A probably unnecessary clarification just in case anyone’s still reading

In a recent post, I talked about the two “abortions” that are part of my personal fertility story. It was written in the heat of my emotion over the “pro-life” death of an Irish woman. As such, I did not make my point as carefully or precisely as I should have.

Specifically, I wrote that “although I was in graduate school for Christian theology and ethics at the time, none of my friends or colleagues — not even the Catholics among them — offered to plan a memorial service for my dead baby. (In fact, they didn’t so much as send a card.)” This makes it sound as if no one at all acknowledged my loss, which is not the case. My family members were as sad as I was, and there were friends from both school and church who visited me in the hospital and/or sent condolences. One dear friend even brought over a casserole. I regret very much the insensitivity of my words.

Here is the point I was trying to make: No one offered to plan memorial services for my dead babies BECAUSE EVERYONE KNEW THEY WEREN’T BABIES. They were the beginnings of babies, the hopes of babies, but not yet babies. And had I behaved as if I had lost a baby – had I sent out a campus-wide email (“It is with deep sadness that we inform you…”) or invited people to a funeral – people would have thought I was over-reacting. A failed pregnancy can be a terrible loss, but it is simply not the same as losing a beloved person. Can you imagine if, upon meeting a stranger who inquired about my family, I said something like, “Well, I had three children but two of them died”? People I know have delivered fully-formed stillborns, with names and birthdays. A friend had a baby whose heart stopped at ten days old. A neighbor had a six-year old son who died suddenly of an infection. A distant relative died in a crash at age twenty-one. What I lost in my ectopic pregnancy and my miscarriage were simply not the emotional or moral equivalent of what these parents lost. And everybody – even the most pro-life Catholic or Evangelical on the planet – knows it. And I know they know it, because no one treats me like the mother of two dead children.

Nor do I expect to be treated as such! I have found comfort during my struggles in a very unlikely place – Adam Smith. In his early work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he argued that (among other things) it is incumbent upon those who grieve to cut their grief down to manageable size in order to allow others to imagine it and sympathize. To paraphrase, someone experiencing a failed pregnancy must “lower her passion to that pitch, in which the spectators are capable of going along with her”; if she doesn’t, she may be shunned as hysterical or viewed as otherwise indecent. (Think Mary Todd Lincoln.) A willingness to meet the limits of others’ sympathies is a necessity if one hopes to be understood, agreed with, and approved of. But a positive side-benefit of imagining how one’s grief will sound or look to others is that, over time, one begins to get a little bit of distance from it and put it into perspective.

There are countless women out there who have experienced failed pregnancies, and I do not speak for all of them. But in my own experience, miscarriage revealed the very important differences between first-trimester embryos and babies or grown children. All but the most radical religious people intuitively know this to be the case, otherwise they would treat miscarriages the same way they treat the deaths of other people. It is simply disingenuous to go on pretending that they can’t see the distinctions.

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4 thoughts on “A probably unnecessary clarification just in case anyone’s still reading

  1. Hi Kate,

    I don’t personally know you, but I got linked to your blog posts. Both are great articles and were quite interesting reads. I do have two bones to pick with the arguments you make. One is small, the other is more important. Before I start let me say that while I disagree with you, I hope I don’t come off as cold or belligerent in the following. Sometimes, when talking philosophically about emotional situations, that can happen. I assure you it is not intentional.

    I’ll start with the small first:

    Catholic moral teaching does not prohibit inducing pregnancy in cases like Savita’s. It just isn’t the case. I’m, not a theologian myself, but I know multiple Catholic theologians and have several friends who work in Catholic hospitals and they all agree on this. I agree with you that this poor woman’s death resulted from the neglect of some specific self righteous self centered Catholics with the addition of “who have no idea what their Church teaches in this specific area.” Multiple Catholic blogs around the web have already pressed this point. I won’t dwell on it further.

    The second bone I need to pick is starts here,
    “What I lost in my ectopic pregnancy and my miscarriage were simply not the emotional or moral equivalent of what these parents lost.”

    True, I agree. And I also agree that most Catholics and pro life people would agree as well. Where I think we disagree is that the emotional and moral weight of the death of Human A on Human B determines how much of a “person” Human A was.

    There are multiple problems with that argument. One problem is that people are generally less grief stricken by more common forms of death. A failed pregnancy, while tragic, is more common than a car crash or a sudden infection in a healthy child. People usually grieve less over an elderly person who dies of pneumonia (“It was her time…”) than over an unexpected heart attack of an otherwise healthy young person. Yet, no one thinks that this reflects on either deceased human’s “person hood” in the slightest.

    Similarly, people grieve more or less depending on the relationships they have had with the deceased. There are many people who die across the world every day who I do not personally grieve or hold a service for, yet this does not necessarily mean they weren’t persons.

    Thanks for your time.

    George

  2. Pingback: “Silence!” says the Inner Troll | This, too, is joy.

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