I am not supposed to be. I was born with this contextual information, just like being a girl. I don’t remember anyone telling me I am a female or explaining what that means, rather it is just a condition that has always existed and that I have always known and accepted. Indeed, today I embrace my womanness. Similarly, no one ever told me I am not supposed to be, but that knowledge has always existed. Similar to being female, the condition of being does not change, so I embrace being, too.
After producing two children together, along with a few prior to their union, my parents had all the children they ever wanted. Both were committed to this decision permanently. Then biology intervened and planted a few more sprouting cells inside Mom, against her intentions. Against Dad’s intentions as well. Prior to 1973, removing the new cluster of cells safely would have been extremely complicated and risky, especially in their tiny, rural town a full two-hour drive from an adequate supply of competent medical providers. And so I was. I am now.
I do not know if I would be if safe and legal abortions had been available in our rural community when Mom’s body robbed her own to grow a cluster of dividing cells for the last time. I have never asked, because the answer does not matter. Like the launch of a nuclear weapon, once made, the decision to allow a cluster of cells the opportunity to develop cannot be reversed. That cluster of cells seized the opportunity and now I am. This condition will not change in my lifetime.
Asking such an existential question of a parent can never produce an honest answer for children born in the U.S. before 1973. The retrospective view amidst evolving circumstances and events that cannot be undone or replayed undoubtedly changes the answer from one moment to the next. Ultimately, in a world in which I am, eventually the only answer is that of course I am here, though I do acknowledge the very real possibility that I might not be had that cluster of cells begun dividing a few years later.
Still, one of the few pieces of knowledge I brought into this world is that I was not supposed to be. Parents cannot hide that knowledge from their children. That cluster of cells was so brazen to develop into a child without a Y chromosome. I was an emotional and financial burden on a family forced to accept just one more, ready or not. Like it or not. Somehow, despite these hardships that affected the entire family, Mom got it together to go through the motions of parenthood, yet again.
While the past cannot be unlived, I wish one thing had been different so long ago. I wish Mom had felt like she had a genuine choice whether to allow that cluster of cells the opportunity to develop or to have it removed. Having autonomy and a real choice would have alleviated much of the emotional hardship of an additional child she had not anticipated, though certainly some pain and grief would have remained regardless of her decision. As a woman who is not a parent, I believe that welcoming and raising a child in eagerness and excitement is probably much easier than in sadness, reluctance, and exhaustion. A child knows the difference from her first breath of life and consciousness.
Basic decision theory evident in Kurt Lewin’s foundational work on social change in the 1930s suggests that when people work out the solutions to their own problems their decisions are likely to be accompanied by commitment and follow-through. This concept is the basis of empowerment. Lewin’s theories have been tested many times over and are the underlying principle of many individual and group problem solving activities, such as social work and strategic planning.
When a woman needs to solve a problem she needs information, creativity, and emotional support, not advice, instructions, tacit threats, or external control. Allowing a cluster of cells the opportunity to divide to maturity is a lifetime commitment, not a 40-week processes that comes to an end. She needs to evaluate the personal, physical, family, social, emotional, financial, and professional resources she has available and make projections through to the end of her life. She, better than anyone, is the only person who has enough information to analyze the causal influences on any of these variables, how these variables interact to moderate one another, and to hypothesize her growth trajectory over time.
In reality, I think most women I know who have ever been pregnant have had to terminate at least one pregnancy. Allowing dividing cells the opportunity to mature is not always viable or sustainable, physically or emotionally. The women I know chose willingly to remove a cluster of dividing cells, and in few of these cases was the resolve easy or obvious. In all cases, their choice was the best of all possible decisions.
Some of the women grieve, but there are no lost children to mourn. When a cluster of dividing cells is removed from a uterus the loss is an opportunity for uncertainty. An abortion—induced or spontaneous—eliminates an unknown future that may never come to fruition even if nurtured under the best circumstances. If the cluster of cells fully matures the conditions and variables that influence the resulting child, the mother, and the remaining family are even more uncertain. No woman should ever feel guilt or shame in making a difficult decision that is in the best interest of her family, or her own wellbeing and survival. Choosing whether to terminate a pregnancy may be difficult, but it is nothing to hide, regardless of the decision.
Many of the women I know who have had to remove a cluster of dividing cells from their wombs are also quite loving and competent mothers. They have lived the difficulty of both allowing with enthusiasm a cluster of cells an opportunity to grow, and the difficulty of needing to remove it before it matures. While many people project their own humanizing emotions and values onto clusters of dividing cells that are embedded into uterine walls, they are just cells. Clusters of cells cannot survive on their own. I suppose one day, with enough science and technology humans might be grown in a lab without the nurturing blood supply of a natural placenta or uterus. I hope I do not live to see that day.
Would the world be such a different place if Mom had a real choice and safely removed that last cluster of dividing cells from her body? Not likely. We number more than seven billion. I am but a drop in the rising oceans. Our human family has been growing and changing for a few hundreds of thousands of years, and will continue for many thousands more if we do not destroy ourselves with greed. The happenstance of any combination of people at any given moment in time is unique and in constant flux. We all, each one of us, have our individual influence on those around us, and each one of us affects our whole. Yet nothing is wrong if one never materializes, just different.
So here I am. Somehow, despite being done, Mom managed to muster the wherewithal to make one more go at motherhood. Using the most basic metric that could be expected of a parent—ensuring a child lives to adulthood and develops responsible survival skills—in assessment terms Mom exceeded expectations. At age 18, I was far better off than merely surviving. I entered adulthood on a solid launch pad for ongoing health and happiness. I owe it to Mom and to those who supported her to make the most of this life for myself and my community. I owe it to myself. I am.
All the women who have had to have a cluster of dividing cells removed from their uterus deserve to celebrate their wellbeing and survival, and their wholeness as a woman. All the women who got to choose willingly to allow a cluster of cells the opportunity to divide and grow deserve to celebrate their freedom and empowerment and health, even if those cells did not follow through on the opportunity. There will be other opportunities in one way or another.
The countless women who, like my own mother, did not have a meaningful choice whether to allow a cluster of dividing cells the opportunity to develop or to have it removed deserve to celebrate their resilience. Many of these women have been forced to accept the possibility of raising a child in a needlessly complicated social and political environment that is not in the best interest of the child. Others have suffered the forceable extraction of a cluster of cells, despite their readiness to allow it the opportunity to grow. Without a meaningful choice women’s personal power is stolen by another person or legal entity that exerts iron-fisted control over their lives. Without a choice women are no better off than in a steel crinoline and chastity belt.
Happy Mother’s Day to every mom, regardless of the biological, legal, political, and social processes and conditions that anointed your title. Every mom makes a difference in supporting my community, and thus she makes a difference to me. Motherhood is not easy, regardless of whether a mom stewards the opportunity eagerly, accepts the opportunity apprehensively, or whether she feels she has little authority or influence over her own life and family. Thank you to every mom for putting forth your best effort, whatever the circumstances.
Mom, Happy Mother’s Day. I am happy. I am healthy. I am appreciative. I am.