TPM Cafe: Opinion

Choosing When To Become A Parent Is Just That — A Choice

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The language is important, that’s true. I cheered out loud reading Janet Harris’s op-ed “Stop Calling Abortion a Difficult Decision,” and I involuntarily wince whenever I see that tired old pairing of “pro-life” as the opposite of “pro-choice.” Supporting reproductive choice does not equal being anti-life, and this pairing helps perpetuate that false equivalency.

But just as meaningful as the words used, are the people saying them. The stigma that surrounds abortion care often keeps those who have direct experience with the procedure from speaking openly, which is a shame. Because while no one should feel compelled to speak about her medical history, the reason for silence should come from a sense of privacy or restraint, not fear of condemnation. While I applaud the work of 1 in 3, I’m Not Sorry, and similar venues that share thoughtful and moving first-person stories about choosing abortion, I think there is another group that needs to speak up, loudly and publicly, about reproductive rights. And that is those of us that were able to fully and freely choose when to become parents.

I am one of those people, and so is my husband. We chose to become parents, but even more importantly, we chose when not to become parents. We chose not to become parents when he was in school and I was unemployed; we chose not to become parents when our relationship was unstable; we chose not to become parents when I was recovering from two surgeries in five months and he was changing jobs; we chose not to become parents when I switched careers. We chose not to become parents over and over for a very long time, even though during that long time we often talked how much we wanted a child.

The reproductive rights movement made it possible for us to not be parents before we were ready. Politics and policies that support contraception, comprehensive health care, and educational opportunities contributed to our ability to become as stable as possible in our own lives and our relationship before taking on the awesome responsibility of raising a child.

I’ve had a lot of conversations this summer with friends who are trying to decide when to become parents. We’ve talked about daycare options and cost, about how much maternal leave they could take and if their spouses’ employers offer any leave. We’ve talked about obstetricians and school districts and family support and hypothetical names for boys and girls, and all the other big and little decisions that come with having a child. We’ve even talked about the more intangible decisions, the ones that don’t have an easy answer: how do you know when you’re ready? Are you ever truly ready?

But what we haven’t talked about directly is choice. Yet that is in the background of all these conversations. And that is in the background for every man who has ever bought a pack of condoms and every woman that has ever filled a prescription for birth control, regardless of what they personally feel about abortion rights.

I would say that my story is not unique or special, that it’s hardly really even a story, because of the role that contraception, education, and choice play in creating so many families.

But the very fact that my husband and I were able to decide when to become parents is not something that should be taken for granted. For too many people in this country, the ability to access affordable contraception is a struggle, comprehensive health care is hard to come by, and the idea of true choice is just that — an idea.

And that is why it is so important for those of us that are able to make all of our health care decisions free from outside interference, to add our voices to the conversation around reproductive rights. Because the role that choice and reproductive rights has played in allowing us to create stable, healthy families can not — and should not — ever be understated, ignored, or taken for granted.

Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. She lives with her family in Washington, D.C.

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