Editor’s note: Language and Graphic Descriptions. This post was also not edited for grammar and spelling.

My Story

I have a reputation for being bold (fine, crass) and saying exactly what I think. I want to premise this article with a warning – if you are of the faint of heart, stop reading. I’m about to get very real with you.

I grew up with a rock-and-roll dad and a bartender mom. My dad was diagnosed with MS when I was four and we were poor. Like, government cheese and roaches you could ride on in our section 8 apartment poor. My mom worked hard to put herself through school to give us a better life. This made me ambitious and tough, sometimes to a fault. I don’t back down from a fight and I have a passion for advocating for those who are bullied and intentionally marginalized. Many people call me a bitch, which I actually quite appreciate. I am terrified of spiders but other than that, I’ve lost loved ones, lived in poverty, worked three jobs to put myself through undergraduate and graduate school, and I am a survivor of sexual assault. Nothing much scares me.

Or so I thought.

Right now I am fucking terrified. I am terrified of the conservative agenda to regulate my body and take my rights away. I am terrified in the lack of basic understanding around the way our bodies work on a fundamental level. I wake up every morning wondering if “Avonna” will turn into “Ofmike”. I fear the day where the red robes and white caps will become mandatory.

You might think I am being hysterical or over dramatic. But stick with me, I’ll explain.

Pregnant at 19

Mike and I found out I was pregnant when I was 19 and he was 20. I was desperately, violently ill almost immediately. My hair fell out, my fingernails turned yellow and stopped growing, and I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t urinate. It was difficult for me to be alone because I would get dizzy when I walked. I had a few friends that took the time to sit with me while I spent the day throwing up and crying. I was finally rushed to the hospital after I passed out in the bathroom and a friend found me. In the emergency room the doctors explained that my child would likely “be deficient” because I hadn’t been able to bring in any nutrition. They explained that the fetal brain may not have the opportunity to develop properly and I could be facing a child with lifelong disabilities.

At this point I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be a mother. I had plans to leave Minnesota for the rest of college. This was an unexpected turn in my roadmap of life and I wasn’t happy about it at all. I talked to my mother about abortion and she called a few clinics for me. I remember her explaining the waiting period and abortion process over the phone. I was curled up in a ball in the bottom of my bathtub, the bright orange stomach bile I was throwing up making its way slowly to the drain. I watched the thick substance ooze out of sight and I was too weak to even cry while her voice stayed even and calm.

In the ER, after the doctor told me my child would more than likely have special needs, they forced me to look at the ultrasound monitor. They told me that I was required to look at the fetus before I made a final decision. Even though they recommended that I terminate the pregnancy, I had to look at the fetus. I had seen the tiny thing growing inside of me before, when it was a small blob. It was still a blob, but a bit longer and slightly resembling a shrimp. The nurse pointed out the fluttering of the “heart” and and explained what everything was on the screen.

This is where my abortion story changes. Because I didn’t have one. I made the choice for myself that I just knew everything would be ok. I figured I had gone this far, I might as well plough ahead. I think my actual words were, “fuck it. I guess I’m doing this.” If you know me, you are probably smiling and nodding your head because you can picture me saying this.

Flash forward a few months. I started to bleed. Some bleeding in pregnancy is normal. My level of bleeding was not. From the very beginning of my pregnancy my older, white, male doctor (no offense to the white guys in my life) told me that I was young and in shape so I would have no problem with my pregnancy. This was in 2003/2004 and smartphones and instant internet didn’t exist in my world. My doctor never talked to me about what really happened in pregnancy. So when I started to bleed I went home from work and the nurse line told me that I should lay down and rest. I was miscarrying and there wasn’t anything they could do. Once I was confident the process was over, I should go in to the doctor and they would clean up the rest.The nurse was cold and distant on the phone, losing patience with my crying quickly.  

When I finally made it into the doctor there was still a heartbeat. I had actually been carrying twins, which, I was told, was probably why I was so sick and my hormone levels were so high.

I was 20 years old when Dylan was born. I was in college. Mike and I didn’t have two pennies to rub together. We were clueless. We were terrified. We were nowhere near ready. I wonder all the time how women without support systems do it. Without my friends and family we would have been homeless. Literally. I completely understand how women, in desperate times, end up stripping, selling themselves, living on the streets, and stuck in abusive relationships. A parent will do anything to survive and provide for their child.

Dylan is 15 now and I just bought my second house. I have a master’s degree and I work for a political consulting firm based in Washington DC. My story isn’t typical. I understand that I have privileges that other women don’t have. I recognize the sacrifice my mother made to help us raise Dylan. I had the ability to be on birth control at 19 – I actually found out I was pregnant three days before my birth control appointment. I understand the choices I made that put me into the situation I lived through.

The Importance of Education

Until the ACA I had to use Planned Parenthood for my birth control because I couldn’t afford it, even with insurance. Planned Parenthood prevented additional pregnancies for me and they helped me manage very heavy periods. They also provided me with needed breast exams, my grandmother died of breast cancer and before I was pregnant I had one cyst removed from my left breast. Planned Parenthood helped me own my health and understand my body’s needs better. Staying on birth control to prevent pregnancy was vital because my labor and delivery was…less than ideal. I tried to vaginally deliver but ended up with an emergency c-section, where I almost died. My doctor told me that I “wasn’t very good at having babies” and that I probably shouldn’t do it again. I also have a non-cancerous brain tumor that feeds off the types of hormones released in pregnancy. These hormones also turn non-cancerous tumors into cancer. In short, without birth control I’d die. If organizations like Planned Parenthood are defunded, women will die.

There is case after case showing that when a Planned Parenthood location closes, STD’s, and birthrates skyrocket. Read HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for more information.

Under these new anti-choice laws I could be tried for murder because my body couldn’t maintain one of the two fetuses. I would be punished for advocating for my own life. Even more concerning for me, as a school board member, is the lack of understanding I see in basic reproductive health for men and women. Here is where I get on my soapbox about the importance of funding public education that is applicable to daily life.

Ohio State Representative Baker claimed that an ectopic pregnancy could be moved from the fallopian tube to the womb (false, an ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants in a place other than the uterus, typically the fallopian tubes. As the implanted egg grows it can become fatal to the woman). Texas State Representative Strickland claims that vaccines are sorcery (please don’t make me explain why this is false).  All I could do when I heard these stories in the news was scream at my TV, “THAT ISN’T HOW IT WORKS!” While these two examples are rather extreme – they are symptom of a larger problem – the unwillingness to have uncomfortable conversations.

Talking about sex and oral sex with your teenager is uncomfortable, I know this from first hand experience, but considering that 20% of American youth don’t consider oral sex to be sex, and thus “safer” than conventional sex, they open themselves up to STDs and life altering illness. Talking about race and the fact that African American women are more likely to die from complications due to childbirth isn’t easy. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that we are so caught up in being politically correct and so hyper aware of the potential for words to go viral, that we are afraid to be vulnerable and have these vital discussions. We live in a time where really good, productive, and honest conversations that could lead to real progressive change are censored because of the fear of a ten second sound bite being taken out of context.

We’ve ignored tough conversations and public education for a generation, and now uneducated, incompetent, religious zealots are growing up and running for office. Because civics has been cut over and over in schools and big money has taken over even the smallest level of political campaigns, the average person who genuinely cares about their community is too intimidated to run for office.

So now we have uneducated religious zealots creating policy at the local, state, and federal level. The separation of church and state is gone – wave goodbye because that shit isn’t coming back anytime soon. Big churches and powerful pastors are directly influencing policy and laughing all the way to the bank while they do it. They are working with conservative candidates and lawmakers to use veiled racism, classism, and sexism as a way to build political power.

Being a Woman in Trump’s America

What does this mean for women?

That we are pretty fucking scared. Just existing in our bodies can be considered a crime. Fetuses spontaneously abort themselves (miscarriage) because nature knows what it is doing (oh god, I can’t wait for a conservative to pull that sentence out and use it against me). When there is a defect with the fetus and it is no longer viable, a woman’s body terminates the pregnancy naturally and expresses it out of her. In short, it miscarries. It is bloody. It is painful. It is traumatic. Imagine suffering through this process while in your office, driving in your car, or sitting in class. Sometimes it is a slow process, and sometimes it swoops in quickly and violently. Now imagine pressing criminal charges against a woman after suffering through such a traumatic event.

Let’s also call this out for what this is. Restricting reproductive health care and attacking a woman’s right to choose isn’t about abortion and saving babies. It’s about controlling a portion of society. When an individual no longer has autonomy over their healthcare decisions and their bodies you’ve created a slave class of people. If the conservatives cared about babies they wouldn’t throw poor people off welfare, defund inner city schools, fight universal healthcare, and separate babies from their families at the border. Creating a system of laws that focuses on incarcerating young black men doesn’t help children. Allowing the NRA to influence gun policy and refuse to take action when schools are shot up by young men doesn’t save babies. Conservatives have proven that they are fine with babies sacrificing themselves in a mass shooting to save their peers. Restricting abortion access is about controlling women. Plain and simple.  

Moreover, a ban on abortions after six weeks is ultimately a ban on all abortions. A woman who is six weeks pregnant might not even realize their period is late. Some women still menstruate during their pregnancy, or at least early into it. A sex week old fetus is about the size of a sweet pea. When people say that their heart or other organs are starting to form, this means that the cells that will become those characteristics are forming, six week old fetuses do not resemble a baby, it looks more like a shrimp learn more HERE. The six week ban in Georgia doesn’t even allow for a woman who has survived a rape or incest to terminate a pregnancy. Note that a fetus isn’t viable outside of the womb until at least 24 weeks. Some six week abortion bans have been struck down as unconstitutional and the ACLU has begun lawsuits against many of the states where the bills were signed into laws. HERE is the ruling that struck down Iowa’s ban as unconstitutional. Google “ACLU Fetal Heartbeat Lawsuit” and a whole page of results pop up.

Having the Maturity to Agree to Disagree

My mom and I argue about politics a lot and when she’s ready to end our conversation she always says, “the beauty of our country is that we have the right to disagree.” While she uses this as a cheap ploy to shut me up, she’s also right. Conservatives have a right to believe in their god and use those guiding principles to influence them. We all are influenced by our morals and values, some people get their morals and values from religion. Some people are like me, my grandfather taught me the golden rule of treating people how I want to be treated.

I appreciate people who hold religion close to their heart – and I know plenty of lawmakers who go to church and keep religion separate from governing. We can disagree on the morality of abortion. You can believe that no abortion should never take place for any reason and I can respect that. But your religious beliefs should not govern how others live. If you think a person who has an abortion is going to hell, leave that between them and god – unless you think you have the authority to speak for god.

The conservatives who scream in fear about Sharia law and the dangers of governing through Islam are the same lawmakers who want to forcefully impose their Christian values through the action of creating religiously based laws that dictate the role of a woman’s body. So it’s time to have the tough conversations and enlighten ourselves and one another. It’s time to fight back with knowledge. Move out from behind the computer screen and knock on doors, engage community, vote, and run for office. The conservatives groom one another carefully and they start in local office. They build support and institutional knowledge, making them hard to beat at the state and federal level. We have to start today, or else we won’t recognize tomorrow.

Author: Avonna Starck