I know what it’s like to feel a life quicken inside my womb. To feel the swift jab of a tiny elbow or knee under my skin. To lie in bed on my left side with my stomach swollen like a watermelon under cover of night — wondering about the little stranger just beneath my cradling hand.
I know what it’s like for that stranger to come into the world two weeks late. To labor for more than 50 hours — my body leaking fluids, my nerves electric with unimaginable pain. My baby struggling on her own in the warm darkness of my body. The two of us as close in the battle for life as two humans can be. Because, in my case, without modern medicine, one of us would have died.
But we survived. Both of us. She emerged from the ripped cave of my body howling her triumph and her trauma. And so our journey as mother and daughter began. Our private, personal journey as a family through a life that, until this very moment in time — when I am soaking up the news that my body might soon no longer be a province all my own — felt wholly free.
When news broke Monday night that the Supreme Court had drafted a reversal of Roe vs. Wade, I felt something I had never felt before: what it would mean to have my body subject to the politics of legislation. The fear, the grief, the sinking horror at that thought were as unfamiliar to me as if I were suddenly told I no longer had the right to vote, to get a job, to marry the person of my choosing. All basic human rights that, as a straight white woman, I have had the luck and privilege of never doubting.
I was born into a world with Roe vs. Wade. Abortion was always controversial, but it was never a right that I understood to be under immediate threat — unless through isolated abortion clinic shootings or bomb threats, which I vividly recall from the news reports of my youth.
Over the years I have escorted close friends to clinics to undergo abortions. Each case, each choice, each incredibly difficult decision not to follow through with a pregnancy — was as unique as the woman who made it.
I remember shielding the eyes of a grieving friend from the snarling opprobrium and gruesome signs of antiabortion protesters as I guided her into a clinic for her procedure. The way she sank, exhausted, into the chair when we got inside. The weeks she spent in sorrow in the darkness of her living room afterward.
I remember the relief of one friend after her abortion. An alcoholic and a drug user in an abusive relationship, she could barely take care of herself, let alone the needs of a child. She web and she laughed and felt all the feelings in between. Many years later, after she had gotten a handle on her addiction and found a healthy mate, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
I remember the dear college friend whose birth control failed — and who wanted to graduate and start a career before she took on the life-altering responsibility of motherhood. Who later decided not to become a mother at all.
These are my stories, and they are not unique. Women across America have been making choices about their lives, their bodies and their futures without government interference for longer than I have been alive. We have babies, we sometimes choose not to have babies. And we lose babies all on our own — as I have.
After I had my daughter, I suffered two devastating miscarriages in my quest for a second child. In those cases, my body made the choice for me. Those losses, too, felt sacrosanct and wholly private until last night. The prospective demise of Roe made even my miscarriages no longer feel like my own.
When the right to carry a baby or not is no longer one’s own, the womb itself becomes property of the state. My miscarriages, my periods, my fertility trackers, my birth control — all the secrets of my body feel suddenly tossed into the town square for all to see.
So, too, my struggle to birth my daughter — who was dangerously stuck inside of me with her elbow raised above her head. What started as a blissful homebirth turned into an emergency run to the hospital where an epidural, heart monitors and Pitocin made possible what would have been — in long-ago days — pure tragedy.
This is modern medicine, which takes and gives life in equal measure, according to the needs of the women who seek it. A womb of one’s own. If we do not have even that — what rights do we have as women? Especially in a post-Roe world that would look nothing like the culture in which I was raised. Even now, the reproductive rights of women in so many states have been vastly curved, affecting deeply low-income, non-white women in particular.
If the leaked Supreme Court opinion proves to be anything close to the final decision, the consequences will be dystopian. Our mothers and grandmothers will revive stories about the cramp-inducing herbs they used to ingest, the underground connections they made, the frightening trips for prohibited procedures, the shame of the quiet secrets they kept. Our daughters might tell a bizarre, future-world epic filled with the cruelty of the inequalities of access.
They might grow up in a world where a rich woman from Oklahoma will fly to California to terminate a pregnancy while a poor woman from the same state will die in a back room trying. A world that relies on charities to help less fortunate women make the trek to the coasts for needed, sometimes life-saving procedures. A world where a man and a woman create a baby but only the woman loses bodily autonomy.
What are we former children of a Roe vs. Wade world to feel? What are we to tell our daughters? That their rights as women and girls are no longer as meaningful as our rights as women and girls once were? That we have gone backward in the arc of history?
How will we parse the profound disconnect between the autonomous, strong, brave, fierce, proud women we are raising them to be and the message coming from the state that their bodies are no longer their own? In 2022. When wearing a face mask is considered by many to be an infringement on free choice.
My generation has little experience with this feeling. How will we explain these things?