My views on abortion and feminism didn’t really change much over the next few years. I finished college, worked some jobs, and got married. We knew we wanted to have a baby fairly soon so we learned all we could about birth, breastfeeding, and natural parenting. We made life adjustments so that we would be in a better position to afford to have a child. On paper everything looked like it should work out great.
Unfortunately I was sick with severe nausea and vomiting for most of my pregnancy. I really only had my husband for support, and since he had to work so much at his new job so that we wouldn’t fall completely under financially, I ended up spending the majority of my time completely alone. Everyday was just the same misery over and over again, and I felt like it would truly never end. I lost confidence in my body and in my ability to give birth under my own power. I had trouble bonding with my unborn baby. I felt like I wanted to just run away from it all. I never considered abortion but I just wanted it all to stop. It was on one of those desperate days that I decided I was definitely pro choice. I was so miserable and yet there were pregnant women whose situations were much more challenging than mine. I decided that the morality of abortion was irrelevant. I decided that society should never be able to force a woman to go through what I was going through (or worse).
I still believe this last statement even though I now call myself pro life. I’ll explain why later on in my story.
The misery I experienced during my pregnancy led me to feel so emotionally shattered that I gave up on everything I had wanted for my birth. I let myself be convinced that everything I had read about how women are made to give birth and that birth is not a medical event just wasn’t true in my case. I left the hospital after my son’s birth feeling extremely traumatized. It took me months to process through my feelings and understand that I wasn’t just upset about things not going “according to plan.” I learned more about the birth process and how routine hospital interventions actually interfere with this process. I learned that most of these interventions are not based in medical evidence and can actually cause great harm to mothers and babies. I learned that the American maternity care system is not based in “care” for mothers and babies, but is in fact based around convenience, profit, and tradition, and that it is steeped in sexism and racism.
I learned that up to 1/3 of women have gone through a birth that they characterize as “traumatic.” As I continued with my research as a way of processing my own experience, I came across the term “obstetric violence.” If you’ve never heard of this term before it’s not surprising. As author Elisa Albert states, “Obstetric violence is the last culturally acceptable form of violence against women.” Our culture expects that women will be treated like they are incompetent and powerless when they give birth. That their wishes will be laughed at and ignored, that their bodies will be pushed, pulled and cut according to the doctors’ will, and that this is all how it should be in the name of “safety” and “medical progress.” I learned that my trauma, my frustration, my tears were valid and justified. What happened to me and what has happened to and continues to happen to so many pregnant and birthing women everyday is wrong.
As I came across some amazing organizations fighting for women’s rights in childbirth, I realized that these were feminists fighting for a feminist cause. When I realized that feminism was actually about defending human rights and not about bra burning, that’s when I officially got on board and began to call myself a feminist.
So I became what I thought a feminist must be. I liked all the right Facebook pages, signed up to get emails from the right organizations, and got a Planned Parenthood sticker for my laptop. I fully and enthusiastically supported access to hormonal contraception and abortion. I even encountered ideas about how keeping women from accessing abortion is the same as keeping women from accessing evidence-based maternity care. I read a lot about how forcing a woman to continue with a pregnancy and forcing her to undergo a procedure during birth are part of the same problem, because they are both violations of women’s bodily autonomy.
At that time I was excited to see these connections being made because I hoped it would bring more feminists’ attention to the issue of obstetric violence if it was connected to abortion (an issue that I had of course noticed got A LOT of attention in feminist circles). I understood that if I wanted feminists’ support in the fight for better maternity care practices and an end to violence in the birth room, I needed to support essential feminist causes. At the time I would have laughed at the idea that a feminist could be pro life. Everything I read told me that pro lifers were Christian white men who hated women and didn’t care anything about a baby once he or she was born. I knew that that wasn’t feminism so obviously pro life feminism was a nonsensical idea that never occurred to me. I still didn’t like abortion of course, but that was irrelevant. I was a feminist so questioning the central tenets of feminism (as I knew it) was unthinkable. At least for a while.
To be continued…
Check out the following links to learn more about obstetric violence and the problems in our maternity care system.