Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Expecting Adam

Being pregnant while in graduate school is no piece of cake and even more stressful to learn your unborn child has Down Syndrome. In her memoir "Expecting Adam", Martha Beck battled almost everyone over her decision to continue her pregnancy. Join From Left to Write on November 10 as we discuss "Expecting Adam". We'll also be chatting live with Martha Beck at 1pm Eastern on November 10 on From Left to Write.


As a member of From Left to Write we don't do book reviews, we write a post, drawing inspiration from the book. I debated over what to write about in this post as the book inspired so many different thoughts and feelings.

Finally I decided that I wanted to write about abortion. In the book Martha faces abortion as one of the options in dealing with finding out the child she is carrying has Down Syndrome. There was a paragraph in the book that bothered me.

Martha and her husband John, at this point still don't know that the baby has Down Syndrome and they are dining in a restaurant and the conversation comes up what would happen if this baby was less than perfect. Her husband John says, "The worst-case scenario is that you might have to have an abortion, and that's a long shot. Everything is going to be fine." What she replies is what bothers me, "I might have to have an abortion? Since when do you decide what I have to do with my body?" Then she says, "What we've talked about is that I am pro-choice. That means I decide whether or not I'd abort a baby with a birth defect. You steer clear of this one, John-boy. It is not your call!"

Two things bother me:

1. She invited this man into her body to plant his seed and when the baby is born she expects this man to make decisions that involve this baby 50/50. Yet he has no choice, no call in deciding if the baby should be aborted simply because she is the one carrying it? It is her body that is housing the baby for 9 months so he has no say until the baby is born? He has no say in whether or not he wants HIS child's life to be taken?

2. Why do women want to allow a man the chance to "wash his hands" of a child that is to be aborted? If the child is born you can bet the woman will move Heaven and Earth to try to get this man to help support the child financially. Yet when a women gets pregnant, the awful choice of taking a life is left solely up to her? The man is not involved? The man is absolved of all guilt? Seems to me the man gets off pretty easy!

I'm not pro-choice, but to me the argument that women have used about how it's their body and their right to make a choice about what they do with their body ends when you invite a man into your body and you create a child together. Now I'm not talking about situations of rape or incest or any other situation that is not consensual, that's a whole different ball of wax. I'm talking about two people, a man and a woman having sex, making a baby, on purpose or not. They both have a right to decide what happens to that baby; both before and after the birth.

Martha and John chose to have their baby regardless and are richer and happier for it. Would everyone be able to handle a child that had Down Syndrome? No. I don't know if I could have handled it. I'm glad I never had to make that decision, but if it had come to my deciding that, I don't believe that it would have been fair to tell the father to "steer clear, it's not your call."


  1. I am 100% pro-choice, but I also had a serious issue with how she handled this. This was a marriage and either decision affected them both deeply. I don't want the government taking away the right to decide, but in a family, the decision needs be made together. Martha did address this a bit at the end, realizing she had not thought about her husband's feelings, though I hope she did a better job addressing it in real life.

  2. This is a really interesting point that I didn't even consider. I'm not married, but I'd like to be one day, and you're right, the husband (or father of the child, whatever) absolutely should have a say.

  3. Well I have to agree with you. In the case where consensual conceptions, intentional or not, I think both should have equal say unless the mother's life is at stake.

    Now I think that needs qualified a bit and here I am talking more of the unwanted pregancy of teens or single people. OK Buster Pete, you want to have a say in this, fine. But damn it make sure you are around to share in the joy. You get your ass in gear and draw out your wallet and make sure that everything is properly taken care of. You don't sit back in some ivory tower and issue moral judgments about what will happen to YOUR child and then let the lady do all the work. You want to be a parent fine, get in the trenches and be a parent. You want a abortion, you have your ass there fending off the protesters and helping to take care of this woman afterwards. What pisses me off in teen pregnancies is you have young laddie that was on board with a good stiffy when it was play time, but when the shit hits the fan, laddy knows nothing about all this. Well genetic testing has done away with that particular line of bullshit. It takes two to tango and those old arguments that it can't be mine are long gone. But then I have heard where the girl's family wants an abortion, but laddies family takes the high moral road. That's fine. But get your asses trenches and get to work and do your part. You get your asses off to an adoption agency, you take care of your half of the expenses. You get asses involved. The road to hell is paved with high moral judgments. There is nothing like action and cash to make moral theories moral actions. OK I will step down from my soap box and address the question at hand.

    Without a doubt father's have a right and a moral obligation to be part of this decision. I totally agree with your arguments.

    But I want to take a different path. Do we have the right to perform abortions? Well here we go. Yes by law we do. OK, then let me ask this, Do we have the right to abort a child with Down's syndrome? And before I answer or anyone else answers just let me say this, we who have not taken a stroll down this particular path to hell are not qualified to answer that question. Until you are in that God forsaken situation, you have no idea what it is like. For us it is just a theoretical moral question. Do not moralize until you have walked a mile in another persons moccasins. Having said that let me proceed.

    I don't know all the ramifications of Down's Syndrome and just how much can be predicted by prenatal testing. Are there horrific cases and not so bad cases? I don't know. I can tell you this, of the people that I have met with Downs syndrome, not that many, but of those that I have seen in my life I have never met one that I could say:

    1. Was not a fully a human being.

    2. Did not possess a Soul.

    3. Would have been better off dead than alive.

    Yes they do not have fully functioning intellects and emotional abilities. Yes they often have physical problems, and I believe that they are usually subject to short lives. And yes they usually require some life long assistance. But I have never met one that I could put a pistol to his or her head and pull the trigger and not define it as murder of a human being.
    Oops! Too long. I have to break it in two.

  4. Continued from the comment above:

    OK, but obviously if it is legally OK to abort a normal baby why any reservations about a baby with Downs syndrome. Well here again I have to qualify this argument. If you got pregnant and decided to abort this baby for whatever reasons fine. You are allowed to do so. But let's presume for a moment that you wanted to get pregnant or at least didn't mind the idea of being pregnant and then at some point you find out that the child will have Downs. Legally it is still your right. But when you wanted this baby, when you actively tried to conceive a child is it morally right to abort a baby that will have Downs? Again I don't know all the ramifications of Downs. I am limiting my argument to functional children with intellectual and development problems. My point being: normal baby oh joy of joy we are blessed. Baby with Downs. Abort. Is the baby with Down any less of a human being than a normal baby? Does it have a Soul? If a normal baby has a right to live, does a Downs baby have that same right? Again I don't feel qualified to answer these questions. But to me there is a distinction here. Is a fetus subject to a lemon law? Or does a couple have to bear the consequences of their actions? Downs is a fact of life. Bad things happen in life. So really it comes down to the question how much of a pain in the ass is this baby going to be? That is putting it in rather blunt terms, but let's not beat around the bush with euphemisms. Where do you draw the line with how much of a pain in the ass you are willing to put up with? Boys are more of a pain in the ass than girls. Look at the prisons. There is an overwhelming male majority in committing crime. Or what if you and your husband are 140 IQ mensa members, and prenatal testing advances to the point that they can predict within 5 points the baby's IQ. Well Mr. and Mrs. Sextant your baby looks normal we predict an IQ of 100. Oh God, he won't be a genuis! We must abort and try again. Oh, you shouldn't abort a child because he has less IQ than yours! Well in this case it is a 40 point spread. Is that any different than a Down's born to normally intelligent parents? Well no its not the same situation but where do you draw the line?

    I have spent a lot of time in my life pondering abortion. It would certainly be nice just to say I am pro choice or I am pro life. The hell of it in my case is I am both pro choice and pro life. A woman (and man) should have choice about their fertility. Babies should not aborted. There you go clear as mud. I often take the high road of moral obfuscation and say that we as a society should have wonderful contraceptives that would negate the need for abortions. Well that is smoke mirror to get my ass out of a tight spot. What is my abortion policy? Abortion is wrong and shouldn't be, but I am not ready to make that a law of the land, but I have a lot of reservations about not making it the law of the land. So I waffle. I feel abortions should be avoided at all cost, but not made illegal. Yes it is real easy to take the moral high road, you don't abort a child with reasonable birth defects, but is that really the right decision? I read once that sex is God's joke on mankind. Sometimes it is a very damned cruel joke.

  5. Alicia,

    I got so wound up with the scent of my own bullshit that I forgot to compliment you on an excellent post and insightful arguments. I love your serious posts. Keep them up. I think you provide a lot of courage and good common sense to other women who may be living some of your experiences. At times you break my heart, but it is good for us to know the heart break that others experience. I have lived a rather sheltered life with a wonderful woman. Your perspective on things enlightens me.

  6. Again, a lovely post. As it happens, one of my father's cousins had a child with Down Syndrome. She put an ad in the local neighborhood newspaper: I am the mother of a child with Down Syndrome and I do not feel ashamed.
    If you feel as I do, please meet with me at the ---- Fieldhouse.

    She gave a time and a date and over 200 people showed up, including the chief librarian of the local university's world class library. They started the first parent school. This marked the beginning of the National Association for Retarded Children. I was a volunteer at the school and found the Down Syndrome children to be loving, sweet, bundles of joy. My father's cousin was a nurse, but she was an eloquent spokesperson for all children. She was killed by a drunk driver, and hundreds attended her funeral. They wept.

    I, too, have many, many questions about abortion. The "my body" argument leaves me colder than snow. There's evidence that many do use abortion as a form of birth control, and further evidence that many women are so traumatized by the experience that they freak out at the sound of a vacuum cleaner.

    During the Viet Nam War, a friend called the pro-lifers and asked how they felt about the war? She called the anti-war people, and asked what they felt about abortion. The prolifers supported the war; the antiwar people supported abortion. Confusing, isn't it?

  7. I had the same response to this aspect - especially in a loving, trusting, marriage it seems that if that union creates a baby, both partners need to make a decision together on something impacts them both to the very core.

  8. I read this book in one night! At 37 I was pregnant with my 3rd and got flack from a nurse for refusing to be tested for carrying a Down's baby. The pregnancy was not planned, but no matter what, I knew I could not live with myself if I aborted my own child. He was born completely healthy and no Down's Syndrome. But I would have loved him no matter what.

    I shop at a smaller grocery store because they hire Special Needs people-often with Downs- and spend extra time training them to do tasks they are capable of doing. I love that they employ these people and find them the kindest and most cheerful of all the employees.

  9. JennieB - Yes, she did address it a bit at the end but I'm not sure she would have done things differently the next time. I was surprised he was so quick to agree with her that it was her decision. Regardless, they made the right choice for them and Adam has brought them much joy.

  10. Mama Brandi - That's what I love about this book club, you get insights into things you might have missed just reading it yourself. I can't wait to see what inspired everyone else. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Sextant - I do believe you have again written a long enough comment that you can actually use it as a post on your own You bring up many good points. Amazingly enough you know quite a bit about Down Syndrome as many of the traits you mention were mentioned in the book itself.

    I also waffle quite a bit in whether abortion should be legal or not. It is a difficult choice to make whether you are stuck making the choice by yourself or with the father of the child. Something I never had to face and for that I am grateful.

  12. Sextant again - Thank you so much for your kind words regarding my serious posts. I love what you said about our hearts breaking for others, and how it helps us to know what others experience. Thank you for reading and for commenting.

  13. NanookMN - What a wonderful comment! What a brave mother to invite everyone to come and find out more about Down Syndrome. I've not known many people or children that have had Down Syndrome so I don't know much about it but almost everyone comments on how loving and sweet they are.

    Your final comment about the Vietnam War and abortion certainly is confusing. I once worked at a funeral home and I saw babies that died premature, many of them still small enough to have been legally aborted and they were babies, you could see the male genitals and little fingers and eyes. It's a sad situation all the way around and a terrible decision to have to make.

  14. Catherine - I totally agree! In a marriage we make the choice together on what to name the baby, but when it comes to adoption it's totally the womans choice? Hmmm, seems odd to me.

  15. Rebecca - I'm so happy that your pregnancy ended with a completely healthy child. I think that is one of the first things we think of when we find out we are pregnant...and one of our biggest fears.

  16. Very thought provoking post!
    I must say I totally agree with your views on the matter.

  17. DUTA - Thanks, it did bring out quite a few opinions and comments. I'm really enjoying this book club, it's making me think outside the box and that's great!


Please leave a comment.I would love to know your thoughts!