A woman’s body and fertility have long fascinated me. From my first period I was voraciously curious about how it all worked and how from something so small it could barely be seen a whole new person could be made, inside another person, and then suddenly and sometimes violently separate.
During my own pregnancies, I seemed to have the wrong end of every stick. With my first, I was pregnant out of wedlock, and deeply ashamed to show my face at church. For three months, I mindlessly repeated that I would give the baby up for adoption, just as the leaders said I should, until I finally revealed the other half of my plan, which was to find some way to kill myself, preferably before leaving the hospital childless. A family intervened, and that daughter is sitting in front of me, ready to go to kindergarten in a month.
The lasting effects of those first three months took their toll for years, and continue to do so. Every bump in the road, every bad day, every temper-tantrum in a grocery store, every snapped word and snapping finger sent an electric current of shame. “She knows. She know you weren’t supposed to keep her.” “You were never meant to be her mother.” “You should have given her to someone better when you had the chance, and now it’s too late. Now she’s stuck with you.”
My next pregnancy was long awaited. I was enthralled with the idea of having a bump to show off, to wear cute clothes that my belly could swell in, instead of hiding behind loose skirts and oversized tunics and shirts that draped appealingly low, hiding what I couldn’t bear anyone to know. To have my baby inside of the covenant of marriage and for that baby to be undoubtedly mine, with no one to question who was to raise my child.
It would take four more years for that dream to be realized. Two miscarriages and over two and a half years of trying left me with little faith in myself, in my body, or in God. The insidious idea that by keeping my daughter I had somehow forfeited the right to other children was deeply rooted and long-lasting.
With the birth of my twins last fall, something very deep was healed inside of me. Something that was taken had been restored. I was convinced for months that it was not meant to be, that I’d lose them just as I’d lost my other pregnancies, and it wasn’t until they were pink and screaming that it truly sunk in that I would really get to keep them.
Body shaming is a particularly favorite rock when stoning the proverbial harlot. To have my fertility used against me, made into a sin, is one of the greatest wrongs I have had to weather. For my body’s beautiful capacity for life to be turned into shame took my daughter’s infancy from me, gave me years of self-doubt and hatred, was the source of blame for my lost babies. To have to hide your first pregnancy, to be so often put down and so infrequently congratulated, to feel so small and so alone is something that no woman should have to bear. Our bodies and our children are our own, in a way that nothing else can ever be, in a way no man or church or God can understand.