Wednesday, February 23, 2011

in defense of Planned Parenthood, because every child should be a choice

"It's not a choice, it's a child."

Every roadtrip I've taken in that last decade and a half, I've seen that bumper sticker on the Covenant Transport trucks while I pass on the left. And over that decade and a half I've gone from a single college kid, far from marriage and motherhood, nodding in knee-jerk agreement, to a mom of two who grimaces in philosophical pain at the simple-minded misdirection of this ubiquitous bumper sticker slogan. (But hey, at least all the words are spelled correctly, and there's no Hitler mustache--which is more than you can expect from most slogan-toting peeps these days.)

I would like to see some bumper stickers that say, "Every child should be a choice." That's the goal, right? That every child conceived is a child whose conception is desired, whose growth in the womb is deliberately nurtured by both mother and community, whose birth is welcomed with the kind of joy that only comes after a ridiculous long period of anticipation? Isn't that what we want? Isn't it a measure of the brokenness of the world that this isn't, in fact, how it often happens?

So why is it that we separate these things, as if they were an either/or? Why don't we, instead, acknowledge the basic biological reality that a child is in fact a choice? And then get busy with making sure that people can in fact choose their children?

I don't mean the "you chose to have sex, so you chose the consequence" line, either. I mean, bringing a child into the world is not just a single choice, much less is it simply the statistically-more-or-less-likely sperm-meets-egg consequence of a single sex act. Bringing a child into the world is a series of choices: a series of choices which begin as soon as you realize that you're not just coming down with the flu because the flu doesn't make your boobs sore, and go to the store to get yourself a package of pee sticks. I don't just mean abortion here--although that is the starkest and most obvious form that this existential choosing can take. Choosing to nurture a life in your womb is a series of choices, one that has a definite starting point but no foreseeable ending point. It starts with prenatal vitamins and yoga and cloth diapers and escalates into something so large and complicated it encompasses the entirety of your life. It's on you: the health and well-being of a completely helpless human being. It's on you: the health and well-being of an increasingly independent little person. Everything from the food they eat to the answers they get to the impossible questions they ask, it's on you. Choosing to nurture life does not have an end. It just keeps going.

We forget--or do we just willfully ignore the obvious?--that women who face down that stark, inevitable, existential choice, do I nurture this life?, aren't answering a question about pregnancy. Pregnancy is the easy part. They're facing down the question about the cascading, unending, exponentially multiplying, choice of nurturing that life, for the rest of their lives.

If you're a fortunate and blessed woman, like I am, then your choice has already been made prior to the pee sticks, because you know that you want this to happen and when it does, your answer is ready: yes. Maybe you've already stocked the cupboard with prenatals and bought a copy of What to Expect (though, for my money, Smart Woman's Guide to Better Birth is a better purchase), you're so ready to say yes to this tiny life. Because you've already chosen this child.

In a different life, I might not be one of the fortunate, blessed ones whose children are predetermined choices. Brent and I were married six years before Clare. (Those, we refer to as "BC.") Not to get too personal about it, but believe me, there was plenty of opportunity for sperm-meets-egg in those years. (FTR, we're doing fine now too, no worries.) For those years--really, for the first full decade of our married lives--we were students, living off of loans and scholarships and part-time jobs of all sorts (between us, we've waited tables, sold orthopedic shoes, sold books, babysat, substituted in public schools and bank-tellered)--that is to say, we were permanently officially broke. And busy. And not interested in or able to even seriously ponder parenthood, except to watch the parents we knew with incomprehension and wide eyes at the amount of sheer energy and time that went into it, and think--no. Not yet. We cannot possibly do that.

So thank God for Planned Parenthood. I re-upped my pills through them the whole time we lived in Abilene, and stocked up there for the year we were overseas in Changsha. And since it turns out that I'm 'Fertile Myrtle' and Brent's 'Virile Cyril' (both times we've gotten pregnant within two months of tossing contraceptives), it's a helluva good thing we weren't left on our own. (Can't say that I see six years of married abstinence in the name of pursuit of theological scholarship as a real option. The world of academia still seems to largely operate on the assumption that scholars are celibate medieval monks--but in the real world, we've all got bodies and sexual drives attached to these putatively floating heads.)

Clare knows that she is chosen; it is another way of saying that she is and has always been loved. Baby Z will know that she is chosen, too. They'll know this because we'll tell them, and because we'll keep choosing them for the rest of their lives, in all those uncountable ways that you choose to nurture and love a kid every single day.

Every kid should know this. It should be the basic expectation with which kids grow up and experience their world. Every child should know that they were chosen--know it in a way that makes asking the question impossible. It should be the tacit foundation for life, that unspoken assurance that you are chosen, wanted, desired, loved.

Supporting Planned Parenthood ought to be a no-brainer. Instead we've let things get to a point where the health of women and children are potentially at risk because no one can think past the word "abortion." This is not about abortions. This is about doing the concrete, practical things that will get us closer to a world where every child born will be a child who is wanted: about enabling women and men, no matter who they are, to make childbearing and childrearing something they can choose to undertake gladly and readily. Every child should be a choice.

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