It used to embarrass my children and now merely amuses them that as their birthdays approach, I find myself reviewing their births in remarkable detail through small hour-by-hour glimpses. I relive my apprehensions as birth approached, the intense hours of labor, the superb nursing staff, my brilliant husband and advocate, and the joy at holding our babies.
For our son, whose labor and birth took 40 hours, I also devote a little time to remembering the overbearing ob-gyn whose services were forced on us by hospital policy and who tried every strategy he knew to force me to have a cesarean section birth, unsuccessfully and unnecessarily, as it turned out.
For our daughter, there's another dimension; her birthday — she turned 18 last week — coincides closely with the anniversary of the abortion I had several years prior when birth control failed. I associate my joy at her birth with the gratitude that it was a chosen one. Sometimes I think about the miscarriage I had the year before our son was born; though I grieved at having miscarried, I was grateful that it happened early enough that it wasn't traumatic and understood that it was nature's way of selecting out unhealthy fetuses.
This year, these ruminations were augmented by the screaming debates about "personhood" bills, giving embryos and fetuses "all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents." In past anti-abortion debates, I've resisted descriptions like "a war on women"; I have friends who oppose abortion and are strong pacifists. But the new personhood agenda is fundamentally dangerous to women, while destabilizing legal and medical precedents.
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When our son was born, the aggressive ob-gyn turned out to have the highest C-section rate in the region; I attributed this to his fear of malpractice suits combined with a nasty misogyny, if his hostile manner was any indication. In some states, women have actually been tied down and forced to have C-sections because a doctor determined that it was safest for the baby. Women having stillbirths not only must agonize and grieve their loss; under personhood laws they could face possible charges of homicide, if someone determines that they erred in self-care during pregnancy. In at least one case, an ill woman was forced to have a C-section because the hospital determined that her baby's needs outweighed her own, and both died.
Pregnancy and childbirth have always been dangerous, both for mothers and fetuses, and doctors and midwives have had their hands full working to optimize outcomes for all. What they don't need are prescriptions determined by poorly thought-out laws.
One doesn't have to experience abuse to understand it, but in this case, my own experiences make these personhood bills very personal. Obviously, my abortion would have been illegal, and I would have been forced to give birth to a child I could not properly care for then. Had I not given birth successfully to our son through vaginal birth, I could have been charged with harming or killing a fetus. Had my miscarriage happened later, I could have been accused of endangering the fetus. My many friends who chose to have a vaginal birth after an earlier C-section would have had to weigh legal liability against all the other factors.
Pregnancy and childbirth carry enough challenges as it is. It is deeply distressing that presidential candidates have signed a pledge to support the deeply invasive definition of personhood. Don't conservatives say they want less government interference in our lives?