Updated: Jul 3, 2022
Following a great deal of positive response to this post, we are launching a project to collect and publish stories and work around the topic of bodily autonomy. Use and share this form to participate.
For months, I have had "sobriety" on my content calendar for this week. Tomorrow marks a year since I've had a drink. While it hasn't felt very challenging, it also hasn't felt very revolutionary. There are ample inspirational stories from writers who have wrestled their demons*, so I feel very confident saying it can wait. The night before last, SCOTUS leaked their decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, and that takes precedence over the logical conclusion to an illustrious drinking career during which I became progressively less of a nuisance. Today we have way bigger black-robed fish to fillet.
*For some reason, I'm called to draw your attention to Anne Lamott today. Perhaps its her compassion or the overlapping of subject matter.
When I was a teenager, my brain usurped by Born Again Christians posing as a Methodist youth group, I signed petitions against Roe v. Wade passed around concerts by groups like Rock for Life. I wasn't like those other Jesus freaks. I was a cool kid with my Supertones hoodie and my JNCO jeans. Truth be told, I was an absolute bigot in training, following in lockstep with the evangelical movement that has become such a menace to the separation of church and state in this country.
I should be clear. Today, I am a gnostic Christian. I even undertook some seminary. I believe the Christian Right is incompatible with Christ's teachings and the spirit of any loving god, but I am not here to argue with people about theology of all things. And that's really the point. Your religion isn't my problem. My beliefs don't supersede your rights. I don't need to argue with anyone about their faith to stand up for bodily autonomy. You cannot rape a person under the law. You cannot enslave a person under the law. You cannot harm a person under the law. It should be a given that you cannot force them to give birth to another human under the law.
I have been pro-choice since I was old enough to think critically about the subject with autonomy from the brainwashed brainwashers who (earnestly believing they were doing the right thing) so boldly took advantage of my developing brain. It was not, however, until I was pregnant myself that I really came to appreciate the importance of the right to choose. Being pregnant was terrifying, difficult, and altered my life and body permanently. In a vacuum, if you took away the part where I continue to raise my children for the rest of their lives, the pregnancy itself would still be one of the most significant, and in many ways traumatic, experiences of my life. And that's having wanted kids with a loving, supportive partner and excellent medical care.
When I found out I was pregnant, I expected to take things as naturally as I could culminating with a home birth. Instead, unique circumstance after small complication after "better safe than sorry" led to an intensely closely monitored pregnancy where I felt I had very little agency, my desires constantly being overridden by well-meaning doctors who "knew better." I ended up receiving a (necessary) c-section. Due to their genetic predisposition for substance abuse and my extreme distaste for the feeling provided by opiates, I requested that I do so with just the epidural, no pain killers. They agreed but failed to warn me about referred pain. With my body cut open, my shoulder began searing, and I thought I was dying. I quickly agreed to whatever they suggested. My children were born in a cold room while I was on Dilaudid and a male anesthesiologist rattled on about the smell of my flesh being cauterized reminding him of his mother plucking chickens. I was dope high, a feeling I absolutely loathe, hearing inappropriately timed memories from a stranger, unable to hold my children in the most important moment of my life thus far. They were whisked away without the skin-to-skin contact I so badly wanted. Things became a low-key emergency as my uterus failed to contract and I began to lose too much blood, and my husband was ushered out without any information. And this was a SUCCESSFUL American birth story. That was an incredibly well-respected doctor at a nationally renowned hospital. Trust me. I've heard a lot of women's stories. I wasn't even mad about it. This was great by our standards. I was up and walking within a few hours and everyone was healthy and home in days. I just don't see where I get to choose that experience for someone else. Where anyone gets the audacity to try to assert power over someone else to force them into that experience.
I was just talking to a friend about a completely different subject, and she brought up the intellectualization of everything in our society, the fact that we think we know things, but then when we actually experience and embody them, we see we had no idea. We can only truly know something when it's deep within us. I think that's at the heart of the abortion debate. People, men especially want to have an intellectual debate about the definition of life at the expense of the physical embodiment of people with uteruses while our lives are on the line.
It's worth noting that I knew I did not want more than two children. My doctor refused to do a tubal ligation during my c-section. She said I might change my mind, might remarry, might lose one of my children at a later point, as if they are so easily replaced. This was another woman telling me I did not have the authority to make these choices for myself about my body. As occurs in so many institutions, her degree and status made her male by default, a representative of the system just as people of color can further white supremacy through internalized racism. When my husband, only 25 at the time, went to a urologist to request a vasectomy, they did not question him about his choices. They simply agreed. That really says everything about the argument here. A man does not question another man's choices about his body, yet somehow literally everyone seems entitled to claim a stake in what women do with theirs.
As a mystic, I revere and follow Christ's example, but I do not see him as the exclusive source of truth and wisdom. I think a great number of deities and spirits are capable of representing the fullness of human experience. Mary, often offered as the Christian mythological stand-in for all things divinely feminine, is actually specifically exempted from the full experience of conception through childbirth. I often turn to the Hindu goddess Kali who in one breath represents both motherhood and destruction, the latter necessary to foster and protect the former. When I think of the breaking down that is necessary for us to move forward, the tumbling of systemic towers of inequality, the violence of birth, I think of Kali. When I think of the tumultuous shaking off of the immeasurable damage we, the Earth's children, have caused to the planet, I think of Kali. When I think of the stern redirection of my child toward safety or my firm defense of them against a threat, I think of Kali. Today, all bodies are being threatened by the American government, and I believe we need to think of Kali Ma.
The following short story appeared in the 2013 collection, What Might Have Been Lost, long before my kids were even a twinkle in my eye. It was an experimental exercise in which I explored the spaces between the letters of a word. It became an ode to the first abortion. Abortion is as old as humanity itself, and at the end of the day, we all owe our lives to abortions. Somewhere among your grandmothers, an abortion allowed a woman to live and to live the life that would lead to you. You belong to a line that would have otherwise ended if your ancestors had been denied a safe abortion.
Admiration [ ad-muh-rey-shuhn ]
a feeling of wonder, pleasure, or approval
the act of looking on or contemplating with pleasure
an object of wonder, pleasure, or approval
Between A and D there is an infinite expanse of time, everything that ever happened from the development of life in a single cell in the ocean until He came, and then there were only A and D, which were supposed to mean something about a year—His year or Ours or Ours of His—but it was easier to remember “after death” as if there was only one death—a concept vanquished by His death, the only death—and not a thousand little ones, the ones that came with every back that ever turned and every tear that went unseen and uncollected, all those longing looks and empty jars. That space is miles and miles of undocumented history between A and D, and some would suggest that this time was more common than our time despite certain implications of cautious academics, but it’s all relative to Him, as if there were only one Him, only one to capitalize and set the sun around, whether or not they made a more proper phrase to consider all those who aren’t and weren’t and won’t be His. Between A and D we find the exact point at which we switched the lens and narrowed the view of everything to occur with respect to one.
Between A and D there is an infinite expanse of never was or would have, could have, been. There are uncountable flagellate cells that never found their partner, never reached their potential, only whipped themselves frantically into a dark and empty void or a thin, confining casket or an eager film of poison. Even some that achieved their goals and became something more, something new, found themselves disrupted and dislodged between A and D, found themselves the victims of vacuums and pennyroyal tea.
That brief place between A and D will give you half of what you need in your inquisition, the when and the who and perhaps some of the how and a vaguely implied where. It was before. The events concern the one who never was in a time before the One who always is. We have barely begun here between A and D.
D-M to narrow down the when. “Carpe,” they say, a single day and every one to follow, but one who never was will rarely have a chance to see a second sunrise. We make a day an object, single it out and bracket it with sleep, and once it has been so defined we are emboldened to believe that we could hold it in our hands and fill it with our wills and tell it with our tongues to keep it when its gone, but it was only ever a turning, a rapid counter-clockwise movement in space. Concerning D-M, we can only be grateful that our hero, the never-was, did not fly off the surface of the Earth or find itself pressed against the ground, body unnerved by centrifugal force.
Our never-was was on this sphere from noon to noon, the product of a sun-fueled passion. Given the vast expanse of time collected between A and D, it would be safe to assume that the never-was was somewhere in a field or forest, unlikely to have been inspired by a modern contrivance like romance—more likely the pent-up aggression of a hunter who lost his prey spraying his seed into a gathering woman who strayed from the riverside into the shade. Yet, the never-was never was, and that was quite on purpose. So if that was the usual means of coming to being, the mother of the never-was must also have carried a secret.
The only thing between M and I is a reversal of order—a question, the posing of which is also the answer. If the never-was had asked, its answer would have been yes, as the potential for asking necessitates a presence, an affirmative. So it asked, and the answer made itself clear but not for long. The never-was barely had the time to contemplate the gravity of existing, and, perhaps, it asked again in its final moment and felt a flutter and perceived a light and was no longer. Herein lies the laugh, my friend: even the never-was was, at least for long enough to be. We could leave it to Descartes and modern politicians to question whether the never-was had the capacity to consider these things, but it would hardly make for a good hero (or even anti-hero for that matter) and indeed would make for a terrible and confusing work of fiction if it could not even acknowledge itself.
I-R, a hint of things to come, some malice in the mix, which might, in time, suggest the reason that the never-was was not simply John or Harry or Leslie or Jane. Because there was I-R, the never-was never was. We have already concluded that this conception was likely not cushioned in tender kisses and breathy whispers regarding pleasant feelings and strong emotions. The never-was came to be with its father’s fingers twisted through and gripping hard its mother’s dreadlocked hair, her calloused hands pressed flat against a fig or baobab tree while he poured all of his frustration into heavy thrusts behind her, no interest whatsoever in her unusually light eyes. If there were any cries of pain, they were ignored as this was the general way, perhaps met by a few angry glances in the direction of the couple, others’ ire inspired to rise by this inconsiderate reprieve from toiling. This being, however, the general way of things then, the I and the R must have run deeper or the never-was most certainly would have been. Something that transpired in that I-R took the mother out of her and put the never in the was.
R-A. No one ever said the never-was was godless just because it came before Him. The never-was, it seems, may have come from a long parentage originating as a single cell not in a sea of water but perhaps in a sea of mythic sweat born of the noonday sun, not unlike the never-was itself. R-A narrows the setting, so we may wonder if the never-was was, as assumed, of the strictly hunting and gathering persuasion or whether it never existed in a place more familiar with the standard conventions of static society, whether this river it was made beside could have been the best known of rivers, that Nile around which monuments were built and great men and women came to and were bereft of power, always bending to the highest one spelled out within this sequence who would later become Horus who would later become Jesus, and suddenly this never-was in the time before the A and D seems not so very different from the all the ones who never were after.
A-T, there is a kind, it is said that could turn a will-be to a never-was. Brewed with water siphoned off of that Nile, the tea may well have been among the first attempts at nipping this nagging idea of life in the bud. Drank in copious quantities, the mother may never have known that she even had made a never-was, may only have taken precautionary measures but assumed, after all, that this act by the river was merely a fruitless endeavor of a displeased hunter. All the better, thinks the mother, as her husband who had been elsewhere—had been in the city making purchases and pleas with the pharaoh and his posse—would surely have been more than irate upon discovering what the never-was would have been, and as is so often the way in these cases, would have found blame in his dearest, the nearest vessel of beings. If the never-was had been, its father may not have even given it the time to grow and show its features, which would have been unsettlingly similar to those of his brother, a hunter.
T-I, the ties that bind me, the writer, and you, the inquisitor, to this never-was. How could we be bound to that which never was? Surely we are not the product of its progeny for that single day was hardly long enough to form the thought “I am,” much less to follow with the thoughts “I create” and “You are,” but nonetheless we bind ourselves to the never-was as easily as we bind ourselves to the opportunities we did not take, to the ideas we did dismiss, to the moments that we missed while busy doing important things. The never-was, though preceded by uncountable acts of human sacrifice in the name of gods and other such things whose victims’ hands were tied and legs were bound to wood and set aflame somewhere high for all the world to see, was the first life-like sacrifice to society itself, its worth weighed against potential, that potential consisting of either a woman’s life lived well or the trauma of three lives torn and likely two ended including the never-was who when sacrificed was a single casualty. You see, here, the never-was can be commended, its heroic action revealed; for the never-was to have never been allowed its mother and father and uncle to be. There are a dozen or more ways to tie oneself to the never-was, but one truth here is that this occurrence led to the world we know in which most risks are calculated.
I-O my life to the never-was. We owe that which we cannot name to those who went unnamed. However conceived, however perceived, the never-was was, and it was a force to be reckoned with, a persistence in the minds of everything after. While sun gods changed their names and parents changed their tongues and changed their tones and bore the brunt of all our loads, the never-was and all its after quietly made its point, a choice. The never-was, however fleeting, asked, “Am I?” and gave an answer, and as it knew this answer, it changed tenses, lost what little sense it ever had and birthed itself an Earth in which there was a bargain to be made. Its mother was not barren; there were named children both before and after the never-was was never; those who came after never would have been if the never-was had breathed. The never-was was never to be known as anything other than the moment it was taken, but that moment in the taking was ever after in the actions of the were and are and will-be.
O-N this day let it be known that the never-was was not forgotten. The never-was was and on this day its story told. Spelled out between the letters of wonder, of some pleasure, the never-was was ever after. All loathed and admired things can just as easily be seen by light that never shone.