Sister, have you felt judged by other women? Growing up in a Greek-American family, one woman was frequently measuring another woman by her standards. Mothers versus childless women. A woman with three children versus a woman with one child. I grew up watching a hierarchy of women with grandmothers at the top not often supporting younger women who made different choices with their lives.
When I was in a fifteen-year infertile marriage, people often asked me if I had children. When I became a mother later in life, the question changed to how many children I had. When I was pregnant with my daughter Mary Rose who would die, I was asked if I would have an abortion, or later in the pregnancy, why I had not had one. The questions mount throughout our lives, and these very questions become fences between one woman and the next, between one family and the other family.
I resist categorization. Though I am pro-life for my own body, I am also politically pro-choice. Though my baby would die when I was pregnant at 42 years old, I chose to have a home birth, and then I prepared my newborn’s body for burial on my bed. Our family chose not to use medical interventions to prolong our daughter’s life, though many choose otherwise. In life, as in death, there are choices to be made. How can we embrace each other when we make different choices?
I wrote a book about my pregnancy with Mary Rose to address some of these issues. I discuss the pregnancy where parents have to decide to abort or carry to term, to choose life support or not, to plan a funeral while pregnant and later deal with mother’s milk when there is no baby to feed. My book has also been judged. One Catholic organization that could have used my book to support families going through pregnancies like mine, declined to support my book because of those few words “I am pro-choice politically.” Though I nurtured Mary Rose’s short life, I was told that I am pro-baby murder by people who never stood at the threshold between life and death. These same people who offer their opinions so freely have never walked my path.
When I wrote my book, I checked in with my publisher to make sure that everyone reading my book would feel welcome: women who have carried to term or chosen an abortion, the childless by choice or not, mothers of living children and mothers of no living children, and those of us with children on both sides of the veil. I didn’t want to exclude anyone from my memoir and story.
We have choices in our lives, and we live with the consequences of those choices. As humans we experience grief and joy. Can we accept each other as we are? Can we accept a woman equally whether she chooses abortion or life, has a hospital or home birth, allows a natural death for her newborn or uses medical intervention? Can we treat women equally whether they are mothers or not? How can we open our hearts and minds to each other?
Reader, who is welcome at your table? I think of the great big table at my grandparents’ house. The table was unmistakably Greek. It was set with feta and mizithra, olives and octopus, lamb and wild greens called horta. Children and grandparents, friends and cousins gathered often. I have been thinking of my heart as a table lately. I want all my sisters to feel welcome at my table, regardless of their choices and path. If we are a sisterhood of women, a community that can mother our children and our elderly, we must realize that we all have our suffering and joy, that we are in this life together.
My table is set with Greek mountain tea and not-too-sweet cookies. I hope that you will come and join me. I will bring out the rose jam for you.