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Pickle Me This

December 5, 2015

Making and unmaking: when does a fetus become a baby?

Images from "The Planned Parenthood shootings in the US last week have brought the pro-life zealots back out of the online woodwork, which means that men have been explaining pregnancy and abortion to me on Twitter again. (At a fraction of the rate before, but still.) I’m still honestly just baffled about how somebody without a uterus could feel entitled enough to tell me anything at all on these topics; it would be like me purporting to teach the Canadian women’s hockey team how to win an Olympic gold. How does a person get to be that sure of himself? To be honest, I’m not sure I’d ever want to be. (From my essay, “Doubleness Clarifies”: “But I’d like such a person to shake their convictions for just a moment or two.”)

These are men who have definitive opinions on the question of when life begins. (And about sluts. And morality. And the right to have extensive collections of weaponry, oddly.) The question of when life begins, however, is one whose undefinitiveness I’m so comfortable with. And I would be, as a woman who has made a choice to end a pregnancy, and who so desperately valued the pregnancies I wanted.

It’s simple: when does a fetus become a baby?

When a woman decides it does.

From Alexandra Kimball’s beautiful, heartbreaking, nuanced and probing essay on miscarriage in The Globe and Mail this weekend:

Women make and unmake our children, not just in the biological sense, but in the ontological sense, too. The fetus is a fetus, and the child a child – only the woman knows. If we deny her the power to define her own pregnancy, we deny the power inherent in womanhood.

From my essay, “Doubleness Clarifies”:

With my second pregnancy, from the moment of my positive pregnancy test, everything was different. The fetus growing inside me was never anything but a baby. We’d been quietly dreaming of her for years, imagining the colour of her eyes, her hair, trying out a parade of hypothetical names. Five weeks into my pregnancy, I bought her a book and we started reading to her even though she hadn’t yet developed ears.

But of course, it’s not really simple. Sometimes I think you have to be a man who hasn’t lived much to ever imagine that anything is. What I find so fascinating and worthwhile about thinking about miscarriage and abortion together is not just the intersections between the two experiences (and that “a single thing can have two realities” after all) but that so many women I know have gone through both. Abortion and miscarriage are not experiences in opposition, but together are threads in the fabric of so many women’s lives, and, however uncomfortably, we learn to decipher, to determine even, the pattern of these threads, how and what it all means.

Women continue to be in control of the narrative, is what I’m saying, making and unmaking, and it’s this control—without which one’s bodily autonomy is impossible; Kimball’s “power inherent in womanhood” —that makes so many people so impossibly angry.

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