Monday, October 24, 2016

Spontaneous Abortion, Shame, and Politics

I went to my reproductive endocrinologist the day after my miscarriage. She was wonderful and comforting, especially after a traumatic experience in the ER. But as we went to leave, she handed me a summary of the visit, in which I discovered that under my medical history, these words were now listed:
spontaneous abortion

That's the medical term for miscarriage. Spontaneous abortion. And I was shocked by the way my gut seemed to bunch up as I read those words, how tight my throat got, and how I kept sneaking a look at that part of the paper again and again wishing those words would disappear. I was shocked because I have been pro-choice my whole life. I have always supported a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body, have even been a one-issue voter for choice, interned for pro-choice organizations. My mother is pro-choice. My father is pro-choice. And yet when I saw that word abortion, I felt shame.

Already, I was feeling like a failure. Not only did my body have enormous difficulty getting pregnant, but when I did finally, blessedly, conceive, my body could not bring that baby to full term. My doctor had already assured me there was absolutely nothing I did wrong--- even kind of rolling her eyes at the idea that stress could have caused my miscarriage. She assured me that miscarriage is a natural, even if horrible, biological response to a non-viable pregnancy. But I still wondered. What if I hadn't eaten that spicy guacamole that one time? What if I put my feet up more? Did I drink too much coffee? Did I eat too much sugar? What was wrong with me?

Yes, the shame was partially a result of my perfectionism, my frustration with my lack of "success" rather than understanding what happened as natural. But a lot of the shame around the word abortion comes not from my own attempts to control my body but from the church.

I love the church. I am a pastor and a pastor's kid. But The United Methodist Church recently broke our relationship with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. My friends growing up were pro-life, my college religious group was pro-life, many in my current faith community (both congregation and county-wide) are pro-life. And I saw the agreements on Facebook after a certain political candidate commented on abortion. Speak for those who have no voice. God is a God of miracles. It's not your body... 

Abortion=Shame in the church world (even for those of us in the beautiful progressive church world in which abortion is not stigmatized, our voices aren't usually amplified enough). You did something wrong. You messed up His Perfect Plan. You are selfish. Even though I had a miscarriage, just the word association was enough to send me into a shame spiral. Which then made me wonder--- what about those women who had late-term abortions for the sake of their baby's and their own health? There are plenty of stories floating around in response to recent incorrect statements about late term abortion, stories of women who desperately wanted children but who, through counseling with family and their doctors, made the decision to end their pregnancy because their baby was suffering or they were suffering. Two of my friends, one of whom I have been trying to get to come to church, have made the awful decision to terminate very wanted pregnancies and shared the stories about it just this month. Often insurance does not cover abortive procedures, even in instances of fetal abnormality and maternal health, adding a financial burden to an already grieving family.

When you condemn abortion, for many women who hear your condemnation, you are just adding a little shame and stigma to an already shitty situation. You aren't speaking for those who don't have a voice. You aren't speaking out against murder. You aren't changing anyone's mind about abortion. You are triggering hurting people.

Women and our families don't need politicians telling us how awful abortion is. We need compassion; we need care. We need to make medical decisions with medical professionals. The words (and images and slogans) used against abortion are not often messages of truth and justice but weapons of shame and stigma. Instead, maybe we should practice a little more grace.

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