Roe, Reproductive Justice, & Me

NARAL America Blog For Choice 2013 2

 

I’ve finally returned to the land of the blogging. I’ll get into details of the last couple of months in my next entry. Today I want to celebrate the 4oth anniversary of Roe v Wade and share my story which will give you a glaring look into why I am an adamant supporter of reproductive rights and justice.

There are a litany of reasons why I support reproductive justice and why I use the term reproductive justice rather than pro-choice. I could easily write a series of books about these reasons, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stick to a couple of examples.

As a Native woman my body has been colonized just as our land has been. My people, the Cherokee, were forced at gun point by the US Government to walk in the dead of winter on what is known as the Trail of Tears. We left our home of the Southeast for our new home of then known Indian Territory and present day Oklahoma. It is estimated that 5,000 of us died during that winter. Our new land was stolen from us not even 100 years later by the government when they opened the land for white settlers during the Oklahoma Land Run.

Native women have (depending on the studies you read) a 3 to 6 times higher rate of rape in the US than any other race of women. To add insult to injury the Violence Against Women Act which was once a bipartisan supported bill was not resigned into law partially due to the fact that it gave tribes the right to prosecute non-tribal members, ie white men, who raped Native women on tribal land.

In the past we have faced the theft of our children to have them placed in Catholic “schools” that were nothing more than factories to teach them indentured servitude. While here our children were ultimately emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by the so called enlightened Christians. We have also faced forced government serialization simply because we are Native women. There have been cases of forced sterilization at the government owned and operated Indian Hospital in Claremore, OK. This is the very same hospital I used as a child.

As a disabled person I suffer a higher fate of health complications during pregnancy, difficulties raising a child, as well as the very real threat of forced sterilization by the government or having my child taken from me. A blind woman in Missouri had her child ripped from her arms only days after birth by the state simply because she didn’t properly breast feed on her first attempt. Because she was blind she was written off as an unfit mother.

Many in my government would rather see me die in a hospital than allow doctors to perform a lifesaving abortion. If I chose to have a child I would not receive the proper assistance I’d require as a disabled person to raise a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child. Despite this though my government also believes I shouldn’t be allowed access to birth control or abortion. I suppose I just shouldn’t have sex.

There are countless other reasons that I rock the reproductive justice movement. I’ll always support organizations that are self-identified as “pro-choice.” We are all in this fight together, after all, but the legal right to abortion is not enough to guarantee reproductive rights and health for all women.  While many of these organizations fight for legal rights such as birth control and sexual education, they are often unable to push further on reproductive justice issues, particularly ones that may be more controversial like the rights of incarcerated women.  I say reproductive justice for me, reproductive justice for you, and reproductive justice for all!

To end this blog entry I have included a chapter from the book I am writing Cute, Crazy, & Chauvinistic: The Real Life Dating Adventures of a Bi Grrrl. This chapter is my abortion story. It is honest, heartfelt, and one more reason that I believe women, not the government or religious bodies, have the right to make healthcare and life decisions for ourselves.

 

Pink Lines

I’m making a departure in this chapter from my established theme. This chapter, like the others I’ve written, is highly personal and highly political. It’s a story that I’ve yet to tell in full to anyone: the story of my abortion.

I met the soon-to-be-father of my unplanned pregnancy on my 26th birthday. He messaged me on Myspace and we soon began chatting. Turns out he literally lived across the street from me. I took it as a sign and I invited him to my party. He seemed wonderful. He was attentive, smart (off to graduate school that fall), super cute, and my friends seemed to like him. I knew it would only be a summer fling, but I was a spontaneous risk taking kind of grrrl so I went with it. A few hours and many drinks later that night a friend was holding my hair back while attempting to calm me down while I heaved up my birthday shots and cried. I knew he would hurt me when he left. I had no idea at the time just how he would hurt me.

We casually dated for a few weeks and spent a few nights a week together. The fact that we were neighbors definitely played a part in the amount of time we spent together. In some ways he was very thoughtful & caring, but it wasn’t often that I saw this side. He actually cried when I told him about an incident of gender based discrimination that I encountered while I was a music student at USC and how it sparked PTSD from having been raped as a teenager. I’d never seen a man cry before, let alone for me and my pain. The few times I had ever attempted to open up to a man about these incidents they usually 1. Became awkward and withdrew from me 2. Blamed me for what happened or 3. Treated me like a weak victim that was broken beyond repair or that could only be put back together by a man.

I was blown away by his show of softness and concern. Despite this one time display of compassion and pain he more often than not was cold and lacking affectionate. I remember us walking through our neighborhood and him mocking me for wanting to hold hands. Eventually I had enough of his emotional aloofness and I ended it.

A week or so later he showed up at my house with a David Sedaris book (I had borrowed one of his and loved it) and a card.  I had never had a man give me a book. Most men seemed intimidated or put off by my intellectual side; this one seemed to really like it. Many of the nights we spent together had included us lying  in bed together reading. It was an intimacy and acceptance that I had not experienced until then.

He told me that he missed me. I, being the secret softy romantic that I am, melted on the inside, but kept my tough exterior. Of course I began seeing him again. During one of our makeup sex sessions the condom came off inside me. I had been on hormonal birth control and had just stopped taking it so I wasn’t too worried about pregnancy. At that point my main concern was cancer. I had just recently had a cervical biopsy and was terrified of any possible links between hormones and cancer. In hind sight I should have put that unscientifically supported fear aside and taken a dose of emergency contraception just to be safe, but I didn’t.

In the grand scheme of my life the biopsy wasn’t that traumatic, but I was scared and I went through it alone. I recalled a college friend of mine requiring the same procedure and her mom actually offered to fly to Los Angeles from New Jersey just to be with her daughter. My mom could barely acknowledge my feelings around the matter. I had also recently told someone I was dating about the biopsy. In the midst of our date he freaked out and literally walked away from me. His father had died from cancer so the mere mention of my biopsy sent him into panic mode. Once again, I was left feeling that men would always view me as damaged goods and ultimately be unreliable and only provided another source of pain.

A few weeks after the condom incident I was yet again fed up with my summer fling’s cold aloofness so I told him to get lost. He did…and so did my period. When my period was about 10 days late I decided to take the dreaded test, but I never really thought I could be pregnant. I had never once had unprotected sex, not even in high school when so many people have risky sex. I had unofficially taught and counseled the girls in my conservative, West Texas high school about safer sex and STDs/STIs. As an undergraduate student I taught sex ed to junior high kids in East Los Angeles. I had even just begun volunteering with a local LGBTQ health center and was giving out condoms, lube, and safer sex information in LGBTQ clubs. There was just no way I could be pregnant!

Once I pulled the decider of fate from in between my legs I noticed that damn pink line forming. I felt instant panic. I was only 26. I had a shitty, dead end job that paid me a lousy 26k a year. I couldn’t even financially take care of myself. I lived in a crappy apartment with a rude roommate. I had 125k of student loan debt from only my Bachelor’s degree! I was studying for the GRE and looking at grad schools. I had too many emotional and physical health problems to possibly consider carrying a pregnancy, let alone raising a child. I had just broken up with the father of this unplanned catastrophe. He was moving away for grad school in Georgia. This couldn’t be happening to me!

I hoped maybe it was just my imagination so I didn’t look at the test for a few minutes in the hopes that the line would disappear. But there it was: a fucking pink line. I hated the color pink! It was only fitting that my bad news would be delivered via a “perky” color.

The room began to spin and I could hardly breathe. I was in a full tail spin panic. I knew what I was going to do. There was no doubt in my mind in how to handle this nightmare come true. I knew with absolutely certainty though that this wasn’t my burden to suffer alone. I quickly messaged the father and told him that we needed to immediately talk and that it was very important. That night I went to his apartment and delivered the news. I told him that I had an appointment the following day at Planned Parenthood for a pregnancy test and that I’d let me know the results as soon as I did. He insisted on coming with me despite my telling him that I really wanted to have the test alone. I honestly didn’t see him as a proper support system and I felt that if he went with me then this was real; it wasn’t some home pregnancy test error. Despite my wishes he still came along.

We sat nervously and awkwardly in the waiting room of the Brighton Planned Parenthood. When my name was called I was instructed to pee in a cup and leave it in a small window area. I could call for the results within two days. After doing as instructed we walked out onto Comm Ave, shell shocked and silent. He asked me if I wanted to take a cab with him back to Cambridge. There was a yoga class he wanted to take and it started soon. I was so angry when he said that. How dare he go on as if everything was fine! Didn’t he know that I was probably pregnant and would have to have an abortion? Didn’t he know that this brought back horrid images from when I was only 14, had just been raped, and was terrified I was pregnant? I couldn’t even buy a pregnancy test for myself at the time because my town was too small and people would talk, let alone privately acquire an abortion in the harshly anti-choice state of OK! There I was, once again terrified I was pregnant. My current circumstances were vastly different, but that didn’t make them good. How dare he not share my pain, anger, confusion, and helplessness! Yoga?! Really?! That was why he wanted to take a cab rather than the T? The fact that I was tired, stressed, and about to burst into tears at any minute wasn’t enough for him to warrant a cab, but a yoga class was? I firmly said no and ran for the train station.

Two days later I was at work and decided it was time to call for my results. I needed complete privacy so I went to the office gym when I knew no one would be there. I sat down on a weight lifting bench and heard the news. I was, in fact, pregnant. I immediately asked to schedule an appointment for an abortion. After being transferred to another department and being placed on hold I was asked if I wanted the surgical or the medical abortion. I knew my options and I opted for the medical abortion. I didn’t like the idea of having to sit in a clinic like a prisoner waiting on death row. I didn’t like the idea of some doctor man handling me while bringing my pregnancy to an end. I felt that the entire scenario was too familiar to being raped for me to endure.

The soonest I could get in was the following week on a Wednesday, but I was worried that I’d need a day or two to recuperate. Of course I couldn’t come in for the abortion pills on the weekend or a Friday night. I had to come in on a weekday morning. I scheduled the appointment for the following Friday so at least I would only have to take one day off from work. I was also forced to be pregnant for one more week. I didn’t know how I was going to keep myself composed until then.

I managed to get a day off from my rather resistant boss. I couldn’t afford to lose a day of pay so I took a vacation day. A vacation day! For an abortion! Damn it why wasn’t that bastard who was responsible for this going through the same nightmare I was?! It wasn’t fucking fair! That night I went to his place and gave him the latest news. We sat quietly on his bed for a few minutes before he told me that he couldn’t be with me if I had the abortion on Friday. He was moving his belongings to his parents’ house in CT that day. I explained the situation and asked if he couldn’t just delay his move a day. His lease wouldn’t be up yet. He had already planned to be in CT for a week before moving to GA. It wasn’t crucial that he left that Friday. He said that he wouldn’t change his plans and that if I really wanted him with me then I’d take the Wednesday appointment. Once again my feelings and needs were of no importance to him. I went home and laid down in bed and cried until I felt numb inside.

The week dragged on and I felt like Friday would never come. I was nauseous, exhausted, sore, and in emotional misery. The most basic things like going to work at an office for 9 hours felt so draining that one would think I had been doing hard labor for 12 hours. A co-worker’s Chinese food almost made me throw up on my computer keyboard and monitor. Every time I saw a child it was all I could do to not sob. I knew I was making the right choice for myself and a potential child. I knew that I was a good, responsible person and that it was bad luck that led to this. I knew that it was my right to make this decision and that no one had any business telling me what to do or how to feel. I was a feminist, after all. My body, my choice. Blah blah blah. None of this made my pain and frustrations go away. It was while on the T that I noticed what I was left to assume were a couple and their child happily playing. Their little boy looked so happy and amused from the simple act of riding a train. His parents looked just as amused watching him. It was that moment that I realized this pregnancy was a potential life. This nightmare could be our child. It would be so damn smart and cute with both of us as its parents. I practically ran home when I got off the T. I once again threw myself on my bed and cried until I couldn’t feel my pain.

That night I told him how I felt watching that little boy and his parents. He asked me if I had changed my mind and I told him no. I knew what I had decided, and the choice he agreed with, was best. I told him that despite my unwavering certainty in my decision that I still felt like I was killing a part of him, and of us. He broke down sobbing and so did I. We spent the night together. He was more affectionate to me that night than he had been when we were dating. Looking back I think it was the loneliness of the situation that led me to stay with him that night.

As Friday came closer I began to panic. I was terrified about the possible physical pain. I was scared of what the staff at Planned Parenthood would say or do. Maybe I should have the surgical rather than medical abortion? I called Planned Parenthood to ask if I could change to the surgical, but they informed me that I would have to wait another week if I did. I knew I couldn’t take another week of this insanity. I kept my Friday appointment.

A friend said she would go with me since the father wouldn’t. Friday morning the three of us were at my apartment trying to act as if everything was normal. My friend later told me that the father had thanked her for going with me and that she coldly responded by telling him that she was going for me, not him. When it was time to leave my apartment the father and I said our goodbyes. I told him that I loved him, which I did in an unexplainable way, and he returned my comment with a stoic expression. In utter frustration I almost screamed “say it back!” I knew he didn’t love me or care for me. Hell, he didn’t care enough about me to be with me during OUR abortion. I just needed to feel, no matter how briefly, that I mattered. That the experience I was going through wasn’t me alone, but rather our experience. He finally said that he loved me and I walked away to join my friend.

I was praying the entire T ride to whatever deities may exist that there wouldn’t be protesters outside the clinic. I had dealt with them while getting my checkups and biopsy and didn’t need a repeat encounter. My meeting with them had been rather ugly. The Brighton Planned Parenthood is on a busy street that runs between Boston University and Boston College. There are numerous young people on that street at any time of day. At that time, pre-Massachusetts Buffer Zone Law, the protesters would line up along Comm Ave and harass any woman that happened to walk by that stretch of side walk. The law at the time was so loosely written that these misogynistic monsters would literally get right next to women to the point of practically touching us, even if one of us were simply trying to cross the street to the grocery store that happened to be next to the Planned Parenthood.

My pre-pregnancy appointment at Planned Parenthood was for my biopsy. As I walked closer to the Planned Parenthood I was stopped by one woman hater after another with each one being more aggressive than the last. Once I finally made it to the door and began to open it a woman got right behind me and screamed “Don’t kill your baby!” Without even thinking I turned around and looked her dead in her eye and screamed “I’m here for a biopsy for possible cancer, you nosy bitch!” She looked utterly shocked and was silent for a moment. I turned around and as I walked in I heard her yell “Oh yeah that’s how you talk for a normal doctor appointment. Murderer!” There was no way in hell I could deal with an encounter like that on the actual day of my abortion. I knew if I had to see these horrible wastes of oxygen then I might break and punch one of them and end up in jail. The Goddesses cut me a break and there were no hate filled “Christians” to contend with that day.

My friend and I both took off our coats and put down our bags and separately walked through the clinic metal detectors. We then passed through two different locked doors before arriving in the waiting room. Yeah, can’t imagine why any woman would get angry and scream at a protester under these conditions. I never had to walk through metal detectors and locked doors for any of my other doctors.

I irritably signed in and sat down as far from people as I possibly could. I saw several different people throughout the eight hours my friend and I spent at Planned Parenthood. My appointment began with having my blood drawn and a hospital bracelet put on my wrist. I told them I didn’t want the bracelet and that I was only there to get the pill. The nurse responded in a bitchy tone “If you don’t wear the bracelet then you can’t have an abortion.” I was utterly furious! I felt like I was being branded with a large scarlet “A.” I got the bracelet and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Meanwhile my friend was reading one of her law books while occasionally complaining about the wait. The waiting room had several couples throughout it with the women wearing the scarlet A bracelet. I thought I might scream at any time. Why the hell wasn’t he with me now? Why did these women deserve to have their partners with them, but I didn’t? The entire damn reason I elected for the medical abortion was so I wouldn’t have to spend a day in a clinic enduring this added pain and rage and yet that was exactly what I was doing on my “vacation” day.

Next I saw a counselor. Thank goodness Massachusetts doesn’t have those horrible laws that require medically unsound and highly judgmental “counseling” designed by asshole legislators that care more about their so called morals than they do about women. Unfortunately that didn’t stop the counselor from making some faux pas. She had asked me when I had “unprotected sex” to which I responded that I hadn’t. I told her that she shouldn’t assume that every woman that walked through her doors had unprotected sex or even sex at all. I reminded her that many women are raped and that rape isn’t sex. I also reminded her that half the women who get abortions were using birth control at the time they became pregnant. She politely agreed with me and asked a few more questions before I could finally see the doctor. I went back to the waiting room and sat down in a very angry huff. Why should I have to tell these morons how to talk to women?! If there’s any damn place that assumptions should not be placed on women it’s at Planned Parenthood. While sitting angrily I also had to listen to the Wedding March being piped through speakers. Who the hell was running this place?! I sat there screaming in my mind “Jesus can’t I just have my fucking pill so I can go home and end this pregnancy already?! I just want to be free from this!”

Eventually I was called back for my ultra sound and pills. I was roughly six weeks along. I couldn’t believe that I was that far along. Finally the doctor came in and explained the pills to me. She told me that some women experience pain, cramping, and nausea and that I shouldn’t be alone. She asked if my partner or a friend would be with me and I said yes. I lied. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that the father didn’t care enough about me to post pone his move one day to be with me. I couldn’t tell her that I only had one friend in Boston that I could tell and that while she was sitting in the waiting room she couldn’t be with me that night. I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I was utterly alone.

She finally gave me the first pill to take at that moment and the second to take a few hours later at home. That night I chatted online with the father after I took the second pill. I mentioned that I was beginning to have cramps and that I didn’t feel so good. His response: “I have packing cramps.” I ignored it and told him to please stay online and that I had to go to the bathroom, but that I wanted to chat more. When I returned to my computer he had signed out.

I spent the rest of my Friday night in agony. I had never been in so much pain in my life. The time I dislocated my knee cap didn’t even compare to this pain. I was throwing up, had diarrhea, horrible cramps, and heavy bleeding. At one point I woke up on my bathroom floor not knowing how I had gotten there. The pain was so intense that I had passed out. I desperately needed a glass of water, but I didn’t have the strength to get it myself. Finally, after hours of this excruciating pain, it was over. The doctor told me that I wouldn’t be able to know when my body had expelled the fetus from my uterus and that I was so early in my first trimester that I wouldn’t be able to see the fetus, but I knew. I just had a feeling wash over me. It was finally done. I was no longer pregnant. A bit later the bleeding considerably slowed down and I was finally able to walk to my bedroom. I looked at my computer and he never signed back on. There were no messages on my phone either.

About two weeks later I finally heard from him. He emailed me to tell me about his move. He emailed to complain to me about how hard his life was and how horrible us Southerners were. He didn’t email to ask how I was. I became enraged. How dare he show such blatant disregard for me and what I had gone through! The hell I just went through was partially due to him and the hell I went through benefited both of us. I knew he was happy with the decision I made because the minute I told him I wanted an abortion he let out a huge sigh of relief. Who the fuck did he think he was to be so cruel?! I said all of this and more in an email to him.

He later responded to tell me that it was my fault he wasn’t with me during the abortion because I didn’t schedule it at a “convenient” time for him. He went even further telling me that it was my fault that I had become pregnant. Up to this point in my life only three people had incited so much rage from me: my emotionally abusive father, the boyfriend who raped me, and the guy who tried to rape me while I was in college. I hated all of those men and I hated my ex almost as much as them. I told him this and that I never wanted to speak to him again. He replied that it hurt him to hear that. I didn’t respond to him and we haven’t spoken since.

Roughly a month after the abortion I was at a counter protest sponsored by the Boston chapter of NOW. We gathered outside the Commons to show our support for women’s reproductive rights as the so called “pro-life” people walked by us. I thought I was mentally prepared for the onslaught of demeaning and derogatory words that the anti-choice monsters use about women such as myself. Turns out I wasn’t  A man walked by us with a sign that read “Abortion is Manslaughter.” Tears instantly filled my eyes. It hurt me deep down to my soul that I, the always caring activist that gives countless hours to help others, was thought guilty of manslaughter. Did these people realize that I was keenly aware that I had the potential for a life growing inside me and that I didn’t take that lightly? Did these people not realize that I took every means necessary to prevent a pregnancy? Did these people not realize that there was a man involved and that responsibility did not solely lie on my shoulders?

At that moment I became incredibly angry that I was considered a murderer, but that my ex-boyfriend got off scot-free. He didn’t have to beg for a day off from work. He didn’t use a vacation day for an abortion. He didn’t sit for hours in a clinic waiting for a pill. He didn’t have to endure hours of extreme pain and illness and days of bleeding. He would never be called a murderer, a slut, irresponsible, or the countless other fucked up stereotypes that the anti-choice and anti-woman agenda forces on women. That was the moment that I realized this was a highly personal and painful matter that the public felt entitled to judge me, and only me, for.

Slowly, over time, I began to talk to more friends about my abortion, many of which I learned had their own stories. I even read a personal essay about part of my abortion experience at an event held by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I so scared to read my story in front of strangers, politicians, and the people I volunteered with that my hands and voice were shaking. Later, several people, including a state politician, thanked me for sharing my story. Even now, almost seven years since the abortion, I cried while writing this chapter. My palms are cold clammy at this very moment.

I continue to be a tireless advocate for women’s rights, particularly our rights to control our lives and bodies. No on, and I mean no one, has any right to tell us what we may or may not do with our bodies. Forcing a woman to have a child, not have a child, or taking away her right to have or refuse birth control and sterilization is tantamount to rape. The so called “pro-life” people and movement can trump up all the medically unsound and unscientifically proven statistics they want. They can talk until they’re blue in the face about saving children. They can harass and abuse women. They can judge us and turn their backs on us. They can do their goddamn best to take away our legal rights and say it’s all in our best interests or that of a child, but I know the truth. They do not care about saving lives, but rather controlling women. Strong women with self-determination, money, and education scare the hell out of them. If they take away our right to control our reproductive systems then they can keep us pregnant and under men’s control. They want us beaten down, helpless, and weak. This is the exact same mentality of how a rapist views their victims. These “pro-life” people are nothing more than monsters that must be vanquished. Those of us with integrity and respect and love for women must fight back. And lastly, there are some men that need to understand that you are not pro-woman or pro-choice simply because you believe abortion should be legal. If you only view abortion and those of us who have them as a matter of convenience for you then you’re only a small step above the “pro-life” monsters and their agenda.

 

4 thoughts on “Roe, Reproductive Justice, & Me

  1. This is a great piece, and thank you for sharing your story! It takes a lot of bravery to talk about things like this. Many people do not understand how much their rhetoric is really about control of women and how saying hurtful things doesn’t help their cause.

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