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16 and Pregnant, Season 5, Episode 1: The Recap

20 Apr

We’re recapping 16 and Pregnant, Season 5!  The first episode of the season starts with Maddy, who’s 16 and from Tinley Park, Illinois. You can watch the episode online here

 

MTV

Megan: Should we start by talking about why we wanted to write about this, besides that we secretly love watching reality television?

Chanel:  I always feel like a terrible reproductive justice activist when I watch this show. I think one of my reasons for wanting to recap is to place an RJ lens onto it, if that’s possible.

M: I totally agree. I think there is a lot of possibility, and when I watch it I always find myself rooting for the moms to be able to make their own decisions without the adults in their lives telling them that they’ve messed up. But when I was thinking about us wanting to watch this for those reasons, I was also thinking about why this show is still on and why so many other people watch it? What do we see in that narrative put out by MTV to scare and shame young people? Why are we fascinated by that as a theme and willing to watch it happen over and over again? Why do people want to see that and not the story we see through our frameworks?

C:  We need to see young women as being incapable of making good choices. Like,  no matter what, I’m not sure M could have made a choice that would have made the audience feel okay about her getting pregnant. Sex is wrong and terrible, and young women are stupid and irresponsible. I think that’s pretty ingrained into our narrative.

One thing MTV has done is bust up the idea that it’s young women of color who get pregnant as teens-the girls on this show are mostly white.

M: That’s true. But while they’re defying the stereotype that it’s only poor girls of color who are getting pregnant, it’s also blocking those girls from seeing their own experiences. So we’re also choosing the narrative of middle-class white girls over low-income girls of color.

C: AGAIN. And perpetually.

M:  As Gretchen Sisson says more eloquently than I have stated here: “Teen Mom will depict an argument with a romantic partner in great detail, but consistently overlook the real sources of struggle that lots of young mothers face: constant stigma and ridicule, lack of social support, and the challenge of accessing public benefits.”

On that note, let’s get into it.

C: The Other Baby, Maddy’s half sister Alyssa, has ears that stick out and is therefore a full on distraction for me.

M: Oh poor thing! One night stand. That is rough. Wait…haven’t we already had a baby named Aubrey?

C: SO MANY Aubreys. I think this is 3?

M: I hope this guy shows up to the doctor’s appointment. It’s such a positive thing to have the boyfriend at the ultrasound appointment. Can you even imagine being 16 and then getting pregnant with someone you just met and then having to figure out what you’re going to do? Like, I couldn’t even deal with just figuring out how to dress appropriately and what to decorate my locker with, let alone plan my entire future family. I don’t think I could have handled it.

C: Cody-“I should have paid more attention in health class. I should have used a condom.” Now would not be a terrible time to mention that it’s also  important that the girl be able to say, “Hey, maybe put on a condom?”

M: Wow, Mom is laying on the shame here.

C:  Oh my gd, Maddy’s mother. SHE CAN STILL BE A LAWYER.

M: Here’s the thing, it’s not going to “be a long time” before she’s going to get to do what she wants to do. Because right now she wants to be a mom. Maddy is more “responsible”-sounding than Mom at this point. She’s able to hold both that she did something she would consider a mistake and also own up to that she can’t change the past and now sees a new vision for herself. That’s a pretty adult thing to realize. But Mom is stuck in this “either/or” thinking.

C: There was an episode a few seasons ago where the girl’s dad was also like, “Hi, just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to live with the dude.” Also, here we are again with the “He ruined your life.”

M: Yeah. I just want to yell at them, “YOUR LIFE IS NOT RUINED”. And then give them hugs. I know I’m going to just keep saying this over and over but how responsible are these kids being? They are not romantically involved but their relationship has evolved to be this mutually-beneficial partnership where they are trying to figure this out together.

C: The word “responsible” in these situations always scares me. There are a lot of ways to be responsible, right? Abortion and adoption  are also examples of being responsible.

M: So true. We throw around that word like there’s a morally right and wrong way of being and no gray area. When I was 16 I couldn’t even function in my own home let alone move to an unfamiliar environment with a baby. That is scary shit.

C: Other Baby is the real star here. Sorry, Maddy.

M: What is the plot I’m supposed to be paying attention to? Adorable Baby? Staring at camera?

C: “The only time we ever left his house was to buy a pregnancy test.” Real talk.

M: High school dates: Still as awkward even if you having a baby together.

C: HERE COMES (MORE OF) THE SEXISM. “What kid do you know who has his mom’s last name?” CODY. PLEASE GET IN THE TIME MACHINE AND COME BACK FROM THE SIXTIES.

M: After Maddy raises her baby and takes her first gender studies class she is going to be so impressed by the way she handled this situation and refused to submit to the patriarchy.

C: There’s always stuff on this show about girls going from size zero to size 14 or whatever while pregnant. No one is ever a size 14 originally.

M: Yeah, and the size difference is always talked about like it’s the worst possible thing.

C: Here I will apply my creepily encyclopedic knowledge of this show and point out that Jamie in season 3 asked her doctor  if her stretch marks would go away when asked what she was most worried about. It’s normal, I know, but the emphasis is still bothering me.

M: Is this the appropriate time to mention that my cats really are into this right now? Or they want dinner. It’s one of those.

C: Cats love MTV.

M: You’re really missing out on this nail polish commercial where models rub their hands all over men’s faces.

C: Is it disembodied hands? Or can you see the models’ faces?

M: Disembodied, obviously.

C: Of course. Faces are superfluous. Especially on women.

M: As soon as you see faces, you think “people” with “minds”.

C: Just cut to the chase! This is about nail polish! AND MEN..

M: Not just any men, “alluring men”, says Youtube. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.

C: I will be buying a lot of this nail polish. You are working, capitalism.

M: You just get me, MTV.

C: Oh, here comes Cody’s patriarchy induced temper tantrum.(re: Maddy wanting Aubrey to have her last name.)

M: The way that the men/boys act and fight about the last name stuff just reminds me about how the patriarchy hurts everyone. It makes people feel like they have to hold to these systemic ideals, and when those ideals are not met it makes people feel bad, like something is being taken away from them and like they’re not in control.

C: Yes! And not being able to show that something (a lady, a child, etc) is YOURS is threatening. It undercuts your masculinity.

M: Now is the only part where I feel old and yell, “Are you seriously telling them you’re not moving in via text?” Is that what the kids are doing these days?

C: Ughh. This makes me want to get a lawn so I can tell kids to get off of it.

M: I support Maddy in her decision to do what’s best for her and move into the environment where she feels most comfortable and supported, but if I were Cody and his mom, I would have preferred receiving that information in person. But I am not 16 so what do I know!

C: What do we know about on line classes in high school and if they keep ple from dropping out?

M: It seems like a great model to me, but I’d be interested to hear more about it. There must be data on it somewhere.

C: I really like M’s dad pushing her to do what’s best for her. And I’m reminded of how much of a role class plays in all this. I mean, her dad has an extra room in a house.

M: Yeah, an extra room and enough income to be able to feed two additional people!

C: Do we think Maddy’s jeans came with those holes?

M: I like how we’re not judgemental about teen moms but we are judgmental about teen fashion. And methods of virtual communication. And baby names.

C: I mean, I’m not made of stone.  So, do we have closing thoughts?

M: I guess mine are that the show is trying to paint Maddy as an irresponsible teenager who got herself into a serious and terrible situation that she can’t get out of, but I think there’s another more powerful narrative that she faced getting pregnant as a challenge instead of an obstacle, was able to stay true to herself, and has a solid vision of what she wants her future to look like and what she can accomplish.

I think we should end by sending some love and well wishes to Maddy and baby.

C: Agreed. (Maddy, I’m sorry about what I said about your jeans.)

 

We’ll be back with another recap next Sunday! 16 and Pregnant airs Mondays at 10/9 c. 

 

Abortion Gang at CLPP 2014

14 Apr

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Bloggers from Abortion Gang recently spent 3 days at the radical glory that is the CLPP conference, and we tweeted up a storm! You can find the tweets by searching #CLPP2014 on Twitter.

Check out Abortion Gang bloggers @chaneldubofsky, @annapopinchalk, and at @PProvide, as well as @graceishuman,@OpinionessWorld, @AbortionChat,  @RBraceySherman@poonam_pai ,

@SisterSong_WOC@LeahDoolittle@KimberlyInezDC@aimeett and others.

 

Stay tuned to Abortion Gang for more blog posts on CLPP!

 

 

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“She was on the side of the Lord”- Anti Choice Rhetoric, Religion, and Ownership

19 Feb

This is a guest post by Leigh Sanders. 

One thing volunteering as an escort at a reproductive health clinic has taught me is anti-choice protesters have an exorbitant amount of time to oversee the reproductive lives of their neighbors. Since they believe they are acting on religious orders to participate in this sort of secular voyeurism, they have been willing to physically and emotionally harm those that get in the way of their mission. Therefore, we are trained as clinic escorts to never engage with protesters. I am limited in my intervention to meeting patients at their vehicles and offering to shield them with my big rainbow umbrella from the unholy provocation that loudly follows us to the door. Throughout history women and girls have been subjected to this sort of harassment when they exercise self-determination.

I made the mistake of walking up to a car with two anti-choice  folks this morning and one of the women got out and righteously proclaimed she was “not one of us, because she was on the side of the Lord.” I had to wonder whether the Lord would actually claim her. I mean technically, she is saying the Lord is the kind of guy who would spend his down time shouting, criticizing and frightening the hell out of people. It would seem that the Lord would be busy on the other side of those women’s choices, the side that ensures children never go hungry, employment is plentiful, housing choices affordable and sexual violence eradicated.

So here is what working on the side of the Lord looks like to people who protest at abortion clinics. They stop cars from parking by acting official, as if they might be working for the clinic. When the unsuspecting person rolls down the window, propaganda, void of scientific fact, is shoved inside their car. For instance, the pamphlet uses the picture of a stillborn baby to depict an abortion despite the reality that nearly every single abortion in this country occurs on or before the 8th week. The clinic escort must intercede so the patient can arrive promptly for their scheduled appointment because the protester’s aim is to make them miss their allotted time.

Once the patients proceed to the front door, the protesters start yelling at them about the psychological “trauma” they will suffer afterwards, their impending status as a “baby-killer” and the many “resources” available to them that they are not utilizing. Today, one woman yelled back “Resources? What resources? You mean welfare?”  The male protesters explained they meant the resources that come from “loving Jesus.” There is a less aggressive group of protesters that arrange pictures of Jesus to face the clinic and while holding rosaries sing hymns about hell and damnation. They are the “good” ones because they do not seem motivated to physically harm anyone. Then there are the ones like the woman who specifically addressed her allegiance with the Lord; they greet the incoming cars as if in a funeral procession holding signs that presumptuously proclaim “Your Mother Kept You.”  The protesters surround the clinic until the last patient arrives and then their work is done. It is not known whether Jesus is proud of them for their stamina to harass or disappointed with them for their failure to shame. Either way they will return on Monday, ever seeking the Holy Grail of religious intolerance.

The police do not get called because the protesters are not breaking any laws. Of course, neither are the girls and women who are entering the clinic. Yet, their rights are at the mercy of fanatics who use deception, violence, judgment, intolerance and moral superiority to scar the lives of people they have never met. Because the one thing an anti-women’s health terrorist abhors more than abortion, it is a society that grants women sovereignty over their own bodies.

 

Life support is a reproductive justice issue, too

27 Jan

It’s a story that by now most of America has already heard, and no matter what side of the fence you sit on, it is heartbreaking. In the early morning of November 26, 2013, 14-week pregnant Marlise Muñoz of Texas was found unconscious in her home and rushed to a hospital. Her husband Erick was told that she most likely suffered a pulmonary embolism, she was brain-dead, and that the fetus may have been deprived of oxygen. Marlise and Erick were both trained paramedics, and Erick believed that she would never choose to prolong her suffering, so he and her family chose to terminate her life support.

The hospital, however, had different plans, and informed the family they would not remove her ventilators and respirators, citing a Texas law that hospital spokesperson Jill Labbe says prevents them from “withhold[ing] or withdraw[ing] life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient”. The law was passed in 1989 and amended in 1999, and while the hospital maintains that it has followed the letter of the law, medical ethics experts say they are misinterpreting it. Legal experts and Muñoz’s family are speaking up to change the law. The essential question is whether the law applies to brain-dead patients or whether it was intended for pregnant women in comas or vegetative states.

While my effort to research the history of this particular law to trace anti-choice influence failed, a New York Times article did attribute Drexel University bioethicist Katherine A. Taylor with the information that this and similar laws nationwide were adopted in a period in which the public was concerned with “advance directives about end-of-life care like living wills and health care proxies…The provisions to protect fetuses, she said, helped ease the qualms of the Roman Catholic Church and others about such directives”. Another medical ethics expert, Jeffrey P. Spike of the University of Texas – Houston, said in the same article that other brain dead women had been kept on life support to keep the fetus alive, but every case he was aware of was supported by the family’s wishes.

While this is not a case that involves abortion, it is interesting to note that at 14 weeks gestation, Marlise Muñoz, had she been conscious, could have legally chosen to obtain one for any reason. Yet after brain death occurred, her husband who legally would hold power of attorney rights could not make an end of life decision for her and their unborn child, who most likely would either not live or have gravely impacted quality of life due to lack of oxygen.

And let me clear, because the fetus we now know has been very seriously harmed. At 14 weeks gestation, all the doctors knew was that the fetus had a heartbeat. They said they could do more testing between 22 and 24 weeks, and this week, at 22 weeks, they have now conceded that the fetus is not viable. It has fluid build-up on its brain, its lower extremities are so deformed that gender cannot be determined, and it may have a heart problem. The suffering of Marlise Muñoz and her family has been mercilessly prolonged while the state forced her to be an incubator for a fetus that could not survive anyway. This was hardly a guessing game; medically there was very little chance that the fetus would survive. NYU bioethicist Arthur Caplan wrote an editorial for the LA Times detailing why John Peter Smith Hospital was misinterpreting law and also argued that the law was unconstitutional. In a later exchange with Emily Bazelon at Slate, he says there are “almost no cases of trying to bring a 14-week-old to term in this circumstance”.

The story does seem to be coming to a just but sad end, as a Texas judge on Friday, January 24, ordered the hospital to remove Marlise from life support by 5:00 p.m. on Monday. The hospital may appeal but Labbe has said, “the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction, and resolution in this matter”. The judge declined to speak to whether the law in question was constitutional.

While the Muñoz family is hopefully reaching the end of this terrible battle and can lay to rest Marlise and the once potential child they had looked forward to welcoming into the family, this case must serve to open the eyes of those concerned with reproductive justice issues. This law is the sort that sounds good on paper but is pushed by anti-choice zealots to further the precedent for giving the fetus rights that supersede those of women. Thirty-one states have laws on the books restricting end of life decisions for terminally ill pregnant women, and Texas is one of 12 with the most strict laws, requiring life support even in earliest pregnancy. Let me rephrase that: in more than 60% of states, women, their families, and even their doctors may have no say-so in a decision to be removed from life support if the woman is pregnant. In almost one-quarter of states, it does not matter if the pregnancy just began and the fetus has been harmed to the point of having no quality of life. It seems to me that when a woman has the legal right to terminate a pregnancy, a woman who is legally dead should not be kept mechanically alive to incubate a fetus despite her next of kin’s wish to remove life support.

Marlise’s family has said several times they don’t view this as a pro-life or a pro-choice issue, and while I must respectfully disagree, it is important that we respect her memory and do not take part in continuing to make their experience so painful. While anti-abortion protestors congregated outside of the courthouse on Friday and Marlise’s family had to push through them, reproductive justice advocates should honor Marlise as a woman and mother and beloved family member. Marlise and her unborn child deserved a more dignified end of life than what they have had and her family deserves peace and healing. This law robs everyone involved of their dignity and does nothing to protect or respect the people facing such devastating experiences.
The hospital announced Sunday morning that it would comply with the judge’s order and not appeal the decision, removing Marlise Muñoz from life support by 5 PM on Monday. Less than an hour later, the family released a statement that she had been removed from life support.

Rick Perry, Do Not be Surprised Wendy Davis is a Young Mom

27 Jun

By now we all know that Wendy Davis, hero of the Texas Senate and toast of Twitter, became a mother at age nineteen. In fact, one of the earlier Associated Press pieces that the New York Times published on the filibuster was headlined “Ex-Teen Mom Heads Filibuster Versus Abortion Limit” (whether due to updates, awkward construction, or over-simplicity, the headline has since been changed).

As an advocate for young parents, I was thrilled to learn this somewhere around hour 8 of Davis’s filibuster. Not only does this detail make her personal narrative very compelling, but it means that — while we live in a world that shames young parents and implies they can’t change the world – Davis stands as a powerful counterexample from the top of her raised fist to the bottom of her pink running shoes (which, by the way, are described on Amazon as “Rouge Red” and reviewed as “guaranteed to outrun patriarchy”). While I’m sure Davis is a motivation to many people with widely varying life stories, I hope she’ll be a particular inspiration to young mothers, demonstrating that their futures are not limited because they have children.

There is, of course, an alternate way to spin this part of Davis’s biography, and leave it to Rick Perry to deliver it. Perry stated:

It is just unfortunate that [Davis] hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.

Perry can’t comprehend why Davis would be pro-choice, it seems, because she chose to become a mother after (what he’s assuming was) an unplanned pregnancy at a younger age. (He’s also setting up a false dichotomy between women who get abortions and women who become mothers, ignoring the fact that most women who get abortions are already mothers, and an even greater majority intend to become mothers at some point in their lives.)

The obvious thing that he’s failing to realize, of course, is that pro-choice is pro-choice, and making your choice doesn’t mean you think others should be denied the same options. But the more subtle point is that Davis made a stigmatized reproductive choice, and that having done so likely better equips her to understand the value of destigmatizing and making accessible all reproductive options. There’s often a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” option for pregnant teens: do they want to be shamed for getting an abortion, or shamed for being a young mom? This may be why many young mothers are pro-choice: because they were young parents.

Look at Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood and another Texas teen mom, or Lauren Bruce, founder of Feministe, or Andy Kopsa, writer for RH Reality Check, or Gloria Malone and Natasha Vianna, both activists helping lead the #NoTeenShame campaign against stigmatizing teen pregnancy prevention ads. And, lest we forget, there’s our own Sophia blogging here at Abortion Gang.

Rick Perry might find it incongruous for a former young mom, whom he views as “choosing life” under less-than-ideal circumstances, to stand for thirteen hours against a bill to gut abortion access — but I see it as an intuitive political response to her own life story. And I see young mothers not just participating in our reproductive justice movement, but helping to lead it.

Dr. Tiller was my abortion provider and he changed my life

31 May

A guest post by an author who wishes to remain anonymous.

I remember waking up on my 23rd birthday and deciding today was the day I had to acknowledge the pregnancy I had been carrying since February — my birthday is in August. Although I had been raised in a solidly pro-choice family, I was incredibly ashamed of myself for getting pregnant and found that denial was the easy out. I tried everything I could in the beginning to force miscarriage; I remember hitting myself in the stomach, getting so drunk I would hold a trash bag to throw up into and then drink more, and taking every medication I had in my little apartment in the hopes that something would work. Nothing did.

My boyfriend was living in another state and I will never forget the phone call I made from our little apartment to tell him the news. I’m lucky today that I can call him husband; it was this pregnancy situation that helped me see what a wonderful man he is. After hearing about the pregnancy, he resigned his internship and jumped on a plane the next day to come home. We went to our local clinic and, of course, were told I was too far along for them to help. 24 weeks pregnant. 24 weeks.

We went to see a later abortion provider 70 miles away and were again told no. We traveled three hours to another clinic, but I was just days beyond their limit. Another no. But they had one last little tiny bit of hope. As we left the clinic one of the women behind the counter handed me a card with a name and a phone number written on it: Dr. George Tiller, 316-684-5108. Little did I know, this card would change my life.

My boyfriend and I made the long drive back home and made the phone call. The woman on the other end of the line was one of the kindest, most caring individuals I had ever spoken with. She didn’t start the call asking how far along I was or how much money I had, she asked if I was okay. She walked me through the scheduling process with care and love, and checked in with me multiple times in the days before we again made the long trip to Dr. Tiller’s clinic.

I was terrified as I rode in the car, couldn’t sleep the night before we went to the clinic for the first time, and watched my hands shake as we walked into the clinic for the first time. We couldn’t afford to pay the cost of the abortion on our own but were lucky my parents agreed to help us with funding; many women don’t have this luxury. Later I would learn of many funds throughout the United States who exist solely to help women pay for their abortions.

From the moment we checked in it was clear this was the place I was supposed to be. Looking across the room at the faces of the people who were there with us: husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, mother and fathers with their daughters, I felt less alone; I wasn’t the only one. As Dr. Tiller walked into the room, everyone silenced. He smiled. “Welcome,” he said. His first word was exactly how I felt.

I was lucky to have Dr. Tiller provide my abortion. I was lucky to have been taken care of by his incredible staff. I was lucky to be part of the program he had built for his clients, including counseling, care, and love that was needed during a very difficult time. When it was time for us to return home, I remember feeling conflicted. I didn’t want to leave this safe space. I wanted to stay here with the people who understood and supported what I had just been through, but I knew it was time to go home, and I knew I had support in Wichita whenever I needed it. I was ready to move on and not let this experience hold me back. Thank you Dr. Tiller for your wonderful care. You are missed every day.

Remembering Dr. Tiller: A Call for Collective Remembrance

29 May

This Friday, May 31, 2013 marks the 4th anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s murder. One year ago, we at the Abortion Gang and the Provider Project hosted a collective blog call for remembrance in his honor, and we’d like to make this an annual tradition. Unfortunately, threats against abortion providers are still all too real and we are fighting an ongoing battle against abortion restrictions across the United States. This year has seen a surge particularly in laws banning abortion after certain points in pregnancy, from a 12-week ban in Arkansas to the recent proposal to ban abortion nationwide after 20 weeks. Dr. Tiller was widely known for his 2nd and 3rd trimester abortion care, and it was ultimately his unwavering commitment to providing these services that was the reason for his assassination four years ago.

In light of that, we’d like for posts this year to address the question of later abortions, specifically those performed in the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Your post could use some of the following questions as a jumping-off point:

  • Why are there so few later abortion providers in this country? How can we improve the situation so that more doctors provide this care?
  • Why is it so important that abortion remain legal past 20 weeks?
  • How would a nationwide 20-week ban affect the country, or your community? How might it affect your personal reproductive health decisions?

In your post, please link back to this blog post so that folks can come here and find links to other reflections on Dr. Tiller.

The Abortion Gang and The Provider Project will post links to pieces written answering this question, starting Friday, May 31 through the following Friday, June 7. Please feel free to forward this call for posts to anyone who you think would be interested in honoring Dr. Tiller’s legacy. Send the links to your posts to info@iamdrtiller.com and lily@theproviderproject.org, tweet them to @AbortionGang and @Provider Project, or leave them in the comments.

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.

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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.

Sharing Abortion Stories: Similar Experiences, but Never the Same

22 Jun

Indifferent. As I rode home from the abortion clinic and the days after the procedure, I felt indifferent. I had been told to expect overwhelming feelings of sadness and physical pain, yet I felt none. I felt fine. Not better than normal, but also not worse than normal. Indifferent. It was not at all what I was told to expect, by the doctors, the nurses, or what I had heard from friends.

I grew up in what many would call a ‘liberal’ family. We were middle class; my parents are both nurses, college educated, we lived in the suburbs of a major city, and we were a very open family. My parents are both ‘pro-choice’ and would have supported my decision when I was 19 years old to have an abortion, yet, why did it take me six years to tell them about it?

My experience wasn’t unlike other women’s; I had a steady boyfriend, I was on birth control, but I missed a few weeks of pills and became pregnant. At sixteen, when I told my mom about a friend’s abortion decision, she told me that it was a personal choice and one she supported. So, I should have been able to go to my parents when I needed support, right?

It just wasn’t that easy for me. Many of my cousins had children in their teens and were unable to finish high school and college, yet I was on track to do both. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, I felt that if I told her that I was pregnant, I would let her down, make her mad. I felt that she and my father would be disappointed, even though they would have supported my decision.

Even until recently, I was afraid to tell anyone, for fear of the reaction that I would get, or the way they would view me. I felt that if I told my story, I would be wearing the scarlet ‘A’ forever. I felt that I would be one of the vicious women that senators and representatives talk about who ‘abort their babies to fit into a prom dress’. That kind of rhetoric hurts me because that wasn’t what happened. How could I make others understand without having to share the whole story of the abuse I had endured during that relationship, how to say that it was my choice and it was a way to get out of a really bad situation. It’s hard to justify your actions without giving away a huge part of yourself every time.

Even though some people may see me differently after knowing I had an abortion,  I’ve chosen to share my story to let others in the community know that abortion shouldn’t be a taboo subject. We can comfort one another and change the conversation. We can shape what people hear about our lives and our stories.

After talking to many of my friends, family members and co-workers, I found out that almost everyone has an experience with abortion; whether they themselves had one, a partner, a parent or a sibling, it is not uncommon. It is an experience that crosses all racial lines, the gender spectrum, class backgrounds and sexual orientations; yet, we don’t talk about it. I understand that there are many reasons some folks won’t want to share about their experience. Even if I don’t hear their story, I want them to know they are not alone. We’ve been through a similar experience and there is love and support available to you.

I recently told my mother about my abortion experience and she cried, not because she was mad, but because she was proud of me for having the strength to make a tough decision on my own. She wished she could have been there to support me. When I asked her if she was disappointed in me, she said, “No honey, I am proud of who you have become. You made a decision for you.”

Abortion is different for everyone. Each abortion is like stripes on a zebra; while on the surface they may seem similar, no two experiences are exactly the same. I hope that in the future, the abortion debate moves from above the heads of the people it affects, down to a conversational level, where women and family members who have experienced abortion can talk about how to best support each other. Our voices matter. Let’s listen.

Renee is a reproductive justice activist who shares her own abortion story to encourage others who have had abortions to speak out and end the silence and stigma around abortion. Renee is a Generative Fellow with CoreAlign, a contributor to Echoing Ida, a project of Strong Families, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at Cornell University. Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman.