Posted by: minnow | June 24, 2009


I had an interesting online dialogue the last few days which caused me to think about how I think and what I value as well as how that contrasts with the values and thinking of other people.  Issues like freedom are important to me.  Yet with my freedom I have made choices that actually end up limiting my freedom in fairly profound ways, such as choosing to marry and have children.  In addition, I gladly live in a society that puts parameters around the freedom it advocates for its citizenry.  And while most of these parameters are regarded by most Americans as beneficial to society as a whole, that is not always true for all people.
The topic of the blog I happened upon was primarily about the impact of adoption on birth mothers.  The woman I dialogued with brought up a point I have never actually thought much about relating to this aspect of the choice/life issue.  The argument was put forth that society in general does not think too much about birth mothers who release their babies to adoption.  Until recently, they were expected to just go away, never have contact with their babies again, and presumably get on with their lives–happy  to be relieved of an unwanted baby and confident  they had done the “right” thing.  I hate to admit it but prior to reading this blog, I probably came close to holding that same attitude.  Yet as was pointed out, such is not always, or perhaps even often, the real result.  The woman I dialogued with stated that for some birth mothers the adoption process never ends, that women who turn their babies over for adoption often feel coerced into making decisions which go against their internal sense of what would be best for them making the letting go process painful, the loss of autonomy extreme, and the life long effect devastating.  Having listened to women who felt pressured into having abortions against their internal sense of self, I immediately understood that being fed a lie which is eventually exposed or a promise that can not be kept by the one doing the promising (no matter from which side the lie is told) indeed complicates the healing process and makes finding a sense of peace that much more challenging. 
In dialoguing with this blogger I began to see how very different our thinking was even though we both claim some similar values, like: a desire for freedom, the conviction that  women are capable of thinking for themselves, and the belief that manipulation with lies (a form of coercion) is fundamentally wrong.  Holding fast to her values, she found my response to her point of view illogical, misogynous, patronizing, and disrespectful of her personally.  While she obviously felt  disrespected and patronized by what I said, I do not believe I engaged in disrespectful or patronizing behavior.  I did not call her names, lie to her, belittle her point of view, or threaten her.  I listened to what she had to say (actually I read her blog), including the link and comments, and I offered my point of view in the comments she provided and controlled.  I also repeatedly said it was not my place to assign a right or wrong judgment to her choices (or anyone else’s for that matter).  But, because I told her that, had she come to me pregnant I would have been one of the voices that counseled her to give birth and although I fully accepted her assessment of her own peace of mind and lack of regret, I was still accused of disregarding her emotional self assessment, of not respecting her ability to make a decision for herself, and of misogyny. 
The reality of living in community is that we need to place parameters around our freedom and establish ways to enforce those parameters or society would turn into a survival of the fittest power struggle where coercion would become a way of life and distrust society’s heart beat.  In a peace filled, non-coercive, community those who are unable to represent themselves nevertheless deserve to have their  interests represented by an impartial party.  These facts are what drive my position in the choice/life debate.  People who claim that this issue is only about what women do with their own bodies are in my opinion promoting a lie.  Calling the life inside these women a mass of cells, a zygote, or a fetus in order to avoid the fact that this life, if left alone would in all likelihood result in a self-contained human being, is deceptive.  Yes, women are called upon to provide the environment in which these beings grow and develop until they are capable of self-sustained life.  However, women are not  simply dealing with an extension of their own bodies.  And while hosting these beings may impact the health of the hosts, prematurely removing them is not necessarily (even though it may at times be) better for the health of the hosts. 
There is much more to be said on the choice/life issue.  I am actually contemplating a part two.  For now I am thankful for bloggers like Auntie Hallie who give me much food for thought, even when we must at times agree to disagree.


  1. Hi minnow, thanks for commenting. You’ve heard more than enough from me I’m sure, but I do want to thank you. I appreciate respectful debate in general, and you’ve certainly provided that. Thanks for trying so hard to keep things light.

    Having lived with my choice for years, I find myself bristling a lot when some of the worn old platitudes that endlessly poison this debate come up; they’re tired, and I don’t have a lot of patience for them. To someone who doesn’t have a personal angle to consider every time it comes up, this probably isn’t rankling. To me, it is. You’ve been forgiving where I’ve been relentless.

    Our world is so completely and firmly set in the idea that ‘male’ is ‘normal’ and ‘anything else’ is ‘deviation from normal’ that it’s hard even to wrap our heads around it some times. I find myself explaining the most basic concepts – like ‘women are people’ – but I have to explain them carefully, so people aren’t turned off by impatience and anger. The reason I bristle at it *on this issue* particularly is – I’m not male. And I am absolutely satisfied with my femaleness. Including all the ‘weird’ things our bodies get up to, like being both one and two, separate and connected, all at the same time, like we are when pregnant.

    Not everyone is comfortable with that. I think that’s why the debate for ‘when life begins’ gets so heated – and draws us completely off-track.

    My response to ‘when life begins’ is, ‘I don’t know.’ But also? ‘I don’t need to know’ in order to be female. If we don’t assume that female is ‘inferior’, then we don’t have to find a way to equate it with ‘male’ or describe it in terms of ‘maleness’ – which is where this particular unsolvable debate comes in.

    Are we one with the developing life, are we separate from it? Where does it all begin, what does it all mean? We can answer this, and it doesn’t matter if we do. Our uniquely female bodies are doing what they are designed to do, which is bring forth new life.

    Do I feel I should be a hostage to that process? No. Why? Because I had the good fortune to be born in a time and place where it is common and possible to control that process, and because I am that fortunate person in that fortunate circumstance, I feel no compunction whatsoever (certainly on moral grounds) to resist it. I don’t resist driving, flying on airplanes, eating apples from New Zealand (okay, yes I do on that last point; our local ones are way better), wearing Polartec fleece in the bitter cold, or a thousand other things that make up modern life. So why should I feel morally obligated to act as ‘host’ for a potential life when I don’t see a happy ending to it?

    This is what I see as misogynistic about it: women are held to some ancient standard just because we are women, and even though men cannot do what we do, they still frame the terms of the debate. It’s my body, I live right here in the modern world with you, but I’m held to some other standard than men are. No one would complain if I accepted chemotherapy that didn’t exist fifty years ago – in fact, horrified concern may follow me if I didn’t. But accepting the joy that is modern health care related to my fertility is considered specious. If ‘male’ weren’t ‘normal’, this line of thinking couldn’t be possible.

    The male/normal dynamic also leads us here:
    “Calling the life inside these women a mass of cells, a zygote, or a fetus in order to avoid the fact that this life, if left alone would in all likelihood result in a self-contained human being, is deceptive. Yes, women are called upon to provide the environment in which these beings grow and develop until they are capable of self-sustained life. However, women are not simply dealing with an extension of their own bodies. And while hosting these beings may impact the health of the hosts, prematurely removing them is not necessarily (even though it may at times be) better for the health of the hosts. ”

    Developing life can NOT be ‘left alone’ – it is entrusted *to us*. The whole idea that ‘if we just separate the woman from this developing life, it’s all clear what’s right and wrong!’ is so male-centered it’s impossible to think I have to point it out, but I do. Repeatedly. It’s not possible! Women and developing life are one, for – I think the current accepted range is between 21 and 27 weeks. For that incredibly rare time, we are one and separate, both. It’s a third state of being, a state known only to women. And even though that’s true, it’s still a legitimate state of being female and not something demanding male (or any other) intervention!

    Women are not just ‘hosts’, some sort of gestation chamber for all of humanity. We are women, and the lives we bring forth are *part of us*. Life is in us, and with us. It is part of being women. We don’t need to identify separateness and oneness in order to make laws that make sense. We just need to (legally, please) recognize that women are actually *$#@ing people.

    Minnow, thanks for posting this, really. It’s allowed me to get a lot off my chest and I appreciate that more than I can say.

  2. Auntie Hallie–Welcome! I too have appreciated the tennor of our dialogue. I have rarely heard the arguements you present articulated so well. And while I agree that “our world is firmly set in the idea that ‘male’ is ‘normal'”. I do not believe me seeing a woman’s role as a temporary however obligated life carrier as being tied to that orientation. Our role in the life cycle would be the same with a female as normal orientation or with a both/and as normal orientation. We would probably honor that unique aspect of a woman differently but it would still be part of our role.
    The difference I see between your point of view and mine is not that I see women as inferior to men and therefore try to force women to be hosts but rather that our society sees new life as inferior to self-sustaining life and therefore is willing to say the new life has no rights until it is self-sustaining. We say it should not matter why the host does not want that role, whatever the host’s reason ought to be good enough because even though her role is temporary she is the only one whose physical being is impacted. I truly understand the feelings of not wanting to be held hostage to a process (For me it was breast feeding. Knowing it was best from a health perspective helped me to choose to breast feed but it did not help me to enjoy the process. Nor did it make the process fit my life better) but again the life process is not due to a male oriented, controlled world unless you give in to the Creator is male crap.
    Scientificically, the life we “bring forth” is no more part of us than it is part of its biological father. Yes, it eats what we eat and takes the drugs we take and experiences at some level the stress we experience but that is because we are its host not because we are its sole creator.
    As for using the technology we have simply because we have it and it fits our perceived needs, I think *that* is a dangerous road to walk down considering the modern day weaponry at our disposal and the ways in which we are already polluting our planet.
    I have truly enjoyed “talking” to you. You continue to give me lots to think about.

  3. After re-reading my comment I want to repeat I am not saying that the choices you have made are right or wrong. You have stated that they are right for you and you have peace with them. That is good enough for me. I refuse to play the role of conscience for anyone.

  4. It’s so interesting that you bring up nursing as another hostage process; I think about this every time it comes up in the teevee nooze – some ignorant asshat makes a stink about women breastfeeding in a bookstore and then it’s all dragged out again: boobz! in publik! OMG won’t someone think of the chillldrennn! with no irony whatever on that last part.

  5. OMG is right. I remember the look on my in-laws’ faces when I breastfed my oldest while playing cards with them. You’d think I’d just done a strip tease on the dining room table. Yikes! When I had toddlers several ladies I knew decided to go to the mall and all sit together to breastfeed their infants. No one was arrested (which was their biggest fear) but the looks–wow!
    I’ve enjoyed reading about your river adventures. I live a couple states NE of you–middle of the Rockies. I just discovered kayaking a couple years ago–motivation to get in better shape.

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