Having a preemie will make you re-think the abortion “debate”

With our very premature daughter in the NICU.
This is what a baby at the beginning of the third trimester looks like outside of the womb.
Eight states in the US would allow this child to be aborted legally.

I believe in the power of testimony. I think, in this political moment, the testimony of women is more important than ever. This is mine.

For several months, I had listened to my OB-GYN tell me that I was having the healthiest pregnancy he had ever seen in his career. A former marathoner, I was still running several miles a day at the beginning of my third trimester. I had slowed to eight-minute splits from my pre-pregnancy six minutes or less, but I didn’t even break a sweat lugging my growing belly around. In fact, I had only weeks before confessed to my coworkers that I was even pregnant. I was so fit going into my pregnancy that almost no one had noticed. I was doing everything right. I managed my diet like it was a second full-time job. I took the right vitamins. All of my ultrasounds revealed a happy, healthy baby.

In one night, it all went spectacularly wrong.

My husband was out with his friends for their weekly game night. I stayed home, watching the end of the first season of Downton Abbey. In the last episode, one of the main characters, the victim of an evil plot, slipped getting out of the bathtub and ended up having a miscarriage. I went to bed feeling sick at the thought. But in those hours, in the real world, my own pregnancy was taking a turn for the worse. I started feeling the pangs of labor. I called the doctor on call at the hospital, and they told me it was way too early for me to be in labor. “You are early in your third trimester,” they said. “Go back to bed, it’s probably false labor pains.”

I tried to sleep, but I could not. My husband returned home, and I told him about all of it. He agreed with the doctors. I just needed to chill out. Even now, I regret not getting in the car and driving to the emergency room of another hospital then and there.

For the rest of the weekend, I was still having what felt like labor pains. I went for a five-mile hike to distract myself from what I thought were false labor pains. It was way too early to be going into labor, I kept telling myself. I was so far away from the time women usually give birth that I had not even registered for birthing classes. I still had no idea how to have a baby. It wasn’t real. My body was telling me otherwise, however. My belly was getting smaller. It was leaking. A lot.

My regular OB-GYN appointment was the next day. I could make it until then. I would learn what was happening to us. And by “us,” I mean me and the baby. What was happening to one was clearly happening to the other.

Like a good manager, I went to work and did my normal chores. Then I drove to my doctor’s office. Checked in. Passed time sitting in the waiting room flipping through magazines about parenthood. Passed time waiting in the examination room. A doctor I did not know was on rotation to see me. After a very brief examination, she started screaming for a wheelchair to move me to the hospital immediately.

“You are having this baby right now,” she shouted at me. I was terrified at the scope of my own ignorance in everything involving childbirth. And here I was in an emergency situation.

We had not even picked out a name for our daughter yet. It was something we had postponed because we could not agree on anything. Was I going to give birth to a Jane Doe? How would we explain that to her?

I did not understand that it was a bona fide miracle that my daughter was still alive at that point. My belly had drained of fluid, and every move she made meant she could be sitting on her umbilical cord – which for a baby was essentially choking. My risk of infection was insane. They wouldn’t even allow me to use the restroom.

The doctors in the hospital had different opinions about how to proceed. To give the baby every chance at a normal life, I was supposed to get injections of antibiotics to stave off infection and injections of a cocktail that would protect the baby neurologically. We were living in a small town outside of a small town and I was about to give birth at a regional hospital that I had never intended to give birth at. But those emergency decisions by small town doctors saved our baby. And me.

I spent three days drinking as much water as I could physically stand to drink, in an attempt to keep water in my leaking womb, and laying on my side. This was all to keep the baby sort of floating around and not sitting on her umbilical cord. The baby just had to hold on long enough for the drugs to have an effect. She did. But my body kept defying the drug cocktail I was being given and going into labor. I spent all of those days watching the monitors hooked up to my abdomen. The baby was still alive. That was the only thing that mattered in the midst of all this chaos. She was still alive.

We spent those three days trying to think up a name for her. Our funniest compromise was on her middle name, Aurelie, the French derivative of the Latin “golden.” A message to our daughter that she was precious.

Very late at night, the doctor came in and explained that we could not keep this up much longer. I needed to go into surgery right then and there to save the baby. I had wanted more than anything to have a natural birth. I had never been hospitalized before, let alone endured major surgery. The baby would most certainly die, the doctor said. Possibly you would too, he added. Stoically, as if both details were nothing. C-sections are a big deal, he explained, but they are the most common surgeries performed in the United States. Take it or leave it.

I pondered what hospital staffing was like at almost midnight. What a terrible time to go into surgery. But there was no choice. It blows my mind to think, in retrospect, that if I had lived in a state like California or New York, the doctor would be talking to me about abortion under the same circumstances. It seems like taking advantage of someone’s mental state and the swirling fears that come with these events. Like exploitation. You might die, so put the thought of motherhood out of your mind and kill the source of your distress. I often look at our daughter now and think about how blessed I was that, in those precious moments, we were settled in a culture that valued life.

My husband and I had a brief moment before I was transferred to the operating room to exchange I love yous. I was wheeled into a cavernous, cold, sterile, and honestly kind of dark, operating room. Whatever terror I thought I was experiencing before, this was so much worse.

The nurses were doing true women’s work in those moments. They were keeping me sane and telling me that it was all going to be okay. They weren’t midwives, but they understood the power of a woman telling another woman that she and the baby would be just fine. They had seen it all before. They had done it all before. Women have been doing this for thousands of years. I was not the precedent. I trusted them and it mattered. Sit up on the metal table and bend over, they said. A giant needle went into my spine. It was happening, whether I liked it or not. But I was not alone.

The doctor told me that he would have the baby out of me in less than fifteen minutes. The baby would be very small, but she’d be just fine.

For ten minutes, the doctor tried to distract me from the fact of surgery by talking about marathons. He was a marathoner. I was a marathoner. Tell me about your races. Meanwhile, he was pulling the guts out of my torso and freeing a baby that was in critical condition. I could not see any of it. It was just a sensation of pulling, again and again and again.

Within moments, a screaming, perfect baby was held up to my face. I was stuck in the unforgettable stasis of love at first sight. We had finally met. We were a family.

I was soldered and sewn up, ignoring the smell of my flesh and parts with the joy that I was now a mother, and sent to recovery, where a belated deluge of hormones intended to eliminate the sensation of childbirth washed over me. I shook uncontrollably for hours.

Terrible things started to unfold. Things that made the earlier issues seem like trifles.

I was alone in my room. No one brought the baby in to see me. Within hours, I would understand that our child was in desperate need of medical attention and would be transferred to the region’s children’s hospital for special treatment. I had to remain in the hospital to heal from surgery. I could not be moved. She had to be moved. Hopefully she would survive transport. The doctors minced no words that she might not.

I told my husband to forget about me and follow our baby. She needed an advocate and I did not. He did. For five minutes, I was allowed to see our daughter in her incubator before she was loaded into a special ambulance for transport 50 miles away. I had no idea what to say except that everything would be okay. We’d see each other again. I had the chance to talk to the people on that ambulance later. She almost died twice on the way to the new hospital. But she made it. Even years later, the people who worked on that ambulance remembered her name.

She only weighed a couple pounds, but looked in every way like a baby. I had no idea how much intelligence and fight she already possessed, there, being born when I was days into my third trimester.

There’s a fun story that our daughter now loves to tell about how my mother-in-law busted me out of the hospital and then drove me to the children’s hospital where she was.

I was ripped open from abdominal surgery, but I was so scared for the baby that I was pacing back and forth in my hospital room within hours. I was in excruciating pain, but it did not matter. Eventually, I was doing that in the hall just to prove to the doctors that I could walk and was okay to release. Hormones are amazing this way. Your body is constructed to protect your young, even at a tremendous price to yourself. It’s nature’s way of telling you that this is what you were made for.

They told me that I was stuck there in the hospital for 36 hours at least. I was hysterical with grief and fear. I might miss her entire life sitting in some shithole regional hospital room. Because I had a wound.

I could see my car sitting in the parking lot from the hospital window. Exactly where I had parked it days earlier, when I thought I was going to a regular doctor’s appointment and had no idea all of this was coming. I finally asked the doctor whether they could legally stop me from walking out of the hospital and getting in my car. He tried to reason with me, which is laughable now. How would I check my blind spot when I could not even turn my body from the surgical wound? I did not care if it ripped my stomach open in the meantime. I would make it to where the baby was.

Finally, my mother-in-law arrived from Georgia. She convinced the hospital staff to release me to her care. She drove me to the NICU where our daughter was. It was indeed an excruciating trip. With every pothole in the freeway, I screamed in pain and felt like I was being torn open again. But we made it. I was there. We were all there. Our family.

I was surprised by all the work that had been done in my absence to stabilize our daughter. She had been born with significant birth defects, all affecting internal organs, and all caused by de novo genetic defects. (This means they have no idea where they came from scientifically. Yes, medically uncertainty still exists this day and age.) Her problems actually had no connection to being born prematurely. Her premature birth was likely a chemical sign she needed help. They say birth is triggered by the baby sending chemical messages to the mother that it is time. In her case, it was time.

The first time I saw our daughter in that hospital, her neurologist was hovering over her.

“I have never seen this before,” he said.

“What?” I asked. I was expecting more horrible, unfathomable news.

“You see how I move my pen and she follows it with her eyes? She even moves her eyes to follow who is speaking. I have not seen that with a newborn, let alone a newborn that was so premature.”

Indeed, she could not physically move her head, but she was making an effort to listen to whomever was speaking.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“If I were to guess, I’d say that you have a very intelligent daughter. Her brain is extraordinarily developed given all that has happened. Perhaps she will be a prodigy?” he said. He shook his head and continued on his rounds. She became a favorite of his, and he checked in on her all the time.

Whatever interest I might have had in her intelligence at that point was quickly subordinated to concerns about her survival. She spent 100 days of her first year in the hospital. My husband and I were there with her every step of the way. She wooed every doctor and nurse that had the chance to take care of her. They loved seeing her progress and loved how she watched every move they made. She had the fight in her. She had a role in her own care.

With several surgeries, her problems were completely cured. I’m not going to lie, those were dark, dark months. But she is now a completely “normal” child physically. It’s like none of this ever occurred.

Her neurologist was correct. She is profoundly gifted intellectually. We ended up homeschooling her because she was functioning several grade levels ahead of her peers before she entered kindergarten. Her development wasn’t stunted by being premature; she was in fact way, way ahead.

Within months after she was finally free of all her medical issues, she was fully engaged in her environment. It made me laugh how, even before she could speak, she was ordering her toys according to color and size. She was born into a world she’d sort and control. Her pattern recognition was unreal. We went from having a crisis to having a highly analytical baby. We went from trying to coach her to do ordinary infant things to trying to figure out how we’d be educating a child like this.

When she was first born, I was so scared and humiliated by the circumstances that I did not even want to share any of the details of her birth. The normal questions like how long was your baby, how much did she weigh, I did not want to answer. Barely able survive was the answer. Who wants to confess that? You want me to quantify how far awry our experiences are? But she did survive.

The important detail about her birth was that she was extraordinarily premature, but also extraordinarily human. She was a thinker. She cared about things. When she was less than three pounds. If someone had described this to me before I had a baby, I’m not sure I would have believed them. But life contains a lot of magic. You learn that when you become a mother.

There are people who would try to justify killing this baby before she was born. Sitting in the NICU with her for months was a strain on my career as a bond analyst. The thing I went to college for. The thing I worked a decade to climb the ranks for. I was at the top of my field. And then, after that, she was too medically fragile to put into day care… Who wants to deal with those inconveniences? Someone might try to take your position at the top of your department in the meantime. Why not get rid of the kiddo and defend your professional bailiwick? There will be other opportunities at a family! This is the very real poison our society is spitting at young mothers these days.

The discussion about abortion has become sickening, and it is all ultimately about money. Planned Parenthood has replaced labor unions as the largest contributor to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. What they get in exchange for that dough is politicians with increasingly psychopathic attitudes toward mothers murdering babies. It’s the mother’s “choice” to murder her thinking, soulful baby even hours before birth. If they can get millions of women to pay them hundreds of dollars a pop to relieve them of a “clump of cells,” that’s big business and Wall Street-level influence over politics. And now Planned Parenthood is in the business of providing hormone injections, so the hot new political thing is elementary schools talking about sex changes with students. They are a cancer on American family life, pushing terrible life decisions on young people, pushing a nihilist society where normal rites of passage are treated as perversions. Motherhood was their first causality, but it won’t be their last.

I beg you, if you are thinking about having an abortion, please consider the details of our birth story. A baby is a baby, from the beginning to the end. Even if you are not a religious individual, you can recognize the value of life. Babies are more sophisticated, more aware of who you are, and who they are, than you might ever suppose, and that does not start with labor. You have a life, they have a life, but you have a relationship that transcends this crazy world first. Take a moment and think about these things. You are not alone. If you need help, message me. I will help you find the resources you need. Don’t make a decision that you cannot reverse because toxic influences are trendy these days.

Seven years later, playing chess with her father.

Aristotle’s Ethics in the Poetry of Joy Harjo

I like serendipity, especially serendipity in ideas. Today I was reading Prufrock, an email newsletter of sorts on arts and letters (I look forward to seeing it land in my inbox every morning – highly recommend subscribing.) The author, Micah Mattix, was talking about how he has finished a series of lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I tend to frame the world as Aristotle did, so I will probably listen to the lectures too when I can find the time.

Anyhow, it was Mattix’s take on friendship in Aristotle’s ethics that intrigued me:

The final two [lectures] treat friendship and action. Friendship according to Aristotle is the “most necessary” virtue. I won’t go into Aristotle’s types of friendship (those founded on utility, pleasure, and virtue), but I appreciated his view that friendship is one of the foundations of civilization. It is what binds a city together. We see this idea in classical and modern literature, too. Friendship and hospitality (which is welcoming a stranger as a friend) are quintessentially human attributes in The Odyssey, for example, which are not shared by the gods or the sub-human cyclops. These two ideas—that friendship is the basis of civilization and a touchstone of humanity—are also found in Francis Bacon’s short essay “Of Friendship,” which is obviously drawn from classical sources. Whatever “delights in solitude,” Bacon writes, “is either a wild beast or a god. For it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast.” It’s not that solitude is bad or unnecessary. It is that to live only in solitude is to live a sub-human life. Without friends, Bacon continues, the “world is but a wilderness.”

It seems to me that we’ve lost this high view of friendship as an aspect of human identity, which we now regularly confuse with personality or view as a discrete construction of the autonomous will rather than as something that is composed of universal attributes. So, it is no surprise that our lives increasingly look like those of the cyclops. We live in caves, in fenced-in back yards, and “consume” each other—on television, in movies, on Facebook and Twitter. And because our lives (I’m speaking generally here about American culture) are ordered around maximizing physical pleasure, not virtue, they must end in suicide when the body’s capacity for physical pleasure wanes. The opioid crisis starts with this low view of human nature and won’t end until a grander view is recaptured, which I don’t see happening any time soon.  

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. I was talking to my brother yesterday about how shocking the brawl at a Little League game in Lakewood, Colorado – not far at all from where I used to live when I lived in Colorado – was. Suburban Denver has become something of a poster child for a specific sort of violence, and it’s ultimately a collective undoing of friendship in the Aristotelian sense. (Though this malaise is wrecking havoc on our country and world in general.)

Aristotle would be intrigued by how often this undoing is centered around educational institutions and ordinary family life. These are what he identifies as the foundation, or building blocks, of society. Dysfunction in them necessarily scales.

Anyhow, I moved on to reading poems by the absolutely sublime Joy Harjo, who is the first Native American poet laureate. (Though some might argue that honor belongs to William Jay Smith. Harjo is a member of the Creek.) It had never occurred to me how Aristotelian in spirit some Native American tribes are, but that sense of things shines in Harjo’s poetry.

On the topic of friendship, consider this poem, Once the World Was Perfect:

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

One of the central themes in Aristotle’s ethics is that the flourishing of a society begins at the household/family level, builds to the community, and then to the nation. Thus, it is impossible to have a sound democratic society without first having stable and flourishing families.

Now consider this poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here:

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

I love that so much: “It is here” – at the kitchen table – “that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.” Have you ever seen someone summarize so neatly why people behave like monsters in the age of social media, smart phones, and binge-watching dystopian garbage on Netflix? We’ve stopped making families, stopped gathering in love and goodwill, and thus have stopped teaching future generations what it means to be fully human.

And this poem, Remember, on the importance of family and friendship, also very Aristotelian:

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.