Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Confessions of a Reformed Baby Saver

I always knew I should've been aborted. No part of my existence made sense. My mother was 19, and abortion had already been legal for ten years. She was living on her own in a liberal college town while attending the University of Texas, and the worst part? My grandparents were ministers.

In order for her to “have me” she would have to drop out of school, move back home to Dallas and—perhaps most horrifyingly—let her parents know she wasn’t a virgin.

She did all of those things. She gave me life and because of that she is and always will be my hero. Because of that I also always felt very close to the unborn. For the first decade and a half of my life I was outspokenly anti-abortion. If you wanted to defend it I’d shove a picture of an aborted fetus in your face without a second thought. To me these were my brother and sisters in crisis pregnancies being slaughtered thanks to an apathetic society. I wanted everyone to feel something, anything, about abortion. If you loved it, then fine. You loved murdering innocent children and I was going to let you know it.

Then, at 16, I became pregnant. I was terrified. I was having a baby in nine months and all I wanted to do was rip my stomach off of my body and die. I had let everyone down. If anybody knew better than to make this mistake it was me. Hadn’t I seen, hell, lived the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy?! It took my mother a decade to finally complete her degree. I watched her fall prey to men she should’ve never been with just to provide some sense of normalcy for me. In between classes, I celebrated my birthday at the restaurants where she waited tables. I. Knew. Better. How had I gotten myself into the very same predicament…?

I returned to school for my junior year with a big swollen belly teetering on my childlike frame. I’d waddle from class to class, deflecting whispers and dirty looks as I went. My now ex boyfriend wanted nothing to do with the whole thing and had transferred schools, so there were now rumors that he wasn’t even the father. I spent most of my lunch periods in the bathroom crying, partially because of hormones, but mostly because teenagers can be so very cruel. When I wasn’t broken I was angry. I walked the halls angry because it was the only defense mechanism I had.

That’s when it happened. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I’d known her since 7th grade; we’d gone to the same middle school. She got boobs before the rest of us and was always smoking over in the woods behind the school. We weren’t friends really, but once you move to high school those acquaintances become like relatives you have no choice but to accept because there’s that familiarity which breeds camaraderie. I was on my way up the stairs when she stopped me...

“I was pregnant this summer too.”

It caught me off guard.

“Was?” The word rolled around in my head until it finally engaged. “She was pregnant… but she’s not now.”

“I had an abortion…” she continued. She kept talking but there was a rage now taking over my body. I can only describe it as that thing we all saw in cartoons growing up. The information hit my temporal cortex and everything caught on fire. Suddenly smoke was shooting out of my ears and a high-pitched train whistle was drowning out everything she was saying. Could she not tell obviously I was not cool with that option? Did she not see the looks? Hear the whispers? If I was okay with abortion wouldn’t I have had one myself to avoid this hell where I currently dwelt?!

I looked her in the eye and said the following, word for word:

“So you killed your baby? You’re a baby killer… and you’re proud of it?”

She spit a few choice profanities at me and I continued up the stairs, honestly feeling pretty pleased with myself. Funny how that happens when you’re mad. The rage builds up and finds a release valve through your mouth and for one minute you feel relieved. Then you realize what you’ve just done.

I wish I could say my regret came that quickly, but it did not. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I was made aware of the impact of my words.

My mother had just gotten home and I couldn’t wait to recount the day’s events to her. Obviously she would be so proud, since she herself had been on this end of the “crisis”…a hormonal, hot mess.

As soon as I finished telling her what had happened her eyes turned sad. They weren’t full of the pride I’d anticipated. She was so ashamed of me.

“Maybe her next abortion will be in your honor,” she said.

Her words pierced my core and instantaneously transformed me. In that moment, with that one line, I saw so clearly what I’d done. I hadn’t related to her as a fellow female going through an incredibly difficult and heart-wrenching time. I’d attacked her as a former fetus who could’ve just as easily been aborted. The “baby saver” I was in that moment would guarantee the “woman in crisis” she was would never confide in me again.

My mother’s words that day softened my heart. I shed the anger and let it take its more vulnerable root form: fear. I decided to show others how scared I was, but let them know it was still possible to choose life amidst all the uncertainties because we females are so much stronger than we realize. I accepted my new identity as a girl who was in the shoes of every girl who was walking through the doors of that abortion clinic, and not the child in their womb. I was clearly on the other side now. I just had the support and information they didn’t. That’s all that separated us.

The universe has a funny way of giving us second chances and I’m almost always too lazy to be prepared when they come along. The very next day an almost identical situation happened. Another girl who I’d known for years but was never particularly close to came up to me in the lunchroom.

I was sitting at a long empty table reading a book by myself. It took me a moment to notice her standing there, but as I lowered my book the same words left her lips…

“I was pregnant this summer too… sucks.”

“Was… was… she used the same word…” my brain told me. Unfortunately I hadn’t given much thought to how I would handle this situation if it ever presented itself, but I knew my silence was coming off as a form of judgment of its own.

“Oh yeah,” I asked, “how far a long were you?”

She stared off for a minute, pretending to do the imaginary math. “Like, 12 weeks or something…”

“Twelve weeks… twelve weeks…” my head was buzzing with both appropriate and inappropriate responses and all I wanted to do was say something non-emotional, non-condemning. Facts maybe? But what facts did I have? Only those dumb fetal development ones I was getting emailed to me every other day.

“Twelve weeks… so that’s like eye lashes and fingernails, right?”

The second it exited the buzzing in my head and flew out of my mouth I realized what I’d just done.

I watched it sting her.

This conversation ended almost identical to the one the day prior, however there was a major change in me. I was not talking to her as a baby saver condemning her choice. I was speaking to her as a woman who had also been in that situation (was currently in that situation) and had vital information made available to me. There was no anger, only facts.

In years since I have tried to go beyond that. I don’t just want to offer women what I had as far as fetal development information… knowledge of which all women should have before they make a decision as significant as abortion. But I want to offer them the resources I was lucky enough to have as well.

There was never a fear of being kicked out of my home when I found out I was pregnant. My family was able to afford basic medical care for me and my child, and there would be diapers and nursery equipment in subsequent months if I chose to parent rather than place him for adoption.

So many women do not have these things. Basic facts and practical needs are what keep them from choosing life, but so is compassion.

They expect us to yell. They want us to, believe it or not.

I did.

I wanted someone to berate me… to tell me what a fool I was for ruining my life and dragging an innocent child into this mess. If someone would’ve tried to “baby save” my fetus while treating me like crap I would’ve been all over that because trust me, there’s not a name they could’ve thrown at me that I hadn’t already called myself.

But no one did. Instead they cried with me… not for me. They offered kindness and support and let me know I was still loved even when I felt so unlovable.

That’s when I went from a baby saver to an advocate for women, which often times saves them both.


Post by Destiny

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

That Time A Maxi Pad Commercial Made Me Cry...

"The vast majority of us imagine ourselves as like literature people or math people. But the truth is that the massive processor known as the human brain is neither a literature organ nor a math organ. It is both and more." - John Green

I decided to go back to school at the age of 35 for a lot of reasons. The main one: I'm tired of struggling financially.

I did a lot of research over a few years and eventually decided nursing was the way to go. The ratio of time, energy, and money spent versus income potential, job growth, and opportunities for advancement is highly favorable. It's one of the few careers where you can make a comfortable living with an Associate's Degree, an even more comfortable living with a Bachelor's, and if you're willing to go to grad school for an MSN or DNP, you can make six figures easy.

I was nervous to go back to school. It's been many years, and last time I was in I flunked out. Just like I flunked out of a lot of classes in high school.

Why? Because I have below average intelligence? To the contrary: I was considered gifted from as early as I can remember, was put in gifted classes, and told by teachers and other adults from the time I was in kindergarten that I was talented, highly intelligent, destined for great things.

So why did I find myself 35 and hovering somewhere around the poverty line doing a menial job for crappy money?

Part of it is classic Gifted Kid Syndrome. We're used to things being easy, and when they're not, instead of buckling down, we just get bored and do something else.

I didn't make a B until I was in the 8th grade, and I was shocked by it. No, I hadn't tried to make a good grade, but that had never kept the As from rolling in before.

By high school, I was in IB History, English, and Theatre, and regular Math and Science. I made As in the IB courses, and Ds and Fs in the "easy" math and science courses. My vice principal told me my report card was "schizophrenic."

I didn't do well because I didn't try. At all. If I wasn't good at it right away, oh well. I would rather fail on purpose than risk all the complicated negative emotions inherent in trying and then failing.
I managed to graduate high school with a respectable GPA somehow. I auditioned for and won a full scholarship to a state school as a theatre major. I turned it down. For a little while I went to community college, but I was too busy smoking pot and hanging out with my boyfriend and acting in plays and writing and editing the school paper to learn anything new. I stuck to what I was naturally good at. Everything else remained untried.

Eventually I left school without bothering to withdraw from my classes, leaving several Fs on my transcript, behind a string of Ws.

And now here I am, age 35, broke and tired, finally understanding a whole host of things I should have understood 15 years ago:

1.     That no one on earth - NO ONE - is good at everything they try.

2.     That no one on earth - NO ONE - is always good at things right away.

3.     That not all college degrees are created equal. Theatre is beautiful. So is writing. I have a lot of passion for those things. But those are not the most practical avenues to a life free of constant financial stress, which is my current goal.

4.     That just because I was told by every standardized test and every teacher from the age of five that I was "verbally gifted" does not mean I'm not mathematically capable, too. (In fact, it occurs to me that all those standardized tests on which I scored in the 97th to 99th percentile for reading comprehension, language skills, etc. - I also scored well above average in math and science. But no one ever made much of that.)

So I went back to school. I started last semester with Biology for Science Majors. Wanting to hurry the hell up and get my pre-requisites for nursing school done, I dared to take it in a five-week summer course. While working full time.

My last experience with lab science was in high school, when, having flunked out of Chemistry (I slept through, skipped, or utterly ignored every lecture and lab) I was demoted to "regulars" Physical Science, which I found conceptually fascinating but quite annoying in practice as my lab partners consisted of gum-popping cretins constantly sneaking away to make out by the water fountain.
I started my Bio course nervous, still mired in the lie that a human being can only be verbal or mathematical, and never the twain shall meet in any one individual.

Biology, to be fair, is not a particularly math-heavy science. But it is science. And this course was a LOT of science, all up in my face, at breakneck speed.

For those five weeks, I had no life outside of work and school. When I wasn't at work (and sometimes when I was) I was studying.

And when I saw a 91 written on the first exam, I literally asked my teacher if that number was my grade. She laughed and said it was.

That was the lowest exam grade I made all semester. My combined average for lecture and lab was a 97. Other students came and asked me questions before quizzes and tests.


One of my lab partners was a 19-year-old Asian-American girl majoring in Chemical Engineering. She didn't need to make higher than a C, so she floated her way through class, coming alive only to cram and text me questions the night before exams.

Towards the end of the semester, she told me I needed to consider engineering. I asked her why, and she told me I was obviously capable of it so why not make the money?

I immediately balked. I'm still balking. Because I can't do that level of math, right? Linear Algebra? Physics? Me?! In high school, I skipped my Algebra I final to drop acid and go skinny dipping. True story. Can I honestly see myself doing calculus? Designing objects that do complicated things?

I've been thinking about this for a few days, and while at work today I found a Nova documentary about nanotechnology on YouTube. I've been fascinated with nanotech since I read Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age. Nanobiotech is an exploding field in bioengineering, and since my lab partner planted the seed of engineering in my mind, I've been watering it a little, here and there, to see if it grows.

And as I was sitting at my desk, stapling papers and half-watching a super-stoked MIT physicist explain the unique properties of graphene, the video was interrupted by an Always ad. Yeah, the maxi pads. I reached for the mouse to click "Skip Ad," but something made me stop and watch.

A group of girls of various ages and races were interviewed, one by one, about the things they'd been told they couldn't do or be because they are girls. It was pretty cheesy, but I found myself tearing up when a beautiful little indian girl said, "We're not supposed to get to rescue people."

I teared up because I've always wanted to rescue people, too.

A teenager talked about how she stopped trying at things because she wasn't supposed to be good at them.

Girls with markers wrote on big white boxes all the things they'd been told they couldn't do. The one I remember so clearly said: "Be brave."

And words across the screen reminded me what I already knew from my own experience: that the confidence of girls takes a nose-dive during puberty.

Because that is when we become sexual objects, and once we are, that's all we're really supposed to be. Or, at least, we're not supposed to be anything that threatens that.

Suddenly I thought to myself: "If I were a dude, would I be questioning my ability to do an engineering degree?"

And I remembered my other lab partner, a strapping ex-combat-medic contemplating either nursing or bioengineering. He didn't do nearly as well in the Bio class as I did, partly because he was going through family drama, but still. I never heard him question his ability, and I know I'm at least as smart as he is.

If I were a dude, and I decided biomed is what I wanted to do, I would probably just do it.
But I'm a woman, so I assume I can't? What the hell is that all about?

I texted my lab partner for advice. She told me to try Calculus. "It's the litmus test," she said. So my goal for the next few weeks is to spend all my free time on Khan Academy, working my way up through Algebra to Calculus.

Can I do it?

Inside me, there are so many instinctive responses to that question, ranging from "hell no" to "I don't know."

But the one that feels truest to me, right now, is:

If I decide I can, then of course I can.

The damage that is done to people when we tell them they belong in a certain category they can't change is life-long, whether it's telling a verbally gifted person she can't do math, or telling a girl she can't be strong or brave or heroic.

It's all lies. Every last word of it.

No one is capable of everything - that's true. But almost all of us are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for.

Especially the broken, used, and lied-to girls inside us who became tentative, self-defeating women.


Post by Kristen Hatten