Your Stories: Miscarriage And Misogyny
This is the first of a new series of posts I am calling “Your Stories.” These are the first hand accounts of the human cost of greed, corruption or bigotry in our country. We are not post-racial, women are not equals, homosexuals are still reviled, corporations ruin lives and justice is sometimes not only blind, but deaf and mute as well. We have a lot of work to do and it’s important that you know you are not working alone. Others share your pain and now they are willing to share it with the world.
From reader D.G.:
This is a story about the time I could have been arrested. But I wasn’t, because the war on contraception hadn’t geared up yet.
When I was 17 I got pregnant. You see, nice girls didn’t use contraception; only sluts did. That message, which I still hear today, caused me and countless others with enough self-esteem to think of themselves as nice girls, to deny even to themselves, the very human fact that they were attracted to their boyfriend.
At about 29 weeks I began to feel very ill. No matter, the ob-gyn would tell me what to do in a week when I had my next appointment. My high school biology class had been very detailed in the development of a chick in the egg; not so much on human biology. The last time anyone at the school told us anything explicit about our wombs was when we watched the Kotex film about getting your period in upper elementary school. “Health class” as it was called in my school, had a helpful section to teach you about budgeting in the real world; you had to plan a wedding, listing all the costs. There was also a section that they presented as being “sex ed” – an overly dramatized and exaggerated description of all the diseases promiscuous people caught in scare fashion without much detail about how they were acquired. DIdn’t apply to me, I felt as I sat through it, since I only had ever had one serious boyfriend at that point.
My regular doctor was out sick; I saw a much younger stranger. As I told him how ill I felt, I burst into tears and said “Isn’t there any medicine that can make me feel better?” I think he duly noted in my chart that I seemed depressed. I should also mention that I was a very small person who didn’t even look 17; nurses thought I was 14 or 15.
After the bus ride home from the appointment my water broke. When I called the office I could hear them talking in the background. “That can’t be true, she’s only 30 weeks!” and “But she was just here!” and I was told I must have peed myself. I hung up and called a relative who drove (I didn’t.) and who believed me, and was taken first to the nearest hospital, and finally with medical concurrence that I was in labor, by ambulance to another that had the only facilities for premature babies in our area.
I’ll gloss over the gory details. My daughter was born alive 24 hours later, but died that day. I nearly died, and spent the next several days in the ICU. Yes, I truly was as sick as I had tried to explain to the doctor. I didn’t know much about pregnancy, but I knew I was ill.
The doctor must have felt terrible. He’d seen me only an hour before! What happened? He must have focused on my request for some kind of “medicine” that would make me feel better. The hospital was a teaching hospital. In analyzing this incident, I speculate that they went looking for the youngest looking student they could find. A baby-faced young man came in to the labor room and tried to charm me into confiding in him.
Some of the things he said to me included “What kind of medicine did you take?” and “if you tell me, I’ll go outside right now and get you some more.” The only reaction he got was to make me cry; eventually looking frustrated he went back and must have told them that he couldn’t get me to ‘fess up about what I had taken. Later I would learn that there is an urban legend that some young girls do take drugs to induce labor as a shortcut to abortion. Not to sound self-righteous but I’ll note here that I’ve never used illegal drugs – however, I’ll bet there are some people who figure any slut who gets knocked up like that probably does all kinds of bad things.
And here’s where the time frame of the story becomes important. A seventeen year old, hearing the date when this happened, would definitely place my story as something that happened “a long time ago”. I’m sure they would think “It’s not like that today”.
In reality, recently a 15 year old girl named Rennie Gbbs was arrested. From the news reports I have seen, it sounds like she has a story very much like mine, other than the fact that she had a pre-existing record of using drugs (though there was no proof she used while pregnant). She faces life in prison in Mississippi for experiencing the personal tragedy of losing a baby.
Amanda Kimbrough, a mother of three, also gave birth prematurely to her fourth child, who died, and is in legal trouble based on the assumption that, because baby number four was handicapped, she must have somehow intentionally caused the miscarriage. This assumption by the prosecutor trumps the documented fact that when her doctor discovered the handicap, she was offered a termination and turned it down.
At least 38 of the 50 states across America have introduced fetal homicide laws that were intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from violent attacks by third parties – usually abusive male partners – but are increasingly being turned by renegade prosecutors against the women themselves.
Do I consider myself lucky that I lost my precious child? Hardly. Decades later, it still grieves me. But there is one thing I feel fortunate about – it happened in a state, and at a time where I didn’t go to jail for my misfortune.
I thought I had gotten over my grief. I’ve now got living daughters, one of whom is older than I was when this happened. However, reading about these prosecutions has caused me to sit at my computer, reliving this tragic time, even crying at the keyboard as I typed this.
Do you think these women should be prosecuted? This is just one small bomb launched in the war against women. Please, join me in condemning the criminalization of reproductive bad luck.
If you want to share your story, contact me here. Your privacy is guaranteed if you choose to remain anonymous or you can shout it out to the world. The choice is yours. Don’t worry about being the greatest writer ever. Not everyone can be Shakespeare. Just tell your story and let the literary critics worry about themselves.