When I first got pregnant, I was amazed at how pro-life the world suddenly seemed. I remember Googling “five week old baby” and realizing shortly after hitting “enter” that I would probably have to change my entry to “five week old fetal development.” And yet, the search engine produced exactly what I was looking for: “See what your baby looks like in the womb at five weeks!” And it wasn’t just one website. All the headlines were like this. And the images—they weren’t of newborns, but of tiny little creatures curled up inside tiny little bubbles—fetuses.
And then I started looking at ultrasound pictures and videos. And I was amazed at what the parents said about their fetuses. First of all, they never called them that. They were “my baby,” “our little one,” even when only a tiny yolk sac was distinguishable on the machine (at which point, the fetus isn’t even considered a fetus yet—but an embryo.) But more than just being called “baby,” they were treated as such. The mothers and fathers—they talked to their fetuses. They interacted with them—the mother might laugh and the baby might move which would make the mother laugh again and the baby move even more. And then these ultrasound images would be taken home, maybe even framed (especially with the new 3d ultrasound technology in which you can really see the baby’s facial features—many parents frame a picture from the 3d ultrasound side-by-side with a picture of the newborn, amazed at how they can often look like the same exact picture.)
But perhaps most striking of all is how women, at their most casual, speak about their fetus. Again, they never call it that. They rarely even call it an “it.” Even before the sex is known, many will say “he/she” or switch out he and she or stick to one until they know. You hear things like “I felt the baby move,” or “I don’t think Baby would like that,” or “is it okay if I eat this cheese? Will it harm my baby?” There are countless tips on how to “bond with your unborn baby”—tips on talking to the fetus, touching the belly, playing music for it—and all of these people, they act as if they truly believe the fetus is more than a clump of tissue. They act as if they truly believe that the fetus is a child. And yet, I am sure that a good amount of them, in the political arena, would argue that it is not.
And perhaps this means nothing. Perhaps women are doing with their fetuses what anyone does with anything they desire. Wishfully thinking. Obviously, one might say, obviously they call it a baby. They want it to be a baby. It’s more emotionally satisfying to think of it as a baby. A woman who wants a baby is going to call her fetus a baby. But if you talk to a woman who doesn’t want a baby, you’re going to hear very different terminology. And this may very well be true. The inclination to treat a “clump of tissue” like a human being may be no different from the inclination to treat an imaginary friend as a real one, or an online girlfriend as more than that.
And yet, I have a feeling that it’s not the same as an imaginary friend or an exaggerated girlfriend. After all, those who tend to have these tend to have serious insecurities or wounds that incentivize such delusion. Most people don’t have imaginary friends or exaggerated girlfriends. And yet I have never met a pregnant woman who plans at the bare minimum to not abort her baby to refer to her baby as anything less than a baby. If the inclination to treat a fetus as more than a clump of tissue is a delusion, then all pregnant women who are not seeking an abortion are delusional. All have serious insecurities or wounds to incentivize such delusion. As do the family members and friends and acquaintances and nurses who deal with the pregnant woman. And this just seems so incredibly unlikely that it demands we take such an inclination seriously. That is, we must take it seriously that it is actually the norm to treat a fetus as a baby. Yes, our country may be split down the middle politically on the abortion issue. But the mother is not split. She may change her mind because she has been raped or because she conceived at an inconvenient time or because she is single, young, or for whatever reason reasonably afraid of the responsibilities of parenthood, and she may change her mind because someone close to her has fallen into or is in one of these categories. But if you take a woman at her barest, purest, unbiased self—unaffected by these ulterior motives, she will believe her fetus to be a baby. As will all those connected with and to her. And perhaps we are all delusional. But if we consider the nature of delusion, who is actually more likely to be delusional? The overwhelming majority of mothers and families and friends in their natural, stable state? Or the few, the pressured, the scared, the lonely, the very young in their anything but natural and stable state? It seems to be more likely that those in the latter group are the only ones who have any reason to be delusional. And so perhaps then, this overwhelming instinct to treat a fetus as a baby (unless that baby is no longer desired) means something and ought to be taken seriously. And if we are the delusional ones, then we had better start changing our ways—because delusion is not a healthy thing to live by. Changing our ways would mean changing every instance of “unborn baby” to “fetus,” or “embryo.” It would mean never saying “my baby” no matter how big your stomach gets—no matter how soon your due date may be—no matter the little foot you saw make an imprint against your belly button. It would even mean telling the poor families who have suffered a miscarriage that they ought not treat the loss as if it really was the loss of a child. After all, delusion would not be a healthy thing. And yet, which one of us is ready to do this? Which one of us doesn’t find such a thing to be cruel and inhumane, and quite simply, incorrect? And perhaps it is because it is incorrect. And if it is incorrect for the mother who wants her child, it is likewise for the one who does not. Our instinct matters. If our instinct is wrong, let’s resist it, in all ways, shapes, and forms. But until we are ready to resist it, we had better listen up.