Putting away the rose-colored glasses

I wasn’t the child who knew with certainty that she wanted to be an astronaut or a veterinarian. I wasn’t the high schooler who dreamed of moving to New York or L.A. And I wasn’t the college freshman with her major already chosen, career path already in mind.

But I did know one thing from a very young age: I wanted to be a mother.

When I was a kid, I thought this meant doling out medicine when your kids were sick and bandaids when they scraped their knees, or coloring pictures and cutting out construction paper shapes. Later, I presumed it would be cuddling cute babies who looked up at you adoringly. Finally, as I gained the perspective of seeing close family members and friends have their own children, I saw a more realistic picture of the sacrifice bringing home a helpless newborn requires, albeit from afar—the diapers, the spit-up, the around-the-clock care and subsequent exhaustion.

But deep in my perception of motherhood hid one very wrong assumption: that the fact that I wanted to be a mother would make it easy.

It’s so clearly off-base that it feels embarrassing even to write. If it had ever risen to the surface as a conscious thought, I might have laughed at my absurdity. But it didn’t, and I didn’t. I went on assuming that while, sure, those newborn weeks would be tough, I’d soon hit that point of smooth sailing. I’d always wanted to be a mother, so how could I struggle with it?

It wasn’t just the way I viewed my own future motherhood: it was the lens through which I saw the issue of abortion. I’d always considered myself pro-life, and my childish optimism told me that having a baby would be life-changing almost exclusively in positive, beautiful ways. Abortion-minded women, as I imagined them, were perhaps not convinced enough of the sacredness of motherhood; the sorrow I felt for them was accompanied by compassion, but little comprehension. And hearing about mothers who fell in love with the babies they’d chosen not to abort filled me with peace. There, I’d think, as if the story ended there. All is right.

Of course, reality has a way of driving home a point.

Motherhood is beautiful—and very, very hard.

Happy tears after a positive pregnancy test were soon followed by nausea, food aversions, and digestive, um, sluggishness. A belly so large that I stopped sleeping well before the baby was born. Then childbirth. Nipples on fire from nursing all the time. Sleepless delirium.

Fear, more fear, and loneliness.

It didn’t take long for motherhood—the real version, not the one I’d been picturing—to humble me. I loved my baby so much I didn’t know how to contain it all, but that also amplified my terror that something bad would happen to him. It took months to stop googling my many questions and to rekindle any semblance of a social life. Eventually, I settled into a rhythm, and life calmed down a bit. But the learning curve didn’t plateau, and I began to suspect that it never would.

I was also conscious of the fact that I had every advantage: I had a husband who was a caring, involved father. I didn’t want to work full-time, and I didn’t have to. We lived near family and friends who showered us with support.

So what happens, I began to wonder, to those women who don’t have a supportive husband and the large support network that I did? What happens to women who are faced with next-to-nonexistent maternity leave, daycare bills, and a measly savings account? What happens, in other words, when you combine the challenges of motherhood with any other difficult circumstances?

Finally, I saw abortion for what it really is: a tragic response to legitimate fears.

I was no stranger to the pro-life movement: I’d raised money for crisis pregnancy centers and babysat kids while their mothers attended a car seat safety class. I’d done administrative work for advocacy organizations and offered pamphlets about free pregnancy resources to women headed into abortion clinics.

None of these taught me as much as my son. Pregnancy only further convinced me of the humanity of the unborn and their right to be protected, from seeing my little kidney-bean baby on my first ultrasound to feeling him hiccup and kick. But, just as importantly, the struggles I experienced as a new mom helped me to empathize with women considering abortion in a way that nothing before had.

Women need support.

My husband and I took a childbirth class toward the end of my pregnancy. Among the strategies and information offered were mantras for the “coach” (the father or other attendant during the birth) to encourage the laboring mother. I informed Kevin prior to labor that if he ever said the recommended, “Every contraction brings us closer to the baby,” I’d hit him. And come the big day, even, “We’re going to meet our baby today!” was less motivating than I’d have thought. What really helped me was simply, “You’re so strong.”

Women are strong, but we need to be reminded of it—and by generous, caring voices. I’m encouraged by hearing those voices in the conversation about abortion, which are often accompanied by hands that sort baby item donations or cradle newborns so a new mom can sleep, and which are so much more effective than the damning shouts the topic so frequently attracts.

But qualitative research shows, unsurprisingly, that women deeply desire their children’s fathers to join in that chorus of voices, to lend unfailing support, and to be a partner in their family life. For all the good the pro-life movement does, perhaps we could be doing more to strengthen the relationships between fathers and mothers—or, even better, to strengthen romantic relationships between men and women before an unplanned pregnancy occurs.

Looking back, there was one thing my young self was right about: for all its difficulties, being a mom is every bit as joyful as I’d always imagined. I did get to cradle my sweet baby while he smiled up at me. I do give him cherry-flavored Tylenol and snuggle him extra close when he’s sick. He’s old enough now to color, which has fast become his favorite activity. Some days, motherhood even lives up to the idyllic expectations of my twelve-year-old self.

But on the days that it doesn’t, and there are many, I’m more than grateful for the support of my husband, family, and friends: I don’t know what I would do without them. Which is precisely why we, as a culture and as a pro-life movement, must focus our attention on helping women considering abortion get the support they need—especially from the fathers of their children—to stay the course. 

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