Editor's note: this piece was originally posted on June 5, 2011
I have a roommate. My roommate is a dear friend of mine, and she lives with me because she needed a place to get away from a shitty relationship.
She and I are close because we diverge radically on certain ideas but still manage to respect each other. The big diverge is on reproductive choices. When we met she was ardently pro-life, to the point that she openly advocated for the striking down of Roe v. Wade. From her, I learned how to respectfully debate and explain my stance to people that held opinions I found to be dangerous and oppressive. From me, she came to the realization that if she did not want people to control her choices, maybe she shouldn’t advocate for controlling theirs. She still is absolutely against having an abortion when she gets pregnant regardless of whether she is in a position where another child is something she can handle. Because of this perspective, she has three children aged 18 months to 5 years and is expecting another in January.
She has admitted to me that while she loves her kids, none of them were planned and that she really isn’t very happy that she has so many kids. She told me that she feels obligated to bring her pregnancies to term, and that she only has kids because she honestly felt she had no other choice. She has repeatedly told me that she wished she could have a life of her own. I have been watching her struggle between the idea that she deserves to choose when/how many kids she has and the idea that she only deserves to gestate every fertilized egg that implants regardless of her ability to provide for them.
Now that I have a child of my own, and have gone through the experience of pregnancy and childbirth, her position and the upset I see from her every day makes me so incredibly sad. I have been there for all four of her pregnancies and after the first one, well…lets just say that I have never seen someone so resigned to a fate that they found unpleasant before.
I try really hard not to judge the reproductive choices of others. I feel that to do so I am betraying my own ethical code. Its a strain with my friend. Because while my ethical code is built around “live and let live” its also built around the idea that we all deserve to be free to make the choices that nourish us, that leave us content with our lives. Anything that prevents us from doing so is unjust and must be stopped. This is applied through a lens that understands and accepts that certain groups in my country and culture have been systematically forced into situations that strip them of those options. It is leavened with the assertion that any choice we make that oppresses others is also unjust no matter how content it makes us. That is the source of everything I do to strive for a more just world.
When I watch how miserable she is and how that misery escapes her in little ways like assuming that my child has the capacity to manipulate me consciously at the age of 5 weeks, or throwaway statements describing her children as sociopaths, I find my ability to not judge someone’s choices strained in the extreme. It takes a great deal of self control not to sit down and tell her that how much she hates her life is the reason why people like almost all the uterus bearing members of my immediate family have had abortions. To tell her that she is allowed to strive for her own happiness even if it means not bringing a pregnancy to term. To tell her that this is the problem with a pro-life ideology, that it leaves people like her spending their lives in obligation to people they love but don’t like very much, and never having the chance to be simply content with their situation.
I mean, I don’t think that parenthood is this joyful dance through a field of daisies while the sky rains kittens pooping rainbow marshmallows. I realize that parenthood is great sometimes, and shit sometimes. It can make you incandescently joyous, and utterly miserable, and oftentimes manage both at once. Mostly its just another part of life, and like many things that are a part of life, I believe very strongly that one should be able to choose to engage in it as freely as possible.
Its tearing me apart, feeling awful for her because I haven’t seen her truly content with her life since the birth of her first child, and at the same time feeling like I’m fucking up big time for even daring to think that she made bad choices. I realize that these choices are not made in a vacuum, so I don’t blame her for her misery. I do wonder what it would take for her to value her own happiness to the same degree that she feels obligated to give up her life for her children. I can’t resolve this conflict of my ethics, that seems to tell me that since she chose this, I have to stand by and just watch her be miserable.
So that’s my confession, I guess. That I still make this about me.