“For whatever reason, my difficult pregnancy has mercifully ended. I have begun to weather the storm of single parenthood and have delivered a beautiful daughter, tiny and helpless, with blue eyes like my mother’s. Something is wrong with my baby, though. She won’t suckle from my breast; she doesn’t even wail or scream. She simply stares and stares, a disabled child using those blue eyes to ask me why I damaged her. I am completely alone, without so much as a blanket to wrap my vacant, doomed daughter in.”
During a New Year’s Eve Facebook complaint session during the hours before I could begin sharing the next year’s doomed resolutions, I had mentioned how much I had hated 2014. One of my friends countered that she bet she had me beat, and begin describing the vivid nightmare above.
“I sat up, shocked out of sleep, taking note of how sweaty I was, then quickly realized the pool I laid in was not one of sweat, but of blood. I did not have a daughter who had failed to thrive. Indeed, although I had been pregnant for a few weeks, I did not have a daughter, or a son, at all. Instead, I had taken RU-486 to induce a miscarriage. My abortion was painful and messy, and it would prove to last nearly two weeks. Sticky blood clots and uterine slime had poured out of me all night long, and I changed my bedsheets before going to work that morning. The one truth of that awful dream was my loneliness.”
My friend went on to explain, “While I have always been pro-choice, the decision to abort my first pregnancy wasn’t a “choice” at all. It was a necessity. I already had been experiencing a distracting form of morning sickness by the time I learned I was pregnant, and my emotional state would not allow me to carry a child to term. Additionally, I couldn’t afford to quit my job [with a conservative religious organization] once my abdomen began to visibly swell. The father of my unborn was a drug addict with violent tendencies and frightening mood swings, and I refused to be legally connected to him – or fight him for custody – for up to 18 years.”
I asked her how she felt about her decision.
“It was the right decision, the only decision. Why, then, were my feelings of relief and freedom mixed with guilt and regret? Societal attitudes made it hard for me to be honest with my contradictory emotions. I felt flippant if I admitted happiness that I was no longer pregnant, though exercising my “right to choose” meant I wasn’t allowed to grieve the loss, either. I felt as if people on both sides of the abortion debate could not fathom the ambiguity I was experiencing.”
There was outright hostility, too. Although the man with whom she had conceived the child had financed the abortion pills and driven her to the clinic to get them, he began to call her a “baby murderer,” his angry opinion no doubt influenced by a conservative Christian upbringing and childhood involvement in door-to-door evangelism. In his attempts to stalk her, he sent disturbing letters in the mail and text messages expressing his wish that he had “fought to save our baby.”
“Yes, he had wanted to save our baby, which meant that I had killed it. Who was I kidding? Abortions take innocent lives, full-stop, and growing up in a society largely influenced by Christian values helped convince me that I was a heartless murderer. I spent many evenings crying hysterically, wondering if God would ever forgive me. Perhaps more pressingly, I wondered if I could ever forgive myself. My feelings of abandonment were real, and I started to give up on any sense of healing.”
Comfort arrived, though, in the form of an unlikely person. A yeshivish relative well-versed in Jewish law and philosophy gave my friend a literal shoulder to cry on and told her she was not a murderer under Jewish law. A few other observant friends, including an Orthodox rabbi, also explained to her that what she had done was justifiable within the guidelines of Jewish law.
“While I was already very familiar with Judaism’s position(s) on abortion, I felt compelled to look up the actual passage in TaNaKh used to lend support to such views. What I found struck a chord with me: Sefer Shemot, Pereq 21 stated with that one who caused a miscarriage deserved to pay a fine with money, not with his life.”
There have been many debates about the exact meaning of this verse, but most Jewish scholars agree that abortions (and most certainly, very early ones within the first few weeks) are not nearly the transgression claimed by later, non-Jewish interpretations of our Scripture. Abortion is surely a loss to be considered, perhaps even mourned; but it is not murder. The body of religious rulings that make up what is called “the response”, including both modern and classical decisions, corroborate this idea.
“It is fitting and healthy to feel both sorrow and justice regarding my actions. Like many things, abortion is a human act on which Jewish opinions are not black-and-white. The old joke about a rabbi answering someone’s halakhic query with “It depends!” rings true. Some might think this murkiness problematic, but I found it deeply comforting. Reality is usually grey; both God and the Jewish faith are wise enough to recognize that. The more I considered what had happened, the more I realized that God hadn’t condemned me for my abortion, as it was not a sin in the first place.”
My friend told me that as she continued to delve further into Jewish scripture and liturgy, she found confirmation again and again of the ambiguity, but ultimate hopefulness, of the human condition. She quoted from one of her favorite chapters of King David’s Tehilim, Pereq 118, which includes the following verses: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief cornerstone…This is the day that God has made; we will rejoice and be happy in it.”
Life is daunting, and so is death. Life also goes on, despite every challenge and setback.
“I’ve finally begun to heal from my experience, and I am now embracing a renewed appreciation of the religious values I was raised with. The Torah charges every Jew: press on; and so I have decided to do just that. Because of Judaism, I feel not only God’s acceptance of me, but my own. And, if I am ever so blessed to raise a child in a Jewish household, I will look into each of my newborn’s eyes,
whether they are blue or not, and say, ‘Welcome home.’”