Gaslighting, isolation, and assault: my story of narcissistic abuse.

Content warnings: sexual assualt, rape, isolation abuse, financial abuse

I was married for six years to a man I had been with for two years prior to our wedding. That marriage had a ton of issues, created a ton of trauma, and involved a lot of damage. For reasons that I will save for another post, my ex-husband and I were basically set up for failure, and while leaving that relationship was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, it was also one of the most necessary.

But the next man to walk into my life following my divorce would manage to do more damage in one year than my previous relationship had done in eight.

This is the story, not of my broken marriage, but of the devastating relationship that immediately followed it.

Serial abusers have a pattern to how they acquire their new victims. Each new relationship is generally preceded by a dramatic life overhaul on the part of the abuser, which involves burning any bridges of people who know them “too well,” isolating the new victim, and conditioning them to 1. never interact with anyone who could give them an unflattering perspective on the abuser, and 2. feed them enough lies about those people that if the current victim and the previous one ever had the option to interact, the current victim would truly believe the previous victim to be crazy, evil, or some combination of the two.

The setup was textbook. My abuser built our relationship upon a number of factors: the number of years we have been out of contact and out of each other’s lives following our initial meeting a decade before, and the loyalty that came from our newly reestablished friendship, the fact that both of our marriages imploded at roughly the same time, the reality that I was a brand-new mother, sleep deprived and overwhelmed, and the financial and physical dependence I had on him and members of his family. I was fragile from new motherhood (my daughter was only three weeks old when we left my ex-husband), broken from my divorce, and isolated from friends and family. The only support I had I met through him – again, specifically chosen people he knew would only speak positively about him.

He told me what I would later discover to be outlandish lies about his ex-wife, and, at the same time, lied to her about me, to be sure we were thoroughly pitted against each other and kept apart. Even now, as I have had the privilege of reconnecting with her and sorting through our mutual manipulation, it is devastating to realize the extent to which he deceived us in order to preserve his facade. 

I struggled during that time to determine what I wanted from my faith, and engaged with the church community that he had been a part of for many years. The people there welcomed me, offered me love, financial support, and relationship, but they neglected to warn me about the ugly facts of this man’s past. Mark (a name I have deliberately chosen to avoid giving him any notoriety or future ammunition against me), had committed multiple acts of sexual violence in his previous marriage, and thoroughly manipulated, controlled, and abused his wife until she had no choice but to flee. The handful of the new friends I had in this church community knew the reality of the situation. They had heard confessions of this abuse directly from Mark’s own mouth. 

But the Christian teachings of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness were manipulated by this man, who knew exactly what to say and how to present himself in order to seem remorseful and changed. In the spirit of forgiveness, they welcomed him with open arms, offering him shelter under their roofs and places among their families. They trusted him, and I felt that if they trusted him, there was no reason for me not to.

There were people who might have been willing to tell the truth about what they knew of him, but Mark went well out of his way to be sure that I thought so little of those people that I would never take them seriously should their opinions find their way to me. In the time that we were together, he turned me into a weapon against his ex, selling me his version of an evil, manipulative woman who would do anything to hurt him, and then using my loyalty as a tool to hurt her. She was the enemy, and since she had fled to the opposite end of the state, unable to share her story, I had little reason to believe otherwise. I took up arms on his behalf, and he had no need to personally defame her while he had such a willing foot soldier who would do that dirty work for him. It makes me sick to think about the dishonest gossip I spread about a woman who has not only been gracious to me in our reconciliation, but did in fact try to warn me ahead of time about what he was capable of doing.

The first time he assaulted me, we were in the middle of an intimate encounter when he decided to ask me for something specific. I told him no – that act made me emotionally uncomfortable and caused me physical pain. He used the dramatic difference in our sizes to his advantage and forced me to perform it anyway.

The second time, we began an evening of hanging out with me stating clearly to him that I did not want to be physically intimate. Within an hour he had manipulated and coerced me into “changing my mind” by using his own sadness and needs to make me feel guilty for saying no.

Following both of these encounters, he apologized, putting on a very convincing show of remorse and shame, admitting that what he had done was wrong and disgusting, and asking for my forgiveness.

But in between the acts of physical violence, there was a much more subtle abuse taking place.

Mark had dramatic financial issues, often running himself into a huge amount of debt over frivolous purchases. He was the classic cautionary tale of retail therapy gone wrong. But even in instances of generosity, he had convinced me that gifts were the only language his heart understood.

During this time I was in job training, and had no regular income of my own. I could not reciprocate the lavish gifts he would bestow upon me after he had done something that hurt me. One evening, he made a terribly cutting remark and left me in tears, and I was so terrified of losing him by “reacting badly” to verbal abuse he had committed against me that I actually spent a ridiculous amount of money from my tax return on a gift for him as an apology.

Apologizing and feeling guilty for things that were done to me became a regular occurrence. If I stood up for myself, he would compare me to his ex-wife, who he claimed was “vindictive and emotionally manipulative.” I would apologize. If I called him out on abusive behavior, he would tell me that I was being “unforgiving and unchristian.” I would apologize. If I expressed fear that he was harming me or using me in any way, he would act betrayed by the insinuation, and blame my previous marriage for trauma that he claimed I was “projecting onto him.” I would apologize.

We quickly and easily fell into a pattern that was dramatically one-sided: me running to keep up and anticipate his every whim, making him food, bringing him coffee at work, doing his laundry, bending over backwards to make him happy and walking on eggshells to prevent him from being unsatisfied with me. Him using every fear I had against me in order to keep me in line and trotting along at his heels.

And all the while, we lied.

My church community knew that I had some major issues with the Bible and its rules, and that certain things commonly accepted in Christianity – like extramarital sex being a sin, for example – were not moral hangups for me. They knew we disagreed on those topics, but they loved and accepted me anyway.

Mark, on the other hand, went to great pains to hide where his opinions differed from those of his church. He reframed this dishonesty in terms of “privacy.” I would try to communicate how uncomfortable it made me that I felt like I was being hidden. Privately, beyond closed doors he would tell me that he loved me, that he intended to marry me and be with me forever, that he hoped one day to adopt my daughter. Publicly, he asserted that we were “just friends” and, I would later discover, that I was unstable and attention-seeking, and his friendship with me was one of pity.

For six months we carried out this ruse, him hiding the reality of his life from his church, me dutifully and loyally protecting his reputation and his privacy. It would ruin his life, he said to me, if people in the church knew that we had been sleeping together. He claimed his ex-wife would maliciously use it against him and find ways to punish him if she knew the truth. He claimed his church would tell him he could no longer lead worship or participate in the small groups if they thought he was sinning. His entire life, he insisted, hung on me keeping his privacy intact.

And so I did. Of course I did.

I wouldn’t see until much, much later how this disguise of our “friendship” actually enabled him to play the field behind my back. He once made the mistake of allowing me to see his phone being messaged over and over by a girl from his gym who he had never mentioned to me. When I pressed him, he insisted that they were only friends, but upon further questioning he admitted that they had gone on a date the week before and he had intentionally hidden that fact from me. Months later I would discover they had been sleeping together behind my back. To this day I honestly don’t even know if she realized he was in a relationship.

Around the six month mark, a dramatic shift occurred in our relationship. He pulled away suddenly, distancing himself from me emotionally, refusing to talk to me, and ignoring my pleas for any sort of communication. The only time we would interact was late at night when he would text to ask if he could come over. I would beg him for some sort of explanation, or at the very least, an ultimatum or definition of our relationship. He flat-out refused to give me either. Finally, I asked him for one thing: that when he decided he was done with me, he should say so. “Don’t just let me hang here,” I begged. “Just be direct with me when you have decided that this relationship is over. Have enough respect for me to at least break up with me.” He said he could promise that much. He couldn’t, and in the months that followed I finally grew so devastated and hurt by his neglect of me that, eventually, I was the one to break things off.

My daughter and I, since leaving my ex-husband, had been graciously and generously sheltered by Mark’s mother. She could tell a dramatic change had happened, although she didn’t at the time know the full extent of our relationship. He insisted we keep her in the dark as well, threatening that if she discovered he and I had a romantic relationship, she might evict me and my infant. This sweet woman who had become like a second mother to me and a grandmother to my daughter found me crying in the bathroom one evening. I finally confessed to her, leaving out particular details that Mark had been adamant she should never learn, that not long ago he had been making promises about forever, and now he had abandoned me with no explaination. That night she confessed to me that she knew he was a monster, and sometimes wished that he had never been born. 

Mark’s mother knew – and knows – the truth about him. Unbeknownst to me at the beginning of our relationship, she had sat across from Mark’s ex-wife and heard all the abuses that had been inflicted upon her. Like the other members of our church community, she knew that he had a history of abuse, and she knew that he and I had a close intimate friendship, but she chose to use the excuse of forgiveness not to warn me. My heart breaks when I think of how trapped and controlled she is by him.

At the end of the summer, after my daughter and I left his mother’s house and found our own apartment, I confided to a mutual friend of ours that if Mark were to knock on my door and asked to date me properly – openly, honestly, and without fascade – that I would tell him no. I had finally seen him for the sort of person he was, and I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I felt very free.

Several months later, I began to date Jordan and experience my first truly healthy relationship. All the while, Mark remained on the edges of my social circle, and we ran into each other more than once. We still engaged in the same church community, and I still kept his secrets. Periodically he would text me to “chat” about his new life, his new girlfriends, his promotion, etc. I kept a careful distance, knowing that this behavior was intended to elicit jealous or insecure reactions from me. Then in January, a little more than a year since we first got together, he texted me to ask if we could meet for coffee. Hesitantly, I agreed.

He led the conversation, as he usually does, and unsurprisingly the topic revolved around his romantic life. He wanted me to know how many women he had been with since me, how many relationships he had started and ended since we broke ties six months before. But he made a crucial error in telling his story, and accidentally admitted to me that had been with a number of these women long before our break up. All of the hurt and anger came flooding back as I realized that he had cheated on me.

After a year of suffering in silence and isolation, I finally made the decision to come clean to the leaders of our church. These dear friends, who had shown me so much love, made time in their day to allow me to tell my story and bring the deceit, manipulation, and double life Mark had led to the surface. When he was finally confronted by our pastor about his lies, he chose to abandon the community entirely, yet again burning bridges and severing ties with anyone who knew the truth about him.

The wheel turned. Nothing changed.

I carefully separated myself from him, changing my phone number, and blocking him on social media. I created a safe buffer between us, so that if he or his new significant other wanted to interact with me they would struggle to find a medium through which to do so. I created new space in my life, went back to therapy, and began to heal.

Since his departure from that community and most of the people who now know the extent of his deceit, he has created a brand-new social group. It has been more than a year since the last time I had to speak to him. He has surrounded himself with people who have little or no knowledge of his past, found a new significant other, and weaponized her against me in the exact same way he weaponized me against his previous ex. She fights his battles for him, and recently did hunt me down online to attack me for sharing (what he has undoubtedly told her are) lies about him. To my knowledge, she has no one to tell her the truth. In reality, I can’t even be angry at her. I did much the same to his ex, and if their relationship one day ends, his next victim will do the same to her.

This past Easter, nearly a year ago, he went to his mother and “told her the facts of our relationship.” To this day I have no idea what he could have said to her, but immediately following that conversation she pulled the chute, blocking me on social media, blocking my phone number, and refusing to answer any of my emails. He severed my relationship with a woman who held such an important place in my heart, and I will likely never get the opportunity to tell her my side of the story.

The devastating reality of this story is that it is not an original one, and while the signs are clear and textbook, it is almost impossible to see them while you are in the maelstrom. My hope is that by sharing this tale, I will shed light on the common abusive practices of isolation, forced silence, casual assault, and dramatically lopsided relationship that defines abuse. I know Mark would rather this story never be told. I know his significant other has been conditioned to disbelieve it, and I know the people who are still loyal to him have a desire to discredit it. But I will not be bullied into hiding my story. After a year of psychological, physical, and emotional abuse, he does not have the power to control me anymore.

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Three ways being a single mother made me a badass and a pain in the ass all at the same time


Being a single mom has made me kind of a badass, as it has done for almost every single mother I’ve ever met. But in a lot of ways, being a single parent messes with your mind and causes you to be more than a little bit of a pain to the next person who steps into partnership with you. Here are three ways I’m learning that my badassery is also kind of a thorn in the side of the people I love.

1. If I’m not running myself into the ground I feel like a failure

To be fair, this little bit of my neuroses started decades before I had my child, but being a single mother certainly didn’t improve upon the situation. 

Single moms intimately understand the reality of being overworked, overbooked, and overwrought 99% of the time. We are the breadwinners and the homemakers. The stay at home parent and the working parent. The disciplinarian and the friend. The good cop and the bad cop. 

So on the occasions when I find rest and margin in my life, it’s pretty easy for me to feel like I’m dropping the ball. Remember when finals week ended and school went on break and for the next 48 hours you had random panic moments wondering what you were supposed to be doing? That’s my life every time I get a chance to take a breath.

This is not always a bad thing. My stamina is pretty high. I’m pretty productive most of the time. But at least three or four times a week my boyfriend asks me to turn off my phone, close my planner, and just relax with him, and shutting it all down for an hour feels like an impossibility. I’ll get there.

2. I have zero patience for people who can’t get the job done

“Failure is not an option” never feels so real as when you become a single parent. There are a number of plates that have to keep spinning, no matter what. Your kid has to eat, has to make it to doctors appointments, has to wear clothes that (mostly) fit. There are a handful of things that can be put on the back burner, but not many. Single moms know how to get shit done, because we don’t have any other option.

So when I encounter someone who thinks that working part time is a lot, or who complains about how exhausted they are as a mom, despite having free grandma daycare on a regular basis, my hackles automatically go up. 

That’s not cool. It’s not fair to other parents for me to judge them based on my own standards of productivity. It’s not fair for me to compare my life to someone else’s, because I truly don’t know what their life looks like from the inside. It sucks, and it’s something I’m working on killing in myself.

3. Transitioning out of being a single mother sometimes feels horrible

I was a single parent of my daughter for the first two years of her life. Even long after I started seriously dating my boyfriend, it took a while for me to make the transition from dating-single-mother to being someone’s partner again. Nowadays, I don’t identify as a single mother anymore, because I know my boyfriend is here to stay, and he does a great job of coparenting my daughter with me.

Our home dynamic has changed with the addition of my boyfriend. He is truly an equal partner with me in our home. He plays with Molly, keeps the house, cooks, does the grocery runs, and makes sure Molly is well socialized. All of this “should” make me feel really good and happy. But it doesn’t always.

When we bought a new car seat, he made the case that it should go in his car, because with me in school and working two jobs, she was more likely to be driven around in his car than in mine. The realization stopped me in my tracks. Relinquishing tight control of my daughter (and my status as her only full-time parent) was a much harder transition then I expected. 

I had built my identity so much on being independent and single that stepping back into a partnership almost felt wrong. Hilariously, I started to feel like less of a person for no longer being a single parent. 

There are a lot of things about my stint as a single parent that I am grateful for. It forced me to grow in areas like asking for help, speaking truthfully, and prioritizing my health. But it also instilled some not-so-great tendencies in me that I will continue to work through as my life evolves. It’s all a process. 

So here’s to patient partners and understanding children who put up with the badass pains-in-the-ass that are formerly single mothers. Cheers.

Tomi Lahren isn’t worth my time – or yours

The Republican Party has a very young very blonde new player, and her primary contribution to our country is sitting behind a desk and trying to make the left angry. 

Very soon, the same girl will visit my Pacific Northwest town, and already people in my community have organized protests against her appearance at a hotel in downtown.

I understand. I feel the same anger and disgust toward this horrifyingly ignorant, exasperatingly closed-minded girl that everyone else does. I would love to see her television reign and and her racist, hateful platform be dismantled. That would be wonderful.

But it’s probably not going to go down that way. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are two prime examples of loud, relatively useless talking heads who have just enough of a fanbase among of the ignorant and the bigoted to keep them funded. They get paid to shout at the strawman perversions of liberals who don’t exist in real life but who serve as convenient punching bags to keep the alt-right rabid and foamy.

And young Tomi, who is more than likely just spouting back the ignorance and fabricated outrage she has learned from her parents and her very sheltered culture, will join them in their bigotry. As long as hate sells, she will be able to profit from it.

So after this post, I’m not going to ever talk about her again, and unless you really really want to, you don’t have to either.

We have the option – those of us who are fighting real battles about real things – to just literally ignore her. We have the option to allow her to melt back into obsecurity, surrounded by her angry little fan base, and just go on with our lives without dignifying her crusade with a response.

We can totally just decide to allow her to keep screaming into her rapidly dwindling alt-right echo chamber, and we can move on to the things that matter.

My city has a huge human trafficking issue. A lot of other cities in this country do too. My country is being run by people who would happily overturn Roe v Wade, and if that becomes a fight, millions of desperate women’s actual lives could be in jeopardy. Our economy is on track for a dramatic tank, which will set our cities, our neighborhoods, and our families on a destructive path. The rape culture in our society received a gigantic shot in the arm with this past election cycle, and we are still recovering from the effects of that horrifying reality.

Those of us on the front lines of the resistance have real issues to worry about. We have a real problems facing us. And if we would rather not engage with someone whose only real impact on our world is ranting at people who already agree with her, we don’t have to.

Let Tomi, Ann, Rush, and the rest sit behind their desks and talk. I’m not giving them any more free publicity. I’m not giving them any more Facebook clicks, any more YouTube views, any more retweets. They aren’t worth it. We have actual battles to fight. 

I’m going to keep doing real work that impacts real people. You’re welcome to join me.

I don’t like my party anymore


I am a young Democrat, and I want a new party.

I, like so many of my fellow progressives, am incredibly passionate about many of the issues facing my country today. I feel solid in my moral stance that racism, sexism, xenophobia, heteronormativity, and transphobia, among others are rampant and must be extracted, with tooth and nail if need be, from our culture.

I, like so many of my fellow millennials am awakening to the reality that my voice matters in our world. That I have the ability and responsibility to influence our political climate. That I have the right and the duty to hold my representatives to the truth.

But I don’t like my party anymore.

I don’t like the fact that young Democrats have traded picket signs for thoughtful, compassionate debate. I don’t like the way we have decided that sharing inflammatory Facebook posts is somehow superior to actual education. I don’t like the way we have targeted Republicans, conservatives, antiabortionists, and many others whose only real sin may be actual ignorance. I don’t like that, rather than spreading knowledge and encouraging active listening, we shout down people who disagree with us.

I get it. I do. I am every bit as angry as the rest of my party. I am every bit as frightened as every other queer woman out there. I am every bit as sickened by racism, Islamiphobia, homophobia, and the rest as everyone else. I believe that anger is a powerful catalyst for change, and that loud, unapologetic protest is an important piece of democracy.

But I hate that so many in my party have decided to stop there. I hate that so many Democrats now live in a state of perpetual outrage. I hate that it has become our instinct to immediately unfriended, ignore, shun, ostracize, and mock anyone whose opinions differ from our own, rather than attempt to engage people in thoughtful, informed discussion.

I wish my party knew how to be angry in the face of injustice without compromising our commitment to education and compassion.

I wish my party would stand firm as the party of enlightenment and knowledge, rather than sinking to the level of screaming masses who refused to step outside of their protest lines and engage with individuals on the other side of the aisle.

I wish my party knew how to channel their outrage and fury into productive, fact-based action.

I’m tired of being a part of the Angry On Facebook Party. I want a different one.

Our white children need pictures of black leaders on their walls


My entire life I have seen black and brown leaders celebrated for their accomplishments. I don’t recall a time where whatever racism I may have seen as a child was so overt that people of color were condemned or judged for reaching for the stars. The feedback from my family and my culture was generally positive when someone whose skin was different from my own did something remarkable.

But what I didn’t realize until I had a daughter was that even in celebration and recognition of the importance of representation, there was still a distinct sense that those heroes and heroines were somehow not valuable to me, or worth looking up to myself.

As a white woman, I have plenty of white heroes and heroines to look up to. I don’t need more inspiration. I don’t need more representation. But amazing people like Barack Obama, Mae Jamison, Martin Luther King Jr, Maya Angelou, and many others were introduced to me as representatives “for other people.”

It was as though they somehow maintained the “second rate citizen” status that antiracism sought to abolish, just by being “for the others.”

As though, being white, I didn’t need them. I shouldn’t bother. They were second-tier heroes for second-tier people.

“It’s so great for them to experience Barack Obama as president.”

“It’s so great for them to see Oprah Winfrey as successful as she is.”

It is undoubtedly a beautiful and powerful thing for children with dark skin to see people who look like them doing incredible things. It’s necessary, and it’s part of what will move our country out of a insidious antiquated age of racism and segregation.

But if our white children grow up believing that those darker skinned heroes are only valuable to darker skinned children, that “other” mentality will linger.

My white daughter needs pictures of black heroes on her walls if she is to grow up understanding that we celebrate differences in race and culture, in appearance, and that those differences have no bearing on a person’s worth.

My white daughter needs to learn about these powerful icons in her history who overcame obstacles she personally will never need to face by virtue of her fair skin.

Brown and black heroes in our past do not belong in a category labeled “for the others.” Their struggles and obstacles related to their race should be taught clearly and unapologetically. But our white children need to know that, even though these heroes faced racism and discrimination in a way white people don’t, they are not “other.”

Our white children need to be taught that black leaders are not second-rate, a consolation prize for the minority. That the black leaders, thinkers, heroes, movers, and changers in this world brought brilliance, inspiration, innovation, eloquence, and courage to the table that we should all strive to emulate.

My daughter needs to learn to look up to inspirational black people.

Progressives, We Have Got to Chill Out


We have just survived what feels like the longest two weeks in history. The right has come out of the gate fast and furious, hell-bent on flooding every inch of our executive branch of government with people who will dismantle things that we on the left believe to be not only crucial pillars of our democracy but essential hallmarks of our alleged status as “the greatest nation on earth.” 

And we have fought back. We have called a representatives ceaselessly, we have marched, we have worn pink, we have worn red, we have flooded our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds with fellow progressives, supportive organizations, and battle strategies. 

Millennials are finally beginning to wake up to the realization that we drive this car. That we get to decide who sits in our Congress, who writes and vetoes our bills, who makes or breaks our laws. It’s an exciting time, seeing my generation step out of political obscurity and take the helm in a way we never have before.

But now, as Betsy Devos and Jeff Sessions are confirmed, the frenzy is beginning to slow to a trickle, and we must rethink our strategy if our fight is to continue.

We had a chance, my fellow progressives, at the beginning of 45’s administration, to force him to fill his cabinet with people who would apply the values that make our country great, and that chance is all but gone. Now comes the hard part. Now comes the flood of legislation, the back door dealings, the subtle pushes toward bills and vetoes. Now comes the real fight, and for this we must be thoroughly educated, impeccably informed, and above all, we must be calm.

The GOP has already begun to issue attacks on our character. Ted Cruz recently called Democrats in the Senate out by implying that our blue state Congresspeople were flat-out crazy. This is not going to stop. Where liberal-leaning news sources cover “peaceful protests” you can count on their conservative counterparts calling us “rioters” and “looters”. When progressive representatives praise us for our strikes, our campaigns, for using our voices, the far right will label us as insane, tantrum-throwing children, special snowflakes with hurt feelings.

Now is the time to buckle down. Now is the time to educate yourself on exactly what is happening in our Congress. Ask yourself this question, every time you’re tempted to share a meme or post on Facebook: “Can I defend, with actual facts, statistics, and reliable sources, the information contained in this Facebook post?” If the answer is no, you have a duty to yourself, to your party, to your country, and to your future to find out the information you would need if presented with a dissenting argument.

We have a lot of support in Congress, but I can guarantee you that Uncle Bernie and Aunt Liz want us to be citing our goddamn sources.

We have to step twice as fast in order to get half as much done now. We have to be twice as educated and informed to combat the ad hominem attacks coming our way. We have to be completely above reproach if we want to continue to have our voices heard and maintain any hope of changing anyone’s mind.

And occasionally, for the sake of our health, we have to drink some tea, turn off Facebook, and watch some Netflix. Or, here is a fantastic article by Ariana Huffington about how to remain calm and collected in the resistance.

Stay angry, my fellow progressives, but stay in control. Onward.

How I can be pro-choice and still love my daughter


“How can you be pro-choice if you are a mother?” 

I understand the emotion behind this question. I have heard women ask this question with tears in their eyes, in the middle of infertility struggles, or recovering from miscarriages. I have heard this question asked with anger in their voices they try and wrap their heads around the fact that I love my child and would fight for the rights of other women to, from their perspective, abort their own. There is a lot of pain in this question. And a lot of confusion.

But there is an answer too.

Most of the people who ask this question belong to the Christian community in which I live and relate. They believe that life begins when a heart starts to beat, or even earlier, at the point of conception. The problem I have with this theory is that it reduces my daughter to her heartbeat. But my daughter’s personhood is not contingent on her biological systems. 

Her personhood is in her humor, her tenacity, her ability to learn and grow and interact with the world around her. Her personhood is defined and demonstrated by her ability to feel pain and experience beauty, her brain’s ability to create and recall memories. Those are the things that make her my Molly. And these are all things, science tells us, that her tiny brain was not capable of until close to 25 weeks into gestation.

So before that 25-week-mark, I believe – based on my layman’s understanding of the scientific research I have been able to read – my daughter was not a person.

This is the point that causes so much pain and confusion. This is the point that invokes the tears. And if I end my narrative there, it leaves out what is possibly the most important aspect of my beliefs regarding personhood.

Namely, that long before my daughter was a person, I was her mother.

Long before her little synapsis began to fire, creating humanity inside a grouping of fetal cells, I loved her. I gave her a name. I made a place for her in my heart, and in my future, and in my home. I bought her a bed, clothing, food. I built for her a family, designating those around me as “grandma” grandpa”, “aunt” and “uncle.” I wrapped her in a blanket of tertiary personhood, woven of my love for her, until she was able to develop her own.

Mothers are the true creators in this world, not just because our biology allows us to create more autonomous biology, but because our hearts have the capability to bestow personhood on someone who does not yet exist. 

Ask my friend who adopted from overseas, and she will tell you that she loved her son with all her heart long before she knew that he was hers. Ask another who endured the horrors of a miscarriage very early in her pregnancy, and she will tell you that she still feels love for the child that never developed far enough to attain independent personhood. That child is still hers. That child is still real. That child is still deeply loved.

A mother’s love is a powerful force that transcends time and biology. It moves across oceans and creates life and personhood long before our biological systems do. My daughter’s heart beat did not give her life and humanity. I did.

I loved my Molly when she was an unfertilized egg resting deep inside my reproductive system. I loved her long before she implanted in my uterine wall, long before my hormones began to signal that my body was developing a fetus, long before I could watch that development happen on an ultrasound. She was a person to me, and I was her mother, long before her heart began to beat.

But not every woman who houses a fertilized egg is that fetus’ mother.

Just as women across the world use birth control to prevent natural processes in their bodies from initiating pregnancy, similarly, some women choose to abort the process of pregnancy before the developing fetus achieves its own personhood – before that tiny brain ever lights up at all.

They could bestow personhood on that fetus, but they choose not to do so. This is their right. The creator has the right to choose not to create.

I do love my daughter with every fiber of my being. I have loved her since long before she existed. I chose to create her as a person long before her physical form developed, long before her brain begin to function, long before she gained her own personhood. 

And I stand for the rights of women who choose, for their own personal, important, often private reasons, not to create. I can stand for these women, not despite my status as a mother, but because of it.

Because my daughter is so much more than her heartbeat.