There are still times as I wake up, when astonishment does battle with desolation and I am overwhelmed again, by the realization I will never bear a child. It’s absurd in one sense that I keep having to try to make my peace with that reality; for a woman late into her fifties, that train left the station so very long ago. The thing is, bearing a child wasn’t just a part of being gendered as female. It is that it was light shining in darkness for me.
All through my childhood I resisted doing the physical therapy necessary to keep my bum hip working. I had a hard time separating who I was from the incredibly ugly orthopedic shoes I had to wear, and would cry and beg to get ‘normal shoes’ instead. The one thing my mother repeated over, and over and over again was,”Rosita, but if you don’t use those shoes, if you don’t do your physical therapy, you will never be able to have babies”.
I heard that promise so many times, I held on to it so tight when I was desperately lonely as I grew up, it was woven so deep into my sense of who I was called to be, that it shaped my understanding of embodiment, of womanhood, of the source of meaning for my life. My girl Maria is beyond blessing to me. I am leading, a good meaningful life. And I suspect I will end my conscious days regretting that I was not able carry a child in my belly, see glimpses of the man I love and myself, in person conceived in love.
I write these things because it is against this personal backdrop that twice, as an adult, I was asked to accompany another woman to have an abortion. I was newly married the first time, and I can’t say I knew the person I went with particularly well nor have I seen or talked to her since then. She and her husband did not share with me the reasons for her decision, but the anguish in their faces when they asked for my help led me to believe then, as I believe now, that it was extraordinarily difficult circumstances that forced them to make that decision.
The second time, I was older. I was also a priest by then. A person who deserved a future, who had barely scratched out an existence for herself for years, and was finally getting on her feet, was raped. Raped pretty savagely. And ended up pregnant. She had no good choices, she was and is a remarkable person, but would have gone under with the weight of bearing a child and being responsible for him or her. I held her hand while she had the procedure. I watched her grieve, then return to the work she had been given to do.
The irony of both those moments does not escape me. The one who desperately wanted to be in the position of taking a pregnancy test and watching the ribbons turn the right color was the one who gave comfort to two different women for whom that news represented utter and complete devastation. If I was able to be of any comfort, if I made any difference, it came from the conviction that there are times when there are no good choices, when all we can do is make a decision, no matter how shattering, and regather the shards of a life we’d hoped would go a certain way and now won’t, so we can get on with living.
I have known tragedy in my own life, have experienced grace as capable of putting broken pieces back into some semblance of a new heart that learned to beat strong and hopeful again. I have also seen up close and personal, the cost a child, who was neither planned for, nor wanted, pays. I have seen what child abuse does. I have seen how overburdened and inadequate our foster programs are. I am the mother of an adopted daughter whose life will always be bitterly hard. Years and years and years ago, I heard someone say, “there are worse things than not being born.” I have seen the truth of that first hand.
I write these things today because I am heart sick reading about the decision by the current administration to make it more difficult for women to have access to contraceptives. I respect and will always protect the right of another person to reject abortion as a viable choice in a desperate situation. I have kept hoping that those who want to see abortion made illegal again, and those who don’t, will find common ground to stand on. I thought the common ground we might share involved helping to prevent pregnancies that lead to devastation. I believe that birth control is essential to the well being of women and that a loving God could not have given us minds capable of developing contraceptives only to snatch that possibility away as a “sin.”
Today’s news fills me with grief. There is a casual harshness towards the hard realities of being a woman in this news that is cruel beyond words. I am reminded of that brilliant definition of hope I have quoted in this blog befor:
[H]ope is not optimism. In fact, in certain cases (I suspect most of the cases where it actually matters) optimism can be a vice opposed to hope. An optimist can discount and ignore evidence against her conviction that things will right themselves. An optimist is threatened by others’ pain. But someone acting in hope—the conviction not that things will right themselves, nor that we’ll be able to right them, but that God’s power will work to overturn whatever wrongs our systems can devise—that person can face pain. Without denying pain or being swept away by it, she can face her own and others’ suffering. https://womenintheology.org/2013/05/08/hope-in-the-storm-tossed-church/
I cling to these words.