When it starts & how it ends

No Easy Answers

I am an eighty-two-year-old great-grandmother. I have read and re-read “Can We Talk about Abortion?” (September 23). I agree that abortion does not lend itself to simple answers. But I think there is another part of pregnancy that never gets talked about, which I would like to see prolife groups address. I empathize when Dennis O’Brien writes about the “intimacy of pregnancy.” The pregnant woman is not just a “container” for the fetus; their relationship is indeed more intimate than any other.

I had four children and one miscarriage, and with each pregnancy I observed many restrictions to ensure a healthy baby: be careful what you eat and how much; don’t smoke; don’t drink alcohol; get enough rest; get enough exercise; the list goes on and on. When you diligently observe all those limits, you are definitely more than just a “container” for an unborn child.

After the babies came, I nursed each one for nine or ten months, and during those times the limits were even more restrictive: go lightly on eating citrus fruits, broccoli, tuna, chocolate, and many other foods that would cause gastric upsets and distress in the baby.

So for almost two years with each child my life was not my own. I did it for the baby, and I did it carefully and lovingly.

When I was fifty years old and my youngest child had just graduated from high school, I began to have physical symptoms that I associated with pregnancy. I thought, “Oh, no! How can I manage another baby now?” I was the daily helper to my husband on our busy hog farm, because hiring full-time help was simply not possible. Apart from that, we were active in a peace group, church work, our political party, a farm organization, and so on.

After two weeks of agonizing over the situation I was amazed and relieved to learn from my doctor that it was not pregnancy, but the beginning of menopause. But in those two weeks, I came to this conclusion: If I had not had a supportive husband, community and financial support, and a strong Catholic upbringing, it would have been an easy solution to have an abortion. I began to understand why women would choose abortion when they don’t have these supports. I do not judge them.

I did not talk with my priest during those two weeks. My past experiences of talking with the priests had not been helpful. In 1940, when I was eleven years old, I asked a priest if I could be an altar server. Deep in my heart I wanted to serve. The priest told me no firmly, and without any explanation. Then he said I was a bad Catholic for even asking. As a teenager I talked to the priest about going to college and he said: “Don’t think of going to college. It will only make you proud, and you might lose your soul. Just get married and save your soul through childbearing.” So I was not about to turn to a priest for help with this problem.

I wish the bishops and the prolife people could talk in these terms instead of just saying, “It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong.” Let’s try to be considerate and helpful.

Teresa Mottet

Fairfield, Iowa

Separated At Birth

Regarding “Can We Talk about Abortion?”: We should remember that the state of pregnancy has biological as well as psychological and spiritual dimensions that differ from subsequent stages in the development and rearing of children. At birth, the infant’s lungs open for the first time and the umbilicus is severed, ending the dependency on the mother’s circulation via the placenta for oxygenation and nutrition. The ductus arteriosus, which short-circuits pulmonary circulation during gestation, closes and the right side of the infant’s heart begins to circulate blood through the lungs. Prior to this, the mother and child are integrated as a unique whole for the duration of the pregnancy. Thinking of the mother and fetus atomistically creates problems for the ethical analysis of certain situations, such as a mother with pulmonary hypertension who cannot sustain a pregnancy to term. To say the problem resides in the mother’s lungs and not her uterus ignores the integration of the placental and pulmonary circulation in the pregnant state. Ending the pregnancy under these circumstances neither causes nor intends any ill, but makes the best of a bad situation.

Patrick Daly, Md

Gardiner, Maine

Process Theology

John Garvey’s “Something More” (October 21) is a faith-filled commentary on authentic religious belief—and confidence in a “more abundant life” after death. But for our times, the more pressing question is not so much the fear of death as the process of dying. Medical science and other factors have doubled our life span in a century, but—ironically—have also extended the process of dying with prospects of extended agony, insecurity, and dependence.

Cancer treatment, for example: in the past, death from cancer could take place within a few weeks. Today, chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments, while sometimes offering hope of a cure, in many cases mean prolonged suffering for the patient and family over several years. Is mere prolongation of the dying process really worth so much pain and money?

We’re grateful for the acceptance and expansion of palliative care and hospice. But as believers, we should also be faith-filled witnesses to the priority of eternal life and alter the old adage to read: “Live—and be willing to let go!”

(Rev.) John Koelsch

Jerome, Idaho

Published in the 2011-11-18 issue: 
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