of my most visceral fears and phobias. As I was being wheeled into the recovery room, a nurse asked, "So this is your first child, right?" I mumbled some reply, too doped up and bloated to really say anything. "Well, it’s probably your last, right?" she finished. The fear returned, a physical presence that wrapped itself carefully around me and refused to release me. Is this me? How can I do this? How do I have the right to be a mother?
I was finally allowed to hold my son. They tried to insist that I spend the first night alone, and leave him in the nursery so that I could rest. I stubbornly refused, and spent the whole night holding him, skin to skin, warm and whole, singing Simon and Garfunkel to him, my stomach stapled and ruined, my husband not leaving our side for a second and taking the baby when I slipped into exhaustion.
We left the hospital as soon as they would allow us and came home; at home, we finally felt like ourselves, and we huddled together, slept together, feeling primevally satisfied, so proud, as if we were the first family to experience this bright messy miracle. The fear receded and numbed itself as I found myself hungry to love unconditionally, to reach out to my son, to lean on my husband's strength as well as to be strong for him.
I want to emphasize that I am aware of how privileged I was (and am). When I became pregnant, I was married to a committed, loving husband; I was well-educated; and I have never, since college, been technically unemployed. However, the first year of my child’s life I was starting a new (telecommuting) job that did not pay all of the bills, my husband was job searching, and I was experiencing severe post-traumatic stress symptoms from my involuntary c–section. While I did have some friends nearby, I lived hours away from both my mother and my mother-in-law. The fear was still there; fear of what others would say if I shared my struggles with them, fear that we would not be able to provide for a family, fear that I would lose all of myself in being a mother, and there would be nothing left.
I did lose who I was; but that was necessary to become who I am. I am someone who is still selfish, who is still messy. I am often curmudgeonly and perpetually anxious. I still have many fears. But I am no longer afraid of trying to love, trying to reach out to another person and care for them honestly.
It is now almost three years since I found out I was pregnant. I am currently still self-employed, contracting with multiple online high-level educational companies, and I am making three times the profit I made my first year. My husband is working in a creative field that he enjoys. My son is healthy, and I am able to spend each day with him while I work: playing, snuggling, laughing, occasionally soothing tears. Feeling his little body snuggled against mine is the best feeling I can think of, and it would not be here if I had let the voices of fear triumph. Having a child (and, hopefully, more in the future!) has not made me any less of an "empowered" woman who has "not realized her potential." Nothing makes me feel more "empowered" than loving someone who needs me. Nothing makes me feel more like I am reaching my potential than knowing that I achieved this, that I am capable of receiving and giving love. I am not passive. I am active. I still have fears, but I have scars that prove I am not weak.
"Well, that's all very well," you may say, "but what does that have to do with women in general? How can your story possibly apply to most people?"
Obviously it doesn't. But the key elements (fear of the future . . . fear of my capability as a mother . . . fear of losing my identity and my career . . . fear of what others would do and think) DO APPLY.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, the most common reasons women list for choosing an abortion include:
Having a baby would interfere with my career or education.
I can't afford a baby right now.
I don't want to be a single mother.
The best way to help a woman to make a positive choice about her body and her baby is to mitigate those fears and empower the mothers in this country and this world.
As a pro-life feminist who wants to empower women to feel able to make positive choices in their lives and their pregnancies, I think that it is vital that we vocally discuss and support:
Policies that protect the rights of pregnant college students (including daycare; an educated mom is a mom who is able to protect and provide for her children).
Local women's shelters, mothers' shelters, and charities.
Pregnant women or young mothers you know personally who may be struggling.
Legislation that protects the rights of rape victims to immediate and emergency care.
Rhetoric that fights against victim-blaming and rape culture.
Rhetoric that fights against the objectification of women (which I see in men who are "bro-choice" . . . as well as some "modesty" writers I've read who compare women's bodies to pieces of cake that men can just barely resist).
Being pro-life doesn’t just mean that you want to empower or protect the rights of pre-born babies.
Being a feminist doesn’t just mean you want to empower adult women, or that you treat children and families as liabilities.