**Caution: Some material may be disturbing to some readers. If you have survived childhood trauma and/or if you feel harmed reading religious beliefs different than your own, this article may be activating. Please take care of yourself — even if that means not reading this one.
**Note: In order to protect confidentiality, identifying details have been altered and/or the individuals depicted are composites of actual persons.
“Come see this,” my dear friend motioned with her hand as she pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket. I had just entered the office from my lunch break and was rain-soaked from a much-welcomed winter rain storm. She spoke quickly as her words rose higher in pitch as though something was ready to burst from within her. Her impatient energy communicated that one more minute’s delay (like me taking off my rain-coat) might be the end of her. And yet, her face was glowing, her eyes sparkled…She was eager to show me something.
Normally I don’t like to be pounced on when I walk into a room before I set my things down, but not this time. I was intrigued and her vibrancy was catching. Something good was happening. I felt energy bounce inside my chest. Darn rain coat! I tried to move more quickly but my fingers just couldn’t seem to work fast enough on the wet metal buttons. Finally, I pulled my arms out and tossed it, aiming for a wall hook just across the doorway. I missed the hook and it fell to the ground. (My aim has never been good.) Of course!
I bent down and replied, “What is it????!” as I tried moving faster. I needed some good news. It has been heavy lately. From bleak world, national, and local news; to our broken body politic; to carrying the impact of human cruelty with the patients I encounter daily in my psychotherapy practice, I have found it hard to breathe some days. I felt too many wrongs to be made right — and every one of them pained my heart. Yes. I could use something good. My hands fumbled into the wet pile, found the edges of the raincoat hood, and firmly wrapped it over the hook.
Absent further coat mishaps, I hurried to her side. “What is it????,” I asked eagerly, reaching for my I-never-used-to-need-these-but-now-at-46-my-eyes-have-given-up-at-close-distances glasses, and slid them onto my nose while she extended her arm, phone out, in front of me. I watched her delicate finger tap the right pointing triangle as a grainy black and white video clip moved to motion.
My dear friend held a video confirming the reality she hadn’t fully believed from the plus sign on a pee stick and a pixilated screen in her OB’s office a few weeks before. The flu-like symptoms hadn’t convinced her. The missing monthly visitor hadn’t convinced her. The unexpected waves of sheer exhaustion hadn’t convinced her.
But this video grounded her into a new reality. She was pregnant. Truly pregnant. She was pregnant with a being who could now move an arm up to their head as though they had an itch or maybe wanted to wave “Hi,” despite no fully formed fingers.
Warmth and joy radiated throughout my body as my heart swelled for her. My eyes watered slightly (I’m a bit of a softy these days) as I connected to my own history of joy and amazement, 13 and 10 years ago, respectively, when I got confirmation of my two beautiful girls who continue to bless my life with the daily joy of getting to love them.
I had been with my friend as she walked down a long and winding road with her fertility. It had been a struggle to navigate the stress of modern living, her advancing age by obstetric measures, her husband’s hopes and her lifelong desire for family life, and the uncertainty of a body that had not, up until now, connected all the dots required to build another human being.
My friend is a woman of deep faith and conviction, raised and actively practicing within a conservative Christian faith, and her fertility struggles had tested her belief at times. She believed God had control over these things, (her God had control over ALL things), and just couldn’t understand why He had not bestowed this blessing on her. I had seen her dip into places of self-doubt, wondering what was wrong with her, wondering if God doubted her abilities to be the loving mother that she imagined and that I knew with every ounce of my being she would be, and then she would steel her vulnerability and despair away. From this point in her process, she would grab onto repeated sayings within her faith, “It is as God wills it” — sometimes with resolve, or desperate edge needing to believe there was a greater plan at work; sometimes with comfort, and other times with a life-drained tone of defeat.
I struggled in times like this. Deeply loving my friend and wanting to hold a space safe for her faith journey to be as it was, left unjudged by me, it was hard for me to see her doubt herself as deemed unworthy by God because she was struggling to conceive. I had a much different relationship to God having walked a vastly different path than my friend. I simply did not believe God operated in this way. I did not believe God had chosen me and not her any more than I believed God chose who won the Super Bowl or who got elected President. For me, what ultimately happened was far more complicated than that, wrapped up in variables of biology and environment, human will and autonomy, chance, relationships, other circumstances far out of our control but deeply of this world, God’s grace and mystery (sometimes, Yes!) — but also, a little (or, often times) luck (or not). While I could not offer any degree of certitude that her belief wasn’t as she experienced it, I simply did not believe that her difficulty conceiving was God-intended or directed, serving some master plan. Instead, in my belief, I felt my Jesus, everything I feel and believe about God made-human, weeping alongside her in those dark times, trying to hold her close and comforting her, as I wept alongside her too. In my faith, God seeks to hold us in our suffering. God is not determining it.
Faith is an interesting thing. My faith journey has been more winding than straight, and I have spent many moons contemplating not only what faith is, but also how humans generate such different manifestations of faith and religious expression across time and geography. I also have contemplated those without such faith and expression. We are each drawn to specific places. And I have no doubt that those choices are informed by as much our history and upbringing, our own personality and constitution, and how we were exposed to different beliefs, than by any one divine rightness of any particular faith or belief system. It seems each person has different levels of need for meaning-making and we gain from different degrees and types of certitude and structure. Some of us seem to feel comforted and guided by faith practices that promote certitude and clear-cut rules and dictates. Some of us feel closer to God in the gray areas of living and loving, challenged by all that is messy and imperfect. While some of us reject any notion of God entirely, choosing only to believe what can be seen, measured, or proven. To my mind, each group holds a sense of truth that offers the healing or growth that works for them based on their lived experiences.
I am aware on some level that I choose my winding path (I am and always have been an active seeker) and that my friend chooses a more linear, straight-forward, path. I am also aware that my friend’s path could no more have been mine than mine could have been hers. The truth is, that while my friend often wonders why I put myself through so many quests that pull at my insides and challenge my mind, heart, and soul, I love my path. Every turn of discovery, of questioning, of times spent in the wilderness, of expansive explorations into other traditions and other ways of conceptualizing this connection I feel, has been vibrant. I have been mindful on my journey, learning and growing with each twist and turn, and I would not change it even if I could.
My friend, on the other hand, has described her journey in far more direct and linear terms. This is what she believes, has always believed, and probably will always believe. (And I say this without judgement.) She finds peace and grace in the security such clear knowing brings. She does not seem to ache to explore more beyond the borders of her specific religious doctrine and the practice of faith defined by her church as I do. She has all she seems to need within the very framework held by her church community, her husband, her family, her extended family, and all those that came before. Now, I do not mean to imply that my friend is simple in her faith — for I do not find her to be simple or casual in her faith at all — only that when she explores deeper, it is an exploration rooted in the structure, method, and language of the theology she knows and that those around her know as well.
I find great beauty in our connection. We are joined by our different faith journeys, appreciating a relationship that has space for sharing how we seek meaning and feel connected to something greater than ourselves. And, although it is unspoken, I believe we are both grateful to observe the other’s journey, without judgement, and without having to change our personal journey in order to remain friends. In the vastly cynical, judgmental, and reactionary world of today, it can be hard to find safe places to reveal one’s inner state, and we both seem to cherish having found one.
And so, we tapped and re-tapped the video, over and over again, watching her little one moving their hand up to their face until the short clip stopped. Both of us in awe. Both of us full of excitement. Both of us falling in love with the little one nestled deep inside her womb.
“Amazing,” I said, squeezing her arm, as though the physical pressure would push more love into her — as though to say “Hello there, Little One. I can’t wait to meet you!”
“Yes,” my dear friend said a bit dreamily.
And then, without warning, her energy tightened for a moment. Connecting to a nearly cellular response well-honed within her faith base, my friend said in earnest disbelief and pain, “I can’t believe that there are people who would abort this.”
There was an awkward silence. My stomach contracted.
Breathe. This was not the time.
“Yours is so loved,” I said, squeezing her again, thankful to have found a truthful response to fill the air.
My dear friend nodded, seeming satisfactorily returned back to her own reality filled with mystery and grace. She gently and lovingly closed the video screen and put her phone back in her pocket, ready to revisit the moving images in a moment’s notice.
My friend’s words brought back a flood of experiences and feelings throughout my career as a psychologist and as one who has walked a more winding path in my personal life, encountering many different kinds of people and life experiences along the way. Memories waved forward — some just as images, some connected to a much fuller story, some connected to what felt like all of the details of context and sensory information as though it happened yesterday. Each memory contrasted against this moment, and led to an emotional and mental jumble that informed the silence.
As I waded into the flood and began to piece each memory out, I recognized that as hard as these stories have been to carry for those burdened by living them, I feel blessed (dare I say that in this public arena?) by those who have let me into their worlds in this deeply personal way and I am grateful for all they taught me about humanity, and, as a person of faith, all they have taught me about God. As journey layered over journey, I discovered an un-provable but unshakeable sense that our soul and a Higher Spirit (God) might be interconnected in ways that I find strangely comforting. And, from these experiences, I now walk with an alternative sense of how we best care for each other while we try to hold each soul sacred.
I flooded with a desire to share with my friend what my heart has felt, what my ears have heard, what my mind has processed and observed. I wanted to share what my own spirit believed after having walked this journey through my 46 years of living and two decades of conducting therapy.
But this was not the time.
There was no way I was going to tarnish this moment of pure love for her unborn child, and the relief and release from her long journey, and force her into another far harsher and darker reality. I was not going to take this rare opportunity where she felt the fullness of hope and grace, where she felt finally worthy enough to be chosen by God for this honorable role, and mar it. I was not going to put horrible images in her head or harm her heart with the cruelties possible in human-kind. No — these moments of pure love and joy are rare, and when they come our way, I believe we need to stop and bathe in them, absorbing each precious sensation into our cellular memory, and let ourselves be in this moment of rejoice for as long as we can be.
I wanted her to have this moment. She deserved every ounce of goodness it gave her.
And, to be fully honest, my silence may have been attempting to preserve my security in my relationship with my friend as well. While I wanted her to feed on the goodness, I also knew I would not get what I would have needed in order to engage in this type of high-risk conversation with my dear friend. Although we shared many things, I knew this was an issue so permanently classified one way within her theological structure, that I feared my friend would be closed-off from being able to take in the fullness of the stories I wanted to share with her. I knew it would pain me to have these stories minimized or the individuals in them judged without the fullness of knowing them as I have. I also knew that the bounds of confidentiality and professional ethics prevented me from being able to try to fill in the gaps with greater detail. I knew I would only be upset by where I anticipated the conversation would go. I doubted that having this conversation could be fruitful for either one of us, at least, not now.
For my friend, all those wanting mothers, couples, and families, so ready to love, and all of their hopes and dreams that could go unfulfilled, were filling her in the moment of this statement. She was imagining every unborn baby with as much love as she viewed her own. All babies were her baby. They were one in the same. She had gone through her own private torture of trial and tribulation where the ache of longing and wanting were still close enough to pit her stomach. She was bruised by the agony of all those months (and years) of confusion, vulnerability, and just-under-the-surface-fear that she may live her life childless when every ounce of upbringing elevated motherhood as the pinnacle of a woman’s existence, and I doubted she would be able to suspend her lived experience at this time to take in another perspective. Her journey had run far too perilously close to living a second-best-life according to her worldview. And, justifiably, her mind, body, and soul wanted to protect those mothers, and babies (already imagined in their chubby-cheeked, fully-formed state), and fulfill their wishes for life and family, as hers were now being fulfilled. Truth be told, I would like for those wishes for all those in her heart to be fulfilled too. My silence was also to protect them from the reality I know.
When we need to protect something or someone, or most of all, ourselves, we are not fully open. We are defended. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It serves survival. My friend needed to defend her space for her child and for herself. She needed to exercise her commitment for protection. I heard her comment as one connected to her reality and not only her faith practice. A woman who wants to be pregnant, and is pregnant, is already moving herself into motherhood, guarding her offspring for as long as she possibly can to keep them safe from harm and nourished for the growth that surviving in this life will demand. And she will feel a primal need to protect others as well.
I know this primal need to protect. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I remember envisioning an x-ray blanket over my expanding belly every time I met with a particular patient who was filled with hatred, venom, and paranoia. In those hours, I envisioned this blanket protecting her from my client’s psychic darkness just as an x-ray blanket blocks harmful rays from damaging vital organs. I imagined this weighty blanket shielding her ears from hearing his words, her heart from feeling his hate, her mind from knowing his darkness. She felt so small and innocent to me, I needed to keep her safe. Feeling connected to my role as mother protector, and having this image to connect to, calmed my nervous system and helped me to be more available to my patient. It reduced my stress and, in turn, helped my developing baby. (We now know that stress hormones do bad things to our physiology and especially to the cells in a developing nervous system.) In other words, this mental image was not a trivial pretending or make-believe, it was activating my hormones and neurotransmitters to function in a way that was healthier for my baby.
With her protected (even if by my own mind), I could allow myself to enter into his world, find ways to walk alongside of him, and look for moments to connect. If I had been defended or anxious by what he was presenting, I would not have been able to provide the safe space for him to reveal himself to me and to be open to any level of change. He needed me to be there fully with him and I knew he was not this way by choice or innate darkness of character. As with so many with this world approach, his prickliness was rooted in abandonment and tremendous harm, left to fend for himself at far too young of an age, and he was (rightfully, I would argue) pissed off about it. He had learned to defend himself by being offensive first. He poked and shocked and snarled like a cornered dog who had been beaten by their owner. I understood this about him. My job was to be with him and see if he could be safe in a different way of being. Some days, the world was so cruel and full of misunderstanding, I wondered if such change was possible. But, for the first time in his life, he had someone with him and not against him. Without my mental blanket, I would have failed him too.
I knew my friend was in the place I had been over a decade before. She needed her own X-ray blanket.
What did she need protection from? What did I know that my friend could not fathom, at least not now?
This world is different for the unwanted.
It can be hard to accurately imagine a world one has never visited. Instead, most of us will project what we already know onto the blank canvas created by our imagination and make a few cosmetic changes to assume how it must be for someone else. But lives can vary greatly and there are outliers, even though most of us share the comfort of being in the center of the bell-curve — feeling similarity in friendships, family, work and play, successes and failures with moderate balance, where we think challenges can be overcome and hardship creates character, because it has for us. From this place of generalizing our reality onto others, it becomes easy to distance from others who act contrary to how we would act, or who make different decisions from what we would make and determine that they are at fault. Because we assume every other variable lined up the same for them as it had for us, we become blind to what truly informed their actions, and, it saddens me to say, we become hardened and closed, unable to offer the understanding and compassion we give those who are more like us.
No, this was not the time. Her job was not to learn how to walk with another into the horrors of their lives as mine was. She did not need to understand such realities at this time. She needed to cocoon her pregnancy and her dreams in security, protection, and good intention.
This was not the time to tell her of a little boy who was brought to a clinic I worked in years ago. He was already setting fires and chasing his adopted mom around their home with kitchen knives threatening to kill her. This young boy was 5-years-old.
His adopted mom reminded me much of my dear friend in how much she had wanted to be a mother, and, by every count, she was a fantastic mother. Patient. Loving. Compassionate. Understanding. Dedicated. However, unlike my friend, her body never took to pregnancy, and through careful consideration and the best of intentions, she and her husband did as many wanting-to-be-parent couples do, they sought to adopt. As older parents with more established careers, they had resources to manage whatever they could imagine — a physical illness, a learning disability, struggles with being adopted. They wanted to give back and wanted to fulfill their family dreams. They opened their hearts and minds to take any baby that came, believing they would have enough love and resources to heal any injuries of heart, body, or mind that a little person may have gone through.
They never could have imagined what their lives became in just a few short years. By the time I saw the mother and son, the couple was separated. The father had left — no longer able to stop the violence and unable to protect his wife or change the behaviors of their son. She was not willing to give up or send the son away, and he could not see any way of continuing the course as it was.
This couple would have been the perfect parents to a child who had been wanted from the beginning, even if the biological mother was aware that she could not keep him. There are many cases like this. There are women who love their babies and have enough support for the pregnancy to go to term but who also know they cannot provide for baby as they want to in order to keep them. There are also women who have bodies and lives that allow and support them enough to bring a baby healthily to term, even if they do not feel compelled toward motherhood at all. These women often feel they are putting their bodies in service of others — and have appreciation for the ability to do so. They are invested in doing a good job. They want the baby to be healthy and well. Either way, this is the foundation for being wanted.
From this foundation, chances are good that a child would have minimal, if any, suffering due to simply existing, and, if their story furthered to adoption, they could develop normally as they transitioned to new, loving, and protective others. Unfortunately, this was not this young boy’s story.
His story was one of the most tragic of my career. Born of very young, deeply immature, and actively substance abusing parents, the Department of Social Service was tipped off by a neighbor who had heard inconsistent noises of a baby and was concerned enough to call. When Social Services did a welfare check, they found a couple living in rancid, deplorable conditions, lacking in all forms of sanitation, drugged and dazed on the sofa. When asked about the noises reported of a baby, they hazily looked towards the deep freezer a few feet from them. The social worker found the baby, then 3 months old, with bluing hue, inside the deep freezer with a heavy blanket and books placed on top of him. When the parents sobered enough to be asked how he got there, they responded, “He wouldn’t stop wiggling and making noise,” as though their response made sense. They were not trying to kill him. They just wanted some peace and quiet and the deep-freezer seemed like a good place to put him.
No one knows what other experiences this young boy had in the first 3 months of his life and it was all but guaranteed that the biological mother had received no pre-natal care. What we did know was that there were no loving others in their lives. There was no community filling in the gaps. There was no sign of actual caretaking other than the clothes he had on and the fact he had survived this far.
By all accounts, this young boy was never wanted in even the most basic of terms — not even in the idyllic way that some pre-teen and teenage girls imagine motherhood to be, where they seek to love and be loved by someone but are ill-equipped to manage the rigors of full motherhood. Those young mothers have the capacity to love and want to love their babies — they just get overwhelmed, need to develop skills quickly, and need a lot of support by the communities around them to make it all work.
I doubt this young boy was ever even seen as fully human by anyone until he was taken by Social Services that night. And by that time, due to the severity of his exposure to deplorable and harmful conditions, I feared the damage done to him may have already been permanent.
I am a person with a deep river of hope and belief in people’s capacity to change and to overcome terrible life traumas. My patients have taught me as much through the years. But this case, this case was different. This case disturbed me. This young boy disturbed me in a way that I have only felt once before, in all of my years of working in trauma. I found it deeply disorienting to my optimistic nature to confront my visceral experience with this young boy. Something was deeply wrong — I truly did not know if this young boy would ever be able to build healthy relationships or care for another human being. I feared his brain may have been so damaged that the pathways for loving and caring, for empathy and moral development, may not have formed. I grappled with feeling a kind of darkness in him that left me unnerved.
It was hard to feel the sharp contrasts between this experience and simply seeing this young boy. He was adorable to look at — big brown eyes, chestnut brown hair, a thin but vibrant body full of energy. He could play with toys and speak with a full vocabulary. He moved quickly, dizzying and exhausting anyone trying hard to keep an eye on him. This is not unheard of in trauma, and there are other conditions that could create this effect such as severe ADHD and/or substance abuse exposure. Those things our team could treat.
But there was more than that. At 5, this young boy had a coldness in his eyes that was disturbing if I caught him unaware that he was being watched. It was like he already knew how to turn on “cuteness” through smiles and pleading, and already seemed to know the right words to say. He seemed calculating in his manner — acting in a way so as to lure his mom into dangerous situations, playing off of her desire to love him and be close to him, just so he could harm her. He seemed to enjoy seeing her in pain when he succeeded. He seemed to like harming her. Most children despair when their parent is in pain — especially if they caused it. He didn’t seem to have any remorse. Instead, he seemed delighted by it.
The cold hard truth is that some conditions are so deplorable within the womb and/or outside of it, that a developing mind and body cannot survive it unscathed. And some developing selves may be crushed or destroyed by it. And, just as tragically, many innocent lives, other equally innocent lives, can be destroyed in the process.
Who knows what the oxygen depletion did to his young brain (he was found blue but still alive), let alone the malnourishment and drug exposure he most likely experienced from the time of his conception? Who knows if there was some fluke occurrence in the splitting and multiplying of the cells in the womb? Who knows what was in his gene pool to begin with?
It is hard to accept the reality of horrors such as this one when one is flooded with their own wanting for a child to imagine this as even possible. As I re-read my re-telling, I know it falls short of relaying the full picture. No matter how vivid my words, I cannot fully capture the hell this family was in. I can already hear readers’ minds rationalizing some inaccuracy in the story, some misread in my senses, or having some certitude that the adoptive mother (or father) must have failed in some way that was hidden from my view…. or the boy just needed a different pairing to heal him. I think this would have been my friend’s defense had I have shared it with her. She lived by “Smile, You Mom Chose Life,” and “Every Life Deserves A Chance.” I doubt she could have imagined the possibility of irreparable damage being done to a fetus and/or baby that could set so many lives on the path toward destruction. From her perspective, as long as one makes it out of the womb, the child can and will be saved — so every fetus should be here, no matter what.
I am here to tell you, that while this may be true in many cases, there are some realities so terrible, that even when you think you have imagined the worse, there is a reality even worse out there.
I have worked with people chronically suicidal, spending every day in conflict over whether to live or die…unable to believe they had any worth or right to this life, having internalized into their very identity a parent’s or society’s contempt or indifference at their existence. I have had patients connect to early body memories of being raped while they laid on changing tables. I have read medical files of the very young with confirming evidence of genital bruising, lesions, and tears, who had foreign fluids sampled from their small bodies. There were babies and toddlers diagnosed with STDs. I have worked with individuals struggling to manage severe dissociative states, the kind that only occur when repeated traumas take one to the brink of death but not quite to it, again and again, forcing the self to split into many parts as the only way to keep other parts alive. When this happens, often components of both the abused and the abuser get locked inside, with the self of the person fractured and chaotic, lacking the cohesion that the majority of us take for granted.
I have fought alongside such patients, aligning with the only part of them, no matter how small, to stand on this side of life. It is long and grueling work — they must withstand tremendous agony to continue to reach for hope and not kill it. It cannot and should not be romanticized by those whose only connection to this work is through theory or other forms of intellectualization. The grueling nature of the work should not be minimized by those who find their sense of righteousness by professing the sanctity of life because of words printed on onion-skin paper, written at a different time, and for a different purpose. The lives of the unwanted often feel terrible — tortured — often of unrelenting suffering — for a very, very long time, if any change occurs at all. And no amount of public policy or prayer, or someone else’s belief in their version of God, will spare these individuals the life they have been handed to manage.
The work my colleagues and I do is rich and necessary, and I will fight for the right for everyone to do this work and get access to the services they can to right the wrongs done to them — that is, once the life is here, fully formed and already out of the womb, needing to engage with this world, and having to survive the best they can. I can attest that this type of work is all-in, requiring not just training, but also one’s full heart, mind, and soul to sustain. It takes everything from both parties to do. I have so many cases like this in my practice that I have stopped accepting any new trauma cases. I am full. These are not the kinds of patients who are done in limited sessions. These patients need (and deserve) a consistent, on-going, trustworthy, them-focused relationship to rework the harm done and to rebuild a system not informed by trauma at every turn. And the truth is, there are not enough of us to do the work, nor is the rest of the world interested enough in these individual lives, to modify or alter the outcome of the crappy hand so many innocent lives have been dealt. What do we do then with all these lives damaged by a life that never truly wanted them?
There is correlational research showing that since Roe V. Wade, our nation became less violent, and the overall crime rate dropped, just about the time when unwanted children would have been old enough to start committing such crimes. In fact, there is research showing that some of the most egregious mass killings in this nation’s history occurred at the hands of men, not from any particular culture, class, race, or religion, but who all suffered severe neglect and/or abuse as a child. In other words, the only shared context was that these violently homicidal men were once children who did not enter a world that allowed them to be children. In fact, one study found that the ONLY variable linking a particular set of extreme cases was that the murderers had been in such severe conditions, they were denied play. Play. Something most of us take for granted as a given of childhood.
I don’t believe God wants this kind of life for anyone. In fact, I believe God weeps for the suffering of those forced to be here, brought into a world that doesn’t want them. I don’t believe God would judge a mother who already knows that the cards stacked against their fetus, at her unique time and under her unique circumstances, are crap cards and would choose to have the soul, if one exists separate from the blending and separating of chromosomes, get the chance to pick another hand from life’s deck.
Someone dear to me once confided that at one time she felt her time to have the family she dreamed of was long past, after missing her optimal fertility due to life circumstances that would not have allowed her to be the mother she wanted to be. When those circumstances changed, she found herself in prayer saying, “God, if there is a soul needing to be born, I am here.” Miraculously, she found herself pregnant soon thereafter…and gave birth to a boy who has since amazed us all with his tremendously loving nature and particularly vibrant life energy. His love was and remains so pure — it feels, at times, other-worldly.
This young boy is now nearing the age of the young boy I met with years ago. How vastly different to enter the world wanted.
I have worked with women who had abortions because of circumstances that would have dealt crappy cards to their babies had they have been born. More than one woman has reported a sensory experience of feeling angels or souls watching over them, loving them, and them loving back. The sense was one of peace with the outcome of not being brought into a world where they would have been unwanted or not cared for in the way they should have been. There was this sense of what I could only describe as a soul in relationship to a greater context, possessing a sense of knowing.
These reported sensations, spirits, or angels, as one described, did not seem to be “theirs” either. Instead, they seemed separate from the DNA combinations that may have created the pregnancy. They had awareness of the circumstances, but no need to have come into the world in that way. It seemed, by these reports, that these souls (as I will call them) had a sense of both value and spirit — possessing a presence of goodness, of hope, of love that they would bring to the world someday (maybe?). Such experiences were reported to me enough to cause me to wonder and be open to a different perspective from what my religious upbringing had shaped about life and where it begins — or ends. I sometimes wonder if the young boy possessing this other-world purity of love was one of the souls waiting to be born. What if these souls connect to the wanted nature and attach to pregnancy … but are available for re-assignment if one doesn’t work out?
I know this may sound crazy…but I swear, I do wonder from what I have witnessed. What if we are simply too limited by our human understanding of how all of this works? What if we are inadvertently creating states of unnecessary suffering through our narrow view of life, spirit, and God? What if our self-focus or short-sighted nature may be preventing souls from being all they could be while here? What if, instead of forcing an unwanted birth or judging a woman for seeking an abortion, we turned to a presence of goodness and offered compassion, love, and trust in something more— as these souls seemed to?
While there were women who chose to have abortions who were sad for the circumstances yet at peace with their decision, I have also worked with women who were deeply conflicted about having chosen to have an abortion. These were cases where the baby was wanted by them, but the biological father, their families, communities, and yes, even their churches, would never have fully accepted the woman or her pregnancy once discovered, and she would have been cast out. Unable to survive or manage life with a baby entirely alone, these mothers made deeply painful choices to not proceed. These women remained emotionally conflicted. For them, the struggle with balancing the wanting with real barriers to survival was painful, and their hand was forced by the ticking clock.
I have worked with women who chose to have their children regardless of terrible circumstances, and those lives proceeded. The babies were loved by their mothers, yes…and this IS something of great value. And yet, there is also the truth that these families struggled daily to make up the lost ground in comparison to those who were fully and completely wanted, with resources and communities to support them, and often, those struggles carried on to the next generation in poverty, lack of education, under-employment, and higher risks of harm by those who take advantage of the more vulnerable.
If I had my way, these two situations are where we would all focus our energies. We would focus on changing circumstances for women who want to keep their babies but fear they will not be able to and we would work more with the women who choose to have their babies in the face of terrible circumstances to prevent them from falling or remaining behind.
If I had my way, this is where both sides of our binary debate could give up the toxic fighting and instead use all of the money, energy, and emotion wasted trying to dictate a path for everyone to create all the needed supports for these women, including a rework of how we treat women with unintended pregnancies in our families, church communities, and in the workplace. For me, this is where we all become pro-life, instead of simply pro-birth.
If I had my way, we would focus on creating a world worthy of the wanted.
But not all lives will thrive, even if wanted from the beginning. I have seen babies born with bleak prognoses — some to die within hours or days — and some to go on to live lives requiring tremendous resources of time, energy, and finance to sustain them.
I have also worked with many individuals of severely ill or impaired siblings where the severity was so great it altered course for the entire family - sometimes causing financial ruin, but always exponentially increasing stress on the functioning of the family. The sheer demands of caring for the high need sibling resulted in the unintentional, and frankly, unavoidable, neglect in nurturing the “normal” child’s development no matter how deep the love or good the intention. No parents intended to create this neglect but there were obvious limits of time, energy, financial resources, and attention. These children went without the gains that specific attunement, resource provision, and more quantities of time with a loving other generates. It is simply a reality that the child with the most need received a bigger slice of the parental pie that raising a child demands. The rest had to divvy the remaining crumbs. There were costs all around with no one to blame.
Let me be clear, I hold none of these choices, to keep or not keep a pregnancy, as more right or wrong than the next.
I don’t believe it is for me to judge them. It is not my duty or right as a person to decide one way or the other for another person when I am not fully able to walk in their shoes to dictate such a life-altering choice for anyone else. We are each left to live the life we have — and I have my hands full trying to live mine. I am aware that no matter my opinion about any aspect of another person’s life, it is only that, an opinion. Every person has to live their life.
My point is that the outcomes of keeping or ending a pregnancy are complicated and not nearly as clear-cut as they are presented to be. And in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, harm may be caused either way.
Likewise, I also don’t believe that it is my job to act as though I know God’s heart and intention with the certitude and conviction like so many around me proclaim. I have my beliefs about God to be sure, but I recognize these are my beliefs. Others may not carry them. My beliefs are that God is actively trying to draw us into closer relationship with each other, removing barriers of judgement, and working towards radical love and inclusion, the kind that God has shown throughout the ages. I believe God chooses us to be blessings to the world and to each other in different ways, and that we are all called to walk different paths to contribute to fulfilling our full potential as a human family.
The life of Jesus modeled for me a belief that God is with us in struggle and crosses the road to be with the prostitute, the leper, the woman at the well. Time and time again, God chooses against those already in power who exercise control and domination over others and guides us to a different perspective. I believe God calls us to move out of our comfort zone and connect to the humanity of those the seemingly righteous have cast aside and judged as unworthy. (I also believe in a God who keeps things interesting by challenging us to forge relationships with the tax collector and others not typically considered as needing any of our care or concern, similarly reminding us that there is humanity in everyone to be tended to.)
I believe in a God who gave us free-will, who delights when we use it to expand and grow towards our fullest potential, and who despairs when we limit our growth or stay in states of harm. I do not believe God rejoices in lives forced to be here. I do not believe it is “God’s will” when a pregnancy occurs through conditions of rape, manipulation, domination, or abuse. I leave that to the simple science of sperm and egg. I do not believe that God would judge any woman not wanting a baby created in such circumstances.
Likewise, I do not believe God would judge a couple who, upon learning of a severe illness or impairment that would render their child unable to live or thrive without tremendous effort or in permanent states of pain or struggle, would decide to not force their child into a life of torment. I actually believe that when women or couples know they will be stretched beyond their limits to take care of another life, or would be unable to bond, connect, or carry a pregnancy to term for any reason, that God understands and supports. I believe we are known by God, into the fullest and deepest pockets of our humanity. I believe God knows.
I am open to the possibility that I may be wrong. Certainly, there are many who will judge me as so. But even if I am wrong about God’s existence, or God’s stance in these awful circumstances, I will still stand by my respect for each woman’s decision. These are hard, often life-changing decisions, that I have never seen any woman I have known make casually. Each decision was the best they could make at that time in their life — and, since they are the only ones who truly have to live their life and experience the consequences of those decisions, I stand by giving them the right to decide for themselves.
I find it rather terrifying that anyone else would decide my life’s course for me — or demand my uterus be used to carry any baby not created by my own free-will and desire (which, by the way, is the only way I could get pregnant at this point — against my will), or where a pregnancy would come at the cost of my ability to function as a wife, mother, and therapist to all those who need me on their path and to whom I am already committed. The complex path from fertilization, to pregnancy, to birth, to life outside the womb, to death and all that is between should never be cheapened to a bumper sticker or simple slogan. This is not about political party, religious identification, or power, or law. This is about the unique singularity of each person’s life and who has to live it.
I trust that God will be in that individual life, responding to her context, her heart, her mind, her intentions, and that God will remain with her in the struggle. This type of contextuality of God’s love and guidance is shown in many areas of the bible, making it hard to generalize anything into simple Always and Never statements. The Bible is messy and complex, in my point of view, because human beings are messy and complex. I believe God is aware of this on levels we cannot even begin to comprehend. I am at peace with that.
With this as the backbone of my faith, I do not need to intrude into any woman’s relationship with her body, her pregnancy, or her relationship with God, realized or not. I can be with her, if she chooses to invite me in, but I believe it violates God’s higher call to love and be with, to force anyone against their will to put themselves, or anyone else, into states of harm…into states of being unwanted.
I also believe that unless we humans have the capacity to provide an actual life worth living for a child, one of being loved and wanted from the very start, no child — no baby — no fetus — should be forced into an existence that could be described as nothing other than hell on earth.
My dear friend was looking at the video clip of her beautiful baby full of all the love, resources, and readiness that she (and her husband, her family, her friends, and her entire community) had to offer. There was nothing but love in her heart (and mine too!) in looking at that clip. Who would not celebrate such a life? Her baby is wanted more than the moon and the stars — her baby’s life is being given a beautiful foundation from the very beginning. For this, I will rejoice.
It is everything to be wanted.