“After all, religion is the only reason you all seem to cling to this idea that a fetus is a baby or a human.”
This is a quote from the letter Andrea posted yesterday. It reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while and here we – finally – go!
I am currently taking a journey in the unexplored confines of our society’s split personality when it comes to abortion and the status of the fetus. Last February, I found out with great surprise that I was expecting. For those who are keeping count, that would be number 7. Oh well, thought I, we’ll have one for each day of the week. Our children were ecstatic, people thought we were crazy (same old same old). Except that 3 weeks ago, we found out – with even greater surprise – that 7 days wouldn’t be quite enough. I am expecting twins. If I ever thought I had heard it all with my large family, expecting twins takes the cake. I now qualify as a bona fide circus animal. I should have known from the tone of pessimistic disbelief in the ultrasound technician’s “…well, you seem to be taking it well…” that I was in for an interesting ride.
Reading everything I can put my hands on, I learned a few factoids. Twinning rates have been increasing steadily for the last 20 years, partly due to increasing maternal age (check!) and assisted reproduction technologies (uncheck, just in case you’re wondering). This means that my search for the best double-stroller has lead me to countless assisted reproduction message boards and Internet sites. In the ART world, gametes are babies. They are loved and expected from implantation, a time when mothers like me don’t even know they are pregnant. They are mourned and remembered when implantation fails, a time when mothers like me just have another period.
Every book about twins starts with a detailed chapter about twinning and early conception. With quotes like “this is when your babies’ cells start specializing”, “this is when your babies’ hearts start beating”, “by so-many-weeks, your embryos are now fully formed and will only get bigger and bigger until they are ready to be born…” there is no grey zone. But then, the whole gig gets positively weird when it tackles selective reduction or the selective abortion of some fetuses in a high-order multiple pregnancy (usually triplet and more). Presented as just one more medical procedure, it balances out the advantages (higher chances for the remaining fetus(es) to be born at term) with the risks (higher chances of mortality following the procedure for the remaining fetus(es)) in a cold medical calculation and barely touches the psychological impact such a decision must have on the parents. You may think that it must be because there Is no psychological impact but I once met a woman whose ovaries had been over-stimulated through ART. She was only told that she could be expecting as many as 8 babies and should consider selective reduction. She spent the following week in a complete state of shock at the thought of having to choose which babies to dispatch after spending years struggling with infertility. A simple risk-benefits analysis it was not. Thankfully, only 2 embryos implanted and she carried healthy twin girls to term. Ten years later, she still cries when she recounts this episode.
And so this is my journey at the heart of our collective split personality. On one page, fetuses are pint-sized human beings with all the bells and whistles of personhood, the next page, they are subject to reduction, like a wart or a tumour. When the pendulum stops swinging, I hope it will be on the side of the baby.by