Birthing people will sustain others no matter how difficult it becomes
Last weekend, hours after the Highest Court in the Land deemed women and pregnancy-able people in the United States incapable of managing their own health, ill-equipped to make personal medical decisions, and undeserving of basic body autonomy, I went on with my plans. My weekend was set to include three back-to-back dates with women I love in New York. I was thrilled.
The weekend was everything I hoped and more. A slice of heaven. A picture of what the world could be. On Saturday I hung out with women selling previously-loved clothes to one another in someone’s living room, but also just kind of helping each other feel a little more beautiful along the way. Afterwards I had dinner with one of them, my dear friend and her husband; we shared pizza with very thin crust and orange wine.
The next day, I roamed around Brooklyn with a friend of twenty years who became our neighbor for four wonderful months. We bought fresh flowers and stumbled upon an art walk, where our favorite artist was a feminist ceramicist who wore her feelings about women’s rights on her sleeve. Literally. They were on her hat, too. When we picked up one of her designs covered in women’s symbols, she thanked us and demonstrated a feisty “forearm jerk.” Without asking, we all knew why.
On Monday I waited eagerly for my college roommate, another friend of nearly two decades, to finish her workday. I ran errands beforehand, then sat at a sidewalk cafe to pass the time. When she arrived, we shared our stories and hopes and dreams over Thai food. When it was time to go, we walked to the train and wondered why it gotten so late so soon.
The women in my life navigate tiny, regular, everyday things with enough grace and thoughtfulness to make my head spin. When necessary, they face big things the same way. I am inspired to have windows into their lives.
And this weekend, it was not only my friends that sparked inspiration. Women always capture my attention in New York; I love to see what they are wearing and what books they are reading and how they carry themselves. But this week, the women I encountered seemed even more captivating than usual.
It started with a very pregnant woman I saw outside the window of a cafe. It was hot last Sunday — very hot — and I was having lunch inside with a friend. The woman caught my eye as she moved slowly along the sidewalk, shifting her weight from one side to the other while shuffling towards the restaurant and, more importantly, towards air conditioning. Her pregnancy — so visible, so invasive to her body, no matter how welcomed it might have been — seemed to carry new weight in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The next day, standing on the subway platform waiting for a train, I watched one woman help another get a newborn down the stairs. They did not know each other, but they moved in a sort of wordless harmony. There was trust between them, an invisible thread of reliance. One lifted the top of the stroller and the other lifted the bottom while toting the infant in her other hand. They moved down the stairs together.
Their care for one another, anonymous and unattached, yet taken seriously, a silent allegiance between strangers, felt moving in a country where women will need each other’s support moving forward more than ever.
Later that evening, I was on the train again and saw yet another pregnant woman hop on board with her mother. She looked impossibly chic to be pregnant. She was young, with a bounce in her step. She seemed to be enjoying herself. Despite the news. Defying the news.
Motherhood, and the women and pregnancy-friendly people in its grasp, seem anchored in the spotlight to me right now.
These are creatures who are capable of creating brand new life and sustaining it, of nurturing those around them physically, emotionally, and otherwise, of keeping families and entire communities afloat with their devotion. Yet they are deemed sub-par by the court — unworthy of sovereignty over their own bodies — distrusted to make decisions that could save their own lives.
The most striking thing about this world we find ourselves in now is that women and birthing people will keep on doing what they are meant to do. No matter how difficult it becomes, they will keep creating new life. No matter how many rights a court strips away, they will help each other carry babies down the stairs. Even when pregnancy is criminalized, they will tend to lives more fragile than their own.
Women will do the thankless work of nourishing others even when our society offers nothing in return. If my friends are any indication, then when no one else will do it, they will give each other the vital message: You matter. You have my respect. You are worthy of my respect.
Their contribution — our contribution — to the world is beautiful. It is moving; it is difficult. Just by being themselves, women inspire me. They remind me why the fight ahead is absolutely necessary, and absolutely worthwhile.
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Between you and me—
Hi again. I don’t consider it my role to write about the broader implications of the abortion ban, because other people are doing that far better than I could. My role is not to collect resources or mobilize readers with action steps, either; that has been done, and this comprehensive resource would be hard to beat.
But I do think it’s important for me to write about this, and here’s why.
On some level it is ironic that I would ever write about abortion, because I was raised by a conservative evangelical community that was very strictly anti-abortion. Abortion was their primary concern, along with international mission work.
So as a kid, I went to abortion protests with my church. I once wrote an anti-abortion research paper called “The Silent Scream.” I watched families take young women into their homes and counsel them into choosing adoption — something I now see is highly problematic in its complete denial of the adoptee and birth mother experience, which involves trauma no matter how well it goes.
Abortion, in the world that shaped me, was an unthinkable sin.
But once I left that religious community, the veil lifted. I came to understand that abortion is not a black and white issue. Abortion is healthcare. Especially in Black and brown communities, who already suffer from high maternal mortality rates in ways the white community that raised me will never understand.
It became clear to me that banning abortion does not reduce abortions. That body autonomy is non-negotiable. That if a group actually wants fewer abortions, comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives should be their primary platform.
In fact, legalizing abortion does not increase abortion at all. Abortion rates steadily decreased (!) after abortion become legal in 1973, reaching an all-time low of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women in 2017.
Like many Americans, I have nuanced opinions about this nuanced issue. It is unacceptable to force the intricacies of women’s healthcare into a good-versus-evil framework. The care birthing bodies need cannot be confined to pro-life versus pro-choice.
The stories of doctors being unable to help women who have suffered miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are circulating widely. I cannot imagine a modern world in which a pregnant woman is denied the care she needs. Yet here we are.
Women’s lives are at risk. Women’s losses and traumas are being magnified for political power.
Put simply, I am still part of communities in the South that are probably uncomfortable with my thoughts on abortion. And that is precisely why it’s important for me to share them.
If you, like me, were shaped by a community with a limited understanding of abortion, it is okay to change your mind. It is okay to peer behind veils you didn’t choose. It is okay to support women with a different experience than your own.
Going forward, it is critical that we offer care, resources, and education to pregnant women rather than criminalizing them. We must offer this care on the sidelines before the courts can accuse them of a crime. In the words of Gloria Steinem, “movements don’t start by obeying the law.”
This summer is another doozy, with one existential court ruling after another. Hope you are hanging in there. I recommend spending entire weekends with women you love!!! Be defiant in your joy. Be radical in your beliefs.
Speaking of women, here’s a woman who knows what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. Honestly, goals.
Take care out there.
The audio version of WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE is published every Wednesday. Last week’s, which was about choosing rest amidst chaos, is available on Spotify, Apple, Substack, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE is written by Lauren Maxwell. Can you help us grow? Send this to a friend and ask them to subscribe. Share it on Instagram and tag @lauren_only. If you enjoy this work please consider becoming a sponsor, which makes this publication possible. Every gesture of support is appreciated.