Tag Archives: parenting

Reclaiming a Crisis: Backline is Working to Open the First All Options Pregnancy Center

20 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

If you dare utter the initials CPC in a room full of pro-choicers in a positive light, you better be prepared for some backlash. Talking about crisis pregnancy centers as a positive institution among reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and reproductive health advocates elicits a room full of negative reactions.

CPCs manipulate women at a vulnerable time in their lives.

CPCs don’t educate people about all their options.

CPCs hurt women.

So imagine my surprise when I was talking to Parker Dockray, Executive Director of Backline, about how she wants to emulate the crisis pregnancy center model.

“The model that CPCs have developed is valuable,” said Dockray, “but pregnancy  centers should not be deceptive.”

Dockray and the board and staff at Backline have decided to embark on an unparalleled mission, to create the first all options crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers are some of the most available institutions out there for women who are unsure about their pregnancy. Indiana has over 80, and they are one of 34 states that funnel money directly to crisis pregnancy centers. But they are full of misinformation and missing information.

However, as Dockray told me, CPCs often appear to meet the needs of women, even when they clearly don’t. Backline wants to reclaim the CPC model and create a brick and mortar place for the people of Indiana to turn to for support and community.

For the last 10 years, Backline has been answering the phone and offering support to people looking for options and judgment free counseling surrounding pregnancy. The Backline Talkline answers hundreds of questions each month about pregnancy options, parenting, abortion, adoption, pregnancy loss, miscarriage and other reproductive health topics. While the phone offers confidentiality, a new model could provide women with tangible support.

“The prochoice movement is not always great about visibly supporting parents,” said Dockray. Dockray hopes Backline’s new initiative will become a tangible place to demonstrate support for women across all options. Backline wants to create a place for women and their partners to receive counseling on abortion, adoption, and carrying their pregnancy to term as well as carrying diapers and other items for people to support their partners.

Opening the center in Indiana strikes a cord in a new way. The center will find its home in the middle of a red state, in a college town, surrounded by fields and conservative ideals. Reproductive rights, health and justice organizations are too siloed from each other, with each sticking to their own areas without much overlap or conversation. Backline’s All Options Pregnancy Center would bring these together under one roof, without agenda or pretense. Instead of being siloed, they are setting up shop amidst the silos in America’s Midwest heartland.

Bloomington is a town divided, one side of town is home to Hannah House Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the other is home to Planned Parenthood of Bloomington. Backline would create a middle ground, a place for women and their partners to go for real information. At a time when the middle ground seems like an impossibility in American politics, the Backline All Options Pregnancy Center will be an oasis. An oasis of information, moderatism, and choice, at a time and in a place where that hasn’t existed in a long time.

Welcome to the Midwest, Backline. If you want to help Backline build some walls, knock down some silos, and give people a place do go; click here if you’d like to donate, and click here if you live in Indiana and would like to join in.

Public shaming of women is unacSEPTAble behavior

14 Mar

Late last week, while browsing my Facebook feed, I clicked on a video with a caption that implored me to watch so that I could help identify a Philadelphia mother shown endangering her child. I had seen the video pop up several times, shared by quite a few people, and I’d passed it by, knowing the chances I’d recognize the mother were low (as I’ve spent approximately 1.5 weeks total of my life in that city) and that I would likely be upset by the contents of the film. This time my curiosity finally got the best of me though, and I clicked. For five minutes I sat with my eyes glued to the screen. I watched a seven-year-old girl do her best to take care of her mother in a situation with which she was clearly all too familiar, and it was heartbreaking. But as the scene crawled along, I had bigger questions.

Many readers know the video, which I will not link here because I want the voyeurism to end yesterday. The setting is the Philadelphia SEPTA public bus system, and the main characters are a pretty little blond girl and her presumably high mother, who exhibits the telltale “heroin nod”, a drowsy and quiet sort of slow tipping over at the waist that looks like you’re watching a sped-up display of the doomsday your chiropractor predicts you may face in old age if you don’t let him start six months of spinal adjustments immediately. Or imagine what it would look like if you wanted to disappear but the only way to do it is to slowly crumple inward until your hair brushes the floor and you disappear into a puddle on the ground.

Over and over the mother drifts in and back out of what looks like a heroin slumber, and her daughter watches her closely, tipping her back up by pushing her forehead with her palm when she starts to fall out of her seat or when a passenger is trying to get past her. She lovingly puts her head against her mother’s, to keep her conscious but also, it appears, because she loves her mother’s touch. When their shopping bags spill into the aisle, she cleans them up and puts them beneath her own seat, all the while saying, “Mama, mama, wake up” and “They can’t through, Mama”.

When the video went viral, a few comments on it read “Shame on you for filming this.” I, on the other hand, am happy it was filmed. Had the witness simply called the police, law enforcement most likely couldn’t have gotten there before the little family got off the bus, but the film is evidence. What I have a problem with is how it was handled from there. The police and social services were never called – not during filming and not after. What happened next was that the video was submitted to a Facebook page called People of SEPTA, which appears to be a local-flavor imitation of the mean-spirited People of Wal-Mart website – except that there is some anonymity in posting surreptitious photos of people shopping at the nation’s largest big-box store, and public transportation consumers in Philadelphia are a relatively small subset who can very easily find themselves, or a loved one, chosen as the latest victim of public mockery.

The video went viral from the Facebook page, with comments ranging from a few expressing concern for the judgment of witnesses to the majority which were rants about parenting skills, most calling the mother horrible names while expressing sanctimonious concern for the daughter. I think it’s safe to say that if you care about the wellbeing of a child, you should not call their mother a bitch or wish them dead. That little girl very clearly loves her mother; she’s likely the only one she’ll ever have.

Word of the video got back to police, who investigated. The police very publicly chastised not just the videographer but everyone on the bus who ignored, watched, or filmed it instead of contacting law enforcement. The mother was identified, not by police but by people who recognized her and called her out publicly on Facebook; she reportedly deactivated her Facebook profile after being harassed and receiving death threats. Follow-up news pieces say that the mother was not criminally charged but the child was removed from her custody, and that social services is working with the family. Now I ask you: if we want what is best for the little girl in that video – who caressed her mother so lovingly – should we shame, vilify, and humiliate her publicly outed mother? Or should we ensure that mother gets every resource available to treat her possible addiction and other problems so that they can be reunited? Should we celebrate humiliating videos by posting them to Facebook or should we be sending them to the police or other appropriate authorities, to resolve the situation privately?

Because congratulations, Internet. You just beat someone while they were down. You may have broken a family that still had hope before that video hit Facebook. You bullied that woman – and you bullied that little girl, too. That video will never go away, and it will haunt both of them. At the very least, that little girl will forever be “the girl from the SEPTA bus” and she is innocent.

As a mother with a list of personal struggles, the video and its reception hit me hard. I don’t want to be judged like that. I don’t want my daughter identifiable in a viral video of that nature. As a feminist it hit me too. The vitriol from viewers and the rush to condemn and publicly humiliate is the same passionate hate-filled behavior I see from the other side in the reproductive healthcare access movement. Film the patients, post film online, shout “baby hater” and worse at them; blindly lash out at women to “protect the innocent”, when no thought is given as to how to actually help anyone involved. I’m sensing a pattern here, and there needs to be a bigger conversation about how we value and respect one another. Whether your bullying happens on a sidewalk or from a computer in your own home, it is never okay. Pretending your end goal is to protect children when your mode of operation is to shame and humiliate women is even worse.

Raising Kids In Your Twenties and the Quarter Life Crisis

10 Oct

Imagine you are just out of college, you are bright eyed and ready to go out into the world and contribute. If you’re anything like me, you chose a liberal arts major with the goal of a law degree or Masters in your chosen profession. Teaching, inspiring, doing good is what you want to do. Now imagine you have an 8-year0old. He’s sitting at the kitchen table discussing the latest kick ball win from the playground earlier that day, you’re stirring pasta sauce, making sure you don’t burn the noodles. His homework has to be done, and he needs to get to bed at a reasonable time. Tomorrow, he will go to school and you will punch the clock at the best job you found in an economy lagging especially for just-grads. And you’re torn, because having a good job with good benefits is something many in this country do not have, and yet, you want more. Hell, you want a job in the area you studied in college.

That feeling is what I’m going to call the Quarter Life Crisis. I think a lot of people my age are experiencing this, the struggle to find work in their field of study out of college, the struggle to pay rent, all the bills, and of course, student loans. Some my age with a college degree don’t have a job. And many of us are wondering, is my life going to be like this forever? How can I get to where I want to be?

Steps like applying to grad or law school, rigorously applying for new jobs and promotions, working over time and the like, are options for many. For a person like me, with an 8-year-old eating spaghetti at the table, grad and law school seem like a distant dream. How can I pay for it? More importantly, when will I have the time? Guilt piles up when I think of night classes, my son’s lived through the night/day care and babysitters for much of his life while his mom worked and went to school; law or grad school seems like a selfish goal.

This dilemma is one that rarely makes it to the front page of abortion rights news. Teen moms that choose to parent are generally written and talked about as the people that chose not to abort. Depending on the group framing the message, our lives are framed as either one constant and terrifying struggle, or as tragically heroic. Either narrative essentially errases the reality that many single moms are college graduates and face many of the same issues other college graduates in their 20’s face today, with the added joy and stress of having a child to raise.

The added stress comes when you can’t just leave a job you’re unhappy with because you know you need the health benefits for your child and yourself (and you’re the sole provider who needs to stay healthy) . The added stress comes when you miss out on a promotion because you are unable to travel more due to lack of a reliable babysitter (it’s damned hard to find reliable and affordable sitters). The added stress comes when you’re constantly thinking about how your child is doing–is he happy? is he healthy? Is he getting all the nutrients in his dinner? Is he getting enough exercise? Is he performing well in school? Do I coddle him? Does he need space? I mean, parenting does not actually come with a manual. So all of these questions and concerns pile up in your brain and perhaps you don’t perform as well as you otherwise could because of it.

Leaving the ultimate feeling that you’re stuck, spinning the wheels but going nowhere, the quintessential quarter life crisis.

Many struggling right now are those of us that some would say “have beaten the odds.” We’re single moms, former teen moms, domestic violence survivors and well, we have “beaten the odds,” because we graduated from college, or have decent paying jobs, or are trying and succeeding in getting on a reliable career path with a 401k to boot. But saying “we beat the odds” erases the very real and very scary issues facing us, that raising kids in your twenties, alone, is damned hard and there are not a lot of options out there even though we “made it.”

Getting to grad school is, for me, a long term goal , when before it was an immediate action following undergrad graduation. It’s been six months and yes I have a good job, but the reality is, I have to be able to afford graduate school, and I need the time to do it. I am short on both. I have been so stressed about money and life in general for my son and myself that really sitting down and figuring out the pros and cons of graduate school now or later has been a simple after thought.

This is a challenge many face and when discussing abortion, parenting, and reproductive rights the issue rarely comes up. It is far past time to start a conversation about barriers to goal achievement and success for parents in their middle twenties.

Adoption, Abortion, or Parenting : What Matters Is Access and Choice

19 Jul

Last week, MTV aired another “16 & Pregnant” Special, but instead of following young women that elected abortion or parenting, this special focused on adoption. The hour-long program followed three young women as they shared they heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories about how they came to choose adoption, what form of adoption is available and how their lives have changed as a result.

Previously, we’ve posted on how important it is that women have agency, have a choice – that includes abortion, adoption, or parenting. What’s key here is the choice is not a reality unless you have the ability to make the decision for yourself. Forced abortion is wrong, forced adoption is wrong, and forced parenting is wrong. Additionally, some of the  amazing bloggers here have shared their personal stories about the egg donation process, child rearing, and abortion. All of that is to say we here at Abortion Gang aren’t just “talking the talk,” we as women and men have been through the struggle, know the peaks and valleys of reproductive justice, and don’t just walk around pointing at young women thinking, “she should abort!”

Back to the adoption special on MTV. Three young mothers chose adoption, but perhaps the most familiar of the three is Caitlynn. Her case is an interesting one because of the three young women profiled, Caitlynn is the only young woman to not come from an affluent and privileged background. Her access to resources was limited, but with the help of the show, she was empowered to choose adoption. She was able make the best decision for herself.  The other women were aided by their families in both the decision making process and financial considerations. Navigating the landscape of abortion, adoption, or parenting is hard for anyone, but can be especially intimidating for a young woman without access to emotional and financial support.

The point here is that adoption isn’t something that is accessible to everyone. For adoption to be successful, from selecting the right parents, access to pre- and post-birth counseling, and coping with the bevy of emotions in healthy ways, the sheer amount of financial, social, and cultural support is absolutely crucial. Without support, the ability for a mother and the adoptive parents to find success  becomes much less likely.

Of course, this goes for abortion as well. But the emotional needs after an abortion are different than those after an adoption, and of course, both differ from those when parenting. In each case, however, a complex combination of social support, cultural support, and financial assistance are required in order for a women have all reproductive options available to her. In many cases, however, women do not have access to enough resources to make the reproductive decision she wants to make.

Far too many women in the U.S. don’t have what Caitlynn or the other women on MTV’s adoption special have. There are so many barriers preventing them from making the choice they want to make, and so, they are forced into an option they otherwise wouldn’t chose, trapped, alone, and suffering. Any piece of legislation or pop culture phenomenon that supports limiting a woman’s access to cultural, social, or financial resources, I am going to call out for doing just that: restricting a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her body and her future.

It’s not about whether a woman decides to parent, abort, or place for adoption. It’s about whether she has the ability to make the decision at all  that really matters. MTV is trying to make that point clear, although many times they fall short of projecting the obvious: that without their help, many of the women featured on their shows and specials would not have the ability to make the choices they have made. It would be another positive step forward for MTV to make that point aggressively, because  it is no longer enough to help  the women on their television programs get to a position to make the best choice for themselves. If MTV, Dr. Drew and others affiliated with the “Teen Mom” and “16 & Pregnant” projects really care about advocating for increased awareness and options for the reproductive rights of women, their next step has to advocate for increasing reproductive health access in all communities,  not just project a story of modern teen pregnancy on our TV screens.

Supporting Someone You Love Who is Pregnant: How to be an Ally

5 Jul

In social justice movements, we talk a lot about how to be good allies in our public and private spaces. I would argue that pregnant folks need allies too in those public and private spaces. Still, I think it’s hard to be a support person, to know the “right” thing to say, and to feel that one can really be there for someone else. If your friend, child, partner, significant other, client, or colleague says, “I’m pregnant,” maybe that person is looking for an ally. Here are some starting suggestions for how to provide that support.

Hold yourself accountable for creating safer spaces. There’s a lot of stigma around about who should and should not be pregnant, sex, parenting, adoption, and abortion. It’s more likely that you’ll be able to support someone you care about if you “advertise” yourself as a safer space. Remember to not make assumptions in your public or private life and to think critically about what you say. For example, don’t make the assumption that because someone doesn’t have a child that s/he has never been pregnant or make negative statements about single/young/queer/poor/undocumented/disabled mamas.

Thank that person for telling you. Regardless of how someone is feeling about being pregnant, this might be big news. Even if it’s not, that person told you for a reason, so showing you’re open to having a conversation is a great first step. This could be an amazing day for your friend or an incredibly hard one that has caused your loved one to ask a lot of big questions. Either way, you should feel honored that s/he made the choice to tell you.

Ask that person how s/he’s feeling. A lot of the time, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to say or do the right thing. The great thing is that you can let yourself off the hook and not have to intuit anything. Just ask. Remember that s/he might not be sure how s/he feels and that any feelings s/he’s having are okay.

Don’t make assumptions about what your loved one might want to do with the news that s/he’s pregnant. S/he might not even be sure of next steps, and it’s okay to help your loved one sort through options. A lot of times we make assumptions though about what a pregnancy means to someone. Some people might assume that younger or single folks might not want to parent or that a person in a committed relationship would not consider abortion. Even if someone has told you previously what s/he would do if s/he became pregnant, still take the time to ask. A real positive pregnancy test might lead to different thoughts than a hypothetical pregnancy.

Ask what you can do to provide support. Some people might want a hug or a ride or to talk or to stay silent or to have someone come with them to an appointment. Everyone’s different, so show that you care but ask first.

Keep the focus on the person you’re supporting. When you care about someone, and s/he mentions going through something that you also went through, it’s a normal first reaction to start giving advice, to start a play-by-play explanation of exactly what you did in a similar situation. The key is that each person is different and what might have worked for you, might really not work for your friend.

Educate yourself so you can provide accurate information and referrals. There is a lot of inaccurate information floating around about pregnancy, fetal development, abortion, parenting, and adoption. Knowing the facts can help improve your ability to help someone you love. Knowing what resources are available in your area that provide high quality, medically sound, and personally supportive care can be really helpful. There are even hotlines that you can call as a support person to get more information.

Take care of yourself. Compassion fatigue is real. Helping others without taking the time to support yourself can lead to taking on someone else’s pain. It’s also possible that if your loved one’s pregnancy could affect you personally. The key is to find a way to care for yourself without harming your loved one or taking away your friend’s right to make her/his own decisions about the pregnancy.

Choosing Birth after Rape

10 Jun

I would like to give an often ignored perspective of rape, pregnancy and abortion (this is your trigger warning, though I don’t plan to be graphic).

I often see tweets, blog posts and comments from women and men (and people who identify as neither of the above) sharing their horror at the thought of carrying a pregnancy conceived in rape to term. They proudly and strongly say they support abortion, because it’s horrific, gruesome, disgusting, and cruel to force a woman to carry to term after she was raped (or, “give birth to her rapist’s child”). Now maybe I’m not paying attention, but it seems that all of the feminist discussion around rape and pregnancy decisions is focused around how awful it is for women to give birth after rape. Yet one study in 1996 (old, but the only reliable one I could find) said 32.2% of raped women chose to birth and keep the child (50% had abortions, 5.9% participated in adoption and 11.8% had miscarriages). 32% is a substantial portion of women that it seems many feminist forget about.

I 100% agree that it’s wrong to force a woman to carry to term when she wants to abort.

But I have to wonder: how does this type of language (horrific, disgusting, cruel) affect women who choose to carry to term after rape?

I wonder how a single mother of a beautiful two year old who happened to be conceived from rape feels when she reads that it’s “barbaric” to “force a woman to give birth to the child of her rapist.” Does she feel like she was supported in her choice? Doubtful.

We always need to be considerate of who we talk about and who we talk to. While it may seem clear that the barbaric part is the force of rape, denying the woman her access to decide to have sex,  if we only talk about how wrong it is to force birth instead of how wrong it is to force abortion, or force any unwanted choice, then others may start reading it as the birth of a child as disgusting. And I certainly hope no one actually thinks choosing to give birth is disgusting.

I know a lot of this language choice is based upon our hatred of rape, and it would make sense to have a second discussion about rape here, but I’m not going to do that. All I ask is that we default to the individual woman’s opinion before we share our own feelings when dealing with issues of pregnancy, abortion and rape, because everyone should feel supported in their decisions.