Becoming a father. An idea that has been cycling through my mind for 25 years. Early on, when I was a young man, it seemed more like a question of when, not if. As I matured, I found myself questioning whether having a child was something that I wanted at all. I would often have pangs of guilt as if questioning the “if” was surely the result of a shameful character flaw. Luckily, I never had any family pressure, either way, something that I am very thankful for. I am now 43 years old, married to the woman of my dreams, and I still question whether I would like to have a child.
Quite honestly, it’s a topic that I have never felt that comfortable talking about. Having a child is such a monumental undertaking with such far reaching implications. I always admired people who had certainty, one way or the other. That would be so much easier. Not knowing either way made for difficult conversations with girlfriends and became a deal breaker in some. I often thought that deep down it was fear that was preventing me from wanting a child. After all, who would be so selfish as to not have a child, to defy their most base human instinct, especially when they have the financial wherewithal? All of my friends are having kids, or are at least planning to. And then there are the friends who desperately want a child and have bankrupted themselves with fertility treatments. So then what’s wrong with me? I must be selfish, fearful and weak. Those thoughts would run through my mind. They still do.
My wife, Leigh, had an abortion about 6 months ago (Leigh also shared with us her story, you can read it here). Our unplanned pregnancy shocked us both, forcing us to stress test all of our assumptions. Leigh had made it clear to me early on in our relationship that she did not want to give birth to a child but that she was open to adoption. That was fine with me as I was quite comfortable perched on my fence. Once we found out that she was pregnant, everything changed. A decision had to be made. We sat down in front of a whiteboard and created a “pros and cons” list, noting down every conceivable reason for and against having a child, including the weighing of adoption as an option. It took us hours, involved many tears, but ultimately, thankfully, we ended up on the same page. We did not want to have the child. However, we certainly second guessed and rigorously thought through all of our reasons. In our early forties, we knew that this decision was significant and had a sense of finality to it. That said, we promised to discuss the issue one more time over the next year.
The discussion, the pain, brought us closer together. Afterwards, things slowly normalized for me. I was able to move on in relative short order. It was a lot harder for my wife who is still grieving and processing her pain.
The concept of abortion has never had any type of stigma for me. I grew up in a very liberal household and religion was not a part of my upbringing. Once we made the decision to abort, the abortion itself, to me, was a medical procedure, not that different in type from any other. I don’t believe that a child has a soul or that the early days of a fetus are of any particular significance. In my mind, by having an abortion you are eliminating the potential of life, not dissimilar to using contraception. I don’t believe that a very early collection of cells, pre-nervous system, pre-sentience, is “a person” with individual rights to protect. That is not to say that one should be careless with becoming pregnant as it’s a massive strain on the women’s body and all life, regardless of how nascent, should be treated with care. Deciding whether or not to keep a child is a devastating emotional experience, one that I would never care to repeat. But I have no guilt over the decision. I don’t feel that we killed anything. I don’t feel like a bad person like the pro-choice people would have us believe.
All of that said, I also believe that pro-life activists have the right to protest, even with their graphic signs. I think reasonable people can disagree on abortion. Religion plays such a clear and obvious role in this debate. For those who are very religious, I don’t blame them for feeling the way they do. If I grew up in a very religious home, indoctrinated into certain ways of thinking, I might feel very differently about abortion, among other issues. Being brought up in a liberal home is also an indoctrination of sorts, in my opinion. To some extent, I think self-determination is a pleasant fiction.
I suspect that abortion and the physical and psychological aftermath are a lot more difficult on the woman, compared to the man. I did not go through morning sickness, feel my body changing, my hormones screaming. I had considerable closure once the decision was made to abort. Leigh, understandably, had a longer lasting impact, carrying the embryo and having to go through the procedure.
I don’t regret our decision to have an abortion. I feel that there is a fair chance that we will adopt down the road. I’m still not sure whether I want to have a child and I’ve essentially resigned myself to not ever having any level of certainty. If I really wanted one, I would know by now. I will always be on this fence. Why would I want to commit to a lifelong process unless I had an abiding desire? But life is full of surprises and things could change. I might be 70 and look back at my life and wish that we had started a family. I guess I have to take that chance.
- Dan, Canada