I was watching The Silence of the Lambs the other day. I do that a lot. It’s one of those movies, like Goodfellas or Ghostbusters or The Bourne Identity, that I have to watch if it’s on TV. Like, I have to.
Anyway, you’ve seen it, I’m sure. Hannibal Lecter is helping Clarice Starling catch the serial killer Buffalo Bill. He’s guiding her through his psychological profile. “First principles, Clarice,” he says. “Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask: what is it in itself?”
I was thinking about abortion (I do that) and decided to apply the same thinking. “What is it in itself?” I asked. The obvious answer was: “Killing. Murder. Ending a human life.”
But then Dr. Lecter’s voice popped into my head (I should talk to someone about that), saying exactly what he said to Clarice in the film: “No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing…?”
And I answered: avoiding responsibility. That is the principal thing.
The mother who aborts is not like the serial killer who murders to satisfy a sick, often sexual, urge. She is not like the most common type of murderer: the man who kills in a rage, a fit of passion. She is not even like the hitman who kills for money, the mafioso or drug-dealer who kills for business, or the justice-seeker who kills as a reckoning.
She is not like the abortionist, about whose motives I am unclear. Yes, there’s money, but it has to be something else, too. Some of them may truly be convinced they’re helping. But I think most of them are degenerates, true sickos, and I suspect harboring a God complex as well.
The abortive mother is different. She seeks, first, not to end a life, but to avoid a life.
I know all about avoiding responsibility, okay? I dropped out of college, like, three times. This one collection agency in Florida calls me about four times a day because I still owe money on a medical bill. Hell, today I stopped in the middle of Shark steam-mopping my kitchen to lie on the dining room floor and sing Dresden Dolls songs at the top of my lungs for 45 minutes. If there were a Gold Medal for avoiding responsibility, I’d be Michael Phelps.
The abortive mother is not just annoyed by the responsibility of motherhood, the way I am annoyed by the idea of scrubbing the bathtub. She is dreadful of it, the way I am dreadful of scrubbing the toilets. Seriously, though: she not only resents, but maybe fears motherhood. Often prodded by or frightened of a coercive boyfriend or family, even the promise of loving, adoptive parents for her child is not enough. It’s not just the baby; it’s the pregnancy and the birth. She must avoid it.
It is pain. Responsibility is pain. That’s what it is, to some degree. Whether it’s the pain of waking up early or the pain of squeezing a human being out of our nether-regions, it’s suffering. It may be the pain of losing your Saturday to housework, or the pain of losing your child, in a sense, to adoption, but it’s suffering.
Some women, if they can be convinced that there is a life inside them, will take on the responsibility, the suffering, if not of parenting, at least of carrying and delivering the child. Others, even believing there is a life, will end it to avoid the responsibility, either because it isn’t alive enough and therefore it doesn’t matter, doesn’t count, or because there is no price too high to pay for what she wants: to not be pregnant.
As someone who is trying desperately to be pregnant, this is very difficult for me to understand. I pride myself – always have – on being able to understand almost anything. I wasn’t always the repressed Catholic housewife you see before you. Even now, not condoning doesn’t keep me from understanding. Whatever it is, however insane or sick, I may find it reprehensible, disgusting, vile, or horrifying, but odds are I can understand it. It’s a blessing and a curse, but one I have always prided myself on.
Pride goeth before a fall, I guess, because I’ve finally found the one thing I can’t understand, and that’s killing your baby to not be pregnant.
A Facebook friend of mine posted a photo of her baby the other day, and I was intrigued because, well, her baby is black and she is not. So I was curious to know more about the adoption story. I love adoption stories. I love to listen to my Mamaw talk about adopting my mom and marvel at how close she came to ending up in an orphanage in Nebraska. My brothers and I would never have existed. And what would have become of my smart, strong, beautiful mother?
Anyway, I was stalking my friend’s photos of her chunky, exquisite black baby, and thinking of Marcus Aurelius’s first things, and rejoicing that a woman in Louisiana decided to accept responsibility, accept loss, accept suffering, and give my friend and the world the infinitely valuable gift of little Caleb.
“Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself?” Looking at baby Caleb, first principles are easy: he is God’s handiwork. He is the immortal soul inside the animal body. Miraculous. Perfect.
One human life.