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You Mean You Can Live To 42 and Not Be Married Or Have Kids?

4 Apr

I was 24 before I first realized you could be a woman, live your life and not have kids. Or even not be married when you are “old.” (And by “old” I mean in your 40s because that’s what I thought was “old” was back then, this-author-writes-as-she-rapidly-approaches-age-40).

It was at my second job out of college I worked with a woman who was 42, child-free, single and living alone. And I remember it being almost a revelation to me that “Wow, she didn’t have kids. Like, she’s past that point in her life now that’s even an option.”

Now a few caveats: yes some women have kids past the age of 42, but I didn’t think about it that way so to me it was like she had already crossed the Rubicon of menopause even though I don’t think my coworker actually had. I also don’t know if she didn’t want kids, or couldn’t have kids or anything about why she didn’t have them when I met her.

I remember in a weird way viewing her as slightly alien because she was the first adult woman that I could recall who was “40” and didn’t have a husband and kids. It felt like “Oh I want to avoid that fate.” In fact I may have even told friends “I don’t want to be in her situation when I get to that age.”

It really seems strange to me that I was as old as 24 before I met a single, child-free woman. My parents had been long-time friends with a married couple who didn’t have children – a couple I regarded with some suspicion based on the fact that once on an outing when I was 10 the woman told my mom she hadn’t realized my parents were going to bring me along in a way to suggest she didn’t enjoy my company. This single incident — which as an adult who is nervous around kids I completely understand – gave me a childish sense of rejection. I think in a lot of my books and cartoon TV shows a villain was someone who didn’t like children, and so I decided this woman must be a villain for not finding me awesome and amazing. I realized in a way my thoughts about this childless couple (the villains who don’t like kids) subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, had coated my thoughts about people who didn’t have kids. (Which was something I had to remind myself to overtly fight against when I had dinner with the couple recently…”oh right, I don’t dislike them!”)

What was more startling to me, wasn’t just the thought of a woman never having kids, was also the concept of being “single” at 42 and how I automatically viewed it as a failure of some kind. Of course my mother was friends with some women who were divorced. I’m sure not all of my high school teachers or college professors were married. But they weren’t people I viewed as peers in the way I viewed my coworker. She was a fully-formed 3-dimensional person to me. She wasn’t an abstract construction (“my mother’s friend”) or a distantly-known fact about someone I didn’t know very well.

While I now know many child-free, single adult women, my friends who are close to my age are all paired off, and many have started having kids. None of my closest female friends who are older than 35 are both single and child-free.

This 42-year-old coworker I met when I was 24 was really the first time I understood the idea that not everyone was married and not everyone would have kids. But it was not the time that I realized that this state of being a child-free, single adult women does not necessary mean one has a life of unhappiness. I think I still struggle to realize this fact.

Respect, strength and courage

2 Apr

“Life’s most difficult choices don’t always have easy answers. There are no free passes, no tap outs, and no do-overs. One thing’s for sure, the answers you’re looking for start with asking the tough questions. And you’re stronger than you think you are.” – From DifficultChoices.org

Though powerful, a quick dig into DifficultChoices.org reveals itself to be the work of a Colorado Springs based Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC).  The twist is it is couched as a forum for young people to share their reproductive health stories.  Now, the stories posted may indeed be real, but they most certainly don’t capture the scope of a young perople’s experiences, as in the land of CPC sponsored  adolescent abortion stories, no one actually has an abortion.

The site frames the stories through labels of respect, strength, or courage.  It’s not often such empowered language is used in respect to young people’s reproductive decisionmaking.  I liked it so much I thought that what they really needed was to expand the vision to the full true scope, including the respect, strength and courage it takes to have an abortion.  As such, I reached out to the Women’s Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder to see if they would put me in-touch with any young people willing to share their abortion stories, so that Colorado could be more adequately represented. Below are two abortion stories written by folks from Colorado who graciously shared a small part of themselves with us.  One older, one younger, both so incredibly honest and brave, perhaps Difficult Choices would like to recognize their strength and courage and add these stories to their website?

Strength

Dear Baby,

This is the week I gave you up. It’s been two years. You would have been a year and four months old. You would have been walking. You might even be calling me “Mom”. But Baby, as much as I yearn for those memories, I am so glad that I don’t have them. Rather I will have the memory of deciding to apply to the London School of Economics. Baby, if you had been here, I don’t think graduate school would have even crossed my mind. I probably would not be graduating in May. Yes, it is selfish to have let you go, but as I have told you many times, I have all the right to be selfish. If not now, when?

I am listening to the song that reminds me of you. “Las Simples Cosas” by Martirio. The singer says that one always says goodbye without much feeling to simple things. I want you to know that it hurt me to let you go. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. This year I decided to stop loving who would have been your father. That was harder. Baby, he would have loved you so much. He is a great man. Unfortunately, he was not a great man to me. I always think of what could have been if you had been here. Maybe he wouldn’t have betrayed me like he did. Maybe he would have hurt me even more. I’m afraid he has forgotten about you. But that’s ok. You’ll always have me. I will always talk to you, even when I start to have…I guess, real children. You will hold a special place in my heart forever.

On Friday, I am going up to the mountains, where we buried what could have been. It’s beautiful and Orion is always so spectacular up there. I’ve told you before, but I think that’s where I fell in love with him. Last year, we went up there. We weren’t together, yet he took me up there, held me while I cried for you. I am so sorry Baby. I wish life had been different. I wish I could have been strong enough to have carried you and raised you. But Baby, you are in a wonderful place now. You are so much better there than here.

Baby, my world is crumbling around me. I feel so alone. I wouldn’t have wanted you to see me this way. I am trying so hard to keep it all together Baby. And it kills me to say this, but because you aren’t here I know I will be able to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Because you aren’t here, I have the courage and strength to strive for more. Because you aren’t here, I will overcome.

I let go of you, and you will never know how much pain that caused me. Be assured that I will never forget you. I keep telling myself that I never loved you, but a bit of me did. I loved you enough to let you go. You were not a simple thing Baby, no you made me love life more, you allowed me to choose what I wanted and respect who I am, you gave me the power to see how valuable I am. I hope you understand that you gave me so much more than I lost. Baby, do me a favor, look at the star he gave me, the one left of Orion’s belt and ask it to twinkle a little brighter on Friday. Baby, I hope you are happy up there with all those magnificent lights and I hope one day you can forgive me. Know that instead of giving you life, I gave you an eternity up in the skies.

Courage

My name is Katherine and I am 41 years old. A year and a half ago, newly married, I had an abortion. It would have been a shot gun wedding, had I known I was pregnant, but because I was unaware it was a simple elopement in a junkyard.

I believe strongly in adoption and my first husband had a vasectomy during a time when I was angered by life and by myself. The idea of creating more children angered me. Many children of divorce don’t want the burden of creating a healthy outcome. But what is healthy? I was not ashamed of my abortion nor do I now feel the need to keep it private, a dirty secret. Let us call out the stigma that damages women in an irrevocable way.

I was 10 weeks pregnant when I was finally able to make it to the clinic. My breasts were magnificent, my belly plump and my alcohol consumption continued at a steady pace, an attempt at killing whatever joy could have come from this growing baby. My husband and I were married just four months after meeting, and along with my husband came a lovely 7 year old boy. Knowing that we were going to be caring for this child with the help of his mother for the rest our lives is the harsh reality we live with everyday. My stepson’s autism paired with our cynicism left no room for a new child, and I had accepted this.

I never wanted to be 40 and pregnant. However, as a caregiver of children, I was saddened to miss this opportunity to have my own child because in the face of a fucked up world there stares back the faces of justice. I often thought of my mother, long deceased and yet I ached for her and I to care for this baby together.

On the day of the procedure, I cried uncontrollably because my husband could not be there to support me. He had to care for his son at a time when no one else could be there, and so I pushed away everyone’s offers to take his place and went alone. I chose to rely on memories, the stories of close friends rowing the same boat, and the gracious, utterly kind women at the clinic.

What I had needed most was to cease being pregnant and return to my life again. As I write this, the beautiful 4 month old baby girl of my dearest friend plays next to me. I held her legs during the birth and have started working as her child’s caregiver giving her much needed support and friendship at a wonderful and challenging time in her life. This child makes me calm and insanely happy.

As women, it can still feel as if we are alone, certainly we are still victimized and subjugated, but as women we are fierce and capable as well. I do not shy away from the choice I made to be a mother to others peoples children, to help mother my stepson and to now love and help care for the child next to me. I fight everyday to be as strong as my mother and to keep strong the women in my life through honesty and compassion. And I am fortunate to have men in my life who give me hope and who fight for us, for a healthy future. Erasing the stigma of abortion or any of the choices we make as women is a healthy beginning.

______________________________

Clearly evidenced from these powerful stories, emotional resilience among people who have abortions is no small feat. In fact, I would go so far to say that these women display respect AND courage AND strength.

Supporting abortion as birth control

29 Mar

Last week, I got into a conversation (as I often do) on access to abortion. The exchange was pleasant and informative, but in the course of the conversation the other party expressed she did not support free choice if  “someone is using abortion as birth control.” In my experience (and other abortion ganger’s experiences as well), conversations about abortion often come to this same limit, or some version of ‘abortion is not an acceptable if’ statement.

And when the ‘if statements’ start flying I wonder: Why are we so afraid of liberating the use of abortion for whatever means an individual may choose? Why is it that when abortion comes up, some “moral limit” (within the legal limit) must be placed on the procedure? When society is not being harmed, these arguments against abortion as birth control become moral high-ground arguments that hurt the prochoice movement.

Of the approximate 6.7 million pregnancies a year in the US,  about half or 3.2 million are unintended pregnancies (Guttmacher, 2012). Once an unintended pregnancy occurs, even if a person chooses not to use birth control daily/during sex and becomes pregnant, isn’t abortion is the only form of birth control that can be used to control birth? Literally?

Honestly: If we consider that approximately 11% of all unintended pregnancy are a result of sex without contraception (Guttmacher, 2007).  The real concern is the US women/couples who are underserved or disserved by the contraceptives and/or reproductive health system available in the US. As KushielsMoon clearly explains here, contraceptives are scientifically different from birth control. Abortion, biologically is birth control, in every case, regardless of if contraception was used during sex or not.

Furthermore, safe, legal abortion is one of the most effective forms of birth control; in the US, abortion procedures only “fail” or need to be re-administered less than .5% of the time (NAF source).  Abortion is a safe reproductive experience, and repeating the procedure multiple times has not shown to have negative impacts on future reproductive abilities (See Ms. myth buster article & abortion support blog). However, advocating that using abortion for birth control is totally 100% OK/kosher/great/moral usually terrifies people.

Why? When we think about the burden an individual’s choice places on a society we usually think in terms of financial implications, public health burdens, and how the individual’s choice interacts with social morality.

Depending on how often it is needed, abortion is a relatively expensive form of birth control, but US Governments (unfortunately) are, in most cases, not paying for the procedure. The financial burden of an abortion falls more on the individual, and therefore is unlikely to negatively affect the financial solvency of the state or society. We need to respect the individual’s right to choose to spend their money on whichever birth control they may choose.

In terms of public health concerns, in the US, abortion is a safe and legal procedure. Sure, using condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs would be a better public health approach, but using abortion as birth control is no less acceptable than the IUD or the patch when it comes to concern for STD transmission. The only argument that remains for saying abortion control shouldn’t be birth control is a moral judgment that relying on abortion as birth control is unacceptable.

If someone wants to use abortion as birth control, let him or her do so. Let them because it is immoral to judge and shame a free choice behavior that is non-society-harming. Do it because you radically believe that abortion is moral every time it is done safely and legally. Abortion is birth control. Any time a person draws a moral line about abortion’s acceptability as a reproductive health decision they stunt our movement against stigma and toward free, safe choice.

How blogging made me more open about my abortion

27 Mar

BaileyI used to only talk about my abortion with very close friends, my sisters (only when I found out one of them had had an abortion too), or people my friends knew who needed abortions and wanted someone to talk to. I was ashamed that I was a statistic: pregnant in college, too young to be a mom, too selfish. I told my boyfriends, when we would talk about accidental pregnancies, “You only get one [abortion]. There are no do-overs. I used mine already.”

For years, I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t talk about it until I did, and then never without crying. I wasn’t crying over the loss, though I felt that too. I would have an 8 year old. His birthday (I was convinced I was pregnant with a boy) would be in late-October or November. His missed birthday is a milestone I’ll never forget I didn’t have. For years though, I cried because I didn’t want to be judged. I didn’t want my friends, coworkers, acquaintances, or family members to look at me differently. I felt that while my abortion was right for me, it wasn’t right for the people in my life to know about it.

Then I found the Abortiongang. I felt compelled to write about my experience. Writing was easy because I could be nameless, faceless, totally anonymous if I chose to be. But it was a step. I decided to use my first name to sign my posts. Another step. I met Steph, and Shelby, and some of the other bloggers in person. I found a community of women braver than me. Every day Steph reads threats of violence towards herself, towards us, towards women in our feminist community, towards women of every shape, color and identity. I don’t know how she does it. But Kaitlyn, and Sophia, and Nicole, and Peggy, and everyone who currently writes or has ever written for us, and especially Shelby and Steph, inspired me to be more forthcoming.

I started doing little things, like talking about abortion with my close female colleagues. More of us have had abortions than I thought would be possible. I attended rallies and abortion fund-raising events. This process took over two years.

Now, nine years after my abortion, after three years of writing for the blog, I finally talk openly, to strangers, to acquaintances, about my abortion.

Inevitably, when meeting someone new, my dog will come up in conversation. Coincidentally, he’s nearly 8 years old. Everyone is surprised that I got a dog in college; so much responsibility! Now, instead of shying away from explaining how and why I got him, I start my story with “so after I had an abortion in college, I wanted to get a dog.” Bailey is a huge part of my abortion story because he helped me heal. He’s also a great way to turn what could be a conversation that feels defensive and shameful for me into a positive, happy, constructive conversation.

Inevitably, some people will look at my differently when I mention my abortion. My hope though, in sharing my story so casually and with love, is that the people who are listening will reevaluate their opinions on abortion, the people who get abortions, and the people they think abortion-havers become. It’s also a huge relief for me that I don’t have to keep hiding. I think I never needed to hide, and I hope that my sharing will help others share casually and happily too.

Childfree Reflections on Your Terrifying Choices (or, Best of Luck, Pregnant Friend!)

6 Mar

ast week I went to the doctor for an IUD consultation (my last one came out but I really want them to shove another one up there regardless). Two days later, at a small gathering at their house, friends of mine who have been married for a year told us they were expecting a baby.

It was then I realized that my first reaction to this news is always sheer, unadulterated terror. Sympathetic terror, you understand – I feel terrified on their behalf, because somebody needs to, because they are just sitting there smiling like idiots when A TINY HUMAN is about to be completely, vulnerably, irreversibly in their care. WHY AREN’T YOU TERRIFIED I want to yell, which is not only socially inappropriate but also somewhat unfair. Firstly because they may in fact be terrified, but just have the common courtesy not to show it (and/or it is outweighed by happiness and other positive emotions), and secondly because really it’s none of my business.

Why does this news always lead to vicarious terror? Really I am happy for my friends – not just happy, but that perfectly pleasant place where your love for someone, and them having something they want that you don’t at all, intersect; no jealousy, just pure vicarious excitement. But I think of that tiny uncontrollable human that will soon be in their care; that little beast with its feelings, at the mercy of other, perhaps more terrible humans out there in the world.

On the way home my friends and I talked about what extra challenges the child might face, being mixed race. But we live in a big urban centre, in 2013 – it couldn’t be so bad, could it? We peered cautiously at the question from behind our whiteness. How bad is it? Certainly not bad enough that our beautiful, happy friends, with their own middle class backgrounds, strong support networks, and blossoming careers would even have second thoughts, right? But those terrifying conversations happen behind bedroom doors, and sometimes not even there. I thought of that same couple’s trip to visit a mutual friend attending school in the southern USA; the kinds of things they had to consider, as an interracial couple, would never have crossed my mind – but then, that’s my privilege, to not have to consider those kinds of things if I don’t want to.

What positive thing can come from my vicarious (maybe?) terror? A supportive ear, a cautious eye. I could be the clingiest babysitter there ever was. I want to follow my friends’ kids around and yell at people who give them a hard time; defend with my oversensitive heart the bodies they inhabit. I guess this is what happens when you and your friends get old enough to look out for yourselves; suddenly a new generation springs up and your loyalty and fear spreads out to encompass them. If I wanted to be a mother, I think I would be a terrible one. My child would never be allowed to take a risk; my poor heart wouldn’t allow it.

So I’m going to go ahead and get that IUD as soon as I can, but for me that’s only half of being childfree; the other half is offering my support, love, and absolute awe – and, if needed, a surplus of pure terror – to my beautiful friends and their upcoming tiny human on this next great adventure.

Pregnant and I do not want to be

12 Feb

A guest post by a writer who wishes to remain anonymous

When the plus sign came up I just stared, not surprised, not not surprised, just that groggy7:48 am feeling of “oh.” I threw the test away. Then I picked it up out of the trash and behind my mirror in the cabinet. Looked at myself dead in the face and walked to kiss my Father Good Morning (I live at home).

Is it a Good Morning? He got ready and I lifted my shirt up in the mirror to see my belly. Touch it. I’m pregnant. Really dark blue plus sign pregnant. Which, you know, I suppose I was expecting (no pun intended) because I went so far as to piss on a pregnancy test.

Yesterday, I reached for a jar in a friend’s kitchen and when I brought down my arm I almost screamed in pain. My upper arm lightly pressed the outside of my breast and, bam, agony. Fuck, I thought, I’m pregnant. And then went on cooking because I’ve heard its best to piss on the stick in the morning. Really, that’s how my mind works: You’re pregnant, for sure, you’re pissing on a stick in the morning, could you please pass the salt.

I don’t know who created this mass of cells with me. I’ll know between 3:40 and 4:40 pm this afternoon when an ultrasound tells the gestation. I had sex twice in January, with two different people, and for the first (and second) time in over six months.

I am getting an abortion. There’s no two ways to Sunday on that one. I have an appointment today to confirm that I am eligible for a medical abortion. I will know the father and the day I am extracting it from my body. Father? Am I a mother now?

I don’t know. I also don’t know who to tell. If it’s the second man, I will tell him. I don’t know how to contact the first. And other than potentially one persona, I don’t have anyone. My family and my best friends, mentors, and former coworkers, would probably all know what to say, but I don’t want to hear any one close to me’s opinions or point of views. I don’t want to be able to hear any one else’s voice in my mind other than my own right now. At least until I know more.

How having an abortion made me a better parent

30 Jan

What makes a person a good parent? I don’t know the answer for everyone, but for me, it means that I’m committed to teaching my son how to be non-judgmental, confident, and caring. It also means teaching my son the importance of education for himself and for all people, to talk about human rights, and to emphasize that he should always try to be open to new ideas and to spot and challenge certain forms of group thinking.

If I had another baby screaming at night, the creeping feeling of utter aloneness would be worse than I have ever experienced–I can almost assure anyone that. To raise another human being, alone, would not be a confidence building feat in myself, and thus I know with utter certainty that instilling confidence in my son would be difficult.

To have another child would be to fail at giving all that I can to my existing son.

When my son was 3 years old, I was newly divorced having finally escaped an abusive relationship. I was depressed, broken, and very lacking in any sense of self. Who I was and what I wanted from life seemed foreign. I was floating around like a ghost in my father’s house, too angry to talk to anyone without yelling, and barely able to make it up each morning to get into work. I had dropped out of college, and I felt like nothing but the biggest failure ever. This time of my life still haunts me for a number of reasons, not the least of which being how emotionally closed off I was to the people rooting for me: my son, and those closest to me in my family.

I went out a lot, drank too much, and although those things aren’t inherently wrong or bad, the alcohol made me especially careless with sex partners. It was as if I cared so little for myself that making my partner wear a condom during sex didn’t really matter.

One afternoon, I was sitting at my desk in the cramped and lifeless cubicle that I used to joke was “as barren and lifeless as my soul,” when suddenly I felt the urge to eat. So I grabbed a bite of my half eaten Subway sandwich, chewed, and promptly bent over the trash to throw it all up. I went home sick, not because I felt physically ill, but because I knew now what I had been trying to deny: I was pregnant.

I didn’t even take a pregnancy test for another week because I wouldn’t get paid until then and no, I didn’t have a dollar to buy one from the Dollar Tree. I was that broke, and had just emptied my change jar into my gas tank and purchased a few kitchen staples so my son wouldn’t starve. When I finally did take that pregnancy test, it was positive immediately, as I knew it would be. I wasn’t upset, or shocked, or any other emotion beside absolutely terrified.

I could not be pregnant, I did not want to be pregnant, I felt to be pregnant would be like dying for nine months.

After consulting with a doctor, who confirmed with another pregnancy test that I was in fact pregnant, she told me “you have some options, “ and I replied, “ when can I schedule a termination?”

She said quietly, “ you need to wait to schedule with us for at least twenty four hours.”

My mind screamed and my eyes dried up because I wouldn’t cry in front of her and have her think this was a tough decision. I wanted to say, “lady, I have been here before, literally and figuratively, and I know in the deepest depths of my soul what I am going to do, so get the appointment book and write!”

I thanked her and walked out alone, sat in my car, slumped, before I called my boss and said,

“I’m pregnant, can you see which days are going to work for me to take off so I can get an abortion?”

Boss: “Oh my gosh, are you okay? Sophia, why didn’t you use a condom!?”

“Because, I don’t know, but I know I’m not going to be pregnant so which days work for the department for me to be out. One day off should be fine, I just don’t want to schedule for a day that ya’ll need me to be there.”

Boss: “we’re in the middle of open enrollment. Um, I’m leaving on Friday for some broker meetings, so try if you can to schedule a few weeks out. Just one day , though? Is that enough?”

“Yeah, should be, I don’t really know though. I’ll fill out a request for time off, I’m just going to put medical leave as the reason.”

Boss: “okay, good luck.”

She was a wonderful boss, and I stay in contact with her still, years after leaving that god-awful place. We were always close and she shared my pro-choice sentiments. I always told her , as she told me, that an unplanned pregnancy would be terminated, that I just couldn’t emotionally, physically, or financially care for another pregnancy or human being. I called her then because she was the only one available in that moment that I knew would listen to me and be at least a little supportive.

Although she is my friend, her response was very much a boss-like reaction. I was needed at work to cover for her absence and do my work on time for our clients, and any absence would be troublesome. Hence her suggestion that I schedule things a few weeks out. This is typical and most certainly a barrier for many people seeking to make time to have an abortion.

Because I did not want to wait 24 hours to schedule an appointment, I called around to the many Portland-area clinics that perform abortions and asked for openings and pricing. The consensus was that an abortion without anesthesia would be about $300 cheaper, and the abortion pill being approximately the same price as non-anesthetic D & C.

I had heard from a family member that the abortion pill was awful for her, so I scheduled an appointment for the non-anesthetic procedure 2 weeks out, the same day I would be getting paid. The entire check did not cover the almost $500 cost, so I sold some clothes and purses to Buffalo Exchange to just barely meet the cost. I knew that I wouldn’t be paying my bills that month and that I would probably have to ask my dad for some money, but I didn’t care. I was relieved to have the appointment scheduled and was finally able to get some rest.

I have written before about the procedure itself, so I won’t rehash that in full detail. It was painful, and a bit awkward as the doctor talked openly about miscellaneous topics, but it was no where near as traumatic or as painful as childbirth. The antibiotics and pain meds they gave me put me to sleep quickly and I had my dad pick up my son from pre-school. I told him that day that I had a kidney infection (I have suffered from those periodically throughout my life) and locked myself in my room. When I woke the next day I called sick into work, eliciting a big sigh from my boss and serious guilt on my part, but I just wanted to rest and sleep.

That month, I asked friends and family for money. Twenty dollars here, twenty dollars there to meet all my missed bills and payments. The stress of the financial sort is always awful, but this time, doubly so. During that time, it elicited a gnawing feeling of guilt and treason as I lied to family members in order to get a few dollars to pay for groceries, feeling as if I couldn’t be honest with them about where my pay check had gone.

Those bubbling notions of worthlessness were only kept at bay by one simple fact: I was not pregnant.

Even though an abortion can be a serious thing for some people, I felt nothing but relief and happiness afterward. I hugged my son tight and took him to the park the weekend after my procedure. We laughed, and giggled, he read a little to me and I read a little to him.

I have never felt true happiness and have struggled openly with depression and bi-polar disorder, but that weekend was a good one. I was so incredibly relieved to not be pregnant and I felt I had a fresh lease on life as a parent. Having an abortion saved me and made me a better parent.

Fast forward five years and I’m a college graduate, abortion rights activist, freelance writer, and career -with-a- 401k-and-savings-account woman who loves her work. My son enjoys an array of curricular and extra-curricular activities, runs around the neighborhood with his friends building tree forts and constructing launch-able spaceships in our back yard. He’s happy and joyful in a way I don’t remember feeling. His joy brings me joy, and while I continue to work through my depression and serious bouts of self doubt. I know that if I were to have had another child, five years old now, my son’s quality of life would have been decreased as would that of the child.

I spoke with my dad on the phone the other day about the pros and cons of entering law school or graduate school, and I said, “with my son, and I love him to death, but everything is twice as hard to do.” With another child on my hip, everything would be 4 times as hard. His response to me,” just because you’re a parent, and a very young one at that, does not mean you don’t get to have and to live your dreams. You can only control you. ”

A year after I had that abortion I broke my leg. My dad was there to cook and clean, take and pick up my son from school, and help out in general. He noticed a stack of papers on my desk with a sticky note reading, “to be filed.” So as I slept, he helpfully went to file them. He happened upon an itemized receipt for tax purposes from the clinic where I had the abortion. When I woke up, he asked me if we could talk , in that voice from your parents that indicates something very serious needs to be said. He showed me the receipt and said, “ I love you very much.”

Today, he gets it. As do many others in my family. They see first hand how things are hard for parents, single parents at that. My dad’s support on the phone was in part his way of asking me not to be too hard on myself. And he is right, because we can only control ourselves.

I sometimes imagine not being able to control whether I had a baby or not. To not be able to control myself.

It’s a nightmare I’ve had, where I have woken up in a panic feeling my belly, making sure I wasn’t eight months pregnant and waiting for that feeling of relief as my mind slipped back into reality.

Talking about abortion with my local coffee grind barista

12 Dec

This morning, I had a talk about abortion and the monster that is abortion stigma with the guy that makes my coffee. It was a wide-ranging conversation and for both of us I think, informative. When I left I was surprised I even had the conversation because for all my tough talk online about being open about abortion and decreasing abortion stigma, trusting people to talk about abortion outside of activist spaces is especially difficult for me.

The conversation started innocently enough, when he asked what I plan to do today. I replied with, “I think I’m going to write,” and the conversation took off from there. “What will you write?” he asked.  I hesitated. It’s a pause I’m sure many pro-choice activists are well acquainted with, that moment it takes to assess whether you trust the person you’re speaking with to not go H.A.M. when they find out you’re pro-choice. In the back of my mind I was wondering if I should just go with the default, “I write about the Blazers and other sports,” or if I should be honest. Hiding the fact that I’m an abortion rights activist is energy consuming and violates the basic tenets of my beliefs. That I am an unrepentant abortion rights activist is a fact that is constantly warring with my need for self-protection and a small mama-bear streak that arises when I feel sharing what I do with people that could pose a threat to my son.

Call it a sad carry over from anti-choice violence and the threats and online stalking I had to deal with after #10forTebow took off.

I paused long enough to elicit a strange look from my the barista and then I just did it. I said, “I’m going to write about abortion access in rural spaces and how decreasing funding hurts poor women and poor families.” I kept my self from cringing, barely. Not because I was ashamed, but because I was nervous. Even though I live in urban Portland, Oregon – one of the most liberal places in the country- I still wonder what the response could be.

“Yeah , thanks Hyde.”

DOINK. Hello floor, it’s Sophia, allow me to get up from this dead faint.

Not only did he not balk at my activism, he zeroed right in on one of the main issues blocking abortion access, the Hyde Amendment. Our conversation sped off from there, and we chatted openly about everything from legislation like the life-at-fertilization bills to how institutionalization of the idea that abortion should be safe, legal and rare creates and perpetuates stigma. He kept saying, “its just so cool that there are people writing about this.” And his coworker, a woman I think is about my age chimed in, “I love this conversation, you guys rock.”

Fine, so a conversation at my coffee shop isn’t earth shattering. But it is a small step for me, in decreasing stigma and overcoming my own fear of discussing abortion in perceived non-safe spaces.  It’s one thing to talk about the need to discuss abortion openly while sitting in a Sociology program’s classroom on a college campus, or while online in an activist-centric forum, and quite another to walk-the-walk.

Today’s discussion could have been awkward, it could have ended in violence even, but I decided the risk to open up was worth it. Talking about abortion can be tough, but small discussions like the one I had this morning, I do honestly believe, can do much good in our quest to decrease a culture of abortion stigma.

I Am Terrified of Having a Daughter

6 Dec

One of our authors wrote what someone called a “beautiful love letter to her eggs” (it really is!) and I found it made me warm and sort of gooey. I thought about what I would like to say in a letter to a someday-daughter – I’m surrounded by children now, in my office, in my personal life, they’re everywhere – and I got a little stuck because, try as I might to think of something inspiring or powerful or comforting, something that I would have liked to read during the difficult years in my life, all I could think, the one sentence thundering through my head, was sad and resigned:

“I hope the world doesn’t fuck you up too badly, sweetie.”

I’ve only ever thought, when I’ve thought of having children in passing, of having a daughter. I think this is because I believe it represents, given my personal values, the greater of the two gendered challenges. By “challenge” I mean “a thought so fucking terrifying it cripples me.” Daughters. Little girls. All the neediness, the insecurity, the vicious things visited upon young women from infancy through adulthood – what could be more terrifying as a parent? It’s terrifying as a big sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend, never mind as the first and last line of defense that a parent often represents or expresses the desire to be. How can I fairly bring a girl into this world knowing that the odds of her being raped, assaulted, and abused are so very, very high? What of the smaller daily humiliations and their physical manifestations, like the high rates of eating disorders?

I think the best way I could raise a “boy” would be with self-respect, respect for others, kindness and feminist values. I think I would be almost too pleased to raise a gender non-normative kid, knowing that their challenges would be so utterly unique and hoping they would trust me so we could face them together, invent new ways to live. But a girl? A child who wants to present as a girl, be recognized as a girl, live and move through the world as a girl? That thought unhinges me. So much can go wrong. So much is beyond me, beyond my control. I would wake up every morning knowing for a fact that the world would enact some pretty awful hurts on her, and the best I could ever do would be to teach her to minimize the damage, to get up every morning and live with the most joy she’s personally capable of, and to never give up. Is the difficulty of life as a girl the life I would want to offer a child? I’m grateful for mine, certainly, but I wonder if I could consciously choose to bring a child into what I know would be a difficult if not debilitating reality. And, most importantly, I wonder if I could possibly rise to the challenge of giving that child everything it would need and never faltering in my own faith and belief.

We’ve got a baby girl in my office for the month whose mother is just rejoining us after maternity leave. This mama is fierce beyond belief; tiny of body but huge of spirit, her presence takes up a whole room. Baby is going to be bilingual, beautiful, and a force to be reckoned with. The earliest years of her life will be spent between continents, and in New York City; she will always be surrounded by strong, loud feminists who don’t hesitate to yell and share opinions, who never let her spoiled butt hit the chair because everyone wants to hold her and tell her how amazing she is. It doesn’t seem like a bad life at all, I’ll tell you. But what about when she goes to school? What about mean spirited classmates? What about the news, when she realized her parents are immigrants and she’s the only naturalized American citizen? What about the “what ifs” I can’t even contemplate here, the things that happen around the world every second of the day that break us? What about when we can’t all carry her all the time?

What do you think? Do you want kids? Do you think, or care, about gender? Anyone want to talk about the intersections of race, ability, class and sexuality that I didn’t even touch here? I have questions!

My Clinic Home: A Love Story

26 Oct

Last month I went home to Fredericton, the city where I met my love, to marry him (my love, not the city). The following weekend we attended the wedding of two dear friends who also met in Fredericton – at the abortion clinic where I used to work.

You can read the story from Tania here – it’s really sweet, although of course I am biased (I’m the Peggy in the story! Confusingly age-inappropriate!). People who know me know that I love love, and it absolutely warms my heart to think that two people I care about not only met, but decided to marry, in the parking lot of a place that has been the site of so much drama and heartache. Love is often political, and I feel like proposing to Tania in that spot was a radical act on her partner’s behalf – like they were taking back that space for love.

Spaces hold meaning, and in small communities they hold many memories and associations. When the abortion clinic opened in Fredericton, the adjacent middle school was closed for the day out of fear of violence. Friends of mine who went to that school remember this vividly; for many, it was the only reason they knew there was an abortion clinic in our city before I started volunteering there. And still when the school (which is downtown and doesn’t have any outdoor exercise space) has outdoor gym classes or safety drills, the kids are often running by protesters holding up giant gory anti-abortion signs.

During their annual March for Life, anti-choice protesters reach over the back fence that divides our clinic from their crisis pregnancy centre (yeah, it’s next door) and rub holy water in the shape of the cross on to the building. The small fences create a boundary where the protesters are not allowed to walk on clinic days. A safe zone.

When my partner had a summer job painting dumpsters (so glamorous!), before my association with the clinic, he started on the abortion clinic dumpster when the clinic manager – now a dear friend of ours – came out and eyed him suspiciously, asking what he was doing messing around with their garbage. The dumpster is kept locked. Anti-choice people will dig through it to find medical records and waste – things that would never be thrown out with the regular garbage, but never mind.

At the clinic I have seen people crying, screaming, hugging, sleeping, barfing and fighting. I have gently urged people out of their cars through an onslaught of protesters. I helped one woman climb over the fence when she realized she had accidentally parked at the crisis pregnancy centre. I have played with patients’ children, soothed their mothers, hugged their friends. I have refused entry to countless aggressive men, and hung up on many more. I have frozen my ass off in the parking lot, and had some of the funniest, deepest and most engaging conversations of my life with the other volunteers, and with the patients’ friends. Before I worked in the clinic, I volunteered outside – I spent hours patrolling those fragile boundaries. There’s no physical space in my life that I have protected so vehemently. I huddled there with a mass of strangers, holding candles, when Dr. Tiller died. I sat inside at my desk ignoring the stares of protesters through the window, willing myself to keep the blind open.

I thought of that space as my friends enjoyed their first dance together at their wedding. How truly lovely that a space that held (and holds) the hopes and fears of so many of the people that I care about should give birth to this moment. How strange the evolution of the places we call home.