By Jeanne Liston, North Liberty
In 1965 before I got married, I made an appointment with a physician for my first pelvic exam. After the exam I requested a prescription for birth control pills. He looked at me, shuffled through my paperwork, and then stated, “You’re Catholic,” and refused the prescription. I was surprised and offended. Today I might have told him to F off, but then I meekly left his office and got the prescription somewhere else.
I was trying to have children in the late ’60s and early ’70s, during the Roe v. Wade period. By then I had suffered through six miscarriages and was still childless. The national news was filled with stories of “unwanted pregnancies.” Those words were gut-wrenching for me to hear, but I do not ever remember thinking those women should be forced to carry their pregnancies. It was true there were many women like me who wanted children and couldn’t have them, but that didn’t justify forced birthing practices. I felt as though I would personally never be able to have an abortion myself, but recognized the fundamental right of any human to make decisions about their own body.
I was working in obstetrics at the time. I saw what pregnancy did to a woman’s body. Even if you wanted the child, almost no one enjoyed pregnancy. Morning sickness, constipation, fatigue, breast pain and tenderness, weight gain (with your doctor criticizing every extra ounce), back pain, frequency when the baby sat on your bladder, and mood changes. These all occurred before the baby even arrived. Then you could look forward to the fun of labor and postpartum. Hours of labor pains when you feel as though you are being ripped apart, an episiotomy, days of cramping and bleeding, leaking sore breasts.
Later, when the child-bearing years are behind you, women my age can look forward to stress incontinence, sagging breasts, weight gain, varicose veins and hemorrhoids, stretch marks, lower sex drive and believe it or not, even bigger feet. If you’re really unlucky your uterus may prolapse and some wise and superior male physician may decide to do a uterine suspension on an organ you don’t need and that can never be used again, because the insurance company has decided too many women are having hysterectomies. I’ve had friends that have had that happen to them.
During the period I was working in OB at a public hospital in the Illinois suburbs of Chicago, if a woman wanted to have a tubal ligation, her case was presented to a group of male physicians. For her case to even be considered, she had to have five children and her husband’s permission.
Women choose to go through pregnancy and childbirth for a baby they want, and they feel they can care for. We are on the brink of having forced births reinstated here in the United States. No matter how the fetus got in there — rape, accident or by choice — men, and it is mostly men, will decide what happens to our bodies. A small cluster of cells will have more power than the woman carrying them.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett tells women they can just drop the babies off at a hospital or the fire station. Can they leave the physical pain and mental suffering there too? Sounds easy peasy, doesn’t it? Maybe if men started having to have eight-pound bowel movements they’d reconsider, but I doubt it. The goal is really to get women back in their perceived place, subservient.
This article was originally published in Little Village’s July 2022 issues.