“I Won’t Let You Deny Me My Dignity” – Escape Chapter 16: Giving Birth in the FLDS

So, you know how the FLDS takes ordinary things and turns them into something horrible? Then you won’t be surprised at all to see them do it with childbirth.

Content note for some seriously fucked up abuse and coercion, plus massive gaslighting and victim blaming.

Carolyn is seven months pregnant, and has to regularly dash from her second grade classroom to vomit due to morning sickness. But she loves teaching and doesn’t want to leave her students. They and her own children are the only people who make her life worthwhile.

But her children are a vulnerability as well as a delight. The other wives find excuses to chastise and punish her young son in order to provoke and attack Carolyn by proxy.

Any wife could discipline another woman’s children. When a woman in the FLDS wanted to sabotage a rival wife, she’d attack her children by exaggerating or inventing bad behavior so they could be punished.

Image shows a very grumpy looking gray kitten crouched on the back of a leather couch on top of some purple clothing item, scowling. Caption says "Inner rage cat burns with hatred."
The only power Carolyn has is in her vagina. As long as Merril enjoys fucking her, the other wives are afraid he’ll side with her against them if they push things too far. This is the only thing protecting Carolyn and her children from worse abuse.

You may ask why other people are allowed to hit Carolyn’s children. Well, in the FLDS, kids are the property of their father, not their mother, thus making them fair game for whomever chooses to swat them unless Daddy puts his foot down – which he too often doesn’t.

Having no other choice, Carolyn figures out how to please her completely undesirable husband in the bedroom, and how to avoid his abuse outside of it. She observes who he tends to attack, and learns to avoid him at specific times when he’s more likely to blow up. It’s the only way she and her kids can survive this terrible marriage.

Two of Carolyn’s sister wives, Barbara and Cathleen, are also pregnant. The three are due within a month of each other. Barbara is due first, and Tammy and Cathleen get into a snit when her labor begins and she and Merril take off to the clinic without them. You see, sister wives are supposed to attend each others’ deliveries. Since everybody’s going to share the child rearing, why not bond during the birth? Which sounds all loving and crunchy and stuff, but keep in mind these women are all competing with each other for the favor of one man, and don’t necessarily even like one another. Just imagine having to squeeze a baby out of your body while some of your least favorite people judge your technique. Because, you see, having a non-medical audience isn’t the only thing the FLDS requires of a laboring woman:

Aunt Lydia, the midwife, delivered the babies. A doctor was never present, nor was pain medication ever used. Women were expected to be perfectly silent during childbirth. If a woman screamed or made loud noises she was criticized for being out of control. Sometimes she’d be reprimanded by her husband during delivery.

Excuse me. I have a sudden irresistible urge to go visit a table factory and flip all their inventory. I mean, seriously, as if women aren’t already treated like shit enough, they’re not even allowed to have whatever reaction they need to fucking childbirth. They’re not even allowed to cry out during some of the worst pain they’ll ever experience. Fucking infuriating.

And of course, all of the double standards apply to Barbara. She gets to exclude the other wives, but she’s still pissed off Carolyn didn’t have her first two children in her exalted presence. Never mind Barbara was too busy sulking to hurry in, and Carolyn’s body tends to labor too quickly for people to get word out and show up. And definitely never mind Carolyn didn’t want her there to be begin with.

Carolyn makes the mistake of telling the other wives that if Barbara wants privacy for her deliveries, she can show Carolyn the same courtesy. So of course Tammy runs and tattles to Barbara the next day. And Barbara, furious at any glimmer of defiance, decides she’ll make sure Carolyn has a full studio audience for her next labor and delivery. She gives Carolyn a taste of what’s to come when Cathleen goes into labor, tricking Carolyn into coming by saying Merril wants everyone to visit although Cathleen’s not ready to deliver. When Carolyn gets there, of course, Cathleen’s in the final stages of labor, and Barbara’s packed the room with spectators:

Cathleen was writhing in pain and grunting and groaning with each intense contraction. People looked at her with disdain. The small room was crammed with Merril and his six wives, plus five or six of his unmarried daughters.

And, of course, Cathleen’s most private bits are exposed to all and sundry, when usually women are completely covered. Whee, humiliation.

When the baby arrives, neither Cathleen nor Merril cares to hold him. Cathleen can be excused after such an ordeal. Merril cannot.

Carolyn is infuriated and upset enough by the whole production to confront Merril over it later. She informs him she won’t be treated like that and demands he respect her wishes when she goes into labor. His response may provoke you into hurling inanimate objects with great force. Please remove anything valuable from the area before proceeding:

“But of course I will show you respect. You will want the people at the delivery who I decide should be there.”

Image shows Grumpy Cat looking typically grumpy. Caption says, "I'm not saying that I hate you. I'm just saying that if you got hit by a bus, I would be driving that bus."
Carolyn, bless her, is having none of his shit, and advises him so in no uncertain terms. He insists he’ll be the one to decide who’s there, and she basically becomes Sarah from the end of Labyrinth. She stalks off after telling him he doesn’t have the power he thinks he does, and lays her plan to have her baby in peace. She asks her other mother Rosie, who’s a nurse, to be there. Support in place, she waits for Merril to leave town, takes a miles-long walk to get her labor to start. She’s fortunate enough for it to happen on Pioneer Day, which is a huge FLDS holiday. She tells the others she’s not feeling well enough to go to the parade, then calls Rosie after the rest of the family leaves. She has to call Merril in Page, of course, but she’s far enough along that he’ll never make it back in time. She gets some extra breathing space when his answering machine picks up. Score! She hurries to the clinic with Rosie, and gives birth to her daughter LuAnne with only her mom, the midwife, and the midwife’s assistant in attendance.

Operation Stealthy Baby is a complete success. And when your whole life is regulated and controlled by a tyrant, these small victories count.

It’s just horrible that any woman would have to go to such lengths in the first place.

Image is the cover of Escape, which is photo of Carolyn Jessop on a black background. She cradles a framed picture of herself as an FLDS teenager in her hands. She is a woman in her thirties with chestnut hair and blue eyes.

I’m reviewing Escape chapter-by-chapter. Pick yourself up a copy if you’d like to follow along. The full list of reviews to date can be found here. Need a chaser? Pick up a copy of Really Terrible Bible Stories Volume 1: Genesis or Volume 2: Exodus today!

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“I Won’t Let You Deny Me My Dignity” – Escape Chapter 16: Giving Birth in the FLDS
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