Sunday, September 6, 2020

What Pregnancy Taught Me About Being Pro-Choice

An ultrasound at 6 weeks pregnant. Image source.
I recently announced the birth of my perfect son, Square Root. He is completely amazing and wonderful.

The pregnancy, however, totally sucked.

I was pro-choice before, and now I am EVEN MORE PRO-CHOICE. But in a different way than I used to be. Now my views are based on my actual experience with pregnancy, rather than political arguments I read somewhere.

1. Pregnancy is HARD

Wow, so before I got pregnant, I had ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE what I was getting into. My idea of pregnancy was, your belly grows big, and... that's pretty much it. I bought prenatal vitamins, got my good health insurance plan that covers pregnancy (which is no small task when you're an immigrant shopping around for individual health insurance plans) and thought I was ready. LOLOLOLOLOL.

Then came the morning sickness. Somewhere around week 7 of the pregnancy, my whole life became an endless parade of nausea and gagging and throwing up. Getting up in the middle of the night, every night, to throw up. Throwing up in the morning before breakfast. Throwing up if I waited too long to eat. Throwing up after dinner for no discernible reason.

I definitely threw up at least 100 times, during this pregnancy.

And suddenly there were a whole ton of foods that I could not stand to think about, let alone to smell or eat. Suddenly, it became extremely difficult to find food that I could eat.

And there I am in the first trimester, trying to work a full-time job when I just feel like throwing up all the time, talking to my manager, trying to cobble together some combination of sick days, working from home, and coming in late, so I can get through the first trimester. I'm lucky I have a job with enough flexibility that we were able to make it work.

I was pro-choice before, but wow after all that throwing up, I am EVEN MORE PRO-CHOICE. Nobody should EVER have to go through all that if they don't want to. I felt so sick, so terrible, and my husband and I kept reassuring each other that it would be worth it, because we want a baby so much. But WOW, if you didn't want a baby, or if you didn't want to be pregnant, for ANY REASON, then DEFINITELY don't put yourself through all this. 0/10 do not recommend.

(I'd like to make a disclaimer here- I think for me, the morning sickness was worse than usual. So if you're thinking of getting pregnant, don't let me discourage you. Probably for you it won't be this bad.)

Then in the second trimester, the heartburn started. Oh, and also I still had morning sickness in the second trimester- even though apparently it's supposed to stop at the end of the first trimester. Nope, mine didn't stop, it just got a lot better, so I only threw up once per day, instead of, like, whenever. But then the heartburn started. Every evening I had THE WORST heartburn. I had to get an American friend to bring Tums to China for me.

And I could go on and on about all the wild symptoms and body changes that happen during pregnancy. And on top of that, there's the actual birth, which a lot of people say is the worst pain ever. And in the US, somewhere around 30% of births are by C-section, which is a MAJOR SURGERY and can affect future pregnancies.

"Pro-life" ideology talks about pregnancy as if it's no big deal. As if it's totally reasonable to expect people to go through all this suffering just because they have an unplanned pregnancy. They say women are having abortions "for convenience"- as if throwing up 100 times and experiencing all these symptoms and problems for 9 months and then having painful contractions and maybe a major abdominal surgery is simply an "inconvenience."

Back when my morning sickness started, I wanted a baby so much, but I didn't have a baby yet. I had an embryo. And throughout the whole pregnancy, I was shocked at the sheer amount of work I constantly had to do to turn that embryo into a baby that's able to breathe on its own. In order to make Square Root, I had to throw up over 100 times. I had to- it couldn't have been anyone else. If he was going to grow into a baby who could live outside of my body, it would require me- Perfect Number- to go through all this suffering. And I did it because I really really wanted a baby. And I love him.

But WOW, "pro-life" people talk about how a fertilized egg just "develops naturally" into a baby if it's in a uterus. Like it's no big deal, like it just simply happens. Umm, no. It totally takes over the pregnant person's life. It causes all these awful symptoms.

"Pro-life" people say a fertilized egg is already a baby, already a person. Well, I wish it was- I wish it was already capable of surviving outside my body. That kind of language discounts all the work I did to develop Square Root into a whole baby with functional organs. I suffered for nine freaking months to give him what he needed to get a good start on life. He didn't already have that, at the moment of conception. I worked hard (and barfed a hundred times) to make it happen.

2. On using the word "baby"

So Hendrix and I went to our first prenatal appointment when I was 6 weeks pregnant. I had an ultrasound. We saw a little white blob on the screen and we said "it's our baby!" and I loved that baby already.

But then I thought, I'm not supposed to use the word "baby" because I am pro-choice. "Pro-life" people call it a baby, but pro-choice people call it a fetus and believe that "life begins at birth." ... Umm, actually, no, that's not what pro-choice people believe.

"Pro-life" advocates are so incredibly hung-up on "life begins at conception"- and so they imagine that pro-choice people believe "life begins at birth" and that the unborn baby has no value at all before birth. And ... I guess subconsciously I sort of still bought into some of this "pro-life" ideology; I thought that since I am pro-choice, I shouldn't use the word "baby" until it's born. I shouldn't think of it as a baby.

Well, that's ridiculous. I'm calling it a baby because it's going to be our baby eventually, and we're super excited for that. We can't wait; we want a baby so much.

Also, I realized that before I got pregnant, most of my opinions about pregnancy came directly from the abortion debate, not from the day-to-day reality of being pregnant. So there were times where my friends would use certain language to talk about my pregnancy, and my first thought was "are you trying to make some kind of 'pro-life' point?" Like when people would say "wow, is it weird having a person inside you?" ... the word "person" is so incredibly politically-charged in the context of the abortion debate. But I realized that no, people weren't "trying to make some kind of 'pro-life' point." They were just congratulating me and showing their support.

And at all the doctor's appointments, all the childbirth classes, all the other pregnant women I met- all of them use the word "baby" to talk about the fetus or embryo. Nobody was like "we need to call it a FETUS because it's NOT A BABY YET and also I am SO PRO-CHOICE." Nobody mentioned abortion or "pro-life" vs pro-choice at all, actually- because people who come to prenatal doctor's appointments and childbirth classes have already decided to have the baby. (I think maybe once or twice I heard someone mention that as a pregnant person you could choose to test for various problems or not, and maybe you make that decision based on whether you'd want to abort in the event that your baby does have that problem. But that was it- that was the only time anything remotely related to abortion was mentioned.)

So I discovered that the language I use to talk about pregnancy wasn't right- it was based on a "pro-life" strawman of what pro-choice people supposedly believe. (Honestly I'm still not sure about the word "unborn" though- is that a word only "pro-life" people use? Should I not use it? But like, sometimes I wanted to say "my unborn baby" and I couldn't really find another term that worked.)

3. Bodily autonomy is FOR REAL

So back when I was "pro-life," it seemed pretty pathetic to me when pro-choice people talked about bodily autonomy. I thought, on the one side, you have A BABY'S LIFE, and on the other side, you have "I want the right to make choices about my own body," which seemed pretty abstract and unimportant to me.

I remember seeing images like this, and nodding along because I thought it was an airtight argument:

Image says "For the logic-impaired:" then a silhouette of a pregnant woman. The woman is labelled as "Your body" and the fetus inside is labelled as "Someone else's body." Then the text: "NOT your body. NOT your choice. Abortion is murder." Image source.
Yes, I heard pro-choice people talking about "my body, my choice," and I thought it was nonsensical because it's not about your body at all, it's about the "unborn baby." And how on earth could you weight a BABY'S LIFE against an abstract concept like "choice" or "reproductive rights" and decide those things were more important than A LIFE?

The above image labels "your body" and "someone else's body" as if there's a clear and obvious separation. Well let me tell you, the WHOLE ENTIRE MEANING of pregnancy is that the pregnant person and the baby-to-be are connected. The baby/embryo/fetus relies on the pregnant person for the nutrients and oxygen it needs to live and grow. And the pregnancy causes huge changes throughout the pregnant person's ENTIRE BODY. It's not just "their belly grows big." IT'S THE WHOLE BODY. Swelling feet and hands. Nausea, vomiting, heartburn. The growing uterus pushes other organs up, and that can be painful, and it reduces lung capacity. The amount of blood in the body increases by about 50% and the heart has to work harder. Back pain. Breasts grow bigger because of the hormones. And you experience all sorts of emotions because of the hormones.

It's not something you can neatly divide into "your body" and "someone else's body."

I remember feeling sick, feeling nauseous, feeling tired, feeling weird pains in different places every day, and thinking "I want my body back." I was wrong about thinking "bodily autonomy" was just some silly meaningless thing. It's not some theoretical abstract concept; it's about me feeling sick all the time. It's about me not being able to go to work. It's about back pain and gaining weight and my fingers swelling so I can't wear my wedding ring any more.

4. My *feeling* is it's not good to have an abortion in the 2nd or 3rd trimester

At about 12 weeks, we had another ultrasound. We saw that our baby had arms and legs, and they were moving! I was so surprised; I had no idea the baby would be able to move while still inside my body.

And sometime around 18 weeks, I started to feel his movements. And they just kept getting stronger and stronger as he continued to grow, throughout the whole pregnancy.

When I started to feel him moving more and more often, I thought, "Great! It moves now! I'm finished making this baby! I did it!" But HAHAHAHAHAHA actually no that wasn't true at all; I was only halfway done with the pregnancy. Still 4-5 more months to go.

And as I continued to feel him moving every day, it made me feel more and more connected with my baby. I thought "oh our baby will be so active when it is born." Felt like I was sort of getting to know his personality, a little bit.

So because of this, I now *feel* like it's not good to have an abortion once you're past the point in the pregnancy where the baby has arms and legs that move. (So, somewhere around the start of the second trimester, about 13 weeks.) I realize, though, that this is just my feeling based on what it looked like on the ultrasound or felt like when it was kicking me, and maybe in reality it would make more sense to research when a fetus has brain activity, or when it can feel pain.

So I would advise that if you want to have an abortion, you should do it as soon as possible, because the more developed it is, the more sad it is to end its life. (And in fact, yes, this is how abortion works in reality: about 90% of abortions are performed at or before 13 weeks, and 99% at or before 20 weeks. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.) But, MOST IMPORTANTLY, I would NOT want to make a law about this, because in reality there are always cases where people need abortions but weren't able to get one in the first trimester. Maybe they didn't know they were pregnant, maybe they couldn't access abortion because of financial or logistical issues, maybe it was a wanted pregnancy but then some terrible health problem came up.

Most people who have an abortion DO get it sometime in the first trimester. And, of course they do- if you don't want to be pregnant, and you are having morning sickness or other unpleasant symptoms, wouldn't you want to stop all that as soon as you can?

But my point is, back when I only thought of pregnancy in terms of the abortion debate, I never thought about the stages of development the fetus goes through, and how it would be more moral to have the abortion earlier. I thought, for "pro-life" people, they believe it's a full person with rights that override the pregnant person's rights, right from the moment of conception. And for pro-choice people, they believe abortion should be accessible any time at all up until the moment of birth. (Well, these are the ends of the spectrum, but of course a lot of people's views fall somewhere in between.) So I wasn't aware of anybody talking about how incredibly different a fertilized egg is from an 8-month fetus.

I wouldn't want to make a law about it. Or rather, I would support a law made by actual doctors who actually understand pregnancy. Not a one-size-fits-all law made by a bunch of cis men.

5. When we think of "pregnant women" the image that comes to mind is NOT AT ALL representative of who is getting abortions

Another thing I've learned, again related to my complete cluelessness about pregnancy, is that my idea of what pregnancy looks like was totally wrong. Typically, when asked to imagine a pregnant women, people would imagine someone with a huge, obvious baby bump. Indeed, if you do an image search for "pregnant woman", that's what you see. But these images aren't representative of what "a pregnant woman" looks like- they show what a pregnant woman in the third trimester looks like.

Instead, try an image search for "6 weeks pregnant bump." You get a bunch of results showing smiling women proudly posing for a baby bump photo to share on facebook. You can barely see any bump at all; you certainly wouldn't guess they were pregnant. But they are. This is what "pregnant women" look like, just as much as that image in your head of giant baby bump is "what pregnant women look like."

Go ahead and search "12 weeks pregnant bump" and "20 weeks pregnant bump" too. This is what pregnant women look like. Remember, 90% of abortions happen at or before 13 weeks, and 99% before 20 weeks. And also, the women sharing their baby bump photos on social media are very proud of their pregnancies and trying to emphasize the size of the bump as much as they can. But if you didn't want anyone to know you were pregnant, you could easily hide it at that stage.

(A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks- you can search "40 weeks pregnant bump" to see that. Hmm, that looks more like what everyone imagines when they think of "a pregnant woman", doesn't it?)

So there I was, in the first trimester, riding the subway in Shanghai, feeling nauseous and exhausted and wanting to sit down, and everybody knows you're supposed to give up your seats for pregnant women, but nobody on the subway could see I was pregnant. I didn't "look like" a pregnant woman. I used some tricks like wearing tighter clothes to emphasize my baby bump, rubbing my belly and groaning, and carrying around the book "What to Expect When You're Expecting" to try to get people to notice. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

Also, when I attended childbirth classes and met other pregnant women, it was so surprising to me how the size of everyone's baby bump was so different. We would ask each other "how many weeks are you?" and often my baby bump looked bigger and more obvious than someone who's farther along in their pregnancy, just because of the fact that everyone's body is different. A lot of it also depends on the clothes you wear. I met people who were in the third trimester and I couldn't tell by looking that they were pregnant at all.

My point is, when you picture "a pregnant woman" and the image that comes to mind is someone with a huge obvious baby bump, that's not what most pregnant women actually look like. Maybe 30% look like that. And that's DEFINITELY not what people who get abortions look like, because the vast majority of abortions happen in the first trimester.

The "pro-life" movement is EXTREMELY DISHONEST about this. I knew they were dishonest before, but wow, now that I actually have experience with being pregnant without "looking pregnant", and meeting other pregnant people who didn't look very pregnant, I'm even more angry about the images that "pro-life" people use. Images of women and fetuses in the third trimester of pregnancy. Ultrasounds from the second or third trimester, trying to show you LOOK IT'S A BABY. Yes, as I said in point 4, by the second and third trimester, the baby has developed enough that abortion would be immoral. (But pregnant people KNOW THAT and I trust that if they decide they need an abortion anyway, it's because they have a good reason, so yes they should definitely have access to abortion.) By using images like that, the "pro-life" movement completely misrepresents what abortion is. Yes, I agree it would be bad to kill a third-trimester fetus. But people don't do that.


Enduring a whole pregnancy has definitely changed my beliefs about abortion. I was pro-choice before, and now I am EVEN MORE PRO-CHOICE. Now it's not just abstract and theoretical; I have actual lived experience. Now I know how hard pregnancy is, and I understand the importance of "my body, my choice" in a way I never did before. And I've learned about how the baby develops during the 40 weeks of pregnancy, how I could feel him moving and feel connected to him because of that, and so it's good that abortion during the third trimester is extremely rare.


Why I Am Pro-Choice

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