Life Sentence

I resigned to do time for my crime,

for all the lies to men and lying with men.

I signed up to marry a man I deemed at the time good enough, instead of great.

I felt guilty for my misdeeds, even the alleged ones he still suspects to this day.

Somehow I thought that a life of serving him might come close to redeeming the rough beginnings of our relationship:

a messy row of dominoes of cheating and lying.

Why do I feel that I owe him anything, after he has taken so much and given so little?

How can I build a strong marriage on a foundation of deception and shame?

It was harsh to give myself a life sentence.

Right the Ship

I write to you out of a sense of duty and love for my country. I am a physician who understands that denying women access to abortion results in death, injury, and disease from unsafe pregnancy termination. Forcing women to keep unwanted pregnancies also results in increased crime rates a generation later, as was noted by the national drop in crime after Roe v. Wade.

I am a concerned citizen appalled that women’s rights may regress back to a time when women were more overtly treated as second-class citizens. While some may think this goes without saying, women’s rights are human rights. The Supreme Court’s apparent reasoning behind repealing Roe is weak, and could easily lead to further measures of progress being lost. 

Beyond my qualifications as a physician and my insight as a born-and-raised American, I am adamant that abortion be kept legal due to my appreciation of the myriad reasons why women may seek to end pregnancy. As an adolescent I suffered both rape and impaired access to contraception. This is an all too common scenario that most victims never disclose due to stigma. 

As a young adult, I escaped from abusive relationships through abortion, for which I am eternally grateful. Being forced to wait at least three days after watching the pre-procedure video to receive the procedure as mandated by law was demeaning, however it was far more tolerable than complete denial of care. Abortion is exponentially safer than pregnancy and childbirth. 

I am now a mother with firsthand experience of the lasting and profound impact of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood on a woman’s health. I am able to provide for my family today because I had an abortion when my husband and I subsisted below the poverty line while I studied medicine. Our previous pregnancy resulted in persistent, severe illness which impaired my ability to safely care for my patients, and at the time we could not afford the cost of prenatal or child care on top of my husband’s burdensome student loan payments. Ending my previous pregnancy continues to have a lasting positive impact on our family. 

I beseech you to protect the rights of millions of Americans to maintain autonomy over our own bodies. While those in power may threaten our right to make decisions, we will continue to fight for each other and for our children. I write to you with my daughter by my side. I pray that she will grow up in a country where she has at least as much freedom to make the best choices for herself as her parents did. I am living proof that when our nation’s most economically vulnerable are let down by inadequate access to healthcare, childcare, contraception, and transportation, abortion is the final safety net that allows us to right the ship of our lives.

NYOB

Dear Government,

What happens in my body is my business.

You didn’t make my body your business when I was molested as a child, raped as a teenager, or sex trafficked as a young adult.

You didn’t notice when I struggled to access birth control due to poverty.

You didn’t mind when I was trapped in toxic relationships with misogynistic, manipulative men who drove me to contemplate suicide.

You didn’t pay a dime when I asked my health insurance to cover the care I needed.

In part thanks to the abortions obtained through no help from you, I am a physician now.

You devour the tax money I earn with my blood, sweat, and tears. You are undeserving of my sacrifices.

You need to back off.

What I do with my body is none of your business.

You didn’t care about my body before, don’t pretend to care now.

My body knows the truth.

But truth, like freedom, equality, or justice, isn’t your business.

Raging

The Supreme Court has me raging today.

I feel fire in my veins, each heartbeat fans the flames.

Would you like a cup of tea? My blood is boiling, don’t want to waste it.

Like I didn’t want to waste my life by staying in injurious relationships that were slowly killing me so I pulled the plug and let unwanted pregnancies wash down the drain.

The body will choose survival over reproduction, every time.

My abortions provided instant relief for my body and brain, another chance at life, freed from shackles that no one saw but that would have destroyed me just the same.

Forced pregnancy is a grave injustice with adverse repercussions for the individual, families and society. Unsafe abortions are horrific, unnecessary and dangerous.

What is this nightmare I woke up to today?

I am burning with rage.

Fairytale

The story of the love of my life was like a fairytale

I followed the promise of the afternoon breeze right to my love

On our first date we went for a walk on a winding, icy path through the woods, during which I fell into his arms repeatedly

The pull into each other’s gravity was too strong to overcome

I got knocked up right away

We planned it that way

But it didn’t stay

I was sick with fatigue, nausea, and depression and didn’t have the time or money to have a baby

I thought he would step up to the role of a caretaker but he had his own self-imposed obligations

Not a day went by that he didn’t lose his phone or his wallet, how could I raise a kid with him?

No one, not even him, supported me the way I needed

As soon as the abortion was scheduled I joined a dating app

Still pregnant, I went for picnics in the park with strangers and drank homemade sangria which had warmed in the afternoon sun

A few bad dates later and my sanity returned to me in the clarity of my non-pregnant state,

I realized that he was actually pretty great

Sure, he didn’t own the condo or the SUV and wasn’t offering me the lifetime of security that the dating app men were, but he felt right to me

So we got back together

I cheated on him once while he was out of town and I was planning on breaking up with him when he returned, except I didn’t

I think I will feel ashamed of my misdeeds my whole life

Then we got engaged, married, and I am pregnant again, except now with more time, money and support than before

He no longer loses important things

We are living happily ever after

Except for every time he rehashes the past

Which is too often

I don’t want to talk about every sexual act I’ve ever done with a man, yet he harps on the topic

I wish I hadn’t created such a horror film of a life

I’m trying to sculpt a happier future

For me and the little one

I keep thinking I will stop swearing and start glowing

Holy shit, I’m pregnant

Although I am wary of parenting because my own childhood was awful

I will do a better job than my parents

Every day is my happy ending

Irony

I usually doubt that I am using the term ‘ironic’ accurately, but I marvel at the irony of the humbling relationship between my uterus and the universe.

I thought my fertility was abundant until I aborted a pregnancy and have been unable to conceive subsequently.

I ended the pregnancy for many reasons, partly because I thought my resources were too scarce, and now I am spending mad cash buying baby shower gifts for friends.

It was easy to end a pregnancy that made me gravely ill, though maybe I would have felt better if I had hung on for a few more weeks.

As a medical resident, I thought my time was too limited to have a baby, and now I am working overtime because my female colleagues had theirs. My employer’s policy for maternity leave started one month before I would have been due, but who knew. Perhaps I take my job too seriously, even for a physician.

My uterus is dark and malleable and filled with iron-rich blood. My thoughts are bitter and molten as I reflect on the irony that the exact thing which I tried to avoid imposing on others- disrupting their work schedule- is precisely what has been inflicted on me.

I terminated my pregnancy partly because I wasn’t married at the time, then when I got married a year later my family refused to acknowledge my wedding anyway.

The lesson to not let anxiety run my life is hard won. I am anxiety incarnate, but I am more than that. Had I not let worries about time, money, or what my co-workers and family would think of me dictate my actions, maybe I’d have a child now.

I’d probably make the same decision again, but the taste of iron is strong.

Stay

When asked to do a favor

I interpret it as an order that my life depends on- I must complete the task, no matter how wretched or mammoth an imposition, in order to remain loved/liked/accepted/not rejected/safe/appreciated/valued

I bend over backwards to let others walk all over me

I ache to shake off these shackles

I stay without putting up a fight out of habit

Baby elephants get bigger everyday

Grow stronger than their chain, yet they stay

Energy-vultures rip out my exposed flesh

We are all living beings trying to survive- the difference between us is our intention

How to escape my newfound obligations

Thoughts of getting intimate with my kitchen knife

Seeking out a minor accident or mild poisoning

Aiming for that delicate balance between being injured or sick enough to get out of workhell, yet benign enough to survive without serious complications

I aborted my pregnancy in residency so that my colleagues wouldn’t have to pick up the slack for me

Now I shoulder their burdens while they are on maternity leave

I thought I was doing the thoughtful, responsible thing

Giving up my baby and my freedom especially stings

I draw on my zen training

Tell myself to let go of thoughts, breathe through it, this too shall pass

Lean into sacred lessons, stay calm and strong

Peace is every step- keep moving

What a beautiful challenge to remain enlightened as the shitstorm rages

I do it to myself; pile on crushing pressure without limit

I’m a pushover pushed over the edge

I’m a doormat covering a minefield

My eyes on the heavy boots dripping with desire to smear mud on me

I’m a danger to myself

Nobody is coming to intervene, especially since they are the beneficiaries of my sacrifice and service

Lord, take the wheel

I’m not even supposed to be here today

Yet I stay

I’m beginning to see the blurred lines between effort and non-effort

I’m beginning to trust that hurt can be healed

No pain lasts forever- lean in and breathe in to the sting

Just because I can be there doesn’t mean I have to be there to save the day everyday

The day will pass with or without me anyway

They call me an essential worker, but I am not any more essential than my colleagues, yet more is demanded of me

Ego, why don’t you take the week off? There will be less pain and tears if you do- I’ll book you a flight to someplace nice. If you decide to stay far away for awhile, that’d be ok too.

May my cortex override the stress reaction of my brain stem

May I shine love and forgiveness instead of loathing and fear

May I meet my persecutor with compassion and understanding

Despite all that I deny myself in staying, may I stay anyway, just for today

To strengthen my spirituality, like a pilgrimage to the present moment

May I hang on to the integrity of my soul like my life depends on it

Maybe it does

I settle in to discomfort

Trust my breath to get me through the day

Connection to spirit is just a breath away

Surrender

I tried so hard to do what I thought was wanted of me by my parents

I aborted my pregnancies conceived out of wedlock

I got engaged and married- thought I was following the script to be accepted and approved by my family

Yet my marriage somehow sparked a crises, as if it were an unforgivable crime

In their eyes it wasn’t with the right man or at the right time

I tried so hard, gave the ultimate sacrifice

Yet I still haven’t come close to getting it right, in their eyes

I give up on trying to make them happy

I surrender

I no longer take the bait of their meltdowns, no longer jump to their rescue

I live for my own happiness now

How much more obtainable a goal

How effortless compared to the burden I’ve been hauling

I practically float away from the wreck of our relationship

Freedom

From the top of the ferris wheel of young love

You came to exist within me

Though I will never see your face or hear your heart beat

I carry you with me still

I had lofty goals of starting a family while starting a career

With less than 9 months to solve big problems, reality set in

I was privileged enough to have a job but not privileged enough to have maternity leave

I searched desperately for arms to hold you while I worked, considered everyone I knew, and found no one because everybody else was working too.

I am grateful for my freedom to choose what I do with my body

I take responsibility for my abortion but I must acknowledge the role that US healthcare un-system played in my decision

Why is it that so many nations have figured out how to provide years of parental leave, afford their citizens healthcare as a human right, give freedom to live without fear of financially devastating medical bills, yet we cling so bitterly to our ‘freedom’ that it poisons us to death

Our freedom is an illusion- the uneven distribution of privilege in America imprisons us in different ways while blinding us to each other’s struggles

Dear one, I blame myself for your abbreviated and hidden existence- I chose an unforgiving career with militant training and rigid requirements that didn’t allow space for the expanding curves of my female body

I felt trapped between the walls I planted myself between, I searched but I didn’t find room for you

I prioritized service to others so much that I had nothing left to give to you

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.

Those words don’t come close to expressing the raw maternal emotions I feel for you, little one.

The air above my closed lips crushes me, impregnated with secrets

Even if I had managed to keep you, American freedoms might have killed you in your youth. We have racism and freedom for gun violence in this country, dear one, and you would have been born brown.

The lack of support for pregnant women and new mothers in the United States is barbaric.

Instead of taking away our constitutional right for abortion, give us a constitutional right for maternity leave.

Instead of the right to bear arms, I wish I had the right to hold you in my arms.

Night Shifting

3AM:

Holding space

Just in case

You smash your face

at 3AM

I put out fires before I retire

Night song:

The day team has gone home

The bustle has simmered down

We few listen to the nightengale’s song

The dinging of hospital monitor alarms, all night long

Pink unicorn:

On inpatient pediatrics

I practice break room snack tactics

My pillaging rewards me

With a pink unicorn paper plate

Strung out:

By the time I realized that my survival skill of being high strung was making me strung out

I was half-way through medical school

Too late

Free bird:

Graduating from medical school

Leaving the shelter of my alma mater’s bosom

Flying free as a bird

Right into the glass door of residency

Anxiety:

I recognize that just like me, she is riddled with anxiety

I wonder if she has ever told anyone

I wonder if I ever will

Baby:

Baby born to today

Mom and baby are ok

How amazing. Happiness abounds.

The End:

Only at the end

Do we see clearly

What was important

Swept:

Swept up in inspiration

I catch these words

Swirling around me like fall leaves

I wonder if I will get swept away with them

Chocolate or vanilla?

The age-old question

In my advanced years, I have come to appreciate vanilla

But I’d rather ride a chocolate c— any day

What I learned in my many travels:

When you reach the beach at the end of the earth, purchase the overpriced coconut you long to drink

The Choice:

Between being a mother or being a doctor, I chose to be a doctor, though it cost me my sons and/or daughters.

My first pregnancy I called Cosmo

I sent him back out to the cosmos

My second pregnancy I called Autumn

I let her go at the first winter’s snow

Nobody knew that her skin would have been auburn

My third pregnancy I called Aurora

I still roar with pain at the loss.

I hope she will rise again.

The Moon:

Even the moon has boundaries

For a few days each month, it exists only for itself

Driving home at the end of a night shift, a faded twinkle in my tired eyes.

On the other side of the highway, commuters struggle to swim upstream

I cruise along drinking in the sunset- everybody else’s sunrise