I understand the emotion behind this question. I have heard women ask this question with tears in their eyes, in the middle of infertility struggles, or recovering from miscarriages. I have heard this question asked with anger in their voices they try and wrap their heads around the fact that I love my child and would fight for the rights of other women to, from their perspective, abort their own. There is a lot of pain in this question. And a lot of confusion.
But there is an answer too.
Most of the people who ask this question belong to the Christian community in which I live and relate. They believe that life begins when a heart starts to beat, or even earlier, at the point of conception. The problem I have with this theory is that it reduces my daughter to her heartbeat. But my daughter’s personhood is not contingent on her biological systems.
Her personhood is in her humor, her tenacity, her ability to learn and grow and interact with the world around her. Her personhood is defined and demonstrated by her ability to feel pain and experience beauty, her brain’s ability to create and recall memories. Those are the things that make her my Molly. And these are all things, science tells us, that her tiny brain was not capable of until close to 25 weeks into gestation.
So before that 25-week-mark, I believe – based on my layman’s understanding of the scientific research I have been able to read – my daughter was not a person.
This is the point that causes so much pain and confusion. This is the point that invokes the tears. And if I end my narrative there, it leaves out what is possibly the most important aspect of my beliefs regarding personhood.
Namely, that long before my daughter was a person, I was her mother.
Long before her little synapsis began to fire, creating humanity inside a grouping of fetal cells, I loved her. I gave her a name. I made a place for her in my heart, and in my future, and in my home. I bought her a bed, clothing, food. I built for her a family, designating those around me as “grandma” grandpa”, “aunt” and “uncle.” I wrapped her in a blanket of tertiary personhood, woven of my love for her, until she was able to develop her own.
Mothers are the true creators in this world, not just because our biology allows us to create more autonomous biology, but because our hearts have the capability to bestow personhood on someone who does not yet exist.
Ask my friend who adopted from overseas, and she will tell you that she loved her son with all her heart long before she knew that he was hers. Ask another who endured the horrors of a miscarriage very early in her pregnancy, and she will tell you that she still feels love for the child that never developed far enough to attain independent personhood. That child is still hers. That child is still real. That child is still deeply loved.
A mother’s love is a powerful force that transcends time and biology. It moves across oceans and creates life and personhood long before our biological systems do. My daughter’s heart beat did not give her life and humanity. I did.
I loved my Molly when she was an unfertilized egg resting deep inside my reproductive system. I loved her long before she implanted in my uterine wall, long before my hormones began to signal that my body was developing a fetus, long before I could watch that development happen on an ultrasound. She was a person to me, and I was her mother, long before her heart began to beat.
But not every woman who houses a fertilized egg is that fetus’ mother.
Just as women across the world use birth control to prevent natural processes in their bodies from initiating pregnancy, similarly, some women choose to abort the process of pregnancy before the developing fetus achieves its own personhood – before that tiny brain ever lights up at all.
They could bestow personhood on that fetus, but they choose not to do so. This is their right. The creator has the right to choose not to create.
I do love my daughter with every fiber of my being. I have loved her since long before she existed. I chose to create her as a person long before her physical form developed, long before her brain begin to function, long before she gained her own personhood.
And I stand for the rights of women who choose, for their own personal, important, often private reasons, not to create. I can stand for these women, not despite my status as a mother, but because of it.
Because my daughter is so much more than her heartbeat.