The Female Body at Fifty
So many black holes, the year my mother birthed me
through a leather-winched body rioting with fear (“Shut up,” the doctor said),
through chemical amnesia (“Honey you don’t know what pain is,” he said,
and then scopolamine kicked in). It’s all my immigrant mother remembers.
Later, sudden unexpected aching breasts (“Bromocriptine,” the nurse said)
in the land of milk and honey.
But that summer 250,000 people marched in Washington—men and women,
black and white, Martin Luther King, Josephine Baker—songs and speeches
for dreams and freedom. On the south side of Chicago,
my homesick mother cradled the radio to her ear.
Before long, Free Wheelin Bob Dylan filled the house,
my mother wheeled me to protests, live concerts, hugged me to her
private riots: art, personhood, illegal abortion, all women
busy being born or busy dying.
A mother and midwife, I love my dreamed-of world—
from the south side of Chicago a First Lady has risen, prioritizing children’s food.
All my women live-stream The Business of Being Born.
Going strong, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding turns fifty.
The Medal of Freedom rings its 50th year for Gloria Steinem, Oprah.
But on a maternity unit in Beloit, deep memories seize me like contractions in childbirth—
strapped female bodies injected with drugs, dictated by “doctor’s orders”
when to eat, walk, go into labor, stay in bed, be “delivered,” hold their babies.
A nurse says, “All they want is to feel no pain and be out of Chicago.”
There but for fortune, my whole body aches—for the nurse,
for unfree worlds of want,
for mothers in Mississippi arrested for stillbirth,
for mothers in Milwaukee accused of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death.
State by state, lawmakers strip the personhood of women, redefine rape,
and the mothers of 250,000 children are imprisoned.
Whose dream of America is this?
Whose citizens united, re-districted, divided
gravid with fear, inequity, heavier denial than the sixties?
Laws be damned—my plain-spoken mother said,
there comes a time to riot.
Ingrid Andersson Born in 1963 and engaged in political causes since my first memory (sitting on my father’s shoulders at political demonstrations in Chicago), I had promised myself I would return to serious writing when I turned fifty, after a 20-year hiatus. A nurse-midwife by profession, I have not been able to integrate my two all-consuming occupations of writing and midwifery before now. Please accept my first attempt with gratitude for the timely inspiration!