“What did my sperm donor look like?”
I had never told my daughter that she had a sperm donor. I could see how she made the assumption, but it’s not something I had ever said. I had never told her anything about how she was conceived.
The truth was that there was no sperm donor, and never had been. Her father was a rapist. I am in dangerous, uncharted territory, and no one has told me how to handle this.
I’ve read every book, blog, and magazine published in the last decade. They tell me when my baby should get her canine teeth, and how to hide vegetables in mac-and-cheese, and how to handle what they call the “tough questions.” They don’t know what tough questions really are.
They don’t know the panic I feel when I’m confronted with the knowledge that I will, one day, have to tell my daughter the truth.
When I first saw her, it was on an ultrasound screen at an abortion clinic. I had spent months saving up enough money to go, and during those months, I was simultaneously preparing for both outcomes.
You see, Medicaid in my state covered prenatal care, which I quickly approved for because I was pregnant, but it didn’t cover abortions. I was watching the sand slip through the hourglass, working overtime while puking 10 times a day and going to prenatal visits afterward. I took my prenatal vitamins. I quit smoking and quit drinking coffee.
But it’s a strange, strange feeling, to prepare for both outcomes. To feel, on one hand, like your body has been invaded by a horrible monster that you want killed, and to feel, on the other hand, that you love the seed growing inside you, no matter who planted it, and that you would give your life for it. It was like I had Schrödinger’s womb. The creature inside it was a monster and a child at the same time. I wouldn’t know which one it was until I looked.
When the image finally came into view at the clinic, it had been 17 weeks and three days since I had been raped. And there it was: Well into the second trimester, I couldn’t see a parasite that invaded me through rape. I could only see a baby. My baby.
But I couldn’t do this. I burst into tears. The ultrasound technician was shaking. She told me they only rarely did procedures this late in the game. When they did, it was only because of medical problems and what she called, “Situations like yours.”
“I know it’s hard. You don’t have to go through with this. But you also don’t have to not go through with it.”
“I can’t,” I pleaded.
“You can’t what? Have the baby? Have an abortion?”
“I can’t do either,” I sobbed, “If I have the baby, then I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life sharing a child with a man who raped me, and I’ll never be able to look at the baby without remembering what happened that day. And if I don’t have the baby, then I’ll have to be traumatized all over again, and I’ll never be able to forget what I saw just now. I’ll never stop wondering what kind of person my baby would have been.”
A nurse came into the room and placed a hand on my arm, later followed by a counselor. What was this, an audience for my full-blown emotional meltdown?
“You don’t have to make a decision right now, but you’re going to need to make one soon,” the nurse said quietly.
I became hysterical. I begged them to make the decision for me. I promised them that I’d do anything if they would just refuse to do the procedure, or if they would knock me out and do it without my consent. I needed it to be in someone else’s hands, because I knew that no matter what choice I made, it would feel like the wrong one. There was no such luck. I looked around at a room full of faces waiting for me to make my choice, but none of them would do it for me. Finally, I sniffled,
“Can I see another ultrasound?”
The technician looked grave and worried when she moved the wand across my belly again. The image came into view again, and somehow, through my tears, I managed to smile.
“I just can’t understand how something so horrible created something so beautiful,” I said.
The technician slowly nodded. My daughter was born six months later.
I loved her, completely, wholly, deeply, passionately, and unconditionally. But no one else did. There wasn’t much fanfare. There was no baby shower, no smiling visitors in the hospital, no cutely decorated nursery. I was living in extreme poverty and trying to pull myself up from the absolute rock-bottom of my life. I had to do it for myself and for her, but it wasn’t easy.
It’s not exactly pleasant to need to choose between telling your friends that your baby was conceived by rape, and letting them think that you got knocked up by a random stranger who walked out.
Regardless of how much they knew or didn’t know, the people who should have supported me were judgmental and hurtful. Everyone weighed in their opinions, whether I asked for them or not. They said I was too young and too stupid to be a mother. They said that my daughter’s life was going to be a living nightmare and that it was my fault for forcing her to be born.
They said that my life had been ruined. They said that I would never be able to escape the clutches of the man who hurt me. The one thing that everyone agreed on was that it was a bad thing that my daughter had been born.
When she was two days old, I emailed some pictures to nine of my relatives. Only one responded, and it was with a single sentence:
“I wish I could say congratulations with sincerity.”
I know that the somber response to announcements of my pregnancy and my daughter’s birth weren’t meant to be cruel, but it hurt that the people who were supposed to love her most were unhappy about her existence.
As awful as my experience was, it was never my daughter’s fault. She did not choose how she was conceived and she did not choose who her father was. Like me, she is a victim of someone else’s act of violence, and she is made to suffer for it.
My fellow feminists focus a lot of attention on the importance of reproductive rights for rape victims. But they forget to think about what happens to those of us who can’t, or don’t, choose to end these pregnancies. We’re forced into silence by shame and stigma. We stay quiet and uncomfortable when reproductive justice conversations turn their attention to the horrors of rape-related pregnancies. We feel hurt and erased when our situations are described as rare or even non-existent.
When Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party Senator who opposes abortion rights, described rape pregnancies as “blessings,” and when Missouri official Sharon Barnes said the same, I watched my sisters call them “ridiculous” and “sick” for saying such things.
I know my feminist allies mean well; I really do. And I have a few choice words, none of them acceptable for publication, that I would say to these lawmakers. But what people don’t realize is that it hurts to be told that my child isn’t a blessing and that I’m wrong for loving her. As much pain as it caused me, I would gladly go through it all over again to have the child I know and love.
I would be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes look at my daughter and see his face. Those moments scare me. It is my biggest fear that she could one day turn out to be like the man who raped me.
I’ve spent most of her life answering the nosy questions by saying that she simply doesn’t have a father, and never did, but every time I say it, I feel a knot in my stomach and I wonder how much longer I will be able to hide that dark, terrible secret from her.
One day, I’ll have to tell my daughter the truth. That truth starts and ends with, “It was never your fault.”
The only thing I can hope for, beyond that, is to one day be able to say the same thing to myself, and believe it.