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ESSAY
Our Bodies, (Not For) Ourselves
Angelina Kianka

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A funny question I am asked too frequently:

When are you going to start having kids?      

 

The number of doctors I’ve asked to perform a tubal ligation:

Four. Each time, I receive a response slightly more patronizing than the last. The first time I asked, I was nineteen. 

“Oh, you’ll change your mind,” my doctor said. “Besides, what if you end up marrying someone who wants kids?”

“Well, I won’t marry someone who wants kids,” I said. “Don’t you think that’s something couples should agree on before they get married?” 

My doctor chuckled. “You’re so young,” he said. “Wait until you’re married.”

After I got married, I asked a different doctor. 

“You would need your husband’s permission to do this,” he said. “It’s permanent, you know. What does he think about it?”

“His permission?” I shot back. “It’s my body.” As rage simmered in my chest, I couldn’t help but wonder if my husband would need my permission to get a vasectomy. 

He cocked his head and smiled, as if I had told a joke that was only half-funny. 

“It’s my body,” I repeated. My voice cracked. I didn’t sound convinced—I’m sure he didn’t believe me, either.

I left his office with a prescription refill for my birth control and a lump inside my throat. 

 

The most effective form of birth control:

Spending roughly forty-five minutes at Target. Count how many times you see an exhausted mother dragging a wailing toddler behind her. Six. Count how many items she puts into the cart to appease his sobs. Count how many times she says, “I am not doing this with you today,” as if she can negotiate her way out of motherhood. Count how many times she holds back tears. Count the judgmental stares from strangers. Thirteen. Strangers, you imagine, who assume they could do her job so much better. Count how many goals and aspirations she abandoned so she could raise this tiny human. A lot. Count how many times you think she’s been thanked for her sacrifices. Unknown.

 

A regrettably drunk conversation with my cousin:

“I think I know why you don’t want kids,” she said. She tossed a pong ball toward a Red Solo Cup. It hit the rim and dribbled onto the floor. “Is it because your mom worked all the time when you were young?”

“What?” I said. “No. There are plenty of reasons, and that’s not one of them.”

“Is it because of what happened with your dad?”

“Jesus, why are we talking about this?” I said. I took a shot. I missed. “It’s your turn.”

I wasn’t drunk enough to win. 

 

Mississippi:

The state that passed the country’s most restrictive abortion ban. No abortions are to be performed after fifteen weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. There is only one women’s health center left in Mississippi. The state also has the highest infant mortality rate, the highest unintended pregnancy rate, the highest prevalence of chlamydia, and the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States. I think the state might benefit from additional women’s health centers and access to comprehensive education. 

I am grateful that I do not live in Mississippi, but my heart hurts for the women who do.

 

Thirteen:

The age it starts. It’s the age I learned that men felt entitled to my body—to touch it and talk about it as if it were just an empty body, and not something a real person inhabited. It’s the age when I was harassed, threatened, and assaulted for the first time, marking a successful induction into a culture that objectifies women’s bodies to the point of dehumanization. When those things were happening, I remember thinking:Is this just happening to me, or is this happening to other girls? If it is happening to other girls, why is no one talking about it? It must just be me, then. What is so wrong with my body that I deserve this? What am I doing wrong? I still don’t have answers to those questions, but after a while, it became so normal that I stopped asking them.

Thirteen is the age I learned that my body was a burden. A target, a distraction, an invitation. A reason to not be taken seriously. Not a powerful, cohesive part of my being but rather a collection of parts that were somehow attached to me. Parts I was expected to share. Something to cover for my own safety. Something to blame and to shame. Something I would forever be at war with, and always fighting for control over. 

It takes time to unlearn those things, and there will always be a small part of me who still believes them. 

  

A brief lesson in objectification theory:

Objectification theory proposes that as women and girls experience objectifying situations, and as those experiences accrue over time, they may internalize the objectification. This phenomenon is known as self-objectification: some women and girls come to perceive their bodies as objects to be assessed on the grounds of their appearance. Research suggests that when women self-objectify, they report feelings of shame, body surveillance, appearance and safety anxiety, increased risk of sexual victimization, low self-esteem, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, reduced concentration, sexual dysfunction, impaired cognition, and diminished awareness of internal bodily states. Self-objectification can be chronic or induced, meaning it can be a constant state, or triggered by an objectifying interaction, such as sexual harassment or assault. 

I have been conducting vast research in the socialization of objectification among women and girls. In a way, it’s a relief to know that there are explanations for the complicated relationship I have with my body. It’s a relief to know there is a theory that attempts to address how my experiences have shaped me. I’m glad it has a name.

 

 A list of reasons I do not want kids: the condensed version

Money. Reducing my carbon footprint. I do not want to take a child on a twelve-hour flight to Europe. I enjoy sleeping. I hate the smell of babies (don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about). I do not want to step on a Lego when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee. I love my husband, and I love it just being us against the world. Babies are loud. World War III is inevitable, at this point—and if not that, then the zombie apocalypse or a giant meteor or an alien invasion—and honestly, why bring a child into that? I have no desire to be pregnant. The world is overpopulated. The absence of a national policy for guaranteed paid maternity leave. Deteriorating public education. I like to own nice things, without the fear of them getting sticky or broken. Also, why are children always sticky? I say fuck often. I do not have the patience for children, or the angsty teenagers they turn into. Money, again. The global economy, the cost of higher education, the cost of living. The cards will forever be stacked against them.

One of the biggest reasons: I’m afraid of having a girl. I do not want to bring a girl into this world because I know what happens to them. And I know I can’t protect her.

            

Good advice that I’m trying to follow:

The next time someone asks you when you’ll start having kids, tell them you already have a dog. Keep getting dogs.


Angelina Kianka is enrolled in the Creative Writing Program at UNCW with a concentration in Fiction. She is obsessed with palm trees and cheese spreads. She only has one tattoo that she regrets, and she will walk your dog anytime.