My subconscious registered my first vaginal birth as a rape.
Unlike my abortion at 22, my pregnancy at 32 was planned. All paternalistic boxes have been checked this time. I was married, healthy, low risk, fully insured and ecstatic. I looked forward to a happy and carefree labor and birth, but as a survivor of sexual assault, my body associated the experience of spreading my legs unceremoniously apart while succumbing to out-of-control momentum and pain. of my control as a violent act culminating in anguish.
Instead of pushing when my cervix was fully dilated, I froze. For the next three hours, my daughter was crowned. As the top of her baby-sized head protruded two inches from my torn vagina, I vaguely remember the obstetrician, who seemed to be standing at the end of a dark, distant tunnel, showing me the ” beautiful curly hair” of my daughter on a mirror she held between my spread knees. She must have done it a dozen times, and then – “Push, Drew, push,” the attending nurse pleaded. “Don’t you want to meet your daughter with that pretty curly hair?” she asked hopefully. But I was gone.
In childbirth classes I had taken in the months leading up to my daughter’s due date, I was told to imagine being on a beach when the pains of childbirth became overwhelming. What my childbirth instructor didn’t know—and frankly, what I didn’t fully understand at the time—is that as a survivor of sexual trauma, my ability to dissociate or to “check” under extreme stress could take me far beyond an imaginary range. The violent pangs of childbirth terrified me, so I left my body and became catatonic. I did not “imagine that I was on a beach”. I dissociated and froze. For more than three hours, I couldn’t move.
It wasn’t until I heard my obstetrician say to someone in the increasingly tense delivery room, “We’re going to have to try a caesarean, but because the baby is crowned, we might lose her” , which I cracked. of my trance. Something clicked. Although the shaken trauma of labor was a matter of life or death for me, I realized that it was a time of life or death for my child. In an instant, a different version of myself emerged; The fighter. Game on. Let’s do this. Within minutes I pushed my daughter out of my body. Her beautiful little face was flushed and kind of broken, but she was fine. We both survived.
“I am not entirely surprised by this latest deprivation of liberty or reckless endangerment of women’s lives.”
Two years later, at the time of giving birth to my son, I understood the mission. This time I was mentally prepared for the commitment that was asked of me as a birthing person, which I describe to those who haven’t experienced it as a jump shot at the buzzer when you’re hurt and exhausted from playing all 48 minutes of a basketball game, or finding the back of the net in a penalty kick 90 minutes into a football game. Giving birth requires intention and concentration. Every cell in your body needs to engage.
So when it was time to deliver my son, I summoned up the courage of the athlete I used to be in high school (basketball, power forward, fierce rebounder) and I pushed out in 19 minutes. It was almost completely clear; my vagina only tore in one place this time. And again, we both survived, which was not a foregone conclusion. As a black woman, I faced a risk of death from pregnancy that is three times higher than the risk of maternal death faced by my white counterparts.
Can you imagine being forced to take such a risk? Can you imagine being forced to engage in this kind of gutting work against your will? If the leaked draft opinion authored by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that would overturn Roe v. Wade becomes final, millions of people in a country that has the audacity to call itself free will be forced to do just that. The abolition of abortion is a diversion of the bodies of millions of women and girls.
This development would be more shocking to me if I weren’t a descendant of slaves in America. I have never been tricked into thinking that I am safe in this country because I occupy a black female body. The story of black women and girls in America does not begin on a pedestal; it starts on a slave auction block.
A white man didn’t even have to be a sexual predator to rape my female ancestors who had been enslaved for centuries in this country. He just had to be an industrious entrepreneur – because for hundreds of years in America, impregnating black women through rape was a no-brainer; a good business decision.
So I’m not entirely surprised by this latest deprivation of liberty or reckless endangerment of women’s lives. Sadly, this follows a country that was an apartheid state for hundreds of years before becoming a democracy. And, even then, it was a democracy that included only white male landowners for over a century. Indeed, the callous disregard for the bodily autonomy of women, especially black women and girls, is “deeply rooted” in American history that Justice Alito wistfully invokes in the leaky draft.
To emphasize his contempt for my sex, Alito resuscitates the views of Sir Matthew Hale in his argument to overturn Roe v. Wade, which is a particularly alarming choice. An English jurist born in 1609 – 10 years before the first ships carrying human cargo in the transatlantic slave trade landed on American shores – Hale was an extreme misogynist, even by 17th-century standards.
Hale once sentenced a 13-year-old girl to hang for witchcraft. And, since the rape and incest exceptions for the abortion restrictions are in play, it should be noted that Hale believed that the “marital contract” prevented a husband from raping his wife.
Thus, in its proposed decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court cited a man who sanctioned the plundering of all women, including white women, from their marital bases. The message to all people of childbearing age in America is clear: none of us are safe. From rape to reproduction, toxic men seek unfettered domination over the bodies and lives of women and girls.
As a survivor, I am repelled by the prospect of forcing people to remain pregnant, which I consider a form of sexual assault. As a citizen, I am revolted by the notion of forced labour, which is, by definition, slavery. I am therefore determined to resist this regressive rollback so that my daughter and my son grow up in a country where we are all free.