me, too

December 10, 2012

Allow me a moment to boast. Myself and the husband unit did something really good.

We’re lucky enough to have a lot of love and, out of that love (to our idiot astonishment), came a small burst of life: I was pregnant. But sadly the little life didn’t make it. I had a miscarriage before it really had a chance to get comfortable in there. Just at the end of last month.

Surprising in the sadness is the sense of thankfulness for who was, and that we got to be involved at all. Thankful, too, that it was quiet and private and at home, and not in a hospital.

Almost every woman I’ve told has quietly said, “Me, too.” One had lost her baby just the week before me. Unlike me, she had named her daughter; she had things to unwish for and plans to unmake.

My doctor, who I love, to protect me, wrote “viral illness” on my sick cert. I’ve lied about it in work. I’m not exactly clear on why. Why do we not mention miscarriages?

The husband unit went and had another birthday and we ate beef wellington and drank two bottles of sparkling wine: one expensive, one cheap.

And, I got a new job. That company called me back and offered me a more senior role than the one I’d applied for: more responsibility, longer hours, better pay. It’s a little hard to believe…and a little hard to care, to be honest. Nothing like a bit of death to put a bit of perspective on things. Or is that a bit of life?

Anyway, we are ok, but a bit like play-doh at the moment: squishy and easily smashed flat if not approached with tenderness. On the upside, play-doh smells oddly good, is brightly coloured and ruins even the fanciest of carpets. And is non-toxic to children.


the post where chip monk loses friends and followers

April 21, 2012

The topic of abortion is such a complete shitstorm. And it is so, I believe, not for any of the reasons that either side of the debate claims, but because our number one value is autonomy – the freedom to do whatever we as individuals think is right.

The trouble with personal autonomy is of course that nobody is actually an individual but rather everyone is a member of a community, and our autonomy leaks into the public sphere, bleeding out of our very pores, and then our convictions clash. Nobody cares what the hermit thinks of abortion, as the hermit will never need one, and will also never vote one way or the other. The only context for virtue is relationship.

I will never be in favour of abortion. No doubt, nothing I say here will change the mind of anyone who disagrees. But it is a profoundly violent act, committed against three parties: mother, baby and community (community includes Dad). Choosing not to view it as violence unfortunately doesn’t change its violent content. Where not carrying out an abortion also has violent consequences also doesn’t empty abortion of its violent content.

In cases where the violence suffered by the mother is greater than that suffered by the child were nature to take its course then dogma can be set aside and we must fight to save Mum’s life. An ectopic pregnancy (eccysis), for example, will never be viable. Mum and baby will die. So the baby must be removed from the fallopian tube in order to save Mum. But we are not talking about ectopic pregnancies, because there is no moral dilemma there. Ectopic pregnancies are surgically dealt with as a matter of course in Irish society. We all know someone who has been through it and nobody bears judgment for such a mother. In 99% of abortion cases we are not seeking the end of such a pregnancy, despite what anyone may say.

I am, as I have said here before, a committed reformed Christian. My position on non-violence is coloured by this. My anti-abortion stance however pre-dates my faith conversion. My mother is a pro-life atheist: yes, such people exist. And my position was compounded not by anything I have ever heard in a church (in 15 years’ church attendance I have never heard a sermon on the topic of abortion – I have also never read a Christian book on the subject nor been involved in a bible study that discussed it), but by my foray into the world of ethics. It was the raging arguments in philosophy class that ultimately led me to the position that abortion is morally indefensible.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Reformed Christians do not believe in mortal sin. Sin is sin, as far as scripture seems to be concerned. In fact, the message of scripture as far as I can discern is that the astonishing grace of God cannot be blocked by our sin. Therefore I do not argue that abortion will send you to hell: no more than any other violence. This means that my actions and decisions are not motivated by fear, but gratitude.

Do you hear judgement? If you do, it might be because you you view me through the post-Christian lens. My passion, as I have also said here, is prison ministry. I work with male sex offenders. I have a strict policy of non-judgementalism. I neither judge them personally nor judge what they have done. Their offences are no barrier to my friendship, care or love. Many of them have confessed horrors to me that you could only imagine in your darkest nightmares.

If you’ve had an abortion, I do not judge you. I do not even judge what you have done. That isn’t my job and I am grateful for that, because I would make a biased, foolish and selfish judge. However I will use my vote to legislate against any move that means that violence is normalized further in Irish culture. Many women do not regret their abortions. I am glad that they are not riddled with guilt: guilt is a luxury we cannot afford and serves no purpose, and shame and secrecy only breeds pain and darkness. But many women do regret them. Very few women on the other hand regret having their children.

I believe that women who are firmly convinced that abortion is the correct path for them will find the means to procure one. In 2010, 4,402 Irish women crossed the water to do just that, joining with 189,574 British women. But I subscribe to the unpopular belief that it is a good thing when destructive options for our lives come with limitations (as I write this, I understand that the women involved do not agree that their actions are destructive, but you must permit me my autonomy in this instance and allow us to agree to disagree). For these reasons, and also because I believe in the inherent value and beauty that lies dormant in the potential of every in-utero fertilized egg, will I never be in favour of abortion.

There is no middle ground here. That is why the debate rages. And let it rage. But let us not pour rage on one another: we can only speak our truth quietly and clearly.


a caterpillar grows to be a butterfly

February 29, 2012

…and I’m growing up to be me!

So it was recently my birthday, and my very imaginative and passionate husband bought me a slew of gifts, all under the theme of self-care and self-development. The gifts related to all aspects of the person – gifts to encourage my flourishing physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Magic.

The gifts to encourage my intellectual development were three recently published books of popular feminism.

One of them is Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan. I’m a big fan of Flanagan and have been reading her superb articles in the (wonderfully high quality) Atlantic Monthly magazine for years. Since I no longer have  a subscription to the paper version, I actually do this sad dinosaur thing where I print out Flanagan’s articles and save them for a time when I can sit down with them comfortably and savour every word. I was pretty excited about receiving this book, as I didn’t even realise she had been preparing it for publication.

But this isn’t a review.

Girl Land refers to the time in a young person’s life when she is not a child and not yet a woman. Girl Land is that dark, cloudy, mysterious bit in between that none of us fully understands.

Flanagan makes a point somewhere just after halfway through that staggered me. She tells the story of how her mother would try to surprise her with conversations about men and sex at unexpected moments when she could not get away – the example she gives is when she might be washing the dog. Her mother had an urgent message that she needed to get across to Flanagan: don’t marry a man just because you want to sleep with him – just sleep with him. Flanagan found these types of conversations unbearable and would do everything she could to escape them. Her mother, also, was profoundly uncomfortable and between the two of them they managed to communicate with amazing ineffectiveness. After these awkward encounters she and her mother would retreat as quickly as possible to the safer territories of Flanagan’s girlhood, with mother preparing a special meal for her, or taking her to the mall for a new pair of sandals. The bit that struck me was this: during these post sex-talk treats, Flanagan would feel like a fraud – as though she was deceiving her mother. She had, as all teenage girls do, a private fantasy life – the stuff of burgeoning sexuality in a young woman – and she was considering when and how she would begin her own sexual activities. She felt strongly that she could not have it both ways: the tender love and pleasure of being cared for by a parent in a clearly defined role, while simultaneously becoming a fully developed sexual woman.

This point hit me like a ton of bricks.

I recalled with a sudden clarity all of the discord I experienced between myself and my parents during the Girl Land years, as some kind of incoherent battle raged between me being their little girl and me becoming a young woman, with inconvenient sexual appetites in tow. These appetites were beginning to express themselves, from their point of view, presumably in the long-haired tattooed boys I was bringing home. The sad part is that I did insist on growing up, thus excluding me from the previous parental affections of my girlhood. They simply could not cope with my transition into adulthood. Parents are terrified of their teenage girls becoming women – what if they get pregnant? I now realise that this withdrawal of my parents’ affections in the face of my impending adulthood was the reason why I was such a fiercely and uniquely independent young person. By leaving my childhood behind and becoming a young woman, I had given up my right to parental guidance and care, and therefore I had to learn to fend for myself.

In this moment of recollection, I remembered many other stories – the stories of my female friends – who in one way or another (and particularly those raised in religious households – which I was not), were given powerful messages that they were to either remain firmly in girlhood, or they were to quietly reach adulthood with a kind of sexual purity (and preferably disinterest) of which no teenager is really capable. I think of one person in particular who was harshly excluded by her family in her decision to date a non-religious young man. Their relationship was obviously screaming !SEXUAL RISK! !SEXUAL RISK! to her family, and so she was subtly shunned until the relationship ended. The irony here is of course that religious teenagers are no less sexually active than non-religious ones – they just tend to have more guilt…or be more selective in what’s sexually permissible and what’s not…or be late starters. :)

Anyhow. This is all just a little food for thought. I may well come back to this subject at another time. Suffice to say, Flanagan is worth reading.