I Almost died Due To A Catholic Hospital Practicing “Fetal Personhood”

Abortion, Reproductive Justice, Uncategorized

**I originally posted this on my former blog the intelligent statistic speaks  I have edited it for clarity since it is some of my early writing.

*Note-I was motivated to write this in 2011 due to the upcoming ballot initiative to add a “fetal personhood” amendment to the Mississippi constitution. It was the first time I shared my story publicly. I started sharing it again the next year because it applied to HB 1196 the “heartbeat bill“. That bill had been killed but Rep.Andy Gipson stuck modified language in SB-2771 “Katie’s law” a child murder bill, (which led to the bill failing to pass). Although there is was exception for “life” of the mother my situation wasn’t considered life threatening  emergency until it was almost too late – MEDICINE SHOULD NOT BE PRACTICED BY LAWMAKERS AND RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS WRITING LAWS*

In the recesses of my mind there are so many experiences that make it impossible for me to support fetal personhood and abortion bans. No one ever thinks that one day they will be sitting down to tell the story of how they almost died due to being denied an abortion during a miscarriage. These are the stories you stuff deep in your soul and keep to yourself. Yet I feel every story like mine has to be told so that the lies of how the thinking behind personhood won’t hurt any women and will only save “babies” can be exposed.

I was 18 years old, a wife, a mother of beautiful twin girls. I was also solidly anti choice. During the 12-13th week of my second pregnancy I awoke in the middle of the night to the feeling of wetness between my thighs. A quick inspection found a pink discharge. So I rushed to the hospital ER.  After being given a once over I was told to go home, rest and return if I began to bleed. “You may be having a miscarriage but you aren’t right now” they said.

By mid morning I was bleeding; heavily. This time they gave me an ultrasound. They let me know I was indeed having a miscarriage. I was informed the fetus had not developed normally. The embryo had actually stopped growing at 8-9 weeks, but since they detected a faint heartbeat and this was a Catholic hospital they could not do a D&C (*cough* abortion). There policy is NO ABORTIONS. I was again instructed to go home, rest and wait. At this point I, an uninsured low wage worker had made 2 visits to the ER and could see the bills piling up.

Within a few hours of returning home I was experiencing bad cramping, passing big blood clots and bleeding so heavily that I took my young daughters diapers to catch the blood, a normal pad was not enough. I was afraid if I went back to the hospital they weren’t going to do anything. Frankly, we didn’t have the money for another fruitless visit. When you have basically been patted on the head and told to go home twice it’s easy to feel that way. So I carried on with my day as normal. I was sitting on the phone with a friend at my mother’s apartment next door when I fell out of my chair and passed out. All can remember the feeling of the cold floor and my husband’s voice saying “oh my God wake up” while my grandmother yelled “call an ambulance”. By the time the ambulance arrived I was going into shock and my veins were collapsing making starting an IV hard. I was in and out of consciousness on the ride to the hospital. At that moment I had no idea how much blood I had lost or that I was really close to death. I was well aware by the time we arrived at the hospital. I could feel it and the reactions of staff confirmed it.

It took five tries to start another IV line for the blood transfusion I was now in need of, in fact the doctor had to come and do it. My most vivid memory is of my family doctor (a former Ob/Gyn), who was now working his ER shift, yelling in the hall “WHO THE FUCK SENT HER HOME! She could have died!” After they stabilized me a bit I was rushed to emergency surgery for a D&C (abortion they just call it by another name so you feel better) to remove any remaining tissue from my body and stop me from continuing to bleed uncontrollably. It was to be performed by the same Ob/Gyn who had sent me home, twice.

As I was about to be put under I said to the anesthesiologist “please don’t let him kill me”. All I wanted in that moment was to get home to my little twin girls. After surgery I was placed on the maternity floor. The nurse on duty found me crying and said “don’t worry, you’re young you can have more”. Not only was there no compassion for my experience but no acknowledgment that I had just avoided death. After a day in the hospital and almost a week off work my life slowly returned to normal. What angers me is it didn’t have to be like that.

Luckily sometime while I was bleeding to death at home that day I passed the embryo. I often wonder what would have happened if I had not. Would they have even have saved my life or would they have let me die due to a non viable “person” inside of me? Never once did this hospital tell me I could go somewhere else, somewhere non-religious, somewhere that didn’t believe fetuses are people and abortion is murder. They cared more about a 13 week non progressing embryo than me, a living breathing woman. A wife, mother, daughter, and granddaughter and most important a PERSON! A woman who went on to “choose life” 5 more times. Somehow I was not part of the equation only my pregnancy was. To them I lost my rights when I became pregnant apparently even my right to quality healthcare.

I hadn’t thought much about that day until recently because people keep saying that initiative 26 aka the personhood bill will not change the way women are treated by their doctors. My experience with a hospital governed by the same beliefs that this bill is based on says otherwise and I am not alone and studies prove it. I’ll never understand what made a nonviable pregnancy that could not be saved more worthy than living breathing thinking ME. My life should have mattered. My children needing a mother should have mattered. My future should have mattered.

 I think about the consequences for women and their access to birth control. Young women like my daughter who isn’t on birth control to prevent pregnancy but because she has PMDD which causes such profound mood swings before her period we call it “hell week”. Women who like me have fibroids, which led to my hysterectomy, but the first line of treatment often is birth control pills. Women trapped in abusive relationships who use birth control to gain back control of their lives so they are not trapped in their relationship forever. Just some facts women who are in domestic violence relationships are very likely to have birth control sabotage be apart of their abusers arsenal of control. Abusers know that a woman is less likely to leave if pregnant and even if she does he will have access to her for the next eighteen years of her life through her child. Women who just don’t want to have children, ever and that’s ok. All the trans* and non gender conforming people who need access. The families who want to space and control their fertility.

I wonder why when I talk to people about 26 women no matter if they agree or not seem willing to listen but men are angry and loud in their opposition to women having abortion as an option or saying that our bodies matter. I have heard many comments about women needing to live with the consequences of their actions. Even going so far as to declare pregnancies that happen due to rape or incest acts of God that women should be made to suffer through because it’s God’s will. There is a language of divine intervention and women knowing their places as baby carriers. No one should be made to gestate unless they want to regardless of how their pregnancy occurred.

If you pause to think about it it’s a scary thought. It made me think about the “personhood” movement as a whole and how I don’t believe that the consequences to reproductive choices outside of abortion are an accident or collateral damage. It is by design. Women with choices is a scary concept to many people especially cis hetero men. Not being able to shame women through evidence of our sexual behavior doesn’t make them very happy either. When you take away abortion, birth control, and access to IVF many of the things that the people behind “personhood” dislike the most can no longer happen. Women will NOT have control over their reproductive choices. the last option, condom use, will be primarily in the hands of men.

History should tell use how well that works. Same sex couples, trans and single people will not be able to use IVF to create a family outside of conservative religious norms. People will not be able to avoid stigma or shame brought on by unplanned pregnancy and have healthier sex lives (especially teens).

No I don’t think it is an accident that this amendment will have the power to do many things that the conservative movement wants to do. Initiative 26 essentially has the power to turn back the clock on reproductive choices for ALL families. I can’t help but think……….. how 1950s of them.

I Hold My Son Close

Reproductive Justice

Originally published in the Jackson Free Press August 20, 2014

On the day in 2002 that I welcomed my only son into the world, I felt joy worthy of a Stevie Wonder song. When Ajani Andrew Michael made his debut at a little over 5 pounds, my heart skipped a beat, and the heavens seemed to open for just a moment before the dark clouds of worry rolled in.

My worry started immediately since my son was born just a little early. So like a disproportionate number of black children, he would have to fight a bit harder due to prematurity. As my handsome boy lay on my chest, skin-to-skin, struggling for every labored breath, my mind was already thinking about how hard life for him would be.

I worried if I had made a mistake by giving him an African name that means “he who is victorious in struggle.” I thought about the odds of him being tracked into special education before the fourth grade. I felt guilty for looking at him and hoping that while I loved the deep richness of his father’s dark skin, his likely lighter complexion would insulate him from some of the profiling that comes from being a black male in America.

As a community health worker, I knew that he had to beat the first-year infant-mortality odds for black babies. I sat thinking all of this as I told him how perfect and beautiful he was, before he was whisked away to the neonatal intensive-care unit.

Since Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Mo., some have highlighted that the killing of young black men is a reproductive-justice issue. Reproductive justice is the right to have children, to not have children, and to parent children in safe and healthy environments. It is based in human rights, just like the right not to live in fear for your child’s life due to the effects of racism and oppression.

Black mothers do not yet have reproductive justice. If we choose to parent, we have a long list of things to protect our children from. We fight to keep them safe from health disparities, educational inequality and the school-to-prison pipeline—the list goes on. Racism and oppression don’t take holiday breaks, and neither do “normal” parenting worries like first steps, colds and grades.

Add to the list the impossible task of protecting our children from racial profiling—a danger that could lead to police gunning them down one day.

Ask my kids who mommy’s favorite is, and they will all say “Ajani.” Truth is, there are no favorites, but I do hold my son close. I know he faces a world that doesn’t actually see him when they look at him. They see a threat, a thug, a problem or a stereotype. Imagine what would have happened if the officer had, instead, seen Michael Brown that day. He might still be alive.

I Don’t Regret Helping My Daughter Get An Abortion

Abortion, Reproductive Justice

(This originally appeared on the Defending The Last Clinic blog September 5,2013 and my former blog The Intelligent Statistic Speaks-it has been edited since)

“It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them”- Alfred Adler

It was a day I never thought would happen. I thought I had done everything to guard against it. Yet several months ago there I was hearing that my 15 year old daughter was pregnant.

It all seemed so surreal. How could this have happened to us? As I stood listening to her tell me the test was positive I struggled with the strong desire to scream and cry. In my mind my daughter knew better. She is the homeschooled daughter of the president of the state chapter of a national feminist organization. The first time she ever spoke at the capitol was at a joint Senate and House hearing on teen pregnancy. She was 13 and spoke about the need for comprehensive sex education. She and I along with her sister are clinic escorts. She knows all about birth control, condoms, and Plan B. She has always had knowledge about and access to contraception (despite barriers) as well as being encouraged to wait until she is older to have sex.

This was one of those moments in life when I was faced with living my beliefs. I had always said if one of my daughters got pregnant as a teen I wouldn’t flip out and judge her like so many parents do. I would love her, respect her, and let her choose how to handle it. I would support her no matter what. Yet my mind immediately did judge and I wanted to shake her.

In that moment I took a deep breath put my arm around her and said “everything will be ok”. Then we traveled down the short hall to the counseling room at the clinic we escort at. I kept telling myself “stay calm, breathe, she needs to know you love her”.

You see I knew she was pregnant before she did. I asked her when I noticed her period was late and she flat out denied it was possible. When I asked her to take a pregnancy test at home she had refused. So I asked the clinic counselor to convince her to take one after we arrived to escort.

As we sat down all she kept saying was “I don’t know how this happened” over and over. The truth was in that moment she couldn’t remember having sex the one time with the young man she was seeing. She isn’t alone this happens to grown women all the time who find themselves faced with unplanned pregnancy. The clinic ultrasound tech peaked in with a soft smile and offered to take her back to see how far along she was.

Left alone with two staff members I broke down in tears saying “she knew better” and “I warned her”. It’s funny how all the rational things you know about teen sex and pregnancy go out the window in a crisis. The truth is my daughter was using condoms. Guess what sometimes they fail. Especially, when children who aren’t educated in their use like my child is are the ones placing them on their penis.

So there we were sitting, waiting. The clinic counselor said I was the calmest parent she had ever seen- so I guess there’s that. Even with that comment I couldn’t help feeling awful. Like I failed.

Like I suspected my daughter returned and said she was 5 weeks pregnant. I told her calmly and plainly she had three options she could parent, she could choose adoption or she could have an abortion. I also told her she had time to decide since she was so early in her pregnancy.

Let me tell you my daughter and I both LOVE babies! She loves kids. She is a great babysitter. She and her sister have a babysitting business. She wants to be a mom. She also helps me as a doula. None of this means she is ready to be a mother.

The clinic was closed the next week so we had over a week to be home before she could possibly terminate. A week filled with her being incredibly morning sick , unable to eat and asking questions about what it was like to be a teen mom. I was honest with her. I wouldn’t trade my children for anything but it was hard VERY hard. It is nothing like the fairy tale that anti choicers sell to girls. Yes you can get benefits but you have to tell the state all your business to get them.  I had to work two and three jobs at a time often missing majors parts of my children’s lives. I wouldn’t have made it without my mother helping me every step of the way.

I made plans in my head for each options, if she chose to parent I thought it would be hard but we could do it. I’m a doula who works with teen moms I know the ropes. I tried not to tell her what to do and just gave her simple honest answers to her questions. It was about a day before we addressed the huge issue looming-the fact that my daughter has a illness that is managed by medication that is not compatible with pregnancy. The option for her would be to go off her medication and risk her health severely deteriorating during the pregnancy to the point of hospitalization.  Those are a lot of factors to lay at the feet of a 15 year old girl but this was not my pregnancy or my choice it was hers alone. She spent hours curled up like a baby as I stroked her hair and after days of quiet reflection SHE settled on abortion as her choice.

I made sure she received religious counseling pre procedure from Faith Aloud. She read the stories of other women online on the I had an abortion Facebook page.  I wanted her to know that there was no shame in what she was choosing to do. She was walking a well worn road many had walked before her. I wanted her to understand she had control. This was HER decision and she would have to be a parent, she would be the one relinquishing if she chose adoption and only she would be having an abortion, not me. I told her she could change her mind.  She said nope she knew what she wanted to do.

Doing the work I do I already knew the extra hoops parents are required to go through to obtain an abortion for their child if they are under 16. Let me tell you that knowing something and living something are two different things. In Mississippi a girl under 16 has to have parental permission from both parents, a picture ID, and her birth certificate (which is redundant if she has a state ID since it was used to get the ID but whatever). It is the first time I was ever happy that Kayla’s father is not on her birth certificate because tracking him down wasn’t going to happen, we barely speak.

I had never even thought about having to go through the hoops of getting my daughter a state ID. We like many families in poverty who have moved often couldn’t find her birth certificate so I had to send off to her state of birth for that, priority mail. Then there was actually securing the ID. Our vehicle which like many low income families runs when it feels like it decided to break down when we were driving around to get the ID. Thankfully we have friends who could help us, not everyone does. We also live in the city were we can get all this done . We didn’t have to drive 30 minutes or more away like many women.

We are fortunate that when my daughter and I couldn’t get through on the NAF hotline for abortion fund help (medicaid only pays for abortion in very rare cases my daughter’s wasn’t one her pregnancy was not a result of rape or sexual assault and she wasn’t about to die), I was able to give a person a direct call to get her intake completed. We are privileged that we are surrounded by pro choice and reprojustice activist friends who were able to pitch in and help us with the cost of her procedure. We had a wide ring of non judgmental loving support unlike many of the families we see at the clinic.  Not only was I there on that day but a close friend who is a therapist was there in case Kayla wanted to talk, had complex feelings she needed to process. We even had a plan in case she just changed her mind, wanted to go home and come up with a different plan.

The day of her procedure she insisted on volunteering as an escort.  Which actually worked out well because when procedure time rolled around the protesters didn’t even notice her. They were too busy harassing the other women coming and going to notice a regular fixture especially since we had several camera crews on site and they were showing off for them. In fact we were in a group of patients whose feet were filmed receiving the state mandated pre procedure counseling for Nightline.

Since she is a minor she had the option to have me in the room for her procedure but she wanted to go alone. My daughter received excellent care. The doctor who performed my daughters procedure was caring and professional not only to my daughter but to me. He asked her again before he started if she wanted to go through with the abortion. Dr. Willie Parker talked to her through the whole procedure.  Her procedure was quick and without complications.

She went home and rested. I felt relieved, she felt relieved. I was happy that she had access to all her options. She wouldn’t have to postpone or give up chances like I did. Happy that she wasn’t being forced to risk her health to give birth. Teen pregnancy is by far not the end of the world in fact teens can be and are wonderful parents. Yet no one of any age should be a parent when they aren’t ready.

Within a few days she decided she wanted to go back to the clinic and volunteer to escort.  I thought she might want a break from the insults of the anti choice harassers or that they might bother her. Nope, in fact her resolve was greater than ever. I know that  she never thought it would be her at the clinic. She always said she just wants to help and she does just that.

For me the hardest thing about this whole journey has been living up to the principles I say I live by. It is easy to say we are “pro-choice” or “reproductive justice activists” those are just words and titles if not put into action. It is hard to live them and honor that people we love and want to protect have autonomy and choice. It is hard to not only let go of control and the urge to save but to make space for our kids to exercise their rights to make their own informed decisions. Ultimately knowing that we must honor their decisions as theirs regardless of what we think and feel they should do.

I know there are people who want to know if I regret helping my daughter with her abortion NO I DO NOT! Frankly if she or one of her sisters were pregnant and asked me tomorrow I would do it again. Why? Their bodies, their reproductive futures are THEIR OWN not mine! They are my children-I do not own them. I guide them, I help them, I love them. That is my job. I am their mother NOT their owner.

I am proud of my daughter for deciding what was right for her and being willing to share her story with others and confront abortion stigma. There are plenty of people who wish to make her be ashamed and remain silent. She is rejecting that. She is refusing to be shamed by those who wrap their shaming in a guise of Christian love too (if she wants your prayer or thinks she needs forgiveness she’ll call you). As a mother and woman of color I will continue to strive to make sure no one ever has the right to tell my children or anyone else when, how, and if they procreate. As a people we have already been there done that and it didn’t work out well.

Below is a copy of the speech my daughter wrote and gave at the rally on 8/17/13. In case anyone asks I advised her against going public with her story but she said and I quote

“I want girls like me to know it’s ok and they will be ok”.

Since she has went public the libelous slurs against my daughter and our family have already started. Kayla says she doesn’t care she wants other girls to know all their options and that they don’t have to be ashamed.  That is what she tells girls when they come to her for help. We then refer them where they need to go including if they need a doctor and a doula for their birth. That’s the thing about supporting women’s reproductive health and well being you have to support a range of decisions not just what you would choose.

“Hello my name is Kayla, I am 15 years old and I had an abortion. The day I found out I was pregnant I was scared and ashamed because I was 15 and pregnant. I had a big choice to make-should I stay pregnant, chose adoption, or have an abortion.

I cried because I want to be a mom one day but I was not ready for such a huge step at such a young age. So I chose to have an abortion. I was scared but I knew I was doing the right thing.

Did I feel sad? Yes. Do I regret it? No! Because I know that the spirit I named Mariah will go on to a woman who is ready for her. I love my mom for being so supportive of my choice- I love her for that.

For all the young ladies that might have been or will be in this situation- you are not alone. There are people who support you-always. Even when you don’t know it. Abortion is not a bad thing, it’s a lifesaver! I can now be who I need to be and I know God still loves me! Thank you.”

Kayla Roberts

Clinic Escort, Young Feminist

Help When It’s Needed

Classism, Income Inequality, Reproductive Justice

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

This was originally published in the Jackson Free Press on Oct. 2, 2013 and was posted on my old blog

Years ago when I was a young mother, I worked two, sometimes three, low-wage restaurant jobs. This was not easy work. It was extraordinarily taxing—not only on my body but my mind. Wait staff have a lot of tasks to complete. Plus, they have to smile and be pleasant even when customers and management serve up a big old side of mistreatment.
Working those kinds of jobs always involves much more hard work than money, which is why I had two and three at a time. But even when I worked two full-time and one part-time job, I still couldn’t make ends meet.
Recently, fast-food workers across the country went on strike. They asked for something fairly simple: a living wage. Make no mistake: The multinational companies that employ these workers can afford to pay better. But many from the right-wing political sphere called striking workers greedy, lazy and un-American.
Fast-forward to the congressional debate over food-stamp benefits (or SNAP), which has the potential to affect many of these same workers. I keep hearing from conservatives—and even some liberals—that “those people” just need to work harder. If only “they” would do that, then the collective American “we” wouldn’t have to take care of “them.” The problem with that thinking is that many people who receive SNAP do work.
Surprisingly absent from the broader discussion of responsibility has been the topic of corporate responsibility in the matter. When companies pay their employees fairly, people who work don’t need food stamps. I find this disjointed thinking odd and non-congruent. It seems as if, in the eyes of some, the working poor are wrong no matter what they do.
In all my working years—on and off public assistance—I have contributed to the community. I am raising epic, awesome kids (yes, I am biased). I resent it when others imply that because people need assistance to put food on the table, they are drug addicts, lazy or worth less than other people.
Every person on assistance has a story. Some may have stories you approve of, and some may not. At the end of the day, I would like to think I live in a country that believes even people we don’t like deserve to eat, one that is willing to feed people in need even when we don’t approve of every food choice. I want to have faith that I live in a country that believes providing free school lunches to hungry children is a good and moral thing to do.
I hope my country shows me I’m right.