I’ll start to post more and be more active once at least one of two things happen. 1) I get a web developer. 2) I take the GRE and free up some daily time to maintaining this organization. Priorities are blog post at least once weekly with Twitter and (coming soon) Instagram publicity AND (this is the bigger priority) full-scale curriculum development that allows me to both launch and share (pitch?) the in-person support group / healing program to appropriate entities.
For now, something I just wrote (completely un-edited except for one comma):
(She was with an addict because she was an addict. I am with abusive men because I am abusive / it is what I do / it is what I know).
I’m looking for substance and not style. I don’t know what to write about, I constantly say. My abortion, my pregnancy, my rape, my body, my hunger, my fear, my shame – how it echoes – how we all echo each other. How I’m looking for an echo. Haven’t found an echo yet. I can’t trust my judgment in an echo chamber, where he echoes him and him echoes you and I don’t know if its a real echo or just your voice re-finding me. You always find me. You always find me. You always find me. I wanted to tell you, never speak to me again, when you asked me what I wanted. That was the first. The rest of it is in the past. There are desires locked up in those six months of moments that can’t be speak without breaking through broken vocal chords and echo chambers of tears. And you don’t want that. I know you don’t want that. You don’t want that. What I want from you is isolated and crystallized – so far gone – I was going to say, but it isn’t. It is preserved like pickles in a jar of glass. Like a fetus in a membrane. I want to connect the two images, but that’s not how it happened to me. That’s how it happened in a sci-fi movie when she really waited for me. I had her on the shelf one, two, three – it’s been three years. And she’s still waiting. And you’re still here. I told myself, I don’t want anything now. I said that to you, I don’t know, I said, I don’t think I’d want to be with you now. I said that. I said that? I said something like that. But I said, I would’ve been with you back then. When I said it, I was thinking of my abortion, rather, my pregnancy – I think of the two, mostly the first one, with you. But those are lies that I tell. I wouldn’t have been with you; otherwise, I would have been with you. I wouldn’t be with you. I won’t be with you. I chose not to, I choose, not to be with you. This pain doesn’t break or crackle on the surface of my brain. It’s not pain anymore, just honesty. But in those moments, the ones before you lied, the ones before I was with you, the ones in my journal entries, deeply hidden between the lines, tucked away even from myself, the truth of how I loved you. You were a fixation. And it wasn’t a million miles deep. It was eons. Decades. Generations. Four years. I loved it. I loved you. Something changed; maybe your personality or my tolerance for it. There were too many lies. Too many times I didn’t get what I needed, I kept writing. Too much ambivalence. Something didn’t feel right, maybe, I presume, but I kept chasing you. Sex was fun, I wrote. I like the attention. I want to see him, but I’m not sure. There were so many weeks I had to wait in between. You made me do this. We couldn’t build anything. I made you wait first. Maybe this was punishment. You were never with me. You reminded me that you were never with her. The truth was that you were with both of us and I was your secret. And I was just learning how to say, I don’t want to be a secret keeper anymore.
-Inspired by the practice of writing everyday and by Kassi Underwood’s May Cause Love.
The style of this poem is inspired by Sherman Alexie’s poem, “Crazy Horse Boulevard,” reprinted in The Best American Non Required Reading (2013).
i. carrying this much weight in my legs feels oppressive. why would anyone want to be thick? being thick and especially needing to be thick is oppressive.
ii. i know i won’t feel thick in another day. i won’t feel thick in a parallel dimension which is just another day. i won’t feel thick on the other side of this hormonal cycle, after 6 o’clock in the evening, or during a different phase of the moon.
iii. was my heaviness the reason i surprised you into thrusting into me in the air and never texting me again? or was the flesh that i didn’t have to pool and puddle and push up behind me when i walk in front of you down the river path to blame for your ass-smacking, self-confident, long-stroking, “i can speak for all black people” proclamation never speaking to me again?
iv. can you write to me again?
Alternative options to thick are like a safety school: you don’t really want them but must consider the possible benefits.
vi. white girls write poems about black imaginary body standards when they are mortally hurt by a black man in the style of a previous black man that they loved.
this should be a campaign. i should make it one. someone should make it one. we all should make it one.
BPA causes breast cancer. plastic waste in the oceans means no healthy marine ecosystems, eventually no fish, no omega 3 fats so crucial to healthy human development. single-use plastics especially virgin plastics are driven by capitalism and only capitalism – modern convenience, profit bottom lines, fast-paced production lifestyles – and only one of these fits well with anything feminine. i’m just making this up as i go.
but the connections need to be made, they really do.
While sketching out this post, I read this article on Vox, which neatly explains why recycling plastics is not a real solution and also points to a second article, which points to the future of consuming in a world where plastics are cancelled. I typically don’t like a market solution to a market problem, but I’m not sure that creating reusable packaging instead of “branded litter” or single-use plastics is that. Yes, companies are still profiting from a system in which we are dependent consumers driven by convenience, but these brands are also rethinking and redesigning something that is closer to being the source of the problem (market solutions typically do not look to the cause of a problem), aka the item that is ending up as waste itself.
Predictably, however, these efforts are geared toward major cities and conscious consumers. I’m not sure they promise to be a sea change or attempt to address the issues with waste and lack of consciousness in poor, rural, southern or non-metropolitan areas.
I’ve never lived in an area less conscious of waste and packaging issues than Birmingham, Alabama. Here, a BBQ restaurant called Saw’s serves everything (including eat-in orders) on styrofoam; to-go orders from any food establishment are typically wrapped in both paper and plastic with napkins and disposable plasticware; only two businesses offer metal straws; I have a constant battle with my coffee arriving in plastic even when I say “for here”; grocery stores like Publix and Piggly Wiggly still almost exclusively use plastic bags without any fee or concern; and the organic food movement remains embarrassingly new and shallowly understood, catering mainly to rich clientele that shop at Whole Foods or Sprout’s to maintain appearances and do not seem to be values-driven (more on this here).
Alabama’s lax attitude toward waste and recycling is interesting, because the south has always been the dumping ground of richer, northern states – both nominally, in terms of providing landfill space, and in ways that are nonconsensual and unnamed, such as being the physical location where the Mississippi river – full of industrial farm runoff and pollution from the north – arrives. Originally, Alabama introduced recycling programs because they did not want to be the dumping ground of the nation. It’s an interesting trend, then, that only a decade or so after recycling was established by citizens, Birmingham has drastically scaled down its recycling efforts: the Alabama Environmental Council’s Avondale recycling center closed citing numbers as the cause, and the University of Alabama Birmingham is doing a very poor job filling the void, opening to the public less than ten hours per week. (Notice that these are both non governmental entities). When I lived here in 2016, I was told about a curbside recycling program in “Southside” but never set my recyclables out on the curb. I was confused that there was no real system for or information about the program. As it turns out, there is good reason for my confusion, but the service does exist.
Interestingly, and painting a very accurate picture of the dominant culture in Birmingham, most people I have talked to about the issue of recycling have in fact not noticed a change. Most have claimed that the Avondale recycling center is still open and expressed surprise when I informed them that it closed in December 2018. It remains unclear to almost everyone whether the curbside program still exists, and those that use it are aware if the program through word of mouth. The City government is doing nothing to address this and I really don’t think most people care.
The tendency in Alabama to overlook truths and exist in a romanticized version of reality is echoed by the pervasive belief that it is okay to litter the Cahaba River at the Canoe drop in Irondale because they have people who come and do that (read: there is an organized group of individuals who come to clean up after everyone that visits the river in order to make the practice of throwing trash okay). There are multiple laminated signs posted at the river that state the opposite and ask that everyone pack out what they bring in, but the belief persists.
Writing post-abortion is like a patchwork quilt. There is nothing to make sense of, and a reader unwilling to hold contradictions or unproductive conclusions may not make it to the end.
Roe v. Access
Norma McCorvey, aka Jane Roe, never had an abortion. She was raped by her mom’s cousin as a child; by her first husband as a teenager; and most probably by others. She had a number of unplanned pregnancies. She became a lesbian (or arguably always was one). She had an extremely broken and abusive relationship with her mother, who was an alcoholic, and their relationship never healed.
She was born three years before my mother, in Louisiana, and she died just over two years ago, in Texas. She was 69 when she died of heart failure. I think of my mom, 69 now. She had breast cancer, but is still living. My grandmother had ovarian cancer, and is also still living. I think of how all three of these organs are life giving organs, and two are a direct link to a child. I don’t see a coincidence in any sex, reproductive or relational related pain producing an equivalent illness, within any of the three of their lives.
When Norma McCorvey was pregnant with her third child and seeking an abortion, she was referred to two lawyers to be represented in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case. She awaited trial as she awaited an abortion for her third pregnancy – and the abortion never came. She gave birth while the case was still in its proceedings. Eventually, she stated that she felt she was a pawn for the Roe v. Wade lawyers.
With all three of her children, she was scarcely the care provider; each was placed for adoption as a baby, the first without her consent. Toward the end of her life, she was recruited by the Catholic church to denounce abortion publicly and claim forgiveness for her sin of becoming involved in the pro-choice movement. She also denounced lesbianism at this time, having had a long-term relationship with a woman after she gave birth to her third child.
There is much to dig into in Norma McCorvey’s story. But for our current purposes, what Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe, can represent is a grand complexity of experience (largely abuse) and lack of choice, in which nothing less than a frank discussion of all of the uncomfortable factors that lead her to arrive at “wanting” an abortion would suffice. I don’t believe that abortion, though sought, would necesssarily have represented freedom in her context; in other words, it simply would have been the end to a pregnancy, and still remain a part of the legacy of abuse and trauma in her life. Arguably, I am wrong, and it would have produced feelings of empowerment and control over her life outcomes. Either way, however, I don’t believe that Roe’s story supports the access movement as it currently stands: a casual, celebrated, uncomplicated attitude toward a decision that is often none of the three.
Roe v. The Climate
Writing of the Arawak people, I quote Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People’s History of the United States, quoting Las Casas, a Catholic yet critical missionary at the time of Columbus:
“Marriage laws are non-existent: men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger. They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly; up the next day; they bathe in the river and are as clean and healthy as before giving birth. If they tire of their men, they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths, covering their shameful parts with leaves or cotton cloth; although on the whole, Indian men and women look upon total nakedness with as much casualness as we look upon a man’s head or at his hands.” (A People’s History of the United States, page 5).
Arguably, a vision of reproductive justice is described here: freedom of choice; healthy outcomes; gender equality. And it existed pre-capitalism. It is a stretch to imagine what true reproductive freedom would look like within our current system.
Within our current system, our minds and hearts are constrained. Like our uterus and surrounding, suspending ligaments – our pelvic floor muscles, our hip bones – we are tight and unable to expand and contract in an easy childbirth, because it is not easy. Decisions made within a context lacking freedom, full of economic pressure and mass-produced expectations, are not decisions at all – they are mental torture, they are unsolvable puzzles and unwinnable games of solitude and uncertain outcomes. Do I have enough money. Can/will/does my partner support me. Am I the right age. Am I mature enough or do I have a support system. Do I have somewhere to live. Can I do this and keep my job. (Not to mention, will my child be able to breathe or drink the water in ten years?) Putting A, B and C together are an unthinkable conquest that most pregnant people feel surprised or proud to accomplish, if they ever do. But nowhere in this system are we free.
Swallowing mifepristone pills of which we don’t understand the chemical makeup and may be against our deepest will – for the better, for her good, making the best decision for my child, thinking of her future, thinking of mine, being brave, being strong (but I don’t want any of this) – possibly, we don’t feel like we’re making an empowered and free choice. Possibly, we feel stripped of our strength; we hold death inside of us; our chest is surely crushed now; and it’s so hard to stand under collapse.
Gone are the days of the river, maybe romanticized, of the easy birth, of the self-administered herbal abortion, of free partnership, of communities.
On neither side are we free. Legal abortion or pro-life forced births and uncared for adoptions.
This world doesn’t understand me, and it doesn’t understand my grandmother, and it certainly doesn’t understand Roe.
Roe v. Generational Trauma
In my family, I am not the first woman to end a pregnancy, but rather one in a line of many. But how many of us made our own decisions? Where were we forced and where must we take responsibility? Or better asked, where were we repeating the trauma of our mothers and grandmothers and where were we making our own choices? In my attempt to break the cycle – of broken mother-daughter relationships – I repeated the cycle of pregnancy interruption – and before abortion was legal – of coerced adoption. Arguably, in an attempt to care for my prospective mother-daughter relationship, I broke a mother-daughter relationship. But also, I brought light to it. About one year after my very painful decision was made, family members started to drop hints about what my grandmother had shared, while high on pain pills, about giving birth to a son so many years ago – her first child – and placing him for adoption.
I shined light on this, on the weak and painful parts that needed to be examined; I called this painful legacy to come forth.
Roe v. My Grandmother
My grandmother is really what this piece is about.
My mom was born in 1945 and she was my Grandmother’s second child. I found this out through the grapevine – the fact that she had a first child, who was not with her; not my grandfather’s; not a part of the family. And I found it out not too long ago. While I was in México, about six months ago, all the pieces of the importance of it finally came together into my consciousness. I don’t know what age she was when she first got pregnant, and I don’t know if she would ever acknowledge it in her right mind. It may have been in high school or shortly after. I don’t remember and a comprehensible stream of information is hard to come by.
When I am told the story, never by her, who I can barely get to stay on the phone with me, I am told that my grandmother was always sneaking out with boys and that she was sent to a place for “wayward girls” after she got pregnant. I am told this by my mother, and by my uncles, who make insensitive complaints about having a brother, whom they do not know. My mom states simply – placing full, uncomplicated responsibility on my grandmother and erasing the possibility of her pain – that “she didn’t want to take care of it” and cannot tell me whether or not it was in fact her choice.
In all of this, I hear echoes of what I experienced as my mother’s daughter and during my pregnancy, when I was searching for a way, for evidence of support, and was told heartlessly after never having asked that “I’m not going to raise your baby, if that’s what you think.” I can imagine a situation similar to Roe. And I can imagine what my grandmother must have felt like.
Intergenerational trauma, also called transgenerational trauma or simply generational trauma, is many things. It is complex and perhaps not fully understood. “Unresolved emotions and thoughts about a traumatic event. Negative repeated patterns of behavior including beliefs about parenting” (www.acamh.org); “legacies of loss” (Social Work Today); “trauma… transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms” (Wikipedia).
My mother gave birth to only two children, but she had an abortion with her first pregnancy. Just like my grandmother and me, she had a first pregnancy that did not result in parenting. Maybe her response was automatic, which I sometimes feel about mine, based in middle class values and beliefs. Maybe it was an empowered choice. Maybe it was part of my grandmother’s pattern – an unspoken trauma – playing out in her daughter’s life. Maybe it was necessary.
When my grandmother was sent to the place for “wayward girls,” I am told, she gave birth there and then put her (son) up for adoption. “But did she want to do that? Was she forced?” I ask, again and again. And when I do, I understand my own feelings when I felt that I had no choice, and when I blame my mother for not being able to figure out how to make it work.
Similarly, Norma McCorvey had very few choices. I would argue that she had next to none. Many would take this further to defend access, and advance that if abortion had been legal… But in the fight to make it so, it is quite possible that the lawyers, who should be the heroes of the story, were predatory and self-interested. It is quite possible that they wanted to warp Roe’s story to fit their agenda. I feel quite the same, today, with pro-choice movements. And so I stay away from them.
Often, in fact, I feel that I have more common with pro-lifers than I do those fighting for access – just like Norma McCorvey may have eventually felt – because in the latter community the difficulty, the pain, the trauma, the abuse, the complexity and often the simple un-wantedness of abortion just seem too inconvenient to acknowledge.
Roe & Exhale pro-voice
This is where Susan Chorley comes in.
When I first began to relate to Exhale, I was distinctly suspicious and irritated by their decision not to proclaim to be pro-choice. Looking back, I felt furious that they might not agree with my decision – because people agreeing with my decision was something that was important to me at the time. Now, though, I relate quite differently to Exhale and the concept of a pro-voice space and community. I feel at home in knowing that maybe we’re not fighting for access right now because what we went through was so extremely painful, but that also doesn’t mean that we want to live in a world where abortion isn’t possible; where life and death and the gatekeeping powers of women are not acknowledged or honored; and where we rob people of essential responsibility, privacy and human rights.
Choice relating to womb is private. It should remain private – uninterrupted even by family. At least this is my stance. The popular stance is to shout your abortion. To interrupt public space with the privacy of it. But I don’t want to shout mine. Or even whisper it, unless I’m angry and backed into a corner. I want to keep it close to my heart and inside of my body – the only place where something so vulnerable, tender and alive can exist.
Norma McCorvey’s life, in a lot of ways, was unfathomable. Our lives can feel similar when we have an abortion. When something that tragic and traumatic happens to us and we have to come out on the other side of death and keep living, present to people as if we can still function, find ways to move on, life can feel unfathomable. Beating our trauma, which arguably choice and access movements unspokenly set out to accomplish and advocate, can seem unfathomable. And really, I think it is, at least on some days. Beating our trauma is a strong but desperate and somewhat inauthentic stance. Working to become aware of our legacies and context, we can learn how to make space for ourselves within them. Maybe we also have a chance at changing the systems that cause them.
I’ll leave you with an image, of which I often think. It struck me for the first time sitting in a bus in Oaxaca, México. I watched as a pregnant woman boarded the rumbling, steel, diesel-driven monster and began to pay the inevitably machista driver. I thought of how her body was a complete ecosystem and how we are so royally fucking it up:
She is a complete but highly vulnerable package – a human body, within an equally delicate ecosystem. A pain so physical is like that. A tender muscle. A muscle that hurts to release or to move. A milk duct, connected and influenced by a web of a thousand matter. A perfectly crafted organic hormone that is disturbed by chemicals in the environment. A human body: womb, navel, food, nipple, back, strapped, feet, walk, carrying her child.
This post is a part of a series that explores relationships in the context of abuse and abortion, entitled, You Become Her.
this is a portrait.
He is tall. 6’3″ if i remember. his body is supple and muscular. his skin is soft and it has a healthy sheen. i remember when he would laugh and look beside me, so that his face seemed different, incredibly cool. and his voice was ocean bottom deep.
he took my car one night as i fell asleep. i was irritated to wake up constantly with the room dimlylit and the sound of him eating Fast Food. it was the last night i spent at his house, and i remember the irritable details of it vividly. but that cannot explain why.
He lived in his mom’s basement and when I came over she wouldn’t see me, or I wouldn’t see her. The one time he took me through the front door, I met his stepdad and felt ashamed when looked he at me with one eyebrow raised and said, “You don’t have any kids?” His stepson would be able to correct that. But the intention was actually to verify that I was indeed a ho.
this is a portrait.
He is a bundle of genes that perfectly outweigh mine. they fix everything that my makeup gets wrong. yes, mix medium brown skin and my wrinkles fall away. add long, lean limbs and my proportions lengthen and become more attractive. combine a bouncy, young athletic quality and my rigidity and propensity to age and sag vanish. blend thick, hydrated hair and big white teeth and replace what is fine and minor. as the years and months pass by, i think of him this way. like high quality DNA in a sperm bank that i desperately want to re-mix with my own and make another baby. another you.
he pulled me over when i was pulling away in my car, face shining with smooth attraction. my own hair was matted sweaty to my face but it looked casual, sexy. i wore a summer t-shirt, hoops and black leggings. i felt myself pull toward him, and then i pushed away.
After it happened, I told him that I couldn’t go back to the way things were. I couldn’t sleep with him again. There was a boundary of terror that I would not cross, but I needed his attention and approval. He told me from behind the meat counter to fix my hair and I did. He wanted to tell me one on one at a party that I was a bad girl and I stood there and listened.
This is a part of a series that explores themes of motherhood and abortion as well as intergenerational trauma. The series is entitled, Bloodlines.
Growing up, instead of mandatory church on Sundays, I was required to attend dance performances (at least two shows per season) and offer my well-informed thoughts on all of the pieces immediately afterward. “Take your child to work day” often meant being pulled out of school for three weeks to travel the world with a modern dance company. And unlike my friends in the suburbs, we knew a lot of gay people and were never discouraged from going downtown.
My mom was Linda Andrews; her company Zenon Dance; and right now, despite myself, I’m back home in Minneapolis, fulfilling a child-of-the-artistic-director-requirement: I am attending the final season, the summer intensive, the last show. People from choreographers to dancers to dedicated students who have known me since I was a baby look me in the eye and tell me how good it is that I travelled to be here to support my mother. I look them back and think about how I didn’t have a choice.
The language of no choice is interesting for several reasons. 1. It applies to my abortion. 2. My mom also uses it about Zenon closing. I wonder what she really knows about not having a choice, when she says it. I wonder if it is caused by the same energy that caused my pregnancy outcome. I wonder why we don’t claim agency over our own lives.
As I sit in the audience on the premiere night of Zenon’s last performance weekend, my mind races. It is not that the dance isn’t captivating. It is. My favorite feminist piece is being performed, as well as the work of Wynn Fricke, my favorite choreographer. But I am here in the audience for the last time. My mom’s career is actually ending. Finally, I think, mine might be able to begin – and I take off.
I spent pretty much all of the weekend obsessing over this idea – and trying to control it. I’ve always found it hard to exist as my own person in my mom’s formidable shadow. It feels like if she or anyone else has hers, I can’t have mine. Through friends of Zenon, I sometimes find validation for this. A man gave a speech describing my mom before Saturday’s show. Everyone who has met Linda knows her for her red lipstick and “unshrinking gaze,” hesaid. Yes, I thought, I grew up under that gaze. I know it well. That was the gaze that met me after every Zenon show and asked me what I thought about the pieces. I would hold myself to the question as if I was giving a speech, or answering an important test question in school. Looking back, I’m not sure that that was worth so much of my energy.
Still, something underlying was fueling it. Similar to how, hidden beneath all of the noise that my thoughts were generating in the audience and thereafter, was a really loud silence, feeding it all. It was the silence of not having told anyone that I didn’t want to – couldn’t, wouldn’t – come to Minneapolis because it was my abortion anniversary weekend. This is a familiar silencing of myself, especially when it comes to my deepest experiences.
Driving up, somewhere in Kentucky, I considered making a different choice. I considered, in a last-minute effort, not going. I thought of visiting North Carolina instead, without a plan.
Still driving north, though, I again made the decision to not choose what my body and my heart so viscerally wanted. And I went, despite myself.