I AM PRO-THRIVE

Recently, I have noticed that many people on Facebook have a purple banner at the bottom of their profile picture that reads, “I AM PRO-LIFE”.  

 

Now, I am not one to condemn free expression, since I love my own and hate when people try to silence me.  But those little banners annoyed the crap out of me after a while, and I needed to say something about them.  But I chose to say something here, instead of saying something on my Facebook profile, because I thought that my response required more explanation than a few sound bytes.  It required something more fully reasoned and more fully expressed–with some history and some anecdotes, perhaps.

 

And as I started firing up the Chromebook and getting ready to respond,  the first two songs on shuffle play were Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield and All I Want Is Love from A Great Big World, which just seemed to be signs from The Divine that I was on the right path writing this here.  

 

I am not “pro-life” any longer.  Lots of people assume that is because I am liberal.  And I suppose, in many respects, I am.

 

But blanket terms like “liberal” don’t always describe what we think we are describing, and I would call myself progressive, not liberal, as a point of fact.  Because I don’t agree with things along a party line, and am an independent voter, based on whatever and whomever I think follows what I believe is “right”–ethical, beneficial, and based in love, beauty, and truth.  

 

This is the point where lots of people want to yell comments about killing babies not being ethical, beneficial, or based in love, beauty, and truth.  But that assumes a lot of things. That assumes that you believe life begins at conception–which I don’t think is a true statement. That assumes that our society deems all life equal–and it doesn’t.  That assumes that “benefit” and “love” are seen through the eyes of a fetus and not a pregnant woman–which I don’t believe it should be or can be, exclusively. And I understand those assumptions because I used to hold them as facts to be demanded, not assumptions to be challenged.  I used to be pro-life and a supporter of anti-abortion causes and rhetoric. I hope that I will be forgiven for my narrow-minded, single-focused, self-righteous stance at that time in my life. Because I should have challenged my assumptions and listened to the stories of others and wondered at the courage of women who walked beyond a line of picketing jerks to get an abortion, and why it was so important for them to make it through that door–because it couldn’t be that they were just liberal Jezebels with no love in their hearts, if I had stopped to think on it for a few seconds.  There were really good reasons. But I didn’t stop to consider those reasons for far too long.

 

I’m not entirely certain when the break came for me.  It was a gradual understanding that things couldn’t be as I believed when I was back in high school and my first year of college.  Maybe part of my consideration of women’s choices being valid came because I started losing my own fetus on a regular basis. One live birth out of six confirmed pregnancies–and a couple of suspected early miscarriages where I missed and then had heavy menstruation.  My body killed one in six babies, at least, on its own, without any interventions. And that takes a toll on a woman, even when she doesn’t particularly want to be pregnant or give birth. Then the child that survived did so at the most inopportune time. And I love that daughter with every fiber of my being, and didn’t consider abortion for a moment of my pregnancy with her, but I did learn the challenges of adoption agencies and the choice that is offered to many women as an “opportunity” to place their child in a “loving family” that can “better meet his or her needs”.  

 

I called bullshit on adoption.  I would hear many more stories that called bullshit on adoption later in my journey, but most of you won’t like to hear those stories.  You prefer the idea that adoption is always good people saving helpless children from lost souls. Bullshit. It’s terribly corrupt–especially when it involves children from overseas–and it is damaging for children in significant ways, but even more so for parents.  The suicide rate for birth mothers is outrageously high, and their risk of substance abuse AFTER placing their child (not before) is also much higher than that of the general population. Placing your child harms you in serious and debilitating ways. But we don’t like to talk about that.  We like to pretend that adoption is all about the babies and saving their lives. I’ve had more adopted children, as teens or adults, tell me they would rather have died than been placed where they were, than I can count on my fingers. But nobody wants to hear that part of the story. Nobody wants to hear that we took a baby and placed it with abusive parents who ruined the life of that boy or girl in really terrible ways.  And we can’t say, “At least they are alive!” We can’t promise that not living would have been worse. We cannot prove that hypothesis!!

 

I’m always struck by the instances in the biblical text where there are cries such as “Oh that I had never been born!”  There were clearly those who thought not living was better than suffering.

 

I’ve been there.  I’ve been in struggle deep and affecting enough that I wished not only for death but that I had never been born to suffer this way at all.  If I had a choice. If we went back in time, and The Divine laid before me life with all that I have suffered, or not living, it would be a very challenging decision.  And if I knew that dying in the womb brought me straight to some afterlife, where living made me suffer first and then brought me to the same end, I would probably skip to the end.  

 

There’s been a ton of joy in my life.  Don’t misunderstand. I’m not discounting that joy.  I’m just saying that the suffering has been far outweighing the joy for most of my existence, and other people don’t get to say that my suffering is better than not being around to suffer–joy or no.  Other people don’t get to define the limits that I can tolerate, or the impact that events have on my person, or the way that I choose to cope with what I have endured and will endure. We don’t get to tell other people that they are better off alive and suffering than they would have been if their parent would have chosen to abort.  We don’t know that. We can’t prove that. We want that to be true, but that doesn’t mean it is.

 

That sounds crass, but it is true.  I can’t say that being born is better.  I can say that I am glad those people are here and that they offer great things just by being alive in this world.  So, it isn’t as crass as you might imagine, in practice as it is in theory.

 

I almost typed that I “would never express that a person is better off dead”.  That would have been a lie.

 

Lol.  Now some people are really stirred up!!

 

But I did say that.  I thought that sometimes when my mom was suffering a lot from her Alzheimer’s and would cry uncontrollably and be confused and frustrated.  It was hard to see her that way, and there were times that I said I wished her disease would progress, because I wanted that suffering to end.  I, obviously, didn’t want my mother to be dead, but I didn’t want her to suffer. I felt that way because of how much I loved my mom. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone.  

 

Earlier, I said that many would not believe that being pro-choice could be a thing that came out of love.  But it can be when you consider that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone. And that is the love that lets women let go of the potential of a person.  It isn’t yet a baby in the mind of most–because science. But even if it were a person, and it were a medical necessity to let go, love is still the driving force that makes that decision.  It isn’t selfish. It is selfless, almost always, to choose to end a pregnancy. And often the challenge is that you cannot provide the home that this child will deserve, because you have other children to feed and care for and cannot take on the responsibility of another.  

 

I know, the trope is the irresponsible, young girl who gets knocked up … and like all the tropes, it isn’t true.  

 

I have hundreds of stories and all sorts of scientific facts that I could tell, and they would express my transition from someone who didn’t understand that most abortions are had by women who already have children, and that there is a decidedly racist and classist reason that black women are more affected than others by unplanned pregnancy, and that Planned Parenthood saves far more lives than it has or will ever end (my own included in those saved), and that the decisions of others regarding procreation are not anyone else’s business, to someone who now does understand those things.  I am happy to share statistics and happy to share stories at any time. From the 12-year-old friend whose mom pimped her out for drugs who had 2 kids by age 14, to the friend who suffered trauma from placing her son with an amazing family, to the intrusions of others into my own choices about my body when I had to have a hysterectomy. I have people in my life who have had abortions, who have been placed or placed their children for adoption, who have adopted with relative success or adopted and been faced with a host of problems, and who have faced all sorts of choices and challenges regarding procreation, fertility, birth control, and similar subjects.  But none of that is what I want to take away from this post.

What I want to take away from this post, is the ways that being “pro-life” tends to ignore the “life” portion of that statement once that life has gotten beyond the point of gestation.  Really, many of those who have that purple banner under their name should say, “I AM PRO-GESTATION”. Because once that baby is born, it ceases to have any support or care from most of those same people who proudly shout at innocent mothers and spread propaganda against Planned Parenthood.  

 

I found this out the hard way.

 

So many people were pro-baby Bloem before I had my child as an almost divorced mom.  After I pushed away the baby-grabbing adoption agency and they essentially called me a crazy person for keeping my child, my parents offered their full support.  Many others offered support as well. But my parents were the only ones to keep their promise. The rest were loving and supportive so long as I kept that little one gestating safely, and lots of people were also loving and supportive for a month or so after she was born.  After that?

 

I remember crying as Bill Clinton addressed the country in his State of the Union in 1997 and promised reforms that would make life easier for women like me on welfare.  I didn’t know then that welfare reform would mean lifetime limits and work demands that were impossible in my tiny community, and that would actually make life harder. It would toss millions off of the rolls, and pretend at success, but would actually disappear those families–many of them forced into homelessness, sex work, illegal enterprise, or fraudulent use of programs to survive.  The laws still haven’t been reformed from Clinton’s crap reform, so the number of people forced to survive off the damaging and difficult circumstances that the late 90’s forced people into has stayed relatively steady, and the welfare rolls don’t increase much with the strict rules still in place. So, while this desperation and struggle continues, there are many who promote their pro-life agenda and also still call for cuts to spending on social programs.  They think too many people get “handouts”. Too many people on food stamps. Too many people on disability. Too many people on welfare.

 

I wonder, how many is too many?  How many is just right? Who is the fucking Goldilocks of social programming who decides what is the correct number of disabled and hungry people, and then how do we make that number equal with the number of people in society that actually NEED these services???  

 

If you won’t vote for MORE social safety net funding, you aren’t pro-life.  Because if you won’t vote for more such funding, you don’t want all people to thrive.  Do you think life is worth living in a state of constant need and hunger and suffering?  Do you think it is great to sell your vagina to buy formula? Great! You do it! Otherwise, vote for equal pay and equal rights and more funding for every program that helps people who are not you.  And if you will not, then do not say you promote life. Say that you promote gestation and birth, but not life, per se.

 

Let’s move beyond that subject to another aspect of thriving–prison!  The most obvious thing to bring up here is the death penalty. If you support killing people who break the law, but not a fetus, I call bullshit.  And you can quote the Old Testament until you are blue in the face, but before you do, let me remind you that I went to not one, but two seminaries.  So, I can not only quote the bible back, but I can explain why the New Testament offers an alternative to the penalty of death and asks you to extend mercy, not judgment.  Does the law allow for death? Yes, in some cases. Should it? Absolutely not, if you claim you are pro-life. You can’t ask for life on one hand and death on the other. If life begins at conception, then once god conceived of you, regardless of your sins against him, you deserve life.  If not, then we can talk. But you can’t have the cake and eat it too, people. Pick one and stick with it.

 

Secondary to this is the treatment of humans in general.  Being beaten, raped, tortured, etc., is NEVER acceptable if you are to claim you want life for all.  What kind of life is that?? Nobody deserves such treatment, and if you aren’t supporting an end to mass incarceration, rights for foreign detainees, and just treatment of prisoners everywhere, then you don’t want life for all, but you want gestation and birth for babies.  Once they are born, and make a mistake, you don’t care who does what to them. And that is NOT the will of any god that I will ever serve. If you are fine with the rape and torture of anyone, anywhere, you should seriously evaluate your heart.

 

Please don’t tell me, “Those people committed crimes!”  So did you. Every last one of you has gossiped, or committed adultery, or lusted, or lied, or, at the very least, driven over the speed limit.  You are all just as depraved as the next, right Calvinists? So, don’t tell me now that you are better than those criminals. You aren’t. They may have sinned differently, or gotten caught, or just been unfairly treated by an unjust system that leans toward punishing black and brown boys, but they certainly are not less human or less good than you at their core.  They are people–every bit your equal. And they deserve equal rights, as such.

 

I can go on and on.  An end to war. Equal pay for women.  Ending sexual violence. Gender justice.  Racial justice. Stopping this incessant whining about immigrants taking something from you when you are extremely fucking privileged and losing nothing to them.  

 

I am Pro-Thrive.  I consider all of these things when I speak, write, read, vote, and live out my days.  I consider the actual LIVES of the poor and marginalized, not just their births. Because what the fuck does it matter if babies are born if you won’t do anything to fight for justice in their lives after that fact?  If they die of hunger, or they have to sell their bodies to pay for necessities like food and housing, or they end up in prison at age 14, or they die by war or suicide or gun violence at a young age, then what was the point in funneling all that money and energy into keeping them gestating until birth??  Was that better?? I don’t think it was good enough!

 

We can do better!!

 

The fact is, I don’t particularly love abortion as an option.  I’d love to see free birth control offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see, science-based, comprehensive sex education courses offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see social programs increase, so that we can limit abortion.

 

But I would never tell a woman what she is or is not allowed to do with her body, because I don’t have that right.  I’m not her. And if there is one thing that being sexually violated teaches you, it is that NOBODY tells you what to do with your body but you.  So, I would rather she get a safe, legal abortion, if that is her choice, than go back to the fucking stone age and endanger the lives of women who do make that choice.  

 

Regardless of my personal preferences, however, the point here is to look at the whole life of a person, and to make whole life a consideration.  If you claim to be a person of faith, and you claim to honor life, but you support war and torture and the death penalty and cuts to medicare and SNAP, something is off-balance.  If you wish to claim that you are for life, you must be for all of it, in all of its forms and for all of its people. If you are not for life for all people, at all ages, in all circumstances, you should come up with another claim.  You are not pro-life. You are not pro-thrive. I’m not sure what you are, but it isn’t very inclusive and it isn’t very much like the Christ of the bible that most of you claim to be following. So, that is a concern that you might want to take to heart and consider for a while.  

 

In the meantime, I’ll be hanging out over here in my progressive corner with The Divine.  I am pro-choice.

 

But I am also PRO-THRIVE!!   And I am very glad I have evolved to that point.  Hallelujah!!

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Earth

My house smells like dirt.  It is fabulous.

Last night a dear friend came over and we planted veggies and herbs in pots that will live in my front room/office/art studio.  (Yes, it is getting crowded up in here.)  At least I hope they will live!  I’ve already got a great rosemary plant, a struggling mint plant, and some wheat grass that has been growing long, grassy tendrils toward the window sill, while the half away from the sill dies.  Once the grass gets uncontrollably long, I cut some off and feed it to the dog. Its purpose is solely to aid the dog’s digestion.  (The juicer hasn’t made it out for use in months. It takes too much energy to clean the thing.)

We dug in the dirt and planted seeds and navigated the challenges of filling large pots without using up all the potting mix, and we talked and laughed and repeatedly chastised the dog for eating dirt.  It was quite lovely.

And later that night, the whole house smelled of wet earth.  And it made me long for a place to call home, where I could dig up the actual earth, on the surface of the Earth, and dig my toes into that cool, dark dirt.  Something about gardening grounds you.  It ties you to this crazy ball of fire and rock and sediment that is flying around in the solar system, and it leads you to the knowledge that health and wellness and beauty and good come out of that sweet, musty, damp, dirty soil.

I remember thinking last night that it smelled like earth, like home, like life.

There are a lot of people in this world who don’t have the pure joy of the experience of gardening—of growing what sustains them and offers them beauty.  There are many more who burden under the sun and the weight of bushels of produce to offer food to the world, while they are left with little for themselves.  And then there are some farmers who grow inedible crops with vats of chemicals and strip the earth of its beauty and its life-giving nutrients, but who believe that they are those feeding the world in a noble way.  My favorite are the farmers who have recognized that way of stripping the earth is not good, and who have taken the time and the effort to create organic farms that offer a rich variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, and grains that heal bodies and sustain life and the planet.

No matter how you view food and farming, there is no doubt that food, and access to it, either fuels life or takes it from us.

This past month, I have been living on what we might call a skeleton crew of body fuels.  Because I am disabled and currently do not have income, I rely on the SNAP program for paying grocery costs.  But, for some reason, the office which hands out or refuses to offer these food benefits was “behind”, and they had (without informing me in any way) received an extension on deciding my annual re-certification of benefits.  I am usually allotted just over $300 to feed a household of 2, and that benefit arrived every 4th day of the month, in the form of automatic payment to a little plastic card in my wallet.  As you might imagine, $300 for two is usually spent in full by or before the 4th rolls around again.  So, when the state decided it needed six weeks to put my information into the computer system, instead of the 15 days that is customary, I was left with two weeks of no funds for food.  And you might think this is some strange isolated incident that happened only to me, but all sorts of families, many with babies or young children, were alongside me in the delayed food boat.  Can you imagine not being able to feed your 3-year-old, because the state is “behind” and got an extension?

I can imagine that.  There were times when my daughter was young that there just wasn’t enough in the food account, and I chose to go without eating so that she could. After all, she was developing a tiny little body and brain that needed nutrients. My parts were fully developed.  There was also a time or two where I was brought to tears because I had chosen food for myself over experiences for my daughter.  She missed her 1st grade field trip because I needed the only $5 in my account for lunch between college classes the day before.  I had forgotten to pack a lunch, and had classes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day.  I needed to eat.  So, I bought a sandwich with that last $5, and I cried in my car in the school’s parking lot as I ate.  (It is a challenge to sob while eating, by the way.)  I knew that my hunger had just deprived my daughter of an experience that every other 1st grader would have.  She sat in the corner of another classroom reading and doing word puzzles for the entire day, while her class went away without her.  She cried for some time after school.  I cried myself to sleep that night.

Food security is one of the most affecting issues in the country.  Millions of people are on programs like SNAP and WIC that assist them in purchasing healthful foods.  Millions more utilize food pantries, where you often get less healthful foods, like canned corn and pasta and boxed meals.  The nearest grocery store to my home is over a mile away.  And without a car, I must take two buses or a train and a bus to get to the store, and then must be able to carry what I purchase back home on my shoulders.  I usually opt for the market that is four miles away, but requires only one bus ride and walking a half block to the bus and to the house, so I don’t collapse from the weight of my milk and beans and greens on the way home (usually).  I live in what is considered a “food desert”.  Where I can access very expensive, unhealthful foods with ease at corner stores or gas stations, but I cannot access fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats at a traditional grocery store.  And there are many more like me.

I used to marvel at the homes of friends that had a second refrigerator and multiple freezers in different parts of the house.  They were all stacked to overflowing with pizzas and casseroles and meats and ice cream.  Everything you could possibly want to eat was there for the taking … and they would stare at the food and say, “there is nothing to eat”.  That was never our family’s situation.  We gardened, so we did have a deep freezer and a row of jars in the basement after canning season, but those spaces were filled with the surplus of the garden, and not with the mounds of convenience foods and beverages that friends had at their disposal.  I remember my mom would make BLT’s for dinner and the bacon was rationed in such a way that we could have one sandwich, with 3 slices bacon, or we could choose two sandwiches and 1.5 slices bacon per sandwich.  I used to think my mom was stingy or strange in the way that she would micromanage food consumption.  As I got older, and had to navigate the world on my own, with hunger and budgets and social services and need becoming real for me, I realized my mom was just trying to make scarce resources into enough.  She just wanted to feed us all month, so she rationed our bacon, and fed us SPAM, and allowed us pizza once or twice a month.

I can’t imagine, and wouldn’t have understood, times without food in a family with five mouths to feed.  I can imagine times without food—or have actually experienced them.  And I think upon my childhood limits and the limits I have set for myself these past two weeks without grocery funds, and it is painful to have knowledge of how messed up our food system is in this country, and how the majority of farm land houses no food for people, but food for cows and seeds for more food that doesn’t feed people.  Vegetables and fruits are considered “specialty crops” and are not subsidized by the farm bill the way that seed corn and soybeans are subsidized.  Farmers are rewarded (and paid handsomely) for growing what I cannot eat.  So there are piles of rotting corn in some places in the U.S., while I have been eating cucumbers and bananas every day, because they are the most affordable fresh items at the store right now.

At times, I see advertisements about farmers and how they are feeding America.  And I usually make a strange chuckle that expresses disbelief and the ludicrous nature of that claim.  My tomatoes are from Mexico, and my bananas from an unknown tropical area.  None of the food that comes to my table can claim to proudly be grown in Iowa, where I grew up and where farmers are revered (the ones that grow the useless corn, not the specialty vegetable crops).  What they can claim is that they are feeding cows, but on $300 a month, we almost never eat beef or pork.  They can also claim to be supporting ethanol, but I haven’t a car, and ethanol costs more and more the farther you get from the Iowa fields.

So, this is a long post about food, I guess.  But it is also about the earth.  And I feel like that love of the smell of the damp earth, and the desire to have my bare toes deep in black soil says something about both food and earth.

I think we are meant to grow things.

Sometimes people argue against my friends who have chosen not to have children by saying that god told Adam and Eve to populate the earth.  But what if that is a slight mistranslation of intent.  What if the meaning behind that command was more like, “I’m not going to let you live in this lush garden that I created for you anymore, but you need to go out and grow life on the planet yourselves.”  Maybe it was the bird kicking the babies out of the nest, so to speak.  Maybe it was a command to go out and till the soil and water the plants and nourish the vegetables and fruits and create a garden of their own.  And if that is the case, then the piles of rotting seed corn, and the hog confinements, and the stripping of and polluting of the soil are all against the will of god.

Now, I’m not strictly religious at this point in my life, but I do believe in a divine presence, and I do believe that the earth, the soil, the water, the wind, the sun, and all that grows and is sustained because of them, are divine gifts.  Divine gifts that somehow arose from primordial ooze after an explosion of stardust, but gifts, nonetheless.  And right now, we are starving millions.  This cannot be what the gift was meant for.  This cannot be the way we are supposed to utilize the beauty and nourishment and life that these gifts offer.

Today I received my SNAP benefits for March.  They are two weeks late, but I can make the long trek to a market and obtain fruits and vegetables and eggs and whole wheat bread and all the things that I have been longing for in my diet the last couple of weeks.  I can stop worrying about hunger and the empty feeling in my gut when I peer into the nearly empty fridge.  I can stop subsisting on cucumbers, and actually have some avocado and beets and pineapple and maybe even some goat cheese if I budget really well.  And I want to rejoice, and I will rejoice, at this end to my deep need for nourishment.

But I can’t help but wonder, at what point the state might, once again, endanger my life by taking away my access to healthful foods, or comprehensive medical care, or safe housing, or whatever else I need to survive as a single, disabled adult in America.

So, the smell of earth in my front room/office/art studio is not just a memory and a hope of toes in dirt at a home that is more permanent and more mine than what I have been offered the past several years, but it is a reminder that sustenance and stability are not mine.  And planting herbs and vegetables is the first step to sustaining life, and perhaps the only step I can take at this time.  Because I lack agency.  Because I am poor.  Because I am not respected as a human being equal to all the other, non-poor human beings.  Because people consider poverty to be indicative of stupidity or moral depravity, and not indicative of systemic injustice and a society that discriminates against people of color, the disabled, women, singles, people without children, people with too many children, LGBTQIA+ people, Muslim people, people emigrating to the U.S., the elderly, the young, and a host of others.

And I wonder, will we ever get to a place where we are all working together to sustain a giant garden flying around in the solar system, with peace and compassion and abundance being the standard that we hold most dear and present to all?  Or, will we stay in a place where one individual has an extra fridge full of soda and beer and surplus food, and one is dependent on the state’s timetable for survival and is forbidden from purchasing beer or soda?

The sun is currently pouring in the windows, heating my skin and boosting my vitamin D, and offering life to my little seeds pressed into the dirt.  The smell of earth is still heavy and inviting and beautiful.  I imagine the abundance that could grow from these tiny pots.  I imagine a life that holds on to abundance, and isn’t plagued by a cycle of need/enough/need/enough/need.  I imagine a “someday” that holds a little home of my own with a garden where I can sink my toes into the damp, darkness and feel tied to the earth.  Grounded in the land of enough.  Grounded in my spirit and in my life, because the stress and the worry of living in a constant state of lack, and never having enough resources, is gone.  Grounded in ways that let me speak to the divine in gratitude more often than in need.  Tied to the earth.  Tied to a community.  Tied to life, instead of the fear of death.

Life.  This sunny addition to my apartment is bringing so much life.

And all it took was a bit of dirt.