Some days are like that. All quiet except for the sound of the rain, then hail, then rain again on the skylights. Sometimes it’s a happy quiet. Today, not so much. I’ve been thinking about tragedy. Not Greek tragedy or Shakespeare, but disaster and loss. Because the ethics essays are in, and two of them are about abortion, I have been thinking about that, too. It’s all of a piece, really: tragedy. When things go awry, terribly awry, and things fall apart.
My position on abortion has always been the same: it’s not for me. Beyond that, it’s complicated. It’s complicated because my reasons for not having an abortion are not universal ethical principles. Yes, I do think that the growing baby in my womb (no, not now!) is a baby, whether it’s a baby at the embryonic stage or further along. That’s not a universally acknowledged truth. It is a narrative: it is the story that I tell to describe what is happening. I wouldn’t terminate a pregnancy not because I think an embryo or fetus has ‘rights’. (Does the embryo have the same claim on my care as my four children? On what grounds could I decide?) Rather, I wouldn’t terminate a pregnancy because I take life as it comes. I look for remaking, not un-doing. Pregnancy happens. Ok, now what? I look forward. My story changes. A new character appears.
The ball is in my court. How do I play it? In my story, just passing it back, or grounding it (to switch to an American football metaphor) isn’t an option. I have to be creative, flexible, discerning and focused, to be generous, and move the ball forward.
I have to improvise. There’s no script, just my sense of the movement of the plot. This isn’t what I planned. Not at all. But life happens to us when we’re making plans, right? This life.
I appreciate that not everyone lives life in the same way. Pregnancies disrupt our routines–and not just the timetable, but the rhythms of our lives. Bad things happen. Rape happens. Domestic violence happens. What then?
That’s when it gets complicated. My story doesn’t involve either of those tragedies. It does involve a child with trisomy-21, one wanted but extremely badly timed pregnancy and one truly unwelcome, shock-to-the-system, life-altering, body-damaging pregnancy. A pregnancy so disruptive to my whole world that I thought maybe it would have been better if I had lied about the test being positive and quietly terminated the pregnancy. Why didn’t I?
Because that’s just not the way I play it. I improvised. And I came up with a sheared pelvis and the costs of daycare and a horrible 18 months of depression and sleep deprivation…as well as an absolutely delightful little girl.
My story has changed.
I realize that not every story has a happy ending. Miscarriage, infant deaths, children dying of cancer and all the trauma and tragedy in the world remind me of that constantly. We can’t undo it. I read the tragic stories through tears. I pray for the parents and the children–those I know, and many, many more I don’t know. I only know a very tiny corner of that grief, but I know a little bit about everything falling apart. I know that space and time and grace and healing are oh, so necessary and sometimes so impossible to seek, or even to receive. I pray for strength to remake, to mold something new out of the shards and the tears. I pray for hope to hold together the hearts of the survivors, the life-bearers.