Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Last Words

GeekLady has a poignant post on suffering which describes an incident which I've seen riling a number of NFP-using Catholic women that I know online. I'll quote her opening:

Today, I read something which demonstrates a fundamental failure within the pro-life movement. I read a FaceBook status by Abby Johnson stating that she had been told of a woman who was in the throes of an unexpected pregnancy who was ‘praying to miscarry.’ Abby proclaims,
“This is not normal. Does it happen? Do women sometimes have these fleeting thoughts? Yes. But these are unnatural thoughts that enter our mind because of the abortion culture we are living in. Life becomes cheap…so mothers (prolife mothers) wish for death of their children.

I understand traumatic pregnancies. I understand traumatic births. I get it. But it’s still not okay. And it makes for lasting guilt.”
I'm not here to say what a women in an unexpected pregnancy should or shouldn't feel. I haven't and can't experience that. But when I read the Abby Johnson quote, I remembered an incident from a long time ago.

Fourteen years ago, because of our own unexpected pregnancy and the financial and living space problems it created, MrsDarwin and I moved in with and became live in caretakers for my grandmother, who was ninety-two years old and frail. I say we, but although during the evenings we both shared the load of caretaking, much of the work fell upon MrsDarwin: caring for a toddler and a strong willed ninety-two year old while I did a fifty mile commute through heavy traffic twice a day to go to work.

This only got harder when, trying to hurry to the bathroom one day without using her walker, my grandmother tangled herself in her oxygen cords, fell, and broke her arm. That kind of shock to an already frail system can cause a sudden decline, and it did. Within not much more than a week she was nearly confined to bed, showing signs similar to dementia, and on heavy pain medication. We personally were at the end of our collective rope. Grandma's pain and confusion made her suspicious. She became convinced that I didn't go to work everyday, but rather that MrsDarwin hid me away from her out of spite. She started to refuse to take her medicines. This included her pain medications. Skipping those increased her discomfort. It also included her anti-depressants. Skipping those made her combative and scared. I remember a Friday morning, it would be her last, when she was yelling at MrsDarwin and refusing her meds. I went in to try to reason with her. Often she thought I was my father, and she would listen to my father. Sometimes.

That day she didn't listen. I was already late, and thinking of the traffic stacking up through Pasadena. My ninety minute morning commute was becoming two hours. I would be late, and I couldn't make her take her pills. I too got angry. Finally I had to go. I left MrsDarwin to deal with the situation, knowing that I was leaving her aggravation, and that the aggravation was my family's, aggravation visited upon her while she struggled with a child and another on the way and no friends nearby. I was angry at my grandmother and angry at myself.

I nurtured that anger all the way in to work. The traffic made it easy to hold on to, stop and go all the way. I got to the office late, and the receptionist who kept the time cards marked me as such. I went to the break room to get coffee. My boss saw me there.

"Sleep in this morning?" he asked in a jovial tone.

It was the match to my fuse and the frustration's I'd been harboring for the last two hours of heavy traffic boiled over into sharp, childish words such as could have been said on a playground. "I swear, if that old lady doesn't stop it I'm going to kill her."

He stopped, surprised to have drawn real emotion with his question. "Are you having trouble with your wife?"

It took me a moment to realize he thought I was using the phrase "old lady" to refer to MrsDarwin. It's a common enough usage for husbands talking to other men to refer to "the old woman" in that fashion, but it had never occurred to me in relation to her, nor has it since. When the words fell into place I went into slightly mad laughter. "No. No. It's my grandmother. The one we moved in with. She's being very hard to deal with. I'm sorry, it's been a rough morning." I laughed it off, and we went about our day.

This isn't the sort of exchange that I'd remember with clarity, right down to the appearance of the coffee maker in the dimly lit break room tucked into a corner of the warehouse, except that Grandma died that weekend. Peacefully. In her sleep. On Monday I called my boss to tell him that I wouldn't be in that day because my grandmother who we lived with had died and we had a lot of things to take care of. "She died?" he asked. "I thought she was doing well on Friday and causing all sorts of trouble?"

There aren't any other conversations of mine that I remember, word for word, from that week fourteen years ago. I don't remember the last words I exchanged with Grandma. I don't remember the words I used to tell my father, himself (I couldn't know then) with less than three years to live.

I remember some words I didn't mean, said in anger. "If that old lady doesn't stop it I'm going to kill her."

They were words said for effect. Words that were a cry of pain, a cry for help from a twenty-four-year-old way out of his depth in life: short of money, short of time, scared, seeing life into the world and seeing life out of it.

I know that I loved my grandmother. I know that she knew that -- at some essential part of herself that was confused and lost under the pain and hallucinations of an ebbing life. I know that my words did nothing to bring on her death. I don't feel guilty about them. Indeed, at some level, I suppose it's a relief that my frustrations boiled out into angry words far away from her, in the office, in a stupid, schoolyard expression. I'm glad I didn't say something like that to her.

But even so, even with all those protections from a phrase I didn't mean, I'm sad that they're the only words I remember, that I'll ever remember, from those last days. I remember them because the odd sort of prophesy they turned into. I remember them because they weren't true. They will always be with me.

A couple years later, in another state, expecting another baby, MrsDarwin miscarried. It had been a surprise pregnancy. It was not catastrophic. After a precarious couple years we had a house and full time job and health insurance. But baby was nonetheless a complete surprise, the sort of pregnancy which the NFP method suggested should not be able to happen. Perhaps there was always something precarious about baby. We had a few weeks to adjust to the idea, weeks in which it seemed all the harder to believe because MrsDarwin was not sick at all unlike the last two babies. And then baby was gone, leaving us with a sadness and emptiness that we couldn't have imagined before.

Why do these things come together in my mind? Because sometimes the words we say, words in said real pain, words we don't mean, become memorialized in ways we could not have expected by what comes after. Words are powerful things. Putting something into words is different from thinking it or wanting it. We forget, all too soon, the full force of how we felt. Yet words can be hooks for memories we don't want to have. Nothing would make me forget that those last days with Grandma were hard, and that I was frustrated with her at times. But I wish those weren't the words that I remember from that week.

And that's what strikes me about the idea of praying to miscarry. I don't think God would be shocked, He knows His children's suffering. I don't think it's a sign that life is cheap or of giving into an abortion mentality. I think it's something people in desperate circumstances have done throughout history. But put something into words and the words come true -- not because you said them but just because that was the way it was going to be. How will those words echo down through memory? Who knows. People think about things differently. People think about words differently. But the idea of thinking back on words like that scares me.


Literacy-chic said...

I had such mixed feelings about our third (and very unexpected) pregnancy--you and Mrs. Darwin might remember--that I thought to myself that I would feel very guilty if I *did* miscarry. I'm not sure if I ever articulated a *wish,* but there was something in the back of my head that I didn't exactly mean, but that I knew would have haunted me if it had come true. It's not at all an unnatural thought or feeling, and I think the connection you have drawn is a poignant one. Good post. I wasn't aware of the one by Abby Johnson. It does seem like she should know better.

CMinor said...

Lately Abby seems to be a magnet for controversy, even among other pro-lifers. The thought has occurred to me that she sometimes comes off as the abortion version of a lot of reformed alcoholics; perhaps her lack of perspective in matters like this highlights that she still has some work to do in coming to terms with her own history. Not that she hasn't made considerable progress, but there are some raw wounds there that occasionally become apparent. The public environment in which she operates has got to make things tough, so it's not surprising that she sometimes treats perceived dissent from the pro-life side as if it came from the opposition.

This is very wise, Darwin. I have found it to be the case in my own experience as well.

Emily J. said...

This touched a cord.