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Mother daughter

Source: Public domain / Pexel, Nappy.co

My older daughter, Mari, was 10 years old when I told her what abortion is. I would have rather saved the conversation for when she was a bit older, but she’d seen the New York Times lying next to her cereal bowl and read the cover story, about the murder of George Tiller, an abortion doctor who’d been shot to death while serving as an usher at his church by an anti-abortion extremist who confessed he killed Tiller because “preborn children’s lives were in imminent danger.” Mari had questions.

As her mother, I had the duty to answer them in a way that was age-appropriate and accurate and set the foundation for their moral code. She already knew that when sperm meets egg and the embryo grows, it can turn into a baby. But then I had to explain the mechanics of pregnancy and fetal viability and what it means to remove a fetus from a uterus before it can survive on its own. I punctuated the explanation with how I personally feel about abortion: that it is not something that is or ever would be right for me but is still very much a tool and a right every woman should have in her arsenal as she plans her own parenthood.

My feelings on this matter are complicated and raw, steeped in pain and familial history, patriarchy, racism, and abuse. They point directly to my very beginnings.  See, I am adopted. The only thing I know of my origin story is that someone left me, a newborn, on a stoop and my parents found me in an orphanage not too long after that. Over the years, I’ve drawn lines to different scenarios of who my birth mother is and how it came to be that she did not raise me and each of those scenarios lead directly back to only one thing I know to be true: rather than abort me, she carried me in her belly and birthed me and that decision, whether purposeful or made (most likely) under duress, is why I am living and breathing in this body. This is my reality, for which I am grateful, and also the reason why I decided long ago that if my body saw fit to do its part to make a baby, I would see the pregnancy through because, one, that is what my birth mother did for me, and two, I’ve always wanted very much to have babies, the only humans I know for sure whose blood would be the same as mine.

However, my mom’s reproductive journey has always brought nuance to my thoughts on the matter. You see, my mother, I’m told, was sexually violated, and wound up on a butcher’s table, desperate to rid herself of the product of her rape, even though having an abortion was illegal in the United States. On that table, she left a fetus and any chance she had of having a baby, because that’s the way it was—that’s the chance women who were pregnant but didn’t want a baby were forced to take and the consequence they were forced to face having back-alley abortions in a country more obsessed with what could be than it was with what actually was. Though my mother eventually married and built a family with my father, she, like so many other women of her early reproductive years, was irreparably harmed physically and likely mentally and emotionally, and that is not okay.
It also did not have to be.
Both she and my birth mother deserved the right to make their own decisions about whether, when and how to become mothers safely and supported without government intervention, and each of our lives were forever changed because the law had more rights over my moms’ bodies than my mothers did. This is why the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, effectively leaving it up to each individual American state to decide whether women have access to safe, legal abortions, is a trigger for me and so many other American women who saw a super majority of conservative justices wipe away a constitutional right of more than half of the United States population, again putting women’s reproductive health into the hands of a bunch of politicians who do not know our lives and are not our personal physicians and who should not have any kind of say in our personal decisions—reproductive or otherwise. That my daughters, now ages 23 and 20 respectively, have less reproductive rights than I’ve enjoyed for most of my 53 years, is a gross injustice—a travesty of epic proportions.
And I’m scared, y’all.
For my daughters and for yours. Because despite that we know anti-abortion is about preserving the white race—Illinois Rep. Mary Miller literally said this out loud at a Trump rally this weekend–we also know that when Black women do not have bodily autonomy, we suffer. We die.
This isn’t just hyperbole, and it isn’t just about our inability to get safe abortions; it’s about reproductive justice. It’s about our ability to access contraception, to be pregnant when we want to be or safely terminate said pregnancy when it’s not the right time for us, to get quality reproductive healthcare during our pregnancies and the birth and aftercare of our children, to have the resources we need to keep our children healthy and fed and safe in those critical first years of their lives. Each of these things already are out of reach for all too many of us Black women—regardless of income and education levels—and banning abortion altogether will increase our mortality rates exponentially (by about 33 percent, a Duke University study estimates) at a time when Black women already are 3-4 times more likely to die giving birth in America than our white counterparts. Linda Goler Blount, president and chief executive of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, put it best when she said this is life or death for Black women, who are most likely to be uninsured, to have low-paying jobs that make it impossible to take off time to care for babies or pull in enough cash to care for them, to have pregnancy complications overlooked, misdiagnosed or plain ignored in our racist healthcare system, and so many other dangerous, deadly consequences when abortion is illegal.

“The Supreme Court’s decision will spark a new—and entirely preventable—public health crisis for Black women in the United States,” Blount wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

And so now here I am talking to my daughters about abortion again, but this time I am talking about the five conservative, hyper religious justices forcing their moral code on the rest of us, in a democratic country hurtling with warp speed toward an autocracy that seems hell-bent on putting guns in every hand while simultaneously making it its business to regulate what happens in our beds and our wombs and our ballot boxes. I am talking about Justice Clarence “Uncle Ruckus” Thomas possibly having his way and forcing us to say goodbye to access to contraception and gay marriage, and how some politicians are literally licking their chops at the idea of striking down Brown vs. the Board of Education, which would catapult this country, us, right back into the days of racial segregation.

As I pressed packets of condoms in their hands, I warned my daughters to delete the period-tracking apps on their phones and to be hyper aware of how their reproductive queries and decisions—easily traceable through the digital footprints on their phones—can now officially put them on the pregnancy to prison pipeline in at least 24 states, including the one in which we live.

I told them again, through teary eyes, how their grandmothers suffered—how one had to live the rest of her life not knowing what happened to the baby she carried and birthed and how the other had to live her whole life remembering her rape and then her botched abortion through the lens of her infertility, and how that must have weighed a metric ton on her heart. Unbearably heavy. Immovable.
I tell my mothers’ stories to my daughters because they deserve an airing. Because my mothers’ trauma is a reminder and a warning. Because we mustn’t ever go back.
I fear, though, that we are.
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