Warning: Discussion of female bodily functions ahead.
When I was pregnant, a nurse told me pregnancy was a good window onto old age, that the problems women had when they were great with child tended to pop up late in life — diabetes, etc. If so, I better have a killer retirement account, because my pregnancy passed like a cool breeze on a warm day, and the Big M — you guys can figure that one out, right? — was ditto. You’ll have to ask my loved ones about screeching mood swings, but I don’t recall that era as any worse than my usual moody-bitch act. Not one hot flash. Insomnia, sure, but that’s just the way of the world once you have a few things to worry about. A few other minor things, but in general, the big Change I’d been dreading for half a decade was a snap. Not only that, but I forgot, in a disgracefully short time, what it was like to be a fertile woman, and all it entails, specifically the gross stuff.
So it was refreshing to read this little essay in New York magazine today, pointing out the obvious: The reason there isn’t a wave of outrage over the Planned Parenthood sting videos is, women already know what abortion is about. Believe us, we know, even if we haven’t had one:
Women do not need real talk about bodies; our adult days brim with the effluvia, the discomforts, the weirdness and emotional intensity and magnitude of our medical choices. Then there is pregnancy itself, wanted or not, and its attendant risks. Women pass early pregnancies into toilet bowls and sadly collect the remains of later ones in Tupperware containers to bring to their doctors. Most of us know of someone who has suffered the excruciating pain of stillbirth. One friend, bleeding 13 weeks into a deeply desired pregnancy, was told by her doctor not to worry unless she passed a clot bigger than her fist.
Women who have been pregnant past quickening have felt the nauseating turn of a baby inside them; some have had the horror of feeling that baby stop moving, or, as Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis wrote of her experience, can feel the spasms of fetal seizure. She had a late abortion. So did California representative Jackie Speier, as she told the House in 2011, responding to a colleague who’d read aloud a gory description of a second-trimester termination. “I was thinking to myself, Not one of you has endured this procedure,” she said of her decision to speak publicly about it.
Women know about blood. We know about discharge. We know about babies, and many of us also love them, their little feet and hands and eyelashes. And, yes, we know that those bitty features develop while the fetus is inside us. We also know the physical, economic, and emotional costs of raising those children outside our wombs.
It brought it all back — those days of praying for your period, cursing your period, all of it. And it’s good to remember that from time to time, because if you forget it too long, you forget to be outraged when men stand up in legislative chambers and read descriptions they have no experience of and never will. And you need to be outraged, not all the time, but sometimes, when it counts. You need to remember.
But I don’t want to bum everyone out on a Tuesday. Here’s something quite amusing, John Oliver on sex ed. It’s long, but it’s very good, in that outrage-funny kind of way. I very much recommend it.
Who was asking about the obit for Frances Kelsey the other day, the doctor who blocked Thalidomide in the U.S.? This is a pretty good one:
The sedative was Kevadon, and the application to market it in America reached the new medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration in September 1960. The drug had already been sold to pregnant women in Europe for morning sickness, and the application seemed routine, ready for the rubber stamp.
But some data on the drug’s safety troubled Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, a former family doctor and teacher in South Dakota who had just taken the F.D.A. job in Washington, reviewing requests to license new drugs. She asked the manufacturer, the William S. Merrell Company of Cincinnati, for more information.
Thus began a fateful test of wills. Merrell responded. Dr. Kelsey wanted more. Merrell complained to Dr. Kelsey’s bosses, calling her a petty bureaucrat. She persisted. On it went. But by late 1961, the terrible evidence was pouring in. The drug — better known by its generic name, thalidomide — was causing thousands of babies in Europe, Britain, Canada and the Middle East to be born with flipperlike arms and legs and other defects.
A petty bureaucrat. Should have left that one up to the invisible hand, right?
Long day ahead, so let’s get to it.