Earlier this year, dear friends of mine brought home their first child.
Their journey to parenthood wasn’t the usual one of swollen bellies, morning sickness and strange cravings. Instead, it involved mountains of paperwork, an eight-hour car ride and a woman who with great care and love intentionally chose them to adopt and raise her child.
To refer to this woman — we’ll call her Ruth — as their son’s birth mother isn’t an adequate rendering of who she is or what her choice means to them.
In what was perhaps an attempt to describe the indescribable, my friend showed me a photo of Ruth holding his new son on the morning that she checked out of the hospital. Her expression was that of a Madonna in a Botticelli painting: one of serenity, certainty and humility.
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That hastily snapped iPhone photo illustrates how clearly Ruth understood the profound gravity of both what she had done — given this child life — and what she was about to do — give this child to a family that could provide him with the kind of life that she wanted for him but could not provide.
For nine months she self-sacrificially took care of her body and avoided harmful behaviors all to ensure the delivery of a healthy child she would not parent. And there were days, I’m sure, when she found her condition inconvenient, uncomfortable and emotionally difficult.
But from what my friends tell me, Ruth’s most pressing concern throughout her pregnancy had nothing to do with discomfort or doubt. Instead, it was the nagging feeling that her child would ever think — even for a fleeting moment — that the woman who gave him life did not love him as much as his adoptive parents.
It was a selfless worry quickly quelled by the grateful new parents.
The benevolence of Ruth’s choice was on my mind as I read about another woman who recently made quite a different decision regarding her unplanned pregnancy.
Several weeks ago, Emily Letts wrote an article published by Cosmopolitan magazine about her decision to have an abortion. Hers was a choice that according to the Guttmacher Institute was sadly not rare: 21 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion.
Presumably what made Emily’s experience worthy of ink in a popular women’s magazine was not her decision to have the abortion itself, but to film it and share it on the Internet.
You see Emily, an abortion counselor in New Jersey, an irony not lost on her, saw an opportunity in her “mistake.” And instead of terminating her pregnancy quietly, she wanted it to “inspire other women to stop the guilt” often experienced by those who choose abortion.
Emily expressed a firm desire to provide a “positive” abortion story that would give other women peace and certitude about their decisions.
But the peace and certitude that radiated from Ruth’s face as she held her son was never present in Emily’s three-minute abortion video.
Instead, I saw only contradictions and confusion.
For one, she describes the procedure — throughout which she awkwardly hums to herself — as “birth-like,” a comparison that seems conflicted.
In spite of Emily’s particular goal to fill the dearth of video content that shows “what [abortion] actually looks like,” there is no footage of the actual procedure. The video shows Emily from the waist up, perhaps because the actual procedure is one that should not be shared.
And a most peculiar admission from Emily is that not only does she still possess her sonogram photo, but also that it is the first item she would save were her apartment to catch fire.
Her comment suggests that in the depths of her subconscious she recognizes the mystery of her pregnancy and the profundity of the life that might have been. But it’s an avenue she doesn’t quite want to explore, perhaps because it would be too uncomfortable.
Emily’s abortion video concludes with a brief interview in which she remarks how good she feels about her decision. It’s an emotion that, unlike Ruth, she must state aloud as if to convince herself more than anyone of its truth.
Ruth, I’m sure, has had and will have difficult moments where her serenity will waiver. But she will never question whether the choice to give her baby life was the right one.
If conscience ever does intrude on Emily, she’ll have to contend not only with the gravity of her decision but also with her public effort to convince other pregnant women of its moral good. Her disturbing attempt to illustrate the positive side of abortion seems to expose a sense that deep down she knows there is no such thing.