Lessons in Dignity, or “The Little Ovary That Could”

I’m just going to say it: I had an abortion. More specifically, I took what used to be referred to as RU 486 (it’s not actually one pill it’s a set of 2 and then a set of 3, sparing the graphics, it takes about a month to work, causing emotional instability, pain, and a variety of unpleasant things).

It feels awkward and uncomfortable to write, and probably to read, given that even feminists these days tend to tap-dance around the issue, preferring to play the “I-would-only-have-an-abortion-if-game” of moral superiority. Long story short, it’s not something you can or ever want to say out loud.

As the plot typically unfolds, being a slutty, slutty slut bag, a careless jezebel/harlot/slattern (I have quite an affinity for antiquated words used for describing loose women) I found out I was knocked up on the second day of graduate school, traveled to a Planned Parenthood in Columbus every three days or so for two weeks, where anti-choice radicals tried repeatedly to kidnap me (side note: those types of people are actually real…bizarre), and would then attend my classes in a discipline I had never studied before.

Honestly, I don’t know what I had thought about the “abortion debate” before it was happening to me. Though I’ve always been of the adamantly radical pro-choice feminist of the Women’s and Gender Studies major and perhaps cliché variety, this was very different than a “choice” I had argued for, in that it didn’t feel like one.

As the icing on the traumatic cake, after a couple weeks of not knowing what the hell was going on with me, my fellow colleagues began to assume I had not only fucked my way into the department but that I was missing class because of my heartbreak over another student or because I was having trysts and torrid affairs with imaginary lovers/professors. I had never had to defend my intelligence before, some behaviors maybe, but no one had ever truly insulted my intellect.

If you break your leg, you can be like “I broke my fucking leg” or if your grandmother dies, you can say, “My grandmother died, so fuck off.” When you have abortion, all you can really say is “I’m…uh… going through something,” It must be ambiguous, vague, and will most certainly be subject to scrutiny. But I am trying to avoid a “please-feel-sorry-for-me-and-my whitegirlthirdworldproblems” narrative trajectory. Though we live in a country that shames and silences women and keeps them from sharing their gendered experiences and despite the quote unquote War on Women, being quiet taught me a lot about dignity. Before this, I was the type of girl who spewed her life experiences out into the world, an emotional whore if you will. As a student of feminist theory I firmly believed, and still do, that the best political strategy and evidence to support an argument is that of the “lived experience,” (hence my writing of this piece), but I had never thought about the concept of dignity. I had no real understanding of what it meant to “be a dignified lady” or to say things like “I left my dignity at the J Bar last night”

Dignity is even vaguely defined in the dictionary as “bearing conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.” When I thought about my relationship with the person partially responsible for my situation, my lack of self-respect became glaringly apparent. I knew it was some summer fling that was going to end in fiery chaos, and I pursued it anyway. I knew he refused to be present, I knew that he was seen with another girl two days after I delivered the news. (The stick, the paperwork all arranged like a perverse table setting, but he left that sad, little party early) It was not a wake-up call or an “Aha! Moment!” all I really felt was confusion and frustration. I couldn’t tell very many people what was happening, and when I did tell someone, the response generally fell into a tightly bound dichotomy that looks something like this: “(Pro-choice) It was nothing anyway, you’ll be fine, you’re so strong”, or “(Anti-choice) YOU’RE A MURDERER”. Neither are helpful. (Tip: treating someone’s strength as if it is an inherent trait, rather than something that arises from a situation does not actually do much of anything. No one wakes up and thinks “I’m going to be strong today” or maybe they do, I am not one of those people however) Though I am deeply grateful for my generous and understanding friends, I couldn’t find a real sense of comfort or solace, and in response, I had to relearn everything I thought I knew and confront the things that I did not. I had to learn what it even means to bear, conduct myself with, and use speech that indicates my own understanding of my worth.

Here are some truths I found for myself about dignity.

Dignity is about knowing yourself, knowing what you are not, and protecting that without building walls and completely shutting yourself off to everyone and everything. It’s about not allowing yourself to be with someone who is less emotionally and spiritually mature than you are. It’s about articulation, trusting the instinct that tells you who will protect the parts of yourself that you share with them, and who will not. But, dignity is also about having an ethic of care, of nourishing your own sense of solitude, and actively protecting the vulnerability that others experience when they share pieces of their solitudes with you.

This submission to RASCAL was anonymous, a dignified choice for any writer- no matter the subject of the piece. Thank you for sharing this with us. 


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