What is the Value of a Life
A story of choice.
When my mother was 16, she got pregnant with me.
It was the sixties, and she was young; her family did not feel that she was prepared to have a child; she was not mother material, and they quietly sent her to Arkansas to a small hospital.
The nurse came to my mother that evening and asked her if she was ready for her surgery in the morning; my mother was unsure what surgery she was there for; her family had shared that she was there to be “taken care of.”
She was there for an illegal abortion; her family had helped set this up at a time when it was unlawful.
She got up, got dressed, called her family, and asked that they send her back home to California. So they did, and she did not know what to do; she had turned 17 and lived in a small apartment with my father, but he was rarely home. Home to him was running with friends, drinking, using drugs, and playing Casanova with the women around him.
My mother got a job at a local Safeway; she worked there while pregnant, and after she had me, if anyone helped her take care of the child she had, it was her co-workers at Safeway. Her manager let her come in after-hours and take food that she needed to feed herself and me, growing away in her belly.
She saw a doctor, not a specialist; what we know now as a GP, he was her doctor while she was pregnant; he was at a local health care clinic, where when she went for her check-ups, she had to wait hours, with others, who had all types of issues. He was afraid she would go into labor early or have a late-term miscarriage. So he prescribed Diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was designed to prevent miscarriages and other problems during pregnancy. This was taken off the market in the 1970s due to the issues it would cause the subsequent generations.
She took it, and she managed her pregnancy alone. Then the day came that she knew I would not wait any longer; she walked alone to the hospital, known as the “welfare hospital” in Oakland, California, where she gave birth to me in a room with over a dozen other women alone, with strangers. That same evening, she paid the $50.00 it cost to have me and walked home alone with me.
In a letter to me from this day, she wrote, “I held you in my hands, next to my heart, and I had no idea what to do with you, how I was going to feed you, clothe you, care for you, I was terrified, lonely, and stymied by the little life that I held.”
My father came home, angry, drinking, with a girlfriend; he kicked my mom out of the apartment, she got into her car, and we lived in her car at a local “doggie diner” for three days. Until my grandmother, my father’s mother realized what her son was doing and had my mom stay with her. After that, they all tried to work out something with my father, who was young and not interested in being a father.
My mother went back to work; she had my grandmother and auntie watch me while at work, and Safeway helped her to feed both of us and care for us when others could not or would not.
Although this story might seem to allude or share that I would be against abortion; I am not; I am for the human right of having autonomy over your body. My mother had autonomy over her body, and she chose to have me. Was that her best choice in life? I honestly don't believe so.
Those who have read this far understand this; no one was there to help us, no one saved us, no one came to care for and help my mother with a newborn, alone, scared, and insecure about her future and the future of her child.
If the call of pro-life is to the sanctity of life, where was her life in that call? Where was my life?
She chose to have me and keep me, yet the sanctity of our lives made no difference to those who shout the loudest that every life matters.
To those who shout the loudest that it’s a child, not a choice, well, I was a child and an unexpected option, and yet, no one came to help feed us, clothe us, help us find shelter.
Suppose the argument of pro-life is that of life. In that case, it would and should include all lives, those who choose to have a child when unprepared, under-prepared, ill-suited, and emotionally, physically, and spiritually unprepared. The pro-life mantra would mean all lives.
The pro-life mantra would be to reach out and care for all the lives born, not just those from conception to birth.
The same voices that scream at people at health clinics have statistically been the voices that do not vote to care for the same people or the invisible of our society.
Those who cannot afford food are denied food stamps to help, but every life matters and every life is precious, but not the poor life, not the single parent life, not the person of color life, not the woman in abusive marriage life.
How about the folks living under bridges, in cars, who have substance abuse disorder(s) and mental health issues? My mother had all of these, we were homeless often, yet no one ever came to us to say, “your life matters, your life is precious, and life is sanctified.” Come, let us feed you, help you find shelter, and get you help, my family tried, but it was too late for my mother.
The idea of pro-life, care, and feeding of life, needs to be widened. But, at the same time, the hypocrisy of those yelling at health care clinics needs to understand that when there is no healthcare, no childcare, no hope, and no one to help from birth to 18, the body and the autonomy it possesses is the only thing that is sanctified.
The cost of living, from my perspective, would be the price of my birth, the cost of my mother’s death; the cost of living is often placed on the backs that society refuses to look at, acknowledge, care for, and consider.
Many have shared, “you turned out ok; you should be so happy to have been given a life.”
Every day, I don’t take this life for granted; I spent years of my life in a haze of grief, a cacophony of loss, and as an example of what not to do, I did. I managed, collected, let go, and became, but am not the poster child of pro-life.
I am a voice for my life and the lives that so many of us live, from paycheck to paycheck, teetering on a tiny balance beam, not understanding why we are here, working to be better, but invisible. People who work full-time and never vacation because we are terrified we will lose our housing or transportation because no one shared that pro-life meant all lives and that some lives have to continually pull themselves up over and over with a string of gossamer and a thin veil of hope.
The court does not care about those who are invisible, those who need food, housing, a hand up, mental health care, affordable universal health care, child care, if we spend the time and money we do on the bodies of those who have children, making the lives of those who have the children healthy, whole, and accessible. Then, we may create a society that respects the body and those who inhabit those bodies.
In my life, I buried bodies, that of my mother, that of my daughter ( due to the complications of DES that my mother took while pregnant with me).
Instead of listening to the lip service and vitriol of the pro-life movement, I am calling them and their representatives to the carpet. To explain how and why they choose some lives over others, why they support some but not all, and how they can say they are pro-life when not all lives are seen, heard, or cared for in our society?
I want to know why our lives didn’t matter, why the lives of my family didn’t matter. Why now, in my mid-50s, I am still fighting for the autonomy over my body, the desire to make the choices I wish to make, some choices were made for me, and that has left me unable to have a child; this is why I fight, I fight because to me from conception to death, we matter.
We live in a country that could feed, house, shelter, and create a debt-free infrastructure, and instead, a heavy-handed and well-funded few tell us to persecute those who bear children. Not those who steal, not those who pad their pockets on the backs of the unseen, the working poor, or those who have not had hope in their lives ever. Instead of focusing on those who have true wealth and asking them to share, apparently an excessive thing, we let them gather their wealth at the cost of those who are unseen, unheard, and who can carry babies.
I believe in health care choices for all; if it is my body, it is my choice, and when those among us choose not to take a vaccine or wear a mask, I respect their choice. I did not take away their choice. I let them have body autonomy. This is bodily autonomy and who has it, who earns it, and who has access.
I don’t believe in hypocrisy; I don’t believe it can be one way and not another.
If you shout at me that I am a “sheeple” for wearing a mask and wearing “my body my choice” shirts, yet you don’t see the hypocrisy staring at you in the face, then remember my mother.
She chose to have me; the cost of that choice is high; the cost of that choice for her and I was homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, my mother being raped and left for dead, my mother selling her body to keep us fed, housed, and me in the same school district.
The cost of having me was high and cost my mother her life in many ways.
The value of my life was unseen until I was old enough to understand the importance of life. It is not the rhetoric of silencing people who have children; it is not the rhetoric of devaluing the autonomy of our bodies. It is my body, my choice, and that will never be silenced for me.