The Brigid Alliance

St Brigid of Kildare

Learned about this non-profit organization today – The Brigid Alliance. I wish things were different but here we are. You might be surprised if you’ve not been listening to as many adoptee voices as I do every day, to learn how many will say plainly – I wish I had been aborted. Beyond that, many do not wish to have children themselves. Here’s one example –

I’m an adoptee, former foster youth and former kinship foster youth. I do not want to be a parent. I have multiple reasons some of which include severe mental health issues, cost, responsibility, dysphoria etc… I am on long term birth control and am in a long term serious relationship. Abortion access is not limited in my state currently but could definitely become restricted. If I were to become pregnant, my first choice would be abortion. However due to limited access, I know that might not always be possible. My question is what advice would you give to someone who is pregnant but doesn’t want to be a parent and can’t access abortion?

Clearly, pregnancy prevention should not be all on the woman in a committed relationship. Agreeing to a vasectomy, which is a form of male birth control that cuts the supply of sperm to the man’s semen. It’s done by cutting and sealing the tubes that carry sperm. A vasectomy has a low risk of problems and can usually be performed in an outpatient setting under local anesthesia. The man can opt to have a vasectomy reversal in the future. This is a surgery to undo a vasectomy. During the procedure, a surgeon reconnects each tube (vas deferens) that carries sperm from a testicle into the semen. After a successful vasectomy reversal, sperm are again present in the semen and a man may be able to once again get his partner pregnant.

In the case presented in this blog today, the male was not willing – so what else ? Pre-emptive preparation can help. Research what pharmaceuticals can be accessed online and know what the resources are in your state before you need them. The LINK> National Women’s Health Network has a fact sheet on safe and effective FDA-approved abortion pills (aka medication abortion) which are now available by mail in several states — without an in-person clinic visit.

Lastly, today I learned about LINK> The Brigid Alliance, a referral-based service that provides travel, food, lodging, child care and other logistical support for people seeking abortions. They prioritize clients who are beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy and for whom it’s generally more expensive and harder to find a provider near home. They are part of a growing ecosystem of support organizations propping up abortion care access in the US due to an increasingly hostile environment post-Roe.

The group takes their name from a story about St Brigid of Kildare who ministered to a nun who had failed to keep her vow of chastity, and became pregnant. Based upon a 1987 translation of the story: “A certain woman who had taken the vow of chastity fell, through the youthful desire of pleasure and her womb swelled with child. Brigid, exercising the most potent strength of her ineffable faith, blessed her, causing the child to disappear, without coming to birth, and without pain. She faithfully returned the woman to health and to penance.”

Giving Up The Ghost

Ghost Child photograph by Shirley Sirois

When I thought the book I’d write would be a memoir, I read Giving Up The Ghost by Hilary Mantel. I am reminded of that with her recent passing. It is the only book by her, and maybe not the best known, that I have read by that author. She was only a couple of years older than I am now.

The relevancy of acknowledging her passing now is that Mantel suffered from endometriosis, which went long undiagnosed and instead, her infertility was assumed to be caused by her suffering a bad case of female overambition. Infertility often leads to adoption. Mantel did not adopt but she did remain childless and channeled her creativity into 17 books including the one I read as well as Every Day Is Mother’s Day, Vacant Possession and Beyond Black. Her ghost was from an encounter in her youth as described in that book which I read.

In a 2003 New York Times review of the Mantel book I read – LINK> Unsuited to Everything By Inga Clendinnen – it is noted – One ordinary morning when she was seven, she encountered a terrifying something ”as high as a child of 2” manifesting in the rough grass beyond the new house. ”Within the space of a thought” it was inside her, ”a body inside my body,” and ”grace . . . runs out of my body like liquid from a corpse.” Mantel acknowledges that after this event, she was always more or less ”ashamed and afraid.”

The ghosts of the never born, those babies lost in miscarriage, or those that die in infancy often haunt women who have those experiences. It can even become an inherited trauma as in the story LINK> Mothering Ghost Babies by Kao Kalia Yang. Her grandmother lost a daughter at 7 months of age to a sudden unexplained death. Her own mother was silent in the wake of all the ghost babies she delivered into the world. Her mother had six miscarriages, all little boys, all formed enough so the adults could see that they were baby boys, but born far too small, and sometimes too blue, and other times too wet with blood to survive.

Similarly, Yang’s baby died inside of her at nineteen weeks. My own daughter lost her first conceived baby that way. Like my daughter, she had to deliver a dead baby into the world. She notes that she thought back to her grandmother’s story, and that she was her mother’s love of the babies whose share of love she had taken fully and gratefully. She says, My baby was more light than substance. He was silent, but he sang a song full of sorrow.

Sometimes, a woman must give up the “ghost” of the child she will never have. I do not believe adoption is the way to attempt to replace the child a woman would have had. It often fails the “replacement” child because they are not the child the woman really wanted. And the adoptee fails the adoptive mother’s expectations of what her child should be. Women like Hilary Mantel who simply accept remaining childless (even if it is not what they wanted) should be appreciated compassionately.