As I’ve written here before, my conception was an accident, while my parents were still in college. Her family’s Catholic faith mean that she had no option of abortion. She was coerced by her family into marriage at the age of twenty. Throughout my childhood, in the worst of times, she told me that her marriage, which included both verbal and physical abuse and marital rape, was my fault. Because I was a child when I heard that accusation, I had little choice but to believe it, and even after decades of hard inner work, a tiny fragment of my heart believes it still.
Though it’s the central pain of my existence, that dual sense of unwelcome and responsibility is also a huge gift. It fuels my drive to make the space around me safe for those who have less power and to push back against coercion and sexist norms whenever I can. My background compels me to do whatever little bit I can so that someday women won’t be forced by religion, family pressure, or tradition to give up control of their own bodies.
For large swaths of my life, I’ve simply hated my mother, almost thought of her as a monster. (My dad, of course, deserves as many paragraphs, and he’s had them.) She and I have spent four painful decades trying to make friends with each other, and to both of our credit, we now enjoy an uneasy peace. But I never truly empathized with twenty-year-old her until the pope’s visit to the U.S. unlocked a treasure trove of anti-Catholic fury in my heart.
It wasn’t right for my mom to take her anger out on me, but she was absolutely right and justified in being angry. In that forced decision, her autonomy was taken away, and only now, as I’m learning to relish my own autonomy, can I begin to fathom that loss. She lived, we all lived, in a tyranny in which chaos and violence could rain down at any moment if, for example, she hadn’t washed, matched, and put away the correct pair of brown socks. What’s more, she thought that she deserved the abuse, because Catholicism and sexism had taught her that she was less than he was, period.
Even long-divorced, she told me that she should have just shut up and obeyed him better, that that would have kept us safe.
But what about existing, you ask? I really love existing, and I wouldn’t trade my family for another in a million years. But what if, in that momentous moment, she’d felt empowered to choose? I think she might have still had me, but if I hadn’t been the product of coercion, she and I may at least have had less of a struggle to make a relationship. I do hold both of us accountable for our own actions, but what would it have been like to grow up in a world where my mother’s body was her own?
I’m sure that some little-kid part of me thinks that by advocating for choice, I can go back in time and repair that essential wound, but I can’t. What I can do is hope to give other mothers a better chance at deciding their own lives, and give more children the chance to be genuinely loved and wanted.
Electing Hillary Clinton send a clear message against misogyny and oppressive gender norms, and she is also the Democrat who is most vocal in her support of Planned Parenthood and women’s (AKA everyone’s) health. I am voting my mom’s life, for my own, and for children of all genders, that they may be wanted, loved, chosen, and safe.