In the war of sound bites over abortion, each side stakes out its turf and avoids the more complicated human issues.
Last year I worked with a couple I’ll call the Joneses. After 20 years of marriage, they were considering separation. Their oldest was a senior in high school.
Marriages often run into trouble when they are 15 to 20 years old. Sometimes it’s the empty-nest phenomenon or a midlife crisis. But usually what happens is that feelings that have been buried for many years can no longer stay there, and old conflicts reemerge.
As I took their history, they told me how they met 25 years earlier. She was working to save money for college, and he was already in his second year studying to be a teacher.
They fell in love and planned to marry when he graduated and began working. At that point, she would go to college and pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. They were very much in love and their future looked bright – until she became pregnant.
As they told the story, both became tearful. They described themselves as religious and churchgoing, then as now. They also called themselves “pro-life.” So the discussion of what to do about the pregnancy was agony. They knew they were not ready financially or emotionally to raise a child. And doing so would compromise not only their quality of life, but that of their future children.
They thought about adoption, but feared that if she carried to term, they would be rejected by their families. They knew that whatever choice they made, they would feel guilt and grief for the rest of their lives.
Such is the case with most unwanted pregnancies. Life is forever altered the moment conception occurs.
After many sleepless nights, the Joneses finally decided to have an abortion. As they told this story, they both wept openly as if this had happened yesterday.
And as Mr. Jones said: “this decision caused me the greatest pain in my life, but it was the right decision. Our children have a nice life they never would have had if we had that baby.” Through her tears, Mrs. Jones nodded in agreement. They both felt they ended a life or at least a potential one.
All loss must be mourned or the grief stays entombed inside searching for a voice. The death of a parent, spouse or child typically gets mourned with the support of the community.
But with abortion, everything is different.
In this highly politicized environment, there is really nowhere to go. Couples like the Joneses keep an abortion secret from their families and the larger community.
The Joneses resumed their lives and didn’t talk about it much because, as he says: “We didn’t want to upset one another.” She went to college, he went to work, and then the children came.
But no matter how many distractions, the pain still dogged them. Mrs. Jones said that at every birthday party and every Christmas, she thought about that decision made so many years ago. As the years went on, Mrs. Jones became more involved in the children’s lives while Mr. Jones seemed to work harder and harder. And now that their oldest child is about to leave home, it feels as if the pain from the past is coming closer.
Over the months we worked together, many tears were shed and many walls came down as their relationship became closer and more open.
The pain didn’t go away. But to help turn their ordeal into something constructive, they became involved in programs that would benefit children. Mr. Jones is working to get guns off the street while Mrs. Jones is working with a program to help feed hungry children.
Sound bites never tell the story from the inside out. The Joneses did.