The night my son asked me about abortion

By Maaike Rosendal

It has been a particularly warm day. The humid heat seemed to have seized my ability to stay on schedule so supper was late. After my children are finally tucked into bed, a mountain of dishes meets me in the kitchen. I resist the urge to turn off the lights and go to bed and instead turn on the tap. While suds form in the sink, I submerge the first pan into the water. 

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That’s when I hear a loud bang upstairs. 

I know instantly what the cause is: our son who rarely wants to go to sleep at night. His not-so-subtle noises negate his earnest effort to quietly enter the room. After twenty-some steps from his bed to the top of the stairs he descends—bam! bam! bam!—one slow step at a time. Finally his face appears at the bottom. 

“Mom?” his soft voice rings out.

With my hands in the soapy water, I turn towards him. “Yes?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“I know, but can you please go back to bed? You can sing or pray or count sheep or even count your blessings. That usually works.”

He doesn’t respond.

“Elliot?”

“But I have a question.”

Such an effective way to buy time, I think to myself, and sigh inwardly. “What is it?”

He looks at me with an expression that makes me forget the dishes. “Can abortion doctors kill me too?”

My heart drops. Within seconds I’m on the floor too, cupping his beautiful face with my wet hands. “Oh sweetie, no. No, they can’t!”

His big brown eyes search mine. “How do you know?”

I pull him on my lap and explain that the law, the rule in Canada is that only very little children, only those who are still in their mom’s tummy can be killed. I explain that that could never happen to him, and that we will always do everything we can to keep him safe.

He snuggles up to me, when all of a sudden his forehead furrows again. “What about Tisa?”

I explain that no one is allowed to hurt his little sister either. 

“But she’s little,” he counters. 

“Yes, but she’s born. She’s safe, sweetheart. And you’re a really good big brother for taking such good care of her.”

He smiles shyly, then sighs. “Can you tuck me in and stay by me?”

I carry him up the stairs. “Do you want to pray?” I whisper, not wanting to wake up the others. He nods and folds his hands inside mine. 

Afterward, we snuggle up in bed. I watch my contemplative child lay wide awake and wish I could read his mind. He turns to me. “Do you know where an abortion doctor lives? Is it close to here?”

“Nowhere near here, my dear. And they won’t hurt you.”

His hands are now holding a stuffed monkey, stroking its fuzzy head. Minutes pass while my mind seeks to understand where his sudden concern comes from. Sure, our children understand that their parents do pro-life work and they know that we try to help babies and their parents. They’ve heard us pray for minds to be changed and lives to be saved and, more specifically, for our colleagues as well as men, women and children in our society. Still, I can’t think of a recent time that we talked about abortion in our home. 

We’ve never explained how children are aborted, nor have we intentionally shown abortion images. Not that they couldn’t have seen them, though. Once, while I was on the phone, my boys opened a large canister and pulled out a poster that had come in the mail. When I walked into the room, it was on the ground, depicting the broken body of an aborted human embryo. Without any prompting, Elliot said, “Look mom, someone hurt the baby.” 

I agreed and calmly explained that’s why we protect babies. That’s why Noah and Adrian and Ava and many other children whose moms we’ve met are alive and no one will hurt them. They nodded happily and went off to play. But that was many, many months ago. 

Monkey, I notice, has just been tucked under the sheets beside us. A lump forms in my throat. My child is trying to grapple with what he knows about injustice, and it breaks my heart. 

Then it dawns on me. 

The reason Elliot feels threatened by abortion is because he can’t make the distinction between born and pre-born like adults do. He figures that someone who can end the life of babies like his sister (who he once saw on ultrasound) can also end her life now because he doesn’t understand the difference between Tisa inside and Tisa outside the womb. 

He has understood that if you are a human being, no one should be allowed to harm you. Intuitively he knows that one’s age and location is irrelevant. And he’s right.

My son has just taught me an important lesson: that we fool ourselves when we think we’re not affected by an injustice as long as we don’t belong to the group of human beings that’s currently being targeted. If we can strip human embryos and fetuses of their right to life, why not those in the age categories of infants or toddlers? If the human rights of some can be taken away, why not of others?

Tears begin to trickle down my cheeks, and I refuse to stop them. It seems wrong to remain unmoved amidst the deaths and suffering of the youngest of our kind just because their victimization doesn’t threaten our lives.

A little voice puts a stop to my reflections. “Is it almost done, mom?”

“What, Elliot?”

“Abortion. Is it almost done?”

“I hope so, sweetheart. We’re doing everything we can to make sure of that, and we pray that the Lord keeps blessing it.”

He turns onto his side, drifting off to sleep, but his question keeps running through my head, with a different emphasis each time. Is it almost done? Is it almost done? Is it almost done?

Stroking his cheek, I whisper,

“If all of us take it as seriously as you, then yes… and even sooner rather than later.”