Letters | The language of life before birth

 

Making Space for One Another

In Mary Gordon’s worthy attempt to make sense of debates surrounding abortion in her article “This Pregnancy” (November), her treatment of miscarriage is careless, verging on cruel. To people who have experienced the pain and loss of miscarriage, allow me to offer an alternative perspective, one that will likely ensure healthier grieving. 

Gordon writes about assisting her neighbor during miscarriage. During the process, Gordon reflects, “It seemed so much more like the kind of heavy period I’d sometimes had than anything like a human child that I was tempted to flush it down the toilet.” After the miscarriage, her neighbor, although Catholic, “had no impulse to bury, to baptize, to name what had been lost, which was, whatever else it was, obviously not a child.” Gordon also shares about her “unusually fertile” journey, from terminations to a healthy pregnancy to a second-trimester miscarriage, yet even still, Gordon maintains that her unborn child was “not the same order of being as the child to whom I had given birth.”  

My spouse and I recently lost our child to miscarriage. My experience of pregnancy was profound, and the experience of miscarrying was, too. For the longest time, doctors have classified me as infertile, only for me to have a “miracle pregnancy” (the doctor’s words, not mine). My child is now dead. Gordon’s claim that my child was “not the same order of being” as children brought to full term is resoundingly disturbing. 

During the painful week in which I miscarried, my friends gathered around me. One of them had terminated a pregnancy in her college days, and she was my greatest comfort. She talked me through the process of miscarrying, preparing me for the contractions, blood, and pain. She also cried for me and cried for my child. I reflect on her emotional capacity to make space for my child alongside her own history of ending her pregnancy. I reflect on our open conversations about both our journeys. I can’t help but hope that women make space for one another, rather than telling each other what is “obviously not.” 

To those parents who have watched the still frame of the ultrasound, listened to the nurse’s words “your baby has no heartbeat,” I honor you as a parent. I honor your grief, your loss, your pain, and most of all, I honor your child. Your child was “obviously” your child, however small they were, and I reject the proposal that they were “not the same order of being” as children brought to full term.  

Ann-Marie Blanchard 
Baton Rouge, La.

 

When Human Life Begins

Mary Gordon believes that a fetus of human offspring is not a baby, a conclusion that she has thought about seriously for several decades. Had she consulted the American College of Pediatricians’ March 2017 statement “When Human Life Begins,” she would have learned that every human embryologist worldwide affirms that the life of the new individual human being begins at the completion of fertilization when a one-celled organism with a unique genotype from its parents comes to be. Scientific reasons for the conclusion are concisely stated: from the time of cell fusion, the single-celled embryo consists of elements from both parents which function interdependently in a coordinated manner to carry on the function of its own development as a human being. While the experience of pregnancy does differ for each woman, all human beings began their lives as embryos.  

Michael J. Degnan
St. Paul, Minn.

 

Mary Gordon Replies:

Mr. or Dr. Degnan’s letter sheds a light on the malicious attempt of right-wing thinkers to promote misinformation about abortion and LGBT issues. He cites the American College of Pediatricians’ (ACPeds) assertion that life begins at conception, suggesting that this is a viable organization representing the majority of pediatricians in the United States. According to the ACLU, ACPeds was formed in 2002 when the American Academy of Pediatricians supported same-sex couples’ right to adoption. It is a self-described “Judeo-Christian, traditional-values organization” open to pediatricians who hold the “core beliefs” that “life begins at conception, and that the traditional family unit, headed by an opposite-sex couple, poses far fewer risk factors in the adoption and raising of children.” Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled ACPeds “a fringe anti-LGBTQ hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBTQ junk science, primarily via far-right conservative media and filing amicus briefs in cases related to gay adoption and marriage equality.​ [ACPeds] opposes adoption by LGBTQ couples, links homosexuality to pedophilia, endorses so-called reparative or sexual orientation conversion therapy for homosexual youth, believes transgender people have a mental illness and has called transgender health care for youth child abuse.”

It would seem clear to me that the ethical compass of such an organization is not to be trusted and is, in fact, beneath contempt.

In response to Ms. Blanchard’s letter, I am very sorry that she found my response to miscarriage callous, and I could only wish that she had taken into account my own history of late miscarriage to which I refer in the piece. Like Ms. Blanchard, I had to lie in wait for a painful process, and I was deeply grieved, as I know that she was. One of the difficulties about any question involving pregnancy and birth is that it involves so many intense emotions; another problem is that the experience of pregnancy, as I suggested, is unique in that it changes ontologically over time. I tried to suggest that pregnancy is not one thing; nor is miscarriage. One of the painful aspects of miscarriage is its liminal nature: it is hard to articulate exactly the quality of one’s mourning. But I would ask Ms. Blanchard to consider that an early miscarriage, in which the product of the miscarriage is physically as I described it, is a different experience from a late miscarriage, particularly one followed by a history of infertility.

It is indeed a difficult task to think well about this complex issue, and perpetrators of false information like the American College of Pediatricians make everything infinitely worse.

 

Terrifying Conduct

I was interested to read Rand Richards Cooper’s review of Tár (“Careening Toward Disaster,” December), which filled in my understanding of the film while confirming my own impression of its uneven flow, lengthiness, and confusing message. I had the sense I’d seen an important film, and a commanding performance by Cate Blanchett, but also knew I’d been sitting there a long time and felt let down by the ending. My main question was: Why did he make this film? Being a musician myself and having performed under conductors, I actually wondered if he had an axe to grind. In our small, rural symphony, we once had the opportunity to play under one of the female conductors mentioned in the first interview. Some fifty years later, I still remember the terror she inspired in me, and reputedly in many others. Thanks for this great review!

Frances Rossi
Denver, Colo.

Published in the January 2023 issue: 
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