I recently gave a talk for the Northern Virginia Ethical Society on how to advocate for abortion and reproductive justice with urgency, certainty, and clarity. You can listen here:
I became a feminist activist because I developed anorexia and nearly died. When I got better, I swore to do whatever I could to make it less likely others would have to go through the hell I did. I believe that eating disorders are just one awful and predictable outcome of a gender-mean society that tells women they must take up less space — and not just in physical shape and size.
I don’t think about this stuff every day, but it grounds the work I do. This is the moral center I bring to my work. When I get frustrated, or demotivated, or sick of being trolled, I remember why I’m doing what I’m doing, and my love pours back in. Oppression hurts.
Today I work primarily on increasing access to abortion and advancing reproductive justice — the right to not be pregnant, the right to be pregnant with dignity and access to quality health care, and the right to raise families in safe and healthy communities.
To me this work is a continuation of what propelled me into feminist activism in the first place: reproductive oppression, like shitty beauty standards, is predicated on the same core issues that stem from treating women like objects instead of human beings who deserve dignity, equality and respect. It’s about impossible demands on the body (food and sex are primal, yo), using internalized shame as a mechanism of control and subjugation, and a sense that women’s bodies are open for public comment and need to be controlled and tamed. And yes, men are both directly and indirectly oppressed on these lines, too, so fixing these problems benefits everyone.
So I’ve shared some version of that in more conversations and speeches I can count. It is, after all, my story and why I’m here. Today I shared this at William and Mary Law School in a talk on attacks on Planned Parenthood and how we can protect reproductive freedom.
After it was over, multiple students came up and thanked me for sharing my story. One, in particular, told me it was the first time she’d heard anyone — student or professor — share in a classroom that they’d experienced an eating disorder. Mind you this was only like a hot second of my presentation in the context of an hour, but it made a difference to her. How sad that so much of life is people pretending they’ve got it all figured out and always have. That is like the literal antithesis of power. It is overcoming that makes us strong.
We all have a reason why we work toward the causes we do, and it’s effective organizing to share it. But more important, when we share our authentic stories and make ourselves vulnerable, we are shouting the shame that’s supposed to hold us back and flipping it the bird. I believe it is radical act each time a woman tells the truth about her life. To other people. To herself.
Change really does start with you.
Pregnant. Pro-choice! Knocked up. Fired up. Expecting a baby.
Before I was pregnant, before this transformation that makes me want to eat popsicles at all times, I advocated every day for women’s human rights, most notably around reproductive justice – the right to bear children, the right to not bear children, and the right to adequate health care and social support for all families.
What follows is a commentary that is both intensely personal and political.
Let’s start with the gentleman driving down the street with the “CHOOSE LIFE” license plates.
I see your opinions. I see you can afford to drive a Mercedes. I see clear as the obliviousness on your face that you have NO IDEA.
NO IDEA what it is like to be pregnant.
NO IDEA how warm piss can turn a ten dollar piece of plastic into the most expensive thing at Tiffany that you just broke.
NO IDEA how painful your suggestion can be for a woman who couldn’t complete a wanted pregnancy.
It is so offensive to me that you think you have the right to speak to me, your target audience, a pregnant woman not visibly so, about my reproductive health and decision-making whenever you want. You don’t know me. I haven’t even told all my friends and family I’m having a baby.
Messages like yours, that personal pregnancy is properly positioned as public property, make we want to puke. Your message makes me want to let loose my hot tomato-flavored morning sickness all over your flawless black paint job and glistening silver hood ornament. It is harassment of women who walk and drive and breathe in public.
There is no “choosing life” in the movement represented on license plates like yours from 27 states, with proceeds funneled into unregulated crisis pregnancy centers filled with non-medical poseurs willing to lie to me until some teeth fall out: Telling me abortion will make me go to hell. Telling me abortion will make me commit suicide. Telling me abortion will give me breast cancer.
I’ll tell you what the “pro-life” cause to shame and ban abortion does: It kills women. It kills women just like me.
I am fourteen weeks pregnant, my due date is June 2, my start date is August 26 – that’s Women’s Equality Day (the epoch has not yet been reached).
I am three weeks less pregnant than Savita Halappanavar was when she died in Ireland after a dangerous miscarriage could not be completed with an abortion she begged for because – “This is a Catholic country.”
There is a woman who didn’t die the same hospital death in Arizona recently, and the price was paid with the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride. Sister Margaret McBride’s alleged crime was saving that 27-year-old woman’s life. In doing that, Sister Margaret McBride angered the “No Girls Allowed” club up top in Rome.
I couldn’t go to my hometown candlelight vigil for Savita. I couldn’t go because I wasn’t ready to tell others I’m pregnant, and every time I seriously considered that case I would start to cry. I’m crying now.
You can work so hard for people’s inherent equality, you can work so hard for reproductive freedom and reproductive justice, but when it comes down to it, pregnant women are still so vulnerable. Yesterday. Today. And still, tomorrow.
The equation is too simple: If you are pregnant and in the wrong place at the wrong time, you die. Not because you had to. Not because the medicine isn’t available yet. Because people, often laws they create, won’t trust you with your power.
I am thrilled to have a baby but the expectation to have a baby, even a dead baby, at any cost, even a dead woman, even me, fuels the wetness on my cheeks.
Let’s leave the Mercedes driver behind and talk about some other expectations.
If you think I’m going to have “a new focus,” or less passion or ambition about my career and the causes I are about, I ask that you kindly ask yourself if you have the same expectation of my husband. Now why does that sound ridiculous? As the authority on myself, it sounds equally ridiculous for me.
I am so proud to show my little girl or boy what it’s like to have a mother who does not slow down, who provides that example that you can have love and devotion to your family and love and devotion to the broader world.
I am not trying to “have it all” or achieve “work-life balance.” I have never seen that referenced as a recipe for personal success alongside the extraordinarily successful men on the covers of magazines – all 96% of those Fortune 500 CEOs, 83% of those members of Congress, 100% of those presidents in history.
I know you can’t self-help your way out of societal discrimination, for which “having it all” and “work-life balance” are guilt-ridden code words. I know you have to work to change the system. That is my work and I will continue that work to the best of my ability, as I always have.
A wise mentor of mine told me that activism is being willing to live your life as an example of what should be, even when it comes with personal cost. And that is why I’m coming out now. You see, I’m in exactly a position to lose right now: I’ve gone on some interviews for jobs, and I’m pregnant. I know that discrimination against openly pregnant women is real. The New York Times recently ran a piece on this. It was called Why Women Hide Their Pregnancies.
I know why women hide their pregnancies. I know why I’ve kept this information longer than I probably would have if I weren’t in transition. I’m afraid people will discriminate against me, make assumptions about me and my career decisions past, present and future, downgrade me or dismiss me simply because I’m having a baby. I know the law is behind where we need to be as a modern workforce. And I’m telling you openly, as a pregnant woman who is taking her career to the next level whether that’s intuitively acceptable for you or not, that this must change for everyone. I am real, other women like me are real, and we are not going away.
This is the first time I’ve been pregnant. I was quite surprised to find I was pregnant two weeks after resigning from my job, without future paychecks in place. At other points in my life, with those facts and without the current support structure I have, I probably would have had an abortion. I’m thrilled to be pregnant today and I don’t feel at all guilty to know this truth. We are not guilty for having sex, for having children, for having abortions. We are human.
So much more to say. For now I will leave you with my strongest Pregnant Pro-Choice Lady wish to end a world where lesbians, gays, single women, single men, young people and undocumented immigrants are not congratulated, supported and welcomed as future parents in the way my husband and I so warmly have been; where low-wage workers need to express breastmilk in a filthy bathroom stall but their wealthier counterparts get leather couches, privacy and respect; and, without question or hesitation, to end a world where accessible, affordable contraception and abortion care is shrouded in shame and dangerous bans that kill pregnant women in the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than celebrated as one of the greatest public health advances in our history.
We should be so proud to stand for reproductive justice.