The memory wall at SIDS AND KIDS, Hunter region.
Few things, in my experience, hurt quite as badly as losing a much hoped-for child.
Can you imagine it? Buying their clothes, reading pregnancy books, putting up their cot and making lists of names. A happy cow, eating all the grass and getting lovely and fat with the wanted babe.
Then imagine their senseless death. And it all coming to nothing but wrenching pain and handfuls of painkillers as your body delivers you a dead baby or what hospitals tactlessly label “products of birth”. Sometimes whole, sometimes in bits, sometimes through a dilation and curettage (d&c) or through taking misoprostyl – a drug that speeds up contractions.
You drink a lot of fucking tea. And you learn not to look down each time you go to the toilet. And you cling onto your mother like she is all you know. And you numb, and you cry, and you numb. And it takes you years to get over it. Yeah, if you’re thinking the “you” there is “me”, you’d be spot on.
Nothing about this experience could get worse, right? This is humanity – we have a knack for making things even more unbearable for each other.
A proposed bill by US legislator Bobby Franklin – a State Representative from Georgia who seeks to bring law-making back to it’s ‘biblical roots’ – will, if passed, reach into the delicacy of an already terrible experience and twist.
The bill can be found and read here, at the Georgia General Assembly. In short, it exists “so as to provide that prenatal murder shall be unlawful in all events” but more specifically, to establish spontaneous abortion (both a medical term and one favoured by the frothing-at-mouth conservative Right) as a site of investigation and suspicion.
Women who suffer a miscarriage will be able to be investigated to establish the cause of their baby or foetus’ death; a foetal death certificate must be filed; and if a cause of death can’t be ascertained from the woman herself, their loved ones may be interviewed. If a cause can be found, charges can be filed.
Yes. Miscarriage, now murder.
The bill gets off to a bad start anyway, by putting forth as it’s basis the belief that any death of a foetus where great effort is not made to preserve the life of the foetus is tantamount to the murder of a foetus (and presenting this as a known and agreed upon fact by all, and most especially supported by – you guessed it – the big guy upstairs).
Obviously, abortion is out. But somehow, by this strange, internally self-reassuring logic, miscarriage falls under the gaze of the inquisitor.
Now, I don’t wish to draw us and them lines, here. I am not anti-abortion – I am most assuredly pro-choice all the way. But I feel I must clarify something about the language used by this bill – that of spontaneous abortion.
While yes, your body is aborting the child you are carrying, a miscarriage does not feel like an abortion of any kind. Not for a woman that knows about and desires the continued life of her baby, which may not be the case with all miscarriages, certainly. I have spoken with other women who feel this way. To them, calling the death of their little one an abortion seems to indicate a sense of choice, or agency, when this is far from the case.
It seems incongruous to many that thinking, ‘rational’ women get so ‘upset’ by losing their children – many observers feel confused, not even considering them children at all. I have had someone ask me how I could possibly be so invested – since there’s no way in hell I believed that life begins at conception…right?
Also, I have encountered the cold truth that miscarriage survivors who get ‘upset’ by their losses (especially the earlier ones) are seen by some as traitors to the pro-choice movement. This is surely by those who have forgotten that ‘choice’ includes ‘using my bodily autonomy to believe different things than you’. I personally have mixed feelings about the origins of conception, but regardless of what I may rationally have believed before I conceived, my pregnancy was wanted and the loss of it was devastating.
When handling language around pregnancy loss, you should remember this. Do it sensitively.
An abortion is a decision taken by the person with the body from whom the foetus is being removed. A decision I support the right to. But it is, and should be, made distinct from the involuntary process of a miscarriage. They are qualitatively different experiences, and should be handled as such. Not better, not worse – just different, with respect to the people in each camp.
There are those that mourn abortions, too. There are those that don’t. Reproductive processes and rights are a tricky business but we’re all equal in being owed respect, from our governments and each other. Everyone deserves a voice if they want it.
What this bill proposes though, is to walk up to a wounded woman, pick up her severed arms and beat her about the head with the bloody stumps. Surely you’re not in enough pain! Surely you’re not grieving enough!
This will allow Christian law makers to tell women they have killed their babies, that yes, indeed, it is entirely likely that it is their fault. All the therapeutic literature available to survivors of miscarriage strives to achieve the opposite. Women searching for answers are usually told to ignore that hot spa they had at 4 weeks before they knew they were pregnant; ignore that joint you smoked with your partner on the front porch – there’s no way it killed your baby and you know that? That doesn’t matter now. What matters is crying and burying and healing.
This horrifying bill would undo that message. Now our bodies would become toxic killing machines, our early-natal choices recalled and recorded at a time when we are psychically injured and less able for the daily fray of putting up with patriarchal oppression.
I drank five glasses of wine on Christmas day, before I knew I was pregnant. I spent six months after my August died feeling like hell for it – no matter the logic, I blamed myself. I had killed her, and nothing but time rinsed the dye of that one lingering stain from my mind. I don’t think I believe it any more, but under a bill like this I’d be encouraged to give my guilt as a testimony.
What kind of world is it, where a man can write words into law to punish a grieving woman?
Oh yes. This one.