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.

The Ugly Familiar 4: Give Yourself Away

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 3.1 (except it’s less of a part and more of an interlude)

We all grow up with rules.

I’m not talking about the regular rules that our parents speak aloud – no running in the house; don’t sing at the dinner table; if you wear your tap shoes in the house you’ll scratch the floors and you don’t want to know what will happen next, young lady!

I’m talking about the underneath rules, the ones that make it impossible to get along with your in-laws because you don’t know their rules and they don’t understand why you don’t know them because they make so much goddamn sense and everybody knows this is how people with an ounce of common sense/human decency/intelligence behave and what the hell is the matter with you?. They are so deeply ingrained that we can’t see them without a shock of some kind – a family crisis like an addiction, divorce, or someone deciding to go to therapy.

The most important rules in the family in which I grew up are tightly related:

  • Thou shalt not be needy.
  • Thou shalt not seek attention.
  • Thou shalt not feel sorry for thyself.
  • Thou shalt blame thyself for all things.
  • Thou shalt solve all problems with guilt and shame.
  • Thou shalt seek to absolve thyself of misdeeds and mistakes with perpetual regret.
  • Thou shalt seek to absolve thyself of others’ misdeeds and mistakes with perpetual regret. (See previous rule, “blame thyself for all things.”)
  • Thou shalt cultivate shame vigorously, hanging thyself on all available hooks.

Of course, these are not the rules my parents intended to teach me, but they’re the rules I learned.

Hence, I don’t know how to talk about my marriage to Robert because I don’t have much practice. If your familial tradition causes you to scream internally, it’s all your fault how could you do this you are such a goddamn loser what a waste why couldn’t you make it work what is wrong with you, it’s damn hard to take a step back and start sorting out the parts that are not your fault.

I’ve been sitting on this story for weeks, unable to find my way in. The internal screeching is loud, insisting that I rise above; take the high road; be the bigger person.

Also, every time I think of something that happened in our marriage that hurt me, I think of something that I did that, somehow, caused me to deserve it. This should probably come as no surprise since that’s how Robert and I fought when we were married, except that back then I was saved the effort of thinking of the thing I did that was worse than the thing he did because he did that part for me.

Clear as mud? Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense to me, either. How could it? I make sense of my life with words and stories and I have denied myself this story until now.

Since Robert moved out on July 4, 1997, I have carefully engineered a neutral narrative of the relationship that was central to my early adulthood. I have said, “We were far too young to get married,” “We brought out the worst in each other,” and “We didn’t have the tools we needed to make our marriage work.” I’ve spoken about my first marriage as if it happened to someone else; stripped it of its emotion and meaning.

To be clear, I am in favor of dignity and integrity. I’m proud that, post-breakup, I didn’t go out and talk trash about Robert to everyone who would listen. The cost, though, was the truth. In telling the story of our marriage in neutral terms over and over again, I denied myself the healing that comes from telling my story. My truth.

And you know what I say about he truth: it ain’t about the facts.

My story doesn’t match Robert’s, but that doesn’t make it wrong. It only makes it mine, if I will claim it.

My story begins with the rules that shaped my psyche. To say that I arrived at my first wedding (all of 22 years old) with low self-esteem would be an egregious understatement. More like the weight of my shame was roughly equal to that of a Volkswagen I wore strapped to my back.

I viewed my life not as something to be lived, experienced, and enjoyed, but as an exercise in contrition. Every moment was an apology for my very existence; every aspect of myself (body, mind, spirit) in dire need of reformation.

Robert concurred, which probably explains why our marriage sort of worked in the beginning. We agreed that I was broken and he was the savior who could have married a better woman but chose me instead. Repairing my faults – depression; tendency to gain weight (though at the time we married I had never been truly fat); messy habits; inability to cook; love of books and reading; devotion to made-for-TV movies; interest in politics; affection for very long showers; desire for education; and refusal to even try to understand why Robert and so many others thought Seinfeld was funny – would be my project. By conquering them I could become, if not worthy, at least acceptable.

So we moved into our lives, the contract signed and sealed but unacknowledged. My flaws were my demons to conquer if I was to earn my place in the home of the man who deigned to marry me.

He had done me a great favor by marrying me, so I set out to make the best of it.

And then there was this:

I had finally done something right, after all.

Robert and I both fell extravagantly, unreservedly in love with our Tooter (no one called him Jacob until he was three). He was pure light, all soft-sleepy sweetness and milk-drunk joy.

Our love for him was so large, it erased everything else. For a time, I was (almost) everything that Robert and I thought I should be.

For a little while.

Part 5

The World Is Burning

On September 13, 2001, I was home alone. I don’t remember why; there should have been kids in the house. Perhaps I wasn’t alone, and the kids were napping? In any case, I was at my desk, doing daycare paperwork, when the phone rang.

The phone had been ringing a great deal. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to talk, to connect. The world was burning.

A very officious-sounding woman was on the phone, “Hello, this is Deputy Smith from the Bernalillo County sheriff’s department. Is this Adrienne Jones, child care provider for the infant Kyle Marks who died yesterday?”

“Excuse me,” I squeaked. I set the phone down and vomited in the wastebasket. The world went black around the edges as I rinsed my mouth and tried to regain enough composure to speak.

On the phone again, Deputy Smith was apologetic. “Ms. Jones, I thought you knew. I’m so sorry; I would have been gentler. I thought the family would have called you.”

“No, I haven’t seen them since Tuesday. They got scared. No, they were upset. Everyone was upset and they came to get him right before the second tower went down. What time was that? When did Kyle die? Oh, my God. Was it the same thing? Did he die the same way as his brother?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know. The coroner has to make that determination. Kyle died early yesterday morning. The parents woke up and he had passed away. I’m so sorry; I need to ask you a few questions. I’ll try to be brief, OK? Can you answer a few questions?”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry.”

The deputy asked me a dozen questions – standard stuff, and since I’d never noticed a thing about Kyle or his parents that concerned me, we were done before too long.

When I had answered all of her questions and finally hung up the phone, I lost my mind with grief. For Kyle, yes; for the loss of a little boy who had only lived four months, but even more, I wept for Kyle’s parents. Their first baby, Noah, had died just 10 months earlier.

Twice, in one year, they buried a child.

Twice.

A few days later, Brian and I went to Kyle’s funeral at a tiny church in the North Valley, then followed the funeral procession to the cemetery. I rode head-down the whole way, crying into a giant ball of tissues. When he stopped the car and I finally looked up, I realized we were just up the hill from Gabrielle’s grave.

I dissolved into a puddle of overwhelming grief – for Kyle and his brother, for Gabrielle and Rachel, for parents and siblings and spouses and lovers and friends and children. The weight of a nation – the world – one family. The grief.

So much pain.

The number dead in the September 11, 2001 attacks is staggering – 2,996 – but it is, in some sense, meaningless.

Her spouse; his niece. Their daughter. His sister. Her best friend. His lover. Their youngest child. His mom.

Individuals.

Wives wept in the shower; pastors, imams, rabbis, and priests comforted their people; fathers held their children. People suffered. People. Individual people, bound together by the threads of pain.

Do you remember in the days after the towers came down, and the people on the ground were covered in ashes so that they all looked the same? People showed up to help – thousands of people – and those of us far away from the site of the tragedies said prayers and helped in other ways. We held our breath and hoped for survivors; we wept together when there were only a few. We cried with gratitude for the many heroes – first-responders and ordinary people who risked everything, or gave everything.

There was so much heat in that connection.

I hugged Kyle’s dad after  the funeral and said, “I miss your little boy. I loved him.”

He wept into my hair, crying, “I can’t stand it. It hurts too much. I can’t stand it!” We cried like that for a long time, together.

Together.

It’s better that way.

Not easier; not less painful. Just…better.

Multiply compassion and love in the world this weekend, my friends. Multiply hope.