Sunday, October 4, 2009

Choose life!

Moses exhorted the people: Choose life!  He was talking to that obstinate bunch who wandered in the desert for 40 years and were about to enter the Promised Land without him.  He was telling them to move forward into the future, where their lives were taking them.   It's a wise admonition, in its broadest sense. 

Today that phrase has gained a very different meaning.  It has been reduced to a partisan bumper sticker favored by conservatives who want to overturn Roe V. Wade.   It is the rallying cry of people who want to interfere in the most intimate, heart-rending decision of a woman's life.  It is often men who are the loudest proponents of the "anti-abortion" stance.  They are angry enough about it to tell lies about the nature of it, making up fear-inciting names like "partial birth abortion."  They get angry enough about it to go out and actually kill people over it. 

Take a deep breath, guys.  Everybody is anti-abortion.  Every pro-choice person is anti-abortion.  Nobody likes it.  Nobody is for it at all.  What the true-believer "anti-abortion " people are really for is controlling and imposing their religious beliefs on others regardless of the beliefs of the people they are wanting to control.  Most especially, it is about controlling women, which is why there are so many very militant and vocal men involved in that movement. 

Pregnancy is not a picnic in the meadow with little butterflies flitting around and sweet little bunnies cuddling up to the mommy.  She may be all aglow, but she is actually experiencing a life threatening condition in which a total stranger --an alien being! --inhabits her body and takes over her kidneys, her circulatory system and her bladder.  It grows inside her body until it crushes her innards and will not let her slump forward or lie in a comfortable position or sleep.  There is no guarantee she will not bleed out after giving birth, or get a horrendous infection that may kill her, of be overwhelmed by such a hormonal imbalance that she will go into a deep depression.  The hormonal changes during pregnancy are similar to going through a rapid adolescence in a period of 9 months.  Did I mention the shooting pains in the legs?  The muscle cramping?  The danger of gestational diabetes or of pre-eclampsia, in which the blood pressure suddenly shoots through the roof and can kill both mother and child?  We're not going to talk about the actual birth, in which the cervix, a small donut shaped gadget, suddenly pulls itself flat and opens from nothing to four full inches in diameter in a matter of hours, causing almost unbearable pain, so a child with a 14 inch head can pass though.

I'm going to repeat myself: it's life threatening, even for a healthy woman.

When I was 33 years old, I discovered I was pregnant with my fifth child.  I discovered this on the same day I discovered I had to divorce my husband.  I was utterly horrified.  My youngest child, Cheryl, was 6 years old.

Our wonderful Jewish GP, a man who, when the kids were little, would stop by with boxes of baby vitamins and toys for the kids, just to make sure we were OK, told me I would not live if I carried her to full term and that I must get an abortion.  I had what was called an "irritable heart," which would speed up and become erratic, and I also had high blood pressure.  He was afraid the stress of birth would precipitate a crisis with both these things. 

The Jewish belief is that life begins at birth, and a child which threatens the health of the mother is considered as one who is chasing her with intent to kill.  The life of the mother is the primary concern, especially if there are other children.  His concern was for my life.  I obediently went to the OB-GYN and told him what my doctor had told me.  We scheduled a date for the abortion.

I went home and lay down on the bed and cried my heart out.  Our loving old mother dog, Frieda, came up and put her head on my chest and looked up at me with such compassionate eyes, she really touched my heart.  I knew then I couldn't go through with it.  I called the OB/GYN and told him how I felt.  He said he would just as soon deliver me a healthy baby. 

My doctor was supposed to have scheduled a c-section but hadn't taken me seriously when I said "this is my fifth child and I am always two weeks early."  Two weeks early to the day, still unscheduled, I went into labor.  I took a bus to Mt. Zion Hospital, angering the baby's godfather, a wonderful Scotsman named Norman Crosbie (alias Brother Bede, SSF), because he had wanted to take me and be there for the delivery.  I hadn't wanted to disturb him at 6AM.  In I went and as the procedure progressed, my pulse went erratically over 180  and my blood pressure shot up.  "What did your doctor say he was afraid would happen?" he asked.  I told him, and he said, "Well, he was right."  I have never been so terrified. 

Nevertheless, Jennifer was born healthy and we both survived none the worse for the wear and she now has three children of her own.  I am very glad the old dog reassured me and the OB/GYN agreed to go through with it and I did survive it, despite the near miss at the end.  A miss is as good as a mile, I always say. 

But the point is, it was my choice.  I made the decision myself.  The Catholic church did not decide it for me.  Congress didn't decide it for me.  The courts didn't decide it for me.  My decision went against the religious beliefs of my doctors.  What if they had been the majority who had the power to dictate what mothers had to do?  A Jew would never do that, as witness my OB/GYN's willingness to support my decision which was contrary to his own beliefs.  No one has a right to impose their religion on another in such a circumstance.  No one has a right to make that decision except the mother herself.  Not even the father, I think, has a right to decide that kind of life or death issue.  The family has a right to weigh in on it, but in the end, it is the decision of the person whose body and life are put at risk. 

Choose life, whatever that means for you.  Don't let it be a bumper sticker sentiment.  Move forward into your life.  Keep dancing onward.

 photo credit: Laura Hoffman (the "baby" and me, 37 years later...)


  1. Wow, I just read this post a couple of days ago, and I'm still thinking about it. Great High Holidays post, and great picture too!

  2. God bless Google, I googled for Norman Crosbie Brother Bede today and your blog was the only listing. Bede was very important to me as a teenager many many years ago. I knew him at Little Portion Friary and visited him also at San Damiano Friary the Summer of 1972. I heard several years ago that he passed in the 1990's and that he did become a priest. I would appreciate it so much if you could fill in some details in the later years about him for me. Thanks.

    1. Roger, I just saw your comment all this time later. Bede was one of a kind. Loved him. I was a Third order Franciscan and we hung out together a lot when he was at San Damiano. He became a priest and later left SSF, I think because he was ill. He was then stationed at a parish in Apple Valley, CA where he and my Aunt Mary connected -- neither of us knew the connection until after he died. She loved him, too. How could you not? He contracted the dreaded plague somewhere along the way, and that's what got him. He lived with the former Br. Phillip and Sr. Ruth at a house of hospitality they ran when he got too sick to serve as a priest anymore. He had wonderful plans for dying -- once he decided he wanted to die at the top of a giant escalator in a shopping mall in downtown SF -- he envisioned falling gently down all three stories and taking out all the shoppers as he went. Another fantasy was dying in the middle of the top row of the balcony at the SF Opera House during a performance so they would have a terrible time getting him out. When he did die, he was such a wisp of himself, he would not have knocked down a single shopper or been a burden to carry out of the opera house, even from the upper balcony. I received the Minister General's award from SSF when Bede/Norman was in his final days and it was awarded in a grand ceremony at a high Evensong at Grace Cathedral. There were three recipients, me, the Bishop of CA and Sister Ruth. There was a grand catered dinner afterward. I heard a deep raspy voice speaking to me from the shadows behind me -- we were seated in the choir at the cathedral -- and when I turned around, it was Bede, wearing a Franciscan habit with the cowl up. He was peering out of the darkness in that hood and it was too wonderful. He was cadaverously thin, but his spirit was on fire. His irreverence was too wonderful. He never lost that humor or that spark, even to the end. I'm so glad he was part of my life! I know you feel the same way.