I looked at the cover of the New York Times magazine on Sunday, and I immediately felt judgment: the title, Her Body, My Baby. Can we move on from this whole body/baby/choice sloganeering? I was dreading the article already. I didn’t want to read it, but I knew I had to.
Then, I looked through the article, not reading, but looking at the photos, reading the quotes, getting a feel for what I would find. And I felt more judgment. A rich, educated white lady in a beautiful white picket fence house with a perfectly manicured lawn and a nanny of color standing silently by…then the other woman, the working-class looking one on the porch with the peeling paint, wild weeds, and the scruffy dog. Ughhh…The classism of it all. Really. I have to read about a wealthy white lady paying a poor white lady to carry her baby? And all her feelings of desire, inadequacy, judgment and her triumph of finally getting what she wants? A baby. Please. My judgments were starting to make me sick.
Then, I began reading and my judgments kept coming. The unbridled desire – and the means – of a woman to go to all lengths to have a baby of her own. The husband 20 years older with kids of his own. The more than $144,000 spent to get pregnant. How will the baby ever live up to this?
And, then, I remembered. Me. Pregnant. Abortion. Oh it was hard and boy did I feel judged. I remember thinking of myself as an open, accepting person, but it wasn’t till I went through my abortion that I really, really, really understood the truth: that we have no idea about what really goes on in other people’s lives. We cannot know their hearts and souls, the demons and challenges they face, the choices they make. We don’t know. We cannot judge. We have to try to understand.
I didn’t want to be judged. I wanted to be understood. I promised myself I would do the same for others.
And then, I thought about how brave she was, this woman, Alex, putting her story into the magazine, for all to read, knowing that she will be judged by the readers. Reading it, it sure seems like she laid it all out there, that she didn’t hide any hopes or fears, and that she was brutally honest. I thought – this is the kind of thing we need more of when it comes to abortion, more women telling their full unaltered truths despite the judgments that will come. It is a way to build understanding.
But, when it comes to abortion and infertility there are big issues at stake and big moral questions – they are not just about one person’s experience of abortion or infertility.
Exhale holds a truly unique position – our job is to give nonjudgmental emotional care to individual people and build a cultural climate where judgment is replaced by support and respect. Not because any one person’s decision is right or because they have a right to make that decision, but because the debate about abortion is so far removed from people’s every-day lives that it needs a dose of reality to make it sane and constructive. And because I think women who have abortions ask these big moral questions of themselves and if we stopped to listen, instead of judge, we might learn some things about how we as a society might want to address our moral obligations towards life and rights.
On the other hand, issues around infertility and reproductive technologies are told mostly through the personal story – the desire of a woman to be a mother, the pain of not being able to have children and the acceptance of this desire as right and true and moral as long as it is with straight, white women of means. Rarely is it accepted for poor women, or women of color, or queer women. This is where the work of Oakland-based organizations like Generations Ahead come in, bringing up the racists and classist implications of reproductive technologies, and thinking through how to make policies that protect human rights and dignity.
It seems important that we are there for the people who live these issues, the people that experience the reality of what we might question in the abstract. And that it is also possible to ask some big picture questions about what it means to end a potential human life, or pay someone else to carry your child. Judgments are a part of being human and it would be impossible if to rid ourselves from them. But, we must notice them for what they are, not use them to decide the fate of others. Instead make non-judgment a practice and try to understand, as we would like others to do for us.