***Trigger warning: The following post covers the topic of abortion.
Please be aware of this while reading and sharing.***
** It also comes with some book spoilers too.**
I am part of a book club. Really, who isn't these days?
We are a bunch of women from all walks of life that meet once every 6-8 weeks and drink wine and eat chocolate and cheese and yes, we even discuss books!
This past week was Book Club Week and I was especially looking forward to it, because, 1) I really needed a night out and said wine and chocolate and 2) I actually finished this month's book choice a whole week ahead of time.
The book was Caitlin Moran's half autobiography, half feminist manifesto, "How to be a Woman". And if you haven't read it already, then I highly recommend you get yourself in the queue for the e-book from your local library ASAP! (See what I did there? Talking like a Brit. QUEUE!)
I am not going to lie, I really LOVED this book. It has already inspired this post a few weeks ago and after the many discussions had at book club last week, I can't help but write even more.
Once we had all settled in with our wine and chocolate and a hand-full of mini Licorice Allsorts (SCORE!!), it was time to get the formal discussion part of the night underway. I wasn't surprised that the first question, "Do you consider yourself a feminist?", caused some in the room to hesitate with an answer. I think the definition of feminism (we had the 39-page Wikipedia print out) has undergone so many waves and permutations that most women are confused by its meaning and as such find it hard identifying with it as part of who they are. This was a good a place as any to get the discussion going and go it did!
And while the topic of feminism and it's definition generated a lot of good idea sharing and clarification for some, the one chapter that got the most air time and perhaps evoked the most emotion in all of us, was Caitlin's very candid, brutally honest chapter on abortion.
I had to read this chapter twice to really absorb it and to understand what she was trying to say in it. It is a touchy subject, no matter how you frame it and Caitlin forced me to reexamine my views on the subject from all angles. All I could think of afterwards was how much respect I had for this woman. Caitlin writes that in the few minutes after she learns of the pregnancy, the minutes that pass in which she imagines this baby, this boy's whole life, she says:
"I can't have you," I tell him sadly. "The world will fall in if I have you."
She goes on to describe her abortion in detail and also how easy this decision was for her to make. Some in my group saw this as narcissistic and selfish, and I would suspect they thought it very unmotherly of her. Everyone around the room claimed to be pro-choice, but a lot of them had a very hard time with the way that she described her unborn child, the abortion itself, and the speed with which Caitlin made her choice to have one.
But I got it.
And when I was reading this chapter all I could think about was two years ago, when B and I were discussing whether or not to have another child (also known as me insisting that I "had a feeling that I wasn't done" and him telling me that he didn't have it in him again), HE got it too. Way before I did.
I believe that as mothers, we are programmed (and to varying extents, expected) to give and give and give. We have a child and all of a sudden the weight of the world is literally on our shoulders and God forbid you have an unmotherly thought in your mind or do something that does not fully acknowledge you as the self-sacrificing martyr that you somehow have now become. Sometimes we lose sight of how much of ourselves we are constantly giving. That for some it gets to the point that we are no longer happy, no longer fulfilled, feeling resentment, suffering in silence from anxiety and depression and just going through the motions of our lives. Why do we do this to ourselves? There is no prize for who sacrificed the most, who is the most giving, who loses themselves the most in this gig.
So why on earth would we ever tell a woman that all zygotes conceived must be born, or that she should not have that choice, especially if it indeed does mean that her world will fall in?
One of the mamas in our club said that the reason she wanted to have three children was because she wanted that sense of happy chaos in her family and not just the easiness of two kids. I understood what she meant, but her comments gave me pause and got me thinking more about this.
Who decides what level of chaos is "happy" for any family?
For some that may be three children, for others it is one child, for others still it may be 5 or 6, or if you are the Duggars it is 20+. Whatever your number is, what is important is that YOU know what that threshold is, that you know your capacity for love, for giving, for, as Caitlin so aptly puts it, "...being life support to someone who weeps for me and rages against me..." Because when it comes down to it, no matter how much we are told that it is, that capacity is NOT without its limits and without sacrificing something in return.
I left this chapter with a new understanding of what pro-choice means to me. It is not just about choosing to have an abortion or not, it is about choosing a life that is versus a life that may be. I have a deep respect for Caitlin and all other women like her, who are strong enough to make a choice that says, "THIS. This is all the family that I WANT, all that I NEED and I simply can not do more than this." Her words and her story and her ease with which she made her decision, a decision based on her threshold for keeping her world together, keeping herself whole and sane, and made with no guilt or shame, made it very clear to me that so many of our choices in life (and especially in motherhood) are not made like that.
Last week Annie at Phd in Parenting took a closer look at the issue of choice and why it is seen as stalling feminism these days. The one line in her post that struck me the most was when she said,
"Shame is a barrier to social change, in feminism and in many other spaces."
And this is what was bothering me that night at book club. I was in the minority in my feelings about Caitlin's chapter and opinions on abortion and I couldn't understand why. Then I read Annie's post and it hit me, the other women in the room did not feel that Caitlin showed enough shame or guilt about her decision. That she was too flippant about it. That is was callous of her to describe this child and imagine his life, knowing full well that he was never to be born. The problem was that everyone was thinking about the potential child in this situation and not the ACTUAL WOMAN LIVING HER LIFE RIGHT NOW, who showed no shame in her decision and made it with a certainty that made a lot of people uncomfortable.
And then, two more very important questions and issues arose for me that night that I am realizing are quite complex and quite possibly rooted in some deep, deep patriarchy.
Why do we always question (and judge) the motives of a woman's decisions when it comes to her body and those she brings forth from it?
Why are decisions made out of love (and knowledge) of ourselves as women and mothers almost always seen as inherently selfish?
I would love to hear what you have to say on this.