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On RBG's Passing

by Shentel Downes 8 months ago in activism

I'm here because you were, Ruth.

Art by Nathalie G. Gonzalez

I grew up with a homemaker mother, a working father. I was raised to believe that women belonged at home, men at work. I grew up with conservative Republican parents as a bisexual woman, and I heard a lot of political discussions between my grandfather and my dad and my great uncles. Women didn't talk politics in our house.

I remember believing abortion was barbaric and that anyone who would even consider having an abortion was lower than pond scum. I believed this until I turned eighteen, and had my first pregnancy scare. It took a single weekend of emotional agony and crippling worry to change my mind about abortion forever. My boyfriend at the time had a career that wouldn't have been able to withstand a baby, and I was absolutely not ready to be a mother. It turned out my period was late because I'd been working out so much in preparation for boot camp.

I tell you all this because tonight we lost one of the women who protected my right to an abortion, and I am feeling almost as I did when I thought I was pregnant that first missed period- anguished, worried, terrified.

Now I'd like to tell you why the right to safe abortion is important to me. I started menstruating at thirteen years old, and every time my period arrived, I spent several days curled up in a ball in agony. I'd vomit or pass out or both because of the pain of my cramps for at least three days of my cycle, and at fourteen, when I asked for birth control, my mother called me a whore. At fourteen, the last thing on my mind was sex, but she didn't care. I wasn't allowed to make that decision for myself, despite knowing birth control could make my periods much easier to manage.

Eventually, my grandfather (of all people) convinced my mother to get me birth control. My grandmother, Dot, had similar issues to mine when she was younger, and Pap didn't want my sister and I to have to suffer the way she did. When I was put on birth control, within two weeks, I broke out so bad that I still have pits in my face. I bled more than I ever had before, and my periods got longer and more painful. The gynecologist Mom insisted I see told me to stay on this birth control for another few weeks. I couldn't hold out, and ended up stopping the birth control. I walked to the Planned Parenthood in town shortly after and saw a doctor there, who actually listened when I described my periods and the issues I had. The doctor there looked at my face and told me she was glad I came- that if I'd continued on the original birth control, I'd likely have had a stroke. I switched my birth control and didn't have another issue afterward.

I stopped birth control when I was twenty, around the time I arrived at my first duty station for the Navy. My husband and I tried over and over to conceive, but I miscarried repeatedly because of the stress of my job onboard the ship. If I had needed an abortion and couldn't access it, I wouldn't have my son today.

When I was nine, my mom had had a dilation and curettage after a chemical pregnancy. It undoubtedly saved her life and allowed her to give birth to my youngest brother. I learned from Pap years ago, that his wife, my Mammy, also had several dilation and curettages after partial miscarriages.

I am here today because of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's defense of bodily autonomy. My mom and dad are both here because of the right to safe, legal abortion.

I'm devastated at RGB's passing, but I won't let her death scare me into giving up. She didn't try to survive until the election for us to do that, friends. If she can hang on for us, we need to square up and make sure we do her proud.

Shentel Downes
Read next: The State
Shentel Downes
See all posts by Shentel Downes

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