When I was 15 years-old, the balding, opinionated, gruff man who made my leg braces informed me that I’d “never be able to have kids. [My] body just couldn’t support it.” Up until that point I hadn’t given much thought to having kids; all I knew was that I wasn’t supposed to have sex. This crabby, pseudo-medical professional gave me, what was up until that point, the closest thing to a sex talk that I ever had. He wanted to dictate, and make sure that I knew, that my defiant, punk rock, Chicana, disabled body is not to procreate. I all but ignored his comment and spent the next 13 years of my life focusing on achievement: good grades, community organizing, scholarship and scholarships, traveling to conferences and homelands abroad, pushing my body-mind to ensure I emulated the success that I saw of the organizers and professors I read about in books and looked up to in community. By the time I was 32, though, I recognized that these prescribed patterns of success were killing me…and that I wanted a baby.
Even before we conceived, I experienced ableism and many of the negative aspects of existing in a cis-gendered female body. The older generations, especially, asked why we didn’t have kids. I asked myself if it was all the stress that 20 surgeries, hundreds (thousands?) of x-rays, or simply my krip genes that was hindering the process. We went to a fertility doctor after eight months of trying, making sure to get in before my “good insurance” ran out once I quit a job that was killing me spiritually and physically. I asked the doctor all the things I was fearing: Did all those x-rays kill my eggs? Did my genes not only bless me with a short-left leg but also with infertility? Did the pesticides sprayed on my grandfather when he was a farm worker pass down infertility to me? Was stress the culprit?
The doctor was kind, and her team informed us of the testing that my good insurance covered, but when it came to IVF or other medical procedures that lead to conception, my good insurance wasn’t good enough. My ovaries and fallopian tubes were checked in a cold, sterile office visit waaaay up on the north side near the foothills of the Santa Catalinas. Dye injected into my cervix, speculum coldly spreading me open, the procedure more painful than an annual exam. My results: everything is fine; you have ample eggs, open tubes, and a healthy body.
Adam’s procedure was much quicker, cheaper, and more exciting. Cum into a cup and get it to us before an hour passes. No pain, no invasion, simply one orgasm and a car ride. His results: low sperm count and quality. We cried. I was angry that all this time it was him and not me. I was angry that he, our families, society duped me into thinking there was something wrong with me, and I was the reason we weren’t pregnant.
At the break of 2018, I was tired of waiting for the perfect life to follow a perfect timeline that existed only in my head. I had given myself a semester away from a dysfunctional work schedule and was beginning to plan the next steps of a hard-fought career in academia. That January, I let go. I let go of timelines. Of working with others in mind. Of being angry at Adam, at my body, at others who so easily got pregnant, at the world. I told myself that I would accept each red moon as she appeared every month, and I would focus on myself, nurturing my strengths, growing the one-of-a-kind academic program that I was running, and enjoy life.
And on March 8, 2018, with my moon mysteriously 8-days late and my spirits a little more up, I was teaching and became so dizzy that I had to sit down. None of my students seemed to notice that I lost my balance as my uneven legs lose their balance all the time. I took a dollar store pregnancy test when I got home, and amid my shock these words fell out of my mouth at my first ever positive test: “you little shit.”
I was pregnant, knocked up, embarazada, growing life inside of me. I was terrified of miscarriage, of losing something that I wanted so, so bad. I was on Disability, so I had Medicare—unlike my parents and too many in this country, I was lucky enough to have any sort of healthcare safety net at all. But Medicare wouldn’t cover a single doctor’s appointment or test pertaining to pregnancy. Luckily, I was poor enough to be covered under Arizona’s Medicaid program, AHCCCS—the same poor kid insurance that I was afforded as the child of a Mexican American housecleaner, would ensure me and my baby were covered.
Even before my first appointment with the El Rio midwives, my body-mind tensed up in anticipation of the myriad of ableist mindsets, comments, and attitudes I’d face; I was already exhausted from the amount of educating I knew I’d have to provide healthcare professionals. I wasn’t anticipating, though, the odd racism me and my brown-skinned partner would experience. After my 20 surgeries, hundreds of doctor’s appointments, and being a guinea pig at a teaching hospital, the radicalized krip consciousness that I formed by 33 years-old went into these doctor’s appointments with a complex analysis of the medicalized model of healthcare in this country. I wanted the medical model of disability to play as small of a role as possible during and after my pregnancy; we decided to go to the midwives for prenatal care.
My first appointment with the midwives was, as expected, ableist as fuck. The semi-retired, older, white midwife confirmed that I was in fact 8 weeks pregnant. She was more concerned, however, with figuring out “why I am the way I am” and wanted to order a slew of tests with a geneticist to figure out my “birth defect.” I explained to her that wasn’t important to me and, to her surprise, that I didn’t want to undergo all these tests. I also pushed back on wanting to test the fetus for any other possible disabilities. I took control of the room, doing my best to erase the ableist sentiment—after all this was my body. When she turned to my partner to inquire how many other kids he had, she appeared surprised that this was his first. She also seemed taken aback to hear that he didn’t drink or smoke, cigarettes or weed, after she told him that it’s important not to continue these vices around a baby. Racist expectations.
Subsequent visits to the midwives left me shaking-angry or in tears. All white. All middle-class. All able-bodied. All out of touch with my lived reality. My weight was suddenly super important. While I’ve never been skinny, I’ve never considered myself overweight, but according to the medical model’s charts and graphs, I was. I was coached to gain as little weight as possible. During the 2nd trimester, a small, blonde hair blue-eyed midwife scolded me for gaining weight. I had gained 12 lbs, which was apparently too much. I explained to her that I had daily, debilitating migraines all 1st trimester and walking is not accessible to me. She didn’t care or listen.
The next midwife visit, with an even smaller blonde lady, followed a similar trajectory. They were upset that they couldn’t control my body. Hell, I couldn’t control my body either. I tried explaining that I needed help changing the world around me in order to function in a healthy manner for the remainder of the pregnancy. My custom wheelchair that I got when I had private insurance broke, and neither Medicare nor AHCCCS would cover the cost to fix its wheel. The insurance company’s solution: order a new, crappy wheelchair. I spent weeks on the phone with insurance companies, the doctor’s office, and the wheelchair supply facility to get said crap chair. Nobody cared that with each passing week, it became harder to move from the couch to the bathroom to the bed, yet alone go out in public. My spoons were spent.
During my pregnancy, unexpected changes occurred among my friend-groups and activist communities once I announced that I was pregnant. I realized what an inaccessible, ignorant, ass of an activist I had been to my friends who were parents. For the most part, my parent friends and I became closer while my non-parent friends and I started to grow apart. Going out, smoking weed, drinking, dancing, and protests were no longer priorities in my life. Cleaning my house, talking about my fetus’ milestones, and preparing for a baby took my body-mind’s energy. And even if I wanted to go out, I couldn’t. I had no extra spoons. Still, I was blessed with a community of birth workers, chingona mamas, doulas, and folx who have birthed before. I was able to talk, without judgment, about the hardships I was facing pertaining to the medical model of disability, subtle racism, economic woes, self-esteem, being a pregnant survivor, and finding out the most and least necessary baby gear. By November 2018, I was ready to meet this baby.
Below are excerpts of an email I sent to a person who led a prenatal class:
The birth was not at all what we were expecting, but it turned out really well, nevertheless. [I was in labor from Sunday at 12:30am-Tuesday at 4pm. The one medical doctor that we encountered was the absolute low-point of my birthing experience].
[By Monday night] I was unable to get the epidural right away since the anesthesiologist on duty was occupied with an emergency C-section. By that time our heart rates were low enough that they could give me Fentayl, which did very little to subside the pain. At 2 am the anesthesiologist came in, ready to perform the epidural, but unfortunately, she didn’t listen to me when I told her that since my legs and hips are uneven, my spine may appear straight but might be askew. I asked her to come around the table and see for herself, but she assured me that it wouldn’t make a difference. She tried five times to insert the epidural, each time becoming more frustrated that it wasn’t going in evenly on my spine. Adam had been bracing me for about an hour at that point and needed a break himself, so we took some time to regroup. At this point, she came around the table as I requested an hour earlier and saw what I was talking about when I said my legs were uneven, and I requested a chair and some blankets to even out my hips. And sure enough, once these accommodations were made, she was able to insert the epidural in about 20 seconds. I finally slept hours.
On November 15, 2018, we brought home Athena. I began my journey as a stay-at-home mom sleep deprived, sore, and in love. I was an expert at negotiating this world as a krip, but there is definitely a learning curve to existing as a krip mama. Leaving the house exhausted oodles of energy. Limping with the car seat carrier to car broke my back. This meant that leaving the house without Adam or someone else to assist was killer, which meant we spent a lot of time in our house. Being stuck inside was not so fondly reminiscent of the times I spent in stuck inside as a child after surgeries. In fact, it triggered panic attacks, depressive episodes, and general angst. I sat on the couch, baby at my teat, scrolling through social media admiring the world spinning on without me. I felt lonely. I felt like motherhood has caused me to lose my sense of self. I felt nostalgic for my former life; I had to remind myself that I wanted this and to let go.
When Athena and I would venture out into the world, I was and am, berated with a whole new set of odd to offensive ableist stares and comments:
“Wow, look at you.” “OMG, do you need help?!” “What’d you do?” “OUCH!” “You’re doing great!” “I can’t imagine doing that.” “Are you sure you’re, ok?” “That baby looks uncomfortable.” “You look uncomfortable.” “That must be so hard.”
I’ve lived my life since five years-old with iterations of these comments, but they took on new life and meaning as a mama. Yes, living my day to day took more energy, but what are seemingly innocuous observations from strangers actually are mircoaggressive nosiness that negatively affect my mood as much as pain does. Leave me the fuck alone. I’m tired enough with an infant and don’t have any additional energy to hold space for you or your ableist observations.
I was planning to return to work at the community college, to grow the program that I was co-directing the two previous years, but I soon found out that ableism + motherhood = a no go for my career. I was invited to go to Atlanta for a conference with Deans and higher ups to plan how to implement college-wide the Border Cultures Program. Of the five people going, I was the only one who was not a salaried employee. In fact, I was not an employee at all, but I was the only one who had worked on the project and held border-related knowledge. Since Athena was solely breastfed, and pumping never worked for me, the baby would have to come to Atlanta with me for five days. I requested the college pay for my partner to come since he would have to carry her and watch her while I was participating at the conference. The head of the ADA accommodations at Pima informed me that they would spend $180 per day for me to overnight breast milk to my daughter, but they were not legally obligated to pay for Adam to come. I explained that I can’t pump, but I was again informed that they have no legal obligation to ensure my daughter was fed for five days. They wanted me to throw off my 7-month old’s carefully crafted schedule, not pay for my partner to go, and for me to give, give, give without any guarantee of a full-time job with benefits after I uprooted my family so that they could look good. I had to let go of my dream to continue the program and put my and my family’s best interests first. I felt disposable because of ableism and motherhood in our neoliberal moment.
While I was pretty disheartened at seeing one career float away, I accepted another position at a local high school doing, what I thought would be, teaching, mentorship and community work. In a matter of five days, I went from being a full-time stay-at-home mom, to scrambling to find a daycare that would accept an infant and training Athena and my breasts to focus on night feedings for sustenance as opposed to her accustomed boob around the clock. Working for a semester at this school taught me a lot. It showed me that Athena and I could be away from each other for more than three hours, and it offered her social personality the chance to hang out with little people her size. It showed me that my brainpower was still not at full capacity as it now functioned in a muck of breastfeeding and thinking about the baby while trying to multitask a poorly planned teaching position. This semester at work also housed the last days of the uncle who-raised-me’s life. I would wake up, go to work, worry about my tio, pick up the baby from daycare, go home, eat, put her to bed, and repeat. The daily walk from the parking garage to my office was as daunting as the walks from the couch to the toilet while 9 months pregnant. This was not how I wanted to live my life, so I let go and quit.
I’m a stay-at-home krip, Chicana mama again. I’m finding the capacity to think again—about the militarization on the border, gentrification in my hometown, the inequity all around us. The personal is political, still. I’m searching for joy in spite of having to fight for Athena to have healthcare; traumatized by my lifetime of proving that I am disabled enough, poor enough to be covered by a violently shrinking state; traumatized by the historical violence against the brown women whose blood pumps through mine and my daughter’s veins. Angry that I played by their rules as best as I could, forced my body-mind into situations that hurt me, and still, I am not good enough to live life by a set of rules that accepts all of me.
Two months of this newest iteration and I find joy in not pushing my body to perform chores or to leave the house or shower when I just can’t. Unlearning superkripdom. I have learned that I have to get out of bed when Athena demands it, even when my body is exhausted and sore; toddlers have a way—bringing a handful of cat litter to you in bed—of letting you know that they need you. I find joy by:
Relishing in strengthened friendships among parents and non-parents who see all of me.
Feeling strong and self-assured to ignore the ableist comments.
Ignoring activists who tell me every time they infrequently see me, “wow, I haven’t seen you in a while;” not pushing myself into community spaces that are inaccessible to me and my family.
Watching a little person who I prayed for grow into a funny, quirky, independent, beautiful being.
Letting go of society’s expectations and notion of what success is and honoring myself above all else. I find joy in letting go to rebuild what works for me.