The year was 1990 and my parents chose to give birth at home. Homebirth midwifery was illegal where they were living, but we all know that the laws don't keep reproductive choices from happening. It just makes it happen in a clandestine manner. For many, this can mean less safe, less clean, less supported by trained healthcare providers. For others - those with resources and access - and for my privileged parents, this wasn't the case. They found a knowledgeable midwife who they trusted deeply and who was willing to support them to birth in the way that felt best for them. This was my beginning and as I say this now, I realize why my roots for reproductive freedom grow so deep. The fight to ensure people's right to choose their own reproductive experience has been my battle on this earth ever since.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a midwife. Maybe this is because it was a midwife's hands who caught me before the laws had caught up. Maybe it's because midwives past and present have been at the front lines ensuring bodily autonomy. Whatever the reason, it is through midwifery and fighting for birth justice that I inevitably stumbled into realm of abortion.
When I was 21 years old, I traveled to Mali and lived in the home of a midwife, attending births with her in her rural community. The day before leaving the US, I had taken Plan B. I arrived in Mali and got Malaria within the first week. Whether because of Malaria, or Plan B, or the stress of being in an entirely new situation, over two months passed before I finally got my period. In that time, I got a taste of what it feels like to be without options. In Mali, abortion was illegal. As I waited and begged for my period to come, I didn't even know where I could get a pregnancy test. I felt desperate and scared, in a place where I didn't speak the language well and where I knew I could be put in jail for attempting an abortion. The only conceivable option to me was to fly home; a feat that would cost huge amounts of money, completely disrupt my semester abroad, and expose my decision to those in my life with whom I didn't want to share this very personal experience. Fortunately, my period did come and relief has never felt so sweet. If you have a uterus, it only takes one serious pregnancy scare to demonstrate how important reproductive options truly are. As I was going through this stressful time, I witnessed the delivery of a 13- year-old. Her age was striking to me as I watched the midwife help a child birth a child. As I was going through my own very privileged process of considering a transatlantic flight to obtain an abortion, I couldn't help but reflect that abortion had likely not been an option for this young woman. Consent to both sex and parenting is questionable at 13 years old. Could this be a wanted pregnancy? Possible. But it’s also possible that this pregnancy was a result of a non-consensual experience and that parenting at 13 was the only feasible pregnancy outcome. What a striking contrast to my experience. It was a pivotal realization for me that as drawn as I am to birth, I am also deeply committed to the full spectrum of choice. Because birth justice begins with options from the very beginning of pregnancy. If someone must parent before they are ready - I just can't see the justice in that.
I returned home and began volunteering as an abortion doula in New York City. A doula is traditionally someone who supports people through the process of childbirth, but the organization that I volunteered for had expanded that role into the realm of abortion. We worked shifts at Planned Parenthood in the Bronx and Brooklyn, sitting with women before, during, and after their abortions. It was here that I learned that pregnancy doesn't discriminate. People can be on birth control or not, they can be rich, they can be poor, they can be deeply religious or atheist, they can be a mother of five or never plan to parent, they can be of any ethnicity or identity you can imagine and still wind up pregnant. There is no one type of person that has an abortion. The diversity in the Planned Parenthood waiting room in New York City dismantled all that society's ideals and stigmas had shaped in me. Spend a day there, listen to the stories of the brave and resilient people that are seeking the choice that is best for their bodies and their lives and I don't believe any human could walk out anti-choice. The human experience is just too vast to legislate for all possibilities. Choice must be in the hands of those faced with the life-altering decision.
I studied midwifery in Texas. I moved there a year after the passage of HB2; a bill that effectively closed the vast majority of abortion clinics in the state. Barriers to abortion are as vast and insidious as the circumstances that lead us to need one. Just like the contrast between my own situation and the 13-year-old giving birth in Mali, money, location, lack of support, and access to preventative care hit the most vulnerable the hardest. State legislation can't prevent abortions from happening. But it can make lives which are already so difficult much much harder. I bring this up to portray the importance of Proposition 5. This is a piece of legislation that can safeguard against what I saw happen in Texas. Legislation matters. We ask that Prop 5 be incorporated into the Vermont Constitution so that we don’t fall prey to harmful legislation like that in Texas, which had devastating effects on the most destitute.
With my experience in midwifery, I worked at an abortion clinic in New Mexico, primarily with abortions later in pregnancy. While the vast majority of abortions occur during the first trimester, some circumstances lead people to need care later in pregnancy and the experience of working under such circumstances furthered my commitment to reproductive choice. Due to restrictive laws in other states, people came from all over the country to this clinic to receive care. They took 15-hour bus rides, went into credit card debt, defeated the impossible and found a way to step away from their busy lives and receive the care that they knew was best for their bodies, their lives, and their families. Similar to my experience in New York, working in this bustling clinic brought home the variety of human experience.
People often ask me why people have abortions later in pregnancy and I always struggle with which perspective to share. It is easy to hear a story and think that story applies to everyone. But the human experience is much too vast for that. So I'll just share a few representative snapshots of what I witnessed; A 17 year old, college bound and determined to have a different future; a mother of three living in poverty having an abortion so she could give her three children a better life; a 12 year old repeatedly raped by her mother's boyfriend; a catholic woman battling feelings of shame and another catholic woman devout in her belief in a forgiving god who would understand her desperate choice; an indigenous woman whose spiritual beliefs were entirely against abortion but whose baby was sick; a woman who was staunchly pro-life; a woman declaring her support of Trump while in the stirrups; a woman battling cancer ending the pregnancy because of what chemo was doing to the fetus's dividing cells; a lesbian teen who had been raped by a man; I also saw pregnant people who didn’t identify as women - a transman who was told he couldn't get pregnant because he was taking testosterone. He wasn't expecting his period and therefore it was months before he realized the “impossible” had happened. Ultimately, he chose to keep the pregnancy. Others did too. And many others did not. That is the beauty of choice. It is not forcing anything in one direction or another. It simply provides a platform of patient centered care; the option for people to decide based on their very unique circumstance, what is best for their body, their family, and their wellbeing.
I chose to attend medical school in Vermont because this is my home. It is where my family is and where I hope to raise my own children one day. I know Vermont wants to encourage young families to settle here, to make their lives here, and invest in the future of this beautiful state. Ensuring reproductive freedom is the best way to support the next generation and is the only way we can truly make people of reproductive age feel seen, supported, and honored. As a young Vermonter considering options of birth control, pregnancy, parenting, adoption - Prop 5 feels personal. I need my home constitution to support my own reproductive freedom. I am Queer and I don't know what becoming a parent will entail for me. Reproductive freedom means the ability to pursue whatever methods of conception works best for me and my partner (whatever their gender may be), it means I have the option to end a pregnancy if need be, to access birth control if desired, to have fertility assistance if needed, and give birth where I feel most supported and safe. These are basic human rights and I can't live in a place that doesn't honor my humanity.
On a professional level, I need my home constitution to support my medical practice so that I can safely provide the options people deserve. To support my community in parenting or not, in accessing birth control or not, in having an abortion this time, a baby next time, in adopting children, in giving a child a healthy adoptive home - this is why l am becoming a doctor. I am studying medicine in Vermont because I believe in this community, my home. I ask in return that the state legislation believe in me and my fellow students, providers, community members and patients by entrusting us with reproductive freedom; the fundamental human right to safe, legal, and accessible reproductive options. As I have witnessed, the alternative is too dangerous and substandard to accept.