Content Warning: This article includes personal stories of miscarriage and infant loss as well as discussions of abortion which may be difficult for some readers.
I was a child the first time I heard the Christian band 2nd Chapter of Acts sing, “My God, they’re killing thousands. Killing thousands, without blinking an eye.” I still remember my horror when my mother explained what the lyrics referred to: that sometimes people kill babies before they are even born.
That was my introduction to abortion. As I grew, my lessons continued. Raised an evangelical Christian, I could have been the poster child for the pro-life movement. I helped gather items for baby showers at the pregnancy care center and I organized pro-life walks at my public high school. I engaged in lengthy debates with a close family member, whose nursing career had shown her the horrors of pre-Roe v. Wade botched abortions. In my spare time, I read books about abortion survivors and mothers who chose to fight for their sick infants’ lives at great cost to their own. My carefully crafted homeschool sexual education curriculum even involved a meeting with the director of our local pregnancy care center.
When, as a young adult I became Catholic, many would have assumed that I might become even more immersed in the pro-life movement. However, while the reality of abortion continued to upset me, I found myself becoming uneasy about some of the tactics that the pro-life community was using to fight the battle against it. At first, my concerns were theoretical. I reasoned that confronting a pregnant mother as she entered an abortion clinic was probably not terribly effective. Living in the city, I had plenty of opportunities to see how universally avoided and ignored any unsolicited “street preaching” was, and I began to suspect that protests at abortion clinics were met with similar responses.
Later, my doubts became more personal. I began to see friends who had previously been open to Christianity turn away from it because of the often loveless presentation of pro-life arguments. I heard people who I care deeply about tell me that they could not believe in Christianity because of the hypocrisy they perceived in people who were pro-life. They were scandalized by Christians who professed to value an unborn baby but simultaneously devalued so many other lives (immigrant lives, Black lives, prisoners’ lives, and the lives of those living in poverty, for example). I watched as Catholics walked away from the Christian faith and I began to grieve as people I loved moved further and further from Christ, pushed away by zealous people who were so focused on the lives of the unborn that they had forgotten the precious souls of the born.
While I was experiencing this growing unease about the pro-life movement’s methods, I lost one daughter at birth and another at 10 weeks gestation. Later, I found myself journeying alongside other bereaved parents, some of whom had made the heart-wrenching decision to terminate a medically compromised pregnancy that they had eagerly anticipated because they wanted to spare their child from future suffering. A common theme for these parents was their fear that even their closest family members would judge their decision harshly and without listening. As a result, many of them had never spoken openly of their losses prior to joining a confidential support group. Instead, they were grieving alone – sometimes for years.
I sat with these parents who were desperately grieving the loss of their babies and remembered my own daughters’ vastly different deaths. I reflected on the times that I have worried that the first one, Noemi, suffered as she died. When we met to discuss her autopsy results with my doctor, I desperately asked him, “How long did it take for Noemi to lose consciousness without oxygen?” I needed him to say it took seconds, but he could not honestly give me the answer I sought. Instead, he quietly said, “Because she had not started breathing on her own yet, I really don’t know.” My maternal heart broke all over again. For weeks, I lay awake at night wondering if my baby knew to panic when she could not breathe, even though she had never taken a breath before. Was the fear of suffocation learned or instinctual? I worried that she must have experienced terrible pain as her lungs became so eaten by bacteria that they broke apart and adhered together again in all the wrong places. I felt so guilty that she had suffered all alone under a bright light while the NICU team broke her tiny ribs and stuck tubes in her sides to release the air escaping from her ruptured lungs. I grieved that my husband and I were not with her as she died, since my own blood pressure began crashing shortly after she was delivered.
In contrast, I remembered the peaceful death that my miscarried baby, Marianka, must have had because of her Turner Syndrome. I thought about her passing away silently in the warm embrace of my womb, never knowing cold or panic. I was comforted to know that her little misshapen body never knew the pain of destruction; it simply could not function and grow in the way that it had been knitted together. I agreed with my doctor when she said, “It is a blessing it happened so early because usually it happens later with Turner Syndrome.” I smiled to think that Marianka was never alone–not for a moment. She went straight from safely inside her mother into the arms of God.
With these memories of my worries about my children’s suffering crowding my mind, I find I cannot blame parents who try to give their sick babies a quicker and more peaceful death, even if abortion may not actually provide such a death. Some of these parents face diagnoses that will make their child’s life extremely difficult, if not impossible. Others experience pregnancy complications that put their life or the life of their unborn child in grave danger. Often, doctors recommend the termination of their pregnancies as the only real option for them. When I consider what it must be like to find myself in such a situation, I realize that if I did not believe that God alone holds our lives in His hands, then I suspect that I too would choose to end my child’s life before he or she suffers. If I did not believe that God would redeem even our most terrible suffering, then I would give anything to limit my child’s pain. I understand these parents; I share their grief from losing a child. I am angry that Christians, who should be walking with these parents through their terrible suffering, are magnifying it by alienating and vilifying them as “murderers.”
For a long time, these experiences caused me to hesitate when someone asked me if I was pro-life. Even now, my convictions and my reflections on both my early experiences and my maternal ones still make this a challenging question to answer. Instead of answering with a simple “yes” or “no,” I have begun to respond that I am “pro-whole-life.” By providing us with a “consistent ethic of life,” I believe that the whole-life approach offers a way out of the gridlock of pro-life versus pro-choice and towards a more meaningful dialogue that can protect the lives of the unborn while simultaneously caring for God’s precious children who have already been born.
In the next installment of this series, I will explore some practical suggestions, rooted in our Catholic faith, for how we can offer support to families who have faced abortion decisions due to prenatal diagnosis.
Image: Adobe Stock. By Puwasit Inyavileart.
Ariane Sroubek is a writer, school psychologist and mother to two children here on earth. Prior to converting to Catholicism, she completed undergraduate studies in Bible and Theology at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. She then went on to obtain her doctorate in School and Child Clinical Psychology. Ariane’s writing is inspired by her faith, daily life experiences and education. More of her work can be found at email@example.com and at https://mysustaininggrace.com.