I have been pro-choice for as long as I can remember, even when – as a practicing Catholic – ‘pro-choice’ meant a contradiction of my personal beliefs, because I knew my personal beliefs shouldn’t dictate the choices of others. Which is fortunate because my personal beliefs evolved over time. Still, my pro-choice stance was always quite simple and superficial, until at six weeks pregnant I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum. Suddenly the reality of the complexity of pregnancy was something I understood intimately.
I cannot effectively describe what it is like to have hyperemesis gravidarum. The most accurate description I’ve come across is that it is like having food poisoning for weeks and months on end. It’s more than the unending agony of nausea and vomiting, it’s the complications that arise when your body is rejecting food on a chronic basis: malnutrition, atrophy, damage to the oesophagus. And the emotional ramifications of the trauma: fear, anxiety, guilt, isolation, depression. For some women, depending on the country they live in, it can put them in tremendous financial debt, cost them their job; it can fracture families and end friendships, due to the immense strain of the condition and attempting to support someone with the condition, as well as the misunderstanding and the lack of awareness of it’s reality.
Statistics on HG are often underreported, but at least 10% of HG pregnancies result in abortions, including planned or wanted pregnancies.
I had a planned pregnancy, and it did cross my mind. I never gave it true consideration, because I wanted my baby so much, and I knew a termination would mean the intense suffering would have been for nothing. That I would have to start again, and that it might be the same all over again. So I lived with the suffering and the unending guilt and fear that I was letting my baby down.
But not only did I not choose to have an abortion, I made an active choice to have my baby. I chose to conceive her. And once pregnant, I struggled to feed myself something, anything. To keep fluids down. And when force-feeding didn’t work, and fluids didn’t stay down, I went to the hospital and got IV fluids and antiemetics.
Those were my choices. And I would never expect someone else to make those choice solely because I did. You cannot force someone else’s life into the shape of your experiences. You cannot try to limit someone’s right to make a choice that you had the luxury of making, nor prevent them from making a choice because it was withheld from you. Every woman should be able to decide that for her, the suffering is not worth it or is too dangerous or simply impossible.
But also, a woman should also not have to be suffering or experiencing failing health in order to avail of the choice. Pregnancy is never a totally straightforward situation. Pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood affect your body and your life. In pregnancy, you are sharing your body with another living, growing thing. There are risks, and the life that results is a tremendous responsibility. On top of all this, pregnant women have to fight for bodily autonomy as we traverse a society and a healthcare system that thinks it can tell us what we should or must do with our bodies, particularly when we are pregnant. Because, as I made an active choice to carry my baby, pregnancy should be a path that is actively embraced rather than experienced by default, or even against your will.