In reproductive justice circles, you’ll hear the phrase “the personal is political.” I’ve been pondering lately how very true for me that is. While I signed petitions and wrote letters and (back in the days of disposable income) even gave to appropriate charities, I was not an activist in my teen years. It wasn’t until a Victoria Secret employee informed a woman she could not nurse her infant in the dressing room, she had to use the mall bathroom instead, that I got bodily involved. I took my own infant son and drove across town to use my boobs for justice as part of a nationwide nurse-in at Victoria’s Secret stores around the U.S. How dare store clerks think it was their right to threaten my son’s health for the sake of their prudery? How dare someone suggest a bathroom was a clean enough environment for a human being to eat in? How dare they indeed.
And I never meant to be an abortion rights activist. I grew up labeling myself as pro-life. Initially, I only made exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother (but not health) and fetal abnormality. Then I became a single mom. I was homeless with my son and I busted my ass and asked for handouts and got on government programs and got out of homelessness and into an apartment and I looked around me and I realized how hard it had been, and how I didn’t think necessarily every woman or girl capable of giving birth was capable of the heroic efforts needed to be a good parent. Nor should she have to be. That’s when I became truly pro-choice, but it was just a how-I-voted thing, not something I really discussed in public (how uncouth!)
Then I needed an abortion and I got it. And I talked about it, and suddenly I was a figurehead and I try to do right by the role, but it’s still strange. I was really only just talking about my own very small, very early abortion. But the personal is political. What’s more, my very person itself, my body, seems to be the very favorite topic of a disturbing proportion of legislators. When my body is up for a vote, of course my voice must be heard.
I don’t have any great insights here, no stunning new wisdom to add the cannon. I guess I just wish I had cared enough to do more before it was my own body, my son’s own body, on the line. I do want to help people beyond my most immediate tribe, but their pain and problems are abstract to me – statistics and ideas and stories. My son’s pain is real to me. My pain is real to me. The fear of my own death via pregnancy or childbirth is real enough to give me nightmares still, six years after giving birth vaginally at the conclusion of a 98 hour labor.
Yes, of course, it’s tacky for me to talk about my body the way I do – to admit its functions, its flaws, its inherent mortality. But I fear gentility and manners will betray us all and if we don’t scream – about our cervixes and our ovaries and our ectopic pregnancies and our abortions and our miscarriages and our vaginas and our uteruses – they will take our silence for consent.