So here’s a story from my life which has ultimately determined everything else. It’s a good example of my view that absolute morality does not exist. The cores of this story are childbirth and abortion, which at their mildest are divisive issues. I have strong opinions on both; I’m very pro-choice, though my rationale is more based on population issues over women’s rights. There are now seven billion humans on Earth. There are now seven billion creatures which devour and shit all over everything in their paths. My species is an intelligent plague.
My attitude is that if we don’t get control over birth, we’ll soon lose control over how we live and how we die. We’ll simply drown in each other. I think birth control should not only be encouraged but mandatory from adolescence until sometime in one’s twenties. Though I don’t have much good to say about the Chinese government in general, I’m very behind its One Child Policy, especially in the context of a country with over a billion citizens. Unfortunately, humans think they’re exempt from Bob Barker-style reproductive responsibility, and even in the most civilized, technologically advanced places where manpower is obsolete, people still baby-crap out units with the greatest of autopilot. In such a world, I view abortion as a very necessary evil.
Still, there’s a problem I’ve come across as an occasional nihilist. One has to exist in order to believe in the possibilities of nothing. In that same contradictory vein it’s kind of illogical and self-centered for living people to actively deny a real future person the sort of existence that they enjoy (or at least get to experience).
But in the end, being pro-choice is about ‒ or at least it damn well should be about ‒ subjectivity. Beyond its immediate social issue, the position should be an acknowledgement that existence is not one size fits all. That’s why it’s not called pro-abortion.
In that vein, allow me to share my own conflicted, one in a million slice of existential subjectivity that led to me being alive today.
I’ve always known, even when I was a baby, that I’m incredibly lucky to be alive. One of my earliest memories involves the knowledge that my mom was at the hospital getting a big deal doctor’s appointment as a result of my birth. I may have been around two or so at the time, and for some reason I had the notion that she had always been in that hospital and never left it since I was born.
As a general rule ‒ though there are several huge exceptions that I’d learn about later in life, one of which serves as the focal point of this story ‒ my family has never concealed any knowledge from me. Some of that, I’m sure, has to do with one of my sisters being ten years older than me and eager to teach me about all the world’s profane secrets. Thanks to her, I could proficiently swear when I was three years old, and I’m probably one of the few humans who can say that they were a party to car theft while strapped into a car seat.
But it goes further than having a rebellious older sibling. For example, my parents made sure I knew, very matter-of-fact, that I had another older sister who lived somewhere else with her mother. I didn’t meet her until I was eighteen ‒ on an Oktoberfest day which ended in a car crash ‒ but I’ve always known she existed. In fact, I knew about her before she knew about me.
If I had a question about anything, no matter how uncomfortable or gross or weird, my mom would do her best to give me a straightforward answer. Thus, my family was always pretty up front about the fact that my birth wasn’t something that should have happened.
Without going into the gory details, certain cancerous complications led to the removal of some of my mom’s parts, and the only thing that kept me strapped in and carried to term was a tumor blocking the exit. I am a tumor baby, the barely born son of a professional gambler. Both of these facts are pretty goddamn appropriate.
The medical improbability of my birth was better explained to me later on, but even as a little kid I knew that I’d be the last child my mother would have. After I emerged onto the scene they scraped her out, which ultimately led to an awesome scene in a crowded Christmas movie theater where I loudly asked my mom if Santa was going to bring her a new uterus.
Most times during my crappy adolescence and twenties, times when I was knuckle-deep in terrible jobs, creative frustration, romantic devastation, and many different forms of self-violence, I’d think about the sheer unlikelihood of my existence and wonder why they even bothered. Like most things, life tends to be least valued by those who have the most of it, even if that person was a miracle baby. Thankfully, I survived the terrible shit and have become a reasonably functional human being, glad to be alive.
People like to romanticize about living in the past or some sanitized era of predetermined life, but the stone cold fact is that I wouldn’t have even made it to childhood were it not for the medical technology of the 20th century. Even better, I was born deformed. My ribs curve inward, giving me the great ability to eat cereal out of my chest. It’s a generally benign defect, but I can’t help thinking that in any other era ‒ especially in that manly Spartan age so balls-cuppingly praised by noir-redneck Frank Miller in 300 ‒ I’d have been deemed retarded at birth and thrown onto the mountain of baby skulls. I suppose I owe my life to the fact that I live here and now, in a society which questions the disposal of unwanted babies.
Of course, this isn’t the only side to the story. As I recently found out, my existence also owes a debt to someone else’s death.
My mom and I can talk for hours, and in these rambling, philosophical conversations secrets come out. The last time this happened was last spring, back when I was still putting my life here in Washington together. Having no job and nothing better to do, I’d call my mom and kill time lurking on the staircase and ranting about asshole Wisconsin Republicans.
I think the information I’m about to discuss came out because one of my cousins had just gotten pregnant. (Appropriate to this story of life and death, she ended up giving birth to her son days before my grandma died.) The talk of new babies led to talk of old babies and my birth, and by the way, says mom, you knew that I had an abortion before I had you, right?
If the fleas in my old run down house were shaped like giant question marks, one of those itchy sons of bitches would have jumped onto my head at exactly that moment.
My parents were married five years before I was born, and I’ve had the vaguest of overviews of their lives in the 70s. The first thing my single realtor mom saw of my single realtor dad was his crotch in whatever tight disco pants he had on at the time. Apparently those pants were a hit. I was recently treated to my tipsy dad bragging that he banged my mom a lot in those early days, one part of a weird conversation in which he also pondered what life would have been like as a gay man. Good to know, dad.
Mom already had a kid. Dad had a kid whom he didn’t meet until I graduated college, yet he began to view my mom’s kid as his own. (This has led to some awkwardness among us neglected biologicals.) Dad really liked playing poker, so much so that he’d go pro around the time of my birth, and mom accepted it. So things were going okay, I guess.
After being together for a while, mom and dad discovered that they were going to have a kid together. The problem was that the same cancerous complications which made my birth so unlikely were entrenched well before I was the gleam. The pregnancy of my older brother ‒ and when I think about this potential sibling, he’s always my brother, mostly because I’ve never had one ‒ was so malignant that there was a very real chance that my mom would have died if she tried to carry him to term. So she didn’t.
My dad can’t deal with real problems. His reaction to my mom’s trauma was to awkwardly joke that at least she wouldn’t lose her figure. They broke up. They got back together, obviously, but there was a point where their genetic swords were unlikely to cross again, leaving the potential me out in the void. That’s another part of the story I like to creep myself out with.
I don’t know what made my fetushood any different. I haven’t heard that part of the story yet. Yet somehow I made it out, and I made it up, and I’ve made it to now. I have no idea why that is. Fuck it. It doesn’t matter. I’m here, and I’m not leaving.
As a result of these revelations I’ve developed a weird complex, not quite guilt, but an acknowledgement that someone actively had to die so that I could be born. I suppose that this is true for anyone who has ever eaten a hamburger, but it feels different than that. It’s just another case of a human pretending that humanity and one’s own circle are exempt and special, I suppose. But still.
So yeah. The moral. The morality. The subjectivity. I owe my unlikely life to one abortion happening and to another one not happening. But you know what? I’d rather err on the side of choice.
As an adult I’ve helped an ex-girlfriend who found herself pregnant and unready through the process of abortion, and I’ve supported someone else whom I loved intensely for years through a pregnancy with someone else’s child. Even now, life offers no easy, consistent, universal answers.
Then again, how many easy answers are worth knowing?
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