Grad school and abortion

There have been a couple posts and comment discussions over at Dr. Isis’s place about a question that was posed to her:

I found out I am pregnant, we want a child but I just accepted a PhD position. Should I have an abortion?

Isis does not want to get into the ethics of the question, but has instead expressed sadness that the question was even raised. Her second post clarifies in more detail that since she believes there is no “good” time to have children, if you want to have a child, you should have a child.

But while I agree with Isis that no one can answer that question for anyone else, and there probably isn’t a good time for children, I am not sure if folks would put out the same argument if the question was, “We want a child but I just accepted a PhD position. Should we use birth control for now?” I mean, Isis very well might feel the same way, I can’t say. But I feel like people’s eyebrows shoot up when it’s suggested that someone might consider something as drastic as an abortion.

And I mean, please. It only seems drastic because the rhetoric has painted it that way. My answer to this woman is that no one can answer that question for you, and if you want to have a child you should have a child, and if you want to wait because it’s not the right time in your life, then you should wait. Plain and simple. There’s nothing especially more shocking or dramatic about it because it would involve a termination instead of birth control. You choose if and when to have children, and that’s all there is to it. You might regret the decision whether you choose to have a child or not have a child right now, which is the risk with, you know, making a decision, so just do your best to make the right choice for yourself and your family. To repeat: many women regret having children.

After Isis’ post, drdrA wrote in response:

WOW, just WOW. To me the decision whether or not to bear a child and start a family should be based on whether or not one wants to be a parent. Period. If the answer to that question is yes, then you just figure out how to work around everything else. Is it going to be tough? Yes. Is it going to be stressful? Yes. Can it be done- OH FOR SURE!

Sure, it can be done, but this is not a question of whether or not to have a child, period. This a question of whether or not to have a child now, which is completely different.

I really don’t know what is up with all of the commenters who feel that it’s just so sad that a woman might consider putting off childbearing until a better time in her career. Ideally everyone would have access to reasonably long parental leave and good health insurance coverage and health care — and even then, many people will still decide not to have children during a particularly busy part of their career. That’s not all that sad. Some of those commenters seem to be coming from a position of having had children and been happy with that decision. But what made you happy won’t necessarily make someone else happy; you are projecting.

9 Responses

  1. Thanks for writing this. That whole conversation was rubbing me the wrong way, but I had trouble figuring out exactly why. That’s it right there. It’s one of the reasons I have trouble with Isis’ blog – that she’s so steeped in Catholicism along with everything else. I still read it, because I think it challenges me to remember and realize how some other scientists view the world, but I can only do so after being sure I took my blood pressure pill.

  2. Do you think that any of this has to do with abortion equating to missed opportunity? I know someone who got pregnant unexpectedly – she really wanted kids and wasn’t sure she’d be able to have them, so despite her feeling that it was terrible timing, she decided to have the baby. The child is now just over a year old, and the friend is a couple of months away from her PhD defense. I think the question of whether it’s the right time to have a baby must feel that much harder if you think that a new pregnancy is the only chance you’ll have.

    Not that I don’t agree with pretty much everything else you’ve said, but for some women, a decision about abortion might actually feel more drastic than a prophylaxis decision. Instead of asking whether you want a child, or whether you’re ready, “you” would be asking whether you should take this opportunity before it’s gone. I’m not sure how much this might have to do with “validation of femininity through reproduction,” as you allude to in your closing paragraph (the “just so sad” phenomenon). Then again, maybe my friend’s situation has biased my thinking.

  3. I think that if your chances to have biological children are so limited, using birth control also drastically reduces the chance you will ever have them, because it is also delaying potential pregnancy. Maybe actually becoming pregnant creates a sense of urgency, and I guess I can understand that, especially if you’re already on the fence about the timing. But I still don’t think it makes it particularly sadder to decide against having a child then and there, like it’s a missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You would miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be childless during grad school if you decided to carry that pregnancy to term (and keep the child), too.

    So I guess I feel like while it might seem more drastic on its face because the opportunity to have a child is suddenly more immediate, it isn’t necessarily actually more drastic. But then, while I like children and caretaking and very likely will someday want some of my own (circumstances being right), I don’t consider it to be a major life failing or tragic loss if I that never comes to pass. I don’t really subscribe to that, you know?

  4. This is an excellent question – that is, should one, when just starting an academic position, delay having children, even if one is already on its way, so to speak.

    I think something drdrA doesn’t address is that it is perhaps *more* difficult in some respects to be a parent in an academic field because of the implicit obligation that the university and the teaching position and dedication to one’s department supersede all else, including friends and especially children. This is outlined in an excellent book “Mama, PhD”: mamaphd.com

    At the risk of getting personal, I just went through this same dilemma myself – I finished my PhD coursework and got pregnant, and now have to figure out how to finish my dissertation before I run out of funding. I did choose to have my daughter, but it wasn’t a decision I made lightly, especially when I’ve accrued 12 years of post-secondary education and hadn’t intended to have children and really felt (and still often feel) like I’ve flushed them all down the toilet.

    A major factor in my decision to continue my pregnancy had a lot to do with being Canadian – my medical coverage (including midwifery) was covered, and I get a full year of mat leave (though I’m returning to work early by choice) and, like any other job anywhere, I can’t be penalized by losing seniority for the time I’ve taken off. From reading “Mama, PhD” and connecting with other USA-based academic moms (and dads), I know that it’s that much harder without the governmental support, and that the university environment is that much more cutthroat.

    My heart bleeds for the original question-asker because it’s not a question asked lightly for a multitude of reasons. Yes, parenting while academic *can* be done, but it is tough, tougher than a lot of other industries, which drdrA hasn’t taken into account. It takes more than bravery and good intentions to get by in a rigid academic setting.

    (That said, this may have been taken up in Dr. Isis’s comment thread, which I haven’t gone through in its entirety.)

  5. I agree that the limits placed on your options by lousy healthcare are terrible, and that needs to be fixed. No argument there. My argument with Isis and drdrA is that it’s sad that a woman might choose to terminate a pregnancy to focus on her career, even though that can certainly happen even if perfect fairyland healthcare is in place. That’s not sad.

  6. You’re absolutely right!

    I apologize for the derailment – I rather jumped on the grad school aspect and didn’t account for the larger argument. Note to self: read thoroughly and really think before commenting :)

  7. And also thanks for the implicit call-out on Canadian privilege – on re-reading, I sound super-gloaty and entitled. I apologize for that, as well.

    {returns to lurking…}

  8. Why not give your nascent offspring a chance to get a Phd., too? The two are not mutually exclusive if you have the child. They are if you abort. Your already-conceived offspring will never have the chances you have if you decide to end it future. Should your progeny die so that you can get a Phd. in exactly the manner in which you had imagined you might? Who or what is framing the question in this diatonic way? The child you would’ve had/have had is an individual – and if you are lucky enough to get pregnant again, you will never come across the same gifts that were in the child you were carrying at the time of this post. I hope that by the time you read this, the smoke has cleared and you are carrying a baby in one arm, and a journal article in the other – and realizing that the former teaches the greater lesson between the two. Good luck.

  9. Yeah, THAT’S true. The potential to have a child is totally the same as having a child. And I’m so glad that you know so much about the circumstances of this particular woman’s PhD program and life, so that you can just tell her that she could totally do both! What a dummy she is for not realizing that on her own or knowing what her own life and choices are like. It must be because of her silly ladybrains. Thank god for people like you who have all the answers.

    While I’m at it, even if a fetus is equivalent to a child, a woman’s body is not required to be life support if the circumstances are not such that she wishes it to be. Your squeamishness and holier-than-thou condescension don’t negate her basic human rights. Get over yourself.

    The only reason I didn’t delete your comment despite the patronizing tone was that the blog has been stagnant lately (totally my doing for having nothing to say), and you pissed me off enough that I briefly wanted to argue in public. But this is my sandbox, so be more respectful or get yourself banned.

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