A fortaleza dentro da Fortaleza: Part 1

 (a strength within Fortaleza)

Two women from Fortaleza walk into a clinic. 

Their lives outside the door existed worlds apart in the same city. But walking inside, their differences became trivial in the new situation they found themselves in.

They were both young mothers, both had been raped, and both wanted to terminate the pregnancy that resulted from the assault. They both were being drawn through the onerous path of seeking a legal medical abortion in Brazil*. They were both resolute in their decision. They had to be, or it’s unlikely they would make it through the process.

A process, which forces them to divulge the details of the violent event multiple times, to multiple people; to meet with a psychiatrist, a social worker, and a nurse, who then pass her on to the doctor, who then passes her to the ultrasound specialists. There, they insert a large probe into her vagina to measure the gestation age of the fetus in order to verify her story and timeline as truthful. She lies in the dark, eyes pinned to the ceiling above, as the fetus’ heartbeat plays from the machine, echoing off walls around her.

From there she is passed back to the doctor, who then passes her back to the psychiatrist, social worker, and nurse who have her sign multiple documents to double, triple and quadruple check that she understands her decision. Even after all this, today will not be the day both of them had prepared themselves for. There will still be time to change their minds, four days in fact, or weeks even, if they wanted to ponder this longer.

They both shook their heads.

They would be back after the weekend.

Why the weekend? The doctor and staff who oversee at these cases of pregnancy terminations do not work on the weekends. In the rare case that a patient had to stay in the hospital, they wouldn’t want her care to be taken over by just whoever was working.

As doctor explained to them both:

know that while you are with our team, everyone you pass through is here to help and care for you in any way we legally can. But not every medical profession will support the decision you are making, and some of them will make sure to tell you so. In these cases, tem que ter fortaleza [you have to be strong].

Two women from a clinic walk into fortaleza




*There are three legal exceptions Brazil has to its strict anti-abortion laws: (1) in the case of sexual violence, (2) when the life of the mother is at risk, or (3) when the fetus is “incompatible with life”, which is only considered for anencephaly.

A toast to loneliness

May you raise your glass to loneliness

that feeling you long forgot about, but that has not forgotten you

that hole burrowing in your stomach, making you so small you even lose yourself in the vast emptiness dragged in loneliness’ shadow

A glass to the silence that comes when the noises of the world hush, when the cellphones lose their signal, and the glow of electronics eventually peters out

that in the echo-chamber of this silence your thoughts are woken from their deep sleep

May they roar loud enough that this you might hear them and address them with the proper formalities they desire

A glass to the vulnerability that comes with complete responsibility, when we have no one to turn to, and no one to blame but ourselves

A glass to the uncertainty that causes us to raise our hand rather than stand up, that pins our tongue behind a smile rather than let it speak

A glass to that feeling accompanying us on the road to adventure

the one that raises the hairs on the back of your neck

the one that makes you doubt your journey

the one that brings forth the awkwardness, the fears, and the insecurities you thought you left at puberty’s door

And when your path crosses with other travelers, may your lonelinesses find each other

May they collide, split you open, and pour into these fresh new spaces

May they join hands in smoothing down your freightened hairs

May they lend an extra ear to hear your roars

May they fill each other’s silence will stories so big that their pieces break off and are left behind as your own

May they give you strength to stand straighter, to sing off-tune louder, to question without punctuation marks

May they encourage you to lose yourself more often, knowing your loneliness will always find company

So here is a toast! May you cheers to yourself!


Scribbles from this traveler on the road moving nowhere fast

Maria Conceição

How badly they wanted a baby

Each pill she swallowed a little prayer to god, to her ovariers, to the harvest that it might earn them enough to bring new life into the world

At least one of them listened

Like a magic wand, the doctor ran the transductor over her belly

Three little heads appeared on the ultrasound screen

Three little boys flexing their biceps, kicking the sacs that separated them

At 24 weeks they look ready to fight their way into this world

A world where nothing is free, where hardwork promises nothing, where room to exist must indeed be conquered

over and over and over again





the girl with the semicolon tattoo

That day I was supposed to be the patient.

The nurse putting the blood pressure cuff on me was the same one who always takes my vitals. She likes to chew gum; you can see her tuck it between her teeth and cheek as she walks into the exam room. A slight bulge pumping against her straight hair. Today it is dyed a reddish-brown.

As her hands wrapped around my arm, my eyes landed on small blacks on her left wrist.

“Is that a semicolon?” I asked.

“It is,” she replied as she shimmied her stethoscope up around her ears.

“Can I ask if there’s a story behind it?”, a tactless way of indirectly asking the question anyways.

“It is for suicide awareness,” she replied. Continue reading “the girl with the semicolon tattoo”