Infanticide is already illegal, but you wouldn’t know that from last week’s news.

Carrie Ann Lucas was killed by our failed healthcare system a week ago.

I know that lede sounds extreme or exaggerated, but it isn’t. She wasn’t an infant - I will get to infanticide in a moment - but she was a beloved activist, adoptive mother, ordained minister, and disabled woman. She was 47. Her death was not premeditated but it was entirely preventable.

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The picture above came from her Facebook page. In a post there, this explanation is offered for her death:

Carrie Ann Lucas, a disability rights attorney who pioneered representation for parents with disabilities, died after an arbitrary denial from an insurance company caused a plethora of health problems, exacerbating her disabilities and eventually leading to her premature death. 

A follow-up story by Forbes and an obituary in the Denver Post explore her life and legacy further, but the sad reality is that Carrie Ann didn’t have to die last week. She got a cold in January of last year. That led to a trach and lung infection. She was prescribed a specific inhaled antibiotic expected to be effective for treating the infection while avoiding complications due to her muscular dystrophy. Her insurance company refused to pay for it, covering a less effective antibiotic instead, knowing that she has a history of drug allergies. She had a bad reaction to the alternate medication, spent the past year in and out of the hospital, and died of septic shock a week ago.

Carrie Ann spoke out against physician assisted suicide, declaring that her disability did not make her unworthy of life. She aligned with the pro-life movement on that. While I am not familiar with her stance on abortion, I can confidently say that she would have opposed any concept of a child being born alive and then killed by doctors.

Last week, the Senate voted down a procedural motion to move forward with debate on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, introduced by Ben Sasse (R-NE). Sasse is best known, along with Jeff Flake (R-AZ), for speaking boldly against Trump’s poor decisions but ultimately voting in favor of them. Sasse argued that babies who survive an abortion be treated rather than killed.

Carrie Ann would have agreed with that. I agree with that. In fact, Congress agreed with that when I was still in college, passing the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002. That act protects the life of an baby born alive, as defined:

the term `born alive', with respect to a member of the species homo sapiens, means the complete expulsion or extraction from his or her mother of that member, at any stage of development, who after such expulsion or extraction breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut, and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion

As made clear in the excerpt above, born alive includes babies who have survived abortions.

The legislation introduced by Sasse was political theater. The substance of it was already made law seventeen years ago. Why introduce a redundant bill then?

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First, redundant legislation is nothing new. To put their position on the record, members of Congress have sponsored or introduced would-be laws that were already passed, on a range of issues from gun control to airline regulations. Not only does it make their position clear, but also it makes the position clear of anyone who opposes the measure.

Why does this matter? Well, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s an election in 2020. It’s kind of a big deal. When campaigning, it’s a lot easier to say, “my opponent wants to kill babies,” if there’s a recorded vote you can cite. Voting against something called the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act sounds pretty damning if you don’t know what it is.

Except the Democrats in the Senate - all but three - didn’t vote in favor of killing babies.

The vote last week was procedural. Procedural votes are part of the legislative process, determining if a proposal gets voted up or down. Given the way I saw conservatives spin the issue last week, though, you might have understood the yes votes to be in favor of babies’ lives (and against infanticide) and the no votes to be against babies’ lives (and for infanticide). That’s the way it will be told by Republicans during the 2020 election cycle.

But it’s not true.

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A no on a procedural vote can, of course, mean the legislator opposes the intent or content of the proposal. But it can also mean that they don’t consider the bill worthy of congressional attention because another act - in this case, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 - already exists to do what the proposed legislation would do.

Likewise, a yes on a procedural vote doesn’t mean the legislator supports the intent or content of the proposal. In the dramatic healthcare vote in July 2017, McCain voted no on Obamacare repeal, casting the deciding vote. The reason the moment was so uncertain, though, was that he voted yes on the procedural vote. He considered it worthy of discussion and consideration but not of passing. That’s one notable example of a procedural vote being just that, procedure, and nothing else.

If it could have electoral repercussions, though, why did only three Democrats vote for it? Wouldn’t it have been easier to let it sail through if it wouldn’t change anything?

The problem here is that the proposed Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act was unclear. For babies born alive after an abortion attempt - babies already protected under law by the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 - doctors would have been required to offer identical care to the survivor of a failed abortion as they would to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age,” under the measure discussed last week.

At first glance, that sounds good, but it gets tricky because this provision could be interpreted two different ways. The first way is that the full range of interventions - from comfort care (that is, keeping a baby with a fatal condition comfortable without other medical intervention) to heroic attempts to sustain life no matter what. The second way is that if any other child born at that age without any complications would survive, then doctors must take all possible action for the abortion-surviving baby to survive, even if comfort care is in the best interests of the child and family.

I’ve seen well-reasoned op-eds arguing each interpretation in the past week. The interpretations generally fall along party lines, with Republicans arguing the first and Democrats the second. Whenever any issue is this strictly partisan, the facts are usually somewhere in the middle of the two stances.

In this case, neither interpretation is a given. But let’s review the branches of government real fast:

The legislative branch makes laws.

The executive branch enforces laws.

The judicial branch interpets laws.

The legislative branch should craft and pass clear laws that take all foreseeable outcomes into mind. But none of us can play out every move to the ultimate end, right? That’s where the judicial branch shows up. They don’t make the laws; they interpret them.

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Right now, many courts are shifting to be more aligned with Republicans, given Trump’s nominations. I wish nothing partisan factored into judicial decisions, but we all know that’s not true. That’s why you’ll see Republicans at the state and federal level pushing laws that wouldn’t have made it through the courts before but that they hope will now. Even if the courts functioned perfectly, though, the ideal situation is one in which the law has such indisputable clarity that no judicial interpretation is needed.

In other words, legislators aren’t doing their jobs when they pass murky material into law (or, in this case, into the process of debating the actual content, as this was a procedural vote). The judicial branch is needed, but it’s meant for those issues that aren’t caught and addressed in the actual writing of the law itself.

This whole debate has turned into a shouting match about whether or not late-term abortions exist. I could weigh in on that (basically the medical definition of late-term is 40-42 weeks pregnant, so it’s not medically accurate language), but the gist is that I see pro-life friends quoting one OB saying that third trimester abortions are never needed while I watch pro-choice friends and doctors citing many more sources to say that they sometimes are. These are rare cases, yes, but given that third trimester abortions make up one percent or less of all abortions, it makes sense that these would be pregnancies that are the exception rather than the rule.

The measure voted down last week, though, wasn’t really about third trimester abortions; it was about what would happen afterward. I do consider it worthy to discuss the wisdom and act of abortion throughout all maternal stages, but this piece isn’t about that and neither was the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

The other reason I consider the scenario to be political theater is simple: Mitch McConnell knew they didn’t have the votes. He knew it wasn’t going to pass. He knew no vote was needed. But he sought one anyway, so the record could show who did and didn’t vote for it.

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Not only do I suspect those motives, but McConnell acknowledged them in an op-ed he wrote about the act. In his own words,

The American people deserve to know whether their senators stand with vulnerable children struggling for life.

The vote last week wasn’t about last week, and it wasn’t really about vulnerable children, who were already protected under the 2002 legislation.

No, the vote last week was about 2020.

Infanticide was already illegal. Nothing Sasse proposed, even if it had passed, would have offered any needed or lacking protections.

In the midst of Cohen’s testimony and Mueller’s continued process and the seemingly unanswerable questions about what depths of corruption must be reached before change comes, the one reliable base for Trump - white evangelical Christians, with 68% holding a favorable view of Trump, including 28% with a very favorable view - needed a reminder of why they made a deal with the devil and, in doing so, damaged their own credibility for loving neighbors already born. This redundant bill was presented as necessary and a procedural vote portrayed as positional. It worked. “But baby killing…” has been the chorus in response to anything negative about Trump this week from a certain demographic.

I used to join them. I used to champion the de-legalization and even criminalization of abortion as the best way to save lives. I would have been the first to pull a “butwhatabout abortion?” with a sweet yet patronizing smile, as if I immediately had claimed higher ground.

I did and still do consider a separate life to have begun as soon as unique DNA is created. For me, that moment - conception - is when a new person is formed. I did and still do consider abortion to be ending a life.

So why have my political stances changed? It’s not what you think. It’s not the oft-claimed view of pro-life for me but pro-choice for thee.

I used to roll my eyes hard when Hillary - in 2008 - and others touted that they wanted abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. Not safe for the baby, I would mutter to myself. But now I find myself in agreement, and the death of Carrie Ann Lucas illustrates why.

Medical professionals rather than elected politicians should be the ones who offer guidance when a women is making her choice. Doctors are best equipped to make the best decisions for the person they are treating, particularly in emergency situations and especially in outlier cases. The problem is that typical cases are generally the ones used to encode insurance policy and abortion law. For patients, like Carrie Ann, doctors need to be able to treat the patient in front of them.

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When I think of rare instances in pregnancy when hard decisions must be made, I think of my friend Rebecca. She’s a sonographer at a high-risk OB clinic. She scanned her own body through three pregnancies. For two of those pregnancies, she discovered and diagnosed fatal conditions. Because she had access to equipment and knowledge in understanding the black and white images that make no sense to me, her babies - Cora and Layla - received diagnoses incompatible with life far earlier in her pregnancy than other babies would. She had options far earlier in her pregnancy than most mothers have.

And? She chose to carry both Cora and Layla as long as she could. They both were stillborn, one at 29.5 weeks and the other at 36 weeks. Some pro-life folks have tried to tell her story as a model of valuing life, but Rebecca isn’t having that. She wrote:

I chose life for two babies, knowing they would die. I do not believe that should be a choice women are forced into making.

Two of Rebecca’s three pregnancies ended with a small white casket holding a much loved baby girl. I’ve watched her navigate the grief and pain and depression of the aftermath. I hear pro-life folks talk about women grieving after having abortions, but choosing to carry a baby to term who you know will die is unimaginable for most of us.

Sometimes it’s not the baby whose life is in question, though.

When I was pregnant with Robbie, my health was a hot mess. I had raging and untreated PTSD from childhood trauma I tried to hide away in hopes that it would go away. I had been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder that was barely under control when I got pregnant. A week after receiving my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, I peed on a stick and watched two lines - a positive result - slowly show up. To manage my symptoms and avoid more bone erosion in my joints, I was on high doses of prednisone for the entire pregnancy.

That was fun.

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Then when I was about 30 weeks pregnant, the front of my shin began to swell, redden, and burn up. I have pictures of it somewhere, but you definitely wouldn’t want to see them. (I lived through it, and I hope I never find the images. It was that bad.) My kind and compassionate doctor explained to me, before opening, draining, and packing the infection with gauze, that it would hurt a lot because lidocaine often isn’t as effective when you’re expecting. I remember her saying something about the increased blood volume during pregnancy decreasing the efficacy, but all that is vague recollection. The sharply focused memories came immediately after, as one doctor, one physician’s assistant, and two nurses worked on my leg with sharp instruments.

When they took a swab of the wound to test which kind of bacteria was present, we all expected it to be a formality. We’d wait on the results. I would start a broad spectrum antibiotic safe for us during pregnancy.

I know that was a Friday. Early the next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday, I got a call with results. My doctor tried to sound reassuring as she told me the infection was a highly resistant strain of MRSA, but her voice cracked as she explained they didn’t have a plan yet. She had to confer with other specialists to determine if there was an antibiotic that would be safe for both me and Robbie, and she tried to keep her voice level as she explained that we had to prioritize my health.

She didn’t add “if we have to choose” to the end of that sentence, but the words hung unsaid between us nonetheless.

I had symptoms of the infection being in my bloodstream at that point. Given the positioning so close to my tibia, bone infection was a major risk too. As I started the new antibiotic, one that wasn’t ideal but they hoped would work, I was given strict instructions to come directly to the hospital if we saw any signs of sepsis. If I became septic, I could destabilize quickly, making delivery via vaginal birth or c-section medically dangerous for me but full treatment for the infection dangerous for Robbie.

I’d seen storylines like this on medical dramas, and they seemed much tidier there. I loved my baby. My pain levels were terrifyingly high. Jocie was turning two that weekend. Lee and I had been married only three and a half years. I was only 26. I hated the range of bad choices in front of me.

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Thankfully, that antibiotic - the one that wasn’t ideal - worked. I got better. Robbie was fine. I delivered a few months later.

I know the medical rules set by insurance bureaucrats and untrained politicians didn’t work for Carrie Ann. I know I would have been the exception to the rule in treatment if I had become septic. I know I have been the exception to the rules in so many other medical situations.

(After all, you don’t end up as a 36-year-old woman with a spinal fusion and spinal cord stimulator if you check all the boxes for being a paradigm of health.)

Roe v. Wade allows for abortions for the health of the mother. Some cases are clear. Others aren’t.

I’ve heard pro-life friends argue that the health exception is too broad. As someone who has fought hard for my health, I now take regular medications to maintain it. If I became pregnant again, then we would have to make some painful decisions. We would also have to research inpatient psych programs that are equipped for pregnant patients, because coming off some meds could destabilize my mental health.

I’ve lost enough friends to suicide or self-medicating addiction to know that mental illness can absolutely be terminal. No lawmaker should have the authority to require a woman with potentially fatal depression to continue her pregnancy if it isn’t safe for her. I know I’ll get comments calling me a baby killer (comments on abortion blogs are so fun, y’all) but any other stance results in dead mothers and dead babies.

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Death isn’t fun to talk about, but even in cases in which one adult kills another, it isn’t always murder. Sometimes it’s deemed an accident. Sometimes it’s found to be justifiable. Sometimes it’s considered self-defense.

How, then, can we not view abortion in that way as well? Some are acts of self defense, lived out by women who deserve compassion and empathy rather than judgment and condemnation.

Some of you disagree. That’s okay. We don’t have to agree, but we do share some common ground.

Your argument says as long as abortion is legal, babies will die. My argument says if legislation becomes what the pro-life movement seeks, women will die,

We aren’t that different, you and me.

This reminds me of the decision moment in Bird Box, when Sandra Bullock’s character is talking out loud about which child will look (and die). Our imperfect messy world doesn’t let us opt out of death. I’ve told God my thoughts about that, sometimes with prayers that would require an explicit label if recorded, but I haven’t found an option for life, only and always, on this side of heaven.

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Will all babies live if your laws pass? No. Abortion will still happen (as will miscarriages and other fatal circumstances). The women with the most resources available will still have access to all options in healthcare while women with the least medical access will continue to struggle disproportionately. Restrictive abortion laws often backfire. I know you don’t agree, but I am convinced by facts that your path leads to more abortions than mine.

Will all women live if laws go my way? No. Here’s the thing: Pregnancy can be and is both a natural process and a medical complexity rife with risk. Pregnancy literally kills women every day, here in the USA.

I’m not here to sway you. I’m merely weary of the same shoddy arguments being recycled and lobbed at each other. I think in all our fighting, we aren’t hearing one another any more. This post is simply my way to say, here’s what I think. Take all the time and space you need to consider it.

Your focus is on the risk to the baby. Mine is too. It’s also on the risk to the mother and the right for women and their doctors to make better decisions than legislators.

I believe this about more than abortion, though. Carrie Ann Lucas is dead. She didn’t have to be. But a healthcare system that limited her choices and rejected the originally prescribed antibiotic as unnecessary killed her.

This is why I can no longer support any legislation limiting access to healthcare. Hard rules kill.

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Please, try to understand that many of us who oppose so-called pro-life measures are as grieved by death as you are. We don’t all celebrate abortion, even if we support the legality of it. Plenty of us are striving for lower abortion rates.

We see different paths to that than most pro-life folks do, though. We tend to address the demand for abortion by policies focused on education, childcare, transportation, domestic violence, universal healthcare, access to birth control (including to teens along with comprehensive sex education), pay equality, and other supports. Many of us are celebrating the significant decline in abortion rates throughout Obama’s presidency with the trend continuing since then. Given the push for more restrictive abortion laws, it might surprise you to know that abortion rates are currently at the lowest recorded level ever in the US.

Increased use of birth control is the primary driver of the declines, which can largely be attributed to the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for birth control coverage and to Planned Parenthood which arguably prevents more abortions by providing birth control than it performs.

One last question must be explored when discussing Carrie Ann’s life and legacy: What about abortions performed because of disability? Both she and I adopted disabled children. But you might be surprised by what research shows with regard to abortion and disability.

It’s not okay with me that unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are nearly twice as likely to be aborted as those without such a diagnosis. From the most recent comprehensive research review on the topic, however, “evidence also suggests that termination rates have decreased in recent years, which may reflect progress in medical management for individuals with Down syndrome and advances in educational, social, and financial support for their families.” He elaborated in an interview with The Atlantic,

Families have significantly more educational, social, and financial support than they had in the past. For example, from a social standpoint, women of childbearing age are from perhaps the first generation who grew up in an era where individuals with Down syndrome were in their schools or daycare centers — perhaps not the mainstream integration that we see today, but still a level of exposure that was very different than in generations prior. They grew up watching kids with Down syndrome on Sesame Street.

In other words, it isn’t laws or court rulings that are decreasing abortion rates for children with prenatally diagnosed disabilities. It’s policies and programs available – from medical care to education to social supports and more – that affirm their lives after they are born. When we show that there are places in our country in which people with disabilities are welcome and loved, expectant parents feel more confident in choosing life instead of abortion when faced with a diagnosis for their unborn child.

We might not see eye to eye. That’s okay. But we aren’t enemies. We are both loved.

I’m not evil. You aren’t either. I don’t hate babies. You don’t hate women. Reductive reasoning and straw man arguments help no one, including women and babies.

Choosing life can look like a lot of different things.

I choose my life, because it matters.

I choose the lives of my children, because they matter.

I choose the lives of all children, because there is no such thing as other people’s children.

I choose your life too, whether you agree with me or not, because you matter.

I choose to support policies that reduce abortion rates rather than ones that try (unsuccessfully) to restrict them, because unborn children matter.

We aren’t that different, you and me. And we aren’t that different from Carrie Ann Lucas either, except we’re alive and - due to inflexible policies limiting the care her doctor wanted for her - she’s not.

I want to see abortion rates continue to drop, including for babies with prenatal but survivable disability diagnoses. That’s why I don’t agree with pro-life legislative attempts. You could say that I’m arguing for infanticide here, but that wouldn’t be accurate. It isn’t true, either, to say that Democrats voted for infanticide this past week.

But I’m sure it will be said plenty during the 2020 election cycle.

He who tried to rape you will try to ruin you

He who tried to rape you will try to ruin you.

History tells us this again and again.

But you know what else history says?

You are more than what he tried to make you. He tried take what wasn’t his to take. He tried to make you into an object. He, the subject, tried to conquer you, the object.

Maybe he did more than try.

But you were never meant to be an object.

You are a conqueror not a conquest. You are a survivor though you were once a victim. You are a force with whom to be reckoned, not the dirt to be dug up for someone else’s confirmation hearing.

You are an embodiment of hope.

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Hope. Sometimes I hate that word. Sometimes I love it. Hope and I, we have a fraught relationship.

But hope is what makes us different. Hope is why we get out of bed. Hope is why we stay in bed but don’t end it all there, because hope believes there will be another page to the story. Hope is what allows us to not crumble at the weight of the world, and hope is what meets us when we do and feel like nothing but mere crumbs.

Sometimes I hate hope.

I am more comfortable naming the pain, cursing the wicked, fighting the storm, living into whatever fierce meme some random PTSD profile has decided to post that day. Do you see this wreckage? I scream, the violence of my voice making my vocal chords hurt for days afterward. You say you’re starting to smell smoke, but we’ve been burning for ages. Now you start to shout fire, but for what?

There is nothing but ash here anymore.

I weep. I hate crying, but I weep anyway. I don’t know what to do when my activism of a life has been ignored so that by the time those in power feel tepid and then a bit toasty, dental records are all that are left to identify the lost souls.

But then there’s hope. Fucking hope. Hope shows up again, as a breathing tube reinvigorating me to speak, to fight, to care, to hope another day. That throat, sore from screaming, rubs raw as the life-sustaining tube goes in and comes out, breathes in and breathes out, bleeds in and bleeds out.

Our industrial revolutions have made homes tidy and healthcare machine-driven and help outsourced and hygiene widespread… but hope haunts those places. Hope is a comforter to those who need comforting, but she’s a damn ghost to those whose halls have too long hidden away rooms of torture. These are rooms where you can be a justice placing his hand on her mouth, a president boasting of other places his hands can go, a lawmaker whose hands can be tied and silence bought by the highest bidder, and a group of high school boys held unaccountable for decades. These rooms are places where hope is terrifying. Hope haunts those whose horcruxes are embedded in the status quo.

But you, dear one, you have nothing to fear from hope. Hope is a guide, a light, a sustenance, a bridge… for you. Hope is a golden middle finger to those for whom hope paints a future in which they, not we, are the ruined ones, but hope is the thing of miracles for us.

Hope brought us this far. May hope also show them the way out, because their time to ruin us is up.


my back is damaged, but

My back is damaged.

Sure, I’ve known that for a while, even before my first spine surgery when I was a 23-year-old newlywed. Back then, I was familiar with pain but absolutely terrified about being a wife, given the married model I grew up with was doused in alcohol and gussied up for appearance. I don’t know how to describe my parents. I just know it wasn’t real, what they projected to the world.

My back and my knees were never right. They were broken before they were whole, effed up before they were fully developed. The same could have been said of my soul, but somehow that survived intact.

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My therapist says survival of me was a mix of my tenacity and the grace of God. I’m still not sure about that. I think I just did the next thing, until the things I did were my choices rather than their consequences.

I’m still learning to deserve healing, to believe I’m made for more than bruises. I’m still learning that little girls shouldn’t have to earn love from the people meant to give it no matter what. And I’m still learning to recognize the sound of my own voice, the voice they once stifled with as much violence as they quieted the rest of me.

And still they speak.

My back is damaged, yet another body scan showed last week, described objectively by a clinician writing out the words of my brokenness with sterile and impartial terms. This scan was meant to take some pictures to help my neurosurgeon properly place the spinal cord stimulating electrodes during my most recent surgery yesterday. It did that.

But it also showed the broken places from the days their consequences reigned while my choices weren’t even a thing yet. Back then, I was the object of the story - the one to be hit, to be thrown, the one to be stripped, raped, sold, lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m the subject now. I do things. I write things. I make choices.

Like the choice to have surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, and yesterday one more surgery over a stretch of 18 months. This is my bodily trauma therapy, the taking apart and putting back together, the reconciling my then with my now, the learning I was never made for broken.

After this recent and hopefully last surgery, my back is damaged. But the neurostimulator we’ll turn on in a week will quiet the pain of it, changing my experience of that damage. It’ll be weird to have electricity coursing through my spine, but it should have been weird for bones and joints to be damaged before they were developed. That was just my normal.

I’ll take this new weird, a weird of my choosing to reject their consequences in me.

My back is damaged, but my voice is not.

#PTSDisrealWCPSS

UPDATE!!!!!!**

We worked hard on re-wording our complaints in a formal grievance process. The principal and other supportive staff finally understood the issue at hand, and then they got creative about how to meet it. Long story short: my kiddo is starting on Thursday with the new teacher and in the classroom that we parents and our child's psychologist was requesr. WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I will also be meeting with a school board member in a few weeks to discuss how we can improve access and accommodations for kids affected by trauma throughout our district schools, and we'll see what comes from that! I'm a stubborn Mama Bear for our children but I'm also a fierce advocate for all kids. This isn't a win until it's a win.

Hi. I'm Shannon. My husband Lee and I have six kids, some by birth and some by adoption and all fiercely loved. 

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Part of how we came to adopt is our belief that every child deserves an advocate. Ideally, that advocate comes from the family or community a child is born into. Given my own experiences with childhood abuse, we knew the ideal isn't always the real. 

We don't deserve any kudos for advocating for any of our children. They are all ours. They are all worthy. Growing inside me doesn't make two deserving and the other four charity. 

No, I am Mama Bear to each of our six. 

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Usually, I'm successful. I have an undergrad degree in communication and a graduate one in education (specifically special education, so I know the legal pathways we can take). We've had the gift of passionate, child-focused teachers and administrators.

Until now, unfortunately.

I do think it can be different. I have hope. I think the principal we're facing wants to do the right thing for our child. The issue at hand is both simple and complicated:

We have a child with PTSD.

This WCPSS principal isn't treating PTSD as if it's real. 

She treats our kids as if their smiles mean they're not affected by the past. This principal even ends each email with "smiles," followed by her name. But we need her to look beyond the smiles and believe PTSD is real.

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Our child's diagnosis is well documented. The story is not mine to share, though. I won't use our child's name or pronouns throughout this piece to protect their identity. Some adoptive parents tell their child's stories, including the deepest trauma and struggles, as if they're the center of the story. We aren't.

Hear. This. Clearly: We never were meant to be the star of our child's show.  

What can I share with you the trauma this child survived, though? Here's a story: This is a child who asked, "you no beat me?" whenever caught in trouble in the first two years in our family. Let me say that again: this is a child who asked "you no beat me?" to any adult. Again, this child didn't expect the answer to be "no, sweetheart, I won't beat you" each time because they had received the opposite in the past. 

Miraculously, this child knows safety now and trusts us. Beyond us, few are trusted. Our child has known that previous teachers weren't going to physically beat them, but that's as close to trust as they got. Because our child didn't feel safe in those previous classes, academic performance and overall motivation has always been challenging. 

Simply put, because of PTSD, this kiddo is below grade level in reading and math. 

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We were all looking forward to this school year. For the first time ever, our child could have a trusted teacher and an optimal environment for learning. As a child who has shut down in every other classroom, this year would be different. They only trust five adults, including me and my husband. One teacher is on that short list, teaching in the same grade our child should have entered with fellow classmates two weeks ago. We expected our child to flourish in that classroom.

We took all the possible steps. We submitted a parent input form on May 11, 2018, asking for this child to be in the trusted teacher's class. I emailed the principal on May 18 to make sure she got it, but because she routinely doesn't reply to emails, I didn't consider it concerning when I didn't hear back. 

Then our child was assigned to a different teacher with no explanation.

Unfortunately, now the principal insists that I never turned in a form on May 11, despite two parents being in the office as I did so who remember seeing me turn it in. One parent remembers because we chatted about how this was the first time in a long time that she wouldn't submit an input form for the next year because she wouldn't have any elementary school students in the coming year. The other parent was submitting her input forms at the same time I did. 

What happened to my form? I don't know. I won't speculate. I don't know if it was lost or misplaced or discarded, so I am not accusing this principal of anything. Meanwhile, this principal says I'm lying about turning in the form.

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We emailed and left phone messages through the two weeks leading up to school starting. The principal only responded once we involved her boss. By then, school was about to start. She offered to meet with us on the first day of school after school had already started; only one of us could attend that meeting because we couldn't put our child in the position of seeing friends enter classrooms while not having no place to go. I was sick, so I was the one who stayed home. I ended up meeting with the principal the next day.

Her second argument emerged in those meetings: "That class is now full. It wouldn't be fair to move a child from that teacher's class because school has already started."

Again, she chose to ignore us until we escalated our communication to her boss. This is a key point. Had she cared to respond before then, in May or even in early to mid-August, our child could have been moved easily. The barrier the principal stands by is one of her own making. She can make the change, but she doesn't. She can even request permission to add one more child to the desired teacher's classroom, as the average class size for each grade is the primary concern. I don't care how she solves the problem she created, but it's up to her to solve it.

But this is about more than a desired teacher. We aren't throwing some fit because we want or prefer something but could accept something else. At this one school, we have had 22 different teacher assignments (including one that was changed right before school started a few years ago). We have accepted 21 of those assignments with no fuss. This one is different.

Why? PTSD.

Our child's diagnosis is not being treated as if it's real. But PTSD is real, WCPSS.

#PTSDisrealWCPSS

Our child's psychologist is licensed and has her doctorate in psychology. She wrote a supporting letter for our request. I won't share all of it, but here are some pertinent details:

[Child] suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to severe trauma experienced during early childhood. [Child’s] current therapy goal is to develop basic trust through relationships with safe adults, which include [their] parents, therapist, and teacher.

In summary, the basic treatment goal is for our child to trust big people. That's why this teacher assignment isn't a mere preference. It's a need, based in a real diagnosis that impacts every facet of life, especially learning.

The letter from the psychologist continues,

In the school setting it is critical that [child] feels psychologically and emotionally safe in order for maximum learning to occur. In other words, when [child] does not feel safe, [child] shuts down and is unable to learn effectively. In school, children without PTSD due to early childhood trauma are able to establish trust bonds quickly with safe teachers and thus focus on the task of learning. [Child] is not that child. Trust takes a very long time for [child] to develop...


... [Through circumstances given in the letter], this child subsequently developed a relationship with [trusted teacher] over [period of time], Since a significant trust bond has already been established, my strong recommendation is that [child] be placed in [trusted teacher’s] class. Instead of wasting time developing trust with a new teacher, [child] can move fully into academic learning with [trusted teacher] , which is paramount. Mrs. Dingle included her parental opinion and my professional opinion on the teacher input form she submitted May 11th to the school. This request was also denied.

Note that May 11 bit? That form, that I completed with psychologist input, is the one our principal says I never submitted. We did. Accusing us of lying, this principal is bold enough to insist confidently that that I didn't submit the form.

(In her last email to us, she claims I didn't turn in the form on time, so I wonder if they found my form after all and have changed their story to say it was submitted late when it was not.)

Placing [child] in another teacher’s class, even an excellent teacher’s class, is likely to be experienced as a personal rejection which will further impair [child’s] fragile self-esteem.

If you don't understand why this principal won't provide a suitable learning environment, you're not alone. It doesn't make sense. It isn't logical.  

This principal action's and WCPSS's support of her shows us that they don't consider PTSD to be a real and serious condition. Science says they're wrong. Psychology says they're wrong. Historical reports and research says they're wrong. 

In fact, I asked our photographer not to edit out the tombstone in the background of our first family picture. Some things that have died from our pasts live on because trauma's tentacles hang on to us tightly. Trauma - mine. theirs. ours. - is like a ninth member of our family. We have hope, yes, but we also carry trauma. The trick is simply to work toward the hope being greater than the trauma. 

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We have documented everything painstakingly.

But, in our state, the principal has final say on teacher assignments. So, here we are. WCPSS won't help. Everyone else in the district, other than this principal, has conceded that this is not ideal but repeated the party line that the principal is the only one who can change student placements with teachers. 

WCPSS, PTSD is real.

On today of all days - World Suicide Prevention Day - it would make good sense to recognize mental health diagnoses as necessary in educating the child. After all, adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadoptees. Why? It's a toxic combination of trauma, grief, and more. That toxic combo includes schools saying no to reasonable accommodations because they don't think PTSD is real. 

I don't want to be writing this. I don't want to be fighting this fight. I don't want to be calling out the principal and school system. 

But I'm a Mama Bear. I fiercely love and advocate for each of my children. For my children and for all the families lacking the privileges I have to persevere through this, including the privilege of time to keep our child out of school (and, if necessary, homeschool). But every family isn't able to do that. WCPSS needs to treat PTSD seriously for the sake of all students and ensure schools are trauma-informed.

#PTSDisrealWCPSS.

It really is.

The rules of misogyny won't fix sexual abuse in the church.

I survived sex trafficking. The church didn’t help. I still grieve over that.

Recent stories about abuse and misogyny in the church have me thinking about those days when a man sold what wasn’t his to sell and his customers took what wasn’t theirs to take. The product was my body.  I don’t write about this often (or ever before now, other than Twitter), but it’s time.

Let's sit, face to face, eye to eye, and talk.

photo by Amy Paulson Photography

photo by Amy Paulson Photography

Or let's do the closest thing to that possible via a blog post.

With a flood of recent stories covering the allegations against [insert latest pastor/church], I’m hearing a broken record from many conservative Christian leaders (almost all men, from denominations that bar women from being pastors). If only he had followed the Billy Graham Rule, also called the Pence Rule for the vice president’s adherence to it, then nothing would have happened.

This rule was set as a personal one for Graham, who traveled often in his crusade work. Many male leaders have adopted it as a prescriptive law for the church. If you are blessedly unaware of this rule, then I’m a bit jealous. Here’s the gist: a man is never alone with a woman who isn’t his wife. Period.

When I was trafficked, my body wasn’t treated with respect. (Obviously.) It wasn’t even treated like it was mine. No, men owned it, took it, exploited it, and dehumanized themselves in how they used any part of me they could touch.

Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Rule, especially when dictated as a best practice, tells men that it’s okay to assume any woman might be a seductress or false accuser and/or it’s a given that men sometimes lack control of their own sexual desires but, at the same time, possess the self-control to follow this rule strictly. They don’t have to be their own keepers. If they own, take, or exploit a woman in a one-on-one setting (which is statistically far more likely than the seductress or liar trope that blames the woman), then it’s because they didn’t follow the Rule.

We’re preaching lies when we teach the Rule, whether it be from the pulpit or in a tweet or by a Hogwarts owl. When women are victimized, not adhering to the Billy Graham Rule isn’t the problem. Not adhering to the Golden Rule is.

We don’t end sex trafficking with the Graham/Pence Rule. It’s not designed for that, clearly. So why in the world would we expect to end any other kind of sexual predation that way, as some have suggested it could have in the case of crimes or harassment of women by pastors? In the Southern Baptist church where I spent my first decade of adulthood, daytime women’s Bible study leaders were required to wear skirts, no pants. That was rooted in Southern definitions of gender roles rather than anything in scripture, much like the Rule.

Men, if you want to honor the women in your life, practice dominion over year own body. Period. You don’t own anyone else’s. No other body than your own was designed for your control.

I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were sex traffickers and rapists. They trafficked and raped me. I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were colleagues, friends, or acquaintances. They did no sexual harm to me. The difference isn’t the environment. It’s the type of man.

You can keep your rules, the ones that strip men of responsibility and women of humanity, but #churchtoo will persist. The path to flourishing isn’t in these arbitrary and extrabiblical laws but rather in the practice of love, giving and receiving it.


This summer, the scandal of Patterson’s recording and recent statements reminded me of another recording. (Don't know what I'm talking about here? Check out my piece in SKEW a couple months ago for the backstory.) Before Omarosa wrote that he did this in the White House, the then-candidate Trump said, on 2005 tapes from Access Hollywood and released less than a month prior to the election,

You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Christians of all genders shouted together, “This is not okay.” But then 81% of white evangelical voters decided that the value of unborn babies mattered more than the lives of women and, given his previous comments, the lives of immigrants, black people, and those living with disabilities, to offer a few. (Nevermind that providing greater supports for women lowers the abortion rate more than any restrictions have.)

I’ve seen women speaking out against entertainment icons and being heard. I’ve seen others speaking out against political figures and sometimes being heard. But then I see who is in the White House, review the list of credible accusations against him, recall his own words about grabbing women’s genitals, and remember that my white evangelicals still support him in droves. The most recent poll shows approval ratings of Trump by white evangelicals to have held strong at 75%. This is why I’m not sure the church is ready for the reckoning we need. I pray I’m wrong, but it’s hard not to be concerned by continued support for an openly misogynistic politician.

The Patterson statements, the Access Hollywood recording, and the Graham/Pence Rule are all related, as are the ridiculous comments trying to link pedophilia and being gay in the wake of Catholic church cover-ups. The voices, input, and establishment of each were created in a bubble where only white, straight, cisgender, American-born men had input. I’m married to a white, straight, cisgender, American-born man, so I’m not hating on anyone who fits those categories. I’m simply acknowledging that women are often harmed when the only voices factoring in to a stance are from men who seem more dismayed about assaults against boys in another church than assaults against women in their own.

This isn't a new story. Women of color are harmed when those at the decision table are all white feminists. Same song, different verse.

Only a few years ago, I was a card-carrying member of the white evangelical club. We didn’t actually have cards, of course, but I have a speaker name tag for an event cosponsored by Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, so I figure that’s close enough. I’m speaking as an outsider of that subculture now, but I was an insider and remain dear friends with some who still are.

The day before the 2016 election, I sat across from my therapist and said, “this is it, and I really think Trump might win.” She didn’t think so, but she didn’t know white evangelical culture from the inside like I do. There’s so much beauty there, so much worth fighting for, so many rich souls who I am better for knowing. But just like the most delicious pancakes can be ruined if covered in poisoned syrup, the best theological intentions are dangerous when soaked in only one perspective, especially a toxic one. I knew that dog shit was mixed in with the batter, and I didn’t want to eat those brownies.

I didn’t make up that gross analogy but borrowed it from purity culture, which is simply rape culture wearing its Sunday best. Yes, the original metaphor is that sex before marriage was the manure ruining all the ingredients in the person. Yes, I heard this taught in church. And, yes, the poo isn’t the only reason I call the analogy gross.

I knew that a culture so entrenched in protecting white supremacy and patriarchy wouldn’t reject it on the ballot. That’s what those 81% of votes were, not cast contrary to church teachings but entirely in line with them. Trump was never the disease of the white church. We’ve always known who he was. He’s simply a symptom of a larger cancer, one that infected some of us and woke up the theological immune systems of others. Fellow white Christians, none of the racism and ableism and xenophobia and misogyny, with a side of homophobia and transphobia from one accompanying Trump on the ticket, is new.

Yet with article after article by white people who experienced an awakening about all the -isms during the campaign or after the election, we are Columbusing racism: “Look,” we shouted, “we just discovered this new thing,” while everyone not white are like, “hi, we’ve known this all along. If you’re serious, let’s talk and act.” So far, I see the editorials about white awakening coming steadily, each author covering the same old song, but not the actual dialogue or needed action.

Religious groups were instrumental both in the hope of Christ’s rising and the horror of his death. Why are we surprised when they’re instrumental in both hope for and subjugation of women or any other marginalized group? If you regard women in the church as sisters in Christ, like you claim, then it’s time to be a brother who cares when we’re bruised.  


Let’s stop overlooking the bull(dog)shit and instead break bread – or brownies – together, all of us who love our just and loving God. For those who can’t partake in that community, like domestic violence offenders, let’s go restore them lovingly to justice, which should include law enforcement officers because their assaults aren’t character flaws but actual crimes.

Finally, for the men who don’t think any man should come to the table one on one with a woman, because that might seem too improper to others or too tempting for him, let’s focus on the breaker of the bread on the Thursday before the next day’s crucifixion. Jesus met one-on-one with the Samaritan woman at the well, not only female but also known to have multiple sexual partners, without following the rule that would later be set by Graham and affirmed by Pence. He also was left alone with the woman caught in adultery, once again a setting in which the rule’s excuse of avoiding the appearance of impropriety wouldn’t hold up.

How do we change? I don’t know, but trusting women like Jesus did is the place to start. I spent a week last fall on the #RubyWooPilgrimage, riding a bus and revisiting history with 35 other Christian women leaders, speakers, and writers, many women of color. The wisdom of our small group was astounding. Men have led our country and our churches long enough and made many of those spaces sexually unsafe for the rest of us. Maybe it’s time listen well to women.

Maybe it’s time to remember that both the stories of Christmas and Easter hold women as key players worthy of great honor. Mary carried Christ. God first revealed his rising from the dead to women via an angel at the tomb, sending them out with the good news while his male followers were hiding. The risen Jesus appeared first to a woman, the same Mary Magdalene cast by male scholars as a whore with no biblical justification.  

In the kingdom of God, there is no hierarchy of those created with more or less of the image of God in them. No, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). 

What would our churches (and our politics) look like if we all - especially those who have historically held more power than the rest of us - actually treated one another as fellow image bearers with dignity and worth bestowed by God?