Rocking the Birth Dogma Boat

Taking a risk….

July 6, 2015
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This post is not about birth, but it is about women, and feminism, and how much truth we all hold in our relatively small bodies.  This is about sexual violence/childhood abuse shit, and something I’ve rarely shared with anyone.  I love the anonymity of the interwebs.  And I wanna state clearly for the record that though this is not birth-related, this is a midwifery post, in that it’s about safekeeping, women’s bodies, women’s stories, and the women who saved me by trusting me to save myself.

Things I don’t regret and probably never will……For J and Kathleen Hanna

My ex husband was one of the first people I ever told about the abuse I survived as a child, the grown man I trusted lingering on my child’s body, the grown hand slipped inside little girl shirts, grown arms pulling little girl bodies too close. I was 11. He was a teacher, celebrated for his dedication, his willingness to come in on Saturdays to spend time with little girls, especially those of us who knew early on we didn’t quite fit in, we weren’t maybe cut from the same mold as other little girls, the ones who needed extra attention, as he explained it anyway. He never raped me. My clothes mostly stayed on, save for hands that seemed stuck under fabric, hands he said were meant to reassure, meant to remind that though the edges of our little bodies reached past the mold, we were still worth reaching. Excellence in teaching. There was no harm, he said, and I knew it was my fault for sticking out, for breaking the mold with the edges of my little body that I knew even then was too big. Not too big in the sense of girls and dieting we worry about so much in the media, but too big in the sense of too much, too many feelings, too much person in my little girl body, too much noticing in a broken world. I brought it on myself.

And I kept going back every Saturday, most Saturdays, because of the birds. This man had taken over an empty classroom and made it into a makeshift menagerie. It was the late 80s, and things were less regulated, and each kid was assigned an animal to care for. In the fall and spring, animals went unfed and shit piled up in cages as our teacher organized outdoor kickball games for the girls, sitting on the sidelines with a grown man erection watching us run. The boys had free play as he encouraged female physical fitness, probably citing feminist principles or some shit that sounds good on paper. I was assigned to the birds. I had a breeding pair of cockatiels, ugly grey birds who reliably produced uglier bald babies every few months. Babies that needed to be hand-fed every few hours, and they often died, from neglect and from the danger inherent in being a little bird. I hated kickball, still do, and would halfheartedly run as far away from the ball as I could, imaging the birds helpless and hungry.   I was the kind of kid who absorbed emotion from the air, and felt it deeply.  I probably came out of my mother this way, into a family where emotion was dangerous, deadly maybe, something to be avoided at all costs. And there I was, feeling everything, brave and stupid and pathologically unable to run away, even though the school field was huge in relationship to my little girl body, endless almost.

But I imagined the mother bird building her nest in the old box hanging from her cage, laying her eggs and watching her helpless, hairless babies die. I held those stupid little birds in my hands, a whole bird body curled in the center of my palm, felt their budding quills, massaged their little bird bellies to help them digest the food I dripped into their beaks with an eyedropper, tried to protect them in a world that hadn’t protected me, and reasoned with my little girl mind that if I, a big human child, 80 pounds, with a head covered in curls I could hide behind, if I wasn’t safe, well, a littler bird-child, with no feathers or defenses, a little bird-child was at dire risk. So of course I came in on Saturdays. I wanted to protect the birds, and honestly I wanted to protect myself from laying awake at night worrying about bird hunger and injustice. When rumors started, he lost his job at the elementary school and became the girls’ basketball coach up at the high school.

By 10th grade, I had discovered alcohol and rebellion, a best friend who loved how much I was, how many feelings I absorbed from the air into my wild girl body, and how deeply I felt, how much I noticed and how much I loved, my big hands and my endless heart. We were the bad kids, the kids other peoples’ mothers warned them about, and we basked in it. I mostly basked in it, but also I just wanted to hide most of the time. I wanted a hand big enough to hold all of me,  hold me like a little bird, protected. I sat on the edge of the smoker’s benches at the edge of the athletic field, reading, retreating. My best friend taught me about music, riot grrrl and punk, and real feminism, looked at me and saw a new woman instead of a dying baby bird, saw through me to a girl child she would have protected if she had been there. Anyway, one day my best friend and I were drunk after school, and sitting on the same smoker’s benches, which lined the far end of the athletic field, and this man walked by, in his basketball jacket, deep in conversation with 2 men in suits, and I ran up to him. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember talking. And telling the truth. I opened my hands and let the birds fly away, little baby bird-children who wanted protection and instead found truth, and flight.

The men in suits looked at me, dressed all in black and boots and obviously drunk at 4 o’clock on a school day, with wild curly hair, and they laughed. “Former student, Marc?” one of them said with a shake of his head. “A bad student”, and they laughed, and walked away, and my voice followed them. My truth followed them. They walked faster, tried to fly, tried to run, and stumbled, and walked, and I watched them walk away, laughing to each other and uncomfortable. Three days later, I told my mother. I told her everything, a stream of words. I remembered the feeling of the birds flying free from my hands, and I told my mother. I told my mother, and she stood up and walked away, left the room, and never looked back. She did the same thing 2 years later when I was date-raped and she couldn’t look at me, and she retreated. And I learned that truth makes people walk away, and I retreated. Back to my best friend, back to riot grrrl and punk and feminism, tried to hide my wild girl body behind my hair. And then I discovered sex, and tried to hide behind sex, gradually learning the power I have. Reclaiming the power I have. Learning that my body is not held in anyone’s hand. Learning to say no and yes, and make the decisions that were taken from me the first time around. And I grew up, made a life that didn’t beg for retreating, read less, drank less, felt just as much, absorbed as much emotion from the air, cried and laughed and felt with abandon.  Talked and flew with abandon. And then I got married and I got a dog. My ex-husband was an abuser and my dog absorbs emotions from the air, and feels as deeply as I do.

My ex-husband was like my mother, and he asked me why I didn’t fight, told me it must have been my fault because I let him, and I didn’t know how to explain what it is to be a little girl child who feels deeply and protects deeply with little girl reasoning and grown man hands reaching. My ex husband had slept with 3 women before me, and I never gave him a count, though I had also slept with 3 women, and many men, in my reclaiming. He told me I was crazy, that I was fucked up beyond belief, that I was a slut who drank and fucked my way through high school, which proved his virtue, rather than my depth. “No one has breasts in fifth grade,” he said, discrediting me, telling me I was too much, I grew too far outside the mold, I burdened him. My truth was dangerous. I was dangerous. And yet, my dog ran to me when she was scared of him. She curled her 50 pound body in my palm like a little bird, and told me to be safe, that we should be protected.  And my ex-husband wanted me to regret.

I do not regret. I do not regret my little girl body, my running over the edges of the mold, my depth. I don’t regret sex, or how many people I had sex with to learn that my wild girl body is mine, and mine alone, to decide with. I do not regret loving so deeply, loving those ugly baby birds. I do not regret making people uncomfortable with my truth, or with my love. I know I made people uncomfortable with both. I still do. I don’t regret it. I don’t regret drinking and retreating, and I don’t regret walking forward. I regret that my mother is a person who left the room and didn’t look back, but I don’t regret telling her. I regret the power dynamics and the patriarchy that let the men in suits run from my words, but I don’t regret flinging words at their backs as they retreated. I don’t regret shouting my story at their retreating backs.

I don’t regret opening my hands and letting the birds fly free, come what may in the big sky. This is the world we live in together. I want to free all the birds. I want to speak truth. I want to make a world where little girl children and the women they become need less protection, where we all feel a little more, where my dog and I and our wild bodies are safer. I’m holding my palms out, ready for the birds to land, ready to catch and cradle your story, and my story in my big hands and endless heart.

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