Thursday, January 27, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
An excerpt from The Radical Housewife, chapter one:
Our obstetrician explained that a first appointment focused more upon completing paperwork than much else; as proof, she handed my husband a stack of insurance forms and an official Fairview Hospitals publication entitled Your Pregnancy and You. On the cover, a hollow-cheeked supermodel pressed her lips to the downy head of a doughy-looking newborn. “But since someone left the mobile unit in here already,” she said, nodding towards a contraption in the corner of the room, “we could take a peek, if you like.” I assented eagerly. Dr. Farber switched on the machine, a combination of wheels, PCU, keyboard and monitor that resembled a plastic version of the robot Clonky from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
By the time Dr. Farber finished rattling off the list of things I could no longer enjoy (alcohol, blue cheese, ibuprofen, regular bowel movements), her hands had warmed up the tube of K-9 jelly to her liking. “Shirt up, now,” she ordered, and I obeyed. She squeezed a great dollop of lube on my stomach, then squashed down my innards with the sound wave wand as she watched snow undulate on the video monitor. “Ah,” she said, satisfied. “Here we are.”
Here, indeed: on the screen was the first picture of the baby I’d carry until the following February. It looked more like a salamander than a human child, with a fifth nub that was definitely a residual tail. The tiny creature writhed in its liquid home, thrashing about eagerly as the doctor pressed in firmly for a clearer picture. Somewhere below the bulbous, bean-shaped head we saw a soft flutter, like the quiet gray wings of a miniature moth. It was a heart. This thing was alive.
Not far from the Minneapolis office where we sat, on a grimy east-west throughway called Lake Street, are billboards featuring outsized photographs of babies. Some of these children open their mouths into gummy smiles; some gaze heavenward, their eyes round and damp with guileless gratitude. These billboards sell neither diapers nor formula; instead, they provide factual information. They announce that an embryo, from whence each of these babies came, has a beating heart 21 days from its conception.
It’s a fact. I can’t dispute it. Yet when my car rumbles down Lake Street, I shake my fist at those babies. I curse their sponsors, the Pro-Life Across America campaign, for reducing the explosive emotions behind a wrenching issue to the simplicity of a baby’s smile. On the far west end of Lake Street, closer to the gentility of Lake Calhoun than the chaotic halal markets of Little Mogadishu, stand clusters of bundled-up white women and men, their gloved hands clutching trifold pamphlets adorned with babies, but these babies do not smile; instead, they glower “j’accuse!” from faces streaked with blood, a dire warning to all who might enter the local Planned Parenthood.
In the United States of America, it is legal to terminate a pregnancy at nine weeks, to take action to stop the fluttering heart of this salamander-like creature I watched on the ultrasound screen. Medical terminology labels it embryo or a fetus. On the billboards, it’s a baby. There’s no room for that slithery, amoebic time in between that technology made visible to me, my husband, and our doctor .
In Exam Room 12, in a flickering series of black and white images, I too saw a baby—my baby. My husband squeezed my hand. Dr. Farber printed out a picture that I showed to my mother, my father, my in-laws. Still, the sight of this heart did nothing to change my lifelong support for safe, legal abortion, available on demand and without apology.
The abortion debate, like any other, pits chilly science against hotly contested theories, many so deeply felt as to attain near-factual status. Pro-Life Across America wishes us to understand the fact of a baby’s heartbeat proves the theory that nine-week-old wrigglers are conscious and sentient, however diminutive. Certain factions go back even farther, claiming that the fusion of two cells, spermatozoa and egg, require as much protection as a smiling baby.
I believe our fascination with where life begins has its source in our terror of how it ends. No person owns a memory of the dawning of her consciousness. To define the self, then, we must work backwards from life’s second great mystery: death. Our collective dread may have inspired the idea of an immutable soul that has the power to transcend that which we fear most. An unchanging soul at death, therefore, requires a unique soul at birth—or, as some believe, much earlier.
I will never forget the sight of this tiny heart’s flutter, yet I wonder: was there a consciousness swirling about that pinpoint-sized brain? Were there thoughts? Emotions? Scientists know that farm experience emotions, yet millions are slaughtered daily to satisfy our hunger for their meat. I could not rationally argue that a nine-week-old blob in my belly contained the mental powers of the average full-grown pig, so what makes the blob a more valuable object? But does it have a soul? This agnostic vegetarian dares not guess.
What I do know is when my infant son came home from Fairview Riverside Hospital, he did not smile. His wet mouth twisted as he screamed without regard for the poor, anxious heart of his mother. No billboards announced to me Hang in There, Mom, It’ll Get Better!, and nobody stood on the sand-crusted snow bank outside my house in Sorel boots, much less rosaries, handing me pamphlets of support. A heart can set things in motion, but cannot finish the job.
Lacking the framework of faith, I seek not perfection, but balance. When I looked my blob, I understood him as the culmination of countless events and choices, the sum total of my years on the earth. My years, and no one else’s. I also saw a creature that drew sustenance from me and me alone. He lived on my blood, my nutrients, my oxygen, my energy: all of it mine. If I died, so did he. His tail could not wiggle outside the safety of my womb.
I gave him life. I also gave him meaning.
When does life begin? I suspect it is a process requiring a complex engagement between both the being and its world, much like a story requires a reader. Otherwise, the words remain only a series of unintelligible scratches on a page. If we accept that a story has different meaning for a different reader, we may understand that no person will approach either their soul, or a zygote’s, identically.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
I'm very excited to discuss how feminism is a vital part of the larger movement against oppression in all its forms, as well as how the progressive movement still has to work to combat sexism within its own ranks.
WHAT, you say? Progressives can be sexist?! Hell, even some women are sexist. Cackle, cackle, cackle.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I am happy to admit it, totally honestly, without a trace of irony: I'm a Fanjaya. That is, an honest to goodness fan of Sanjaya Malakar, the 17-year-old American Idol contestant whose wacky hairdos and wobbly vocals made him a target for derision from the web to the grocery tabloids to network news. I participate in pop culture silliness as much as anyone (I still have my Spice Girls dolls), but I really do love this kid. In fact, I’ve had a mom-crush on him ever since his first audition in Seattle, long before he shocked the nation with his pony-hawk.
Shall I break for another pop culture definition? A mom-crush occurs when an adorable kid provokes a powerful desire to pinch the object's cute cheeks and serve him or her homemade cookies. In common usage, one might say: “I hope they never recast the stars of the Harry Potter movies. I have a mom-crush on all three of them.” And Sanjaya definitely had the toothy grin and the goofball charm to win over the stoniest mom in America. When he wept openly after his older sister was cut from the competition, I felt a bit teary myself. Who sees a boy cry on television any more, much less out of genuine tenderness and emotion? I loved it. He was my Idol pick, no matter how he styled his hair.
But fellow moms and Idol geeks like my friends Pam and Liz thought I was nuts when I confessed that I was dialing for Sanjaya. “Are you serious?” Pam squawked. He was terrible! Liz e-mailed. These are sensitive, loving women who are both capable of serious mom-crushing. But eventually, I realized what made them immune to Sanjaya's charms.
Neither were mothers of sons.
Now someone else’s son is in the news, and for something far more disturbing than off-key singing: on April 16, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on his university campus in Virginia and killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself. Media coverage after the massacre followed a predictable pattern, with a parade of pundits expounding on gun control laws, why students ought to own guns, pervasive mental illness, the rights of the mentally ill, violence on television, violence in video games, the logistics of campus lockdowns, and more. All that changed the day NBC announced it had received a package from the killer himself, containing videos and photographs of himself decked out in his murderous finery. In one image, Cho brandishes two firearms, holding them from his ammo-clad body at right angles, his face glowering with rage. It’s too perfect. It could have easily come from any grindhouse movie; hell, it could have come from the movie Grindhouse. This is not to blame Hollywood, but to recognize the image’s brutal allure. In America, we love power. We need it; we feed on it. The power that comes from violence is the cheapest and easiest available to those who are the weakest among us.
I was pregnant with my first child when the home video footage made by the two Columbine killers was made public, to be shown 24/7 by news outlets in a desperate attempt to understand what these boys had done. Not long before, a fuzzy black and white ultrasound had shown that I was going to have a little boy of my own. Two television screens, showing two separate images of boys in America. My typical first-time mom jitters gave way to full-blown panic. There was no chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting about this. What on earth was I going to do with my American boy?
Fast forward seven years and I still don't know. No one else seems to either. Seung-Hui Cho, despite a youth spent in South Korea, idolized the Columbine killers as “martyrs.” I adore my boy, but I fear for him. No talk show or how-to book is going to sort this mess out. But maybe one boy's spontaneous tears on the country's most popular television show will help.
I know I had best not pin all my hopes on this one American boy, a reality TV star at that. Of all media icons they tend to have the shortest shelf lives. I have a lot of difficult, ugly parenting work ahead of me, and Sanjaya will be busy just growing up. I thank him for the courage he displayed on the show week after week—and I’m not talking about the spectacularly funny hairdos. It takes guts to be yourself in America these days. It takes strength to take chances, to stand up to criticism, and to cry when it’s all over. That’s a kind of power that is neither easy nor cheap, but it will last him a lifetime.
I hope his mother is proud.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
It means something to use those words. It means the same thing to Laurie and me as it did to [POLITICALLY MOTIVATED ASSASSINATION VICTIM]: you are a target.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
I’m a hetero feminist woman married to a hetero feminist man. On paper, we look like a “traditional” pair, as he earns our family’s living while I tend to our two kiddos.
But thanks to feminism, we understand that home-based caregiving, while unpaid, is a job like any other. My at-home parent status does not give my husband license to lounge on the couch after work while I scrub myself silly. The household grunt work is still everyone’s responsibility, just as it would be if I worked outside the home. Feminism upends “traditional” expectations, to everyone’s benefit: my kids have a close and loving relationship with their dad, who puts in quality time AND quantity time with them; my time building a freelance writing career is not seen as a detriment to our family; our foundation of mutual trust and respect gets us through the times in our relationship that are shitty.
FEMINISM is our secret! Pass it on!