Faith & Finances: How Motherhood is thwarted by cost and coercion
Content Warning: Mentions of abortion, abuse, and domestic violence.
I came across an anonymous member post from a private mom’s group on Facebook last week that absolutely gutted me.
“Help! Am I a bad person for considering getting an abortion? I don’t even know if I’m pregnant yet and I’m too scared to find out because I already have a nine month old daughter.”
But my reaction to the question surprised me and I felt my stomach twist into uncomfortable knots when I realized how dire the circumstance really is. The woman never mentioned a father. Or husband. Or support system of any kind. My every thought became consumed with protecting the nine month old baby in her household already.
The short answer is no. No she isn’t a bad person as much as it absolutely wrecks me to come to terms with that. If carrying another (potential and not confirmed) pregnancy to term could harm one’s ability to care for their other children to their greatest extent, then what is the right choice? The nuance is overwhelming and heartbreaking.
I quickly typed my reply and added in a few words of comfort reminding her of her worth and asked her to consider sending me a message if she needed any perspective as a single mom of a 6 month old.
I’m not here to guide anyone on their personal life choices, but I’ll listen, no matter what. I know better than anyone that having someone to talk to halves the burden… maybe it could help make her less afraid. Making any decision out of fear is unwise.
Then I felt something I can only describe as rage, (or maybe disgust?) come over me. Comments began to pour in cooing “Keep this baby! You will LOVE THIS BABY!” or “Please have this baby, I’m begging you! This little life deserves a chance. Consider adoption.”
I realized that these women were missing a crucial detail. Pregnancy, in and of itself, can be incredibly life-altering and astronomically expensive without even factoring in a potential future baby.
I clicked on the profile photos of the women who posted these comments.
All married women. Their banner images dawned professionally taken photographs of their families in matching outfits. Wife. Husband. Usually a smiling toddler. Waving a fresh 3D ultrasound to announce the arrival of their newest addition.
(I had taken similar photos myself at one point. And no, pretty pictures ≠ happy family. But it’s worthwhile to consider this point of view.)
I imagined how much more sound this advice would be having come from other women who had been in a similar circumstance to the poster. Women who were able to scrape up all the resources necessary to confidently raise multiple children in a single-parent household. Of course, these women are out there. Proudly. Living proof of this possibility. But these comments felt too condescending and disingenuous to be truly helpful or comforting.
I empathized with the anonymous poster. I imagined being pregnant for the second time (alone, as the sole provider for my daughter, sans child support) and my jealousy took over. What a privilege it is to welcome another life into the world without feeling the creeping dread that the poster was describing.
Pregnancy is hard. When you hear women joke about their “tapeworms,” usually it’s a lighthearted way of describing a rather cumbersome reality – feeling like all the energy, motivation, and nourishment is being literally zapped right out of your body. Now factor in raising an infant and working full time. Suddenly, things seem more grim.
Finances: The Cost of Being Pregnant
Something strange happens when you enter an awkward post-grad pseudo-adulthood and it becomes extremely taboo to discuss your finances. In this case, it would be beneficial to be incredibly transparent. Let’s get real about the cost of my* pregnancy.
*Disclaimer: this is only my personal experience. Health insurance is a tricky mistress.
Without the cost of newborn/baby essentials, nursery items, rent, or even the hospital delivery fee, what did I spend to just exist as a pregnant person in 2020?
Between regular prenatal care, food and nutrition, prenatal vitamins, a few unexpected pregnancy related purchases, perinatal specialists appointments, blood work and labs, radiology lab bills to read my baby’s anatomy scans, and one panicked trip to the ER, my grand total for just being pregnant was a solid $8,000 USD (perhaps a little more).
That’s a lot of money that I forked up, somehow, by myself.
I was working a tiring 9-5 that took a lot out of my stressed, pregnant body. I was already emotionally exhausted and once I realized I’d be covering the total costs for my prenatal care, I began to understand the very real possibility that I’d be raising my daughter on my own as well. So I began working a lot harder. Lots of overtime. Long days.
This resulted in a couple promotions and a small raise. By the time my OB/GYN and I decided I should take off work and go on disability, I’d already accumulated $10,000 in my savings account.
I was 7 months pregnant. My mobility sucked. I was at that point, really single. I was on a special diet per doctor’s orders that consisted of zero carbohydrates, (no flour, no sugar, nothing) and then found myself purchasing ridiculously expensive “Keto friendly” snacks to get by for another 10 weeks without accidentally starving myself or my unborn daughter. It was a tiny sacrifice in the grand scheme of things and I’d do it all again in an instant but oh my was it an expensive, stressful, and intense time in my life.
A few hours after giving birth, I was cradling my super sleepy, super quiet, 6 pound newborn daughter in my right arm, the hospital’s lactation consultant had just arrived and was going over a huge list of resources for me. She came bearing pamphlets and fridge magnets, and wheeled in a scary yellow machine with tubing and suction cups I was meant to use to vacuum myself into (I guess) and she handed me a handful of the world’s smallest bottles. They looked like toys for an American Girl Doll’s dinner playset. I fumbled to unscrew the cap off one while balancing a tiny Ellis.
While performing my masterful juggling act, a nurse came in carrying a weird y2k-looking flip phone and told me the call was for me.
“It’s from the front desk”
“Oh, okay. Thank you.”
The hospital was calling from downstairs to inform me about my outstanding balance of $2,500 it cost to deliver Ellis. I wasn’t surprised by any means, I’d been sure to keep this amount stored in my records when I pre-registered for the delivery weeks before.
“No problem,” I assured them, “Can I set up a payment plan?”
“Actually, no. We’ll need the amount in full today in order to discharge you.”
Now, balancing Ellis and the flip phone, I tossed the tiny bottles, grabbed my cell phone to transfer the funds from my savings to my checking account and motioned for my mom to hand me my debit card from my bag across the room.
“Got it, here’s my card number. Are you ready?”
Go ahead and add that expense to the grand total for the cost of a pregnancy and delivery.
I acknowledge that I come from a place of extreme privilege in this instance. I’m a college graduate that had a job at the time I was expecting my first baby. I wanted to be a mom. My daughter was not the product of violence or abuse. I wasn’t coerced into an abortion. My family was ecstatic about the news. I had access to healthcare.
I wasn’t already a single mom. I didn’t have to worry about already feeding another mouth besides my own.
All of those factors matter.
By design, a child is not meant to be the physical and fiscal responsibility of just one parent. But two children? Honestly, I’m terrified just imagining it. If I were to find out tomorrow that I’ve immaculately conceived another baby, somehow, my entire life will turn upside down. It could spell the difference between giving my all to being a great mom now, or plummeting my 6 month old daughter and I into severe poverty – and that’s just to carry a healthy pregnancy to term.
Rent. Daycare. Car payment. Another crib. My student loan?
I would need a miracle to afford this. I’d need a secondary miracle to grant me the strength to go through it! Luckily, I believe in miracles. But I can’t help but empathize with someone who believes this is simply not a possibility.
Empathy Above All
I’m in no position to discuss the legality of abortion in the US. I can’t bring myself to think about it, really. I won’t discuss the ethics of when personhood begins because the gore of the discussion makes me squeamish and emotional. Something deep inside of me aches because of it.
Today I scrolled past this tweet that came up in my timeline after it was liked by a Christian girl I follow that usually posts cute, devotional tweets. This one felt out of place. It stung. It reeked of ignorance and lacked empathy.
Yes. Christians know what abortion is. What an insult it is to assume otherwise. Not to mention that the impossible purity culture imposed on young Christian women has created a sickeningly toxic environment in which young girls feel that aborting a viable, healthy pregnancy is somehow less shameful than the judgment and ridicule they would face from their families and faith communities than carrying an “illegitimate” pregnancy to term. A staggering 54% of abortions reported in 2014 were sought by women with affiliation to the Christian church.
That’s one of the many reasons I had to stop attending the “Christian” churches I would frequent in my youth group days. I couldn’t fathom that they would so harshly judge the women and girls that probably were the most in need of acceptance, generosity, and prayer. Their purity teachings suggest that their worth is diminished from having ever been sexually active at any point – which, in turn, drives the abortion rate upward. A vicious cycle, indeed. Abstinence-only education is clearly not the answer.
My heart shattered when I heard two different stories from a couple of my favorite authors describing the agony of their prior abortions. They woefully lament on having the soul they were carrying removed from their bodies. These two deeply spiritual women were coerced into ending their pregnancies after enduring abusive relationships. In fact, they hardly felt they had a “choice” in the matter at all. Their stories are quite different from one another but contain some common throughlines.
They were anything but ignorant. Although they admit to being in extremely beaten down points in their lives and struggling with low self-esteem, their maternal spirits suffered these losses.
Brenda Marie Davies from God Is Grey detailed in this video as well as in her newly released memoir On Her Knees: Memoir of a Prayerful Jezabel her experience and raised this question of individuals who vehemently debate on behalf of the unborn:
“For every abortion that there is in the world – where are the men? The man that abused her into getting an abortion; drove her to the clinic?”
Too often the responsibility of men and fathers are erased from the discussion. The abhorrent and manipulative behavior and coercion of some men go unpunished while women are chastised for their right to “choose” to end the lives of their unborn children. But do many of them feel they really have a choice at all?
I deeply empathized with Krystal Aranyani’s story years before I was pregnant myself. I actually believe that having heard her words dissuaded me from ever considering making the same mistake. Aranyani’s vulnerability lent me strength and wisdom when I needed it. Her story matters. Every woman’s story matters.
That all said, to the anonymous woman, you’re not a bad person. The fact that you considered making such a heart-wrenching sacrifice to care for your still-infant daughter to the best of your ability shows that being a mother is your number one priority. And even if I wouldn’t say this to you directly, I prayerfully am hoping every blessing comes your way to aid you in growing your family but I still understand. I’ve crunched the numbers, poured over the bank statements and hospital bills…
Those who live in glass houses…