Friday, January 3, 2014

Personal and Political Connotations of Childbirth in "Lakota Woman" and "Naked in the Promised Land"

Decisions regarding childbirth, sterilization, and from whom to receive medical care were personal and political decisions for Mary Crow Dog because in order to keep her identity, home, and freedom, and keep her child protected, she had to resist the force and survive the violence of an invading government that would take her child away from her because of her poverty and because of her disbelief in the legitimacy and beneficence of the imposing society’s values, authority, and systems of rule.
Mary Crow Dog was a Lakota woman, one of the last people to leave Wounded Knee before the surrender of about a hundred and twenty Indians to American federal police in 1973, having given birth to a son before fleeing. She favored a natural childbirth for her baby, in the presence of friendly midwives instead of medical professionals who were strangers to her and her family and friends, and whose care would alert American officials to the existence of the child.
She wrote that she wanted to give birth “with an Indian prayer and the burning of sweetgrass and with the help of Indian women friends acting as midwives, having it the natural way without injections and anesthesia.” (p. 159) “I was determined not to go to the hospital. I did not want a white doctor looking at me down there… Always in my mind was how they had sterilized my sister and how they had let her baby die.” (p. 157)
Mary Crow Dog’s self-sacrificing need to protect her child became a liability in the presence of a hostile invading force. Because of her status as a “poor, unwed,… no-good rabble-rouser from the Knee” (p. 166), she is declared unfit to raise her child. She would rather protect him from the system she fears, raise him apart from it and out of it, teach him what she believes is the truth, and instill her own morality in him. Childbirth was the beginning of Mary Crow Dog’s family, and to start a family and begin to build a new society in the face of a force that would rather see those families’ obliteration or sterilization is a gesture of defiance.
A striking example of this clash of wills is the story of her child’s birth. Crow Dog writes, “When the baby was born I could hear the people outside… when they heard my little boy’s first tiny cry all the women gave the high-pitched, trembling brave-heart yell. I looked out the window and I could see them, women and men standing there with their fists raised in the air, and really thought then that I had accomplished something for my people.” (p. 162-3) “The feds were burning off the sagebrush to deprive our guides of cover. The whole prairie around Wounded Knee was burning… The drumming and singing and cheering had gotten the marshals excited. As usual with them, they thought we were getting ready for a banzai charge… We got into a crossfire and had to hit the dirt three times. I was scared… not so much for myself as for the baby.” (p. 163-4) American police, thinking the yelling of the Indians a call to charge, began firing. This shows the nature of an invading force so accustomed to destroying foreign life in its path, it is unable to distinguish the sound of joy from the sound of anger. Mary Crow Dog’s belief that her joy is not wrong, and that creating a life despite all the destruction of life around her is the right thing to do is political ideology because it refuses to submit to or put trust in the invading authority’s perception of truth and righteousness.
Decisions regarding marriage, sexuality, fertility, and profession were personal and political decisions for Lillian Faderman because of the social stigma attached to lesbianism, lesbian domestic partnership, and unwed motherhood.
In Naked in the Promised Land, Faderman describes what it was like to be around her associates after being artificially inseminated. She writes, “Was it conceivable that an unmarried assistant vice president for Academic Affairs would carry a baby inside that huge abdominal protrusion? No one asked me. When we talked, they kept their eyes trained on my face, on the wall, on the air, anywhere but down.” (p. 342-3) “[S]omeone on campus… remarked to a colleague that Phyllis and I were ‘engaged in a social experiment.’ How could they know the love among the three of us and the caring?” (p. 347) Faderman felt uneasy about how she would be perceived even among colleagues, those who would be most likely to be understanding and accepting of her decisions.
Faderman writes, “I heard Fred [Irwin] defend me to his old army buddy: ‘She didn’t want a husband, for God’s sake; she wanted a baby, and that’s her right.’” (p. 344) For the author, bringing a child into an unmarried homosexual romantic relationship was both a personal right; the right to procreate assumed to be granted by her mere fact of humanity, and a political right; she writes, “they couldn’t punish me for being a homosexual historian any more than they could punish me for being an unwed mother.” (p. 348-9) She didn’t feel that it the university would have been right to attempt to fire her for becoming pregnant while unmarried, and would it have tried, Faderman would likely have fought for her rights to continue teaching and to let Phyllis adopt Avrom.

Faderman writes, “When I’d thought of having a baby, for years it had been for the sake of my mother and [my aunt] Rae: I longed to give them this little entity who would bring new hope and some joy into their lives. I longed to rescue them from the fate Hitler had prepared for their kind – for our kind – by calling a Sarah or Avrom [Faderman’s son] back into existence and nourishing it so that it might someday, in its turn, add others to our tiny, decimated tribe.” (p. 344) For Faderman, giving birth to Avrom was not only a fulfillment of her biological desire to procreate, but retribution on the Nazis whom had killed the family of her mother decades earlier. Avrom was a full-blooded Jewish boy born to a lesbian woman whose uncles and aunts had been killed among many other Jews during a mass extermination; the birth of Avrom Faderman was an unlikely event, but despite the odds stacked against his existence, his mother somehow managed to give him life, and she did it for him, for herself, for her family, and for her people.

Originally written in April 2008 as a college essay

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