The Long Game
I have wanted to be a mother my entire life - it’s the only aspiration that’s never wavered.
Most people who know me know that. It’s a truth that I wear in a way that brings my heart outside my body.
A truth that shows up in the form of a telltale “children were here” cheerio / snack remnant wasteland under the back seat of every car I’ve ever owned. Or in the middle of the night when friends and family are in the trenches of newborn life and desperately need a good night’s sleep. Or on an airplane when a single mom is crying as hard as the baby who hasn’t napped and just needs a few minutes to pee and catch her breath. Or on a Friday night spent happily singing through a lullaby playlist instead of singing the latest one hit wonders at some halfway relevant bar with friends.
I adore children. And that truth that has always meant pouring love into the lives of all the littles I’ve been lucky enough to care for over the years and continuing to care unrelentingly about their journey beyond our time together.
I am a nurturer by nature. And I cannot wait to be a mother.
But my dreams of motherhood (as I’d imagined it) were disrupted and disfigured by an endometriosis diagnosis when I was 15 years old. Followed by surgery after surgery. Trial drug after trial drug. Rebuked suggestions of a hysterectomy. Ovarian cancer scares. A mutated uterus. So many doctors telling me “no” that I could barely hear the few who whispered “yes, maybe”.
Holding on to the faint echoes of possibility, I’ve spent the last decade and a half making hard choices about motherhood. Desperately trying to swaddle and protect that precious 10% chance I have at being able to have children biologically. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: IT HURTS.
Fighting this disease feels like walking through your kitchen and deciding which utensil you’d like to shove through one side of your body and out the other.
(I call those the bad body days)
Other days, its a dull ache. The kind you feel when you inadvertently cut through the baby aisle in Target to get to something entirely unrelated and it stops you in your tracks. Or when you find out another friend is pregnant and there’s a momentary delay of the thrill that very much exists for them because you have to put your own “what if”-wondering, beat up heart on a shelf first. Or when you sharply inhale mid-sentence because you’ve just been assaulted by a searing pain inflicted by your own body (I call them notifications - because they’re sporadic and disruptive). Or the realization that the “if you are serious about having children biologically, you should be doing so before you’re 30” clock that the reproductive endocrinologist gifted me years ago hasn’t stopped ticking.
Endometriosis is the kind of out of control of your body that makes you feel like you’re trapped in unfamiliar skin you can’t crawl out of.
And yet, I choose the hard road… because I am playing the long game… in hopes of someday having a biological family of my own.
When I went to Planned Parenthood for the first time, I had been bleeding for two months straight. I was alone. And terrified. And I was met with grace and compassion and information and options. It was clear that the medicine I was on was not working for my body, so after an exam, and going over my medical history, and prior course(s) of treatment, I was prescribed new birth control. One that I couldn’t have afforded out of pocket. I left with it that day.
Planned Parenthood is where I went for several annual exams. Where I received my HPV vaccine. And where I once sat in the waiting room, holding the hand of a girl I did not know and never saw again who was clearly in the midst of making her own hard decisions.
I didn’t know anything about her story, what she was going through, or even her name… but none of that mattered. In that moment, what she needed was a hand to hold, and I had that to offer.
I learned a lot about having choices that day, and I’ve learned a lot more in the ten years since, but I have learned the most from people with deeply personal experience. Which is why I’m sharing mine.
I cannot imagine having an abortion - mostly because I’ve spent almost half of my life begging my body to hold onto it’s ability to carry a child - but I know this:
If my life was in danger, I would want a choice.
If the life of my child was in danger, I would want a choice.
If I was raped, I would want a choice.
If my eleven year old daughter was raped, I would want her to have a choice.
It is NEVER an easy choice - but it should ALWAYS be a woman’s choice.
And yet, there is a war happening on our ability to choose. And if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.
Eight states so far this year have passed laws severely limiting abortion rights. And just last week, Alabama enacted the nation’s strictest abortion law making performing abortions a felony at any stage of pregnancy with almost no exceptions. These laws are expected to be blocked in the short term, but are, as a whole, a not so subtle hint at the greater goal of overturning the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
And if you think this is ONLY about abortion, well… bless your heart.
Their long game is about control. And money. And the continued oppression of the impoverished. And this effort has been spearheaded almost exclusively by privileged white men in power, many of whom are proudly pushing the “pro-life” agenda with one hand while encouraging and paying for their secret mistresses to terminate unwanted pregnancies with the other. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want those hands anywhere near my body.
Since I dropped the “pro-life” buzzword, lets talk about that for a minute. I think my friend and wonderfully articulate ally, Josh Thompson, put it best: If you want to speak up about your pro-life views, I expect to also see you supporting Black Lives Matter, welfare programs, affordable healthcare for all Americans, free meals for all students, the denouncement of gay conversion programs, DREAMers, undocumented immigrants, trans folx, Planned Parenthood (which also provides cancer screenings, STD testing, and general healthcare), and so much more because unless you support things that help make people’s lives better, you’re pro-birth, not pro-life.
Having a choice in my reproductive healthcare has been the only empowering part of battling endometriosis. God forbid these laws pass, and my deeply misguided state of Tennessee votes to follow in Ohio’s footsteps by restricting access to specific kinds of birth control, namely IUD’s. My existence would be altered completely.
To the tune of a lot more days that look like this:
So what’s my long game? More of the same.
Insist. Enlist. Resist. Persist.
And with an added commitment to something that’s been on my heart for a long time: Foster Care.
I want to be a mother. I am going to be a mother.
And because I am at war with my body, I’ve been working towards that reality in more ways than one.
On any given day in the United States, there are approximately 443,000 children living in foster care. These children range in age from 0 to 21, and on average, will remain in state care for nearly two years. In many cases, sibling groups are separated, and children move from placement to placement and experience little to no sense of permanency while in the dependency system. In 2017, more than 17,000 young people aged out of foster care without permanent families. After “aging out,” 25% of foster teens will become homeless.
Which is why I’m donating 10% of every photoshoot for the entire month of June to VOICES Youth Center. VOICES provides healthy, welcoming and lively community centers where transitioning foster youth have access to comprehensive housing, education, employment and wellness services. VOICES’ unique approach blends powerful youth engagement with meaningful support services that young people need as they leave systems of care. VOICES youth are active leaders in coaching their peers, guiding the evolving vision of program delivery and advocating for youth voice in the community.
These are complicated times, certainly, and there is so much more to say (and do) but there are currently hundreds of thousands of living, breathing, walking, talking heartbeats that desperately need our love and support - and it seems to me, the most pro-life thing to do is to move whatever mountains we can to meet those needs.
There are always SO many sides to see, hear, and learn from... and right now, I want to make sure my perspective is as deep and as wide and as inclusive and gracious and understanding and empathetic as humanly possible.
So… let me remind you that we ALL love somebody who has had an abortion. And that there are real people on both sides of this issue.
If you want to see a world without abortion then we need to be working together to create a world that doesn’t need abortions. One where birth control is affordable and available, where we take care of women instead of criminalizing them, where sex education is more that abstinence based rhetoric, where sexual predators are held accountable - not where rapists have more rights than the women they raped.
But we’ve got a long way to go to get there. So, until that happens, let us go forward with a lot more grace.
Because after spending yesterday afternoon listening to the stories of women who had been raped, and abused by family members, or who almost died because of their pregnancy, or who gave forced-birth to a child that lived in excruciating pain every single day - I am more sure than ever, that the only person in any position to make a decision about what was happening to and inside of their bodies was them.
They were playing their long game - for their own sake - and very much for the sake of their unborn child - and it is my firm belief that all women everywhere should have that choice.
Want to book a photoshoot and help move some mountains with me? Let’s start HERE.
If you or someone you know has worked with a foster agency in Middle Tennessee, please reach out. I am actively looking for an agency to work with so that we can begin the process of welcoming foster children into our hearts and our home and would love any feedback from those with experience here in Tennessee and beyond.