Warning: This post addresses suicide and self-harm.
Not so long ago, I expressed concern about the string of heartbeat bills popping up to another Christian, and their response surprised me. They told me any bill related to access to reproductive health wouldn’t matter to me, because I was married and I wouldn’t be trying to terminate a pregnancy because it was an inconvenient consequence. Recognizing that this person didn’t understand my situation, I tried to calmly answer that reproductive health does indeed matter to me because another pregnancy could end my life. Whether this other Christian was aware of it or not, they had a very specific type of woman in mind when they thought of bills restricting access to abortions and birth control— a woman who has sex outside of marriage. They clearly believed that anyone in need of an abortion must be using an abortion like birth control. Recognizing that defending those women they had already vilified wouldn’t help my argument, despite the truth that they had indeed judged and slut shamed egregiously, I talked about me and my experience. We talked openly and I asked them to consider that access to reproductive healthcare wasn’t as binary as they believed it to be. I’m in a stable marriage with reliable income and a decent support network. Even with these factors in play, if my IUD were to fail, my healthcare provider would recommend that I end any pregnancy. My first delivery was traumatic and is still in the top five of my worst experiences. It took months to recover. By the time we began to process how intense my postpartum anxiety and depression were, we realized I was pregnant with our second. Again, months to recover but now with a toddler to chase while nursing a c-section incision that did not heal properly. The doctor had to repeatedly burn my incision with silver nitrate to reopen the wound and give the skin fresh edges with which to mend itself back together again. Instead of days with no pain, I measured pain by intensity. I cried nearly every day for months, regularly thought about leaving my family and disappearing, dreamed nightly of my children dying, and over time, I became a husk of my former self. I came to understand much later that I was suicidal for far longer than I understood. I believed my children were better without me, that I made things harder for my husband, and that my absence would be the best way to show my love for my family. I didn’t make active plans to end my life, but I did have random thoughts about running my car off bridges or into trees when my children weren’t in the car with me. Sleep eluded me. I irrationally believed that the chemicals used during pest control visits would harm the youngest as he crawled. Dishes ceased to be washed. I tried to keep it together outside of the house, but inside-inside I was falling apart. The tell-tale specks showing evidence of bugs line our windowsills and our door frames. There are events that I apparently attended according to Google which I have no recollection of being at. I’m not sure of first words and first foods. I existed in my body, but I wasn’t there. The weight of my expectations of myself plus those I perceived from others suffocated me. By the time I ended up in counseling after a terrible experience with a family and child services well-fare check, I couldn’t make it through a therapy session without sobbing uncontrollably. When the counselor asked me if I wanted to be alive, I said no. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to live either. It was remarkably easy to get an IUD back in 2015. With gentle firmness, my provider said we needed to focus on keeping me safe, so we’d remove as much possibility of getting pregnant outside of celibacy that we could. This year, when it was time to replace my IUD, it was harder to get it. It took several appointments and efforts to prove that it was necessary over other forms of birth control. Fortunately, the medical professionals taking care of me saw me as their patient first. I was a woman in need of care with living children who needed their mother to be there for them. When the very real chance that I might actually die by suicide became known, a provider lovingly told me that I needed to not get pregnant again, that my brain might not survive it, and that the devastation that loss of life would leave was unimaginable—that I needed to take care of myself first and I needed to let them help me do that. They then reminded me that on planes, they always tell people to put their own air masks on first when something goes wrong, so they can keep working to keep those in need around them as safe as possible. Access to reproductive healthcare keeps people alive. I’m grateful to the professionals who saw that I wasn’t ok, that the risk to me was not worth taking. I’m thankful that they saw my body as my own, my brain as my own, my life as my own and worked to save me. If laws prevent them from providing proper care, girls and women will die. Men may die too, along with others who fall outside of the bipartite tradition. Christians want abortion to be an easy topic, an obvious yes or no. Reproductive healthcare isn’t just “this” or “that” but a gray area filled with people of all ages, living in that gray space of unease, constantly aware that with each new administration, our lives are in the hands of people we don’t know. When you’ve been in my shoes, calling your husband to come home from work because you’ve separated the knives in your kitchen into “would leave a clean cut/would leave a jagged wound”, and your son watches Sesame Street while you cry in the corner of your room desperately hoping the battery on the baby swing doesn’t run out, knowing you’ve fallen off a cliff in your mind, would you want someone else telling your doctor not to save you?