A few days after November 8th, I was talking to a friend, a progressive everywoman, who said she couldn’t stop crying or throwing up. I wasn’t sure if she was kidding. “Are you really throwing up?” She said yes, that she could only manage the occasional piece of chocolate and cup of tea, even though she hates tea.
So I asked her if I could record our conversation.
She said yes, and the result is the following interview on Trump and choice – an intense reaction to the election of an alleged sexual predator, an inappropriate father, an outspoken sexist, and an ignoramus on women’s issues. And this was all before Trump picked Tom Price as his Health and Human Services Secretary, a man who would be happy to defund Planned Parenthood, limit access to birth control, and allow women to be charged more for health insurance than men.
Her impassioned, off-the-cuff eloquence is truly inspiring:
Why do you think you’re having such a physical, visceral reaction to the election of Donald Trump?
It started with the third debate when he talked about how in the ninth month “you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother.” I know I shouldn’t have been caught off-guard by that, but I was. Somehow the harshness of what he said without any humanity jolted me back to my own experience.
As you know, I had a late-term loss about ten years ago. So when Donald Trump made that statement – he was trying to talk about so-called “partial birth abortion,” I had a stillbirth – it made me think, “Where is choice when there isn’t one?”
I thought about my son who died inside me; he was fully formed and would have lived if I’d had an emergency c-section in time. And I thought about my friend who had to have multiple late-term abortions because not one but two of her babies’ brains didn’t form properly and they wouldn’t have survived outside the womb.
Neither one of us chose those situations. So when he said that, it made me so upset and mad. I had trouble breathing. But I didn’t think he would be elected. When you looked at the US election odds, it didn’t seem possible.
Now that he is, I am just full-blown symptomatic. All the trauma I thought I’d dealt with is back.
You mean PTSD?
Yes, totally. I mean, I’m doing the best I can. I have three kids. They need me. I have to show up. I have to put one foot in front of the other. But I’m between here and there. I sound ok right now, but later tonight, when I make mushroom soup for dinner, I’ll will want to vomit because I don’t like the smell of food right now – because I’m remembering things I haven’t thought about in years.
It’s 3 or 4 days of hard labor; it’s needles and blood; it’s not understanding what’s happening exactly – whether because the fetus is stillborn or because it won’t live outside the womb.
To play devil’s advocate, pro-lifers would say “But your baby was already dead; what Trump was talking about is completely different.”
First of all, Donald Trump was talking about something that never happens. It doesn’t. He made it sound like abortions happen at 37 weeks. That’s not an abortion fuckhead, that’s birth. Whether it’s stillborn or it’s going to die quickly.
Women who have had late-term abortions and women who have had late-term losses – there’s a distinction, but it’s artificial. We’re more the same than we’re different. We all had zero chance of having a baby that was going to grow up.
The people who say the women who “choose” that for a baby they love and want to be born – that’s not a choice. I know people see that as a choice; it’s not.
So that comment just reflected his absolute ignorance of the realities that women face when it comes to late-term abortion…?
It showed his ignorance and it showed how devoid he is of any humanity. If he’s ignorant about it, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit –
Let’s not forget, he’s never changed a diaper.
Of course he hasn’t.
This cultural conversation is so confusing because people don’t know what’s going on. They don’t ask for the gory details: either they don’t want to know, or they don’t want to upset or remind someone like me.
So you combine that ignorance with the lack of compassion of his statement, his willingness to make a convenient political point at the cost of women’s health, freedom and choices – and now I’m suddenly reliving my trauma all over again. It’s profoundly triggering.
And I’m someone who’s worked for years to make peace with my stillbirth, as my friend did with her late-term abortions. Do I let him take that away from me with one sentence? No, I don’t. But I’ve been here for a long time, writing about this, processing this. There are so many women who don’t get the chance to process it. I know so many women who are so fucked up over their experience; all they want to do is deny their experience, because it’s so awful to think about.
And that’s what he so casually puts out there to them? Something so gratuitously violent? It shows a total lack of understanding, presented for people to consume in a political way. That’s the kind of thing that can destroy a woman…or a society.
I can guess, but why would you say what you’ve been experiencing is worse now that he’s elected?
Because the people with the power can control the dialogue. This is what people are going to believe: that babies are ripped from their mothers’ wombs. That’s not what happens. Lives are ripped apart. Women fall apart. And they have to put themselves back together.
This is one of the things that scares me most about a Trump presidency: language is powerful. He’ll say, “It’s just words.” It’s never just words. It sets a tone. I can’t imagine that somebody so devoid of the ability to hear people, to listen, is going to be able to thread the needle between compassion and politics. Now that he’s been elected, this is going to be the policy: un-compassion. He’s gone from being a lunatic making a fringy statement to being the leader of the free world who’s in charge of the narrative. Now everyone’s going to believe what he said is true! And I can’t live with that.
What are you seeing online?
Women are freaking out.
My friend, who had two back-to-back babies with brain problems, has made a career out of her experience: she helps people in similar situations. So when he made that comment, her Facebook feed exploded. The same since the election.
There’s such vulnerability in loss. And the first thing that needs to happen with loss, with a termination, with a dead baby, is for people to build their own story. And in that moment of absolute vulnerability, you do not need the president-elect of the United States with no understanding and not an iota of compassion writing that story for you, saying that babies are ripped from wombs. Because it makes women feel not just mad – we can be angry, we can be nasty women, we can take this, we can take all kinds of shit – but it makes us feel disempowered, helpless. And we’re not.
What do you think will happen to Roe v. Wade?
Roe v. Wade will most likely be gutted or overturned. A Trump/Pence presidency will make us question how we value women; it will disempower us even further.
What I’m scared to say but what I think is true is that a fetus can be a child or a choice. Women define the contents of their uteruses. Women are godlike in that way. They decide if it’s a baby or not. That is taken away when we have laws that legislate what kind of access we can have to the things that we need.
There have always been preparations for the end of Roe v. Wade, there have always been whisperings and hushed discussions of what to do about it. I’m sure there will be again. And I think it will be less covert soon. Because women’s rights and reproductive freedoms have never been more imperiled in my lifetime than they are right now.
The Supreme Court is gone. If Roe gets overturned, it becomes a states’ rights issue. But what 14-year-old girl who’s been raped in Alabama can conveniently get to a blue state and pay for an abortion? So systems to help women get access to safe, legal abortion and care are going to have to evolve.
Look at abortion before Roe v Wade: if you were a rich lady in New York you could get an abortion easily. Abortion has been available forever, at least to the elite. What Roe did was make it accessible. And what this administration can do is take that accessibility away.
So I’ve heard rumblings from midwives and women’s rights advocates about organizing, info about herbal potions, travel routes, overground railroads –
What do you mean by that term?
The minute abortion becomes illegal, we’re going to have a serious back alley problem again. I mean, Roe is still the law and it’s still hard to get an abortion in many places, thanks to all the methodical right-wing restrictions put in place in the last few years. So imagine even worse scenarios.
An “overground railroad” would be a way to ensure people don’t end up in some weirdo’s garage with unsterilized equipment. Apart from being a phone and bus ticket and an appointment at a legitimate clinic, it’s something else too: it’s an affirmation that you have a need, you’re being supported and you’re not a terrible person.
And that can be the difference between being fucked up forever or coming to terms with it. Nobody I know who’s had an abortion went skipping off happily to the clinic – they all cried afterward, wished it didn’t have to happen – but many of them have made a real peace with it because what they found necessary was safe and legal.
So as the mother of a daughter and sons, I need to know that there are mechanisms whereby my children can grow up, make mistakes, and not have those mistakes define their lives forever. That means they need to have access to birth control and reproductive services.
That’s why there’s a run on IUDs right now.
I guess that means I’ve had a ton of abortions.
Well, God is the biggest abortionist of them all, which is kind of ironic.
Speaking of God, I personally don’t accept a God that would put a mother in a position where she would be made to feel like a murderer when she chooses to end the life of a baby that won’t live outside the womb. Who would put somebody through that? I lived through that. You don’t ever leave that behind. I died that night. I survived my own death. There’s no part of me that’s the same anymore.
Is there anything giving you hope?
I used to work with refugees, and I’m reminded of this doctor from Afghanistan I met. He operated a general clinic for people to come and get free care. The midwives handled all the deliveries because under the Taliban, under Sharia, it’s a serious crime to touch a woman who isn’t your wife. But a woman and her baby were in distress; the were both potentially going to die if he didn’t help them. So he delivered the baby, they both lived and he was put in jail for that violation. He managed to escape, bribed his way onto a plane and got to the US to seek asylum.
This is what I’ve been thinking about in the aftermath of this election. That doctor didn’t have to give up anything, he could have said, “Sorry, I can’t help.” But he was an impassioned doctor, he had a mission and he honored his Hippocratic Oath. He took a stance. He gave up his job, his clinic, everything. And the end game for this doctor was a phlebotomy job in Maryland, because the licensing for medical practice here in the States is impossible for him. All to protect a woman’s health and freedom.
That kind of work and philosophy and action has to come from us now. So while I’m psychically forced back into a labor room with a “baby being ripped from my womb,” on a more positive note I’m also back in that refugee interview room with a doctor who acted courageously, and did what he had to do even though he didn’t really have to do it. We have to remember there are these kinds of people in the world who will get off their ass and advocate and agitate for change and make it happen and never stop. And we have to be those kinds of people right now.
So if Trump changes the laws, then are good people going to have to break them?
Yes, good people do have to break the law sometimes: think of suffragettes, civil rights activists. Would I go to jail to defend my children’s and your children’s reproductive rights? I like to think I would. Not right now, though, because I actually have to be a parent to my kids for at least a few more years.
But there’s a question that comes before “Do good people have to break the law sometimes?” It’s: “Are we going to be lazy or are we going to be organized?” Because you can get a lot done without breaking the law if you’re organized. It’s not just a choice between breaking the law and sitting on the couch. There’s a middle point. And I think now the only way we survive is to get organized.
How do we do that?
We have to stop crying. I’ve had a good afternoon, because I’m doing something, I’m talking to you.
We need to recall the lessons of our forbearers. There are so many massive social movements that got so much done. Just look at the waves of social change that have happened. One hundred years ago women couldn’t vote, and now Hillary just won the popular vote…by a lot.
We have to retrain our brains to remember that there’s stuff worth fighting for. Look at the suffragists and the first wave feminists. We can’t be the equivalent of the Millennials (sorry Millennials!) who were like, “Bernie lost, oh well, fuck it.” No. No no no no no.
We’ve got to make a fuck of a lot of noise.
We’ve got to get a Supreme Court Justice in before Obama leaves. We’ve got to go to Washington, and I mean before the January 21st march. We’ve got to put on our pantsuits, with our high heels in a bag and our running shoes on, and say, “Give us a fucking Justice!”
We’ve got to get our friends motivated and organized. Enlist the people who can be super agitators. Add the people who are connected, and can write well, and can tell stories.
People are like “I don’t have the time. I’ve got my kids’ piano recitals and travel soccer.” Yeah, but you’re still watching Netflix at night! Women and men – I know so many fabulous male allies – need to understand this is not the time to give up or be complacent or be fully consumed by binging “The Crown.”
Anything you’d like to add in closing?
Ever since the night of the debate, and even more so now that he’s been elected, I feel like I’m Emily Webb from “Our Town.” In that play, she’s like, “Look, Mama, look, you’re making eggs, and Wally went on that camping trip and had an appendicitis and he died!” We’ve all got to wake up!
We’re not going to win the election – it’s over – but we’re not going to go all the way back to the Stone Ages. I’m not living under an American version of the Taliban, and neither is my daughter or your daughter or our sons, no!
We’re living on the edge of something that’s the tipping point. And I want in. Because this is worth it. This country, this place that we live in, this community – however Aristotelian or universal you want to be – it’s worth fighting for.
The only thing that makes me stop crying and get out of my head is when I get really angry. So let’s get angry together and do something about it.