My son turned one recently, and that milestone brought an enormous package of emotions along with it, most of which I don’t even know how to unpack yet.
The point is that his birth — and the frenzied period of time that led up to it — has been on my mind a lot lately. When I went past my due date, my doctor insisted on inducing labor, even though I wanted to wait for the baby to come naturally. I begged for more time. I offered to go to the hospital every day and have additional tests to make sure the baby was still thriving, even though it meant paying for those tests out of pocket.
For this my doctor labeled me as “noncompliant,” and made a note in my file that I was a problem patient. She scheduled my induction and said if I didn’t show up to the hospital, she’d drop me as a patient and I’d have to deliver the baby on my own. The more I tried to reason with my doctor, the angrier she became, which was incredibly frustrating for both of us.
I cried. I didn’t understand why, if my baby was healthy, my doctor wouldn’t allow me to have the birth I wanted. Why didn’t I have the right to be in charge of my own body? I wasn’t making an outrageous request; I was merely asking for time.
Eventually I submitted. I was too vulnerable and frightened. I didn’t have the strength to question the doctor’s authority, even though I was certain I was right, and I ended up with a surgery that could have compromised my health and the life of my son. One year later, I still wonder if I would have had a better birth experience had I been more assertive and stood up for what I believed.
All of those memories were fresh as I watched the Sandra Bland arrest video, and it reminded me of my own standoff with an authority figure. The escalating anger and frustration. The questions that were met with aggression. A situation in which mere protest became a threat to someone with the upper hand. The dehumanization that followed.
The difference is that Sandra Bland didn’t waver. She knew her rights, and she didn’t cave. She displayed the courage I wish I had.
Do you remember those “Question Authority” bumper stickers? I used to have one of those, slapped across the inside of my locker in high school. It’s a phrase ripped from a Benjamin Franklin quote: “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority,” because it’s a good thing to challenge conventional thinking, to assert opinions, and to be critical. Somewhere along the way, that part of me fell silent.
I don’t know where to place all the rage and sadness I feel over Bland’s death. I don’t even know if my feelings matter, since this isn’t about me. It’s about the complex, sticky web of injustice, and the lack of empathy for those who at their most vulnerable. How do we even start to fix that?
My friend, Natashia Deón, posted this on Facebook when asked, “What can I do now?”: “You have your wisdom, your voice, your vote and your poetry. Even if you’re not a poet, the ACTIVE pursuit of justice is poetic. Be brave and Godspeed.”
This is what I want to do moving forward. I want to listen and learn from others, and cultivate empathy and compassion in the face of fear and injustice. I want to find that tiny voice inside that has been silent for far too long. More than anything, I want to be brave and outspoken, always questioning. Always, always questioning.
I hope you’ll join me.