I have just spent a wondrous few days with my beautiful grandchildren, Liam, 5, Zoe, 4 and Josh, 2.5. There is something about being a grandmother that isn't explainable to someone who hasn't experienced it; in a similar way to becoming a parent for the first time. There is the same overwhelming love and sense of protectiveness toward them, but without the burden of responsibility. I'm sure the wisdom of seeing that my often flailing attempts at parenthood weren't a complete failure when I look at my adult children helps to engender a more relaxed attitude toward even the cheekiest behaviour of grandkids.
I was privileged to bear witness to the labouring of my daughter as she brought each one into the world, after having watched as they grew within her, speaking to them, feeling them move, and getting to know them well before they entered the world outside. To see your child birth her own children is a profound experience that is honouring of our shared maternity and one for which I am very grateful. Today I see her alternate between tearing her out in frustration at their naughtiness, and embracing them with the fierce passion and protectiveness of a mother's love that sees only beautiful perfection, and vulnerability.
Within this time of joy (and noise!), I am reminded that there is one grandchild missing, one that I continue to grieve particularly as we approach the second anniversary of her death on the 4th April. (I say her as a matter of convenience; we do not know her sex).
When my son and his girlfriend announced her pregnancy, I was invited to excitedly anticipate a birth in the coming months. I was told the names they'd chosen and had even taken them shopping for the first precious baby items. My son's girlfriend had just started university and was worried about telling her parents; scared in part that they might withdraw their support, but more that they might see her as a disappointment. I was able to reassure her on the first count that I strongly believe she is entitled to complete her education and parent if that's what she wanted, and that we would support her in whatever way she needed.
Unfortunately I was powerless to overcome the pain she experienced when her latter fear was realised and she felt the full weight of her parent's disappointment and disapproval descend on her. She came back from that visit, fell into my arms and sobbed, all her confidence about her life depleted. What followed was a 2 week period of high anxiety and fear, while trying to offer support, as she began to talk about abortion, until she cut us off completely. On April 6, my son woke to find her sobbing uncontrollably at his front door, full of sorrow and regret, saying she desperately wanted to undo what had now been done 2 days before.
What ensued in the coming months is somewhat blurred as we all dealt with the disbelief, the loss, my fears for my completely devastated son who was unable to protect either his child or her mother. For me, the professional questioning was enormous. I'd worked for more than a decade in education and research about the needs of young mothers, advocating the ways in which we need to actively support them; arguing against providing abortion as a preferred solution to largely social problems. Yet all my work, and even my actions of support in this case now seemed futile.
Some people have asked how this has impacted me. Am I less concerned about women now that I know they will have abortions even if they're supported? Do I think I got it all wrong?
I have certainly asked the latter question, but my concern for women has not wavered. I have not once felt any anger toward the mother of this child. I have felt nothing but the greatest compassion and concern for her. Even though we would have filled every possible gap for her to achieve everything she ever wanted, we could never fill the space that her parents' disappointment created. At the time, this is what she identified as the reason. I don't know how she looks back and sees it today, or if she looks back at all. I hope that if she does, that she will know we just wanted to care for her and her child and that we see that it was just too hard for her, even as we grieve our own loss.
What I do know is that while pregnancy happens within a woman's body, it is not only about women, and women should not be socialised to believe that they must bear the hardships and burdens alone. When a child is lost during pregnancy, it is not only the woman who mourns, but all those around her who built a new space in their lives and hearts for that child. We need to do far more work to uplift women at this time, to change society to fit around the needs of the beauty of pregnancy and mothering, not force women to choose between their children and full participation in social worlds.
There are those who would deny my right to grieve the loss of this baby. They would also deny the right of my son to grieve the loss of his child. Interestingly, in my many years of work with post-abortive women, many would deny the mother the right to grieve as well, because it was her 'choice', a term used to describe the untenable position so many women face when in reality they often feel no such choice exists.
Someone has to allow them a voice. Someone has to remember their children, even when there are those who would deny the science of human development, and the feelings and intuition of the women. I will keep fighting to highlight the injustices that exist in the lives of women. I will keep challenging the ideology and rhetoric surrounding debates around pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption. I will always be honouring of the lives of women in the world, and I will always remember and love the child who is missing from my own life.