I have three children. My third is fierce and improbable. There was a less-than-one-percent chance of me getting pregnant with her, since I had an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) and my husband and I were full up with two boys, five and three.
When I found out I was pregnant with this improbable child, I had a very strong God-feeling that everything would be okay and that it would be a girl — in spite of the fact that about half of pregnancies with an IUD are ectopic and that my hormone levels indicated that my own pregnancy wasn't viable, and my doctor recommended a chemical termination.
It seemed medically uncertain, even at the time — but I waited and prayed. I talked with my inner circle and my doctors, and I went to my priest. And we received a miracle.
So there it is: I chose life. I’m Christian. I did the right thing. It’s very affirming to “choose life” within the context of the Christian church. Our wonderful priest told my story at our daughter’s baptism.
Our improbable child is an immense blessing and a huge challenge. This beautiful surprise baby. Many of us have them, since half of pregnancies are unexpected.
Now, on the other side of the womb, I’m interested in a less-talked-about group. What do we do after having the baby we absolutely weren’t expecting? The baby who took us to the edge of our ability to function in the world? What if we don’t choose life again?
My third pregnancy was not easy, unlike my first two. My morning sickness lasted almost to 20 weeks. I had intense perinatal anxiety. The strain on our family was intense. My husband and I looked at each other during that pregnancy, and said, “This is it. We can’t do this again.” He got a vasectomy. I have another IUD.
Getting pregnant a fourth time is highly improbable, but we know how “improbable” works for us. As I struggled mightily over the past year, through the long night of infant-rearing and postpartum depression, I came uneasily to the conclusion that if I got pregnant with a fourth child, I would have to have an abortion.
As I type the words, clouds suddenly cover the sun and the music in the café I’m in turns abruptly morose.
Here’s the problem: I can’t feel reasonably assured that I wouldn’t die by suicide if I went through pregnancy and babyhood again. Mental health isn’t about gratitude and “bucking up”; it’s about understanding the symptoms and managing them with supportive strategies. I don’t accept the cultural shaming that says good mothers don’t have mental health problems. I’m an excellent mother. A supportive strategy for me is not having another baby.
Some people — people in my own church — might say that they would take my baby. And to those caring souls I say: pregnancy and the changes that the gestation itself cause in my body are what scare me the most. My last pregnancy left me reeling physically and emotionally.
When I realized my certainty that I would have to have an abortion with a fourth, it shoved me out into the wilderness, out of church. No one at church talks about abortion. I’m Episcopalian, and over the course of my adult life, I’ve never heard abortion mentioned where anyone could hear. Even in recent months, as my church came out with statements and action in support of refugees, the LGBTQ community, Black Lives Matter, and the Dakota Access Pipeline (as well it should have if we really believe that Jesus looks to the oppressed), it was silent on reproductive justice — even in the face of physical and legislative attacks on abortion providers.
In the Episcopal Church, we believe that Jesus's commandments to love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself make up The Great Commandment, and that everything else follows behind that. We strive to follow Jesus’ example of radical love, radical empathy, radical acceptance. If Jesus encountered someone outside of the moral in-crowd, the Bible tells us, Jesus didn’t judge; he saw and he healed.
I’m also a feminist, and my faith has been radically affirming of my womanhood. The first sermon I heard preached at the cathedral I attended in Phoenix, Arizona, was about lines, and how we as the body of Christ are always drawing the lines of judgment and exclusion. We may expand them to let more people in — women, LGBTQ people, people outside our majority — but the lines of exclusion still exist.
I’ve loved and lived within the church for the past 15 years, but now in my mid-thirties I finally walked far enough from the heteronormative male perspective that I crashed into the brick wall that we’d forgotten we’d built.
I’m vulnerable. I’m in the midst of young motherhood and life-altering changes. I need to be met with acceptance and not with judgment, but the church won’t talk with me about reproductive choices except behind closed doors and in hushed tones — and that is if I’m bold enough to ask for an audience.
The irony is that I’ve never felt closer to God. I’ve never been drawn to read the Bible and the The Book of Common Prayer like I am now. I’ve never felt so connected to the river of joy and Good News that is the quiet undercurrent of my daily life.
But the revelation that I would have an abortion with a fourth pregnancy took me away from my community. Alone, I looked for comfort, and I found it through some amazing resources that exist behind the scenes — resources that my church seems to cower from. First, I found out from a Google search and the Pew Research Center that the Episcopal Church is pro-choice affirming. Then I scoured the resources table at a local medical center and found out about Faith Aloud, which offers radically empathetic religious and spiritual support for women making reproductive decisions. Do you know about Sister Song? I found out about it through Believe Out Loud. If the pro-life movement’s “Black genocide” propaganda makes you really uncomfortable, you should know about Sister Song’s work for reproductive justice for people of color. These movements have partner organizations doing great work: Faith Aloud is connected to Backline, and Sister Song partners with Trust Black Women. Then there’s Catholics for Choice. Their “Abortion in Good Faith” campaign launched in September 2016, amplifying the voices of those who support abortion and reproductive justice because of and not in spite of their faith.
It made me cry with relief, feeling like I’m seen. As I kept going in my research, I felt my soul grow wings and lift me up.
Anyone will tell you church is imperfect. It’s made up of humans. How could it be anything but imperfect? As progressive people of faith, we try to embody a radical empathy that is hope-filled and beautiful and lifts up the most vulnerable, but where reproductive justice is concerned, we still leave the most vulnerable among us to fend for themselves.