Trigger Warning: This piece speaks explicitly about multiple forms of sexual assault. Please read at your own discretion.
This takes a lot of courage to share, as it details experiences that I still feel embarrassed of and tainted by. But if there’s ever been a time that my stories are vital to the political climate, it’s now. So here goes it.
I was thirteen years old when I was raped for the first time.
At thirteen, I still asked for American Girl dolls for my birthday, still did my clothes shopping in the kid’s section, and still got uncomfortable during sex scenes in the movies. But there I was, living one out at a party (my first party), confused and scared and the most vulnerable I had ever been. He was fifteen, raised in Catholic schools, and I don’t think either of us knew what a condom was. I said “no”. He told me to “relax”. Most of the rest I’ve blocked from my memory as a defense mechanism, except I’ll never forget the first choice he gave me that night: to “swallow” or to let him “let it go inside”. I couldn’t imagine swallowing whatever it was (I was thirteen for Christ’s sake) and so I chose the latter. I had no idea that that was how people got pregnant.
I was raped before I even really had the sex talk.
I had already gotten my period at this point, almost a year earlier, but it only came twice before it disappeared. I had developed anorexia, and a loss of menstrual cycles is congruent with the diagnosis. By that first night that I was violated against my will, I had missed my period for about eight consecutive months.
I’m sure there are many other reasons that contributed to the fact that I didn’t conceive a child that night, with the most immature freshman boy I have ever met, in a stuffy bathroom in an even stuffier basement. But I know that one of the reasons is that my body didn’t have the nutritional energy to ovulate properly.
If at thirteen years old, I was forced to carry a baby to term, I would have either died in the process, or I would have killed myself. There is no way to sugarcoat it. I was a baby myself, and symptoms of malnutrition from my eating disorder were quickly catching up to me. At this point, I was keeping my anorexia a secret as best as I could; I became cunning and manipulative, and I lied often. I was, frankly, very immature, and very ill (not exactly the best combination for a mother). If I couldn’t feed my own body, there is no way in hell that I could’ve fed a fetus within me.
On top of that, I felt so much shame about the fact that I had “had sex” so early that I don’t even want to think about what I would have done if I was exposed. Imagine a middle school rumor mill. Imagine a pregnant seventh grader falling into it. Simply “not telling” the reason why I would have to leave school would be incredibly isolating and would probably have wrecked most of my friendships. My education would have been impacted as well, and I, one of the brightest kids in my class, would have fallen behind. To force a child to carry a child is to put them in an impossible situation and inflict both physical and psychological torture upon them. I still remember clearly how my mind worked in the seventh grade. I would have killed myself if I had become pregnant and had no other choice but to give birth. That is not a speculation. That is a fact. There are few seventh graders who could handle the humiliation, the degradation, the pure unobstructed agony of carrying a piece of their rapist within their womb for nine months.
It took me up until this past December, almost seven years after the incident occurred, to tell my therapist about that night. I still haven’t told anyone outside of an office the full extent of what happened while I was propped up on the bathroom counter. It is not easy to speak about trauma. It is emotional, it is triggering, and it brings a hefty fear of judgement or rejection. Had I become pregnant, I would have had to tell the truth about my assault. This may seem like a good thing in the eyes of an outsider, but I can promise you that it isn’t. These stories, these memories, are some of the few things a survivor retains when they leave an abusive situation. We deserve to have full ownership over their rights, to choose who gets to hear what and when. If I had to tell my parents, my friends, my teachers, my administrators… I think the fear and shame would’ve been unbearable. I needed time and space before I was prepared to tell, and that is perfectly okay. That autonomy should never be ripped from a person.
Given these circumstances, I can say with confidence that anorexia played a major role in the salvation of my youth and my life. That is sick. There is no world in which that statement should make any sense. Yet in America, in 2019, somehow, it does.
I wouldn’t be writing this piece unless I felt that I had sufficient evidence to back it up, and trust me, I have an entire vault full. This was no fluke. A high school boyfriend was sexually, emotionally, and physically abusive, and violently raped me multiple times a week (sometimes, multiple times a day) for four months. He had no fear of me becoming pregnant; he expressed to me during a fight one night that he actually hoped it would happen to “keep us together”, so we could get married early and start our life together. At this point, I hadn’t had my regular period for years.
I remember taking a pregnancy test in the drug store bathroom after developing severe “morning sickness”, which I later realized was induced by fear of him, of what the afternoon would hold when I got out of cross country practice. It was negative, but the entire endeavor wrecked part of me that I’ll never get back. My hands shook so much at the Walgreens register that I had to set the test down, walk through the aisles for a few minutes, and come back so that I could open my wallet without spilling its contents everywhere. This boy treated me worse than I had ever seen a girl in a movie or a book treated. If I had become pregnant, not only would I have had to forfeit running (which I was counting on getting a hefty scholarship for at the time), I would have had to spend the rest of my life coparenting with him. Imagine spending every night taking hour long showers to try and scrub someone off of you. Now, imagine that same someone taking root in your most sacred spaces and sprouting up like a weed, binding you to them forever, creating an actual living body in which both of you eternally exist.
I almost didn’t have to imagine. That could have very, very easily become my reality. But it didn’t, because I had an eating disorder that was f*cking up my fertility.
This. Is. Wrong.
If you think that I should have had to give up my entire future, and potentially my entire life, because of decisions that I did not make, then you are severely indoctrinated. If you think that a zygote with no functioning brain is more valuable than me, a living, breathing, feeling human person, you need to reexamine your views on the sanctity of life. If you think that after all of the hands that have ravaged my body like a graveyard, I still deserve to have the government’s hands all over it, inside of it… I don’t know what to say to you. I have everything to say, and I have nothing to say.
A defense that I hear a lot from the anti-choice side is that so few cases of abortion actually have to do with rape. Yes, you are correct on that one. But your execution is frankly confusing and all wrong. It doesn’t matter how many rape cases walk into that clinic. Even ONE is important. Even ONE is enough. Even ONE deserves the right to an abortion. So, if the cases are so rare and so meaningless, why in the hell would you make them illegal? Your argument that we’re “blowing up” the abortion issue to get our way is filthy and proves that you don’t care about people who are already born nearly as much as you care about the idea of an innocent baby.
The same goes for the “just give it up for adoption!” argument. Okay, cool. If you could take the fetus out and stick it in a magic incubator that would allow it to grow into a sentient being in nine months, I would gladly support you. But you’re forgetting the physical pain, the potential trauma, and the mental excruciation that someone must go through for three quarters of a year before they could even think about adoption. Dreams would be put on hold. Lives would be wrecked. Finances would be drained. Pregnancy is NOT easy, and it is NOT something everyone can handle. So yeah, work on a way to grow a baby outside of the womb, and then we can talk about adoption.
I’ve seen lots of posts that say, “A real feminist would push for rights of unborn women, too,” and oh, how sickly wrong such a viewpoint is. A real feminist, actually, recognizes that a man has sex and walks free, with no consequence, yet a woman has sex (or is forced to against her will) and is told to “live with the consequences of her actions”. So many potential fathers abandon the person that they impregnated while they are still pregnant. If you’re going to make abortion punishable by law, you should do the same for men that walk out on their partners. To split an action should mean to split a burden. And as a feminist, I will scream this until the day that I die. Stop telling women that it is “God’s plan” for them to suffer, and start holding men accountable. You preach that all evil comes from free will, which is apparently a gift to us from this same God. So don’t come and try to infringe on that free will now, just because you’ve noticed some contradictions in your belief system. Fight for equality before you dare call yourself a feminist while standing behind policies that are psychologically and physically damaging to women. Just because you don’t have a womb doesn’t mean you should get a free pass when it comes to prenatal necessities.
After experiencing the things that I have experienced, I can say with certainty that this abortion ban is oppressive to women and is based out of pure disregard for the vitality of existing life. I paid enough that night that I was hurt against my will; I shouldn’t have to forfeit the next nine months of my life to pay for his actions, too.
Keep your religion off of my body. Keep your government off of my body. Keep your opinions off of my body (yes, it is my body, because my internal resources are the only thing allowing any egg to develop at all). And don’t ever let another teenager with a uterus look back on their killer and call it their savior. Ever.
We have created a society in which living with a life threatening illness is more conscientiously safe than living without one.
Speak up. Fix it.