Fairy tales, familiar stories to the human family, introduce a world of the marvelous and magical as well as the capricious and the cruel. A princess cannot sleep because of the discomfort of a pea. A boy may become a bird. Even objects can become enchanted like talking mirrors or carriages made from pumpkins. A typical story line includes the idealization of a character, full of fantasy with moral and religious overtones. It is from the subculture of antiabortionists, who euphemistically call themselves prolife, that the fairy tale about motherhood originates. In this fairy tale, their idealization of motherhood is both a feeling of love and hate. While the hate is ignored and kept from consciousness, the love is unrealistic, illusory and distorted. Drawing on work from psychoanalysts, idealization of motherhood is a defense against the consequences of recognizing the antiabortionists’ own ambivalences and failures. So how is this fairy tale realized in the quotidian sidewalk battles of the antiabortionists?
Moving from the position of idealized motherhood, antiabortionists are fond of telling young women that their baby loves them or their baby wants to live. I witnessed the perennial favorite of one protester blather on ad nauseum “You’ll have a beautiful baby who will love you.” While this is more a projection of their personal feelings about babies and the obvious dismissal that some babies are downright ugly, it is nonetheless a consequence of the fabrications inherent in the mindset of these folks. Regardless of gestation, no fetus is capable of expressing emotions such as love or a will to live. I suspect that these sidewalk crusaders know this about a fetus but cannot help but anthropomorphize.
Another aspect of their fractured fairy tale comes from the unsubstantiated concept called maternal instinct. Ignoring science and rationality, typical of this subculture, these antiabortionists make ludicrous claims about abortion going against a woman’s instincts or about men instinctively protecting their women. If that doesn’t sound like a cave man intellect, I’m not sure what would. Sadly, these folks don’t know the difference from social acculturation of humans and instincts found in birds, insects and reptiles. It doesn’t take much to realize that maternal instinct is nothing more than an idealized, Hallmark card version of a world they desire. Women have been abandoning and continue to abandon their newborns across the globe. Newborns, dead and alive, are discovered in streets, garbage containers, train stations and public bathrooms. Research demonstrates that abandonment occurs because the infant is unwanted, the wrong sex, is defective, a liability in a difficult relationship with the biological father or with the mother’s parents or is mental response of disassociation where the woman in unable to see the fetus as human.
Wet nurses provide another view to discredit maternal instinct. For centuries, women turned the care and feeding of their children to wet nurses, often sending them off to live until they were five or six years old. A French historian documented this practice from letters, diaries and health records. As a matter of practicality and not maternal instinct, infants were sent to live in the country, raised by wet nurses until they were capable of caring for themselves, more or less.
In the United States, the response to safe haven laws demonstrated how maternal instinct is a fairy tale. In nearly all states, safe have laws allowed mothers to leave unwanted children. In response, women (and men) left their unwanted, unruly, financially burdensome, socially disruptive, undesirable children ranging in age from newborn to age 17.
A recent British survey about parenting and regret found that one in ten regretted having children. While the good news is that the majority found happiness with parenthood, others did not. They cited financial hardships and negative impact on their careers and their relationship with their partners as key reasons.
I mentioned earlier that the antiabortionists fail to understand how humans are socialized. I can tell you that it’s not instinct. In their imaginary world, an amalgam of Father Knows Best saccharine idealization and Jesus Loves the Little Children church pulp, these folks concoct fairy tales about motherhood that never existed and never will. It’s the prolife version of pulp fiction.