My husband and I are trying to conceive (“TTC,” as they say on the message boards). As many have chronicled before me, this can be a challenging journey. Seems like an odd time to get involved with an organization that provides abortion and contraception, a special sort of cognitive dissonance. But it’s not. Let me explain why, and why I support Maine Family Planning and all the services it offers.
The truth is that my husband and I are not trying to conceive, we are trying to start a family. The two are not precisely the same, because a family is far more complicated than a pregnancy. This understanding is at the heart of the “family planning” that Maine Family Planning provides.
My husband and I are very fortunate that we have some control over the way in which we build our family. This feels strange to write, as often I feel very out of control of this process, but in ways that matter, it is the truth.
First of all, we have been able to select a time in our lives when we feel we have economic and domestic stability. This is lucky. This is because we had sex education and access to contraceptives throughout our younger adult years. Not all Mainers have that. Maine Family Planning offers both education and contraceptives and works with women and men at all stages of their reproductive lives.
And that economic and domestic stability into which we hope to bring our children? Not all Mainers have that either. Which is why Maine Family Planning actively works, in direct and indirect ways, to improve health and economic circumstances for women so they can parent through difficult times. Take, for example, MFP’s behavioral health and chronic condition management services at their Ellsworth clinic. Or the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), which provides supplemental food and farmers’ market vouchers for clients in Washington and Hancock Counties. These are much needed lifelines for a number of struggling Maine families. Furthermore, MFP works with state legislators and the Alliance for Maine Women to support bills that advance economic opportunities for low-income Mainers, especially women and mothers—bills like LD 1475, an Act to Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments in Families Today (more on that bill here).
Secondly, while my husband and I often feel helpless, we have lots of help—more medical providers than any one person wants in her life, to be honest. We are able to afford and access health professionals who provide testing, counseling, and care. If and when I should get pregnant, I will have them to answer my ten thousand questions about what pain reliever I can take and what fish I can eat and whether I should (or shouldn’t) go to the emergency room because I’ve had gas pains for three days straight. A luxury, right? It shouldn’t be. That’s why Maine Family Planning provides care and counseling to people wanting to start families and plan pregnancies.
But let’s get to the nittier, grittier stuff, the hard-to-wrap-your-head-around stuff, the “A” word: abortion. Although one of MFP’s prerogatives is increased access to abortion, its goal is not more abortions; its goal is stronger women and stronger families. The best way to decrease abortions is to prevent unintended pregnancy with education and contraception. (It is important to note here that not all abortions are because of unintended pregnancy; indeed many are medical decisions.) Still, until we live in that perfect world where unintended pregnancies don’t happen, MFP is here for Mainers—and has been for 45 years.
It’s possible that my husband’s and my journey to start a family will lead us to adoption. How could I possibly support an organization, then, that provides termination of pregnancies that might otherwise put children into the adoption system, children who might end up in my home? Unfortunately, this logic is based on a persistent fallacy that decreased abortion rates lead to increased newborn relinquishment. (Two articles about that here and here.) For many mothers, for many reasons, adoption is not necessarily an alternative to abortion. Furthermore, there are currently close to 2,000 children in Maine’s foster care system, with the need for homes far outpacing those available.
Last but certainly not least on the list of reasons I support Maine Family Planning: I hope to become a mother, in whatever way that unfolds. Because of this, I have thought long and hard about the world I want my children to live in, and I know I want it to be a world of choice and access. I believe my children should have at least the same kind of freedom and control over their bodies and reproductive choices that I’ve had over mine.
To support Maine Family Planning is to support Maine’s families, including perhaps eventually my own. We all have a stake in supporting MFP. I hope, one day, I’ll be able to explain that to my daughter.
Kathryn is a new MFP volunteer and advocate for reproductive rights and universal access to health care. She is a writer and teacher living in Maine.