Among my many loves is a love for science. I find it fascinating and inspiring to learn about the myriad details that scientists discover about our universe. Subatomic particles, atoms, biology, or astronomy — it is all endlessly captivating. For many people, spending time in nature is a deeply spiritual experience. For myself though, it is not so much the simple act of being in nature that I find most appealing, but learning about its intricate details. I guess my bookworm ways assert themselves even when I branch out into the realm of science (as opposed to literature, my first love).
Did you know that female alligators will rarely eat or go to the water to cool off for about two months while they stand guard over their nest? Female octopi starve themselves to death while they care for and guard their eggs. Other creatures, though perhaps less extreme, go to great lengths to keep watch over their eggs. As I pondered these examples of nature, it occurred to me how revolutionary was the evolution of mammals. For us, it’s different. Growing our young inside ourselves, in order to best care for our young, we must take care of ourselves. To be the most accurate, I could say that, for humans at least, pregnancy requires that others take care of us.
A pregnant woman, with her body increasing its blood volume and cardiac output by up to 50%, must learn to allow herself to take naps and to go to bed earlier to get the proper rest that she needs to grow a child. Particularly in the first trimester, morning sickness often means that she is unable to cook for herself (and others) and other tasks and activities become especially burdensome as well. As she feels like she has the flu for two months straight, this requires others to take care of her, in particular, to prepare food for her so she gets adequate nutrition and to pick up activities that she may have had to set aside temporarily.
During labor and delivery too, there are challenges and pain for her to overcome, but if she is properly educated to know what is happening in her body and given the proper emotional support so that she feels safe and well cared-for, most women will be able to birth without intervention, and she will receive the flood of hormones that help her cope with the pain and bond with her baby in an overwhelming moment of empowerment, triumph, and indescribable love. I find myself wondering, however, if the keystone ingredient for this moment to occur lies in the woman herself or in those surrounding the woman. The research showing the great birth outcomes, the fewer interventions, the quicker labor and deliveries for women who have doula-attended births suggests that women can better cope with the challenges of their physiology when given the proper support. Furthermore, such support should not be viewed as a bonus that some women are able to have but as an essential component to the birthing process. For women whose health or circumstances require medical intervention, and particularly traumatic ones such as cesareans, they require an even greater degree of emotional support, concern, and practical help.
Likewise, the postpartum period can be a particular challenge for mothers physically and emotionally and they need the proper care and support from others in order to be able to meet the demands of motherhood. At least one author has questioned if the lack of postpartum care of mothers is the cause of many instances of postpartum depression.
The needs of women during pregnancy, during birth, and during the postpartum period all seem to give the same message. It is the same message that I myself realize on a daily basis as I go about my work of motherhood caring for my three daughters, and my work for The Guiding Star Project and Elizabeth Ministry International. I am only able to do everything I do because I have a lot of support. My husband does at least half of the cleaning in our house and almost all of the laundry. He’s supportive of paying a babysitter so I can do volunteer work and he believes in the importance of all the work that I do, both in the home and out of it even though I don’t get paid for it (except the little bit of money I make teaching Natural Family Planning). We share parental responsibilities, and he even encourages me to take naps when I’m tired because growing a baby is hard work, he says so that I won’t feel guilty for doing so.
No doubt, all the stages of motherhood require a community of support for women and for parents. When I hear others talk about the necessity of abortion access so that women can achieve their education or dreams, however, I can’t help but think that such a statement could only be made in a culture that has refused its support of women and mothers. No doubt, without support, a mother will have a much more difficult time caring for her young and working toward achieving her dreams than a woman not given such help. Employers, schools, family members and friends must be there for her to offer their help every step of the way. As long as there is not a requirement of paid parental leave, as long as universities refuse to cover maternity care in their student insurance plans, as long as employers and schools refuse flexibility and and all the myriad ways that motherhood is punished in our culture, then people will be able to say that abortion is “necessary”.
Frederica Matthewes-Green explained it perfectly in the best article I have read on the topic to date, when she said, “What we didn’t realize was that, once abortion becomes available, it becomes the most attractive option for everyone around the pregnant woman. If she has an abortion, it’s like the pregnancy never existed. No one is inconvenienced. It doesn’t cause trouble for the father of the baby, or her boss, or the person in charge of her college scholarship. It won’t embarrass her mom and dad.”
Abortion is not necessary. Support for women is.
This post was originally published at The Guiding Star Project and has been reprinted with permission.