Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Explaining Shame to a 26-Year-Old

In so many ways it’s a different world out there than it was 30 or more years ago. And that’s a good thing.

Why do I say this? Because my wife was telling one of her colleagues about the conversation I had with my daughter about the social pressures that might lead a girl to feel that she had to have an abortion, and 26-year-old “Emma” looked at her like she had three heads.

You see, Emma doesn’t remember the dark ages when it would have been a major league SHAME to be pregnant and unmarried. She was born just as those days were winding to a close. She neither remembers nor can conceive of a time when getting pregnant without being married was something that brought such shame on yourself and your family that it’s why we have the term “shotgun wedding,” as the parents of the girl rushed to make sure that she was properly married when the baby was born. She doesn’t remember when children born outside of marriage were called "illegitimate" (and that’s the nice word). She has no concept of an unmarried girl being so ashamed to face her family and bring that shame upon them, that she felt that her only choices were an illegal, and often dangerous, “back alley” abortion or suicide.

You see, mercifully, our world isn’t like that anymore. We no longer have the official pretense that people are waiting until they’re married to have sex, and that anyone who doesn’t is a Bad Person™. It used to be that the unmarried pregnancy was a sign that you had been one of those Bad People. While it’s still not a good idea for 16-year-old girls to have sex, and an even worse idea for them to get pregnant, we pretty much assume that a 26-year-old woman is sleeping with her boyfriend. And while it may be a little embarrassing to explain, we no longer pin a scarlet “P” on these women if they get pregnant. In a world where sex before marriage is assumed, most of us see an unplanned pregnancy as just a little “oops.”

At least most of us don’t. There are still some quarters where the unwed pregnant girl is sent off or “hidden away” so that she doesn’t set a “bad example” for the others.

And that’s one of the big differences between then and now: SHAME vs embarrassment. One would think that the with the SHAME gone from being pregnant and unmarried, more women would be willing to carry the baby to term and then place it with an adoptive family.

Let me make myself clear, I’m pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean that I believe that you should be able to have an abortion just because it’s Tuesday, or just because it’ll ruin your vacation plans. I’m pro-choice because I remember the days of SHAME and coat hangers. I would prefer that women make the “tragic choice” to have an abortion because of “tragic circumstances” such as a threat to her own life or rape…or facing the SHAME that some of the very people who are fighting abortion would subject her and her family to. I have a problem with it being used because the pregnancy in “inconvenient.”

And what of me and my family? What have I said to my two daughters? I’ve said very simply that if they should ever find themselves unmarried and pregnant, while it may be a little embarrassing, I’d like to get to know my grandchildren, no matter when they arrive.

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