Warning: this blog and the poem it includes may upset some people.
Abortion has been in the news recently, with plenty of people sharing their opinions on my social media feeds. My feminist and midwife friends defend a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body. They have a point. My Christian and Catholic friends are concerned for the unborn foetus’s right to life. I reckon they have a point too. Me? I’m somewhere stuck in the middle. It’s an uncomfortable place to be.
I find it impossible to deny the holiness of young foetuses. I have seen them move and dance on ultrasound scans. I have seen their beating hearts. At only a few weeks gestation, they are so much more than mere blobs of cells. My church’s call to honour life from conception to natural death resonates with me. To end such a life, even if you call it a potential life, must surely be a terrible, sorrowful choice.
But as a mother and a former midwife, I know that women are vulnerable too. There are many reasons why continuing a pregnancy may seem impossible. Mental health problems, violent abuse, foetal malformations, cancer, addiction, and sheer lack of support can all leave women desperate. I have seen situations where, even believing as I do in the humanity of the unborn foetus, I have still thought that perhaps a termination might be the least worst outcome.
As a Christian, I see Jesus’s compassion for the weak, the voiceless, the undefended. To me, that description encompasses both the foetus and its mother. Sometimes, sadly, it seems impossible to care for one without harming the other. This should never be an easy choice.
It concerns me most of all that the abortion debate often seems so polarised, so bitter, so angry. In waving our placards, are we not perhaps in danger of forgetting compassion?
I greatly respect the argument that the foetus deserves legal protection. I believe that every termination ends a life. Yet I fear that making abortion illegal might greatly harm women who need compassion, not criminalisation.
Writing this is uncomfortable. People will be angry and upset. But perhaps it is good to feel uncomfortable. Abortion is an uncomfortable subject. Few women choose termination easily. There is a cost.
I do not wish to cause distress to anyone who has had a termination of pregnancy. The following contains descriptions of a surgical termination. Please do not read on if this will be difficult for you.
When I was a student midwife, I chose to spend a morning observing surgical terminations of pregnancy at a local hospital. This was a difficult experience, but one which I do not regret.
Not Here to Judge
I went along resolved to honour all the women with compassion and respect. I did not ask, but they all seemed to want to tell me why they had chosen to end their pregnancies. I listened. I reminded myself that I was not here to judge them. I did not have to live their lives.
Some of the women cried when the procedure drew near. One or two woke up from the anaesthetic after the procedure crying for their babies. I watched on the ultrasound screen as foetuses with beating hearts and moving limbs were suctioned away. It was hard to watch.
Packaging the Products
The nurse in theatre had chosen to work there. But she said she found it difficult packaging up the ‘products of conception’ after each procedure. She told me she pretended to herself she was dealing with chopped tomatoes.
I was moved to learn that these ‘products’ are not merely incinerated as clinical waste; they are sent to the hospital mortuary, where they are prayed over by a chaplain before being cremated. They are treated as human, as something holy.
Sorrow and Redemption
I was struck by the containers used for the products of conception. They were made of white plastic but shaped like goblets. They reminded me of the golden chalices used in church, for holy communion. As I reflected on this, I saw a parallel between this loss of innocent life and Jesus’s gift of his own life to bring healing and forgiveness to broken, vulnerable people. This poem came out of my experience. It is an attempt to express both the sorrow and the hope for redemption I saw that morning.
Products of Conception
Crying as she goes under
As she will again when she wakes,
But for ten merciful minutes
She lies, legs up,
While the doctor syringes away
These unmanageable products.
The nurse averts her eyes
From the ultrasound’s brutal witness,
About the mess.
Her designated task: to pour
This bloodied tangle of nameless parts
Into the mortuary’s plastic mesh chalice.
She lifts the cup
With mingled reverence and distaste.
‘I tell myself it’s only chopped tomatoes.’
But I see the gift, the offering,
Innocence lurking in our sterile field,
Speaking its silent sad atonement:
‘This is my suctioned body; this my evacuated blood,
Given for you.’
I welcome your comments, but please be kind. Thank you.
Karen Lawrence is an author and mother of seven living in Billericay, Essex, United Kingdom. Karen has published two books and is currently working on three novels.
Letting the Light In: How A Baby With Down Syndrome Changed My Life is Karen’s personal account of having a baby with Down Syndrome. It is available from Amazon athttps://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09HMV8T31
Karen’s first book, Finding Your Calm Space: Thirty-One Ways to find Calm in a Crazy World is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Finding-Your-Calm-Space-Thirty-One-ebook/dp/B08NZ1W9QY
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