I was 22 the first time I learned the pain that bearing a child can bring. The pain wasn't mine, but witnessing the trauma first hand, I was affected.
The child was stillborn, but the mother was able to hold an impossibly small one-pound baby before it was whisked away for an autopsy. Ultrasound images came to occupy my dreams—the bones of tiny feet and hands and faces that would never walk or throw a ball or smile.
At 28, I learned I was pregnant for the first time. My husband and I had only recently decided to forgo birth control, so the quickness with which we became pregnant was a relief. A few weeks later, we anxiously awaited having a sonogram. My only other experience with this machine had left me scarred, and I clasped my husband's hand, afraid to look anywhere other than his face. When the doctor happily pointed to a tiny heart, ferociously beating, myfears were allayed.
Several weeks later, I was again in a sonogram room, this time in the emergency room. My eyes, already tear-filled, could not look away from the wobbly screen, hoping to see what wasn't there. I went immediately to surgery to remove the pregnancy material that just hours before was my baby-to-be.
Later, the doctor quietly explained, "Sometimes hearts just stop beating."
To my knowledge, no death certificate was issued. No autopsy was ordered, as there was no baby upon which to complete the task. No law enforcement agencies were notified. No funeral planned.
I was 29 when I learned I was pregnant again. Given the recent miscarriage, my doctor suggested an early ultrasound. My husband and I again held hands, and when the doctor said, "I don't think it took this time," we clung tighter to one another. The second pregnancy resulted in a blighted ovum, which means my uterus absorbed the fertilized egg after implantation. The gestational sac was empty.
Again, I was taken to surgery. Again: no autopsy, no death certificate, no police involvement, no funeral.
I now have a healthy little girl. But the grief has not disappeared. The possibilities we lost will always haunt me. And therein lies the crux of my anger toward the Personhood Initiative: We lost the possibility of children; we did not lose children.
While my grief is profound, it is not the grief of the woman who cradled her child and kissed breathless lips. She lost a child. A fertilized egg that can be reabsorbed by the mother's body is not a person. Before implantation, the cluster of cells is comprised of two layers: The outer layer will become the placenta, and the inner the embryo. The embryo's heart does not begin to form until three weeks after conception, and it's not until the fourth week that the heart begins to function with a regular beat.
And as I know all too well, even as late as 11 weeks into a pregnancy, nothing salvageable exists.
One windy night, my daughter woke up, afraid that the Big Bad Wolf was trying to blow our house down. We held her close, explaining that the Big Bad Wolf was only make-believe. Unconvinced, she grabbed my husband's cheeks, stared into his eyes and said, "But if he comes, Mommy and Daddy will scare him away."
Amazed by her simplistic but infallible logic, we answered honestly. "Yes. Mommy and Daddy will always protect you."
The Big Bad Wolf may exist only in fairy tales, but a very real danger is looming large. As I promised her, I have to protect my daughter. Personhood Mississippi exists for the sole purpose—or so it claims—of protecting life and the rights of all living humans.
That claim is false.
What the writers of the initiative actually seek is to destroy rights and force women into the subservient role we occupied for far too long.
Their claim defies the boundaries of logic: You cannot at once proclaim that all humans are entitled to rights while infringing on the rights of half the population.
If the women who support this initiative elect to forfeit their ability to make decisions with their family, their doctors and their belief system, it is not my place to stop them. I, however, am not giving away my rights, or those of my daughter. And I will fight anyone who tries to take them from us.
I implore other parents who lovingly tell their daughters that they can be and do anything they want to stand up and fight with me, because the Personhood Initiative will remove the promising future our daughters now enjoy.
JFP Marketing and Events Coordinator Shannon Barbour sometimes answers to the name Events Girl. She enjoys the chaos of the JFP as it reminds her of home, which she shares with her husband and their amazing little girl.