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It hasn’t.

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Stances on abortion and women’s healthcare are more than just differing opinions. Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump WILL become our next president, and that president will appoint not just Scalia’s open Supreme Court seat, but potentially 3 others who will retire during the next term. There are also many federal judge seats that Congress will have to approve, and since most abortion restrictions and fetal personhood laws are made and challenged at the state level, these are also incredibly important. Having a president who doesn’t respect women, doesn’t respect the right to choose, doesn’t believe that women’s healthcare is an issue, and does believe that women should be punished for their decisions about their own bodies is NOT the kind of leader we need. It is the kind of leader we will get if enough people decide to stay home or vote 3rd party on election day though.

The consequences

There’s more than just rhetoric about whether abortion is right or wrong, evil or acceptable, sad but necessary or the downfall of society. For half of the population who are potentially affected by pregnancy, this isn’t simply a debate of competing philosophical ideas. These ideas have some so enraged, ideas like women actually having agency over their own bodies and being able to make their own decisions, that the right is enacting laws to not only restrict but to criminalize those decisions. Ridiculous restrictions like waiting periods treat women like children who just need to go home and calm down and think rationally about their choice (because obviously there’s only one rational decision that every woman should make). Unrealistic and unnecessary requirements like admitting privileges are closing many clinics and making access to abortion an undue burden. Luckily, the Supreme Court agrees, like the recent case in Texas showed, but even that ruling came too late for many shuttered clinics, and many other states are still battling the same issue. 

Even if you don’t choose abortion, simply being pregnant is a legal risk nowadays. “Fetal personhood” laws treat a part of my body as if it’s a separate entity with separate rights to the rest of me. It’s like if a lawyer were to advocate for the kidney I wanted to donate. This happened to Alicia Beltran when she was arrested for a drug addiction she had before she got pregnant. Her fetus had legal representation at the hearing and she was forced into rehab, but she was denied counsel. 

This is becoming more and more of a concern and fear for pregnant women. 38 states have feticide laws, meant to protect a pregnant woman from abusive partners and dangerous, unlicensed abortion providers, but they have begun to backfire on the pregnant women themselves. Those laws in 23 states even apply to the very early stages of pregnancy.

One terrifying example is Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman in Indiana who was convicted early last year and sentenced to 20 years in prison for having a stillbirth. Recently, the conviction was overturned, but not before a lengthy legal battle and a scary precedent to use feticide laws against a pregnant woman.

Also take the case of Bei Bei Shuai, another Indiana resident who was charged with feticide.  She became depressed during her pregnancy after her boyfriend abandoned her and refused to help raise the child. She attempted suicide by taking rat poison. At the hospital, doctors were able to save her but not the fetus, and she was arrested.

There are countless other stories of pregnant women’s civil rights being taken away. Some examples from this NY Times piece

“Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.” -Lynn M Paltrow and Jeannie Flavin

Pregnancy dystopia

My high school English class read Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, and afterwards we had to write our own short story dystopia as an assignment. I remember that I wrote one in which pregnant women were locked up for the entire 9 months on strict diets and daily regimes, separated from the dangerous outside world but also from their lives and loved ones. These pregnancy prisons were billed to the public as spas meant to protect and pamper women and their fetuses, but the reality was that the women were captives with no rights of their own. Many lost their jobs upon re-entering the world (something that is not uncommon with just regular maternity leave, if one is even offered by the employer). Pregnant women were punished for breaking the rules, causing stress to mother and fetus that those running the centers clearly didn’t care about. Many women tried to break out or commit suicide. Outside, women tried to hide their pregnancies for as long as possible before the police came and hauled them away. The emotional disregard for these women resulted in poor physical health and severe mental problems, as well as many medical complications and deaths of the babies, for which the women were of course blamed.

This came from the mind of an imaginative 14-year-old, but it’s really not that far fetched. Pregnant women are already so criticized, when does that criticism cross over into being controlling? When pregnant women can’t even be trusted to take care of themselves and their fetus, when does the state just take over? We already see cases where pregnant women who admit to taking even safe drugs are arrested if their babies are completely healthy.  Women are strapped down and forced to have c-sections against their will. Child protective services can be called and the child taken away if a laboring woman doesn’t agree to a c-section in some cases. 

These abuses of our civil rights are done in the name of saving babies, except it doesn’t actually happen that way. For example, 32% of women in the US undergo a c-section, and some specific hospitals have even higher rates. Most are allegedly for medical emergencies, and have in fact been a great medical advance that have saved countless mothers and babies. But studies show that a c-section rate of up to 19% is optimal, but the US’s rate has increased 50% in the last 15 years. An entire third of births do not require them. “Better safe than sorry,” some say, “doctors just have the best interest of mother and baby in mind.” If that were so, you’d think that we’d be really good saving the lives of mothers and babies, when in fact the US has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any developed country.  A lot of this has to do with insurance and liability, doctors trying to cover their asses in case something were to happen, at least they can say “well we tried something.It cannot be denied that ripping open a woman’s body solely for convenience and saving face is an utterly dehumanizing disregard for these patients’ well beings.

Solutions

I can certainly commend the theory of trying to enact laws to protect pregnant women, especially since murder is the number one cause of death among pregnant women. Not the number one non-medical cause of death or non-pregnancy related death. Number one. Period. Statistically, I am more likely to be killed by my husband than I am to die of preeclampsia or childbirth. The way to help though is not to give rights to a fetus and treat it like a separate, autonomous being, but to make pregnant women themselves a protected class, so that crimes against them are treated more seriously and prosecuted more severely. When an abusive partner comes after a pregnant women, he’s not trying to hurt the fetus and leave his partner out of harm’s way. He’s angry at her and wants to hurt her, but all right wing lawmakers seem to care about is the fetus inside of her. The laws should reflect the crime, that of trying to hurt the pregnant woman. That way, pregnant women themselves aren’t faced with prosecution.

My experience

I may have had a miscarriage. I say “may” because it was way too early to be detected by a pregnancy test, had I even used one. I’ll never know for sure what was going on inside my body at the time, but I can certainly guess.

My husband and I were on the 3rd day of a family ski trip in Vermont. We began trying to conceive a few months earlier. I woke up that morning to pee, and noticed some very light bleeding, or spotting. I thought it was weird since my period wasn’t due for another week, so I started googling and instantly discovered something called “implantation bleeding.” When a fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall, it’s believed that a few tiny blood vessels may break to make the new connection. This can last for a few hours or a couple of days, but is very light. It happens to about a third of women who conceive

Thinking that this could be the moment that I became pregnant, I immediately started crying with tears of joy. After a few disappointing months of trying, could this really be it? My husband was certainly supportive, but also reminded me that there was no way of knowing, and we’d just have to wait a few more days until I could reliably take a pregnancy test.

The next thing I googled was “skiing in early pregnancy,” or physical activity in general. All sources said that it’s perfectly safe. If you were active before pregnancy, stay at the same level. Don’t do anything that feels uncomfortable, stop if you don’t feel well, but you’re not a China doll. Plus, the uterus at that stage is still tucked way inside, between your pelvic bones and very well protected. I was a beginner skier and knew I’d only stay on the easy green slopes, so I realized everything would be fine.

Skiing went fine. I had 2 very soft falls, I didn’t overexert myself, I felt good. We went home the next day, and the day after that, I awoke to find some more light spotting. I read that implantation bleeding could last a couple days, but I thought it was weird that it stopped for a day and then started again. Could this be the embryo detaching from my uterus?

My suspicions were confirmed a couple of days later when I got a negative pregnancy test and then got my period. Perhaps it was nothing, just my uterus being wonky. There’s no way of knowing. I didn’t grieve, although it certainly was a little more disappointing than the prior failed months. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I conceived the very next month and am now 23 weeks along with a so-far healthy boy.

Am I a murderer?

For the sake of argument, let’s say implantation had occurred and then rejected that month on the ski trip. Would the same have happened had I just laid in bed all day? Am I responsible for that loss? If that microscopic sac of stem cells really was a baby deserving of life, did my actions cause its untimely death?

Understanding the delicacy of this entire process and the “perfect storm” of factors that have to combine to be just right to conceive, made me realize how insane those questions are. No, it was not a baby, I did nothing to endanger a child, and these kind of early terminations are so common that it was probably just due to chromosomal abnormalities. “Baby killing” is outlandish pro-life rhetoric and should only refer to actual infanticide. To imply that skiing while knowing I was barely pregnant is in any way comparable to drowning an infant in the bathtub is just downright insane, inflammatory, and completely unproductive.

Further along

At my 20 week ultrasound, I found out that there may be some issues. One was that my placenta is a little low, a whole entire 0.1 cm lower than is “safe.” When the placenta partially or completely covers the cervix, this is called previa, and mine was marginal. C-sections can easily and safely work around this problem, but back in the day, a placenta that was too low could block the baby’s exit and eventually cause mom and baby to bleed out and die. Usually, as the uterus expands as the pregnancy progresses, it will pull the placenta up to a safe distance. This is what happens in the vast majority of cases, and I’m told not to worry, everything will be fine. I just have to watch out for any bleeding, and no sex until I get the all clear (which doesn’t exactly help with the whole relaxation thing).

Another issue is that the umbilical cord is attached a little to the side of the placenta, instead of smack in the middle. Concerns about the baby getting enough nutrients (imagine a garden hose being squeezed) and his growth are another reason why I’ll need to have regular ultrasounds for the rest of my pregnancy to check in on his progress. So far, he seems to be growing at an above average rate, which for now greatly helps put my mind at ease.

Obviously one of the first things I did after learning this news (after completely overreacting and crying thinking I was killing my baby) was to research more. I wanted to know the worse case scenario, which is really not bad, but also how this happened in the first place. Basically, no one knows. It’s common enough but really no way of knowing why it happens to some women and not others. Certain women have a slightly higher risk, such as those over 35, those who’ve had a c-section before, or women carrying twins, but none of those are applicable to me.

All the things I’ve done

I started to wonder if anything I did could have caused this. Maybe some of the yoga poses I do are bad. Maybe sleeping a certain way twisted things. Maybe too much sex agitated it, or not enough sex (oh, the irony!). Again, these are all clearly overreactions for wanting to understand something that was out of my hands and possibly inevitable, but it’s sad that the first instinct is to blame oneself. Given all the blame that’s put on pregnant women for pretty much everything that we do, it’s no surprise.

This made me think of all the other bad things that I’ve done in my pregnancy, either because I recognized the risk and said “fuck it,” or because others told me that I was clearly doing it wrong:

  1. I carried boxes. I was only 11 weeks along and I helped a friend carry some of her wedding shower gifts. A group of older women snickered, loudly, that I shouldn’t be carrying things against my non-protruding belly. They did not offer to help, mind you, just judge.
  2. I drink a cup of coffee every day. As discussed in my last piece, evidence against caffeine is as weak as McDonald’s coffee, and most doctors agree that up to 2 small cups a day is totally fine.
  3. I’ve had a couple of drinks. I had not even a full glass of wine or beer at my 1 year wedding anniversary and a couple of friends’ weddings. 
  4. I eat sushi, and I mean the raw fish kind. I stick to fish with lower mercury and higher omega-3’s and DHA. The risk of eating contaminated raw fish is the same for everyone and no elevated harm to a fetus, so I continue to only order from reputable, high quality sushi restaurants.
  5. I went to a family wedding in a heavily wooded area where copperhead snakes had been spotted. It was a fantastic wedding, and the bride herself was pregnant, so I never for a second thought of using it as an excuse to not go. I did research copperheads, and realized to simply be aware and not disturb piles of brush that they may be hiding in, and that worst case, the bites are incredibly treatable in hospitals.
  6. Despite Times Square being a prime terrorist target, I walk through it every day to get to work anyways instead of taking the subway. Walking is great exercise for me and baby, and it feels silly to spend $2.50 to go 2 stops.
  7. I generally walk, and jaywalk, through NYC and Jersey City all day every day. I’m constantly in danger of all the toxins from the air, crazy drivers, and stray bullets

Despite these evils that have clearly permanently damaged my future son (or will if i continue to do them with reckless abandon), here are the things I’ve done that are generally agreed to be good:

  1. I eat healthily. Lots of protein, fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market, no fast or junk food. (Ice cream doesn’t count because it has calcium, right? Baby likes ice cream.)
  2. I take prenatal vitamins every day.
  3. I exercise. Lots of walking around the city, but I also regularly go to yoga.
  4. I gave up drinking. I’d hardly consider a couple of drinks over a few months to be on par with what I drank before, and I didn’t have any during my first trimester. I’ll bring O’Douls to BBQs because it’s nice to pretend, but it’s just not the same.
  5. Except for the couple of pounds I initially lost because I stopped drinking, I’ve gained exactly the right amount of weight for how far along I am.
  6. I gave up risky foods like raw oysters and unpasteurized cheese. Unlike sushi, contamination of these foods even from reputable sources can actually affect a fetus very negatively. I do miss oysters.
  7. I go to all my regular ultrasound and midwife appointments to make sure everything is healthy with me and baby.
  8. I’ve been reading up on all the baby care books and plan to attend classes with my husband on basic care and CPR.
  9. I plan to breastfeed to give my son the best nutrition and bonding experience and have been reading up on that as well.

It seems like the really big things are completely out of our control, such as other potentially dangerous conditions like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and breech birth.  One train of thought is, “Because there are so many things I can’t control, why wouldn’t I do everything I can to control the things that are in my power?” Except, the logic doesn’t quite work like that. Of course we do everything we can to try and be as healthy and prepared as possible, but those recommendations are often contradicting and/or ignore the fact that we’re still human beings, too, with needs of our own. Like staying awake at work so I don’t get fired and can have a job that provides for my child. Or just generally wanting to live a stress free life with minimal restrictions like any other human being. Stress of the mother does negatively impact the fetus, but no one seems to care about that when they stress pregnant women out by criticizing them.

Because there are so many things that we’re told we can, nay, MUST control during our pregnancies, it’s not easy to be told there’s a serious issue and then think, “Well at least that one wasn’t my fault.” What if I was over 35, or had a previous c-section? Would it be my fault then? How many mothers feel guilty for every single bad thing that happens to their child, regardless of fault? Guilt is not an easy feeling to just turn off with logic, especially when your entire experience thus far has been nothing but judgement and condemnation from others. If I could be a murderer for skiing, god only knows what I am for having half a beer and a screwed up placenta.

Let’s talk miscarriages

There are a number of reasons why miscarriages are unfortunately not discussed more in our society. Many women who have one feel as if it’s too personal to discuss and simply prefer to keep such sensitive, medical information private. Some are very distraught over the loss, and talking about it makes it all the more painful. They may feel like their bodies betrayed them, that the one thing they were evolutionarily meant to do, they failed at, and they feel guilty for what happened. No matter how many times they tell themselves that it’s natural and happens all the time, there are times when no amount of logic can overcome such feelings.

Miscarriages are indeed quite common. Studies show that up to 70% of all fertilized eggs will miscarry, although most of those occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. Most often it’s a chromosomal abnormality that wouldn’t produce a viable human anyways. The biggest risk is in the first trimester; the earlier the pregnancy, the higher the risk. As I outlined in Part 1: Biology, there are many steps to get from ovulation to baby, and any hiccup along the way can easily derail the process. This is one reason most women choose not to announce their pregnancies until the 2nd trimester. By then, the odds of miscarriage have gone down to acceptable levels and the fetus is developed enough to test for abnormalities. These tests are typically done around weeks 11-13, and then results will take a week or so to come back.

Miscarriage affects every woman differently. Many don’t even know it happened. Some are relieved, some are devastated, some are upset by the inconvenience of having to wait to try and conceive again. These are all perfectly normal and acceptable reactions to have. It depends on whether the woman has been trying to conceive and for how long, how far along the pregnancy was, and generally what the woman’s personality is. That’s part of a woman’s right to choose, to choose how and even if she grieves over her miscarriage.

The pro-life movement is not opposed to miscarriage. That would be not only ridiculous from a numbers perspective but inhumane as well. Most miscarriages are unavoidable, just nature’s way of saying “Sorry, this isn’t a good one after all.” They won’t condemn a woman whose body naturally aborts an embryo or fetus in the first trimester, but they will condemn women who choose for themselves to abort in the exact same time frame. So it seems as though the act in and of itself isn’t objectionable, but women making decisions for themselves are.

For those who do choose to grieve their miscarriage, that alone is hard enough. But to make matters worse, we’re constantly being told that women who lost their pregnancies at the same stage due to choosing abortion are evil criminals, destroying the fabric of society, that innocent babies are being killed, but their loss was ok simply because it was “natural.” Loss is loss. Whether it was an intentional loss or not, it is entirely hypocritical to have a different set of standards for the exact same function simply due to the mechanics of how it happened. If an embryo truly is life no matter what, then its loss should be treated the same no matter how it happened. Which means condemning a natural process, making women who miscarry feel even worse, feel like their bodies betrayed them, and feel even more guilty than they already do. Is that what we really want?

Do’s and Don’t’s

There’s already enough guilt thrown at pregnant women from the day they get that positive test. Once pregnant, there’s a laundry list of things that you suddenly cannot do and things you cannot eat or drink. If you do, you’re told, you’re putting your child directly at risk and you could be a murderer. That cup of coffee you so badly want? A ham sandwich? Don’t even think about seafood. Don’t overexert yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep or else. No pressure.

Most of these warnings come from the interpretation of one study from years ago that shows a slight correlation (not causation) between these things and miscarriage or deformity of the fetus. Emily Oster outlined many of these fantastically in her book Expecting Better: Why Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – And What You Really Need to Know. For example, there is a correlation between women who drink a lot of caffeine (and I mean like, 5+ cups a day) and early miscarriage. However, many women don’t have the stomach for coffee and caffeinated drinks in their 1st trimester because of morning sickness. While the purpose of morning sickness is still relatively an evolutionary mystery (or just a huge joke by Mother Nature), it is agreed that morning sickness is a sign of a healthy pregnancy and lower rates of miscarriage in general. Therefore, those who aren’t sick already have a higher incidence of miscarriage, and the fact that they happen to be able to stomach coffee may have nothing to do with it at all.

Instead of telling pregnant women this though, there is often a blanket ban of coffee for the entire pregnancy. Not just the 1st trimester when the correlation with miscarriage is actually observed, but all 9 months. Just in case. And if you think that’s ridiculous, you’re asked, “Is it worth the risk? Is that cup of coffee really worth the life of your child?” Of course not, that’s preposterous, but it’s a goddamn cup of coffee, not a heroin injection.

You don’t even have to be pregnant to be guilted into caring about your theoretical unborn child. The CDC recently came out with a warning against drinking any alcohol if you’re not using birth control. Because you could become pregnant, you should always act as if you are, just in case. (And let’s be real, if serious fetal abnormalities were caused every time alcohol was involved in baby making, we’d be A LOT worse off as a species.) Even as evidence condemning light drinking during actual pregnancy is coming under more and more scrutiny, women are constantly being told that “no amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe.” Women are asked, “Do you really NEED that drink?” As if only an insatiable lush would want a glass of wine with at their anniversary dinner, or their friend’s wedding, or even just after a hard day. No amount of Tylonel has been proven safe for pregnancy either using the standards for scientific proof, but doctors recommend it for pregnant women as a safe pain reliever.

It’s easy to see the guilt women face when a miscarriage does happen. Maybe it was that beer I had before I knew I was pregnant. Maybe it was that heavy box I lifted. Maybe it was the stress of worrying about all the things I could do wrong.

Equating abortion to the death of a baby makes little sense biologically but also makes women who miscarry feel unnecessarily shamed. The misinformation and scare tactics only cause undue stress and don’t actually inform us of what real risks are. If we really want to cherish pregnancy and giving birth, then we need to cherish the women who do so and help make their lives easier, comfortable, and guilt free. 

I’ve been writing this piece for a long time now, ever since I knew I was pregnant back in March. I started taking mental notes about my thoughts on reproductive rights and how they’ve solidified, and then realized I couldn’t keep those thoughts to myself. Things have changed as my pregnancy has progressed over the months, but every change has made my conviction on the topic all the stronger. Not just changes within my body and with my pregnancy, but external changes, such as the new political world we live in.

I wrote what looked like an entire essay, and realized it might be more meaningful (and less time consuming to readers) to break it up into smaller pieces. I was trying to keep them solely about biology and my pregnancy, but the topic really can’t be discussed without mentioning all the political turmoil women face. Many scary scenarios already exist for pregnant women, and they will only become worse if a sexist egomaniac and pro-life wing nut become our next President and VP. As many activists and feminists have said before me, the personal IS political.

Some may think that being pregnant would change how I feel about abortion. Now that I’m growing a life inside me, I’d realize how precious all life is, how I could never abort my own child, and thus why no one should ever be able to have an abortion. Instead, I’ve realized with even more clarity how stupid the whole “life begins at conception” argument truly is. It’s just rhetoric that people blindly repeat while ignoring actual science and human biology. Not only does this make sane or productive conversation about reproductive rights impossible, but women are increasingly becoming targets for prosecution for simple tragedies.

How it all works

One main reason why this rhetoric is so absurd is because of how many fertilized eggs never become breathing babies. While TV shows like Teen Mom may make it seem like getting pregnant is not only easy, but really hard to avoid, there’s a huge variance when it comes to fertility. Plenty of women conceive accidentally, and everyone has that one friend of a friend who got pregnant even while on birth control. But for many other women (many more than most people are aware of), getting pregnant is not that easy and can cause great amounts of stress and grief with each passing month. Even for those who don’t have to try for years, conceiving is quite an exact process where every condition has to be just right.

Since high school biology was quite a while ago for many of us, let’s have a brief review of the steps from ovulation to baby:

 

  • Ovaries release an egg a couple of weeks after your period. When exactly, you don’t really know, unless you spend a lot of time and money on ovulation kits and are lucky enough to have a regular cycle.
  • Have sex at JUST the right time. This is usually only a window of a few days, and it’s best if it’s right before ovulation. Which as pointed out in #1, is hard to know.
  • Hope that neither the egg nor sperm that meet are defective and fertilization actually happens. **This is the stage at which pro-lifers think it’s a human being with equal rights as the rest of us**
  • Fertilized egg begins to divide and travel down the fallopian tube into the uterus. Hope nothing happens along the way.
  • If you’re lucky, the dividing cells will implant into your uterine wall.
  • If you’re luckier still, it’ll stay implanted another week or so until you have enough of the pregnancy hormone to get a positive pregnancy test.
  • If you’re really lucky, the embryo will continue to grow in your uterus and you won’t have a miscarriage.
  • The MOST lucky you could be, is to then have the fetus develop normally, with no physical complications to your body like preeclampsia, and no dangers to the fetus like previa or the umbilical cord around its neck.
  • Labor comes, and hopefully you and baby don’t suffer too much physical distress, hemorrhaging, or other complications that could endanger both of your lives.
  • Ta da! Baby! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

 

Science!

One argument about an embryo being a human being is that it’s “human life.” Yes, so is every single cell in my body that contains my DNA. Are embryos different because of what they can become? I think not, they’re just stem cells, with the capacity to become whatever they’re told to become. There are also stem cells in my bone marrow and liver. Am I a murderer if I break a bone or have too much to drink?

Embryo1

Some may look at picture of the embryo above and say, “But see! It LOOKS like a little human baby! There’s the head and the start of the little arms and legs…” It does have the basics of the human form, and we all know about the residual tail that disappears later in development. However, that’s not a human. It’s an elephant.

If you go back far enough, we’re all similar. Embryos

Most animals have a head, eyes, and 4 limbs. We even used to have a tail, which is why we have one in early development. The closer related we are on the evolutionary tree, the more we look alike. Even the dolphin embryo below looks human, and they’re not even land mammals. So what’s so precious about human embryos?Dolphin.jpg

Some would say they’re special because they become humans. But the point is, they’re not yet. If I told you I had a cake for you, and came out with a bag of flour, sugar, and some eggs, you’d be upset. That’s not a cake. Not yet.

Here’s a thought experiment

Imagine your house is on fire. At one end of the house, you have a freezer with 10 frozen human embryos. At the complete other end of the house, a 1 year old child is sleeping. You’re standing right in the middle. You only have enough time to save the freezer or the baby before the house collapses and you all die. Which do you choose? You’d be pretty heartless to say that you’d let a child die in order to save 10 potential children, and that’s the entire point.

For all the rhetoric about in vitro or stem cell research being baby killing, no one mourns over these events, no one sheds a tear over the loss of embryos. I’ve been to abortion clinics to escort women safely to and from the entrance. I’ve seen the protesters with their prayer books, some with their anger. They’re not crying. They either hate the women who walk through those doors or they pity them, but they don’t feel pain for the alleged loss of life. Not in the way that your heart wrenches after reading stories about a mother who killed 8 of her newborns and buried them in the backyard. They don’t feel the kind of disgust as they do for the man who sexually abused and then killed his 3-week old daughter. Nor should they. These stories elicit visceral reactions from us when heinous crimes actually happen, and it’s telling that these same feelings don’t surface when people talk about abortion. The feelings that emerge are those of anger and pity, because we all know deep down that it’s not the same.

If we want to talk about sanctity of human life, let’s talk about providing healthcare for everyone, controlling guns and violence, eliminating the death penalty, ensuring children everywhere have enough food to eat, or things that save actual lives, not just stem cells.

Up next: Let’s talk miscarriages. 

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles lately about “skinny shaming,” and while I may be late to this debate, I felt like I can’t keep quiet about it. People have been pointing to things like Meghan Traynor’s hit song All About That Bass (which I personally love) which celebrates curvy women and thus by default must insult skinny women. Other news items like Urban Outfitters pulling a lingerie ad because the model has a thigh gap has people saying that it’s akin to shaming the skinny model, and others like her, for her thin form.

However, all these blogs and articles have something in common. Skinny girls write about how bad and prevalent skinny shaming is, and non-skinny girls (or at some point in their lives non-skinny) talk about how it’s not the same. To me, it sounds like a lot of whining. People in one group think that they’re being discriminated against, while people in the other group think that THEY’RE being discriminated against more. I’m here to say that I am skinny, I have a thigh gap, I wear a size 2, I’m 5’8 and 130 lbs, and skinny shaming isn’t real.

I certainly don’t mean to say that because I’m skinny, my view is somehow more valid. But it’s easy to advocate for your own group, and harder to advocate for others. It’s not news to say that this country (and most of the world) idolizes thin women as the ideal for beauty. This wasn’t always the case, but in recent decades it is. Eating disorders are still prevalent due to these unrealistic expectations that are upheld for women. Famous actresses area almost always skinny, and even bigger women like Melissa McCarthy play the role of the funny fat friend, not the beauty queen lead. Weight discrimination is a very real thing, with heavier job candidates being overlooked more frequently and heavier employees being paid less on average. It’s no secret that we still very much value skinny and shame fat.

Which isn’t to say that skinny girls go through life completely judgement-free. Up until a few years ago, I weighed 10 lbs less than I do now. That’s pretty skinny. I have never had an eating disorder, but everyone thought that I did. People I just met would ask me at parties, “Are you anorexic?” or “You’re so skinny, you must be anorexic!” If I had been, it would be a highly personal problem that I dealt with, not something that I’d feel totally fine talking about with strangers at parties like it’s no big thing. It was also insulting that people would assume I HAD to have an eating disorder in order to be that thin, as if my genes, high metabolism, and healthy lifestyle weren’t enough.

Once I entered the work force, it didn’t get any better. Women in the bathroom would randomly comment, “Oh my gosh, you’re so skinny!” Thanks, and you’re not, and the sky is blue, and today is Monday. Any other obvious facts we’d like to point out? I would never talk about another woman’s body size or shape in a negative way, so I thought it equally rude for them to make comments about mine. A common comment I also got was, “Oh, well just wait until you hit 25, that’s when it all goes downhill.” It was said in a tone of, “I hope you blow up like a whale in a few years, then I won’t feel so bad.” And yes, my body did start to change around that time, but it didn’t go “downhill” like they had hoped. To wish ill health upon anyone just seems cruel.

I’ve also had lots of people my whole life tell me I need to eat more, that I need to gain weight, and that when my desk was moved closer to the company cafe, “I bet you’ll gain weight being so close to those delicious smells!” But it didn’t make me feel shamed, or feel like there was something wrong with my body type. It just made me realize that there were a lot of rude idiots in the world. It almost made me sad, too, because these women were making these comments to feel better about themselves, not just because they were malicious and trying to shame me. Given all the messages that they’ve been inundated with since birth about how thin is beautiful, they wanted someone like me to gain weight to prove that it wasn’t just them, that even skinny doesn’t last forever, that most women have these struggles and it’s totally fine. They wanted to think that I was an anomaly. They just wanted to feel normal. They’re not trying to shame me into becoming a different body shape because they think there’s something wrong with me. They say these things because THEY want to feel validated. It’s still no excuse to be rude, but it’s inherently different from someone insulting a heavy woman for her size.

Dove-Real-Beauty-Campaign

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign poster, featuring women of many different shapes and sizes.

It’s great that there have been a number of campaigns in recent years which try and reverse this trend, such a the Dove campaign about Real Beauty. There’s also the slogan Real Women Have Curves which has become immensely popular. Most of the “skinny shaming” articles say things like, “If real women have curves, am I not a real woman?” “If this is Dove’s idea of real beauty, am I not beautiful?” And every time I hear that all I want to do is scream OH MY GOD THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU! Just because someone’s advocating for one group doesn’t automatically mean that they’re discriminating against the other. That’s not how things work. As others have pointed out, it’s similar to the All Lives Matter that has come about in response to Black Lives Matter. It’s the same reason why people say they’re not feminists, they’re humanists. They say we’re all equal, and should all be treated with equality, which is nice to aspire to but not the reality of the world. As many before me have pointed out, we can’t ignore the specific struggles that certain underprivileged groups experience because of their status in that group. Because then we ignore all the struggles that women have had to overcome throughout history and ignore that sexism ever existed, or racism, or elitism, or weight discrimination. Reverse discrimination just isn’t a thing.

When I hear “Real women have curves,” the first thing I think is “Gee, that’s great that there’s finally a campaign treating other body types as beautiful, not just us skinny girls.” I don’t think it’s a slight on me and my size, I don’t think anyone’s insulting me, and I definitely don’t want to play the victim. I realize that I’m a minority, that most women don’t look like me. I realize that if you’re healthy, your size and shape can still greatly vary in any number of ways. Yes, it’s sad to see people who are overweight and have diabetes and heart problems as a result, and we absolutely should advocate for campaigns that educate people on how to be healthy. But guess what? I’m at an increased risk for heart disease due to my genes. Weight has nothing to do with it for me.

Given all of the ill effects that fat shaming has on women, I can’t for a second think that skinny shaming is remotely close to being as wrong. At the end of the day, I can still watch any movie, see any commercial, open any magazine, and see women who look like me and feel validated that my body shape is the one that this country strives for. That is the key difference between actual discrimination and just whining.

bfcd-2013Today is National Blog for Choice Day, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. There are plenty of reasons why I’m pro-choice that I could blog about. I could talk about how it’s my body, my choice, abortion is a private matter between a woman and her doctor, just like any other medical procedure. I could talk about how a fetus isn’t a fully formed human being, although then we’d get into semantics and murky scientific waters, and to some extent pure personal opinion. I could tell horror stories of what happened to women when abortions were illegal, what happens still today when women don’t have access to them. I could debate that no rape victim should be forced to carry her rapist’s child to term, let alone raise it. I could talk about the hypocrisy of the “pro-life” movement, how most of them only care about the woman and her unborn child up until she gives birth, how most of those people don’t support government programs like Obamacare that directly benefit many women who have children they did not or could not plan for. I could talk about how we can’t condemn birth control and restrict access to it if we really want to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in the world.

I could talk about all of that, and to me, any one of those points is a valid reason in and of itself to support a woman’s right to choose and to have full access to abortions. However, I feel like all of those points have been talked about plenty before, and by much better writers and researchers than myself. Instead, I’d like to share some personal experiences that might help shed some light on what it really means to be pro-choice, which will hopefully address the mentality of the anti-abortion crowd concerning how they view women and their reasons for getting abortions.

One thing I hear a lot from the anti-abortion crowd is how irresponsible we liberal women are, and that we all just want to kill our children. The first thing I will say is that this post will be based off the assumption that having pre-marital sex is not inherently irresponsible or wrong. Plus, while plenty of married women have abortions for a variety of reasons (such as lack of financial resources, abusive husbands, medical complications, etc), that is also not my focus for today.

The idea that women today have such loose morals and don’t care about having children is one of the most baffling and offensive pieces of rhetoric that comes from the anti-abortion side. Many pro-choicers will say that it doesn’t matter what they think about us, the point is that abortion should be legal, hands down. Yes, this is true, but I think we do both sides a favor when we actually try to discuss each others’ misconceptions. One of which is to understand who gets abortions, and also, who doesn’t.

I grew up in a very white, upper-middle class suburb in NJ. It was the type of town where many things got swept under the rug because people could throw money at problems to make them go away. But even still, I know quite a few young women who had babies that were not planned, and chose to keep and raise them. Most of these women were not overtly religious and anti-abortion. They were not un-informed about where or how to have an abortion, nor were they unable to afford the procedure (obviously, since raising a child is much, much more). They got pregnant unintentionally and made the very conscious, rational choices to carry their pregnancies to term and give birth to their babies. In fact, one girl I know particularly well has gotten a lot of negative reaction from her peers, as if she threw her 20’s away. She loves her child and couldn’t be happier, and doesn’t understand why her choice is being criticized. No choice should be.

I graduated college almost 4 years ago and am still at my first “real” job, doing IT work in corporate America in the NYC area. One of the first things I noticed when I started, and whenever I meet new people at work, is that I’m always asked if I have children. At first I thought it was because I was one of the youngest people at the company (of about the 400 in my office), but I realized that there are lots of college interns, as well as a fair number of young adults under 30. I would explain that no, I don’t have any kids, I’m only 23 (now 26). I would still get looks of confusion. I would then explain that I just graduated college, and then I’d get some more nods of understanding.

Last year, I was gifted a framed picture of my boyfriend of 3 years. This picture however, is of him as a 6-year-old. It’s an adorable picture, so I thought it would be cute to put at my desk. Understandably, many people have asked if it’s my son. I’ll joke and say, “Well he is a child sometimes…” but then explain. However, my coworkers all know I have a serious boyfriend, not a fiance or a husband. Their questions about the picture don’t have a judgmental tone, but more of a simple inquiry, or even adoration for such a cute child. Many think that people in the Northeast, and NYC especially, have such loose morals and tons of abortions, yet in my office it’s quite normal and acceptable for women to have out-of-wedlock children. Surprisingly, I think I’m one of only a handful of women in the office who don’t have kids.

I feel that these examples from my life highlight that not only are women choosing to keep their children conceived unintentionally, but that even in a “sin-ridden” place like NYC, liberal, feminist women’s choices are favoring that of carrying their babies to term. Even in the face of the scrutiny that can often come with having a child so young and out of wedlock, women are choosing not to have abortions. Yes I’m sure there are people from my hometown and my work who’ve had abortions. It’s not something that usually ever comes up in conversation, and it’s easier to keep secret than a child. But to say that we don’t care about life, or that we don’t care about children, is beyond absurd. The point of being pro-choice is just that, to have the choice. These women didn’t want to choose abortion, and they would have been heart broken had someone forced them to. The same goes for women who don’t have the choice to abort if their situation deems it necessary, or want to but don’t have the ability. All we want is the power to choose for ourselves, and the resources to act upon those choices, whatever they may be. Trust that women can make their own choices about life.

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