Happy birthday, girlie. I love you big big big.
Happy birthday, girlie. I love you big big big.
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.
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.
Part 3.1 (except it’s less of a part and more of an interlude)
However, maybe you didn’t read those, and maybe you want to read one post and not 6. Fair enough. Here’s what you need to know: Robert was my first husband. We married in May of 1993 and our son Jacob was born in December of that same year. We were both very young and our relationship was always chaotic and difficult.
During Jacob’s first year, I controlled every bite of food that I put into my body. I subsisted on vegetable soup, oatmeal, and dry salted potatoes, a diet so low in fat that eventually I became deficient in fat-soluble vitamins, and by consequence was covered in bruises. Every time I scratched an itch, bumped a table, or Jacob bit my shoulder, I would get a black-and-blue mark all out of proportion the to the injury. My doctor sent me to have something like 20 vials of blood drawn so he could test it for God-knows-what-all, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when those tests proved I didn’t have leukemia. The doctor seemed unconcerned that I was so thin I wasn’t menstruating and had to sleep 12 hours out of every 24 in order to maintain my brutal workout schedule. He prescribed a multi-vitamin and sent me home.
During that year, I also kept our house in pristine order. Everything was perfect. I washed my cloth diapers and hung them out to dry and they were so perfectly even and white out there on the line, they looked like movie star teeth. I swept the floors daily and mopped them twice a week. My dishes were clean and there were no sticky jam spills in my refrigerator. My jeans were size 4 and my breasts had all but disappeared.
Everything was perfect.
Eventually, not long after Jacob’s first birthday, I lost the thread that connected me to whatever force enabled me to do all of those things that were so unnatural for me. I ate some cookies or I watched TV instead of cleaning the bathroom, and soon it all unraveled and I was me again, laundry half done, dinner unmade, my nose in a book, and candy bar wrappers hidden at the bottom of the trash can. Robert told me I was “marshmallowing out” again and asked how a person who couldn’t cook anything more complicated than Jell-O could possibly manage to get fat.
When I lost hold of the thread, my period came back, and in April 1995, the rabbit done died again.
When I was four months pregnant, Robert got a new job and he asked me not to come visit him there, in spite of the fact that he would be working less than a mile from our house.
“Why? Don’t you think Jacob wants to see where you’re working?”
“You can come when you look more pregnant. I don’t want people thinking I have a fat wife.”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how.
My weight had fluctuated widely since my late teens, but during my pregnancy with Abbie I became genuinely fat for the first time. Part of that was almost certainly due to the fact that I entered the pregnancy on the rebound from a year of near-starvation, but also, I was angry. With food to nourish my brain, I couldn’t ignore that anger, and since I couldn’t starve it away anymore, I ate it. I ate my anger with omelettes and toast, with roast beef and mashed potatoes, with ice cream and cookies. I ate and ate and ate until I had stretch marks in places I didn’t know people could get stretch marks and I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror.
I was so ashamed, I almost never left the house. All my emotional and mental energy was consumed with food and weight, planning how I would find that thread and get back to being the perfect, tidy, slender person I had been a year earlier. I spent hours lost in a daze as I planned the diet I would pursue beginning the instant I wasn’t pregnant anymore.
Awful as it was, it was better than feeling so violently, helplessly angry.
And then there was this:
Oh, the pink juicy wonder of my Abbie. She smelled so good, I thought I might accidentally suck her up my nose. She was round and rosy and sweet and always, unmistakably, her own person, sharp and opinionated and stubborn.
Two babies were a heavy load on a weak and shaky marriage. Soon after Abbie’s birth, the cracks in our relationship’s foundation began to grow. By the time she started to crawl, I could fit my hand in those cracks, and when she learned to walk I discovered that I could climb right into some of those cracks and take a nap.
Maybe there’s a God above
All I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…
Devil and the deep blue sea behind me
Vanish in the air you’ll never find me
I will turn your face to alabaster
When you find your servant is your master
When I went to bed on April 1, 1993, I put the pregnancy test under my pillow. The smooth foil wrapper seemed like it might hold something as insignificant as coffee biscuits, a trifle to be enjoyed mid-afternoon, not something to be peed on first thing in the morning.
I woke when the light was barely nudging its way into the apartment. While Robert slept on, blankets pulled tight over his head, I reached under my pillow for the pregnancy test and tiptoed to the bathroom.
Standing next to the sink, my bare feet cold on the tile floor, I ripped and tore at the foil wrapper, first with my hands, then with my teeth, and finally with fingernail clippers. My hands were shaking so hard I had trouble pulling down my underwear. I feared I would drop the test in the toilet; I couldn’t afford another one so I clutched the plastic stick with both hands while I peed on it.
By the time I finished peeing on the test (and on my jitterbugging hands), there were two bright blue lines in the results window.
I washed my still-trembling hands, then brushed my teeth. I flossed. I washed my face and brushed my teeth again. I stared at myself in the mirror for a long time.
When I slipped back into bed next to Robert he asked, “What was it?”
“Positive. I’m pregnant.”
“I thought so,” he said before he turned over to face the wall and went immediately back to sleep.
My stomach rolled over and I felt a weird hungry nausea (or was it a nauseous hunger?) so I got up and made two pans of Rice Krispies treats.
A week later, I was in my parents’ kitchen, having just thrown away my breakfast, thereby skipping the intermediate steps of consuming and then vomiting said breakfast. I had planned to keep the pregnancy a secret until after the wedding so that people wouldn’t think we were getting married just because I was pregnant.
We were not, in fact, getting married just because I was pregnant. We were getting married because we were foolish and young and we didn’t know that the problems in our relationship were not the sort that would improve over time, and because we didn’t know who we were or what we wanted and marriage seemed as good a way to fill the time as any other.
Plus, of course, the hormones.
My mom was at the counter, wiping something, when I decided that I had to tell her because eventually, someone was going to hear me barf, and that someone would be my mom, and she is not a stupid person who would be unclear about what that barfing meant.
“Mom? I have to tell you something.”
She turned from the counter to look at me sitting at the table and she looked normal for a second, like I was going to tell her that my car insurance bill was late and I needed help paying it. Suddenly, before I said a word, her face changed. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”
My mom hollered, “Wendell!”, summoning my dad.
We three sat at the kitchen table in our usual family-conference positions, but what was there, really, to say?