#WomanCentered: DONNA MISCOLTA
#WomanCentered is an independent project by conceptual artist and community organizer, Natasha Marin. Inspired by Women at the Center, a project created with support from the United Nations Foundation Universal Access Project. This series of interviews seeks to tell the inspiring, interconnected stories of women’s reproductive health, rights, and empowerment.
How has having or not having children affected the overall trajectory of your life?
A chronic late-bloomer and perpetually insecure about whether I could succeed at anything, I didn’t begin the job that would become my reliable source of income until my mid-thirties, which was the same time I was having babies.
My husband was creating a business from scratch, while trying to make improvements to the fixer-upper we had purchased, which still after three decades demands ever more fixes. Our lives were complicated with the needs of growing children, an inadequate house, and the pressure of our jobs.
And to pile on more, I decided to become a writer.
Or rather, understanding that despite all that was occupying my life, I decided to acknowledge that something was missing — that writing was what I’d always wanted and that I needed to make room for it. I shoehorned it in between the children’s bedtimes and mine, during their swim lessons and soccer practices, and on the bus to and from work. Having children made my flaws more evident to me — my lack of patience, my indecisiveness, my often poor communication. Whatever wounds we unintentionally inflict on our children in our efforts to direct, guide, and sometimes corral them, the whole push-and-pull, give-and-take, and ups-and-downs of parenting can’t help but inspire introspection, not a little self-flagellation, and a certain amount of growth. The things I’ve been lucky to have — a steadfast partner, a job doing worthy work, my writing, and children — have been inseparable in the trajectory of my life.
Do you feel pressure to fulfill an idea of womanhood that may/may not correspond to who you actually are? If so, please describe.
From a very young age I was highly sensitive to the unequal roles of women and men, of girls and boys.
When I was about five, my older sister and I were playing on the sidewalk near our house. Two boys around our age bounded along and began taunting us. We weren’t allowed to wander away from our house the way these boys could. They had freedom, which meant power, and I resented them. I wanted to punch them. When I was growing up, mothers stayed home and fathers went to work. If women did work outside the home, they were teachers while men were principals, nurses while men were doctors.
When I was in grade school, I read books about Amelia Earhart, Nellie Bly, Marie Curie, and Helen Keller. (Yes, all white women. If there were books about women of color back then, they were not to be found on the shelves of my school or local library.)
My idea of womanhood was a woman who was brave and smart. But the culture I grew up in didn’t pressure me to be brave and smart — just the opposite. It’s taken me a lifetime to be even a little bit brave even a little bit of the time. And while I haven’t always believed in my own smartness, I have always been sure of the smartness and ability of women in general. Always.
Do you have advice for other women regarding birth control methods that worked well or didn’t work well for you?
Every woman has to decide what suits her and her situation best. When I was young, I went to Planned Parenthood where I found thoughtful, compassionate, respectful care. I started out on the pill, but went off after a couple of years. I’ve always been uneasy about taking any sort of medication on a daily basis. So it was diaphragms and condoms after that. Messy and awkward, but at least I didn’t have to remember to take a pill every day and worry about long-term health consequences.
There’s a sign you see at reproductive rights rallies that says, “If men could get pregnant, birth control would be in gumball machines.” Not only would there be easy access, but safety from adverse health effects and trouble-free application would be no-brainers.
In 2016, openly discussing one’s reproductive choices is still considered taboo, why do you suppose more women aren’t having these conversations?
I’m not sure that they aren’t. The young women I know seem to be more in charge of their bodies, more confident of who they are, more sure of what they want and don’t want in life in general. What I am most buoyed by is that women are openly and without shame discussing their abortions — their right to them and their lack of regret at having them. I’ve had two abortions — one in my early thirties and one in my later thirties. Between those two abortions, I birthed two daughters. I’ve never been public about my abortions, which happened in the 80s, the decade following the Roe v. Wade affirmation of a woman’s right of reproductive choice.
One in three women have an abortion, a number that has stayed the same since well before Roe v. Wade. What’s different is that with safe, legal abortion, women don’t die from the procedure. Nor are they forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. This is where the trajectory of my life would have been different — if the right to make decisions about my own body had not been available to me.
Where are you on the continuum of self-love? On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being Kanye West), how much do you love yourself and how do you reinforce and/or improve this?
I turn 63 this year. There’s no resisting the effects of time — the pull of gravity on my face, the graying of my hair. While I don’t exactly embrace aging, I am sort of fascinated by it — both the biology of it and the cultural and social responses to it. Despite the sadness in bidding a slow goodbye to my younger face, there’s an easy curiosity in welcoming an older one. I think it’s easier to love myself as I get older. Time is short. I have things to do. I just can’t squander my time and energy on worry or regret over a wrinkle, an age spot, or thinning hair. I do it judiciously, in small amounts. The rest of the time I enjoy the freedom of not caring.
I’m a nice fat 8 on the scale of self-love.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some vital information or critical education about your body, your overall wellness, or your reproductive health, what would your advice be?
Cultivate your physical strength. When I was growing up, I was embarrassed by my body. I was skinny and flat-chested. I felt insubstantial. Insufficient. I was teased all the time. I pretended I didn’t care, and one day I didn’t care all that much. And then one day, I cared very little. I knew that what I looked like wasn’t the whole of who I was.
I wish that voice had been a little louder, a little more commanding sooner. I was so self-conscious and shy that I missed a lot of opportunities to really connect with people and to fully benefit from new experiences. I was too busy being intimidated by other people’s looks, accomplishments, and seeming self-confidence. I didn’t listen closely enough, never spoke loudly enough. My sense of strength and well-being developed over time from a discipline that began in my late twenties with a regular routine of running and biking. I built muscle, and heart and lung capacity. In my sixties, I’m still strong, still fit, despite some sagging here and there, some rumpling at the waist and belly. Feeling physically strong and resilient makes it easier for me to speak up and speak out.
Donna Miscolta is a Filipina/Mexican-American writer who has received numerous grants and awards, including the Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman. Her short story collection Hola and Goodbye is forthcoming from Carolina Wren Press in November. View the book trailer for her novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced and read more about her at donnamiscolta.com.