When I first wrote those words, and especially when I performed them for Listen to Your Mother, they were full of so much. They were full of the stories of mothers who chose to give their babies to other mothers through adoption. They were full of the stories of mothers who chose termination. Clearly, my story was full of those who become single mothers, those who become stepmothers, and it was full of the mothers who must fight so desperately to become mothers at all, including those of us who question whether miscarriage and infertility is the price we must pay for a sexual history that isn't always ours to choose. It was also full of every single one of the children, born and unborn.
For whom motherhood is destined, or preordained, I believe there are souls seeking to connect with ours in a mother & child pas de deux. Some make choices, or have motherhood thrust upon us before it is meant to be. Perhaps it is convoluted, but because I have lived it, I believe my three children were destined to be mine in some way.
I remember my sister-in-law doing the pencil and needle gypsy trick over my wrist. I had recently met my husband, who was with my brother, perched precariously above us, helping to reroof their house. The pencil said I would have three children. I have had four pregnancies. The first, I terminated. I believe that was my daughter's soul, whom, at twenty, I chose to have and raise as a single mother. The third was a miscarriage. I believe that soul was my son, who was trying desperately to tell me that there was ohsomuch more I needed to know before I was ready to be his mommy--before I was ready to share our story with the world in a way that, for some at least, could change it. I believe my stepdaughter was meant to be my daughter's sister, and that she needed me in her life. Somehow between the two if us, her mother and I make the whole of the mother she was meant to have.
The moment we find ourselves teetering on the crest of motherhood, looking down one perilous side and then another--neither presenting a particularly soft landing--we are mothers.
For some of us the choice is clear and easy, as it was for me when I was eighteen. Had I given birth to my daughter then, neither of us would have survived me as a parent. I wasn't equipped. My divided family wasn’t equipped to help me. I was barely equipped when I had her at twenty. We barely survived, and it wasn't unscathed.
For me, and for so many, becoming the mother I was meant to be took a series of miracles.
Two of my miracles include surviving "date rape." A third falls into no currently defined category I know of, save rape itself, which many argue and I would agree is the only category.
There is a powerful quote by Margaret Atwood: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” I have lived that quote countless times through a reckless youth and as an adult married woman. Whether or not one feels that abortion should be legal—and let me be clear, no one is PRO abortion, I am pro-choice--we have an example in the news and in the horrifying reality of the victims of why it must remain so. An entire social media campaign has surged around the incident. Why have I connected a multiple murder/suicide with reproductive rights? As one Tweeter said:
Because every woman I know has experienced some form of sexual harassment, abuse or assault, myself included. #YesAllWomen
Since I began blogging and mentoring women to help them find their power, their voices, they have told me things that before I'd heard it from their very mouths, I couldn't fathom. I couldn't fathom a woman whose father and brother abused her as a child, and who takes care of the mother who allowed it. I couldn't fathom a woman who was beat up and sodomized by someone she was helping, and whose insides have never been the same because she was too ashamed to disclose all her injuries to the medical staff that was treating her. I've said it before and I'll say it again, why do so many of us perceive our lives as less worthy than anyone else's?
Rape I could fathom, because it happened to me three times--I can call it rape, because now I know how to define being driven out to a cornfield in the blackness of a rural night, and being afraid of being left there beaten or dead if I didn't comply. Rape is when an offer of a ride home turns into a car door closing in a bar parking lot full of cars but void of people, and literally not being able to buckle my seatbelt before I was attacked. Then driven to his apartment, held captive all night long, and forced to perform sex acts. To not even be allowed to use the bathroom, because I was against a wall and in his vice grip all night. That is not normal date behavior. That is rape. That is being raped repeatedly, all night long, because my liberty and my CHOICE were taken away, and I couldn't be certain of my safety until he finally saw fit to drive me home.
And I never reported any of it. For fear of what one side of the response to this social media campaign has shown, I didn't tell my roommates. I didn't tell my parents why I was so pissed when one of them gave cornfield boy my phone number.
No more silence. And no more apologies. Yes, I understand there are two sides to every story, and there are many men who have been deeply hurt and wounded by callous women. I'm sure I will observe this heartbreak as my son grows into a man, and I will want to throttle those women who hurt my baby. But my husband and I are teaching our son to respect women and himself, and to be able to look himself in a mirror. We are teaching our son to respect others' choices, to respect and honor a woman's no and to celebrate and be grateful and proceed only when she says yes, even as he prepares to accept and respect no if she changes her mind.
Here's a campaign to teach our sons to become better men than far too many who have come before: #RealMenWait4YES. And girls, please be kind and respectful when you say no to my son. Boys have feelings, too.
My Grandfather's Table is my memoir in progress which seeks to examine how empowering himself to be well and choosing a positive attitude every day allowed my grandfather to live to 100, and how his legacy is helping me learn to forgive myself, to love myself through food instead of punish myself through food, and live an empowered, positive, inspiring life as he did, despite life's difficulties.
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