We put our toddler to bed and cozied up alongside the fireplace illuminating our small trailer in the woods. If you aren’t ready to have another child, then we have to change what we are doing. You can’t keep coming inside of me. He had protested the idea of a vasectomy (too emasculating). I tried an IUD, but the pain and heavy bleeding following its insertion led to its removal. My period had been irregular since giving birth, and between taking care of a toddler and healing from postpartum depression, I was never successful at tracking my cycle.
He continued to come inside of me, and we spent nights running off lists of names for a second child. I took this as an explicit, albeit unsaid, declaration of intent. I never pushed back on his equation of a vasectomy with loss of masculinity. I was not aware of how privileged and centered he was in the spaces he walked through in life as well as within our relationship. I never imagined that his pleasure would be prioritized over my reproductive, emotional, and mental well-being.
He was attracted to J names. John. Jacob. After spending my 20s worrying over occasional mishaps with breaking condoms and Plan B, and having successfully avoided any unwanted pregnancy, I was in my 30s then. I was already a mother, and I thought we were together on building our family. My name list was short: Yael.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2019 data, 6 in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. This fact remains stigmatized and buried, as it allows for more politically expedient narratives that intentionally ignore this country’s lack of comprehensive sex education, national health care, and paid family leave, and its abysmal insurance and financial assistance support systems.
Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.
Follow Rewire News Group on Twitter to stay on top of every breaking moment.
Instead, we face sex ed that primarily focuses on abstinence and sexually transmitted infections, a country that lags the rest of the world in paid family leave, and a sort of Amy Coney Barrett can do it all worldview that imagines one’s problems as individual in nature and not systemic. A national understanding that parents are the majority of people receiving abortions might bring some to question why, exactly? What does the wealthiest nation’s money go toward, if not health care, families, education, and foundational resources? Maybe here and here?
When I learned I was pregnant with our first child, my partner was by my side as we bought a home pregnancy test. The male cashier quoted Juno’s “your eggo is preggo” at me. The second test, two years later, I took alone at work. I picked up our child from day care and called my mother. I’m pregnant. I got home to our modest trailer that night and told my partner the news. His face went into a blank stare; his eyes darkened. He had nothing to say.
“For us as women and people with uteruses, our reproductive bodies and our sexual bodies are the same,” somatic sex educator and doula Katie Spataro told Rewire News Group. “So to be in a sexual relationship with somebody that we’re having sex with, we can’t necessarily separate out our reproductive bodies when we are in reproductive age. And still the majority of fertility management falls on the shoulders of women or people with uteruses, right? That has historically been the case. That still is the case.”
In my case, I was supposed to be sexually available to my partner. I was supposed to have sex when and how he wanted it. I thought I was supposed to get pregnant again. And then, when he didn’t like that outcome, it was my responsibility to get an abortion.
The United States has no national mandatory comprehensive sex education, and even if it did, would it cover and account for the nuance, complexity, and gendered power dynamics that contribute to pregnancies? We can’t even get on the same page regarding masks. Sex education looks radically different across this country, through regions, homes, schools, and communities. The Guttmacher Institute’s Definition of Comprehensive Sexuality Education centers topics exploring gender, pleasure, and sexual autonomy, which seem a lifetime away as we near the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
Spataro is a sex educator—for adults. “Sex education, for me growing up, related to how not to get pregnant—it had nothing about pleasure or consent,” she said. For many of us in hetero partnerships, our awakening to cis male privilege and centering of pleasure is relatively recent. It has been spurred by the #MeToo movement, queer educators, and pleasure activists of the past decade that have called many of us to question the roots of our relationships with cis men in our lives. We have understood “patriarchy,” yet we still found ourselves trapped in the most intimate spaces within it. Toni Cade Bambara writes of this paradox in her essay “On the Issue of Roles,” first published in 1970: “We have not been immune to the conditioning; we are just as jammed in the rigid confines of those basically oppressive socially contrived roles.” What is the distance we must travel in practice, from our understanding of oppressive dynamics, to actually breaking free from them?
Without regular interrogation of our societal roles, what are we replicating? And how can we interrogate those roles when we find ourselves in partnerships with people who have no desire or interest in pursuing equanimity? I played my assigned gender role: compliant, docile, loving, and devoted. I did my all to avoid hard or complicated conversations. I had a fear of abandonment and of male anger. This was not innate. This behavior was learned. When I told him I was pregnant, he iced me out emotionally, and held his stance for 90 days.
For 90 days I was pregnant and parenting my toddler alone. Ninety days I spent without a partner for our family. Ninety days of feeling the structures crack beneath me. Ninety days of asking what resources I had. Ninety days of questioning if I wanted to be a single parent to one child, let alone two. In ninety days I made my decision.
Choosing an abortion was the most selfless act of my life. It is from a deep place of love that, as mothers, we choose what is best for our families. We have to break past the national channeling of “in cases of rape or incest” and declare this truth of selflessness. It is love that leads us to not bring another child into a household lacking in it. Or into an abusive relationship. Or a home where the foundations have long since crumbled. It is love that allows us to assess our resources, their limitations, and the communal support systems we may or may not have.
When we question how we will even pay for an abortion, we understand the truth that we do not have the financial bearings for an actual child. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 49 percent of women receiving abortions live below the poverty line. If this country was dedicated to family values, we would be addressing poverty as a national crisis and not manufacturing outrage over abortion.
Pleasure activist adrienne maree brown writes, “Pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy.” It took me 90 days to have an abortion. It took me six months to finally leave. It has taken me the past seven years to learn to reclaim my whole self. To discover my own queerness, to center my own sexual pleasure, and to find strength, resolve, and community within the very real social and financial hardships of single parenthood. Every day has become a practice in creating liberated relationships.
My abortion story is not commonly told, yet it is so very common. At the root was a relationship composed under the oppressive umbrella of patriarchy. brown continues:
Liberated relationships are one of the ways we actually create abundant justice, the understanding that there is enough attention, care, resource, and connection for all of us to access belonging, to be in our dignity, and to be safe in community.
Our collective liberation will be rooted in liberated relationships: open and honest communication, imaginative exploration, and truly comprehensive sex education.