Discover more from People + Bodies
Hi, loves. 🌿
How do we really make families?
Here’s one quiet truth when we talk about pregnancies that went to term and pregnancies that didn’t: I am still, somehow, heartbroken over my one, now almost 9. It is, I’ve come to accept, something I will carry with me for the rest of my life, the pain of having perhaps not had all the children I wanted. I will carry it along with the joy of having the closeness — the undeniable, divine tightness — I have with my one. A tightness I know wouldn’t be possible if I shared her. A tightness and a love, a completeness, that makes me weep.
I know that not having another baby was a choice we made, in many ways, to save my body — ravaged by years of chronic back pain — and my marriage, which struggled under the weight of one baby. It was a way of saving me, of saving my husband, of saving us, as a family. Of giving each other — woman, man, child — all we had sanely. Of not forever living on the brink — financially, physically, emotionally. Of taking on just enough.
See, motherfuckers? We do not build our families in a vacuum.
I am thinking of all of you, of the babies you meant to have but didn’t. Of the babies you couldn’t have, tried to have, were forced to have, chose against, chose for, lost. Of the babies you didn’t have to save yourselves. Of all the ways you chose your bodies, your minds, your souls, your spirits by having the baby or not having it. Of the ways, in these conversations, that we’ve been reduced to people who make babies.
The only thing cracking my heart out of its numbness is thinking of all the women I know — and of all the women in widening circles beyond them — and of all the wonderful and terrible choices we’ve had to make, every one of us: draining the bank account for more IVF; taking Plan B again and again; miscarrying on the bathroom floor, hemorrhaging on the way to the hospital; having a beautiful, peaceful abortion; needing a D&C for a very wanted pregnancy; having a beautiful baby and still feeling unsure about the choice; using a surrogate; raising too many babies alone with little money and no help, none, from our horrid government; searching for formula in a country that has unequivocally said to women, to families, you’re on your own! God bless!
I am thinking of the friend who tells me she no longer has sex with her husband because her body has been through enough — several kids, an abortion, miscarriages — and her husband has put off getting his tubes tied. She simply cannot risk it anymore. She is done taking responsibility for the shape and size and growth of their family.
I’m thinking of the friend who has two perfect kids, teenagers now, so far from the soft period of blood and breasts and milk and wailing in the dark of night; but before they came, there were years of miscarriages. A time she thought she’d never carry to term.
I am thinking of the friend, the mother, who walked out of her abortion feeling light as air. Free.
I am thinking of the friend whose sixth pregnancy seemed to be ending like the first four, all too early, until a nurse said, hold on, let’s check for the heartbeat one more time, and there it was. Here he is, now almost three.
I am thinking of the friend who went in for her 20-week scan and learned that the baby would not, could not, exist outside her body, just like my parents’ heard from their doctor twice, and how many medical interventions were needed in a terrifying, devastating 24-hour period. I am thinking of how she survived.
I am thinking of the friend whose abortion kept her alive.
I am thinking, too, of the three men who benefitted enormously from me taking that morning-after pill several times over 15 years, just to be sure. Of me puking my guts out, or sleeping through an entire 24 hours while my body rid itself of any possible trace of an implantation, so we could all go on with our lives.
Where are they? Wasn’t that for them, too? Do these men in power really think we do this — make and don’t make babies — alone?
We share the gorgeous photos of our kids online and on holiday cards but those stories, in a moment like this, feel painfully incomplete. Yes, I have one sister but it took my parents four attempts and two stillbirths to get to our family of four. Yes, those friends have two perfect kids, but what of the ectopic pregnancy that almost killed her? Of the tube she almost lost?
Our bodies are battlefields, even without a single misogynist law telling us what we can or cannot do with them. The point is that this is hard enough. It is so fucking hard to birth and to not birth children. Period.
If they aren’t going to bother helping us, why can’t they just leave us the fuck alone?
I refuse to let my anger be quelled. But I do need reminders that a better world is possible.
This weekend I came back to one of my favorite Marge Piercy poems, “The Sabbath of Mutual Respect.” It only occurs to me now, over 25 years since I first read it, that the “sabbath” in the title might refer to the Jewish vision that shabbat is a day when we get to imagine the world as it could be, not as it is. This seems to be what Piercy is offering here.
I would share the whole gorgeous thing, but it is incredibly long. Even so, I cannot help but share this (big) piece — in solidarity, in love, in hope for a better world that we will fight with all we have to see.
Habondia, the real abundance, is the power
to say yes and to say no, to open
and to close, to take or to leave
and not to be taken by force or law
or fear or poverty or hunger or need.
To bear children or not to bear by choice
is holy. To bear children unwanted
is to be used like a public sewer.
To be sterilized unchosen is to have
your heart cut out. To love women
is holy and holy is the free love of men
and precious to live taking whichever comes
and precious to live unmated as a peachtree.
Praise the lives you did not choose.
They will heal you, tell your story, fight
for you. You eat the bread of their labor.
You drink the wine of their joy. I tell you
after I went under the surgeon's knife
for the laparoscopy I felt like a trumpet
an Amazon was blowing sonorous charges on.
Then my womb learned to open on the full
moon without pain and my pleasure deepened
till my body shuddered like troubled water.
When my friend gave birth I held her in joy
as the child's head thrust from her vagina
like the sun rising at dawn wet and red.
Praise our choices, sisters, for each doorway
open to us was taken by squads of fighting
women who paid years of trouble and struggle,
who paid their wombs, their sleep, their lives
that we might walk through these gates upright.
Doorways are sacred to women for we
are the doorways of life and we must choose
what comes in and what goes out. Freedom
is our real abundance.
ALL THE THINGS
I spoke to Angela Garbes about her revolutionary book, Essential Labor, and her beauty uniform for Cup of Jo. And here she is on The Daily Show. Brittney Cooper on her friendships with White Evangelical women in the aftermath of Roe. Rebecca Traister on the necessity of hope. I’ve written about how much I love Julia Turshen’s cooking classes; her piece on teaching them is so beautiful. My friend + student Kathleen wrote a searing piece about Roe. Men, take note. My friend Elena sent me this gorgeous Naomi Shihab Nye poem. “A Mother’s Reflection on her child’s joy and gender.”
Some relief: Mandy Patinkin + Kathryn Grody are making a TV show.
Some places to donate + volunteer (via Angela Garbes). And some more via Anne Helen Petersen. If you haven’t already, sign up somewhere to volunteer for the midterms, even if you live in a blue state. Over the last few cycles, I’ve volunteered through Vote Save America, but please share your affiliations!