30 Years and 40 Years

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It comes 8 days after my birthday. I didn’t know that growing up. In fact, I don’t honestly remember the first time I learned about Roe v. Wade.

My birthday this year was a quiet day, as I prefer it. I like to spend the day reflecting on the past year and the one I’m about to dive into, setting goals and giving thanks. It’s also a day that I find challenging, for a lot of reasons, some of which will unfold in this blog post.

I celebrated the Roe v. Wade anniversary this Tuesday night at a wonderful gathering I helped facilitate. Doulas and other reproductive rights allies came to share stories and discuss the ways in which doula care intersects with abortion.

There was talk of rights and legality, financial obstacles and lack of providers. We explored language and stigma and the ways in which stories continue to be silenced. We shared hopes and visions for new directions in the reproductive justice movement…and fears that access to safe abortion care will continue to slip away, one state at a time.

All week I’ve been reading. Oh, so many articles and blog posts, rich with perspective on the challenges that we face as supporters and advocates for empowered decision-making around abortion and pregnancy. I’ve been especially relishing the Strong Families series Still Wading.

But there’s been a story brewing quietly this week in my heart, one which intersects in ways perhaps at odds with the national conversation about abortion. The seeds of this post actually stretch back to those weeks last fall when Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock opened their mouths and made awful, untrue comments about pregnancy and rape. I couldn’t write about it at the time, I was so livid. But I’m ready now.

The story is this:

I am an adult adoptee. I was born to a woman who, if my adoption files are correct, was raped. And I am the result of that violence. My birth mother could have chosen to have an abortion. Although it was illegal in Korea at the time (and still is), she could have found someone who would have been willing to do it for her. But she did not. Instead, she carried me for nine months, gave birth to me, and then relinquished her parental rights.

All my life, I have heard people argue that adoption is a way out of having to have an abortion. It’s the morally superior option to dealing with an unintended pregnancy that one cannot parent. I have been told, to my face, that I should be grateful that my birth mother didn’t abort me, but chose the gift of life instead. She made the ultimate sacrifice, they say. You are lucky to be alive.

And I can’t argue with that. I am grateful, grateful beyond words that I am alive, that I am loved and able to love. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and send gratitude.

But I continue to hold firm to my belief that everyone should have access to safe, legal abortion if they should want it, without regard to the reasons why. I don’t care if someone’s been raped or not…if they do not feel ready to carry a pregnancy to term, they should not have to. Period.

This will undoubtedly make many, many people feel uncomfortable. It is perhaps the defining paradox of my life. I am here on this earth, moving towards my dream of becoming a midwife and potentially abortion provider, because a single woman choose not to have an abortion. People will ask me why.

I’ve already answered that in a previous blog post…but this month, as I celebrated my 30th birthday and then the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade a week later, I find myself coming back to this singular question:

What if my birth mother could have truly and freely chosen a different option?

Which of course, leads to others: What if she really wanted to have an abortion? What would it have meant for her to have access to safe, legal abortion. And not just safe and legal, but compassionate, understanding abortion care? Or, what if, in her heart of hearts, she had desired to parent? What would it have meant for her to live in a country that supports single mothers instead of shaming them?

In my heart of hearts, I could never begrudge a woman the right to choose to end a pregnancy, after rape, or in any other context. Nor can I pass judgement on a woman who decides she wants to parent, even if the circumstances are difficult. As an adoptee, I can embody these paradoxical truths: that I love my life and that I would have supported my birth mother in having an abortion if she wanted one.

When I think about why I’m doing this work–as a full spectrum doula, as a pregnancy options counselor, and future midwife–it is in part because of my life-long connection to my birth mother and the choices she lacked. I have this vision of her at age 18. Young, pregnant and without any support. What if there had been a compassionate midwife there to hold her hand, wipe her tears, and tell her about all her options? How might her life have been different?

I want to be that midwife. I want to hold those hands, wipe those tears, and provide compassionate care that helps people live the lives they want to live. I pray that this is a legacy that would make her proud.

Savita

I can’t stop thinking about Savita Halappanavar, the 31 year old dentist from Galway who died three days after being admitted to the hospital for a miscarriage at 17 weeks. Her death could have been avoided with a simple medical termination to remove what doctors admitted from the beginning was a non-viable fetus.

Instead, they pulled out the “This is a Catholic hospital and a Catholic country” line…and recklessly let her suffer over the next three days until she died of septicemia. Words can’t even express my anger that something like this could still happen, is still happening. In essence, they were telling her, “We value your non-viable fetus more than you.” They refused to perform a medical termination because the fetus still had a detectable heartbeat.

I know that as a future midwife, people will ask me how I can defend my pro-choice stance, how I can joyfully work with women carrying wanted pregnancies and catch their babies, while at the same time, finding great satisfaction in supporting women who decide to end their pregnancy.

The answer is simple:

Women are the ones who should be making decisions about their bodies, their health care, and their lives.

It is not my job to insert my personal preferences into my work as a health care provider. It is my job to protect the health and safety of each woman I work with, regardless of whether I agree with her decisions or not.

And further: I know what will happen if we lose access to safe, legal abortions. The costs–physically, emotionally, and financially, will be enormous. Women have always sought ways to control their fertility, and will continue to do so, no matter what the law says.

As a future midwife, it is my calling to be with woman. That doesn’t mean only when I agree with her. It means always. It means in the middle of the night when she’s been laboring for 30 hours already, and when she comes to the clinic, confident in her knowledge that ending a pregnancy is the best choice she can make for herself, no matter what the circumstances. Being with woman requires recognition of the full spectrum of a woman’s life, seeing the interconnections among pregnancy, birth, abortion, adoption, infertility, and loss. Being with woman means unequivocally supporting and demanding women’s full agency and participation in their own health care.

I feel incredibly lucky to live in a state where nurse-midwives legal scope of practice includes abortion care. Having spent over 200 hours volunteering as a patient support advocate for abortion patients at Planned Parenthood, I have witnessed first-hand that the women who come into the clinic are just like you and me. They are your mother, daughter, sister, cousin, teacher, student…they are 1 in 3 of us.

And, I have witnessed the power of receiving compassionate abortion care from skilled nurse-practitioners and nurse-midwives. They bring a unique sensitivity and understanding to their work, and I have been deeply inspired by the advanced practice nurses I have had the privilege to work with. I aspire to someday to join them. I will be doing it for Savita, and for the 22 million women each year who have to endure unsafe abortions. I will be doing it for all of us.

PRENDA: Why should a midwife care?

Earlier this week, Miriam Yeung, ED of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum wrote on RH Reality about HR 3541.

HR 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) will be put to a vote in the House. PRENDA would ban abortions sought based on the sex of a fetus, threaten doctors with up to five years in prison for performing such a procedure, and even require doctors and nurses to report women whom they suspect are seeking an abortion for these reasons. While the bill is cloaked in the language of civil rights for women, this bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rather than lifting the status of women, this bill is nothing more than another hypocritical attempt to ban abortions in this country – this time using Asian women as the excuse.

This is essentially just one more bill that is distracting us from the real issues at hand.  As Miriam points out, sex selection is a major concern…but a top-down bill is not going to change that. The real change is a cultural one, and that has to come from within.

So why should a midwife care?  Because the real issue here is not whether sex-selective abortions are happening.  The real issue is how Asian-American women face disparities in access and quality of care that lead to poorer health outcomes:

Nearly 18 percent of Asian Americans and 24 percent of Native Hawaiians are uninsured while only 12 percent of the non-Hispanic, non-elderly white population is without insurance. Over 29 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander women have not had a mammogram for the past two years, and over 24 percent have not had a Pap Test in three years. We do not need another obstacle. This bill exacerbates disparities by further restricting access to comprehensive health care services and penalizing health care providers who serve women from our community.

Take the time to contact your representative and let them know you want them to focus on the real issues of health disparities.  The vote has been changed from today to tomorrow, there’s still time. I’ll be doing the same.

Update: The bill was rejected on Thursday, 246 to 168. Choice quote to keep us motivated to oppose such measures?

“I don’t support abortion for gender selection,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and an opponent of the legislation. “I don’t know anyone who does. Maybe that’s because there is no problem in this country of abortion for gender selection.”