I was in the pro-life movement. But then, widowed with 6 kids, I prepared for an abortion.
Summer 2019 was full of surprises. The first was hard earned: my husband was promoted to president of his engineering office at the age of 37. The realization of this goal in life was pure joy.
Two weeks later, we drove three hours east for a week of beach vacation. It was Lee, our six children, ages 7 to 12, and me. It was relaxing and happy until it was gone. On July 18, 2019, a wave hit my husband with such force that his neck broke when his head hit the packed sand. Most of the children witnessed the accident. He wouldn't be pronounced dead until 24 hours later, but I knew it almost immediately.
When we returned home, a family of seven instead of the family of eight that had arrived at the beach less than a week earlier, friends and the kids took me through the next steps, from choosing a coffin and burial site to learning how to access ours common bank account. And then, when the funeral was over and the next week continued, another surprise became undeniable.
I felt just as sick as I did with my two biological children and with miscarriages before them. I paused in my dead husband's closet, looking for important documents he always kept so I could claim social security benefits, and counted the days.
The numbers were clunky in my grief, but I ended up doing the math through the calendar in my head.
Nine days late.
My period was nine days late.
My periods were never late, except when I was pregnant.
I leaned my head against Lee's t-shirts and inhaled the scent they held like a memory. I took a few deep breaths. I wanted my math to be wrong.
Shannon and Lee Dingle in Raleigh, NC in 2014.
It wasn't like that, however.
Here I was, a widow who showed all the signs of pregnancy while living with chronic health conditions that would make pregnancy life threatening.
I knew I couldn't have this baby.
I didn't know how to be a single mother of six, so having a seventh child was unthinkable if I even survived the pregnancy.
And my children couldn't lose another parent.
Considering what was unthinkable
As a pro-life speaker at events sponsored by Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission, some of that rhetoric rose in me. I was worried what if people who offer us help withdrew those offers, when they found out what I was considering? I wondered if my living children would hate me for choosing another child's pregnancy.
Shannon Dingle was a speaker at the first Evangelicals For Life conference in January 2016.
I wanted to cry, but I ran out of tears after spending the last week choosing the outfit for my husband's corpse and holding my kids as they howled, "I want dad!"
I didn't need anyone to shame me. I made everything myself masterfully.
I haven't taken a pregnancy test over the days. I couldn't stand going to a store on my own, and I certainly wouldn't ask anyone to buy a test to confirm that I needed an abortion. The spiral of shame I lived in was strong. I wasn't sure if I didn't risk everything to have another child I could be loved.
Shannon Dingle: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama's ban on abortion would punish girls like me.
This is how you think, if you have been groomed by the pro-life movement to see pregnancy in black and white with no room for gray.
I decided to call my friend Arinn for her help as I knew she wouldn't judge me. Before I could do that, the convulsions arrived. These weren't your normal menstrual cramps, but the kind that happen when your body expels tissues that could have been a child. The pregnancy ended on its own.
Then I didn't tell anyone for six months as I mourned my husband's public death and the private end of a pregnancy. I didn't want to discuss my pain with someone who disagreed, and I didn't want to repeat it with someone who didn't.
I didn't mean for my husband to die
I am no longer for life, not in a political sense. I firmly believe that pregnancy decisions should be made between a patient and a doctor and not impersonally made by a predominantly male governing body. My body shouldn't be open to public debate.
I used to be a Republican: pro-life friends supported our children's adoptions. But they shy away from guidelines that keep them alive.
If abortion wasn't an option, I would have likely been exposed to death if the pregnancy ended. My children would have seen not only the death of their father, but also of my mother. We barely survived the past year and several months, but we would not have made it if my physical and mental health had been overwhelmed by an unsafe pregnancy.
The pro-life movement can put together any cartoons about people they didn't plan well, but I was happily married to a living husband when I became pregnant. If I had planned for him not to die, I would have.
Lee and Shannon Dingle with their children in Raleigh, North Carolina in July 2014.
Caricatures make good propaganda, but terrible politics. People, real people, get pregnant. And these people each carry their own stories, nuanced and unique.
Propaganda is easy. Twitter insults from anonymous accounts are also available.
But people, real people, have real stories like mine.
My story is heartbreaking. To say it is delicate. But you have to understand that real people like me live real stories.
I'm glad I had the right to make decisions about how my story would play out instead of letting the Supreme Court or Congress decide for me.
Shannon Dingle is a disability activist, sex trafficking survivor, widowed mother of six, and recovering perfectionist. Her first book "Living Brave" will be published by HarperOne in 2021. Follow her on Twitter @shannondingle
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This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Pro-Life Movement is about cartoons, not real life: Shannon Dingle
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