This is one of those essays that I had to write but am afraid to publish. I know how people feel about this topic and I am bracing for the negative comments that will undoubtedly come my way. On the other hand, I think that sometimes some things need to be said – and read.
Walking through the grocery store in our little Northwoods town, I was on a mission for milk and bread – as usual. I paused briefly to look over a new display of low-carb granola bars (I’m always interested in a new granola bar) and was so overwhelmed with dizziness that I had to hold on to the shelf.
“Oh no,” I thought. “Shit. Really?” All of a sudden the inability to stop coughing and gagging on my daily runs made sense. I was pregnant. I knew it. I walked quickly to the feminine hygiene aisle and plucked the cheapest pregnancy test I could find off the shelf. With not a little indignation, I paid for it and my other items and raced home to take the test – the thought that I could possibly be pregnant – again – making me more and more angry by the second.
Yes. I was mad. I was. I’m sorry, now, that I was mad. But right there, right then, in that moment when I pictured everything I had been working for the last couple of years going down the tubes, I was quite upset.
I raced into the house without saying “Hello” to anyone, ran into the bathroom and ripped open the test box as I sat down to pee on the stick.
I’ve been pregnant often enough to know what it’s going to say, but still for the 10 seconds that I watched the pink “control” line appear, I had hope. I have never hoped before that I wasn’t going to be pregnant. Usually, I’m quite happy and hoping to be pregnant again.
This time, I had resolved myself to not getting pregnant. I was getting older, after all. I was going to be 40 in a less than a week. And I had a large team of sled dogs in my yard waiting for fall to come back around so we could train for some of the races I had been dreaming about most of my adult life. This was the year I was ready to put together a team that would qualify me to eventually run the Iditarod.
So, when my husband knocked on the bathroom door to see if I was OK, I told him to come in and then angrily thrust the test in his face. “Fabulous,” I said. My husband, pretty used to getting this kind of news by now was unphased and although he wasn’t upset, he could see that I was and did not express his happiness at the news.
Being pregnant just now would wreck those plans for the year. If my math was correct (and it was), I was due in February of 2013 – smack dab in the middle of the racing season. Crap.
And yes, before anyone says anything, I do know how it happens – and that was what was so puzzling about this particular pregnancy – measures had been taken to ensure that it wouldn’t happen. I was not ready, this year, to have my eighth child. Quite frankly, I had other stuff to do. Seamus, my just turned three-year-old, was just getting to the point where I could leave during part of the day – having a baby around was too much to imagine.
My mind was reeling. For days, I raged. Combined with overwhelming morning sickness and my impending 40th birthday, I pretty much believed my life to be over. Early one morning, I started reading about what I came to think might be the best option – an abortion. For a few days, I actually considered doing it and researched my options. I was encouraged to do it by several of my mushing friends who knew how wrecked my winter plans would be.
I read essays and articles by other women who had had abortions. Some were painfully sad and regretful. Others were cavalier and the lack of emotion – even from women who already had children – disturbed me. I was horrified by websites and videos of women who proudly wore t-shirts that said, “I had an abortion.” But still, I thought about it.
For days I laid on the couch in a depression, but buoyed by my children who danced and laughed around me. And then I would need to throw up and would go to the bathroom that overlooked the dog yard where my dreams were waiting for me.
I prayed. A lot. I prayed for strength and understanding and some sort of sign. I secretly hoped I might miscarry. I know – that’s terrible – but I did. I had three times before so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. But everyday that went by, I puked longer and harder than the one before – ensuring, for me, a pregnancy that would “stick.” The irony of it all, of course, being that all of the changes I went through, getting healthy and strong through losing weight, running and working so hard with the team, was that my body was now in optimal condition to conceive (even with birth control) and grow a baby. Even though I was about to be, gulp, 40.
Laying in bed too long one morning, listening to the dogs howl (one of my favorite sounds) and the children play (my favorite sound), I asked myself the same question I ask whenever I hear someone say they support the death penalty – or abortion: “Who am I to decide who gets to live or die?”
No one. It was the only thought in my head. That and “who said what I want was more important than the right of someone else to live?”
What I want – my dreams and my hopes – do not preclude the rights of someone else to have hopes and dreams. Period. And yes, I believe life begins when a life is conceived. I just do. I’ve seen the heartbeats at a few weeks old.
Why is my dream to run the Iditarod more important than a baby’s will to live (and by the puking I was doing, this child definitely showed the will to live)? It’s not. It’s that simple. I have always believed myself to be a live and let live kind of girl. You can do what you want, with whomever you want as long as you don’t hurt or impede anyone else’s right to do the same. This extends, in my heart and mind to an unborn child.
I also knew, that as a mother, I would never forgive myself if I did anything to hurt this child – or any other child for that matter. To me, when I really thought about it, aborting this baby – even at this extremely inconvenient time for me – was not different than walking over to my five-year-old and killing her for no other reason than that she was inconvenient to me. Extreme? I don’t think so. If more people thought of it on those terms, aborting babies might be less common. At least I hope it would be.
In an effort to get over my depression about my lost dreams, I started to create new ones. I began by announcing to the world, much sooner than I normally would, that I was pregnant. I started to find homes for the superior racing dogs so that they could run through the season. An interestingly-timed eviction from our farm in Wisconsin expedited the process and I ended up selling every dog and every piece of equipment. A heartbreaking process, I had to come up with a new dream, and fast.
We ended up “where the land ends,” according to my five-year-old, on the coast of Washington State where I could be pregnant and have a baby without having to watch snow pile up around me – and be sad about it.
In a way, I’m glad that I was so thrown into turmoil by this pregnancy. Truly, it made me face up to what I really believe and put myself in the place of other women who make the choice everyday. Granted, my choice was not tempered by violence or another issue that could further complicate the decision. However, what I learned by reading many stories by women who decided to abort is that many of the choices are influenced by convenience and circumstances at the time. To me, that’s just not acceptable. Circumstances change – constantly. I should know, last year I lived on a 40 acre farm in the woods of Wisconsin and now I live in a small house in a new town on the coast of Washington. Everything I knew has changed and we live on the cusp of the unknown almost everyday.
I believe fate and God work in mysterious ways. I believe that all things happen for a reason – even if we never get to find out what the reason is. Losing my dog team and my Wisconsin life seems unfair to me somedays, especially if I lay in bed, early in the morning and wait to hear howls that never come. I do know that I would be beyond devasted though, if I there was no laughter of little children in the house instead. As my due date comes closer and closer, I am more and more excited to see this little one. I am hopeful that all will go well and that this child will forgive me for what I couldn’t reconcile several months ago. In fact, I even looked for a name that might mean something like “forgiving,” because I feel so badly for not wanting this child for as long as I did.
In this new, strange place in which we live, I am exploring other interests and still keep up with the mushing world through writing and following the races of my friends. My children are thriving and everyone is caught up in the excitement that follows the holidays and a new baby on the way. Being able to go to the beach everyday doesn’t hurt.
Garrison Keillor said something in his “American Masters” portrait about how he had strived to live an extraordinary life but found that we all end up with an ordinary life and that’s just as good. I think that’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time. Learning to be content with where you are what you are doing is difficult in a world that promotes the unusual and abnormal (can you say Amish Mafia?) as normal. But it’s necessary. In the end, the 37 people who once read something I wrote won’t remember me or come to my funeral. In the end, an Iditarod champion is just another person who runs dogs. In the end, the only thing that matters, I think, is that the people who matter most to you, know that they matter most and that you do something everyday to make someone else’s life a little better.
I recently read an essay on a prominent blog by a woman who said she had an abortion because it was “just something I couldn’t bear doing right then in my life…” and, “I didn’t want to offer my body to that process again.” I don’t even know what to say to comments like that. I just don’t. If anything, though, this kind of laissez faire attitude about it makes me hurt for the children this woman already has.
Since I was a teenager, I dreamed that I would have a large, happy family. Over the holidays, I was reminded that I had accomplished that dream but that I have to nurture it – and not deter from it, even if I sometimes want to do something else. I’ve had other dreams too, and motherhood has not prevented me from accomplishing them.
Today, I can write this while feeling and watching my ever-increasing bump move and groove to the sounds in the room. I am more grateful for than I can say.
I may run dogs again and I may even get to run Iditarod. And that would be wonderful, but I will never, ever want that chance at the expense of someone else.