Raising Isaiah

Cross posted at My Ecdysis

I think you should simply spare the little mongrel parasite from the burden of her life so that you can more fully experience the pleasure of a lifestyle unfettered by the Christo-fascist “reproduction memes” that are genetically engraved in the our DNA by the authoritarian patriarchy.  Think about the lifetime “carbon footprint” of your potential child… can you live with yourself knowing the destruction you’re unleashing on your own home?

One of the most beautiful, and quickly disappearing, forms of writing is letter-writing.  I’ve always adored writing letters, little notes, maximizing the potential of the back of a receipt, leftover notebook paper, the last unloved post-it note in the pile with the least amount of sticky left.

The shining gem of personal letter writing comes from the built-in audience.  You write to or for one reader, but sometimes the revelation can be shared with many.  I discovered this from Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a trouble-maker in Durham who once asked me to be a part of a writing collective, to submit a piece of writing about what it meant to be a woman of color, about what it meant to survive.  It was entitled, “Without You Who Understand: Letters from Radical Women of Color,” and published in issue 5 of make/shift magazine.

It taught me about the power of letters.

Everyone else wrote magnificent essays, essays that came with their own brass bands.  My writing doesn’t have a brass band.  My writing is more like a solo violinist or pianist. I shared a letter that I had written to a friend one winter evening when I couldn’t sleep.

Letter writing helps me focus on one person and simultaneously, somehow, channel my own deepest longings and contemplatives.

Which is why I chose to respond with a letter to “Margaret Sanger,” who left the above italicized comment for me in my first post at Feministe.

Dear Margaret Sanger,

It is with a complicated heart that I try to answer your questions and respond to your comment.  You certainly have a superior grasp of language, I admire, and have little doubt that someone with such a mastery of words makes any mistake in your comment. Each word sounds deliberate. And as a writer who loves linguistics, I studied and thought about your words a long time before I gave my answer.

Your advice to me about ridding myself of the “mongrel” inside me so I can enjoy a better life gave me an opportunity to ask myself, and others, “Why do we decide to have children anyway?”

I’m sure the answered are as varied as there are children, but the most common answers I’ve heard always point to some mysterious Knowing, some sort of underlying and assumed desire that many of us will procreate.  Or, that having children is simply “what we do” or should do or end up doing as we age.

Why birth?  Why adopt?  Why be a surrogate?  Why help bring more life amidst so much wrong and untailored mess?

Well, Margaret, I can only answer for myself and I know you’ll be unsatisfied with my reply because it seems that we that you and I probably have very different perceptions of what it means to be alive.  Exchanging thoughts about global warming, population  and birth control may be a healthy discussion, but that is not the arena in which I understood your question.  I heard it on a more personal level asking the age old question, “Why are you having kids when you know how terrible things are?”

What does it mean for me to enjoy “the pleasure of a lifestyle unfettered by the Christo-fascist ‘reproduction memes’ that are genetically engraved in the our DNA by the authoritarian patriarchy?”  One, it means that I find my own piece and peace of the world that is, quite clearly, full of kyriarchal domination and destruction.  In many ways, my ability to enjoy life is already limited because of this kyriarchy.  Is it possible to fully, truly enjoy every part of life knowing so much suffering exists in the world?  Is it possible to be drenched in pleasure when the majority of the world is going without, while I, somewhat easily go forth?

It took me many years of maturing to find the balance in being a real, sensing, authentic writer and feminist.  I believe it is not our natural state to be overwhelmed by the wrong, which I was for a long time.  I grew into a writer that not only wanted to survive but also wanted, as Gloria Anzaldua said, “to record what is happening in my lifetime, to note the progress, to annotate the struggles.”

To survive this endless tidal wave, to be around for the next few decades, to live through this hell we are witnessing, it is imperative, in the most urgent sense, to find ourselves, our naked feminisms that stand counterpoint to the kyriarachy.  If the utter victory of kyriarchy is to beat, rape, silence, and make miserable the lives of women, I am surrendering a sacred part of my life if I believe that this world is capable of nothing more than oppression.  If I believe that the only contribution of a life brought out of my very womb would be nothing more than a carbon footprint, then, for me, hope is gone and kyriarchy has won.

Raising Isaiah to be a teacher, or a dancer, or a shoemaker, or a poet will depend on what I carry forward, what I harbor in my own vessels.  If I believe that he’s a parasite, he’ll be a parasite.  If I believe he will unleash destruction on the world, in my home, then he’ll be a destructive force.

But what if my partner and I believe he can bring More to the world?  What if, along with his inevitable use of resources and adding one more set of footprints to walk the earth, he grows into a person capable of goodness that you or I cannot even comprehend?  What if he brings a seemingly unreachable understanding of life to me, my partner, to others while he lives?  What if my partner and I don’t believe that ceasing to produce life automatically equates a better living?

With a little bit of courage and whole lot of radical love, this experience is guided by my questions and deathless curiosity of what is possible and believing that my enjoyment of life is not the point of life, at least, not for me.  It is with fearful hope, not certainty, that I choose this.

Be well,
Lisa


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27 comments for “Raising Isaiah

  1. anon
    August 20, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Thank you for writing this letter/post. For reasons I’d rather not explain, it was just what I needed to read today, and gave me a little bit of a lift out of a very dark place.

    Thank you.

  2. Emily
    August 20, 2009 at 11:09 am

    “believing that my enjoyment of life is not the point of life”

    I like this a lot. I have an almost 3 week old baby and, prior to having her, I don’t think I had any expectations about what it would be like. I just knew I was going to have a baby and, omg what next? Now, I can relate to what you’re saying and would add that, for me, the result of having a child is that I, for the first time in my life, love another person more than myself.

    Having a child has brought stress, and fear, and inconceivable joy and love to my life. Children who are loved and valued and taught well bring that joy and love to so many, and they can turn into adults who bring the same into others’ lives. This, for me, is the point of bringing life into the world–to bring joy and love along with that life.

    I also liked this:

    “If I believe that the only contribution of a life brought out of my very womb would be nothing more than a carbon footprint, then, for me, hope is gone and kyriarchy has won.”

  3. Shrug
    August 20, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    And what if, regardless of all your best intentions, he becomes a monster? A rapist? A violent, murderous man? A tyrant? Hitler had a mother, too, you know.

    I’ve never quite understood the insistence of pregnant women/women with children on believing that the world needs their offspring, and that everything will be better because of their ALL IMPORTANT OFFSPRING!

    Millions upon millions of people eject mewling human offal into the world, each and every day. Each one believing that the world will be a better place for it, that things will be better, that theirs will be different.

    And each day, the world is the same, except ever-more burdened by an excess deluge of children that it didn’t need, want, or ask for.

    I would think even daring to have one is the ultimate violation of that person’s rights.

    You’re bringing them into a dying world, and by that action, speeding it towards it’s death a little faster. You’re adding one more tumor to the cancer.

    You aren’t having a child because you want to give that child a chance at a whole, good life.

    You’re ultimately having a child for you. Every woman that reproduces does this. You want one, therefore you have one. The justifications come later.

    It’s your own decision to make, and that’s all well and good. I just can’t respect breeders.

  4. Medea
    August 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    That’s a very reasonable response to an amazingly unreasonable comment–genetically engraved by patriarchy? What on earth? It reminded me of Steve Colbert’s characterization of Sarah Palin’s speeches: magnetic poetry.

    Anyway, I loved this:

    To survive this endless tidal wave, to be around for the next few decades, to live through this hell we are witnessing, it is imperative, in the most urgent sense, to find ourselves, our naked feminisms that stand counterpoint to the kyriarachy. If the utter victory of kyriarchy is to beat, rape, silence, and make miserable the lives of women, I am surrendering a sacred part of my life if I believe that this world is capable of nothing more than oppression. If I believe that the only contribution of a life brought out of my very womb would be nothing more than a carbon footprint, then, for me, hope is gone and kyriarchy has won.

  5. Dale
    August 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Lisa, this is a terrific, insightful essay. I also appreciate your explanation of kyriarchy, which you made earlier at your website. I’ve occasionally seen the word “kyriarchy” used – I think now I have a better understanding of it.

  6. Lucy Gillam
    August 20, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you for this.

    • August 20, 2009 at 5:21 pm

      I really, truly hate to sully such a beautiful post with this type of comment, but sadly the comment section was sullied by one shockingly ignorant commenter long before I got here, and this is the second time it has happened. So:

      THIS IS A FEMINIST BLOG. Blatantly and nastily attacking another woman’s reproductive choices, and specifically attacking them as immoral, is anti-choice. It is misogynistic. It is anti-feminist. It is, frankly, disgusting. And as per our comment policy it is not allowed here.

      Violators of this very basic rule are put on permanent moderation. If I’m in a particularly bad mood, which I now am, I also just might go straight for the ban. On second thought, I probably should.

      Lisa, my sincerest apologies that a few people have decided to treat you, our guest, in this abhorrent manner. And to the vast majority of commenters who are respectful and behaving themselves like decent people, I’m also sorry that I had to write this here.

  7. August 20, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Isaiah is a beautiful name, congratulations! If I remember Catholic school lessons correctly, the there were a number of prophets named Isaiah who built on one another’s words and teachings, so your post about radical love and its beautiful possibilities is even more meaningful. And though I’m not sure whether I’ll ever have offspring myself, I share in the optimism of every woman who walks this path.

  8. evil_fizz
    August 20, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    I find it deeply unsettling that there’s some subset of people who like to dive right into discussions about childbearing with quasi-erudite displays of total lack of humanity. This is a lovely rejoinder, Lisa. (You’re much more gracious than I would have been.)

    This is largely tangential, but there’s also something deeply racist about the carbon footprint argument, as it’s usually accompanied by the “if you want children, you can adopt them” and “well, we can’t stop people in the third world from procreating” schticks. (The former sentiment assumes the latter most of the time.)

  9. Shrug
    August 20, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Cara, I assume you’re referring to me?

    If so, I ask you to justify your statements.

    If not, carry on. But if you are, please, do, justify them.

  10. Lucy Gillam
    August 20, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Cara, I know you hated making that comment, but I want to thank you for it. I have been driven from more than one feminist blog’s comment section in tears of rage by the smug assertions that my reproductive choices, my choice to have even one child, was a valid topic for discussion. I absolutely respect any woman’s choice not to have children. But to have my choice questioned, challenged, and outright belittled on the very spaces I thought might be a resource for the challenges I’d faced was a very rude awakening.

  11. August 20, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Lisa, I am in awe at your serenity and ability to rise above. You are a good role model for me. After I read that comment at your blog, I was reduced to sputtering curses and obscenities. Your post actually answered that (hostile! ignorant!) question, and with grace.

    It’s a shame a representative from the anti-woman crowd had to show up in the comments.

  12. August 20, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Shrug:

    1. Yes, of course I was.
    2. No, I will not. There is nothing to justify. It’s all there already, and I’m not going to walk you through 101.
    3. Seemingly, your comment did not automatically go to moderation. It’s possible that someone else approved it, but just in case, I’ve taken steps to make sure that you do in fact go to mod in the future.
    4. I know you have an interest in derailing the thread, as your original comment makes perfectly clear. I will not, however, allow that to happen further, and so the conversation is officially closed.

  13. August 20, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Thank you for the moderation, Cara. I would not have been as kind.

    Lisa, thank you for the wonderful letter. I love children — I absolutely love children — and I’m always genuinely surprised at the amount of love and kindness they are capable of. More often, I am excited with the delight children take in surprising their adult companions with their intelligence, wit, and thoughtfulness. You can see this in their faces before they even learn how to speak, and it’s a testament to the hope I have in a world that is not a dying or devoid place. I am of the belief that children can be raised in a way that will make the world a more mindful and gentle place as they grow older, and that’s how I try to raise my own boy.

    Congratulations on your pregnancy, Lisa. I’ve been following your letters to your child for months now and I’m thrilled to be able to make the journey with you.

  14. Older
    August 20, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    I’m posting a comment on behalf of my husband, who is stuck where he can’t comment (but can read your post). I should say that I agree with him entirely. Your response is a superbly gracious reply to a malicious and bad-tempered rant.

    Here is the text message he sent me:

    “Just read a post at Feministe, where someone thought that Lisa’s pregnancy was a good occasion to heap scorn and abuse on her, apparently believing that there is something hypocritical about a prochoice feminist choosing to get pregnant. Did you see her reply? It is exactly the sort of answering evil with good that I always aspire to when someone drops a turd in my lap. Also one of the most moving articulations of every parent’s hopes for their child, and the kind of good moments that always do come with being a parent — the feeling that each baby might do or be anything, and the surprises and insights that come from your child, and from you as you try to teach your child. Damn, but I wish I could post a comment there :-)”

    Here it is, sweetie.

  15. August 21, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Beautiful, beautiful writing. :)

  16. lex
    August 21, 2009 at 5:14 am

    Oh Lisa,
    Nothing makes me more hopeful and happy about life than the fact that you are becoming a mother. This piece is beautiful and amazing. I never stop being surprised at how afraid some people are about brilliant amazing world-changing people of color embracing sustaining and lifting up another generation. And they should be afraid, because what you are doing does change the world forever and the approach you are taking does change the meaning of life. And in that way it is not so reproductive at all…it interrupts the reproduction of what life has been forced to mean through domination and gives us all the gift of something necessary else!

    So much love and pride and joy that I am tingling!
    always,
    lex

  17. Azalea
    August 21, 2009 at 5:22 am

    Anyone who can’t respect people who reproduce ONLY because they dared to reproduce are people who have issues with their own parents for *gasp* reproducing and creating them.

    I don’t know how I would react to anyone calling an unborn child of mine a mongrel, who creates mongrels anyway? It would be no different than someone saying you’re pregnant with puppies- you know exactly what they are calling you in their own clever little way. It’s a personal insult to -you- and totally uncalled for.

    The wonderful thing about choice is that you can decide what you will do but it is not and never should be your right to tell others what to do or shame them for their own choices solely because they do not reflect your own. The “Margaret Sanger” is just that, someone who is very angry throwing that anger at you.

    I think you handled the letter and your response very well!

  18. Gordon
    August 21, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Uh, perhaps I am too naive for words, but it would not have occurred to me for one minute to take “Margaret Sanger’s” comment seriously. I think it is clearly a fraud put up by some right-wing hatemonger setting up a strawman “feminazi”.

    I mean, it isn’t even linguistically meaningful. Memes are not “genetically engraved in our DNA” by christofascists or anyone else. That statement is a complete, and I think deliberate, misuse of the term.

    Does any reader of Feministe actually have so little regard for women’s reproductive choice that he/she thinks all decisions to bring a pregnancy to term are the result of manipulation by the partiarchy? I certainly hope not.

    The carbon footprint argument reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw once that said, “Save the planet…kill yourself” on the vehicle of someone seeking to portray all environmentalists as wild-eyed fanatics.

    I’m sorry, but I really think someone is putting us all on here. My best wishes for your pregnancy, Lisa.

  19. debbie
    August 21, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Gordon,

    This is a sentiment that I’ve seen come up frequently on feminist blogs, and other online feminist forums. It’s real. That particular commenter, who knows, but there are lots of people who call themselves feminists who say vile things about people who decide to have children (and often vile things about children in general).

  20. franmich
    August 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Lisa,

    The beauty of your writing is manifest, as well as the power it employs and projects. The power of your sentiments of hope to dispatch the despair-ridden, the power and spirit of love to overpower the hateful and intolerant, the awsome power of courage it takes to create and nurture a fellow, younger human being, as a living antidote to the obsessive fears of the perennially afraid.

    I admit, the less Christian (more Christo-fascist?) side of me would have enjoyed observing you shred Mr/Ms Shrug’s message of despair the way you did Mr/Ms “Sanger”‘s.

    Hopefully you have other venues in which you can utilize the power and grace of your pen to instruct those poor abused souls, ones who aren’t tyrannically and gracelessly booted out simply because their cries for help are deemed too unpleasant for some to hear.

    Best of wishes to your family

  21. Lisa
    August 21, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you, everyone, for such kind words! And Cara, it was not necessary to apologize, but thank you. I always try to remember that no matter the message, no matter the content, no matter what – there will always be folks who prefer to watch the world burn.

  22. Jill
    August 22, 2009 at 6:22 am

    I have to say that I agree with Gordon there. That was clearly a troll comment. Putting the words carbon footprint in quotes was a dead giveaway that whoever wrote it doesn’t really believe that carbon footprints are important. The redundancy of the phrase authoritarian patriarchy is also a hint. And genetic engraving is also too ridiculous for words, and again the whole concept smacks of a rightwinger parodying what they think someone like Margaret Sanger believes. The fact that they called themselves Margaret Sanger is also a clear giveaway, as she’s a notorious hate figure for the anti-choice right.

    I think you definitely got trolled there, sorry. I’m well aware that there are people who are legitimately against having children at all, but that comment clearly was not left by one of those.

  23. Jill
    August 25, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Since my last comment was not ad hominem or offensive in any way, I can only assume it was lost in the server as I cannot believe a supposedly liberal blog would censor comments based solely on the fact that they may have made the OP believe they were mistaken.

    In any case, to repeat the point: this is clearly a troll comment. The quotation marks around “carbon footprint” make it clear the author doesn’t believe in global warming. The concept of “Genetic imprinting by the authoritarian patriarchy” is, as has been noted, ridiculous on its face, and authoritarian patriarchy is another tautology that makes it clear the author doesn’t really believe in the concept of patriarchy. Margaret Sanger is a bugbear for the right and I can think of no reason it would be chosen as a handle other than that it is a right winger making a very obvious parody of what they believe “feminazis” believe.

  24. Babs
    August 25, 2009 at 6:23 am

    Congratulations on a healthy pregnancy, and best wishes with Isaiah. It sounds like if anyone is fit to be a loving, attentive, and capable parent, you are.

    That being said…

    Cara: So apparently there is only one side to the story? What’s the point of posting on a blog if there can’t be discussion, and commenters can only offer Kudos and praise and affirmation? It is adorably naive for all parents to think that their particular little angel will be special and change the world. It is clear that all other things being equal, choosing to bear and raise children is an incredible act of narcissism wrapped up in selflessness. It can be all the good and squishy things you want it to mean for yourself, but here in this world that you share with everyone else, it can mean not so good things too. And the world really is going into heck in a handbasket, and I don’t think that it means some of us want to “stand around and watch things burn” as Lisa at 12:18, 8/21 says, it just means some of us see the suffering that is happening RIGHT NOW, and we would rather spend time nurturing and alleviating the suffering of those who are alive, and not create someone for whom things will be VERY MUCH worse if we keep going on the path we’re going.

    I think these concerns are very much feminist concerns, and I don’t think that all things that happen with female reproductive processes are feminist by default, trumping all other concerns, and worthy of special, conflict-free attention on a feminist blog.

  25. August 25, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    You’re bringing them into a dying world, and by that action, speeding it towards it’s death a little faster. You’re adding one more tumor to the cancer.

    and

    choosing to bear and raise children is an incredible act of narcissism

    I can think of a few other things that are “narcissistic” or “speeding the planet towards it’s death a little faster”:

    Choosing to eat more than 1200 calories a day.

    Choosing to drink anything other than room temperature water.

    Choosing to live in more than 200 square feet of space.

    Choosing to have more than two shirts, two pairs of pants (or skirts), and one pair of shoes.

    Choosing to use electricity.

    Choosing to heat your home with anything other than fallen deadwood.

    Choosing to use anything other than footpower (human or animal) for transportation.

    Choosing a profession other than subsistence hunting/gathering or subsistence farming.

    Choosing to consult a medical professional when sick.

    Choosing to have more than one pot and one pan to cook in.

    Choosing to have more eating utensils than there are people in one’s household.

    Choosing to own more than what one can carry on one’s back (or in a small cart).

    Hmm…but let’s see….all of those things are gender neutral, so they don’t count, right? Oh…I’m sure someone will pop up and say, “But, but….I’m against men having children, too!” REally. I guess that explains all the lectures I see on progressive blogs every time a man mentions his children, about how the planet is going to hell in a handbasket because he had to be so selfish and procreate.

    worthy of special, conflict-free attention on a feminist blog.

    Part of why I enjoy this feminist blog, is because of its willingness to root for the underdog. And mothers, in case you haven’t noticed, are the underdog. We already have bullshit sexism to deal with in our workaday lives, with a heaping helping of more bullshit added to mothers (and not fathers) in particular, that it really helps to have a feminist blog that doesn’t dish out the same old, same old sexist messages about mothers and parenting practices that are standard on both mainstream and so-called progressive venues.

  26. Lisa
    August 26, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Hi Babs,
    Thanks for the kind words and I don’t believe Cara, or any Feministe writer or editor, wants only praise and attention for posts. I think they’ve proven that time and time again (sorry, no specific link) with allowing all kinds of exploratory opinions and thoughts.

    My hunch is that things can get hairy for moderation when when an opinion, disguised as challenge, degrades or disrespects another.

    On my personal blog, I got an anonymous comment that basically wondered why I responded to a “troll” and, truthfully, I wasn’t offended by “Margaret Sanger.” I guess I’m a ridiculous and somewhat nerdy, introverted opportunist who will take any chance to think more deeply about a choice I made that, clearly, some others would not. Why shouldn’t I take any comment seriously if it may potentially lead to a more truthful, penetrating realization?

    And, regarding my “watch the world burn” comment…I should clarify: we all see suffering in our lives and world. I don’t know how one wouldn’t see or experience it on some level except through intentional denial and self-inflicted blindness. But I just do not believe that attacking or simply not respecting another person because of their choice to have a child is anything but negative fire.

    We all see suffering, we all are in the fire, but some of us do not choose to spread it or stoke the flames to make our point.

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