I’ve been struggling with how I identify myself as a doula, and I’ll tell you why. Around the time that I embarked on this career 4 years ago, a couple new branches of doula work were born. One was the full spectrum doula, who wanted to include abortion support in their services, and the other was the death doula, who wanted to support those at the end of their life with an alternative to hospice care. In the nonjudgmental spirit of holding space for someone as they grapple with their personal challenges, I was intrigued by these offshoots of the doula profession. My heart open wide, and my life experiences rather limited, I decided to call myself a full spectrum doula, and entertain the idea of supporting any person going through any major life change.
Since then, I found doula mentors who have imparted their wisdom to me, and I’ve gained much more experience watching life enter this world. I’ve learned that, no matter the claimed benefits of abortion to individuals and to our society at large, there are undeniable consequences they and we are enduring (this is something I shall blog about on another day). I have come to really be awed by the power of God’s love and the miracles worked in the hearts of those who make themselves vulnerable to parenthood. “Have you considered keeping the baby?,” asked an acupuncture physician who had been consulted by my mentor’s clients, who hoped for a “natural abortion.” This question changed that couple’s life, and after consideration, they did keep their baby. Imagine if they hadn’t!
Last winter, I sat next to a woman on a flight who was in the process of becoming a rabbi. We began talking about the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament), and in particular, what they and the rest of the Holy Scriptures have to say about abortion. Pro-life advocates stereotypically defend their beliefs from selections of the Bible. But when I read the Bible, I don’t find quite the same conviction they do. I struggle.
Part of the reason I struggle with this is that abortion as we know it today did not exist thousands of years ago when the Law was given to Moses (nor did it exist much later when Jesus “finished” the Law). So we have to do our best to understand something ancient and try to accurately reinterpret it for today, and that includes not limiting Bible commentary to single, biased viewpoints (digging through diverse commentary is a struggle itself!). Some things seem clear: the commandment “you shall not muder” (Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17), and reverence for God’s creation, which is threaded throughout all of the scriptures. However, Exodus 21 makes things mucky. In verses 12-14, it was noted that murder should result in death of the offender, but accidentally killing someone should result in their fleeing to some designated place. According to verse 23, though, accidentally killing a pregnant woman does require punishment by death. This implies that to the Hebrews, some lives — pregnant lives — are more valuable than others. In verse 22, the Law states that accidentally causing premature birth or miscarriage by striking a pregnant woman should result in a mere fine (say what?!), determined by the spouse and the court. Apparently, then, the life of an unborn child is valuable, but clearly not as much as the life of the mother, and arguably not as much as any non-pregnant person living outside the womb. Does the Bible specify anything about intentionally killing an unborn baby? I’m still reading this big old text and haven’t found it yet. We’re in uncharted territory.
The future rabbi next to me seems to like that I’m struggling with what the Bible says about abortion (and many other topics as well). I suppose it puts me in the place of Jacob as he wrestled with God (Genesis 32). When being perplexed by something sends us back to the scriptures, the passenger next to me pointed out, we’re using the scriptures as a living book — a resource to really guide and shape us as we make discernments day in and day out of our lives. Grappling in this way reorients our relationship to God and honors him. If we were omniscient, or even presume we have the answers, what need would we have for God? Why would we pray? Because I don’t wholly know what to make of abortion and am struggling with the questions it raises, I’m humble about it. And even though I’ve never sought an abortion personally, I know that if we deem it to be sin (as a friend of mine calls her choice to abort her first pregnancy a sin), well, it’s at least no place of mine to cast any stones at those sinners who make that choice. I recall Jesus writing on the ground with his finger (John 8: 1-11).
I want to make clear that I’m not simply dismissing abortion as fine. Given how precious my own children are to me and how dear they were to me even before they were born, I simply can’t do that. Before I ever became pregnant, I could debate and philosophize the topic of abortion easily, and happily defended a mother’s right to choice. However, after surprisingly finding myself pregnant, I couldn’t fathom the anguish of my unborn baby dying at the hands of humans. By contrast, the thought of potential spontaneous miscarriage was sad, but comparatively tolerable (see Job 1:21, “… the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away…”). That is, of course, my personal sentiment and experience; I can’t speak for the pregnant mom who is not in a committed relationship or marriage, who is addicted to drugs, or who otherwise lives in a toxic situation.
The pregnant woman lacking support, resources, and a healthy, stable environment faces stress in mothering that I can’t really relate to. To confess the truth, I often complain with my husband about our lack of resources, the chaos in our home, and how we’d benefit from more support, but if we take an honest look around the world, we would notice that we’re being facetious. (We probably should hire babysitters more often, though). Economists who have researched the crime descent of the 1990s posit that, in fact, it was Roe v. Wade and women’s freedom to abort which we have to thank for our safer world today. Apparently, when a single-parent mom is stressed out and can barely make ends meet from the meager earnings of her drop-out-of-high-school-due-to-pregnancy-career, and when she can only afford to live in a food desert taken over by violent gangs, well, participating in crime is just the natural thing for an adolescent to do. Abortion can be seen as a gift of mercy and strength for that mother, and perhaps a gift for the baby too. It probably is not as ideal as the gift of mercy and strength we could give her by helping her raise her child (checking in often, giving her breaks by sharing the load of child care, and inviting the mom and child over for dinner every week), but as long as we opt for a modern, isolationist way of living, I do ponder if maybe God inspired the scriptures to be written before medicalized abortion for a purpose — to have mercy on these particular women.
That brings me to the place where I am now — sitting down, wondering, and grappling. It’s hard to stand up and make proclamations against either abortion or the right to life when I read Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, …
Maybe some day I will have a breakthrough and will see everything more clearly. Until then, it seems a good use of my energy and time to simply care about people. If a baby is gone, I can care for the mother. If they are both here, I’ll care for them both.
One thing is for sure: we’re going to struggle. Pregnancy, for many, is a struggle in itself. Labor didn’t get its name for nothing. I suppose they didn’t call “parenting” “labor” because “labor” was already taken. It isn’t easy, though. I wonder, even, if struggling isn’t the whole point.
I take comfort in my multifaceted God, who has created every sinner on this planet. What a struggle, I imagine, to create all of these people in your perfect image, only to watch them to break your laws over and over, all while complaining no less. Maybe God made us parents so we can sympathize with Him? At least He gave us the Bible and preserved it for all these millennia so we can learn something from Him. In rebuking and forgiving, my Lord shows boundless love and grace, yet still has a standard of holiness. I sometimes feel like I’m failing at this mothering job when I kick the zen fairy out of me to reprimand one of my school-age children for viciously biting another of my school-age children, only to bless them with “I love you’s!” as they hop out of the van to go to school. Like, am I a demented correctional officer, or what?
The Judge will tell me one day, I reckon. In the meantime, I’ve got way more grappling to do in this life. My opportunity and privilege is this — that through each painful decision, painful contraction, or just each plain pain in the butt-thank-you-very-much-my-disobedient-darlings, I can read the Holy Word of God, and I can pray. Another thing rings true, too: we’ll make it through.