My life is not over for choosing motherhood

I had barely set the pregnancy test on the counter when I saw the blue plus sign. The confirmation came with almost cruel speed.

This was gut-wrenching news. It felt as if all my dreams had been crushed at once. My future felt black, impossible, narrow and full of hardships. I hadn’t finished my master’s degree, hadn’t started my career, hadn’t settled into my new marriage. And I was sick, struggling through a chronic illness I had counted on getting under control before I even thought about children.

I broke down there in the bathroom, clutching a small image of the Divine Mercy that had been hanging on the wall and forcing myself to repeat the words inscribed on it: “Jesus, I trust in You.”

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In the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, I have been reflecting on my own unplanned — or, as some might term it, “unwanted” — pregnancy. Predictably, familiar arguments have resurfaced. Like the argument that women need abortion. That abortion is a safety rope thrown to us in the midst of life’s furious squall.

Scrolling through my newsfeed on June 24, an article by Moira Donegan of The Guardian caught my eye. Donegan writes: “The real story is about … the women, whose lives will be made smaller and less dignified by unplanned and unchosen pregnancies, the women whose health will be endangered by the long and grueling physical process of pregnancy; the women, and others, who will have to forgo dreams, end educations, curtail careers, stretch their finances beyond the breaking point, and subvert their own wills to someone else’s.

“The real story is in the counterfactuals — the books that will go unwritten, the trips untaken, the hopes not pursued, and jokes not told, and the friends not met, because the people who could have lived the full, expansive, diverse lives that abortions would allow will instead be forced to live other lives, lives that are lesser precisely because they are not chosen.”

Now a mother of a 9-month-old, this perspective filled me with indignation. Young women like me are told again and again that unplanned pregnancies doom us to lives that are — to use the most damning adjective imaginable to modern feminists — “small.” That motherhood, coming at an unexpected time, contracts our lives and that abortion is necessary to deliver us.

When I was pregnant, sick and doubtful about my ability to finish my degree, these lies reverberated in my head, though I remained staunchly committed to keeping my child.

In many ways, I was an obvious candidate for abortion. Chronically ill with no clear answers, pregnancy worsened my mental and physical symptoms. Already struggling to finish my degree, the constant nausea made it tortuous to sit through classes and stare at computer screens.

I fell into a deep depression, feeling utterly disconnected from my child. Despite my intellectual conviction, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that there was a baby inside me. It certainly didn’t feel like a baby.

Yet, the greatest acts of love I have ever made for my son were made in those early months of pregnancy. To combat my emotions, I would spend a few minutes a day telling the child inside me: “I love you. You are wanted.” I willed myself to love my child before I was able to feel that he was my child. Because he deserved that. He deserved every ounce of love I could muster.

But the depression persisted. It didn’t help that my nausea was unrelenting through all nine months of pregnancy. I was constantly ill and physically miserable. With my raging hormones, changing body, and the bleakness of my imagined future, I often wished for death.

It was amid these struggles that one of my doctors suggested abortion: “Maybe this isn’t the right time for you to be pregnant.” With genuine compassion, she offered the murder of my child as an escape hatch.

Now, watching my son shriek with joy at his own reflection in our hallway mirror, I am more grateful than ever that I never considered her proposition. I have learned a lot in the months since his birth.

Having a child is a sacrifice, sometimes a significant one. In order to argue honestly about abortion, we need to acknowledge that. But contrary to popular rhetoric, my life has not become smaller or less meaningful for these sacrifices. Instead, I have found that the sacrifice involved in motherhood has expanded my heart and my life. Sacrifice is ennobling. A meaningful life necessarily includes many obstacles to be overcome. The heroism we all crave — the noble adventure that makes life worth living — comes through sacrifice.

It is impossible to explain how much my son has added to my life. Instead of taking up room in my already-busy life, he added another dimension. I thought I would feel boxed in by the demands of motherhood. Instead, I feel freer because living for another person has brought me out of myself. My horizons are wider; my life is more capacious.

Through this, I have realized that a life of adventure, a life where the unexpected could happen at any moment, is far more exciting than one that follows a careful plan. It is freeing to embrace an unexpected change. A perfectly planned life is not an adventurous life.

Women are peddled the lie that if anything happens to overturn our plans, all is lost. We must resist these lies. We must resist the voices that tell us we are not strong or brave or creative enough to pursue our personal dreams and motherhood at the same time. We must resist the lie that the only way to live a fulfilling life is to wage war against our bodies and our children.

Yes, life looks different now, but I haven’t given up my dreams. I have been forced to stretch, grow and find new ways to reach my goals. Women are strong enough to find a way to pursue our dreams despite the challenges of motherhood. Yet, even had all my goals crumbled, I have realized there are worse things than delaying a dream or even losing that dream altogether. Killing your child is worse.

So, to respond to Ms. Donegan, my son is worth any book I could ever write, any vacation I could ever take, any career I could ever pursue. If I had to give up all those things, I would do it in an instant for him. I resent the implication that my life is now “less dignified” because I must “subvert my will” to another’s, as though it were pathetic and sad and insignificant to give up some of the things I want for the good of my child. We all have things in our lives that we did not choose. But we can choose to see these unchosen things as adventures to be embraced, rather than nuisances to be eliminated.

Giving birth does not doom a woman to a harsh, brutal or small life. An unexpected pregnancy is a challenge. It is an invitation to heroism, to ennobling sacrifice. Whether that sacrifice comes in the form of putting your child up for adoption or in caring for him or her yourself, it won’t be easy. But it will be utterly and unquestionably worth it.

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