That Escalated Quickly

I took a dollar store pregnancy test one Thursday night in September on a whim. My period was about four days late, but because I’d taken a test a week earlier and it had been negative, I fully expected this one to be negative too. Imagine my surprise as I watched a second pink line form where there had never been one before. I quickly got dressed, drove to Walmart, and bought a two pack of ClearBlue digital pregnancy tests that read simply “pregnant” or “not pregnant”. I wanted something foolproof since the two line test could be misread, plus I’d convinced myself I must’ve messed the first test up. So back home I went with my two new tests and a bladder quickly filling back up. I read the instructions through three times to make sure I didn’t make a mistake, kind of difficult with this kind of test, and proceeded to pee in a cup yet again. I dipped the test in for the specified length of time and watched the built in timer as it counted down to the verdict. Five…four…three…two…one…pregnant. Nothing has ever made me doubt my understanding of the English language like this one word did.

I sat down right there in the middle of my bathroom floor and processed what that meant. Pregnant. One had was still gripping the test but the other went to my still flat stomach and I couldn’t believe I could feel so normal but be making something to big and life changing. My husband and had been trying the previous month, but had decided to take a break until after my two week Disney World/Disney cruise vacation with my mom in October. Because I obsessively track my period with an app and track my fertility using ovulation test strips (I like to know what’s going on with my body), I knew exactly when I ovulated and had taken measures to not have a baby that cycle. Well, turns out those strips can vary about 24 hours or so because I must have ovulated early. Whatever happened, I was now cooking a tiny pinprick of life no bigger than a sesame seed inside of my uterus.

Probably the most confusing part for me was my lack of symptoms. I had noticed breast tenderness and cramps but they began during the time I was due to PMS so that’s what I thought it was. I had also noticed a feeling of being overly tired and a slightly stuffy nose, but I’m a teacher so I thought one of the many school bugs had finally gotten to me. No nausea, no overt mood swings, nothing that would scream “PREGNANT”. My husband FaceTimed me from work as I was still sitting in the bathroom floor processing what I’d learned. I didn’t want to tell him over the phone, something this big should be done face to face, so I played it off like I was sitting in the bathroom painting my toenails. I had to tell someone though, so I called one of my good friends who has a six month old baby boy and told her. It was awesome to have someone to bounce the news off of and tell my excitement and fears with, especially because I knew she understood completely.

I arranged a baby picture of my husband and one of myself, a onesie, a pair of UK baby booties, a note from the baby to my husband, and the digital test on his nightstand next to the bed and set an alarm for fifteen minutes before he’d be home from work. When he arrived home, I’d barely been to sleep and was waiting anxiously for him to come upstairs to discover the news. When he finally walked into the bedroom, I waited for his eyes to go to the nightstand where I’d left a light on. Thomas didn’t believe me at first, I had to tell him that was the second test I’d taken and both were positive ad my period was late. He was so happy and excited but still wanted me to take the other digital test to make sure. Men. Obviously, that test was positive as well. We agreed we’d only tell parents and close friends at first until the first ultrasound where we’d see the baby and find out if everything was alright or not.

When I called my midwife’s office the next morning before the first bell rang for classes, they said they didn’t see patients until at least eight weeks and I was only four. That meant I had a month of anxiously awaiting the time I’d first see my baby. Mom and I also had our Disney vacation that would take me way from home during my sixth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. Let me tell you this: Disney World in the first trimester is completely exhausting. Also, a cruise while pregnant isn’t super fun. The movement of the ship and the smell of food constantly around killed me. I don’t have nausea, but I do have very strong food aversion with meat being the main one. Yay.

The day of my first appointment came and I was floating on cloud nine, so excited to see the baby for the first time. Thomas had the day off so we went to the midwife together. My midwife high-fived me when she came into the room after I’d left a urine sample. She’s an amazing woman and I’ve been with her since I was 23. She told me there’d be no ultrasound that day since the first visit at their practice was just to confirm pregnancy with a urine test (positive again!) and make sure the mother was on prenatals (I was) and cover the basics like don’t drink or do drugs. I was very disappointed, but Noel assured me she’d get me in first thing on Monday to have my ultrasound and all the blood work and stuff like that. It was a Friday afternoon so Monday didn’t sound too bad. Thomas and I walked out with an appointment for Monday to have an ultrasound and blood work. I swear, that was the only time I’ve ever looked forward to a Monday before in my life.

Monday morning, the office called and moved my appointment up two and a half hours which left me feeling rushed as a made sure I could leave school early and get to Lexington in time. Once we finally got back to the exam room (the place was hopping that day), I was so tired and ready to settle my nerves. The doctor who did the ultrasound had delivered the babies of some of my friends and was a very nice older gentleman who made the appointment fun, even making sure Thomas had his phone out and ready to take pictures/videos as he began the ultrasound. I’ll never forget that first moment of seeing my baby. My belly had started to round slightly by then and I felt (and still feel) very tired all of the time, but seeing that tiny person inside of me made it all real for the first time. The baby was facing away from the camera at first, but almost as if they sensed the limelight, they flipped around to give the most beautiful silhouette view. I have that picture hung up in my office at school because you can clearly see the head, torso, arm buds, and leg buds. The doctor told Thomas to put his phone on video and he let us hear the heartbeat. I bawled. The strong and steady beating of my child’s heart was the best music I’ll ever hear. The beats measured out at a whopping 170 beats per minute, the doctor told us that was perfect and baby was the picture of health and growing very nicely. I play that video at least once a day.

Now everyone knows we’re expecting and it’s nice to have people understand I can’t do some of the things I’d like to (like going to the high school musical production at 7pm at night) because I’m so tired all of the time. Baby hates the smell of meat, so I’m mainly a vegetarian now as well as an avid lemonade lover. I come home from school and pass out right after I take my makeup off and change into pajamas. I’m grateful I don’t have morning sickness, but the extreme fatigue is beginning to get to me a little. I remind myself it’s just baby growing super fast and that I should get some energy back in a few weeks when I hit the second trimester. For now, I’m happy to watch my growing belly (it is becoming a small baby bump even though my uterus hasn’t come up out of my pelvic bone yet) and take all the naps I can.

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The History Under My Feet

My husband and I live on a 10 acre farm that was a piece of my maternal grandfather’s much larger farm. Our house was built by my parents the year before I was born and I grew up being able to look from our front window across the road to where my mother grew up. The area has changed a lot, most of the land my grandfather once grazed horses and cattle and planted hemp, tobacco, and corn on has been built up with houses. The spot where his barn stood is now the site of two houses and his old tobacco field fell to the same fate. Our house is on a piece that was previously wooded, a place my mom used to play when she was growing up. All of the houses near us were built in my lifetime, reminders of the slow creeping of time.

There’s a place in the woods behind our house, half way between our neighbor’s land and ours where the foundation of an old log cabin can still be found. The family who built it didn’t realize the bottom they built on flooded readily during the spring, summer, and fall so they didn’t live there long. What drove them to move on and find better land to build on is the same thing that preserved the only reminder of their former presence. It wasn’t a big cabin, most in those days weren’t, roughly the size of our guest bedroom. The people who built it dug down into the ground and put the foundation logs on top of which the entire structure would be put, those are the only pieces that remain.

The culvert we drive over every day was put in when my mom was about 8 months pregnant with me. The old one had washed out in a bad winter storm and my parents, the only people living past it at that point, were extremely nervous I would decided to come before they could get a new one installed. One of the men who’d built our house found an industrial gas tank and cut the top and bottom off to make a huge culvert that wouldn’t wash out except in huge storms (you can’t control water). That’s what my parents drove over when the time came and when they brought me home from the hospital.

There’s a house built on the other hill on the site of where my favorite clearing used to be. The clearing was circular and full of wild flowers in the spring and summer and there were always tadpoles in the puddles on the path leading to it. A man decided to build a big house right in the middle of the wild flower clearing; I cried when they put gravel down over the tadpole puddles. That hill hasn’t shimmered with nature’s magic or beauty since.

A lot of people ask why I didn’t leave my home town or the house I grew up in and I shake my head. There’s no answer that will make sense to them because to ask that question proves they can’t understand the draw of living on land you can tell the history of. My children will play in the creek and woods and know three previous generations of their family have walked the same earth. Maybe they’ll find all the fairy houses  I used to love to build on the bans of the creek. Or maybe they’ll stumble upon the old log cabin foundation while out playing and think it’s as magical as when I first found it. There’s something to be said for history and knowing the who’s footsteps you’re walking in.

 

 

Well Woman Anxieties

Pap Smear ImageSince my first abnormal pap smear results at the age of 21, it has been a journey of conflicting opinions from everyone. I had an abnormal pap result and my nurse practitioner  decided to wait a year and wait until my next annual pap to make any decisions. That pap also resulted in abnormal results and I was referred to the nurse practitioner mentioned in a previous post for a colposcopy (they swob the cervix with vinegar, causing the abnormal cells to turn white then they look with a bright light and magnifying tool) and cervical biopsy (very small pinhead pieces of cervical tissue is taken, it’s actually not as bad as you’d think) to make sure the cells didn’t pose an immediate threat. I had mild lesions (areas of abnormal cell growth) and they were not of concern the doctor. After this, I was placed on a every three month pap schedule just to make sure the cells didn’t progress to the next level. The pap smear after this had normal results, but three months later I had abnormal results again and this time they were moderate. I had another colposcopy and biopsy, this time in my midwife’s office, and the doctor was so unimpressed with what he saw that he said he only took the biopsies just to make absolutely sure there wasn’t anything to be concerned about. Doctors like to be sure. I was put on every six month pap schedule after this and, after two normal results in a row, I finally got to be yearly again!

My first pap smear in a year is coming up in a couple of weeks and I’m surprised to say that I’m scared. I thought I’d be neutral about, but I’m already nervous and scared I’ll get abnormal results again. I know I went an entire year without abnormal results last year, but I’ve gone through this no long that I’m afraid I’ll get the call saying they found something again. The last abnormal results I got occurred after severe bouts of illness, ear aches and really bad colds, and my midwife did say a lowered immune system could bring on abnormal cells growth. Noel the Amazing also says the human body is an amazing thing and can and does clear these types of cells all the time. But I’m still scared. Part of me wants to skip the appointment and go about mu business, but I know that would be dangerous and cowardly. We want to start a family soon and I’m afraid if I have abnormal cells again it’ll endanger that happening. If there is something there it’s far better to catch it now then wait because I’m scared and let it get worse. I’m going to go, have my pap smear, and keep moving forward no matter the results. As always: go check your annual pap smears because well woman care is one of the best forms of cervical cancer prevention you can do.

Nazis at My Front Door

As a history teacher, the most common question I get is “Why do we have to know this?” and it’s usually followed with a look of aggravated boredom. This very question ran through my mind as I watched the events in Charlottesville, VA play out this past weekend. I saw a Nazi symbol on an American flag, a car drive full speed into a crowd of anti-racism protestors, and people wearing white robes and hoods. Part of me was so confused because it’s 2017 not 1917; this shouldn’t be happening. And yet it is happening. My husband, alarmed by the tears running down my face, asked if I wanted him to turn the TV off. My answer was no because, as I tell my students when they ask the previously listed question, we have to know what happened so we never repeat our mistakes.

My grandfather and his brothers fought in World War II, all of them seeing combat. They fought Nazis so their children and grandchildren could live without fear of those same warped and monstrous ideas threatening their safety and freedom. My grandfather stormed Normandy Beach and never spoke of it because the horrors he’d seen were too much. In a way I’m glad he’s gone so he didn’t have to see the same repulsive show of hatred paraded through the streets of his country as “beliefs”. When something is for the mass killing of a group or groups of people, it can no longer be called a belief system. Hatred is not a belief, it is a sickness that eats the person who holds it from the inside out before leeching into the world around them like poison. This is not what America stands for.

The fact that it took our president two days to openly condemn the actions taken by the Alt Right/Neo Nazis/White Supremacists is another cause for concern. I was under the impression that America had a strict no Nazi policy, you know, from the whole war we were involved in where the entire world fought against said Nazis. Yes, we do have freedom of speech but where does speech end and violence begin? That time has passed us as seen in Charlottesville and we can no longer turn our heads because we don’t want to see the ugliness. I watched the violence and saw the symbol of the group who tried to kill my people plastered on the flag of my country so I can tell my children evil exists and they must not let it crawl into a dark corner to live and prey on our freedoms. In many ways I was reminded of Harry Potter and how no one believed him when Voldemort and the Death Eaters came back. Fear is something hate groups feed on because they know people will ignore their presence until it’s too late purely out of fear of facing them. We cannot be like the wizarding world and accept evil by way of excuses and head turning.

Here is my plea: please teach your children about differences and that they are not bad. Please teach them that not standing up to injustice is the same as standing with it. Please have peace and love in your hearts and know you are not alone.

The Great Debate

I first learned of Ina May Gaskin and her fellow midwives who lived and delivered babies on The Farm in Tennessee when I watch The Business of Being Born while in undergrad. These ladies, as well as Ina Mays husband Stephen, support natural home births and low to no interventions during pregnancy. What does this mean? Well, The Farm midwives don’t use ultrasound machines, they use old fashioned (but accurate) tools to listen to the baby’s heart beat, travel to the mother’s home to deliver, and are of the mind that mothers know what to do and can safely deliver their babies at home unless there is a complication that absolutely requires a hospital. Their stats are amazing, providing support to their beliefs. I recently checked out two books from our local library by Ina May: Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and was completely blown away by them. I almost went to school for midwifery before deciding to pursue my MA in history, so books like these are highly enjoyable pleasure reading for me. I know, I’m odd.

Like many women in the U.S. I grew up hearing horror stories from every woman in my family about pregnancy and childbirth. My own mother’s story of giving birth to me was enough to make an 8 year old Samantha swear off having kids (don’t worry, it didn’t stick). Mom had horrible morning sickness that lasted all day throughout her pregnancy with me as well as critically high blood pressure. She attributes this to being 33 when she had me, but that really isn’t an advanced age for childbearing. Most women who are older aren’t considered” “high risk” until age 35 and up. As horrible as that sounds though, it was her (and I guess my) birth story that made me terrified of birth. My due date was January 5th but the doctor thought I’d come early, probably Christmas Eve or Christmas day based on my size and everything. When I wasn’t out and about by January 5th, they started a series of unnecessary interventions. First, a doctor started this train wreck when my mom went in for a check up before Christmas and he did a procedure known as “ripening the cervix”. First, he did not ask for my mother’s consent to do this. Let’s revisit that, he did not ask for patient consent to do a medical procedure on a pregnant woman. Just writing that makes my blood boil. Second, he didn’t even tell my mom what he was doing. She says she reached up, did something that hurt badly, then threw a blood covered examining glove in the trash on the way out of the exam room door. How freaking terrifying would that be?! Mom had to call her sister-in-law who was a baby nurse and ask what he’d done. By the way, this procedure is unnecessary because the body will take of ripening (thinning) the cervix on it’s own when it’s time for baby to arrive. This procedure caused my mom to have back labor that lasted through December into January and when on her due date I wasn’t any closer to coming, they decided to induce her with a labor starting drug. The first round didn’t work so they did it a second time…then a third. None of these rounds of an artificial hormone meant to start labor worked on me. I obviously wasn’t read to come out yet, but that didn’t deter the doctors. They told my mom she had to have a C-section and she was scheduling the time for it when her water finally broke. Then began a series of awful contractions (that labor inducing drug makes contractions worse), then an epidural that was botched (wet stick, look that peach up), an episiotomy (the doctor cuts your lady bits), short forceps, and finally a little me who was taken straight to be cleaned up while they sewed on my mother for 45 minutes. Now you know why I’m an only child.

This all happened in 1991 even thought it sounds like the 50s and 60s when they treated pregnant women like they wren’t people. What my mother’s story taught me is that the medical community in general (there are a few exceptions) don’t have faith in women’s bodies. When I was looking for a provider after my abnormal cell scare, a friend recommended her midwife. I knew of midwives from The Business of Being Born but I had no idea they provided well woman care as well as prenatal and birthing services. I also didn’t know we had midwives in Kentucky, that’s how hidden the profession can be. My first visit to my amazing midwife’s office was so different than that of the first gynecologist I went to. I’d been referred to that first office by my nurse practitioner who was my primary care person (she’s since retired and I miss her!), so I trusted them. The office was cold and impersonal and when I went back to the room with my mother, they told me they’d be taking a biopsy as well as looking at my cervix. I had been told prior to coming that they were just going to look. I was already a nervous wreck and began bawling uncontrollably at those words. The nurse practitioner was extremely cold and, in a hateful voice, told me “If you don’t stop crying we’ll have to send you home and you’ll have to come again another day”. What a bitch. That only made me cry harder, of course, and the nurse said they’d call in a prescription for Xanax or something for that future appointment. My mom told them to leave for a few minutes, got me calmed down, and we both decided we’d go ahead and get through the procedure and then never go back to that office ever again. I asked the nurse practitioner to tell me what she saw and was doing during the procedure and she didn’t even acknowledge me. She said nothing to be the entire time, even when I was crying from pain as she cauterized the areas shed’d taken pieces from. Her nurse and student observer (I always allow students) tried their best to keep up a steady steam of chatter with me because I’d told them it’d help. I couldn’t get out of there soon enough when it was done.

After that awful experience, I switched insurance and had to find a new well woman provider. It was then that my friend who was pregnant at the time recommended Noel. The vibe in that office was so different from the dark and cold one I’d experienced before. The waiting area was full of women and partners laughing, talking, and not seeming nervous at all. The nurse who weighed me and led me back to the exam room was so friendly and kind that I was already at ease when the peppy blonde named Noel walked in. I was used to the doctor coming in and getting right to business, but Noel sat on a stool next to the examination table where I was laid propped up against a pillow with a freshly scented starched pillowcase over it and covered from the waist down by an equally well laundered blanket. She introduced herself and we chatted for about 20 minutes about ourselves before she wheeled over to the end of the table to begin the exam. I remember looking around and finally asking where the stirrups were so I could get in position (ladies, you know what I’ talking about). Noel laughed and said they don’t use them. Umm, what? She explained that the stirrups aren’t necessary and doctors only use them because it’s more convenient for them, but if you get the woman and yourself in the right positions they’re not needed at all. The words I’ll always remember were “stirrups are for horses, not women”. She asked me if I was ready, told me exactly what she was doing, and then the entire exam was over in 1 minute and I’m not exaggerating. Noel remained in the room with me for about 15 more minutes asking about what I wanted from her as a provider and I took the time to ask about the office’s stance on natural childbirth, IVs for laboring mothers, food and drink during labor, and anything else I could think of. My desire to have a med free, IV free, natural birth where I could eat and drink while moving around was completely accepted and she didn’t even bat an eye. I then told her about the previous office I’d been and watched as her face got more and more angry as I told my story. She said women should never be treated with such disrespect and lack of empathy and that they’d never treat me like that there.

A few months later I had to have another biopsy and Noel, who couldn’t do the procedure because she’s a midwife and not an OBGYN, referred me to a natural minded doctor in the practice who could. I was nervous about having a male doctor since I’ve always preferred to have women because I figure they’ll be gentle with my bits since they have the same ones. But this doctor was kind, straight forward, and understanding of my nerves. He took the time to chat with me just as Noel had, draw a diagram of the stage of abnormal cells and what they look like on the cervix, and explain every single tiny detail to me before having me get ready for the procedure. I told him and his nurse about the other biopsy experience and why I was so scared and he had the same reaction as Noel and asked which practice that was so he wouldn’t refer patients to it. This biopsy was worlds apart from the previous one. This doctor told me exactly what he was doing as he did it, told me how my cervix looked and that he wasn’t concerned because it didn’t look like anything was there, had me cough, then he was done. I bled a lot during the cauterization, as I had before but it didn’t hurt like the last time. This nurse rubbed my knee and kept a steady stream of banter going with me while my mom held my hand and then it was over and I could go home. I walked out of that office knowing what the doctor had seen and his thoughts on it whereas, with the previous biopsy, I’d had no idea what they’d seen or what they’d done.

I tell you all of this because my mother and myself have both been in positions where we were not treated with respect or empathy by medical providers during stressful times. The difference it makes when a medical provider actually cares about you as a person is incredible. I look forward to my annual pap smear now because it means I get to see Noel and catch up with her. I think of her every time I read or watch something about Ina May because, just like Ina May, Noel strives to provide the best care to women while still respecting them and their bodies.

Back to School

August is here and that means only one thing to a teacher: back to school time! This can be a stressful but exciting time for many teachers as they prepare their classrooms for a fresh year of students and experiences. But what about those teachers who won’t be walking into a classroom of their own this year? As anyone will tell you, teaching is extremely difficult to get into if you’re not a male, coach, math/science person, or just plain don’t know the right people. The hardest part though? That’s seeing teachers who complain about what they do and openly dislike it occupying a spot a number of people who actually love teaching could be in otherwise. It’s soul wrenching. This is something I’ve been thinking about all summer and I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, not being hired on for a permanent position does not mean you’re not qualified or a bad teacher. There are so many different factors (including those listed previously) that determine whether or not you get hired and they all vary from school to school and district to district. I know that doesn’t make a bit of difference though when you’re sitting there in August watching everyone else in the world (or so it seems to your broken heart) decorate and organize their classrooms and gush about the new posters they found on sale. It’s so easy to feel like a failure despite all that you may have accomplished, especially when you see people straight out of undergrad who never had to sub and don’t have advanced degrees get hired over people like you.

Second, don’t let the jealously and bitterness that build every time you see someone like the greenhorns listed above seep into your soul. I know its frustrating, infuriating, disappointing, and just downright sad to see those people gush all over Facebook but none of those feelings help you. The sad truth is, a lot of those first years won’t make it to tenure. They’ll either quit because teaching is exhausting, get pink slipped due to “overstaffing”, or move to a district/school that pays or just fits them better. Also, you don’t know their stories. I know you want to vilify them and make them into evil newbs who never had to pay their dues, but you don’t know.

Third, asking yourself “what do they have that I don’t”. You will drive yourself insane asking this question, letting it roll around in your mind like an escaped marble. There’s no telling what the administrators saw in the person they chose over you and that’s something you have to let go. Honestly, it could be something as trivial as they don’t have a masters yet and, therefore, don’t have to be paid as much starting out. Or it could be as insidious as they have friends on the school board. Who knows.

And finally, be gentle with yourself. I know it hurts so much right now and you feel like you’ll never get the classroom you so desperately want, but you will. It may not be when you would like but everything has a way of working out for the best. You cannot compare yourself to everyone else, it will drive you insane. So that person has your dream job and only went into teaching as a second choice? Okay, that’s their path. It’s okay to wallow in self-pity for a bit, I’m a firm believer in allowing some pity party time, but you have to cut that crap out and get back to the grind. Your kids need you (you may have been “just” a sub, but they depended on you) and you need to believe in yourself again. This is not a failure and it does not define you.

 

Why “The Handmaid’s Tale” Speaks to Me

I started The Handmaid’s Tale series on Hulu on the recommendation of my husband because, in his words, “you like weird shows like that”. Dystopian shows are some of my favorite because they at least attempt to show the seedy underbelly of human behavior that we so often try to gloss over and hide. So I began the first episode on an early spring Saturday morning and I was not at all prepared for how it would affect me.

Growing up, my mom would always tell me I had to be better than the best because, unfairly, some people would think my best was only half as good as a boy’s mediocre. I shrugged her words off as only the young and innocent can. If I tried my hardest then I’d surely succeed in all that I took on. Oh, young Samantha. Fast forward to senior year of high school and me sitting in a classroom at Berea College in an upper level women’s studies course. Students at my high school could take college classes at Berea or EKU if our schedules and parents allowed. I ended up taking intro to women’s studies my last semester of junior year and continuing down the path until I was two classes short of a minor. On this particular day, the mall group of women and our professor were talking about whether or not one person could change the world. Everyone else had said they couldn’t, but my 17 year old self said that, indeed, one person could change the world. The others laughed and said I’d change my mind once I knew more of the world. In a way, they were right.

As a freshman at a small college in an even smaller town in Southeastern Kentucky, I wasn’t at all prepared for the attention I would garner. Freshmen women, I would come to find out, were a source of intense interest because they represented new romantic possibilities. Fresh meat entering the market with little to no idea of the environment we were walking into. I remember the first full day on campus when other students had moved in. I was walking from my dorm to the chapel for a meeting and a group of men were sitting on the sidewalk next to the student center. They began sucking their teeth and calling out to me as I neared. This was my first cat calling experience and it occurred right in broad daylight next to campus safety’s office. That should’ve told me all I needed to know about how women were viewed and treated.

Junior year, I’m a resident assistant in the freshman dorm and finishing my rounds for the night. It’s a weeknight so my shift is over at midnight. I’m tired ad have class early the next morning, I’m deep into my course load for my two majors and studying for the GRE. I turned my radio off right before there’s a knock at my door. I open it to find one of my residents visibly shaken, wide eyed, and crying. Once I get her into my room and close the door she tells me she’s been raped by one of the football players. I know the guy she’s talking about, it’s a small school so I’ve had a class with him and I remember getting the warning vibe we learn to develop early. I offer to drive her to the hospital for a rape exam, assuring her they’re free and that I won’t leave her side. She refuses. I know better than to offer to radio anyone or alert any authorities. We both know it won’t do any good and would only be harder on her. So we sit. I still feel her tears soaking into my shirt and my tears soaking into her hair.

I’m in graduate school and trying to learn how to juggle my classes, graduate assistant position, a personal life, and the never ending pile of homework on my desk. This campus is way larger than my undergrad college’s and I still get lost if I’m not paying attention every second. I’ve already been warned by other women that I need to tone my personality down. I’m too loud, too crude, and just too much. Their words hurt. I thought I could spread my wings here, and I can, but only a little bit further. There is still a cage and I still very much feel it.

I have a bunch of letters after my name and I’m working on more, but a man maybe 10 years older than I am addresses myself and a coworker as “girls”. I don’t think he’s even aware of the implications behind what he just said. Does he know that rings in my ears as it would a black man’s if you called him “boy”? Probably not. A friend, meaning well, says maybe I should tomboy it up to be taken a little more seriously. I decline. I love my full 50s style skirts, heels, pearls, and elaborate makeup. I feel pretty and most myself like this and don’t want to change.

When Offred is living her hellish nightmare of a life, I feel her pain because it doesn’t seem that far away to me. My body is seen as a social commentary. Too big, too small, too this, too that. My level of education is easily wiped away with one word. Why don’t I have a baby yet? We’ve been married almost 2 years and my husband has a steady job. I am a threat because everything I am and have accomplished lives inside of a female body. I am both Eve and Mary; the temptress and the mother. If I could crawl outside of my body, I would. What would they hold against me then?