Then it was my turn. “Hi, my name is Ada,” I said, “I’m a little tired…sorry, I don’t know what else to say.” I felt my cheeks flush. It sounded dumb, but I really didn’t know what to say. I felt like there was some secret knowledge I was not aware of, that if only I knew it I’d share the sentiments of these women, and understand how to respond to the news.
Baba smiled at me, as if to say it’s okay, and began to speak. She addressed the abortion ban, the need to organize, the importance of coming together and discussing all this. She asked us to think about the ways this new law made us feel; how it affected us, and the women we knew.
“I am furious! Just blood-boiling furious!” One woman said, her face turning light red, “I cannot believe they can disrespect us like that, I mean really, just worse than dirt.” She shook her head.
“They just want baby machines for the state,” someone else chipped in.
“I have a sixteen-year-old daughter, she has her first boyfriend. With contraception being so difficult to get, all the appointments and prescriptions, how can I help her? What am I supposed to do? I don’t even know–”
I listened but still didn’t understand why abortion should affect me. I didn’t want kids; I wanted to paint. Those two weren’t mutually exclusive, but I knew I didn’t want kids. Never did. Babies disgusted me, the whole process of birth felt unnecessarily violent. I wasn’t sure about the required male involvement in the process, either. I didn’t just want to paint, I wanted the whole thing: the galleries, the art shows, the interviews. Famous. Maybe, I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be something dangerous and bright, something you can’t ignore: a thunderstorm.
When it was my turn to speak, I said: “I guess, I still don’t know how the abortion ban affects me. I don’t want kids, I know I’m just seventeen, but I know I don’t. So if I never get pregnant, I never need to get an abortion. Right?”
Maybe, I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be something dangerous and bright, something you can’t ignore: a thunderstorm.
No one answered. Ewa looked at Baba, who smiled sympathetically.
Baba turned towards me, “Ada, sweetheart. We are all women. Some women get pregnant when they don’t want to: by accident, when they can’t access contraception, or are raped. No one should have to be forced to be pregnant or give birth. It’s a human right to have autonomy over your body. These days contraception is increasingly difficult to obtain in Poland, you need several permissions from doctors– they treat women as though we were children. And even if a woman never wants kids, the rates of rape in this country are on the rise, no one speaks about it. It’s scary but it’s true–” Baba paused.
Rape was something I never wanted to think about. It popped up occasionally on the news, or in newspaper headlines. It was scarier than kidnappings or murder. When I thought about my childhood I could remember all the various girls raped and murdered on TV, their bodies discarded along highways, in forests and garbage cans, like trash. Occasionally, when I walked alone to the corner store, drunk men would scream, in broad daylight, what they’d do to my body, what they’d leave on my face and in my hair. I felt this sadistic darkness in the unrelenting stares of older guys in school. I saw it in the way they gripped their girlfriends, the way they pressed themselves into them, as though to suffocate. I never thought about the possibility of being raped, never wanted to. It hurt right in my body, like my flesh coming on fire. It made me both angry and sad, fierce but silent.
“Even if something doesn’t affect us immediately or personally, it does affect other women, and we must fight for it,” Baba continued, “because until all women are free, none of us are.”
Baba’s last words hung in my head long after the consciousness raising circle was over. I wasn’t sure I understood, but some things were starting to make sense. I loved and respected Baba; her whole childhood and family were swallowed up by war, and still she persisted. I knew there was something important in this–in women coming together, speaking so openly about things no one else wanted to talk to me about. My parents certainly never mentioned any of it. All these years they rarely spoke about Baba, was this why?
* * *