I am a better parent because I chose to become a parent.
When I was eight months pregnant, I chanced upon a pro-choice rally in downtown Seattle. A small group was blocking traffic, holding signs depicting women who had died because they lacked access to safe abortion services. I was hot and grumpy and desperately craving a cupcake, but I had to stop. A few men in the crowd were hurling abuse at the demonstrators, to the tired tune of “Close your legs!” and “Abortion is murder!” I started a campaign of vigorous counter-heckling, loudly asserting my support for abortion rights. Eventually, the cops showed up. I raised my fist in solidarity, applauded, and shouted, “thank you!” to the protesters as they were being led away in handcuffs.
As I turned to go, a guy wearing a shiny purple shirt and a self-satisfied smirk looked me up and down. “Are you really pregnant?” he asked. I was too shocked for a witty comeback; an indignant “Of course!” was all I could manage. “You never know,” he replied. “You could be a plant.”
The guy was clearly a dolt, or trying to provoke me, or both. His bizarre question, however, tidily illustrates a key assumption of the anti-choice movement: that people who are pro-choice are anti-baby. But just because someone believes that people should have the right to end their pregnancies doesn’t mean they’re obliged to get an abortion if they themselves become pregnant. And falling in love with my son—and by extension, babies in general—only further cemented my conviction that abortion should be available on demand, for any reason.
My own pregnancy was unplanned. When two methods of birth control failed to prevent an embryo from taking up residence in my uterus, my life was thrown into chaos. I had a job that I loved, but the exhaustion and hormonal turmoil of early pregnancy made my work suffer. I was no longer in a relationship with the guy who got me pregnant. The long darkness of Seattle winter had set in, but the judicious self-medication that usually prevented me from succumbing to the gooey, grey tentacles of seasonal depression was suddenly unavailable to me.
When I started to think that maybe I might want a baby, and that this might be my only chance—past health issues had indicated infertility—I agonized over the moral and practical implications of continuing my pregnancy. I made an appointment to get an abortion. Then I canceled the appointment. I talked to my friends, my parents, my co-workers, and the embryo’s father. I cried a lot. In the end, despite the inauspicious timing and my prior conviction that I would never parent biological children, I decided to accept the curveball the universe had thrown me and become a mother.
As I became ever more pregnant, crushing fatigue and depression gave way to sciatica, searing heartburn, intense pelvic pain, and unremitting commentary and conjecture from friends and strangers alike. I was excited when I started to feel the gentle flutters of my fetus moving; when he grew to be the size of a house cat, kicking the shit out of my ribs and jabbing at my cervix, it wasn’t so cute. I felt ungainly and awkward and vulnerable. And despite my weirdly confident attitude toward giving birth, I was quickly disabused of the notion that my high pain tolerance and self-perceived toughness would be of help: Labor was the most excruciating experience of my life.
In spite of all that, experiencing pregnancy and birth enriched my life. I even look back on it (parts of it, at least) with fondness. I know my ability to weather the rigors of pregnancy and motherhood has been a direct result of the fact that abortion was a readily accessible option. I had chosen to grow a human inside of me, fully aware that my choice would result in serious discomfort and changes to my body.
Each day that I spend caring for my child rather than pursuing my pre-baby interests and dreams, wistful “what-ifs” and nascent resentments quickly evaporate when I remember that I freely chose this path. I am a better parent because I chose to become a parent. What’s more, I feel that it was a good choice: I have a loving family, loyal friends, and a supportive co-parent in my baby’s father. I have enough money to care for my child, stable housing, and, thanks to Medicaid, health care for my son and me. If my circumstances hadn’t been so favorable, I might have chosen differently. And had carrying a baby to term been anything other than a carefully considered act of personal agency, I suspect that the suffering would outweigh the joy.
The understanding that no one should have to undergo the pain, the loss of bodily autonomy, and the extreme change in circumstances inherent in pregnancy, birth, and parenthood against their will has always been at the basis of my pro-choice convictions. But having a baby—experiencing a love of previously unimaginable intensity—added another, very personal, dimension to my beliefs.
Never having been a “baby person,” I considered myself immune to the charms of what I saw as drooling, squawking poop machines, and was concerned that I wouldn’t feel a connection with mine. I needn’t have worried: when I held my son to my breast, his perfection, and my love for him, struck me with brain-scrambling force. Inextricable from this epiphany was a tremendous heaviness, a sickening awareness of his vulnerability. I saw how easy it would be to harm him, how desperately dependent he was. I recalled every baby-related horror story I’d ever heard, and my fierce drive to protect and nurture my own baby was matched by grief for all of the equally valuable little ones who aren’t so lucky. And I knew—knew—that for a baby to come into the world unwanted and uncared-for is a grievous wrong.
The preciousness of babies is a constant refrain in anti-abortion rhetoric—but the focus is almost entirely on making sure they’re born. When holding forth on the value of human life, anti-choice activists largely ignore domestic violence and child abuse, and access to healthcare and education. Most importantly, the staggering inequality that consigns many young people to lives drastically lacking in opportunity. The politicians who pander to this demographic by opposing safe, legal abortion are busy cutting the programs and services that help to ensure that all babies can thrive. For the anti-abortion movement, the quality of the life they purport to hold sacred is a non-issue.
The claim that an immature fetus with an extremely limited range of experience and sensation is morally equivalent to a breathing, crying, cooing human infant had always struck me as disingenuous.
But now that I have a baby, it seems nothing short of outrageous.
The idea that life must be preserved as a good in and of itself, no matter what the cost—that even the greatest life suffering imaginable is preferable to death—is similarly offensive. A fetus is not a baby. And for a completely innocent being that lacks self-awareness—whose only reality is immediate sensation, and who absolutely requires constant, gentle attention—neglect and abuse is much worse than non-existence.
Of course, access to abortion does not preclude every instance of child abuse and neglect. People who want to become parents sometimes hurt their children and people who don’t want to become parents often turn out to be competent and loving caregivers. But bringing a new person into the world sensitized me to the extreme value and fragility of infants, to the incredible degree of sacrifice, patience, and work required to raise a child with the gentleness that they deserve.
I already knew that legal abortion is essential to women’s health, autonomy, and dignity. Having a baby convinced me that it can also promote the sanctity of life.
Emily Klein is a writer and artist who holds a B.A. in cultural anthropology, a distinction that has qualified her to work in many fine restaurants and live with her parents. When not nursing her son or managing his waste, she spends her time cooking, thinking about the intersection of culture and the body, and giving herself ridiculous haircuts.
This originally appeared on The Establishment. Republished here with permission.