An activist holds a pro-choice poster on Sunday, May 8, in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo: NurPhoto via Getty Images)
My subconscious registered my first vaginal delivery as a rape.
Unlike my abortion at 22, my pregnancy at 32 years old was planned. All of the paternalistic boxes were checked this time. I was married, healthy, low-risk, fully insured, and ecstatic. I looked forward to a labor and delivery that was blissful and worry-free, but as a survivor of sexual assault, my body associated the experience of spreading my legs unceremoniously while succumbing to momentum and pain beyond my control as a violent act that would culminate in anguish.
Instead of pushing when my cervix was fully dilated, I froze. For the next three hours, my daughter was crowned. As the top of her infant-sized head protruded two inches from my torn vagina, I vaguely remember the obstetrician, who appeared to be standing at the far end of a dark and distant tunnel, showing me my daughter’s “beautiful curly hair” on a mirror she held between my splayed open knees. She must have done this a dozen times, and then — “Push, Drew, push,” the attending nurse pleaded. “Don’t you want to meet your daughter with that pretty curly hair?” she asked hopefully. But I was gone.
In the childbirth classes I’d taken in the months leading up to my daughter’s due date, I was told to imagine I was on a beach when the labor pains became overwhelming. What my childbirth instructor didn’t know — and frankly, what I didn’t fully grasp at the time — is that as a survivor of sexual trauma, my capacity to dissociate or “check out” when under extreme stress could take me far beyond an imaginary beach. The violent throes of childbirth terrified me, so I left my body and became catatonic. I did not “imagine I was on a beach.” I dissociated and froze. For more than three hours, I was unable to move.
It wasn’t until I heard my obstetrician say to someone in the increasingly tense delivery room, “We’re going to have to try a C-section, but because the baby is crowned, we might lose her,” that I snapped out of my trance. Something clicked. Although the jolting trauma of labor felt like life or death for me, I realized that this was a life-or-death moment for my child. In an instant, a different version of myself emerged; the fighter. Game on. Let’s do this. Within minutes, I pushed my daughter out of my body. Her beautiful tiny face was red and kind of smashed, but she was fine. We both survived.
I am not entirely surprised by this most recent deprivation of liberty or reckless endangerment of women’s lives.
Two years later, when it was time to deliver my son, I understood the assignment. This time I was mentally prepared for the commitment required of me as a person giving birth, which I describe to those who haven’t experienced it as taking a jump shot at the buzzer when you’re injured and exhausted from playing all 48 minutes of a basketball game, or like finding the back of the net in a penalty kick 90 minutes into a soccer match. Giving birth requires intention and focus. Every cell in your body must engage.
So when it was time to deliver my son, I summoned the grit of the athlete I used to be in high school (basketball, power forward, fierce rebounder) and pushed him out in 19 minutes. It was almost all-net; my vagina only tore in one place this time. And again, we both survived, which was no foregone conclusion. As a Black woman, I faced a risk of death due to pregnancy that is three times higher than the risk of maternal mortality faced by my white counterparts.
Can you imagine being forced to take such a profound risk? Can you imagine being compelled to engage in that kind of gutting labor against your will? If the leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that would overturn Roe v. Wade becomes final, millions of people in a land that has the audacity to call itself free will be forced to do exactly that. The abolishment of abortion is a hijacking of the bodies of millions of women and girls.
This development would be more shocking to me if I were not a descendant of enslaved people in America. I have never been deluded into believing I am safe in this country because I occupy a Black female body. The story of Black women and girls in America does not begin on a pedestal; it begins on a slave auction block.
It wasn’t even necessary for a white man to be a sexual predator to rape my enslaved female ancestors for centuries in this country. He merely had to be an industrious entrepreneur — because for hundreds of years in America, impregnating Black women by rape was a matter of course; a good business decision.
So I am not entirely surprised by this most recent deprivation of liberty or reckless endangerment of women’s lives. Sadly, it tracks in a country that was an apartheid state for hundreds of years before it became a democracy. And, even then, it was a democracy that only included land-owning white men for more than a century. Indeed, the callous disregard for the bodily autonomy of women, especially Black women and girls, is “deeply rooted” in the American history that Justice Alito nostalgically invokes in the leaked draft.
To underscore his contempt for my gender, Alito resurrects the views of Sir Matthew Hale in his argument for overturning Roe v. Wade, which is a particularly alarming choice. An English jurist born in 1609 — 10 years before the first ships bearing human cargo in the transatlantic slave trade scraped onto America’s shores— Hale was an extreme misogynist even by 17th century standards.
Hale once sentenced a 13-year-old girl to hang for witchcraft. And, as rape and incest exceptions for abortion restrictions hang in the balance, it is worth noting that Hale believed the “matrimonial contract” made it impossible for a husband to rape his wife.
So, in its drafted decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court cited a man who sanctioned the plunder of all women, including white women, on their matrimonial pedestals. The message to all childbearing people in America is clear: None of us are safe. From rape to reproduction, toxic men seek unfettered dominion over the bodies and lives of women and girls.
As a survivor, I’m repulsed by the prospect of forcing people to remain pregnant, which I regard as a form of sexual assault. As a citizen, I’m outraged by the notion of forced labor, which is, by definition, slavery. So I’m determined to resist this regressive lurch back in time so that my daughter and my son will grow up in a country where all of us are free.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.