The Capricious Womb

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.


As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird--
No birth, no pregnancy, and no conception!
Though they bring up their children,
Yet I will bereave them until not a man is left.
Yes, woe to them indeed when I depart from them!
Ephraim, as I have seen,
Is planted in a pleasant meadow like Tyre;
But Ephraim will bring out his children for slaughter.
Give them, O Lord-- what wilt Thou give?
Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

All their evil is at Gilgal;
Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
All their princes are rebels.
Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up,
They will bear no fruit.
Even though they bear children,
I will slay the precious ones of their womb.

-- Hosea 9: 11-16

I've never understood people who say they find comfort in reading the Bible. Every time I open its pages, I stumble on something like the above. I am baffled by those who find this book -- replete as it is with genocide and infanticide -- a source for "pro-life" ideals. But I guess it all depends on what page you flip to and whose wombs we're talking about; God's chosen or everybody else's.

One can hardly blame the Israelites for envisioning a capricious god, for surely there is no better description for the architect of the natural world we live in. Evidence of such a god's unfairness is everywhere abundant and nowhere more so than in pregnancy and childbirth. So the Israelites sought to please a god who would reward them with fertility amongst their wives and other livestock. They prayed that he would punish only the wicked with miscarriages and poverty.

"But if you do not hearken to the voice of the LORD, your God, and are not careful to observe all his commandments which I enjoin on you today, all these curses shall come upon you and overwhelm you:
"May you be cursed in the city, and cursed in the country!
"Cursed be your grain bin and your kneading bowl!
"Cursed be the fruit of your womb, the produce of your soil and the offspring of your livestock, the issue of your herds and the young of your flocks!

-- Deuteronomy 28: 15-18

We all have ways of rationalizing the irrational nature of human existence. It provides an illusion of safety in a chaotic world. And the more out of control life feels, the more we seek the simplicity of a black and white truth; an ordered universe where goodness is rewarded and evil is punished. Our deeply religious President talks about bringing evil-doers to justice. Others wait endlessly for karmic retribution to end his bloody reign. Cosmologies may differ, but the desire for divine justice, it seems, is an inherent human longing.

The world does not cleave neatly, along straight lines. It twists madly. It careens wildly. Life itself seeks towards chaos. Birth. Death. We cannot control them. We can only make choices to make our own fleeting moments on this mortal coil a little more manageable; a little more bearable.

Where many of us see difficult choices and troubling circumstances, the Army of God sees resolute, divine order, administered by an inerrant god. One of the most uncompromising of "pro-life" organizations, it seeks not only an end to abortion, but considers any birth control but abstinence as "evil." Their heroes are pharmacists who withhold Plan B and the murderers of their god's enemies, abortion providers.

They seek to fashion a world where good and evil are clearly defined and upheld by the nation’s judicial system. The battle against abortion is a battle to build a society where pleasure and freedom, where the capacity of the individual and especially women to make choices, and indeed even love itself, are banished. And this is why pro-life groups oppose contraception—even for those who are married. The fight against abortion is the facade for a wider fight against the right of an individual in a democracy.

Army of God, a pro-life organization that holds up as Christian “heroes” those who murder abortion providers, defines birth control as another form of abortion, as do many other pro-life groups. In the “Birth Control Is Evil” section of their website it reads: “Birth control is evil and a sin. Birth control is anti-baby and anti-child. …Why would you stop your own child from being conceived or born? What kind of human being are you?”

Chris Hedges identifies Army of God as "the greatest threat to choice." Their ideological fervor seems largely honed in the forge of their own suffering; the unmanageable nature of their circumstances.

[Jeniece] Learned’s life, before she was saved, was typically chaotic and painful. Her childhood was stolen from her. She was sexually abused by a close family member. Her mother periodically woke Learned and her younger sister and two younger brothers in the middle of the night to flee landlords who wanted back rent. The children were bundled into the car and driven in darkness to a strange apartment in another town. Her mother worked nights and weekends as a bartender. Learned, the oldest, often had to run the home. She got pregnant in high school and had an abortion.

"There was a lot of fighting,” she said. “I remember my dad hitting my mom one time and him going to jail. I don’t have a lot of memories, mind you, before eighth grade because of the sexual abuse. When he divorced my mom, he divorced us, too."

"My grandfather committed suicide, my mom and my dad both tried suicide, my brothers tried suicide,” she said. “In my family, there was no hope. The only way to solve problems when they got bad was to end your life.”

Says Hedges:

For many, their own experiences with sex—coupled with their descent into addictions and often sexual and domestic abuse before they found Christ—have led them to build a movement that creates an external rigidity to cope with the chaos of human existence, a chaos that overwhelmed them. They do not trust their own urges, their capacity for self-restraint or judgment. The Christian right permits its followers to project evil outward, a convenient escape for people unable to face the darkness and the psychological torments within them.

Like the young woman profiled in Hedges's article, I grew up in the Rust Belt. And like so many who sought succor from the decaying breast of a culture in decline, I turned instead for comfort to born-again Christianity. As I said above, I did not ultimately find it very comforting. The implicit contradictions of its holy book created too much cognitive dissonance. The hypocrisy of true believers jangled my nerves. I could not force my brain to see logic where there was none. I could not convince myself, against all evidence, of any divine justice.

No just god does this, or this, or this. Nor does a perfect god fashion new life in a fallopian tube, dooming mother and fetus to almost certain death.

A while ago I scanned pro-life bulletin boards for discussions of ectopic pregnancies. I found, to my relief, that terminating them is acceptable to even rabidly anti-abortion folks. Although there was an odd duck or two who thought it was better to wait and see if the embryo would move into the uterus, most did not consider it a "viable" pregnancy. The mother had no choice, therefore, it was not really an abortion. None, though, seemed able to follow this logic to its inevitable conclusion. None could admit that in a world where such cockeyed pregnancies occur, not every conception is a gift from a loving god, perfect according to some divine plan.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, one of my husband's colleagues -- a young Lt. from my home state in the heart of the Rust Belt -- assured him that our pro-choice conceits would melt away. The wonder of life in creation would overtake our liberal arrogance. So, my husband asked me, is being pregnant turning you against abortion? Tell your friend, I said, that if anything I am more pro-choice than ever. The moral of that story: Don't ask a woman who's been throwing up several times a day for nearly four solid months about the boundless joy of pregnancy.

Any vestigial notions I had about the perfection of nature and the universe were purged by pregnancy and childbirth. I was idealistic enough, back then, that I sought to have my child at home with a midwife. It was to be a magnificent ritual, in a pool in our living room, just like Donna on "Judging Amy." Candles, incense, a little pushing, et voila. One emergency c-section later, I am thoroughly disabused of such romanticism. Not that there is anything wrong with home birth. It's good for who it's good for. But my best laid plans were upended by real world circumstances, as so many plans are. It turns out my child-bearing hips are just for show. I am cursed, it seems, with an inner pelvis too narrow to pass an actual baby through. If there is a god, fashioning each life in the womb, he has a very dark sense of humor. But for the wonders of modern medicine, I would have died as so many women still do in childbirth. Pregnancy is one of those places where idealized notions collide most brutally with pragmatic reality.

Nature will never conform to our wishes. The desire to make it do so is a vain pursuit, fraught with painful disappointment. The wildness pleases but it also vexes. Outside my window spring gives rise to verdant growth. Grass that must be mowed. Weeds that must be pulled. Such is the endless pursuit of an orderly landscape. Underneath our neatly trimmed shrubbery, I recently discovered a holly bush. Holly is a funny plant; requiring a mother and a father to germinate new life. But this nascent plant found purchase in the worst of possible locations, in the shade, destined to collide with another plant. Just big enough that it will be very difficult to uproot and replant, it has already begun to die. Elsewhere in our yard, a couple of pine trees find themselves in a similar predicament. Nature has its own ideas. They are not always good ones.

What the "pro-life" movement does not grasp, in its battle against the "culture of death," is that death is implicit in all acts of creation. The earth creates and destroys with apparent indifference. It kills and it births capriciously, according to whims no mortal mind can comprehend.