Friday, August 24, 2012

My Mother's D&C

The year before my mother gave birth to me, she suffered a miscarriage. She was 7 or 8 weeks pregnant, started to hemorrhage and called her doctor. After describing her symptoms to him, he didn't think it was wise to take the "wait and see" approach. She would likely lose the baby, he explained. And she might also bleed out. Or she might damage her chances of having any future children.

The hospital he was affiliated with was booked solid, so he advised her to go to a clinic that he also sometimes worked from. It was unmarked building, my mother recalls, so as to not draw attention from abortion protesters. It was an abortion clinic. (It should be noted that my mother gave her full and enthusiastic permission for me to write her story on my blog.)

My mother and father joined two other women in the waiting room. From their devastated looks, she could tell that they were all there for the same purpose and so they spoke as they waited. One of the women was there alone as her husband was out of town on business and couldn't get back in time. My mother was grateful that at least she wasn't going through this on her own.

What my mother had done that day was D&C. Her cervix was dilated and the contents of her uterus--the failing fetus, the cause of all her bleeding--were scraped out. My older sister was sent to my aunt for a few days while mother recuperated from the procedure. My mother's doctor advised my parents against trying to get pregnant again for six months.

I was prompted to write this after engaging in a debate on my Facebook wall with a cousin. Like most of my family, this cousin is much more right wing than I am. (My mother is one of the sole exceptions to this overarching conservatism in my family.) Lately, he had taken to posting snide comments in response to articles I posted, most of which I let slide. But in response to a meme about Todd Akin, the infamous congressman who stated that women's bodies have magical defenses against rape sperm and who also opposes abortion in all cases, without exception this family member wrote that Akin "misspoke" and ended his comment by saying that "abortion is murder."

This began a dialogue about whether or not he would permit abortion in the case of rape. He said he would--which is a morally problematic position if you believe that abortion is murder. But like many anti-choice advocates, he seems to think that women wantonly and thoughtlessly terminate pregnancies, using it as a primary method of birth control, which is why we need tough laws to prevent women from ending them. We must force them to carry babies to term so that we may deny these kids food stamps and proper education once they arrive.

He then went to say that he doesn't know anyone who has had an abortion and hopes to never know anyone who has had one, which I suppose frees him to support ideas and candidates that want to do away with abortion and family planning for all. (After all, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition...) Cause in his estimation, it cannot possibly happen to anyone he knows because the very need for an abortion is somehow a moral failing. It's just for women who have premarital or extra-marital sex (which I'm fairly sure my cousin has also had, but allow him to correct me if I'm wrong.) Of course in this judgey scenario, the men are noticeably absent. Where are these sperm donors? Did the women get pregnant by getting all slutty, alone in their apartments with their vibrators? Where is the judgment for them? Where are their Scarlet As?

While my cousin thinks he doesn't know anyone who has had an abortion, I'd say that's doubtful. It's not exactly like he lives in a part of the country where it would be easy to come out with this information. Also, if he openly spouts views that "abortion is murder," I doubt he'd be the first or the hundredth person a woman who had one would confide in.

And even in liberal parts of the country, it's still not the easiest thing to bring up in conversation. While I'm aware of a couple of friends who have had the procedure and told me about it, I imagine there are others out there, ones I know but I'm not close to or wish to play it close to the vest.

If indeed he doesn't know anyone who has needed to have an abortion because she was raped or birth control failed her or a condom broke or just one time she had unprotected sex, the appropriate emotional response should be gratitude. Be grateful that you don't know anyone who has gone through that ordeal and has had to make some very tough choices. Do not interpret your own narrow experience as somehow representative and then demand the rest of us be legislated accordingly. (Also if we're in the business of deciding people's options solely based on our own private experiences then the only surgeries that should be covered by insurance should be orthopedic in nature cause that's all I've ever had done.)

And does my cousin know about his aunt's procedure? I don't know. He was certainly old enough to have been told, but I imagine it was framed purely as a simple case of miscarriage. But I'm sure that every family has at least one such story if not more.

Would my mother have been able to get the care she needed in the world that Akin and Paul Ryan wish to create? I don't think so. At the very least, it would've been much more difficult, much more emotionally draining for my parents, who were both devastated enough by the loss. In the world these politicians wish to create, healthcare decisions for women (as it pertains to their reproductive organs) would not be made solely by doctors and patients.

In fact, Reb Moshe Feinstein, the late preeminent ultra-Orthodox arbiter of Jewish law, urged his followers not to join the pro-life movement because Judaism can be quite lenient when it comes to abortion. He didn't want abortions outlawed in instances where halacha would've permitted it. He wanted rabbis deciding from Jewish law to have the authority to rule pro or con without their hands being tied by a state or federal law. [Failed Messiah]

When the life of a mother is at risk, the fetus can be characterized as "rodef," or as a pursuer who wishes to kill the mother, which makes it permissible to terminate. (In the name of self-defense.) But abortion requests are granted in less dire situations--the emotional well-being of a mother can be used as a reason to grant permission to terminate. (I would imagine that a rape victim easily qualifies under this.)

Honestly, brandishing religious interpretations regarding abortion doesn't interest me cause then the other side can brandish theirs and then we're just going to find ourselves in a biblical/Talmudic pissing match. And since I don't wish to live an actual theocracy, I'd ideally like to leave religion out of it. The point is that even within the hallowed Judeo-Christian tradition there isn't agreement. So when we support the evangelical Christian viewpoint, we're actually prohibiting Jews from living according to their own principles in the matter. (I'm not well-versed enough in Sharia law to know its perspective.)

The point is--no matter how much my cousin wishes to shove his head in the sand, these issues touch the lives of all women, some he might meet in the future and some he has already met. And even an aunt, who according to Georgia's Terry England should've carried a dying baby to term (or at least until she bled it out) cause that's what livestock do.

I am sorry my mother had to go through her own miscarriage and D&C procedure. But I'm glad that her doctor was able to do what he thought was best in this situation. Could everything have been alright if she hadn't? Perhaps. But it also could've gone terribly wrong. My mother could've died or her capacity to have future children might've been threatened.

And if that had happened the world would've been short one blog about Judaism and gymnastics.


Brad Herman said...

Very well written and well spoken. Fan of the blog since it popped up on my radar during the Olympics.

Dvora Meyers said...

Thank you! Post-Olympics this blog becomes more of an odd mixture of my thoughts about religion and gymnastics.

Shmendrick said...

I don't really think religion has any place in deciding the laws of any country (no offence meant to anyone who is religious there, I just don't like mixing religion and politics) but seeing as how it always gets brought up it's interesting to see a different perspective than the Christian one that arguments are generally based on. Thank you for a well-written and informative article and for your wonderful blog.

Dvora Meyers said...

I agree with you. Don't want religion playing a role in civil institutions. I do not wish to live in a theocracy. That said, this is a deeply religious country so I think understanding the Judeo-Christian ideas and source texts is beneficial to understanding what makes "them" tick. Also, I love being well-versed in these sources so I can out-Bible or out-Torah them in a debate.

And thank you for your comment. At times, I wonder why I spend so much time thinking and writing on this site (instead of doing my real job), but feedback such as this definitely makes me feel like it's all worthwhile.