You Don’t Need Permission to Suffer

Today, I read something which demonstrates a fundamental failure within the pro-life movement. I read a FaceBook status by Abby Johnson stating that she had been told of a woman who was in the throes of an unexpected pregnancy who was ‘praying to miscarry.’ Abby proclaims,

“This is not normal. Does it happen? Do women sometimes have these fleeting thoughts? Yes. But these are unnatural thoughts that enter our mind because of the abortion culture we are living in. Life becomes cheap…so mothers (prolife mothers) wish for death of their children.

I understand traumatic pregnancies. I understand traumatic births. I get it. But it’s still not okay. And it makes for lasting guilt.”


Does she understand traumatic pregnancies and traumatic births? Not by these, her own words. But she also does not appear to understand original sin, and that is far more disturbing.

I have no idea who the woman is that Abby is using as a rhetorical device. Who in turn will be used as a rhetorical device to smash back at Abby. She is a real person with a real crisis pregnancy with real suffering, and I have no desire to pile on to her. She sounds like she needs a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on, and I can’t offer her that because I don’t know her. But I can offer myself as a rhetorical device in her place. Because I understand her. Oh God, do I understand her.

I have luteal phase insufficiency. It has caused six miscarriages. I am entirely incapable of carrying a baby to term unless I have progesterone support for the first trimester. And if I cannot convince, coerce, or bully a doctor into prescribing me progesterone, my baby will die. My babies have, in fact, died, because I could not do so.

I cannot now, or ever again, look at the two lines on a pregnancy test without hearing the little voice in my head say, “you don’t even need an abortion. If you just ignore it, it will go away.”

Theologically, this is what we call temptation. Everyone experiences temptation. CHRIST experienced temptation. It is not a sin. These words did not enter my mind because of the abortion culture. They entered my mind because I am a human being. I get tempted. And I have concupiscence, which makes temptation so damned tempting.

Because pregnancy is miserable. Many women get ten weeks in and say ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ When you have a traumatic pregnancy or delivery, the effect is trauma, and it’s a normal human response to want to avoid more of it. To avoid the painful biweekly injections of progesterone into my buttocks. To avoid walking down the hallways at work, pausing to vomit into a convenient trashcan and then going about my day, knowing I will repeat this painful and humiliating act another twenty times. To avoid the heartburn and nausea so intense that I only narrowly escape hospitalization. To avoid having to make the risk-judgement between taking drugs that increase my risk for dementia, but allow me to keep food and liquid down in the moment. To avoid the indignation of the anesthesiologist who thinks he did a perfect spinal and it’s all your fault that you can still feel the needle poking your belly. To avoid being strapped down, cold and naked, cruciform.

To avoid the cross.

No one wants the cross. CHRIST did not want the cross. But he picked it up and carried it anyway, out of love for the world. And no pregnant woman, who, in the midst of her suffering, does likewise deserves to have her suffering used as rhetorical club to bludgeon and shame women for the negative emotions they experience in their pregnancy.

“But she’s praying for her baby to die,” one might say.

Perhaps. It’s incredibly difficult to transform that storm of emotions into anything coherent. But, instead of taking matters into her own hands, she is praying. She is handing it all over to God, and God can handle it. God can take it and transform it. This is what the cross does, transforms death into life.

Ironically, Abby’s very own argument is one that is rooted in abortion’s effect on society. One of the most pernicious and damaging effects of abortion is that women are no longer allowed to have negative or ambivalent emotions about pregnancy, because these days pregnancy is voluntary. If it’s really that bad, women should just get an abortion and anyway stop talking about how miserable it is. The pro-life corollary to this is that women need to be joyful 24-7 about their pregnancies, even the unexpected ones. Bad thoughts, even when you don’t act on them, even when you turn them over to God, aren’t just evidence that you’re human, they’re because of the abortion-culture. There is no room for fear, or ambivalence, or suffering in the pro-life movement.

And if there is no room for fear and ambivalence and suffering, there is no room for the women in crisis they want to serve.

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23 Responses to You Don’t Need Permission to Suffer

  1. Pingback: 8 things we need our NFP teachers to know – SIMCHA FISHER

  2. Reblogged this on Cafe Au Running Lait and commented:
    A great piece.

  3. Monique Reed says:

    You are absolutely right. A woman in a crisis pregnancy is not thinking, “I wish this child were dead.” She is thinking, “How am I going to take care of it?” “What will the child’s father say?” “I wish this hadn’t happened” or “I wish this had happened to someone else.” They don’t want death, they want the hurt to stop.

  4. jkuebbing says:

    I don’t think you’ve read much of Abby’s work if you think she doesn’t have a capacity for suffering or ambivalent women. The other half of her work is her outreach to abortion workers, who surely fit that bill. Tempting as it can be (for the purposes of a blog post – and I’m guilt of this myself) to reduce a person’s work and position to a sound byte, it’s rarely an accurate or fair picture of the whole.

    • GeekLady says:

      I am reasonably familiar with her work. And I neither said nor think she has a capacity for suffering or ambivalent women. I am not trying to to reduce her whole life to a sound byte. I just want to address the words she wrote.

  5. I think it’s only fair to publish Abby Johnson’s entire post with this blog post. Note: she did not say that she had heard about this prayer ABOUT a single woman, but FROM multiple women. Taken as a whole, the post seems more sympathetic to me than your excerpt and commentary make it out to be. She isn’t judging these women for feeling the way they do; she is warning women that actually giving in to the temptation to pray for their child’s death is emotionally dangerous for them.

    “I want to discuss something that may be a hot button issue. But it needs to be talked about. And I may write more about this in an article eventually.

    I have heard many prolife women, who are surprised by a pregnancy “pray to miscarry.”

    So these women, who do not want to be pregnant at that time, would never abort…but instead, they will pray for their child to die naturally. And look, I get it. As a woman who has suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum for every one of my pregnancies, I do understand. I remember wishing that *I* would die…but then realized that would mean that my baby would die. I quickly realized that was a thought put in my head because of fear. I prayed for strength and prayed that my mind would be filled with thoughts of faith and love, not death.

    Okay, friends. This is not natural. I have experienced thoughts like this and I’m still saying that it’s not natural. Does it happen? Do women sometimes have these fleeting thoughts? Yes. But these are unnatural thoughts. I believe these thoughts are just one symptom of the abortion culture we are living in. Life becomes cheap…so mothers (even prolife mothers) wish for and actively pray for death of their children…because they are scared, because they are alone, because they feel like they can’t have another baby.

    I understand traumatic pregnancies. I understand traumatic births. I get it. But it’s still not okay. And it makes for lasting guilt. This is not the type of guilt you want to carry around for the rest of your life. I have had to ask for forgiveness because of some of the thoughts I have had during pregnancy.

    We need to recognize that the abortion culture has entered into our own lives sometimes. This is not a judgment. Rather this is an opportunity for us to see where these spots are in our lives and work to correct them. If a woman says this to you, ask her how you can help. She may need a helping hand on her pregnancy journey. She may need a referral for counseling. She may benefit from having the pregnancy resource community in her life. Figure out her needs and help her find peace.”
    Here’s a link to the original post:

    • GeekLady says:

      This is certainly what it says now. I am, however, responding to the original post she wrote and I transcribed my excerpt from a screenshot because flipping back to find something on my phone is always a game of needle in the haystack. This newer version has been heavily edited, and expanded, and the introduction has been generalized in an attempt to anonymize the incident that produced it. However the substance, with its fundamental misunderstanding of where thoughts like this come from and their moral status, remains the same.

    • GeekLady says:

      I can provide the screenshots, I suppose, but they contain a potential HIPAA violation, which I would be morally and legally required to excerpt.

  6. Bridget says:

    I was this woman 10 years ago, with my 5th pregnancy. Catholic and pro-life, or so I thought. With the terror of facing another horrendous pregnancy with 4 young children who needed me, I prayed to miscarry. I was horrified at myself. Intellectually I knew what I was asking from God was wrong, but that’s how the devil uses fear. It corrodes reality. As the weeks went by, I calmed down and grew to accept this baby. And then it happened– no heartbeat. It took me years to come to terms with what I had asked of God. But I am grateful for one thing I learned- how very vulnerable pregnant women are. And if I, who was married and had a support system was that paralyzed with fear and vulnerability, what a very low place a woman must be in the walk in the doors of a clinic. It gave me more understanding and compassion. My baby, whom I have grown to love taught me that.

    • wildrosejmj says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I know exactly what feelings you are expressing. In the logical part of my mind, I knew the thoughts were wrong and that I would likely never act on it, but emotionally? I was a MESS!! Looking back – even just a few weeks later – I know it was early pregnancy hormones combined with the physical reaction to having 4 children very close together and a husband who was not very supportive. I also had the same realization – if I, as faithful and devout as I was, could be so strongly tempted to just “get rid of it,” or “wish it away,” how incredible the temptation must be for women who do not have the support of friends and family – or at least faith. And it’s so easy now! A woman can go to a store, buy a test, find herself pregnant, and have an abortion, without anyone in her life ever knowing that she was even pregnant. And then, if she feels guilt or needs to talk about what happened, how does she even start? No wonder it the pain and guilt eats these poor women alive. So, yeah, is it normal to wish for miscarriage? I don’t know. I have to think it is, depending on your situation. That, however, doesn’t mean that you won’t grieve when it happens. For me, when life stabilized, I found that I actually *wanted* at least one more baby, in part because I wanted to have a pregnancy I *wanted*, a pregnancy that I didn’t freak out over, or didn’t greet with the thoughts of, “again?” or “why me?” or, “What could you possibly be thinking, God????” I did have two more, and was happy to be pregnant, though even with those, there was an immediate sense of trepidation that threatened to steal my joy. Being by 6th and 7th children, however, I recognized it for what it was and was able to push it away.

      • Bridget says:

        I can so relate– we were blessed with two more healthy children after and yes, I still wasn’t “happy” to be pregnant – the depression and fear was still there, but at least I knew it for what it was. I’ve always had the sense of a Gift from God, in that, even though the beginning of my pregnancies were rough, I was given such a gift of smooth, uncomplicated deliveries and HUGE, immediate joy in each baby. All is Grace.

  7. Hannah says:

    I believe that she’s mistaken in stating that these feelings are a byproduct of abortion culture. If pregnancy is wreaking havoc on your body and mind, the obvious solution is no longer being pregnant. We simply want to survive.
    Now, by God’s grace (and the help of a spouse/friends/family/church is awesome too) we can ride out the storm. Clearly, the life of a child is more important than the mother’s feelings, but as you said, we NEED to acknowledge them and support a mother while she’s in the middle of the hell ride.
    I struggled so much with my third, entirely unplanned pregnancy, but it was so difficult to open up to anybody. Making women feel like what they’re going through is unnatural when they do open up is not the way.
    Your post has ministered so much to my heart today, after Simcha Fisher shared it this morning. Thank you.

  8. bulldozerjo says:

    This has given me much food for thought, thank you.

  9. Wow, great insights into a very sensitive issue. You’re right, that no one wants the cross, but the only way to get through it is to take it up. Also, yep, at least the woman/women in question are praying. Maybe not exactly asking for what God wills, but at least turning to Him in a time of need, which is what should be done.

  10. Nancy says:

    Thank you for responding to this very hot topic. There is joy in pregnancy and there is pain. There are fleeting thoughts that cause guilt for years. I compare these thoughts to that time (or times) I had the most awful stomach flu and said in my anguish, “God, please take me now. I am ready to die.” I don’t mean to be flippant but in my throws of agony, I turned to God in desperation and agony. Should I have asked for His grace and His help in difficult times? Probably. But I turned to Him. And I didn’t act on those thoughts, praise be to God.
    Feelings are premoral.
    Anyway, thank you for responding. Her original post, which I read, not the newly edited version, left me with a bad taste in my mouth and feeling of dejected guilt for something I had never done.

  11. Finicky Cat says:

    During the first trimester of my fifth pregnancy, I finally understood with agonizing clarity how a woman could turn to abortion. I prayed for a miscarriage. I laid on the floor and sobbed for days. And that was WITH a husband happy for another baby, an encouraging support network, and no anticipation of a ghastly birth. But I was exhausted and overwhelmed and sick and suffering the hormonal depression that always accompanies my pregnancies. The fear and pain that drives a woman to an abortion? Now I understand it…and I’m glad that I understand it. Because now grieving women who have had abortions, or prayed for miscarriages, are my sisters.

    That fifth baby turned eight this summer – she’s sweet and affectionate and bossy and thoughtful and adventurous. My life is better because of her life in more ways than I could count.

    • Bridget says:

      YES. This thread is life changing for me- nobody ever told me that this type of despair/depression was possible during pregnancy. I had no idea so many women suffered with this cross. I am past being able to have children, but now I know to address it and watch for it when my own daughters, nieces, Goddaughters begin having babies.

  12. Foxfier says:

    I’ve been terrified every single pregnancy.

    The one where I was really upset about being pregnant…



    We lost the baby.

    It was like having my heart ripped out.

    I’d been scared, sure. I was upset our plans were upset, sure. I was upset our attempts to “space” had failed.

    I didn’t want her dead, though. Or gone, or anything else. She was there, it was a simple fact to deal with, no different than me being short or him being too tall to sit in most cars.

    Then she…wasn’t.

    And the guilt hit, for the recognition that it wasn’t a perfect situation. Like any situation is ever perfect.

    • GeekLady says:

      The guilt is always there. We recognize that this loss is an evil in the most basic sense – a deprivation of a good. And because it’s happening both too someone else and within our own bodies there’s this sense of responsibility for the loss that the intellect can’t ever quite rid ourselves of.

    • GeekLady says:

      Oh! Brendan Hodge at Darwin Catholic has a really poignant post up right now about how our words haunt us when they come true like this.

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