I’m not exactly sure when i became an activist for gender rights, but it was definitely in high school, if not earlier. I got my period earlier than the vast majority of girls in my class. I was 9 (nine!) – take that in. I was the same age as my eldest child is now. There is nothing like being in grade 5 and other girls wondering what the strange noise was coming from a bathroom stall. In fact, it was me tearing off the sticky part of my maxi pad. Talk about stigma and being embarrassed for something so normal. I also got breasts pretty early too, and of course that brought on attention from much older boys and men even. I noticed that for sure, and yet didn’t have the skills to put them in their place (the boys i mean), or more importantly, the support and guidance from others to help me with this.
So i started dating younger than i might have otherwise, and my body has been a sexual object for a long time. I remember being in middle school and walking on the beach in Florida, while on vacation. A boy i did not know came up to me and asked me point blank if i “put out.” I didn’t even know what the term meant. Luckily, it didn’t go farther than that, but the memory still stays with me.
When i was in high school, a pro-choice rally was held and i recall my mom urging me not to go. She was afraid of me being an activist in a rally and getting hurt or in trouble. While i obeyed her request (rule), i did learn more about what abortions are and what being pro-choice is for me. A friend of mine had to get one when we were in high school. I remember helping her get the phone number for a clinic in Toronto and being part of a team of teenage friends helping her navigate the system to get it done. I grew up in a smaller city 1 ½ hours from the big city and it was my job to hold on to the card with the clinic’s phone number. I still remember where i hid it.
About ten years ago, i worked at a reproductive health clinic where medical terminations of pregnancies happened. My role as a counsellor was to be a guide to people during the procedure. I literally would hold their hand and help them with breathe work, distraction tools and self-compassion. I loved this work and it brought me closer to the work i do now, so i am so grateful for what i learned there.
One thing i learned is that many of us that choose to get an abortion do it for a number of reasons. As we are our own experts, it is up to no one else to govern or decide what’s best for our bodies. And yet, we are hearing otherwise again in the news as some states are changing a sacred and human rights law that passed many moons ago.
I can only assume that people who have had to make a difficult choice are feeling triggered all over again. Some of the people i support come to help heal from the shame, remorse, and grief from making this decision. They don’t need lawmakers and politicians (mostly old white men) to make them feel worse for their decision. It was a hard decision to make, and it was their’s to do so and the right decision at the time.
Abortion is not just for rape, and yet it’s ironic that this backlash to our rights over our bodies is happening during May which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I can’t help to think of this as another form of systemic sexual abuse. While it’s not a sexual assault persay, it is a violation and abuse of someone over someone else’s body, in a sexual manner. The removal of abortion access is not about the unborn babies and fetuses – it’s about power. Just like rape is not about pleasure via sex: it is also about power.
I am now teaching both my children that they are the boss of their body. My daughter still asks who saw me naked when i delivered her earthside. Even last night, i overheard her asking my partner who saw my vagina when she was coming out, if i was naked with my consent, and if being naked was necessary. We talk about body autonomy a lot, and i still ask them if I can kiss and hug them good night.
In response to the latest backlash to women and reproductive choice, someone in my neighbourhood filled blocks and blocks of sidewalks with chalk-written slogans that remind us that we are the boss of our bodies. When walking over this simple and powerful display, i had an interesting chat with my children on what abortion is – i had to balance what it means to be pro-choice and that abortion is an absolutely acceptable and valid choice, with how to explain the process in an age-appropriate way.
My children have not yet reached puberty but they are on the near cusp of it. We have good books and chats about it a lot, and they know what it means when i have my monthly blood cycle. While i have had my period for over 30 years (*wow*), it was when i became pregnant that i really learned how my reproductive parts work, and when i can get pregnant each month. I want my children to learn how their bodies work before then. That is one way they can be truly informed when needing to give consent. Knowledge is power, right?
This upcoming Tuesday May 28 is the second annual Menstrual Hygiene Day in Toronto. I’m so excited that gender activists in the city have championed the path to lessen the stigma of menstruation and making pads and tampons accessible to all bleeders. I also love that Dr. Morgentaler, a renowned doctor who has been a forerunner in reproductive health and performing abortions for decades, received an Order of Canada for his work. Maybe we need to send invites to period party to those old white men in power to our south.
Or not, they might be party poopers.