the Empathy List #86: How American Evangelicals Think About Abortion
The Overturn of Roe v. Wade and My Time as a Birth Doula
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Hello friend, Liz here.
During my freshman year of college, right when I turned 18, I voted for Bush to enter the White House for a second term, and my only criteria? He was pro-life.
Though I never went to rallies or held up posters of late-term aborted fetuses in front of Planned Parenthood clinic (my version of evangelicalism was more interested in subscripting musical youth into a worship band, rather than protesting anywhere), I had grown up in a protestant, “non-denom” home. Now that I was attending a hyper evangelical college, that choice was a no-brainer. Pro-life meant anti-abortion meant Christian. (Cue: “Can’t touch this…”)
My ideas matched the talking points of my tribe: fetal cells become babies become humans.
All humans are made in God’s image, even the unborn souls that suspend, unthinkingly and unintentionally, in a woman’s uterus (see Psalm 139, “…you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” etc.).
Whether the cells were alive in any meaningful sense mattered not at all to us, the faithful. To God, in Its foreknowledge and timelessness, the poppy seed-sized being was whole and fully human from minute one.
It never would have occurred to me to ask the question of survivability—as in, if removed from the mother’s innards, did the creature have a shot of celebrating its first birthday? Because that question did not matter to us.
What mattered was the essential morality of the thing: if the cells inside the mother are anything approaching human, than to snuff out their potential is to snuff out the purpose of God.
Conveniently, we did not have to work out the details of maternal healthcare or the way to hide a baby bump from a nosy boss. Nor did we have to consider the way in which the bump would grow up—in which school system, with a full or empty pantry, with a family or none at all.
In my neck of evangelicalism, that side of the story didn’t really matter to us. What mattered was being right.
But God likes to flip our ideas upside down. And that’s exactly what happened with me, re: abortion, when I became a birth doula.
TRIGGER WARNING: I’m going to talk about childbirth and biological reproduction coming up, so feel free to skip if you’re walking through something tough surrounding babies in your own life.
After birthing my own two children (at home! in my living room! with midwives! in an inflatable bathtub! I know!), I became obsessed. I could not stop thinking, talking, learning about childbirth.
I wondered, why had no one told me how confusing, transformative, exciting, magical, and terrifying the whole process of producing an new human was?
How pregnancy felt exposing and also purposeful?
How postpartum often led to depression and anxiety (both happened to me both times), and rarely, even psychosis for mothers?
How nothing would ever be the same after your own body produced a creature with a wide open maw and a endless need for you and only you?
Let’s just say motherhood was disorienting for me.
So once I had passed out of the initial hellscape of early parenthood, I wanted to help families through that transition.
I wanted to hold their hands, to cry with them, to offer books and consolation, to laugh at the hilarious, chunky thighs of their progeny.
In 2016, I received a certification as a birth doula with DONA International. During the two years that I served clients, I witnessed the births of 22 babies and 20 families. I saw mothers at every stage of the journey, and we talked about boundaries and roles and expectations and parenting, along with all the maternal healthcare stuff.
Because when a baby is born, so is a family.* The experience transforms you for your entire life, full stop, no exceptions.
I do not mean that a couple without kids is not a family. You are worthy at every stage in this life journey. But often, when people talk about having a baby, they overlook how it transforms the caregivers as well. The baby is the focus and not the adults in the room. So I liked to give my clients a sense of that transformation with this “family” language.
Same goes for my use of “mother”—I realize that not every mother goes through childbirth, nor are those identifying as women the only humans to have babies. So I want to honor your experiences, too. I do not mean to be exclusionary with this language.
Whether you have kids or not, whether you’re married or single or divorced or disinterested, a mother or father or in between, you are worthy, period.
As I supported families, I noticed that some births went better than others. (Duh.)
Childbirth is an experience that includes EVERY SINGLE EMOTION. Within the cells of a pregnant woman’s body, a dramatic transformation occurs. And then continues to occur over the course of two years or so.
Right in the middle, there’s an intense scene of exit. My midwife once described childbirth as being like squeezing a watermelon out of the opening the size of a tube of toothpaste. Yes, childbirth includes pain. But it includes more than that.
Because there are so many people involved in the physiological process of birthing a baby—both intimate relationships with their own heavy baggage—and also strangers. Soo amid an intense physical experience, a mother has to reckon with lot of other inputs, all at once. Everyone in the vicinity has their own expectations, hopes, ideas and priorities about how to get the best health outcomes for mom and baby, and those ideas don’t always align with mom’s idea. You can see the recipe for conflict here.
Whether or not a mom made a “birth plan,” some labors went according to plan and others didn’t. That’s normal.
But, no surprise, I saw that mothers found it difficult to shift expectations in the midst of the experience. A surprise outcome could sometimes result in lasting dissatisfaction and sometimes that dissatisfaction actually morphed into capital T trauma.
I believe childbirth is a natural process, one that doesn’t necessarily induce trauma—though it can, especially if lots of things are happening to you that you don’t understand and no one takes the time to explain. (BTW obstetricians aren’t known for having sensitive bedside manner…)
Yet as I researched birth trauma for the sake of my own learning and to support my clients better, I saw that even if a mother had experienced trauma in birth, she could overcome it. The trauma did not need to define who she became as a mother or a human.
Even more fascinating, birth traumas could be sidestepped altogether, even in the case of an emergency delivery, if mothers received one single thing.
That one single thing those mothers needed?
Mothers needed to participate in their own healthcare.
Meaning, mothers needed to ask questions. Mothers needed permission to learn as the experience progressed. And then mothers needed to pick—for themselves, out of their own mouths—the best possible outcome for themselves and their babies. This restored a mother’s autonomy amid an out-of-control situation. It also offered my clients tools in the future to heal from trauma, as it taught them to be participants in their own healing.
In short, these mothers needed to be allowed to make their own health decisions.
Now, back to the topic of abortion, just to make plain what I’ve been driving at all along: I want to be frank that I no longer vote “pro-life.”
At least, I no longer vote “pro-life” in the sense of only “anti-abortion.” I now believe “pro-life” encompasses MANY more policies than ONLY restricting abortion. (Follow this guy for a more holistic take on what pro-life could mean for Christians.)
The reason for my shift in politics is really simple. My work as a doula showed me how little control women are given over their bodies in medical settings; I believe that’s wrong.
It also showed me that the path forward—toward humanizing mothers and women everywhere—was to offer choices back to them.
All the time I’ve spent in therapy has taught me that you and I are distinct beings. We each have different views and ideas and histories, and because of those, we make different choices. And that’s okay.
I started voting pro-choice because I want to offer back autonomy to moms, even if, ultimately, I disagree with their choices.
Because I am still a person who sees all stages of a child’s development as sacred. I still believe the evangelical ideas I did before—that even fetal cells are image-bearers, known and beloved of God. Which makes this political calculus complicated.
Yet God is gentle with us.
God is always knocking and never barging in.
God is a respecter of personal space, willing to wait on the outskirts of our lives so that one day, we might allow God entrance into our lives.
Are we, likewise, respecters of people, even those who look and talk and think nothing like us?
Do we, too, see the image of God in those we disagree with?
Can we extend mercy to the hurting, even if we disagree with how they live?
I pray the answer will be yes.
(These illustrations had me in tears. Thank you @saltandgoldcollection)
One more follow-up thought…
There are SO MANY OTHER PROBLEMATIC THINGS tied up with “pro-life” (anti-abortion) legislation and I don’t have space to touch on all of them here.
But as a former birth doula, I’m very worried about the safety of moms who may receive abortions anyway, despite the illegality. Because abortions will keep happening and because of no unifying regulation, safety won’t be guaranteed for mothers, especially for the most vulnerable moms.
(…And then there’s our white supremacy problem, which makes us the unqualified and self-appointed moral overlords of the poor and brown. 😭 Lord, have mercy.)
I’ve posted a greater diversity of thoughts on Instagram — check it out here @LizCharlotteGrant.
A few announcements…
I’m starting a podcast SOOOOOOONNNNNN called Zealot. I’ll be telling the stories of alternative Christianity with a few friends of mine. I’ll put up a trailer soon. ;-)
Also I’m hiring a contract copy-editor/social media freelancer to help me grow this ministry so SEND ME RECOMMENDATIONS PLZ, I’M BEGGING YOU. 😉
That’s all for now.
Thanks for your support and kind comments on all the social places and for hugging me in public. Sometimes I get teary thinking about your attentiveness to God in your life and the people in this world, and that gives me great hope for the future.
Maybe there’s a way forward for us weirdo Jesus followers after all?
Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
Tell me how this hit you.
Am I off-base? How have you formed your view about abortion? What were you taught? How are you talking about it with your people?
It’s summer and MY KIDS HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO CHILL. I relate entirely to this mom’s account of a recent outing with her UNCHILL KIDS. (Help! I need a nanny/house cleaner/personal chef! How do I sign up for that life??)
Ugh, inflation. And silicon valley isn’t making it any easier.
Could democracy extend beyond us humans? One writer explores the politics of the animal kingdom.
“Perhaps the greatest exponent of animal equality is the honeybee. …Honeybees perform one of the greatest spectacles of democracy-in-practice, known as the “waggle dance.” …the bees’ waggle dance communicated not just a map to food, but also political preference. When the swarm first started looking for a new nesting site, scouts would announce dozens of competing locations at the same time, and after a few hours or days they gradually moved toward a decision. The final site was chosen in an open and fair manner, with each bee’s opinion being heard and each listener making its own independent assessment of the proposal. More and more bees would begin to dance the same location, until all the dancing bees gradually converged on the same spot—the new nesting site—with the same patterns of movement. Then the whole swarm took flight. In short, the bees were partaking in a kind of direct democracy.”
It’s “Watergate for the streaming era”—yep, I’m talking about those January 6th congressional hearings, AKA the serial drama unfolding on capitol hill.
A woman’s love note to the American abundance of Costco and the trauma that comes from not having enough.
“Sometimes I go to Costco in Texas just to see other Asians, where I project my past and future onto the families there. I watch sensible middle-aged Asian parents strolling through the aisles, scanning for Kirkland products for their relatives back home, gifts such as vitamins, salted walnuts, and anti-aging creams. Like my parents, they look for the cheapest thing with a MADE IN THE USA sticker that would simultaneously convey their own success and justify their abandonment of a former home. I make up stories about them in my head. Do they, like my family, pull up with their Asian neighbors in a row of Toyotas each Sunday at the Costco parking lot? Do they buy in bulk the favorite food of their adult children and freeze it until they come home? Do they feel in some way that this is the safest place in America?
My favorite people to watch are the young Asian couples pushing carts piled high with toilet paper and granola bars, doing mental arithmetic on cost-per-unit comparisons. They’re absorbed in the comfortable tasks of mundanity. In a stroller next to them, a baby sucks his thumb and gazes out at the mountains of things around him.”
Just for fun…
The most awkward frog hop you’ve ever seen.