Confessions of a Pro-Life Activist

I grew up in a religious bubble. I know a lot of people say this. Respectfully, they are amateurs. For most of my childhood, I was homeschooled in a town of five hundred people by a preacher dad and a zealot mom. I went to church three times a week, and I prayed and studied the Bible for a couple of hours every day. I had little social contact beyond my religious community until I was about eighteen. This isn’t a story about all that, but the context is important.

My parents, unsurprisingly, were conservative. They did break from the party line here and there: my father opposed the death penalty, for example, and my mother was decidedly pro-immigrant, but on the issue of abortion they never wavered. When I was little, my mom would round up my siblings and me, put picket signs in our hands and march us out in front of the Planned Parenthood in San Luis Obispo. However intimidated I was to be standing out there in front of gawking peers and shouting motorists, to me, the truth was as black and white as the block letters on the sign in my hands: “STOP THE KILLING NOW.” When I was a little older and had my own say in the matter, I attended a pro-life rally, standing out front and praying in a circle with my friends. We got interviewed by a local reporter and then got written up in the paper as a bunch of wingnuts. Undaunted, we wrote a letter to the editor clarifying our position. Opposition, while unpleasant, didn’t phase me much, bolstered as I was by moral clarity.

I would hear the rallying cries from the left of “My body, my choice,” and I would think, that’s just it – it’s not your body. It’s a whole other person’s body, and that person does not have a choice. It baffled me that this was a politicized issue. It seemed like a purely biological one to me. A fetus clearly had a life of its own – it had its own DNA, its own fingerprints, its own heartbeat. Well before viability, it could respond to stimulus outside the womb, recognizing voices, even songs. It sucked its thumb, for heaven’s sake. There was a point at which it became undeniably human – I had always believed that humanity was conferred at conception – but regardless of precisely when that point arrived, it happened long before a fetus left its host body. The difference between a fetus and an infant, in my estimation, was location. Plain and simple.

Over the years, as I left my Republican echo chamber and wandered out into the world, my politics would drift leftward – hard – until it got to the point that abortion was the only issue remaining right-of-center for me. It was the one piece that never fit. For a time, I continued to vote for conservative candidates despite disagreeing with them on almost every single other issue, because this “holocaust of the unborn” made everything pale in comparison. But gradually, the plight of the born – of people I encountered in my daily life – people with no social safety net, immigrants, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and others – came to weigh on me so heavily that I changed my political affiliation. Still, I voted with a pang of reservation, unsure if the scales balanced at the end of the day.

Somewhere along that journey, I was taking a night class at a community college. The class was long, and during the breaks, I’d stand out on the balcony in the cool night air to wake up. There was a sharp-eyed, quick-witted girl who would always stand out there, too. She would chat with me between drags on a Marlboro, deftly flicking ashes from it as she exhaled and spoke – brightly – rarely pausing for interjections. In fifteen-minute increments, we became something like friends.

Mostly, she talked about her boyfriend. She was besotted with him. It didn’t seem to bother her that he was a lot older. Or that he was married with a couple of kids. Or that he had no intention of leaving his wife. I was so astounded by her disclosures that I couldn’t find any judgy words. Or other words. So I mostly just listened. And she continued to fill the space with revelations.

Memory is a slippery thing, especially when it comes to a story you haven’t told. I don’t remember certain details or specific conversations as well as I remember the impressions they left. For example, I don’t remember how exactly she told me she was pregnant, but I remember being surprised that she did. And I remember that she acted nonchalant about it, but her cigarette hand was fidgety, and she was talking faster than normal. I do not remember all the words exchanged, but I came away knowing that her boyfriend knew, and he wanted her to get rid of it. And that her doctor had warned her against carrying the pregnancy on account of a health issue she had. She was going to get an abortion.

I didn’t know much about her particular health issue. But I clung to that piece of information because I adhered to a kind of moral math that allowed a life for a life – a simple, clean exchange of heartbeats. It was the one exception to my ironclad abortion philosophy. If I could place her in that clearly-defined exchange-of-lives category, I could absolve myself of a moral imperative to intervene. Based on what she had told me, I wasn’t sure if her situation really qualified. I felt like I should probe further, but as it turned out, standing in front of her while she confided in me about her situation, I could not bring myself to interrogate her about her medical history. And even if I had, it wouldn’t have really let me off the hook. I grew up in Pentecostal churches where diseases were for people who did not have enough faith. The standard response to any sub-par situation was to believe God to create an ideal scenario and not to settle or create room for anything less. By training, I should have prayed to heal her, preached to her about her sin, led her in a prayer of repentance, seen her spontaneously healed of all her hard-living habits, persuaded her to carry her baby to term, and possibly have adopted it myself. That was the bar. 

I showed up at the next class having prayed earnestly and to no avail for moral clarity about the situation. She broached the topic first. 

“I got some pills from my doctor. My parents are out of town, so I’m going to do it tonight.”

That was the first time it registered for me that she lived with her parents. Suddenly the reality of her situation began to click into place. Her parents wouldn’t know about this boyfriend, much less this pregnancy. And what of her friends? I imagined this old, married dad was not a natural fit in her social circles. I wondered how many friendships with young people her own age she’d forfeited to wrap her life around him. I wondered who, in fact, she had at this point besides him. It began to make more sense that I had become her confidante. As I processed what she had just said, the enormity of her isolation closed in on me.

“You’re going to be alone?”


And suddenly, there it was: my moral clarity. It was not the clarity I had expected. It was certainly not the clarity that aligned with the math. But my words sprung up unbidden from a deep place, bypassing my dogma entirely: “Do you want me to come over?” 

She ground the remains of a cigarette butt into the ground with the toe of her boot. “Okay.”

And that is how a pro-life activist found herself knocking at the door of a darkened house in the middle of the night to sit with a woman while she aborted her baby.

By the time I got there, though, she had done it. She had taken the pills and passed the fetus. She described the process dispassionately while she poured us each a glass of wine. We sat on a pristine couch in a marble-floored room of a massive mausoleum of a house, and I wondered why I was there. She seemed fine. Maybe I misread the situation. But she wasn’t asking me to leave, so I sat down, and I listened. Then, steadily, flatly, as if timed by metronome, she began to tick out a story. She told me about her Dad and stepmom who were always traveling and weren’t really interested in her life. She told me about how they’d sent her away overseas. About how she was raped by the son of her host family. About how everybody believed him when he said she seduced him. About being sent home in shame. That was her introduction to sex. She was fifteen. 

As her story continued, I could see events lined up like dominoes cascading one after another in a predetermined direction. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her that she mattered infinitely more than any of the events of her life would have led her to believe. I wanted to rage against every man who had ever taught her she was disposable. But I was young and awkward and couldn’t find words. “I’m so sorry.” I whispered. “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” That was the best I could manage. She deserved better than that. She deserved better than me, some random girl from her night class. But I was the best she had that night. And maybe Jesus deserved better representation that night, but I was the best Jesus had. And you know what? I think Jesus was glad she wasn’t alone.

Perhaps her disposing of the life in her belly that night was a sin. If so, it was a sin born of so many sins – of neglect, of assault, of abandonment, of exploitation – all committed by men who were carrying on with their respectable lives, paying no price for it. These sins were themselves the fruit of misogyny, a sin perpetuated by an entire culture – particularly the Church – generations of sin all coming to rest on the slim shoulders of a girl woefully ill-equipped to carry it. 

There’s a story in the Bible where some religious leaders bring a woman to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. Dragging her out in front of a crowd, they reminded Jesus of what the law said – that this woman should be battered with stones until bludgeoned to death. Jesus, unimpressed, invited whichever of these upstanding men was without sin to throw the first stone. One by one, the men walked away, embarrassed. And then Jesus, the only one with the credentials to pass judgment, told the woman he did not condemn her either.

Sitting on that couch that night, there were no stones to be thrown. Only an overwhelming sense of how much this woman mattered and how little cause she had to believe it.

Many years later, I would once again face off with the specter of ending a pregnancy alone. This time it was mine. The circumstances were different. I was married. I wanted to be pregnant. I had, to that end, just undergone a surgery and four rounds of fertility treatments, the last one of which was successful. But my most recent ultrasound had been eerily silent. I’d asked if the volume was turned off on the machine, and the doctor had visibly winced when he told me that, no, it was not.

My body was not relinquishing the baby. It held onto it for days that stretched into weeks. If I went much longer, I would run the risk of a septic infection. A more immediate concern was that my husband was about to leave for a work trip, and I could not bear the thought of going through this alone while he was gone. I called my doctor. 

She scheduled me in at an abortion clinic. She asked if that was okay. My child was dead. What did I care? “Fine. Whatever.”

But when I got there, I realized I was not fine. I found myself lying on a hospital bed, one of many lined up in an interminable row, each holding a woman waiting her turn. I looked down that long line of women, wondering which of us had heartbeats in our bellies and which of us didn’t, knowing that within hours, all of our bellies would be silent. My pulse quickened such that those heartbeats thundered in my ears. I was utterly wrecked by their immediacy. I imagined myself standing on top of my bed and shouting to the room, “If anybody is having second thoughts, even a little, please, please let me have your baby. I couldn’t keep mine alive.”  I didn’t do it. But the grief-fuelled compulsion was real. As was the guilt that, here I was in the inner sanctum of the very kind of place outside of which I used to stand in protest, and I was doing nothing to stop what was happening.

I looked at the women around me. We couldn’t be a less cohesive group. We were all different ages and colors, and even in our hospital gowns, it was clear that we ran the full gamut of the socioeconomic spectrum. A woman who was at least my age looked bone weary. A young woman beside me smiled kindly, while another woman, perhaps her mother, sat close to her holding her hand. Each of us had different stories, different circumstances, different dominoes that had fallen to bring us into this room together. 

But here we all were, waiting in a windowless corridor into which no men were permitted entry. The building itself was unmarked. There were no protesters here. Great care had been taken to make this a safe place, and I had been trusted to enter. I thought for a moment about what, realistically, an outburst from me would do. Would it change any minds? Probably not. It would almost certainly cause trauma to women who had already undergone what would have been for many of them a difficult decision-making process. And that mattered. It shouldn’t, you know. Because of the math. A woman’s psychological state should pale in comparison to the value of an unborn life. But again, sitting there in that room, in real life, it mattered. These women mattered. Not just for their heartbeats, but for all of who they were.

I still ached, though. The nurses were kind, gently offering me their condolences. They had even taken my husband and me for one last ultrasound before I was admitted. “It’s important to celebrate what was good,” an older nurse told me as she admired the silent image of my son on the monitor, taking care to point out his little arms and legs. To the young woman next to me, they were also kind. They brought her a magazine and talked about the weather. About her classes. About anything else. It hit me that in that room, the difference between a bereavement and an appointment – between a child and nothing at all – was being wanted. I struggled to process that. Not one thing about that experience was clean or tidy or black or white. My turn came. They wheeled me into the room, and one of those horrible abortionists dilated me and removed my baby, preventing a life-threatening infection, and saving me from hemorrhaging at home by myself. 

After a time, we tried fertility treatments again. Once more, I was forced to confront my beliefs about life before birth, as we had graduated to IVF and had to think about what we would do with our extra embryos. I realized that in order for me to have peace of mind, I was not going to be able to freeze embryos – I felt responsible for them somehow and didn’t like the idea of maybe leaving them hanging in a freezer somewhere. I asked my doctor to fertilize only as many eggs as she was going to implant and freeze the rest to be fertilized later. She thought I was mad. She told me it would be more expensive and tried to talk me out of it but eventually gave in. (Incidentally, the issue ended up being moot: I only got two embryos, neither of which took.) Around that same time, I contributed to a friend’s IVF fundraiser, and my husband asked me if it mattered to me whether she was going to freeze embryos or not. It was weird. Despite the circus I was going through for my own peace of mind, I immediately knew that it didn’t matter to me what my friend decided. She was a grown woman whom I respected and admired and who had her own direct line of communication to God. I trusted her to arrive at her own best decision, and I didn’t have any need to know what that decision was. 

I still don’t know when cells cease to be cells and begin to be humans. I’ll be honest, when I got a good look at those embryos I’d been so concerned about during my IVF – a handful of circles in a petri dish, capable of being suspended in that state in a freezer indefinitely – I kind of felt like, “Huh, maybe not full human status.” But the precise point at which that status is achieved? I couldn’t tell you. I can tell you that I would like to live in a world where every pregnancy is wanted, and this whole discussion is irrelevant. I don’t live in that world. But the living I’ve done in this world has taught me something that my dogma and my moral math failed to take into account: location matters. Whether we are talking about a cluster of cells or a human being with rights, it matters that it resides inside a human woman with her own backstory, her own risk factors, her own ambitions and dreams and socioemotional and economic needs. She matters. 

In our rush to humanize the fetus, we have dehumanized the woman who carries her. We would levy legislation on her that reduces her to a pulse. This moral math takes no account of falling dominoes. It does not, cannot weigh the cost to her of being forced to carry a child. It makes not even a passing effort at holding men accountable for their role in every single abortion. It does absolutely nothing to address cultural, economic, medical, political or religious factors that would put her in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy to begin with. The math, categorically, wrests control away from the one person capable of taking all of these factors into account: the woman herself. Then it takes all of the burden of everything, heaps it onto her shoulders, and walks away from her. It is cruel. It is shameful. It is sinful.

And yet it is unsurprising to me that the Church finds it so easy to justify. The dehumanization and general indictment of women is woven deep into the Church’s culture and, sometimes, its theology. It feeds off of passages that go all the way back to the Biblical account of the very first woman, Eve, who was formed not from the earth as man was, but formed from a man’s rib for the purpose of being his helpmate. Eve, who was first to be deceived and first to sin. Eve, who caused her husband to sin, forcing all of humanity out of a paradise and into a broken world. There are some Christian traditions that do not weaponize the story of Eve, but the one I grew up in drew upon it heavily to cast aspersions on the character and judgment of women and to establish a pronounced structure of male dominance. 

It’s not just Eve. The Apostle Paul also presents a problem. Author of approximately half of the books of the New Testament, Paul used a good deal of language that appears to degrade women, to suggest that they should be subservient to men, and to restrict their participation in religious life. I have heard countless sermons contextualizing and softening Paul’s language (“It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church,” definitely requires some finessing) but even if you believe that his words were a measured response to a very particular set of circumstances, the fact remains that Paul’s words are used to limit, control, and abuse women throughout Christendom. Sometimes it is as mild as training girls to be submissive wives, or restricting women from positions of church leadership. Sometimes it leads to violence. 

In my house growing up, wearing makeup was a sin of vanity. But I do remember my mother being allowed to wear it once. My dad claimed full authority as spiritual head of the household, but my mother insisted on attending a separate church with me and my siblings. This hurt my father’s ministry career, because he did not “have his house in order.” There was a lot of conflict over the years around my mother’s failure to submit, and sometimes my father’s assertions of his authority left marks. This particular day, we were getting our Sears family portraits taken, and it wouldn’t do to have those marks hanging up in the hallway forever for all to see. And so I learned that makeup is sinful until it covers a man’s sin. I wonder how many abortions have been performed under that principle. 

The unaddressed misogyny within the church gives rise to a blindness that, untreated, will never allow the Church to honor the humanity and agency of a woman carrying a child. Is it surprising that we have difficulty with the idea of trusting women with bodily autonomy, trusting them to make their own choices, when we do not trust them to lead a congregation – or even a family? Is it honestly surprising that many Christian men are willing to levy the entirety of the blame for unwanted pregnancies on women when they are accustomed to scapegoating women for literally all of the sin of humanity since the beginning of time? Is it surprising that Christian men are comfortable leaving women to clean up men’s messes when they have been conditioned to expect women to serve them?

Unfortunately, this is only one part of the Church’s blindness. It is also largely blind to the issue of cultural imperialism that has plagued the Church from its early days. A little bit, I can see how we mess this one up, because we have been charged to go and make disciples of all the nations. One of the primary themes of Jesus’ teaching was the Kingdom of God, a reality in which the will of God reigns on Earth as it does in Heaven. In church, we speak, sing, and pray about the Kingdom often, one of our primary objectives on Earth being to advance it. Based on our theology, all of human history is an inevitable march towards a time in which God reigns over everyone and everything, and our job is to partner with him in making this come to pass. We are, effectively, tasked with bringing the world around us into agreement with God’s will. But in our fervor to accomplish this, we’ve entirely failed to check the roadmap that Jesus himself left.

Jesus advanced the Kingdom through individual acts of love and compassion as well as demonstrations of His Kingdom’s power – by healing people, by raising the dead, by casting out demons. He specifically and repeatedly stated that his Kingdom was not of this world. When he was brought before the Roman governor on charges of insurrection levied by Jewish religious leaders, he told the man point blank, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” I find it interesting that, despite living under an imperialist regime that oppressed his own people, Jesus never stormed a government building. Not once. He did not lobby to change a single law. He kept out of the politics of his day entirely, spending his time instead loving, feeding, and healing people on the margins of respectable society.

The Church has, too often, taken a dramatically different approach to advancing the Kingdom. It always seems to get the ugliest when the Church conflates the Kingdom of God with, like, a regular kingdom. That’s when you get holy wars – things like the Spanish Inquisition with the full-scale, government-sponsored execution of heretics. It’s when you get the Crusades – Christian nations invading heathen lands under the banner of Christ and wiping out entire people groups. It’s also when you get culture wars – when you forget that Almighty God already has his own laws which he has placed within us and written on our hearts, and you try to legislate the Kingdom into being.

We grew up singing this folksy little song about God:

He’s got the whole world in His hands…

He’s got the mamas and the daddies in His hands…

He’s got the little bitty babies in His hands…

I swear to God nobody believed a word of it.  Everybody’s in such an all-fired hurry to take the world out of God’s hands – to physically compel people who don’t believe in God to comply with the current prevailing wisdom of what God’s will is through political force. Funny thing about this is, unlike performing miracles, it doesn’t require you to involve God at all. This is problematic just on principle, but when you consider that this approach has been used by the Church at various times – even in recent history – to institutionalize slavery, genocide, white supremecy, and other horrors, one begins to see why Jesus took such great care to model a clear delineation of Kingdoms.

This is not to say that Jesus didn’t care about injustice. Jesus may not have stormed a government building, but he did storm a temple. He cleaned his own house. It would behoove Christians to follow suit: to root out the deep and festering sin against women that the Church has perpetuated for centuries, to confront its own lust for control, to repent – you know the term – to change your whole way of thinking and being in order to forsake what you’ve done wrong. 

Obviously, it’s not up to me, but if it were, I would propose that the Church beat its swords into plowshares: that it end this holy war and, from a posture of abject humility, begin to ask women how they would like to be supported. I promise you, the answer will not be crisis pregnancy centers or stripping away what limited options they have. It might involve some things like equal pay, maternity leave, childcare, access to basic necessities like baby formula, or maybe even access to contraception and sex education. It will definitely involve teaching your sons consent and teaching your fathers respect. It will require a surrender of control, and it will be a lot more difficult than slapping a law on a woman and running away. 

But imagine how much it would change the narrative. It would no longer be the Church lobbing missiles from behind its walls while dictating to women how much they should be able to bear up under. It would no longer be women fighting for survival against an enemy that does not and will not see them. It would allow all of us to walk into that wide open space between us and see what we might be able to build. Perhaps we could even build towards a world where pregnancies, when they happen, are wanted, and where children, when they are born, are able to thrive. It sounds a lot more like Jesus, and it almost sounds a little pro-life.

To My Inner Critic:

Up in your tower with rifle in hand
ready to quell a rebellion:
“Just stand in perfect formation – Don’t blink and don’t bleed –
Don’t you try anything – unless you succeed.
Don’t show your hunger – Take up the slack –
Don’t be seen thinking you’re something you lack –
Don’t step in places where you don’t belong –
outside these walls they all know you’re a con.”

Acute and unyielding, relentlessly mean –
I want you to know that, my darling, you’re seen.

In the time of the siege when rations were low,
it was you who made sure that consumption stayed slow.
When detente into skirmish invariably broke,
our head below crossfire you kept, and you woke
through the night with your ears tautly tuned
to the rumblings of hellfire
and never assumed what the morning would bring.
You knew that one firefight could change everything –
everything ever and always at stake,
one misstep from us could make everything break,
so you taught us to tiptoe through lands full of mines,
to be diplomat/decoy/defender 
to find what the moment required us to be
and shapeshift so quickly that no one could see.

Your vigilance sheltered me, carried me then.
But the time of the siege…it came to an end.
It ended a while ago, darling. I swear.
If I tune out your voice, don’t assume I don’t care –
you constructed a fortress to help us survive.
Don’t be angry, my love, if I wish now to thrive
in these wide open spaces – I know love – they’re scary –
with no hiding places to shelter the wary.
We’re better at margins and better at walls,
and in places where others can run we still crawl –
but please don’t be angry with us about that.
My darling, it’s just that we’re at where we’re at.

We’re here. And we’re breathing still. After the siege.
With time left to find out what things may yet be.

when i was in my larval stage
before I knew the word “misogyny”

i asked my diary why God
put the dreams of a great man
into the body of a small girl
who had neither the strength nor the intelligence 
to achieve them.

and i was so, so smart,
and i was so, so strong.

For Immediate Release:

It has been determined that women owe it to Precisely No One to look younger than their chronological age. The removal of this obligation extends to all relationships, including those they have with themselves, their partners, colleagues, random strangers, The People Of The Internet, and Friends With Whom They Went To High School.

Furthermore, it has been determined that, should a woman wish to appear younger than she currently does, she is permitted to take measures to do so. This permission extends to any creams, lotions, lasers, injectables, surgeries, enchantments, and blood oaths in which she may wish to engage. It is not permitted for a woman (or any person) to force unwilling parties to engage in said treatments, however it has been determined that if a woman is the sole proprietor of her face, she may do with it Whatever the Actual Hell she shall choose.

Consequently, if a woman has done any of the aforementioned procedures, it is no longer a criminal offense for her to look as if that is the case. It so follows that anyone who has “frozen face,” “pillow face,” “duck face,” or any other manner of face bearing evidence of alteration shall not be tried in the court of public opinion but shall instead be free to go about her Damn Business.

It is now also deemed permissible for women to look younger than their chronological age owing to natural causes including genetics, early avoidance of sun exposure, and sufficient quantities of melanin. As such, it is no longer necessary to resent these women or to speculate as to the degree to which they have engaged in anti-aging treatments. This recommendation stems primarily from this activity having been deemed a deeply uninteresting use of that most finite resource: time. 

It is recommended that the term “aging gracefully” be retired in favour of “aging – what a motherfucking privilege.”

Inasmuch as none of these measures is in service of the Patriarchy, their successful implementation shall depend almost exclusively upon early adoption by All Women. Inasmuch as All Women have heretofore been categorically unable to satisfy a complex and mutually exclusive set of standards with regard to their physical appearance in the process of aging, it is anticipated that All Women will flourish upon gaining access to A Fucking Break.

To All My Sisters

I’m sorry for the time I spent looking for your flaws
when all I ever needed was to bask in your glory.
I’m sorry it took me so long to understand that there is
enough special to go around.
That, in fact, every last one of us is a motherfucking masterpiece.
That we’re sequoias – mighty, heavy and sprawling with interlocking roots
such that when one of us is nourished
we all grow strong.

I’m sorry I didn’t know that pain is not a contest. 
That there has been enough of that to go around.
That it’s not the severity of the wound that makes it important.
It’s the mere fact that you are wounded, and you are important. 
And that when we all tend gently to your hurt
it teaches me that all my own little pain-filled places 
are also worthy of love.

I’m sorry I didn’t see the lies in the stories I was told
about ugly stepsisters and evil cheerleaders.
I’m sorry I thought you had to lose for me to win.

To all of you young ones who dare to know your power,
I’m sorry for pushing onto you the judgment I was served.
To all of you vibrant ones whose magic I begrudged,
I repent.
You see, I believed a lie that I didn’t have enough of my own.
Ha. We are dripping in it. Drowning in it.
As many shades and textures of it as there are sisters.

A Letter To My Son

There are so many things about God I am unlearning right now, just at the time that I am supposed to be teaching you. There are so many things that I do not want to pass down to you.

And yet, there are some things that I really, really want you to know:

I want you to know that you are held.
I want you to know that there is a Love out there that will still envelop you, no matter how long you freefall in a dark space.
I don’t want to tell you that if you have enough faith that everything will turn out alright.
Because, in my experience, it won’t,
and that expectation will become a dagger in your heart.
I don’t want to tell you that you’re going to be healed.
Because, sometimes you will be, and sometimes you won’t.
And sometimes the people you love will be, and sometimes they won’t.
And there really doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.
I can say this:
Sometimes you’ll get the miracle you ask for.
And it will blow your mind wide open and fill your heart with wonder and gratitude.
But sometimes you won’t get that miracle.
Sometimes the Worst Possible Thing will happen.
And it will tear your heart wide open and leave your mind stumbling.
But in those times, you’ll find a different sort of miracle – a quieter one but in no way less wondrous.
The miracle is that the Love I told you about will be there in that horrible, horrible void.
That it will wrap itself around you while the whole world falls apart.
And that at some point, you will get up off the floor.
At some point, you will get dressed.
At some point, you will walk back out into the world.
And when you do, you’ll be a little more tender. And your roots will stretch a little deeper.
And you’ll have a power possessed only by people who have been to dark places:
the ability to really see another person, and to sit with them in their own dark places.
And be Love there.
And you’ll find that that kind of miracle is, in fact, the one that keeps all of us going.

a call for help in a time of deconstruction

God who holds everything together
by whom molecules bind and firing neurons form thoughts
Inventor of toddler snuggles and loving glances
by whom rocks banging together can result in
spring thaws
the living sound of water escaping snow under a late february sun
of birds, giddy with newness,
in competition for the most weightless song
incursions of purple into a wasteland of white
as the crocuses sense that something is coming
it’s coming
there’s snow on the ground but we know that it’s coming and you can’t tell us otherwise

God by whom I have been seen
God who has met me
on the floor of that apartment
on the way to that hospital
who has not required of me
perfect dogma
who has only asked me to accept comfort and to know peace
who at times when there was no floor
has told me that I would not fall forever
who has shown me that
even when it is not alright
somehow still I am alright

I’ll call you by the names I know
but I do not expect the name that I call matters
as much as that I call
and ask for a floor
just, at some point, a floor
and that when I land I would not be alone

The Letter

I wrote a letter.

It is a business letter.

Not even a creative letter.

I wrote it for you to use on your committee.

Did you read it?

Have you seen it yet?

Please tell me it is wonderful. 

Not wonderful. That’s not it.

Please tell me it is The Best Letter That Anyone Has Ever Written.

Please tell me it is The Letter That Is Going To Change Everything.

I don’t write a lot of letters these days.

I wipe a lot of bottoms.

I sweep the same floor a lot of times.

I put the same clothes into the machine over, and over, and over again.

I really hope you like the letter.

Because I kind of stapled myself to it.

a rainy afternoon in covidtime

the world has grown small –
just these walls
and some screens but it seems

the world has grown massive
two hours and forty-five minutes away is now
a year and I fear
it will continue to grow
ever slow
ever swallowing small moments we cannot retrieve

The world has grown quiet.

And by it
I feel l’ve lost you even though
I know
you are twenty-six blocks away

I miss
the clink of your coffee cup on my kitchen counter
small voices squabbling over toys
mottled boys
people noise

What Motherhood Isn’t


I’m a few years into this motherhood thing now – long enough to have some thoughts about what motherhood is. Turns out it is difficult. More so than I thought it would be. It’s relentless, confusing, and isolating. It’s exhausting to the marrow. It empties me of all I have and then empties me some more, forcing me to scrape at the bedrock of my endurance and find what I didn’t know was there to give. Motherhood is helpless. My heart on wobbly legs navigating stairs. I get it. This is why we honor moms. They’ve earned it.

It’s also, in my experience, multiple daily dopamine hits. It’s wonder. It’s encountering the world all over again. It’s being the very first Most Important Person in someone’s life. It’s the quickening in an infant’s eyes at the sound of my voice and the dirt-stained tears on my chest from a preschooler’s cheek. Because that particular spot on my chest, the spot with the sun-damage mole that he loves, is his home. His safest place. It’s being trusted beyond what I’ve earned. It’s being loved simply and forgiven instantly (my kids aren’t teenagers yet). It is sheer privilege.

On Mother’s Day, I feel like we hear a great deal about the struggle and sacrifice of motherhood, and we even hear some about the privilege. But we hear almost nothing about the socially privileged position of motherhood. We live in a society where motherhood is the norm for women, and any woman of a certain age who isn’t a mother is reminded of her noncompliance with this norm in a thousand different ways. Some of them are subtle; some are astoundingly obtuse. Mother’s Day happens to be a day when her noncompliance with the norm is rubbed vigorously in her face. This is why, every year, I like to hold a little bit of space on this day for what motherhood isn’t.

Motherhood is not automatic. About sixty percent of us can schedule babies between vacations and waxing appointments, but one in eight of us will for some period of her life be suspended between a desire to become a mother and an excruciating uncertainty as to when or if that will happen. This can last for years or decades. It can last for a lifetime.

Motherhood is not always visible. About ten to twenty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. About one in one hundred pregnancies ends in a stillbirth. Some mothers lose their children when they are older. Still others have had to give their children up. I promise you that you know women who have carried children in their wombs but do not hold them in their arms. You don’t necessarily know who we are. We don’t slap a bumper sticker on our car for each loss, and we might not stand when they’re handing out flowers to the moms in church. But we are mothers. And we will always carry those children.

Motherhood is not biology. Shoutout to all the adoptive mothers who constantly field questions about their child’s “real” mom. (Let’s just stop it, shall we?) And to all the nurturing and fierce women (and men) out there who are guiding people through the world, regardless of who bore them. I have been mothered by many people, several of them peers, some of them women with kids, one of them an eccentric Argentine lady, and, yes, one who gave birth to me. I am thankful for all of them.

Motherhood is not a requirement. It’s hard enough to be a woman in the world without being constantly fed the bullshit that we have not completed our life cycle until we have spawned. While it really seems like at this point I shouldn’t have to say that a woman is a complete human of her own right, I’m going to say it, just in case: no woman owes the world children. Full stop.

Motherhood is not yo’ damn business. I’m just going to posit a mad theory here: let us suppose for a moment that a woman is capable of communicating her reproductive plans with all of the people in her life who need to know – say, her partner (if applicable), her doctor, her inner circle. Are you with me, here? Do we think women are capable of doing that? Great. It logically follows, then, that if a woman has not told you her reproductive plans, then you are not a person who needs to know. Crazy, huh? I encourage you to ask yourself, the next time you want to ask a woman if or when she is planning to have children, “Does this woman owe me this information?” (Hint: the answer is no.) If the answer is no, then go ahead and ask her something less loaded, like how much she weighs.

Motherhood is not womanhood. I was not a mother, and now I am. Guess what? I’m the same person. I have not unlocked secret levels of humanhood. I did not grow lady parts I didn’t have before. I did not suddenly access emotions of which I was heretofore incapable. Can we please stop belittling the life experience of women who do not have children? There are precisely as many ways of being a woman in the world as there are women in it. If we spent less time measuring each other and more time honoring each other, we’d all be stronger for it.

Today, by all means, let us celebrate mothers. But let us expand our idea of what motherhood is, and please, let us remember what it isn’t.