Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Our bodies, other people's bodies. And birthdays!

birthday, children, choice, abortion

Strolling down the street, my daughter was stopped by an abortion protester. “Are you going to the clinic today?” he demanded as he launched his accusatory diatribe.

“Um, actually, I’m going to the art museum,” she answered. “He looked more offended than if I had answered yes to his original question.”

This splendid (and did you notice, courteous?) young woman turns 22 today, along with her twin. So I am thinking about the miracles my children are and about the twists and turns before they came into the world, complicating and enriching life beyond my imaginings.

Her story reminded me of another election season spring day. On my way to a rally another man like the one who stopped Liz stopped me, screaming and cursing, calling me a slut and an aborter. I’m not sure why he picked me out of the crowd. After all, I’m a rather ordinary looking woman, modestly dressed, and even then over 50.  And I had all my babies in line behind me: this young woman, her brother George, and their older sister Annie.

I’ve never had an abortion. I was married 10 years before my first child was born, and she with the help of medicine. Clomid, a common fertility drug, helped to overcome the elegantly named ovulation timing disorder: luteal phase defect. 

Between Annie and twins were two miscarriages. For years I saw two little heads at my table that no one else could see, those babies lost to all but my dreams. And then came the twins. Two lost, two gained. There was a sort of balance there.

People with choice in the matter have children for all sorts of reasons, most of them selfish. I was no different. There was so much love in my life then that I needed more people to share it with.

Still, as I told my mother when I rushed from the doctor’s office to her house to tell her I was pregnant with twins, I met the ultrasound tech’s news with an expletive. Shit! What am I going to do with two babies?! We had enough money to have one more child, but two? That wasn’t in the plans.

The pregnancy was physically uneventful, emotionally a little turbulent. The doctor ran prenatal tests I’d told him not to run and suspected that one baby had Down syndrome. He offered a selective abortion. I refused. At age 40, this was probably my last chance. I’d gone through too much to get pregnant, and that’s why I didn’t want the alpha-fetoprotein test he did without my consent. Why get information you don’t plan to act on?

I was careful about birth control and I was lucky. Still, there were times when I would have had an abortion, had I gotten pregnant, and for no other reason than inability to care for a child and lack of desire to have a baby then. But not at this time. Choice, means, and circumstance aligned so I could welcome new life and be responsible for it.

The twins were born more or less conventionally. George, who we knew more about as he was always strutting and preening for the ultrasound screen tests, came out crying and peeing. Liz, who was glad at last to have the womb to herself, was in no hurry to leave and had to be persuaded out, butt end first, with forceps. She was, the neonatologist assured me, perfect. A baby with Down syndrome is a perfect baby, too, but the doctor meant perfect in the conventional perfect baby way.

That was just the beginning, of course. Having three children in a downshifting economy strained our resources in all the ways you count resources.  So when I hear the rising harsh voices damning people who find themselves beyond their emotional and financial means, I wonder whether life has never thrown them a curveball. Or something worse.

Or something better. These children, now adults: how wonderful they are. Smart, creative, kind, funny, with integrity and beauty. What a privilege to be a part of their lives.  How fortunate I feel to be the cracked-and-glued-back-together vessel that brought them into this world.

And how I pray they’ll be able to have all the choices I had. The choice to use medicine's tools or not. To have children or not. To make those reproductive choices with good and loving partners, those medical decisions with good and competent health providers.

(But if you are reading this, Children, at least one of you had better decide to have children. Just sayin'. . .)

And how I hope that at least on their birthday, they can walk down the street on a spring day and have strangers smile and say “good morning.” No more, and no less.


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