There’s been a lot of Internet chatter in my virtual neck of the woods lately. Much of it regards people who have vaginas. Women attacking women over lifestyle choices in the name of feminism. Women’s reproductive health limited by the votes of men. Women opening up about (and some probably hiding from) the very real fact of post-partum depression.
I’ve been thinking about what I want to add, if anything, to these discussions. And then last night a headline caught my eye that zipped shut the chatter and debates in my mind and left me full of grief, frustration, and an overwhelming sense of compassion. Forgive me for being slow to learn about this case (I get most of my news from clips of Weekend Update with Seth Meyers—online, no less, so even my Saturday Night Live News isn’t even live…) but I finally read about Bei Bei Shuai.
Bei Bei Shuai is a Chinese immigrant who attempted suicide in Indiana when she was 33 weeks pregnant after her boyfriend confessed that he was married to, and had a family with, another woman. He left Ms. Shuai crying and begging on her knees in a parking lot, throwing money at her as he walked away. She wrote a suicide note and took rat poison, attempting to kill herself and end her pregnancy.
Friends intervened (I’m guessing she wished they hadn’t) and took her to a hospital where she was saved and her daughter, who she named Angel, was delivered via C-section. Angel died a few days later, in Ms. Shuai’s arms. After Ms. Shuai received psychiatric treatment for a month, the state charged her with murder and attempted feticide.
Obviously, this is sticky. Your opinions and beliefs about the ethics in this devastating story hold implications for women’s reproductive rights. But I don’t want to get into all that. There are other people out there doing a better job than me at getting attention for their causes and holding up Bei Bei Shuai as a prop, no matter what side of the debate they fall on.
What I want to do is offer a voice of compassion and understanding and encourage our readers to do the same. I haven’t even discussed much about my own (excruciating) experience transitioning into motherhood seven years ago. (Hoping there will be a book coming out about it!) But I have a feeling that there must be a few people who know me who wonder about my openness and honesty on this blog and in the essays I seek to publish. Some may wonder if I’m trying to get attention. Some may be embarrassed for me, or themselves, depending on how close they are to me. But I write what I do for times like this: when a stranger out there acts in a way that has people outraged and buzzing and referring to her as a “fucking selfish asshole” and a “stupid thoughtless bitch,” two things I read in a comment section before I realized I should not be reading any comment sections.
I share my experiences because if a white, privileged, educated woman who has incredible familial and social support can get as depressed as I did during and following my first pregnancy, then I can’t even imagine the struggle and despair someone experiences when she doesn’t have the resources I have. It’s devastating. It’s inhumane, the lack of support and resources we offer the women who stop being women and become incubators for the babies we celebrate, photograph, honor. We love the babies. We buy them strollers that cost as much as it would to feed families living in poverty; we dedicate rooms to them that could harbor a dozen refugees; we run out and purchase vehicles that are safer and bigger than the safe, big ones we already own.
But where are the women? Who are the women? Who was Bei Bei Shuai before she became pregnant and a burden that her boyfriend couldn’t handle? Who was she when she reached such an unfathomable low, one that most people never see, that she wanted to end her life and her pregnancy? Who was she when she held a dying infant in her arms, the result of an action that most probably was beyond her rational control?
I don’t know who Bei Bei Shuai was. Or is. Neither does the state of Indiana. We only care now, not really who she is, but what she’s done.
I’m sorry, Bei Bei Shuai. I’m so sorry to be part of a culture that is obsessed with pregnancy and birth and acquisition of babies to the detriment of the women who are pregnant, birthing, and caring for those babies. We failed you and we fail countless other women every single day.
Where are the women? Who are the women? Once they become mothers, they’re mothers.
The women, we leave behind.