My Abortion Baby

Abortion BabyGeorge Tiller–physician, abortion provider, Lutheran, husband, father, grandfather–was shot and killed yesterday in the lobby of his church.  He was killed after years of harassment and threats, bombing of his clinic, even being shot in both arms.  And yet he continued doing what he did because he believed it was right.

They say that the walls of Dr. Tiller’s clinic are lined with letters from grateful families.  I can understand that gratitude.  Whenever tirades against abortion catch my attention, I look at our elder daughter with wonder and gratitude.  Without abortion she wouldn’t exist, and if I knew where to find the warm Canadian-trained Singaporean physician who gave us the gift of Brynn, I would send her one of those letters, too.

Abortion Baby - DrTillerFive years into our marriage, my husband and I kept a promise we had made to ourselves during our first months together.  He quit his job and I closed my psychology practice, and we put on our backpacks for a year of Lonely Planet travel.  We swam in travertine pools in Mexico, crewed on a sail boat in Costa Rica, and hiked in the dark to watch the sun rise over a crater.  We rode standing-room-only buses with chickens at our elbows, and “luxury” buses where violent lurid Hollywood movies made the kilometers seem eternal, and narrow gauge trains with lace-edged linens in the hard sleepers.  We stayed sometimes in sweet guest houses, but more often in bare cement rooms with spiders or mice, and once slept on the dirt floor of a kind Cancun worker who picked up two foreign hitchhikers in his decrepit Ford truck.

Without my work to focus on, my biological alarm clock went off, and scarcely a month into the trip I announced that it was time for us to get pregnant.  Brian was a bit surprised, but (in contrast to me) he’d always known he wanted to be a parent.  Besides which, he’s an adaptable person and he recognized a window of opportunity, so he set to work wrapping his mind around the idea.  We were in southern Costa Rica at the time, about to crew our way through the Panama Canal to a new continent and, I figured, a new phase of life.

Then we got news that my father had died in a climbing accident.  We flew back to the States for a month, where I comforted myself by putting our garden back in order – pruning and weeding, only mildly annoyed by the neighborhood cats who thought I was loosening the soil so it would be easier for them to bury their business.  It was while we were at home that I got pregnant.  Somehow in my mind, the new life that was growing inside me made it seem like Dad wasn’t completely gone.  His death, my pregnancy, the tenacious weeds eddied together in a soothing reminder of the flow of life.

We hit the road again, this time flying east to Jakarta, and after more three months of bumpy bus rides where fake snuff films fused with all-day-long “morning sickness,” I was so ready to have that baby.  (If I barf right next to the video screen, will those little boys in the front of the bus be spared from a lifetime association between sex and violence?)

We landed in Singapore at the trailing edge of first trimester and got a gorgeous ultrasound picture of the fetus we had nicknamed “Gecko.”  To celebrate, we splurged at a little French bistro with crusty bread and gorgonzola pasta and a wee bit of wine, with the picture on the table between us.   And then, the next day, we got test results showing that I had acute toxoplasmosis. Probably not a big deal, right?  We trucked ourselves over to the university library to find out.  Turns out acute toxoplasmosis means possible blindness and brain lesions.

It seemed like a nightmare.  We both wanted a baby.  But it also felt irresponsible to gamble.  Not only would we would be taking a chance on the quality of life of our first child, but potentially committing any future children to a life of caretaking that they had no option to choose or reject.  We would be risking our own ability to give to the community around us – and possibly creating a situation in which our family needed to suck more out of society than we could put back into it.  As painful as the decision felt, our moral values were clear, and we scheduled to terminate the pregnancy.

The loss felt enormous, in part because that pregnancy was so tied up with my father’s death.   I was still letting him go—dreaming that I was in Switzerland rather than Costa Rica when he fell, kneeling and scooping the bright red snow while a helicopter flew his body away. Or talking to him at his desk and telling I wouldn’t see him again.  Or reliving my mother’s middle-of-the night screams when, not knowing what to do with the blood-soaked clothes that the Swiss government had mistakenly shipped to Arizona, she put them in the washing machine and a piece of Dad’s skull fell out of the wet heap.

(George Tiller’s wife screamed, when she saw him there in the church lobby; I wonder what kind of dreams his children and grandchildren will be having.)

Instead of a child who spends a (short or long) lifetime struggling to be and do the things we cherish most, we have a daughter who is loving and generous and playful and strong and way smarter and more disciplined than her mama will ever be.  That is the gift that a doctor like George Tiller gave to me and my husband and our younger daughter and our community—to everyone Brynn will touch.

In the case of my daughter, the trade-off is very clear:  A bundle of risks, or the thriving life-lover who writes poetry about her chickens and races after a soccer ball as if, in that moment, it were the only thing that existed.  There never was an option on both; Brynn was conceived before Gecko would have come to term.   In less obvious ways, many many children exist in this world only because of abortion.  We rarely talk of them – the chosen children who wouldn’t be here if their mothers hadn’t first chosen abortion when the timing or conditions were wrong.  Abortion Baby - parents swinging toddlerMost of the women I know who have had abortions now have chosen children, kids who are flourishing because they were born into flourishing families, born to parents who waited to stack the odds in their favor.   Would my little friends Annie, Tommy and Hannah exist if their mothers had been forced to carry those early unintended pregnancies?   Their moms say no.  Thanks to contraception and abortion, these children do exist.  We seldom talk about this part of choosing life.

Who do you know who wouldn’t be here if a brave doctor hadn’t made a moral commitment like the one that cost George Tiller his life?  What do those fundamentalists think keeps someone like  Dr. George Tiller working behind bullet proof glass after being shot in both arms?  The gifts of life given by an abortion provider are hard to measure, but I think that Dr. Tiller knew.   I hope they publish those letters in a book.

Related:
The Difference Between a Dying Fetus and a Dying Woman
When God Was Pro-Choice and Why He Changed His Mind
My Abortion was Different: Why Women Shame and Blame Each Other
What the Right Gets Right About Abortion and the Left Doesn’t Get
Righteous Abortion: How Conservative Christianity Promotes What it Claims to Hate
What is a Person?
Abortion as a Blessing, Grace, or Gift–Changing the Conversation about Reproductive Rights and Moral Values

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com

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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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28 Responses to My Abortion Baby

  1. Pingback: What One Woman Saw After Her Abortion | God Discussion

  2. aprilrayne says:

    This was heart-breakingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  3. Pingback: If these walls could talk concerning the history of women’s healthcare | God Discussion

  4. Pingback: Planned Parenthood board member calls abortion a blessing thanking abortion for her daughter | Saynsumthn's Blog

  5. Buf says:

    You’re not god – so you can’t KNOW. Perhaps little “Gecko” may have taught you that you can love a less than perfect child. Or that you can accept that you cannot control everything. Perhaps she would have increased compassion in the world, and valuing the handicapped.

    And maybe, just maybe, she would have been completely normal.

    But, because of your selfish choice, you won’t ever know.

    Like

  6. Katie says:

    Would all the wonderful children conceived in rape and carried to term exist if their fathers had been forced to respect the rights of women? Thanks to sexual assault, these children do exist. We seldom talk about this part of choosing to rape women.

    There..did that make it okay?

    Our son was diagnosed with a massive brain malformation at 24 weeks gestation. He is also blind. He is still small, but he is loving and playful and strong. I’m sure smart and generous will come. I am sad at your story. We must not fear the struggle. I used to think that sighted activities were what we cherished most. Now we know better–now it is our sweet son.

    I wish nothing but well for you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh. I get so tired of the smug superiority of people who assume that bringing this current reality into existence via passive acceptance is somehow better than making thoughtful, intentional choices.

      We didn’t make the choice we did out of fear but out of a sense of moral responsibility. Each person has to face such a situation and make decisions based on their own sense of right and wrong and how best to bring goodness into the world. You chose what you chose the life you have because you thought it was best under the circumstances. We did the same.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Jane says:

        Valerie, I couldn’t agree with you more. It is an act of gross IRRESPONSIBILITY to KNOWINGLY bring a seriously disabled child into the world. People never think of how that impacts their other children, their futures, everything – sometimes for a child whose level of consciousness is barely there.

        I’ve aborted twice. I’m not remotely sorry. I now have my gorgeous, smart, sweet, loving daughter who WOULD NOT be here if I’d carried one of those 1st trimester pregnancies to term.

        Like the world isn’t difficult enough, like life doesn’t have enough challenges, like communities don’t struggle to meet demands as it is, it’s unfathomable to knowingly add a human to the mix who will compound the difficulties by a million fold.

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      • Katie says:

        Jane, I’ve done exactly what you are describing. I KNOWINGLY gave birth to my disabled son. I make no apology for his disability or that decision. You are right – it has impacted everything. It’s unfortunate that you’ll never appreciate the many wonderful ways. At a minimum, maybe you could reflect on your attitude toward the disabled and what it says about YOU.

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      • Katie, I think there is a profound and morally consequential difference between how we treat and think about people who are disabled, and choosing to create a disabled person when one has the choice to instead create a healthy person. In India, there are people who break limbs on infants or scar or blind them so that they can be more effective beggars as they grow older. Is their disability a matter of moral indifference?

        Please remember that many people do NOT consider a fetus a person, but rather a potential person–one that lacks the core attributes of personhood (the ability to think and feel and want and connect and love and value one’s own existence) but gradually acquires the beginnings of personhood over time during pregnancy. For someone like me, many other species have more of those attributes than does an embryo or even a fetus.

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      • Katie says:

        It’s worth mentioning that we can agree a small amount here. For example, we concluded that we would not have any more biological children if our son’s condition turned out to be hereditary. I suppose that decision is the way you view the choice to have the abortion.

        It’s interesting that you draw the line at birth – or maybe you don’t (?) – you haven’t really said that explicitly. A fetus may or may not have all of the qualities you described as endowing someone with personhood, but I do know that none of that changed for any of my children at the time they were born. I would be interested in hearing more about how and when and why you attach personhood to someone.

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    • I don’t think it would be kind to mock someone (even if it is cloaked), because we are all learning as we go on this earth. Maybe what you want to say is that you are concerned that Ms.Tarico is not valuing life as you feel it should be. That may more accurately express your disagreement of her views. Sometimes it is good to look at things from several angles so as to get more of a panoramic view, and therefore, raise awareness on any issue, giving us the ability to look more deeply into our core values, and hold them up against our practical experiences. In this process, we can develop our ethics and behavior to that which is real and tangible.

      Personally, I don’t see her de-valuing life but what I see her doing here actually, is I see her valuing life in another way. I guess it is a question of ethics–Is it ethical or valuing life to see someone struggle to survive and not care also about THEIR pain as well as your own? You see, I have personally seen people who had such a poor “quality of life” as we call it, and watching them in endless despair can be hard. Compassion CAN involve choosing not just the right to survive, but also the ideal of really living in the fullness of the quality of life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • metalnun says:

        exactly! Quality of life is crucial. It is not compassionate to bring a child into a life of suffering that could have been avoided. “Pro-lifers” often refer to the child’s usefulness to society in terms of “teaching us to love unconditionally” or “teaching us patience,” etc., but what about the child’s feelings? I would never want to live like that.

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    • derechos2015 says:

      “Would all the wonderful children conceived in rape and carried to term exist if their fathers had been forced to respect the rights of women? Thanks to sexual assault, these children do exist.”
      Thank God for rape! It brings so much good into this world!

      PS My comment is sarcasm, folks! Amazingly, Katie’s reply is (apparently and unfortunately) serious.

      Like

  7. Allan says:

    The amnio showed our second child had a six times greater chance to have Down syndrome than normal. We never considered abortion.

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  8. Jules says:

    I have a special needs child. It is no walk in the park. He has suffered greatly with severe epilepsy, developmental delays, autism and self injurious behavior. His older sister is failing school. We can’t give her the attention she needs because we are trying to keep our son, who we love very much, from killing himself. Our daughter often gets the short end of the stick. He has been to the hospital many times for stitches. He has had brain surgery and implants.

    We have depleted our savings due to the high cost of medical care and therapies. We lost our home. There are not many well funded state programs to help children with special needs. Taxpayers don’t want to pay for it.

    Most people we know with special needs children (we don’t know many, we don’t get out much) have divorced. We’re hanging on by a thread. We are all on anti-depressants.

    I really am so sick and tired of these people who romanticize the “special needs child.” How many people with special needs children do they actually know. None, I’ll bet. I would not wish his or our lives on anyone. You made the right choice.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Oh, Julie –
      What a struggle. I so wish that your son could have been healthy and thriving. And I hope you are able to get more of the support you all need moving forward. Having had a special needs sister, I know how hard it can be for parents to try and do it all–to meet everyone’s needs. Honestly I had no idea how happy my mom could be till we were all out of the house.

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      • Jules says:

        Thank you for your good wishes and for your courage in telling your story. Had my amnio shown any sign of what was to come, I’d have done the same. I am not looking for anyone’s pity, but do want to point out that the same folks who are anti-choice and want to force you to have that baby, are the same people who want to defund Planned Parenthood, and don’t want to see their taxes going to help those in need. No abortion, no contraceptives, and no social safety net. What a bunch of hypocrites!

        Sorry, I guess I’m the tiniest bit angry.

        Liked by 4 people

    • Mari says:

      .I am so sorry for all of your pain and suffering, your son’s pain and suffering, and your family’s pain and suffering. Life can be so hard and unfair at times.

      I am a nurse that has cared for children with severe disabilities not only from congenital problems, but also accidents, and medical illnesses. Sometimes as severe as brain anoxia that results in a persistent vegetative state. I have care for adults who have been severely disabled since childhood. Those who have been confined to a bed in a nursing home for years. I have sat with their elderly mothers who worry would will care for their beloved child when they die.

      You are so right about our society not doing anything to help support families like yours. It is so wrong and truly heart breaking. Just to let you know I always try my best to treat all people with empathy and respect. Even if the are severely disabled or in a persistent vegetative state. I do my best to make sure they are comfortable and well cared for. They are always kept clean, and spoken kindly to.

      I am constantly shown their human worth through the love their families have for them. I feel their humanity. Even when there is no family I think of the mothers who loved them.
      For this reason, I believe in the sanctity of life.

      That being said, I am in no place to judge those who are the mothers that deal with this reality every day. Yours is such a heartbreaking situation. You are an amazing person dealing with an incredibly hard situation. You letter show this clearly.

      I am also a mother. I have loved my children from conception. I was full of fear throughout my pregnancies. Not for myself but for my babies because I love them. I worried and changed my entire life to protect them from harm from the moment I learned I was pregnant. One of my children has a mild learning disability. He is the best person I know.
      Thank you for writing . You have really touched my heart and made me think. For me abortion is immoral, because I believe once a baby has a heart beat there is life. Once a person has no heartbeat they are dead. I am a cardiac nurse, pretty cut and dry to me. This is how we pronounce death. I could never purposely end a life. Let someone die with dignity? Absolutely! but not actively euthanize

      Your letter has given me insight. I have tremendous compassion for those so in the troughs of worry and despair the only answer is to end the baby’s life. This is the most compassionate option in their eyes. There is terrible suffering in this world. I hope there is also joy for every living person. I wish this for your son. I hope the world shows him love and empathy throughout his life..

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      • Please understand that many of us don’t share your belief that a fetus belongs in the same category as a baby. To me, a fetus is a potential baby, a potential child, a potential love. They are not the same.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Anna says:

    I found the story beautiful and could relate to it though I am strongly pro-life, except the for the following sentence: “In the case of my daughter, the trade-off is very clear: A bundle of risks, or the thriving life-lover who writes poetry…”

    Reducing your first child to “a bundle of risks” appears insensitive and dehumanizing.

    Anna, Singapore

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    • I understand. And had that pregnancy grown into a child, the child would have been much more.

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    • Thank you, Anna. I don’t see a fetus as a child, rather a potential child. Brynn is my first child, my love.

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      • These are not meant to be fighting words, but rather a sincere question – and I promise not to take it personally if I don’t like your answer, as my motivation for asking is not to make it personal to myself, but to understand your perspective and thought process. You say that had your first pregnancy grown into a child, they would have been much more, which I think implies that not only would they have (of course) grown into a person (as you consider an unborn fetus a potential person rather than an actual child), but that you would have grown to love them as such. But you said that before you got those test results, you where happy about your pregnancy. Having been pregnant six times with two living children now in my family, I can say that with my own pregnancies (all of which were wanted, and I acknowledge my privilege in that), I was deeply and completely in love will six of them. I grieved all four of my miscarriages, deeply and intensely. I named my lost babies, though I wasn’t privileged to know their sexes (or, of course, their genders), and had to go with how I “felt” in that regard. Doing so was very healing for me. I recognize that everyone grieves differently. But everyone I’ve ever spoken with shared the similarity in miscarriage of wanted pregnancies that we all loved our babies and were very sad at the loss. We each visualize those losses how they might have turned out had they lived. I do understand what you talk about about not grieving your loss “too much” (which I do assume means that you did and maybe still do grieve it), because without that loss you would not have your sweet Brynn. Without my fifth loss, I would not have my son, Arlo – I conceived him three months after losing my previous pregnancy. It’s a complicated sort of grief, at least for me. I lost two pregnancies four years before conceiving my daughter, Serenity, and the grief is not the same, though I still grieve. I still grieve. Anyway, my question is how you reconcile the grief of loss with the belief that until born the being that’s being created is not a child, only a potential child. Is birth itself what bestows humanity and personhood? I am so confused by this. And I want to understand!! I truly do. Not for some preconceived agenda, but because I am a feminist, and a Christian, and a mother, and a grieving person, and a person who wants to fully and completely support other people in this oh-so complicated area of life. I think there IS space for abortion – but I also believe that life – all life – is sacred. And I have so many hesitations about the specifics on both main arguments, for and against abortion. How do we know life begins at conception? or when the heart begins to beat? or when the fetus reaches viability – and when is that, since preemies have survived anywhere from 19 weeks and died as late as 40 weeks? or at birth – and is there a difference between induced and “natural” labor? If it’s when the baby can survive without its mother’s body, what about babies born who require medical intervention to remain alive? Are they full persons?? I am serious – I’m not mocking, and I’m not trying to throw up strawmen, or anything like that. I’ve lost four of my six babies in ten years. I have a friend who lost a baby at 5 months old, and another at 26 weeks pregnant. I have another friend who lost her second child at 39 weeks 5 days pregnant during natural labor. And on top of that, I know two women who have children who are completely dependent on caregivers to live, including one who can’t breath on his own. So while I am willing to investigate my taught belief that life begins at conception or even when the heart starts beating, looking into the doctrinal and theological ideas that support (or don’t) that claim, I struggle mightily with idea that the unborn are only potential people and without any rights because of all of the other variables that lead to born children and eventually adults in some cases who also cannot survive without intervention, or who die right at the end, before birth, or who die in those first moments or even weeks and months after birth before developing personalities or thoughts or dreams of their own. It just feels…arbitrary. Like a justification to try to manage a horribly complex and emotional circumstance. It feels dismissive of very real loss, so many kinds of loss. But I do believe that we as parents and adults need to be able to make life and death health care decisions for our children, from the beginning. I just see it as the same as deciding these same things for an already born person. I hope you can see where I’m coming from, and understand how much I want to figure this out and be able to live with the conclusion. I am open to changing my thoughts and beliefs. But I need to be able to understand it, and accept it at a heart and head level. I can’t and won’t just decide to believe differently than I do now or did before. I don’t think that’s intellectually or spiritually honest. Not that you need my validation, but it sounds like you made a medical decision for your child (potential or otherwise) based on your desire to do right by it. I respect that, and do think we should have that right. I just don’t understand the rest.

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  10. Rachel says:

    Hello Valerie,
    I am a first-year college student, and for my final in my English 1010 class, I have to write an argumentative essay. My professor gave us some topics, and I picked to argue on the topic of being Pro-Life. I read one of your articles, ““I Am Pro-Abortion, Not Just Pro-Choice: 10 Reasons Why We Must Support the Procedure and the Choice.” so I could use some of your points for counter-arguments. As i was reading it, towards the end I came across you briefly talking about your abortion baby, and saw that you had linked it. Now I am procrastinating on this paper that is due tomorrow, haha, but I just wanted you to know that I read this story of yours as well and my heart goes out to you. I have been pro-life all of my life, and I still am. Your story has touched me though. You have experienced tough decisions and heartbreaks. Although I wish you would have been able to have your first child, without any complications, and then later on possibly been able to have your sweet Brynn, i am glad that you have gotten a child like you wanted.

    I noticed a woman criticize you for not-knowing the outcome that your first child could have been, and that your choice was selfish. i wanted to apologize on behalf of that person. It’s not fair for someone who has been through something to be judged on a situation that was uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Please know that the Pro-Life community is NOT like that. We understand that sometimes women can be mislead, or do what they deem is best for them. I agree with you that it wouldn’t have been fair that your first child would have had complications. It also wouldn’t be fair to that child knowing that its ill mother was put through very tough circumstances. If i were to have been in your shoes, I wouldn’t have had the abortion, for religious beliefs and fear… but i would question myself on it all the time. In the end you got something wonderful, you have learned love and forgiveness through this process. You even have random strangers sharing in the most intimate parts of your life, You are strong and brave and i just want to wish you the best in life.

    Enjoy your family. :)

    Like

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