F is for Fetus
She's like a rainbow
I excavated my email inbox to find the name of the online Christian novelty shop that I ordered 14 plastic fetuses from in 2007. I searched for the word “fetus” and navigated back through 455 mostly political emails until I found the subject line:
“MissPoppy.com: Praise God! Your order is on its way!”
It seems MissPoppy.com is now defunct, but apparently you can buy the domain itself for $6,095.
Apparently I bought the fetuses for $1.15-$1.32 each, depending whether they were “pink,” “white,” or “world.” They are actually called “fetal models,” labeled on their backs:
I purchased these fetal models to spray-paint and use as props in a series of videos. I had recently welded an open-bottom stand for a glass fish tank so that I could film what would look like someone peeing directly onto the camera (Art School!). I was looking for something else to film as if it were underwater, and I guess fetuses came to mind. I’m sure I paused to consider the ethics of giving money to any outlet that would sell pro-life propaganda props. But ultimately it was fun to feel like I was pulling one over on Miss Poppy, tainting her righteous goods in my fish tank of creative depravity. Granted, the other items for sale in her shop included temporary stigmata tattoos and Jesus ashtrays, so I’m not totally sure about Miss Poppy’s political leanings herself.
There is something unsettling about looking at an image of a fetus, human or otherwise. It feels icky in the way you might feel about finding a lock of someone’s hair, something that was once part of a living thing but isn’t anymore. A fetus can’t survive without its host, and so there is something morbid about looking at it, as if the very looking harms it. A fetus feels private.
But when those fetal models finally came in the mail, there was something oddly cathartic about holding them in my hands. Tangible representations of something otherwise so abstract and daunting. A plastic fetus is soothingly inert.
Making work around fetuses, I was trying to capture in images what I still can’t quite capture in words. That feeling that I, an entire human, could ever have another entire human inside of me. On a purely visceral level, it’s a lot to take in. But the fetus’s power really comes as a symbol. Whether or not I ever decided to try growing or continue growing a fetus, my life would be defined by those choices either and any which way.
That is terrifying to consider now, and it was certainly terrifying at 21 years old. At that point my body had already been theoretically capable of pregnancy for nine years, but it had only been recently that I started to grapple with the actual risk. I would go through multiple stints on the birth control pill, for which I thought it was just an inevitable side effect to feel completely insane. My own ability to host a fetus was in stark opposition to the people I was sleeping with, whose bodily integrity was never threatened by that act. Whose stake in the whole thing was so much different than mine.
So I made a lot of videos about fetuses. I titled this one “She,” setting the visuals to the song “She’s a Rainbow” by The Rolling Stones: a song about femininity narrated by a group of men. And it is a video about grappling with gender. My own understanding and the world’s understanding of gender has changed so much in the last fifteen years. I can see now that I was also articulating my discomfort with being what society views as a “she.” Not because I am not a “she,” but because I am also more than that. More than my clothes (wait for the blow-up doll at the end), more than my holes, more than my womb. Dressing femme, physical vulnerability, potential pregnancy: all things that can and have been empowering for me, but have more often made me feel less than free.
I grew up with brothers, and often felt more at ease around men than women. My fertility felt both like a superpower and a curse, both forming and totally at odds with my understanding of self. How casual it must be not to have a uterus. Not to be defined by whether or not and under what circumstances you do or don’t have children.
Of course there is more to being a woman than having a uterus: plenty of women don’t have a uterus and plenty of people who do have a uterus aren’t women. But I wonder whether all people who either use “she” pronouns or have uteruses also have childbearing looming in the background as something they are or are not doing, or can or cannot do. I can’t fully know, but I certainly don’t think that’s true of cismen.
Finding that email from MissPoppy.com, I see the date was October 9th, 2007, which incidentally would have been my grandmother’s birthday.
Four years later on October 9th, 2011, I would first encounter the person I would ultimately marry.
Four years after that on October 9th, 2015 the guests would arrive at the venue for that wedding. And the next day I would walk down the aisle to a stringed rendition of “She’s a Rainbow” by the Rolling Stones with a surprise six-week-old embryo inside of me. I walked with a huge grin on my face: elated to marry the person I love in front of so many of our loved ones, temporarily compartmentalizing the terror I felt at being pregnant and having just spent the whole week prior Googling “abortion.” Life imitates art imitates life.
Did I make all that fetus art as a way to prepare myself for the trauma that is accidentally growing a fetus? Did I manifest getting accidentally pregnant through making all that fetus art? We don’t talk about the fact that even with a loving partner in a stable relationship and plenty of resources, pregnancy isn’t always “congratulations.” That even if it’s something you become excited about later, you don’t necessarily start that way. We don’t talk about the trauma that comes from the intrusion of another body inside of yours, after the insertion of another’s body inside of yours.
There could be a whole other essay on this topic, multiple. How fetuses are so easy to grow for some, so hard for others, and how either way and every which way the whole thing is weird and sci-fi and troubling and wonderful and none of your goddamn business.
The “abortion debate” runs so much deeper than the technicalities of a procedure. It’s about the patriarchal notion that the female body is an object, that the female body is property to all except the person who occupies it. My body is not just a shell I live inside of that I sometimes share with others. My body is me. If I’m a fucking rainbow it’s not because of how I adorn myself, it’s because it’s who I am.
We were all fetuses once. That fact should neutralize the image of the fetus, not inspire us to militantly preserve them. We should celebrate, nurture, and protect the children that fetuses become, when and if they become them. Has any state that’s banned or restricted abortions also come out with a plan to support children and the parents forced to have them? To support BIPOC and working class parents in particular, disproportionately impacted by the lack of abortion access? What about better gun control laws so that the fetuses who do become kids are less likely to be murdered at school? Speaking of school, what about a plan for better and more widespread sex education? Or accessible, affordable birth control? What about male birth control, stopping the seed at the source instead of assaulting the cycle?
I dug up this video fifteen years later because its symbolism still holds something for me. I have since generated two fetuses, carried them until they became babies, birthed them, and am now raising them as children. I don’t need to tell you that I love them; that would only reinforce that my love might even be in question. So many people have so many stories of why reproductive freedom is important, how it has saved or ruined or complicated their lives. So many people have been sharing those stories lately, forced to package their trauma to demonstrate what should be obvious. This is my sidelong version of that.
Today I present to you the symbol of the fetus. Let’s not make it such a big fucking deal.
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