I’ve been trying my hand at writing blogs, in Dutch. My father-in-law was kind enough to translate one in English. So here it is; my attempt to find compassion in the heated discussion around abortion.
“With your story you’d be a tremendous ambassador for the Pro-life movement.” My hostess cuts the cake in generous slices, her face is beaming. I smile with clenched teeth as I pay full attention to blowing my coffee.
Anti-abortion organizations would love to have me, early teenage-mother, as their volunteer figurehead. That’s what I hear from time to time. The child I gave birth to when I was seventeen is an adult now, neatly delivered to society. Her father and I are still together and we are Christians. All of this clearly makes us experts on how to deal with unplanned pregnancy.
I take a few slow paced sips from my coffee, while in my mind I attempt to formulate a nuanced answer. Over the years I’ve gained enough experience to know that a firm opinion against abortion counts as a hallmark of solid Christianity. I will be found wanting.
As it happens, I just don’t know what exactly the truth is about deliberately aborting a pregnancy. Actually, I really don’t care to know. I much rather suspend my judgement of the exhausted mother of three, who to her dismay discovers she is two weeks over due, pregnant again from an alcoholic husband.
I much rather think with compassion of the naïve girl down the street, and what happened with the handsome older boy in the alley behind our block. I prefer to let her make a choice as to what she wants to do with the movement in her belly. What do I know of the depression of the mother who stands waiting at the playground? What do I know of the broken heart of the girl next door? Yes, I know something of a pregnant sixteen year old, but even those images have blurred after all those years.
She made cuttings in the front of her jeans. With bare legs and dressed in her boyfriend’s checkered shirt she sat behind her mother’s sewing machine, while she sewed a half moon of jogging fabric onto the battered trousers. From the head phones of her Walkman came Peter Cetera: “I am a man who would fight for your honor, I’ll be the hero you’re dreaming of,” is what he sang.
Under the flannel of her shirt impatient purple ripples formed over her swollen belly and her nubile breasts, like subcutaneous lightning flashes, like twisting snakes.
“We’ll live forever, knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love,” promised Peter.
“Right from conception, say the self-assured Christians, right from conception the fetus has a soul, and it means murder if you let it be taken away.” A firm opinion. Crystal clear, if you stand on the side.
But for Christians too, there are more choices of opinion, as I learn from the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’ve really enjoyed her book ‘Shameless’. With shocking honesty and great compassion she throws new light on stifling dogma’s relating to sexuality and chastity in the church. In her book I read that the common conservative opinion about abortion is not really all that old. Centuries before the Christian pro-life movement makes a stand against intentional abortion, most Jewish and Christian leaders held the conviction that the soul enters the body not at the conception, but at the first breath. This would make the fetus a soulless being, its right of being subordinate to the desires of its environment. Clear as sunlight. A relief for those who would not like to equate abortion with murder.
But also… rather chilling. I’d rather not share this insight with my friend who in the afternoon felt the child kick her womb while she was painting the walls of the baby room a soft yellow. That very evening the sheets of her bed colored red.
The soul enters the body at the conception.
For you formed my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
The soul enters the body at the first breath.
He formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
Two opposite accounts from which I as a Christian can choose, with the Bible in my hands. Convictions that we can use to hit each other over the head as our tradition is prone to do.
The evening following the uncomfortable conversation with the pro-life lady, my oldest daughter is hanging on our worn-out, but very comfortable couch. Her legs lie inelegantly on the table, stretched and a little spread out to make room for her swollen belly, which she cradles in her folded hands.
She is radiant. To her left and to her right are two handsome blonde men with the same looks as hers. Her father and her brother. She lifts her sweater a bit, and at her invitation the men put careful hands on her bare belly. The skin is waving and bubbling and the granddad-to-be dries his eyes with the sleeve of his checkered shirt.
“A foot! I feel a little foot!” rejoices the uncle. He puts his mouth close to his sister’s belly and speaks to his niece through the funnel of his hands. “I’m gonna buy Nikes for you, Floppy, far too expensive, the same as mine, but teeny-weeny.”
They love her, these men love this unborn child, and they give her a soul.
Just as twenty six years ago her mother received a soul, when her uncertain teenage parents painted a secondhand crib for her, sang her lullabies, and thought up a name for her. They loved her, and her unborn life was holy.
Whether this is a Biblically well-founded theory, I don’t know, but for me it is true. For someone else I don’t know. For someone else, I simply don’t want to know.