Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Does This Article Make Even Pro-Choice Women Squirm?

Jenny, 39, desperately wanted another child. She and her husband were already parents, but now found themselves unable to conceive. Years of fertility treatments followed while the couple waited and hoped for good news, enduring invasive medical procedures and spending thousands of dollars in the process.

Six years later, the now 45 year-old Jenny was delighted to learn that she was finally pregnant.

But when Jenny and her husband learned that she was carrying not one but two fertilized embryos, as reported in this New York Times article last Sunday, they elected, through a process known as selective reduction, to give birth to one single child instead of the twins Jenny was carrying:
The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love.
Jenny is just one of the women profiled in the article, but her story in particular seems to have struck a nerve with women all over the internet. Reading the rather dubious rationalization Jenny gives for her controversial choice, it's not hard to see why:
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
It's hard to put into words why this kind of selective reduction--out of personal preference rather than medical necessity--just feels wrong. 

Especially when you are, as I am, pro-choice.

Like many women, my advocacy for a woman's right to choose only grew stronger when I became pregnant myself. Each of my pregnancies was both wanted and planned (though my second pregnancy happened a little sooner than we anticipated--the very day we started "trying" to conceive).  My husband and I had discussed, and agreed, that if during either of my pregnancies we discovered there was something seriously wrong with the fetus, we would choose to abort.

We actually had a scare with our youngest, but thankfully everything turned out all right. And I am immensely glad that I never had to face anything worse, because with each pregnancy I bonded so completely with my children that I knew I couldn't have gone through with an abortion. I had no idea that was how pregnancy would affect me.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but that's why I am pro-choice.

I don't think anyone else should legislate what a woman does with her body, because no one else can experience that moment, the instant when she has to consider whether abortion is the right choice for her. Even she can't fully anticipate what being at that crossroads will mean until she reaches it.

Every woman is unique, and every pregnancy is unique, and every factor that goes into influencing her decision is unique to her. You can sympathize, but you can't truly empathize with how she feels, not really.

Still, it's only natural for us to question decisions like the one this woman made. We have so many more options when it comes to our fertility than our mothers did, or their mothers before them. With all the choices available to us, it's inevitable that sometimes we're going to disagree about what the "right" one is. And I think it is perfectly okay to feel uncomfortable with the choices other women make. We all have our own moral compass, and morality and logic are not the same thing.

Let me explain what I mean by that. In a recent discussion on this issue in which I participated over at online forum Metafilter, one particularly strident commenter wrote:
You know, actually, seriously, I think I insist on it: If you are against this...and if you consider yourself pro-choice I want an explanation of what you believe the fundamental ethical difference is between a person who makes a choice with known consequences (sexual activity) and has an elective abortion because they find having a child incompatible with their personal life choices and someone who makes a choice with known consequences (IVF and/or other infertility treatments) and has an elective abortion because they find having two or more children at once is incompatible with their life choices. I genuinely find this position logically incoherent... pro-choice individuals who think the situation described in this article is ethically different than any elective abortion not made for medical necessity or because the pregnancy was the result of non-consensual sex are basing their opinons on emotional reactions to various conception/pregnancy/birth narratives and have no ability to logically defend their opinions. I've seen nothing so far here to make me doubt this suspicion." --nanojath
My response:
"And? So what? Ethics and logic are two different things. You could make a sound logical argument for Eugenics and forced sterilization of the mentally handicapped (and we did), but that doesn't make such an abhorrent practice morally ethical.

You seem very combative about this; really, you "insist" on explanations? No one here owes you an explanation. I am sure you'd be very upset if a woman had to defend why she made the choice to abort (and rightfully so). Why should anyone who doesn't feel exactly as you do have to defend their opinion?

Personally, I support a woman's right to choose, even when I don't agree with her choice. I also think I have the right to say how I feel, though*, and I don't give a damn whether you agree with me or not.

*For instance, I think a 40s-something woman with kids already who has to go through fertility treatments just to get pregnant again might want to consider that she had her chance already and maybe let it go.
Sometimes, people make choices we disagree with. Sometimes, it seems like they are just throwing their hands up in the air and rolling the dice rather than even making a conscious choice at all.

You can live your life like that, sure, but I don't have to agree with it.

I can sympathize with wanting more children even when you at first thought you were done having children. I had my tubes tied after my cesarean (two breech births), but medical issues years later mirrored exactly, in a twisted irony, many of my symptoms when I was pregnant with my two boys. Friends suggested perhaps the tubal hadn't worked or reversed somehow, and suddenly I was faced with the idea of having another child, right out of the blue. Emotionally, despite having made the decision years before that our two boys were all we would have, I found a welcomed the idea of another baby.

But as it turned out, the reality was not pregnancy, but serious medical issues which eventually led to my having a complete hysterectomy. The sense of loss I felt when that situation turned completely around was devastating.

So yes, emotionally I understand wanting more children later in life, and how it feels not to be able to have them.

Intellectually, though, the time investment, the financial commitment, the hormonal treatments and possible medical consequences of fertility treatments for women who already have children, and the toll it might take on their marriage and on their other children, just seems like a bad idea to even consider pursuing.

Hell, if I were the woman's girl friend, giving her advice, I'd probably have weighed in long before the twin/singleton issue even came up to tell her, "Concentrate on the children you already have, woman!"

But that's why it's so important that we don't get to decide for Jenny, or for any other woman. Because no matter how we feel or what we think, no matter how hotly we may debate whether she should have done what she did, we are not the ones that will be living with the consequences of her actions.

She is.

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