Angela Denker is a journalist and Lutheran pastor who lives in Minneapolis. Her book, “Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters who Elected Donald Trump,” will be published this summer.
Almost five years ago, in September 2014, I peed on a stick and saw a faint pink line.
My heart pounded. I squinted, forcing myself to see it again. Yes, there it was. I was pregnant.
Just before my son Jacob’s 2nd birthday, I was pregnant for the second time.
Anyone who suggests that a woman who has ever been pregnant does not understand the sanctity of life is severely misguided at best, purposefully cruel at worst. Every month of much of a woman's life, in most cases, her body prepares to host new life.
The walls of her uterus thicken to provide comfort and coziness, like blankets and pillows on a couch. Her body adjusts itself to make room for someone else, generously and openly, without concern for its own well-being.
An egg waits for fickle and vulnerable sperm to make their way, in a ritual often necessitating male pleasure and female pain, a reminder that we do nothing on our own. We always, unequivocally, need each other — and no life is immune from its impact on another, whether that life is a few weeks or several decades old.
If the sperm do not come, those enveloping walls shed themselves in blood and broken tissue. Each month, a woman's body submits itself to a cycle of life and death, a pattern of potential and grief.
It is not the signs of life but the absence of death, of blood, that often alerts a woman to the presence of new life inside her. For the majority of us, whose cycles are unpredictable and uneven, this could take weeks or even months. By the time a pregnancy test registers, we are at least five weeks pregnant. Doctors don't want to see us, usually, until eight weeks. In some states, under new laws, we would now have seven days, at most, to decide how to sustain life, new or old. That is significantly less than six weeks.
In September 2014, I was officially 5.5 weeks pregnant when I saw the faint pink line, so I had 2.5 weeks to wait until I saw the doctor. During that time, we celebrated my 2-year-old son’s birthday party. I look back at pictures of myself on that day, wearing a jean jacket and a black elastic-waist skirt and a maternal smile, a secret I held within myself of new life burgeoning within me, seeking its way out in the rosiness of my cheeks.
Days later, I had the ultrasound.
"I'll get the doctor,” the technician said abruptly.
I knew. Within me, I knew.
After that, I had to wait two heart-wrenching weeks for confirmation — this brief cluster of cells had disintegrated. It was not life, only the illusion of life.
I had options, the doctor said. I could wait until my overeager womb realized that its nursery room was vacant, and then I might explode with blood everywhere, dripping out underneath my white pastoral robe while I led worship or seeping through my jeans while I took my son to the park.
I could also, she said, take a pill, which would induce my body to throw out the empty sac, maybe. But it couldn't be guaranteed. The timing was unpredictable. I might puke.
Or I could, she said, make an appointment and receive some numbing medication, and a doctor would scrape out the inside of my carefully appointed room so that my body’s life-giving power would be renewed sooner, and I could try again.
I made the appointment for something obliquely called a D&C. They numbed me and scraped me and it was over, and I bled just a little bit.
Later I found out that D&C is also a term used for abortions. When I had a D&C, it removed no life, but I felt the loss and pain nonetheless, just as I imagined a woman would whose D&C removed a cluster of cells that were, or would be, or could be, life.
Three years and three months after my miscarriage, after I had given birth to my healthy second son Joshua, I traveled to Washington to join the March for Life as research for my book, “Red State Christians.” I attended a conference called Evangelicals for Life.
I wanted so badly to count myself among them. Maybe I could be pro-life. I wanted to be pro-life, achingly. I loved life. I loved being a mom. I loved being pregnant. I loved it so much that I gained and lost 70 pounds twice, and I peed when I did jumping jacks and my stomach looked like a road map of pink interstate lines and purple dimples.
All life is sacred. As Christians, we hold that belief at the very core of our being.
But I wondered what the pro-life movement would say about my D&C, about my miscarriage, about the times I have taken the morning-after pill. They said it wasn't a movement meant to shame women. But it did shame me, and I was a pastor and a married mother of two. So how did others feel?
While I yearned to see a pro-life movement that really was about love and about families and about God, not about treating women as second-class citizens — Alabama happened. And Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi and Kentucky. Hard, unbending laws. Laws that seemed to prioritize one life, the unborn, over another life, the female-born.
My body and my blood cried out to me from within, as my own cycle continued, as I took a pill each morning that, I guess if you’re honest about it, stopped life, too, just sooner. And yet we can’t afford another baby. That same tiny pill also sustains life. My own and my family’s.
Supporting life is infinitely more complicated than outlawing abortion. As I much as I believe life to be infinitely sacred, the American pro-life movement forces me to remain pro-choice. For myself, for my children, for women everywhere. And, perhaps, for a God who knows that life is so complex as to require death to allow resurrection.