Dear Abortion Rights Protester,
I’m going to admit: My sister and I were less than thrilled to find out that there was going to be a big prayer hoedown of some sort at Independence Mall today. We didn’t mind so much that y’all were sharing your message — we were more concerned about traffic and long lines at the Liberty Bell. You know, we were schlepping four kids. That’s challenge enough.
And you know? I even looked upon your big shindig as a teachable moment. As traffic slowed on 6th St., I rolled down the windows and pointed to your group. “See kids?” I said. “That is America at work right there. Those people are gathering because they have a religious message that they want to share. Not everyone agrees with them, but the point is that they’re allowed to do that. It’s not like that in every country.”
Then my sister groaned and turned away from her window. I saw that next to us was a truck with a sign that read “Abortion is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin …” And then I didn’t read the rest.
We drove on. We parked. We ate. We pottied. We hoofed it over to the Independence Visitors’ Center — which was right smack-dab in the middle of your gathering — to collect our tickets to Independence Hall.
And there, sir, we saw you.
Well, howdy-do to you, bloody fetus
I saw you. My sister saw you. And my nine-year old daughter saw you. I put a hand on her shoulder and tried to steer her away from you but it was too late. She saw.
“Mommy, what was that picture on his sign? The one under the baby? It looked all bloody and gross and I saw a bone.”
“That’s a complicated question,” I told her. “I’d rather not try to answer it while we’re walking and dealing with crowds. Remind me and we’ll talk about it after we get home.”
No. She didn’t forget.
Here we go now
I always promised myself I would answer my kids’ questions honestly, even if they were hard or embarrassing. I had juuuuust managed to skate by the sex question a few times in the past.
But tonight there was no ducking it.
Here’s sort of the nutshell of what I told Megan about abortion (interjected with lots of questions by her):
Abortion is a procedure that a woman can get if she finds out that she’s pregnant and doesn’t think she can have the baby for some reason. It’s not necessarily a nice procedure and no one really wants to have one, but some people feel they need to. For example, a woman might have a health condition that puts her own life at risk to be pregnant. She may be poor and thinks she won’t be able to care for the child. Or, she may be very young and become pregnant sooner than she expected.
It was that last bit that doomed me. (I said I would answer the questions my children ask, but I didn’t say that I wouldn’t try to delay if possible.)
“How?” she asked. “How could someone get pregnant too young? I mean, does your body just get pregnant on accident?”
“Well, no. Your body can’t just get pregnant on its own,” I told her.
“Well how does it happen then?”
Here. We. Go.
Just the facts, ma’am
So I laid it out. I said there was something called sex (which Megan then kept referring to as “sacks”). I said it was also called making love, because the idea was that you do this thing with people you love.
And yes, we went through the anatomy. We’d already had the period talk so she had a frame of reference about eggs and what they do, but sperm was a new concept. Points for me for not laughing when she asked, “What is sperm? I mean, like, is it a liquid or a solid?”
Not surprisingly, she pronounced the whole thing disgusting. I told her she may feel differently when she’s older (much older).
And then we talked about whether mommy and daddy had “sacks” and “Bleh! You did it TWICE?!!” because yes, she has a brother. And I explained that it was more than twice because we loved each other and it was a way of showing love.
And then, because my kid is smart and asks a lot of questions, we talked about DNA, which was sort of fun.
Then she wanted to get back to the poster she saw today. She pointed out that we never talked about what that bloody picture was.
I said, “Well, some people who think abortion should be illegal like to show gross pictures to scare people. Most people have abortions before the fertilized egg turns into a baby with a heartbeat and a brain. But some people like to show pictures of dead babies to make people think that abortion is about killing.”
And then, my nine-year old kid said, “I don’t get it. If being pregnant was going to kill a person, why would someone say that abortion should be illegal?”
“That’s a good point,” I told her. “I think if it were illegal people would still try to get them but they wouldn’t have a safe way to do it. So they’d have to go to places that weren’t as clean as a doctor’s office and have people do it who weren’t trained in what to do. It could be really dangerous.”
“You know what?” she said. “I think we have to stop talking about this now because it’s going to give me nightmares.”
So there you have it, Mr. Abortion-Rights Protester. Your bloody sign on a public street near a tourist attraction in a major city prompted me to come home and talk about penises and vaginas and sex and love and DNA (that’s a science term, btw) with my third-grader. You also prompted her to think she might have nightmares.
I’m not sure if all of that was your aim, but I just wanted you to know that you made an impact.