Do you know you’re a bitch?

The Bible is the ancient holy book of my tradition. It’s not a simple book of history and rules. It isn’t dead words on a page. It is a living book, an ongoing story, and as a believer, who am I to limit it? As God said to Job, “Who do you think you are, puny human? I set the universe spinning, and you want to tell me what’s what? Pfffffft.”

During the summer of 1992, when my boyfriend (the one I later married, had two children with, and then divorced) and I had our annual I-hate-you-we’re-breaking-up-forever fight, I started going to a Bible study. I had a very rough relationship with faith in my late teens and early twenties. I grew up in an Evangelical Protestant church and while I believed in God, I struggled with the dogma in that religion, but I couldn’t walk away from it. I wanted faith, but I didn’t know where to find people who wouldn’t hit me in the head with a Bible.

So I dabbled here and there, and I went to a Bible study for young adults that was hosted by a large, non-denominational church, and it seemed OK and I got a little bit comfortable, and as so often happens in these circumstances, someone brought up the topic of abortion, and someone said that women should practice self-control, and someone said it’s baby murder, and you know how it goes. Even if you were never at a Bible study with a group of people between the ages of 18 and 25 who think they know everything and believe they have an ancient, divinely-inspired text that backs them up, you know how it goes, and everyone was oh-so-right and oh-so-indignantly-angry at the loose women with their unwanted fetuses and I didn’t get up and go to my little silver Toyota and drive home like I should have done.

When there was a pause in the self-righteousness, I said, “It’s not so simple.”

Every head swiveled on its stalk of neck, every pair of eyes stared at me, slow up, slow down (Is she a slut? How did we not notice?), and then a female voice rose, a voice trained for a lifetime for exactly this moment, “It is simple. It’s a baby. You can’t kill a baby.”

“I don’t agree,” I said, wading in a little further, still not turning the key on the door of the Toyota, still not entering that safe womb of stale cigarette smoke and discarded diet Coke cans. “Women have abortions for complex reasons, and you can’t just let them die from unsafe abortions. It’s not like…”

The female voice again, this time louder, shouting me down, and joined by others, “Legal abortion just makes murder easy for women!”

More voices, a confusion of anger, and I found my way to my legs, my left hand wrapped around the handle of my purse, and I worked toward the door. Amid the choruses of, “We’ll pray for you!” and “Read Jeremiah 1:5!” and “You’re no Christian!” I heard that female voice above the others.

She asked, “Do you know you’re a bitch?”

I didn’t answer her, not even a raised middle-finger as I finally managed to slip through the door, partly because I couldn’t wait to enter the warm dark of my car, and partly because I was stunned to hear the word bitch in that context. If ever there were people who wouldn’t say shit if they had a mouthful, it was the Evangelical Protestants of my youth. Maybe these were a different breed, or maybe I was a spectacularly terrible specimen of sin: the abortion apologist in the Bible study. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting question.

On every topic, someone, somewhere, is bound to believe that I have taken the bitch stance. I have taken the part of the bitches. I am a bitch.

Misogynist implications of the word bitch aside, I can live with it because worse would be if someone could describe me as milquetoast, boring, or (shudder) sweet. I care about things. I stand for something. I hope I am open to learning, to hearing new perspectives, and to engaging in civil debate.

I don’t ever want to be a person who knows what’s right. I want to be a person who wrestles with the truth. I hold rightness loosely, prepared for new information and new experiences that might shift my understanding.

The Bible is the ancient holy book of my tradition. It’s not a simple book of history and rules. It isn’t dead words on a page. It is a living book, an ongoing story, and as a believer, who am I to limit such a book? As God said to Job, “Who do you think you are, puny human? I set the universe spinning, and you want to tell me what’s what? Pfffffft.”

Rightness is tempting. A good/bad, either/or universe is easier to live in than one that requires careful thought, big mistakes, and the uneasy state of I don’t know. I’m sure it feels great, being in with the in-crowd, knowing all the right answers, and being so very very right about all the things. Imagine the scene in that Bible study after I left: they probably joined hands and spoke prayers out for awhile, in the Christian key of just, as in, “Lord, just protect Adrienne, and Lord, we just ask that you guide her and show her the error of her ways. Father, we just ask that you help us to love her in spite of her sin.” Then, perhaps a few praise hymns to get the world back into its straight lines: bad is bad, right is right, the ground below and heavens above.

What didn’t happen is, none of us listened. None of us learned. We didn’t struggle or connect. How sad, to lose such an opportunity. How much sadder, that we are missing those opportunities everyday.

Sadder still, many Christians seem to have missed the central message of our holy book: Love. Love God, love people, be loved. When love gets hard, love more. When love feels impossible, keep loving. When love is tiring, God will give you more energy for love. Love until someone hates you for it, and then keep loving.

Love on, bitches.

A Uterus Is Not a Machine, My Daughter Is Not a Farm Animal, and I Am Not Happy


This is my 16 year old daughter, Abbie.

When she was brand new to the world, I was responsible for her body—feeding her, bathing her, getting her medical care when she needed it, and all the rest that’s involved in keeping a body healthy.

As she has grown, she has gradually taken over more and more of the responsibilities involved in caring for her body. I brushed her teeth, and then I helped her brush her teeth, and then she brushed her own teeth. Nothing profound there; it’s the process of parenting. We do for, we do with, we supervise them doing, and at some point, we let go and, hopefully, our children are well prepared to take care of themselves.

Since her birth I have worked hard to help her undertand that her body is her body. She is in charge of her body—who touches her and how; what she takes into herself and what she rejects; and what to do if she feels pressured, afraid, or violated.

 

 

This is me a year or two after I had my first period. (That’s my sister in front of me and my mom behind. Never say we didn’t rock the 80s.)

Technically, the first sign of blood marked the beginning of my childbearing years.

I wasn’t ready for sex yet, but I knew that my life would someday include sexual intimacy. I expected that I would become pregnant and have a child at least once.

I also expected that I would have sex a good deal more often than I would get pregnant. In fact, I expected that most of the sex I had would not have conception as its aim. I knew that sexual intimacy would be one part of an intimate adult relationship, no matter how many children my future partner and I chose to have.

I knew that, if I became pregnant unintentionally, I would probably not terminate the pregnancy.

I also knew that the choice to carry any possible pregnancy to term belonged to me because that pregnancy would happen inside my body.

My body is my body.

I knew that, if I paid attention and took care of myself, I would probably never face an unintended pregnancy. I expected to have easy access to safe, reliable methods of birth control. (I acknowledge the privilege in that statement, but as a teenager and young adult I did not know that all young women my age did not enjoy the same access to reproductive health care that I did.)

All of those expectations were correct. When I became sexually active, I went to the Planned Parenthood nearest my home where I asked for and received inexpensive birth control pills and a paper bag filled with condoms.

For the duration of my fertile years (which ended in 2007 when I had a hysterectomy), I used a variety of birth control methods and by the miracle of modern science I never became pregnant when I didn’t want to. I never faced any issues with access; when I had insurance it paid for my birth control and when I didn’t have insurance I was able to find subsidized sources that made it affordable.

I became pregnant three times, and gave birth to 3 children. For all my failings as a parent, I know this deep in my soul: all of my kids were and are passionately, wildly desired, carefully prepared for, and deeply loved.

Every child should be born into the arms of a parent (biological or adoptive) who weeps with joy at the first sight of the new baby, and from the body of a woman who willingly, lovingly carried that baby.

I also know this: parenting is difficult. Taking care of small, helpless people is physically, emotionally, and spiritually demanding. It’s expensive, not just in terms of money but also time and energy. I have always felt fortunate that I live in a time in which medicine has changed parenthood from a biological imperative into a choice.

Some people don’t feel so fortunate.

I never would have imagined, in my early years as a sexually active woman, that I would someday have a daughter who would face a life in which she has less power over her reproductive life than I did. She is coming of age in a world in which some people in power want to force doctors to rape women seeking abortion (I have had a transvaginal ultrasound (unrelated to pregnancy and medically necessary) and if you say I’m speaking hyperbolically, I will cry bullshit.). She has heard that a certain blowhard pundit has referred to women who use birth control as sluts. She lives in a nation in which an elected representative stood on the House floor in his state and compared women to farm animals and a Republican presidential front runner has made public statements indicating that he believes we should all stop having sex unless we’re attempting to achieve a pregnancy.

Where am I? When am I?

My daughter’s body is her body. Entirely. She will share her body with the partner she chooses. She will control her fertility in the manner she and her health care provider deem appropriate. She will share her body with a fetus when and if she chooses to do so. Her body is hers. When she needs or wants input or help making decisions, she will choose who to ask for that help.

I’m pretty damn sure that these guys aren’t the kind of people she’ll be asking for that help should she decide that she needs it.

I am full of hopes and dreams for my daughter. Most of all, I hope that she is always fully herself—present in her life, living with integrity, and growing into the many gifts and talents with which she is blessed. Never, from the moment I knew she was a girl until now have I thought, “Hooray! A uterus for  growing the grandchildren!”

Someday, she may grow a baby in her body, and the person to whom she gives birth will be precious and wonderful and I will love that child in my very DNA.

But that baby will not be more precious, more worthy, more wonderful than my daughter.

That just wouldn’t be possible.

I will not be sitting idly by while a group of joyless ideologues robs my daughter of her power and dignity.