This is Charlie. He’s sleeping inside my wife, not 5 feet away from me. In six to ten weeks, if I’m very lucky, he’ll be born a happy, healthy boy with ten fingers, ten toes, and my unfortunate name. My name is Charles - people call me Chas - but he’ll be a V and I’ll be a IV. Our middle name is Frederick. Isn’t that strange?
About a month ago, Charlie was in trouble. My wife fell on some ice and there were complications. After staying up for about 48 hours straight, making sure my wife was asleep, and quietly calling all of my relatives to tell them that everything was fine in the most stoic possible voices, I locked myself in my toolshed behind my house in the dark and cried hysterically. It was uncontrollable.
I could control the moment and timing of the release, I could anchor my entire family around my strength while secretly being weak, but there was no way to control the terrible fear I felt that I’d never get to see his face. Fatherhood is something that I’m so excited about that I barely sleep anymore. The problem is that as much as I love my unborn son, as much as he is everything to me, I remember.
When the older of my two younger brothers and I were young, my mother got very sick. She was pregnant with Jeffrey. Robert and I chose the name. We were very excited to meet our brother, and then one day we found out he wasn’t coming. Jeffrey had a terrible problem and he was starting to place my mother at risk - if she waited to delivery him full term, there were significant risks that she would not survive. With a heavy heart, my mother and father elected to abort the fetus rather than carrying to term and risking my mother’s life.
To this day, the topic is verboten - my mother and father remain inconsolable even after having the younger of my two brothers and sister. They maintain it was the worst day of their lives. But my mother had a choice, and my father encouraged her to save herself. She had two sons to care for, sons that needed their mother. My parents have been together for some 30 years now. My mother was shunned from her Catholic church and shamed by the congregation until she later moved.
Before my wife and I made Charlie, I had a condition. Going into the deal, I needed assurance. I told her that no matter what she felt then, no matter what she thought in that terrible moment, she couldn’t hate me for choosing her over any of our unborn children. She had to accept that even if she screamed and screamed with those charged emotions running through her in some dramatic emergency room gurney scene, I would always save her before our fetus. Because that is the choice my mother made, and it is the choice of the known over the unknown, and it is the only choice I could ever live with.
My wife and I are both pro-choice and the entire foundation of our relationship rests on common ethics. Common ethics are the only way you can ever make decisions that involve others. As a nation, we’ve tried to establish common ethics that rise above the atomization of the family, but we’re too diverse. Some of us are Christians that cannot tolerate the idea of abortion. Some of us are atheists that cannot tolerate the idea of Christians. The numbers on abortion are almost too close to be believed, like it’s a designed test of our collective character. How long can opposite poles hold together?
You have a right to choose your mate in America, unless you’re homosexual (we’re working on that). You can own property and form contracts. You can make a pact of marriage, you can make love, and you can make a child. You can make choices in your life. We need to draw a line between our families that allows me to peacefully coexist with you in a world where I can choose to save my wife. Where I can raise that fetus, if he comes to term, to understand why I made that choice and why I wrote about it a few months before he was born. Where his grandmother can hold her grandson and remember the choice she made that allowed her to live to see him.