Sunday, March 9, 2014

What Did David Silverman Actually Say?

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, has recently been featured in an article on The Raw Story, in which he first asserted that, "Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked".

Although it would seem the vast majority of Conservatives are Christian, it is arguable that not all them are, and that some may even be atheists. Silverman confirms that conservative atheists exist and even goes so far as to call himself "fiscally conservative". He also said "that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives."

Silverman also brought up various social concerns that many Conservatives have, citing theocratic tendencies for those concerns with, perhaps, one exception:

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

That one quote has sparked quite a bit of unrest in the secular community. I've read several incredibly concerned comments and articles about this quote, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned, too. However, I have decided to reserve judgment until a clarification has been made.

What Silverman said, exactly, is that "there is a secular argument against abortion". Let's define "secular".

  [sek-yuh-ler]   adjective
1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.            
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music. 
3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.
4. (of members of the clergy) not belonging to a religious order; not bound by monastic vows (opposed to regular ).
5. occurring or celebrated once in an age or century: the secular games of Rome.

Nowhere in this definition is mentioned morality, science, logic, or reason. It is preferable that these things would go hand in hand, but that just isn't always the case. Not all atheists are humanists, and not all atheists are skeptics. It is vastly unfortunate that a trait I thought would really help to separate the wheat from the chaff doesn't quite do the job. There are immoral and bigoted atheists. There are atheists who believe, firmly, in the existence of Big Foot, atheists that don't vaccinate their children, atheists that believe in homeopathy, and even atheist misogynists.

If you really want to understand the secular argument against abortion, feel free to peruse that organization's website. I was pleasantly surprised to see a quasi pro-woman perspective or two when it came to rape and sex education, but they qualify as certifiably misogynistic. They hold that a fertilized egg is a person and worthy of certain rights, namely life. They dismiss the rights of the woman as secondary and claim a moral high ground in defending embryonic and fetal personhood. Being ignorant and/or misogynistic while being secular is very possible, if incredibly sad and infuriating.

I have established that a secular reason against abortion does, in fact, exist. I assert that it is a terrible one fueled by a misguided desire to defend the "helpless" and treat women as second class citizens. It is my hope that Silverman was referencing these reasons as merely existing, and couldn't dismiss all the opponents of abortion as religious because of it. Saying that something is real is not the same as saying that it is good or justified, and I can't, in good conscience, react with condemnation for what he said without some kind of clarification. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Common Miscarriage

I've certainly taken more than a brief hiatus from writing much over the past few months, and every time I thought to write anything, I kept coming back to the same sore subject. It seemed too personal a thing to write and too full of a sort of hurt I was sure nobody would really understand.

And even when it  happens to other people, nobody talks about it. Not really. It is hushed up and glossed over, and I thought that was how it was supposed to be. My sad story, and many others like it, are common. They are more common than many people realize, and it wasn't until I read of someone else's experiences that I realized it was worth telling.

There is very little comfort to be had when a pregnancy goes awry.

My brother and his wife told the family that they were pregnant exactly two weeks before my husband and I discovered we were pregnant. My entire family was elated, as this would be my brother's first child, and my husband's first child. My mother was over the moon with the idea of having two grandbabies at almost exactly the same time. It was going to be yellow ducks, and tiny socks, bright sunrises, and little people discovering the world in tandem while all the big people watched them. It was going to be just perfect.

I was out of town on business when my brother called me to let me know that they had lost the baby. He was crushed, and I was crushed for him. I felt guilty because I had just announced my own pregnancy, and I felt so much sorrow for him. I realized how common it was, that about twenty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that it could just as easily have been me. I remember hoping the best for him and his wife, and feeling impotent to do much else.

Two weeks later, I was six weeks along and at my first doctor's appointment with an excited husband, who had taken the day off work to accompany me. I have a ten year old son, and so I had been through this before. However, it felt so very good to be happy about our pregnancy, and so different now, at the age of thirty, instead of being frightened and alone at nineteen. It felt so different and so joyful with someone I trusted there next to me being just as excited as I was. The doctor wasn't able to hear a heartbeat this early, but there was a faint flicker on the ultrasound and a promising little blob. They printed out pictures, and we sent messages to our parents. We basked in the gestational glow of imagined firsts.

Over the next two weeks, I spotted lightly and worried heavily. My morning sickness was coming and going irregularly and I had the looming sense of wrongness that I kept telling myself was in my head. If I could just get through the first trimester, I would be okay. I would travel for work, and friends at conventions would smile at my rotund shape as mine and my husband's hopes grew to fruition. I tried not to dwell on either of these thoughts as I passed through peaks and valleys of optimism and anxiety.

I had another ultrasound to discern a more definite heartbeat when I was eight weeks along, and the morning of my appointment, I discovered a telling black clot when I went to the bathroom. There was a moment of panic before  leaden resolve settled into my stomach. I won't say I didn't hope. I hoped. I went to my appointment alone and I hoped.

The ultrasound confirmed my worry. There was no heartbeat. I tried not to cry and I held out for two and a half seconds before the wave of despair crashed on me as I sit there in my paper gown. The doctor was very comforting, as was the nurse. They let me slip out of the office quietly, and I did. That is how it goes, I guess. Heartbroken mothers-to-be slipping out quietly and crying their many tears in the car. I hadn't yet begun to actually miscarry, but I had another business trip in a little more than a week and couldn't afford to wait, so we scheduled a D&C, and I got down to wrapping my head around what was happening.

My husband came home early. I told him via email because he can't get calls in the office, and he shed his tears in the car, too. I told everyone what had happened via phone and facebook, and then I took to the mommy boards.

For an atheist, it is enraging to read of so many other mothers giving condolences in the form of celestial images of tiny angels and the will of a supposedly loving deity. I can't even begin to describe the anger I felt at reading all of the misbegotten "meant to be". It felt hollow and bitter, like my seemingly blighted uterus. I turned away from the boards online and read sympathy messages on facebook. They were all very well-meaning, and I know that, but I think I learned more about what not to say to a grieving person in those moments than I ever have before.

1. "You'll get pregnant, again."
Will I? And if I do, what then? In the wake of a miscarriage, recalling how hope turns so easily to grief just reminds me that there are no guarantees.

2. A pregnant women suggesting that I'll be just fine.

3. Asking me if there is something medically wrong with me.
Assuring people that my plumbing is probably just fine over and over again to parents, friends, and acquaintances was incredibly strange, especially when people who knew me told me that they regarded me as very "fertile". It made me feel like livestock.

4. Suggesting how long to wait, or not to wait, to try to get pregnant again.
I'm still carrying my dead fetus. Can we just deal with the feelings I am having right now?

5. "At least you know you can get pregnant."
Brilliant. Yes. Proof. Eureka! I feel so much better. Not.
Pointing out the accomplishments of my body, as far as gestation goes, is not going to help, because this pregnancy has just ended in a gut-wrenching failure.

I do understand how it feels to want to say the right thing. I had been consoling my brother over his own loss just weeks before. I know how hard it can be, to want to say something that helps, but unsolicited advice, questions, or generalized statements about what may or may not happen are all hard pills to swallow at a time like this. I don't hold on to any resentment or negativity toward people that unwittingly said something that stung at a hard time. I just want us all to get better, together.

I waited for the day of my D&C, lamenting the loss of this pregnancy and reliving all of the hopes I had. The day of my procedure, I unabashedly asked for all of the drugs, which helped take the edge off both before and after the procedure. I even asked my doctor for a small supply of anti-anxiety medicine to help me get through the next week or two at the insistence of my husband, who knows my dysfunction as well as I do and is less embarrassed of it.

I awoke to the sound of my very rad anesthesiologist talking to the nurse about video games, and in my semi-lucid state I was sure it was Skyrim because he mentioned dragons.  I went with it and blurted out something regarding the ineffectiveness of boob armor and babbled on as the nurse fetched my husband. It wasn't a bad day, actually, thanks largely to the pre-op relaxation drug they gave me. The hubby ushered me to the pharmacy, where I complimented every single person I saw on one article of clothing or another, and then home. Nestled into a nest of blankets on the couch, I napped into reality.

The next two days were agony, but not emotional agony. I had months for that. There was some kind of complication involving my pain meds. It seemed like my entire G.I. tract was swelling and roiling about inside of me while my uterus began to contract painfully back down to normal. After the second day, I could no longer stand it and went back to see the doctor, who prescribed something different and gave me some antibiotics. I don't know what did it, but I felt better the next day and improved well enough over the next week to make my convention.

The months that followed were very hard for me. When you are pregnant, and then become not pregnant, hormones dropping can cause feelings of deep melancholy, also known as baby blues or postpartum depression. When you have a baby, nursing and even just proximity to your baby releases calming hormones. I remember holding Johnny when he was little, and even in the whirlwind clusterfuck that was my life way back when, I felt so happy. There was no biological solace to be had, this time.

The depression settled in for the Fall and stayed for the holidays, and I coped well enough. Every day, waiting to stop bleeding, and then waiting for my cycle to start back up again, I was reminded that my body could malfunction at any time. I thought, if I could just get pregnant again, I would feel better. And we tried. We tried through two erratic and untimely cycles. All those empty consolations rang in my ears and the depression sat in anew when my period came early and then late. My rhythm was off. I was living in a body that was a wretched reminder of failure.

The holidays came, and I was reminded again. My beloved bump was absent amidst all of the people that had been so happy about the possibility. We went out of town and visited my husband's family. I greeted one of his sisters, swollen with her own baby and due in just a few months, and knocked back all the beer I had insisted we bring as small children stampeded about and a new baby fussed and cooed. It should have been happy, but it was agonizing, and I felt guilty for being miserable while in the company of people I love and seldom see. I cried all the way back to where we were staying, glad that my son was passed out in the back seat. It was an hour long ride, and when we got back, I slipped quietly into the house, like I had slipped quietly out of the OB's office a few months before.

That had been the beginning of the end of the worst of it, but the worst of it had lasted months, and in that time, I often wondered about other moms. I couldn't bring myself to look online for fear of seeing further invocations of a silly god. I thought, maybe, I was just more sad, for some reason. Not only was my fetus gone, but perhaps a piece of my sanity was gone with it, and other moms bore this sorrow more gracefully than I. It is most certainly a sad topic, and yet so common that I think it isn't discussed because it could happen to literally anyone, and nobody wants to be reminded that luck is a fickle mistress. So many of us, living in developed nations, are partial to our bliss and our ignorance.

After the holidays were over, after I had faced my entire family and many of my friends empty and sullen, the dire urgency to become pregnant again dissipated, and I was able to enjoy my life without counting down the days to the beginning of my next cycle. I took up hunting deer, having practiced with my bow while we were out of town, shifting my aspiration from one of creating life to one of taking it. Sitting out in the snow covered woods allowed me to clear my head and fully process my thoughts without an emotional filter. Silent and still, the forest forgot I was there, and I felt myself becoming smaller and smaller until my sadness became a trivial thing in a beautiful place where creatures ate other creatures to survive.

It is still like that, now. I read the news and see people being forced out of their homes by flooding and violence. Small tasks and large goals take up my time. My son is almost as tall as I am and he loves me, even before I've had my coffee. I realize how lucky I am, and at the same time, I can remember when my luck ran dry. All the well wishes in the world aren't enough to defy biology. I wish I could say that I'm not sad about it, anymore, but I don't think this is a sadness that goes away, and it is odd to me that so many other women might also carry this sadness and never really speak of it.

The irony of having an uncomplicated unintended pregnancy and losing an intended one is not lost on me. The catch twenty-two of having babies young, when your body can best hold them, and having them when you are older and more stable is also not lost on me. Being a mother is a beautiful, terrible experience, but so is living, and I wouldn't change either of those things. I'm hoping that I am able to become pregnant again, but I know anything and nothing is possible, and that even if it does happen, that it will never be the same. I will always worry just a little bit more because I know that life isn't a promise at all. It is a chance.

It is a chance that I will have to take.