Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Beginning of "Life"

This week, Freddy, my love and I had a pregnancy scare.

This was not my first pregnancy scare, nor would it have been my first pregnancy, but this one hit me harder than the time I actually was pregnant. Because this time, I let myself think about the "What if...?"

Both the time when I was pregnant, and the one time I thought I was at high risk to be pregnant and had to fight my ob-gyn's receptionist over the phone to get "the morning after" pill (obviously, this was before Plan B was available over-the-counter), I knew what I had to do. It would have been a very bad choice for me and the potential child (and the father, if he chose to stick around - regardless of what he chivalrously proclaimed at the time) to go through with the pregnancy. I didn't let myself think about "plan A" at all - okay, fine, maybe for a second. A Johnson's & Johnson's baby lotion commercial came on TV, the night before I was scheduled to go to the clinic (at this point I had known for two or three days), and for a fleeting second my hand flew to my stomach, which was already slightly swollen, and the tears started. Before the conscious thought had fully formed in my mind I knew I had to get rid of it, because there's only so much a girl can take.

This time around, I let myself think about Plan A. Maybe it's because I'm getting old, and running out of time. Maybe it's because I feel more confident about Freddy than about the other two guys involved; I trust him in a way I never trusted them. Maybe it's because my current ob-gyn's receptionist scared the living bejeezus out of me Monday - two weeks after my Pap Smear - when she left me a message asking to call her back, which I took to mean I had cervical cancer and would need a hysterectomy (if you know my family history, I was not overreacting) and my chances for a baby (the traditional way) would be over forever. Whatever the reason, I did it. Each time I went to the bathroom and still had not started my period yet, I thought about it more.

I would have been due in late December. Terrible time for a birthday - I want my kids to be born in the summer, that way you have your presents evenly distributed throughout the year (I'm a July baby. Yes, it kinda sucks that I've never celebrated my birthday during the school year, but I like having exactly six months between large gift-receiving occasions). It was also a very non-ideal scenario work-wise, but better than others, I guess - I could always quit at the semester break.

Saturday morning, when we took the pregnancy test and only saw the one, solitary, childless purple line, I was sad more than relieved. Yes, I know, the rational part of me started listing all the rational reasons why this was for the best. I kept reminding myself of all those rational, logical, sensible reasons, but it still hurt.

Then I remembered that Friends episode - the one with Monica's wedding, when Rachel found out she was pregnant. The good thing is I was able to channel the pain of my loss to anger at their bad writing.

For those of you who are not Friendsophiles, Rachel takes a pregnancy test and it comes out positive. Phoebe and Monica convince her to take another test, in case the first one was a false positive. She does, in the bathroom at the reception, and Phoebe tells her the result is negative. Rachel starts crying, and actually utters something along the lines of, "Oh, why am I crying? How can I be miss something I never had? Isn't that silly?" Then Phoebe saves the day, telling her the test result is actually positive, but she'd said it was negative so Rachel could find out "how you really felt about it."


Now, seriously, what part of "woman nearing 30" made you think she was not going to be at least a little disappointed to find out she was not pregnant? After thinking, for at least a day, that she was? Regardless of all the rational, logical, sensible reasons... you're talking about having a little baby.

The age-old reproductive rights question asks whether "life" begins at conception or at birth. Well, if you look at the science, "life" began way back when with that first brave little amoeba who crawled out of the sea (or whatever it did, I'm not a scientist). My knowledge of science is limited, but I do know a) matter cannot be created nor destroyed, and b) energy can't either, and isn't "life" just matter with energy? Sort of? Life is a continuum - the sperm and the egg were alive before they joined, because they were part of the living parents. So nothing new "began" at that moment, nothing new was created. The cells started dividing the same way they had when they were in each parent's body. Nor did anything new begin or get created when the fetus left the uterus.

"Life," as the pro-life and pro-choice groups want to define it, does not begin at conception nor at birth. It begins at the idea.

The child is "born" when the concept of that child is formed in his or her parents' (or parent's) mind. As soon as that mother begins to think of "her baby," she becomes a mother and that baby becomes a living entity, regardless of the state of mitosis of any mass of cells. Some parents "give birth" to their children way before conception, and each time the stick only shows them that single, solitary purple line, they mourn a loss - even though no cells joined, divided, or did anything else of the like. That child is alive in their minds, in their hearts, regardless of the science.

A woman who chooses to have an abortion is in a completely different mindset - she does not see herself as "carrying a child." There may be cells dividing inside of her (as there were before she got pregnant and as there will be after the pregnancy is terminated, because that's the way living beings work), but she has not given "life" to anything.

On average, a woman will have three miscarriages in her lifetime. This sounds insane, but when you consider the number of women who are not even aware they are pregnant until they are five or six weeks along, then it doesn't, does it? Somewhere in those five or six weeks the egg was fertilized, implanted itself, then for some reason went awry. Was there "life" there, if no one knew it?

If a tree falls in the woods but there's nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? What's your definition of "sound" - the waves, the noise, or the perception of it? If nobody hears the noise, how can we call it "noise"?

If nobody knows of the existence of this particular mass of cells, can we really call it "a life"?

"Life" as we know it is not a concept defined by science. It is a concept defined by us, the living, breathing humans. A baby can be "alive" before the cells are in place - ask any couple wants a baby but can't get that second little pink line to come up on the stick. Why can't we accept the inverse of that equation to be true as well?


  1. I've never thought of it that way, but you bring up an excellent point. Not one that pro-lifers are probably willing to consider, but a valid one and an interesting thinking point none-the-less.

    As for feeling disappointed despite knowing it's not "the right time"... when it comes to children, "rational" goes straight out the window. You can argue with yourself till your face is blue about how inconvenient and bad a time it is to have children, but if you've got that urge, you've got it. If having children were a rational decision, no one in their right mind would ever do it! lol

  2. I have to agree with Marcy on the rational part. I never thought of myself as a motherly person so my initial reaction to my own pregnancy was shock, anger, and fear. I am deeply grateful for my accidental pregnancy, however. Even in the midst of our toughest mornings I never regret Ryan; my main fear now is life without her.

  3. Anonymous4:16 AM

    Profound and well-stated. You may be the first person (beside myself) I've ever heard who seems to get that life is fluid. For myself, this lesson was hit home last year when my grandmother passed away. We watched the machine countdown her decreasing heartbeat as we said our goodbyes, but I also watched it come and go over the next half-hour until the nurses unplugged it. Her brain may have already been gone at that point (her lifestyle certainly was). When did her hair and nails stop growing? When did her body start decomposing (trick question, our adult bodies are in a constant equilibrium of decay and growth)? Anyway, thanks for a great entry. This is Free, BTW.