Dear Planned Parenthood – Somewhere Inside, We All Know:
We each have our minds made up. I am unashamedly pro-life. For ethical purposes, I’m not 100% sure when life begins but in my own decision making I prefer to err on the side of conception. I don’t know at what week a fetus feels pain, but I’ve felt the panic caused by silence on the Doppler at a 12 week appointment and the rush of relief minutes later viewing the steady pulsing of a kidney bean shape on a fuzzy screen.
Those ultrasounds change you. At first they make you nervous. You glance at the screen and squint and try desperately to make sense of the image and worry you are nurturing a seahorse-alien hybrid – calling into question your maternal instincts. But then there was that day around 20 weeks where it clicked and I saw her. And him. And her. One was sucking her thumb. One covered her face with her hands. One was waving hello. The ultrasound tech declared our first baby a girl and was promptly tackled in a hug by my mother who was sobbing and screeching, “Thank you! Oh thank you!!” Really mom? Which proves you’re never too old to be embarrassed by your parents.
The first picture in each baby book is a black and white image of a little body curled around a big head and my five year old says, “That’s me? When I was still in your belly? Before the doctor cut you up and took me out?” I had c-sections and he’s a boy so this is extremely cool. And he doesn’t know how to say it exactly, but he’s proud of the picture and his grin says, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He tells people – random strangers – “My name is Matthew because that means gift from God and I’m a gift from God.” You have no idea, kid. A total surprise gift from God as He chuckled at our belief that natural family planning was a legitimate form of birth control.
I do not doubt anyone’s intentions. The statement that a woman has a right to control her own body is truly a beautiful thought. We all find it appalling to know around the world there are millions of women who have zero say in what will happen to their bodies tonight. Where we disagree is on a point of time – do the options for the mother, the host, the one who will be sustaining this little one, end at the moment of conception? Implantation? When the baby can experience pain? At viability? At birth?
I think for many of us the problem with Planned Parenthood is the callous conversation over wine. The nonchalant attitude. Discussing body parts with the same tone of voice used when scrolling through Craigslist looking for the best used couch, preferably from a pet-free, non-smoking household but a few small tears might be acceptable at the right price. When I was in early pregnancy for my third, we were at an appointment with 4 year old Elisabeth following up on surgery she recently had on a defective kidney. Because the condition was congenital, I asked the surgeon when we should have the new baby checked. He said, in that same nonchalant tone, “You should be able to tell on the 20 week ultrasound. That’s not too late for termination.” Termination? Elisabeth’s surgery was a stressful ordeal but termination? That same horror. Recoiling. I felt it when each video was released. I get that they were edited. I get that Planned Parenthood does some noble things. But deep inside, we know. I think somewhere inside we all know.
When I was 23 weeks along with Emily my doctor called. She said those words all mamas carrying little ones inside fear most, “I have bad news for you.” Somehow, a fluke, no one really is sure how these things happen, it’s not your fault, your placenta tore. And then these words of hope, “You need to pray for your baby.” (And get in bed. Don’t get up except to use the bathroom. And I will see you first thing Monday morning.) Monday morning came. By then I had exhausted all the medical resources the internet had to offer.
My doctor was compassionate and also matter of fact. She told me we needed one more week. If we could make it one more week we would have a chance. Back to bed. We made it one more week. She said at some point the placenta would tear further, at which time I would need to get to the hospital immediately. She would do the c-section and the baby would be sent via Life Flight to a NICU. My husband would follow the baby. A friend was on call to come be with me.
Here’s how valuable that little unborn life was. Valuable enough to make me stay in bed for the majority of the next 16 weeks. Valuable enough for my insurance to cover weekly non-stress tests and frequent ultrasounds. Enough for my doctor to see me every seven days to check things over and give me pep talks. And go to war with me over my reasoning that lying on a raft in the pool is the same as bedrest – we had negotiations about number of hours allowed out of bed intense enough to shame those hammering out Middle Eastern peace policies. Valuable enough that countless family members, friends, and coworkers brought meals, took the other kids on summer excursions, did laundry, loaned stacks of books, bought Preemie clothes, and frantically texted whenever they heard Life Flight overhead. So why? Why was that life so valuable while still in my womb? How does society decide? Is it because this baby was wanted? Desirable? That path of logic has some frightening ramifications.
As a side note – the whole “My body my choice” is a farce. At 36 weeks – 13 of which there was nothing to do but watch TV and eat casseroles from neighbors – I was an elephant. I started to worry I was going to be the 6:00 news story where the ambulance crew dismantles the door frame to wedge me out of the house. I was bored and in pain and had heartburn and couldn’t breathe and just So. Over. Being. Pregnant. I had received the shots for the baby’s lungs. Armed with a packed suitcase and documented research (from the internet of course) suggesting that both Emily and I would be safer with her out of my ever expanding belly, I demanded my doctor perform an early delivery. I returned home and waddled back to bed for more daytime talk shows and cheesy potatoes. My body my choice is a total lie. When is anyone’s body their choice? My choice would be to be hooked to a morphine drip during staff meetings. I can’t even legally choose how fast I drive my body down the road or whether or not to strap myself into a seatbelt. There are laws all over my body. Yet we let that statement stand unchallenged. To disagree with this hallowed mantra is to deny our womanhood. To forfeit our feminist credentials.
At 39 weeks, two days before my scheduled c-section, Emily was born. My obgyn, bless her, cheerfully chirped, “See, I told you she’d be early.” Through countless prayers and by the mercy of God, we had a healthy baby girl whose Preemie clothes could not stretch to cover her.
Three blessed babies were protected, nourished, and sustained by my body. Three souls that convince me we can do better as a society. And when we can’t turn away from the video quickly enough and we catch a glimpse of that dismembered little one, we know. We all know.
God have mercy.