Thursday 16 May 2019
Sharpening My Sword
There is a sickening sadness in me today. Two stories:
I had an abortion when I was 22. At 19, I had become prematurely engaged in the flush of romance, and I couldn't think of any reason I should say no. Later, I learned that the ring on my finger had partly come about from my prospective father-in-law's Catholic guilt about his son and me living in sin.
The engagement was abruptly broken off one afternoon, after my ex-fiance took me out for a burger. It was unexpected, and I was heartbroken. We started making plans to exit our apartment, and when moving day came, I stumbled across a pregnancy test I had purchased after having heard every responsible, sexually active adult woman should have them on hand. My period was a little late, so I went to the bathroom and took a test, not thinking much of it because I was on birth control.
Positive. The sounds of my friends dismantling my home outside the bathroom door, packing the remains of my relationship into trucks to take across town. My breath stopped. There was only one option.
In a quiet moment, I pulled my ex aside and told him. He said he would marry me, and we could figure it out. Standing in an empty apartment, in a shattered relationship, I said no, we were not having a baby.
At first, I tried to take care of it myself. I cried, and apologized to the little spark inside of me, and tried painfully hard abdominal massages and herbal suppositories. No change. Thankfully, no infections, either.
So, an appointment was made, and I went home after an exam with two tablets and a limited time frame, after which surgery would be my only option. At home, I cried some more, took one pill and inserted another, and then a few hours later had the prescribed miscarriage. I was relieved.
This winter, I was trying to get my 18-month-old son settled into daycare so he could have his need for toddler company met, and so I could try to resume something like a life of my own. His napping was not yet synced up with the schedule of the older children, so I was spending my days walking to and from his daycare with him in a stroller, strategically, to coax him into sleeping at roughly the right times to ease the transition. On these days, I was walking about 7 miles per day, pushing a stroller up and down San Francisco hills in the rain, trying to do the best I could for my little one.
One day, while huffing and puffing uphill through mile 7, I did my mental math on menstruation, and realized that the unprotected sex my husband and I had could most definitely result in a pregnancy. I felt despair. My first child was not much more than a baby himself, still in diapers, and I was alone every day to structure his life. No help for 12 hours a day. No sick days. No family nearby, few friends that were competent with kids. Alone, trying to be my best for him, and losing myself day by day. I needed to have a plan for the next one, and I needed more time to invent that out of thin air.
I could clearly see what the next several years of my life would look like with another baby and more of the same, so I walked straight into my local pharmacy with my sleeping child in his stroller and bought a pack of Plan B. I took it before he woke up, and I texted my husband to let him know what was going on. I was relieved.
These two stories are about the same two questions: What kind of life can I have, and what can I provide for any potential child?
If I had had that first child and married my ex, I would be a single mother now. That relationship ran its course, and in the process alienated me from other women as my fiance tried to sleep with my friends and broke my heart with infidelity. There is a high likelihood I would be living in poverty, I almost certainly would not have made it to university, and I would not have met my husband.
I wonder how that bitterness would compare to what I feel today. For a good primer on the pressures of parenthood that come directly from sexism and our dysfunctional economy, I invite you to read Elizabeth Warren's book, The Two Income Trap. If I recall, the odds of a woman living in poverty roughly double in the USA as soon as she has a child.
At 22, I had only just figured out how to get myself into community college. When I was in high school, I had zero assistance understanding how to get into college; at one point, in my junior year, I walked into the guidance counselor's office, and asked how I might start the process. She laughed at me and told me it was too late. Somehow, a few years later, I had the courage or good sense to just walk into my local community college and ask the same question, and they were kind enough to hand me forms and direct me to the financial aid office.
From ages 16 to 19, I was in an abusive relationship. That boyfriend had undiagnosed mental health issues, and took all of my paychecks. He was controlling and paranoid, actively preventing me from applying to university, saying I couldn't afford it, and he made sure that was true. I'm fairly certain I had a miscarriage in that relationship, and I am so grateful.
It is a miracle that I am living the life I am today. I completed university at an amazing school overseas, partly because my mother-in-law correctly identified at a crucial moment that my educational attainment would directly impact the outcomes of any grandchildren I might have with her son. Poverty nearly knocked me out of that race, but I got a last-minute stay of execution, and my ready supply of free birth control pills from the UK's National Health Service helped me see my commitment to my own education through to a degree with honours.
Statistically, I am an outlier, and it is largely due to the freedom to choose my life over an embryo.
I am from Missouri. This morning, I woke up to news that the state of my birth has slammed the door shut on girls like me making choices that could keep their paths open to university, less degrading relationships, and better futures for themselves and any children they might have. Instead, lawmakers seek to keep women and girls trapped in poverty, trapped in abusive relationships where they are made to co-parent with their abusers, and trapped in a cycle of despair that seeks relief in addiction and death. I hate them for this.
There is no nuance here. This is about controlling women and girls, specifically to prevent them from having the opportunities I had. My intelligence and willingness to survive have been honed and developed by critical thinking skills and exposure to the world, and I'm not going back. No one should go back to the world before Roe v. Wade, back-alley abortions, infections, hemorrhaging in hotel rooms and left to die.
When I think of the girls like me that will be deprived of the opportunities I've had, I want to ride into the fray with a fiery sword and liberate them all. They deserve so much better than the insanity of this forced birth extremism, misogyny codified into law to make women and girls second-class citizens and chattel.
Beyond sadness, there is a rage in me that will not be quieted.