Scandalously irreverent and theologically imprecise briefs on heroines of the faith, written by a recovering Protestant agnostic seeker with practically no training and exactly zero filter.
Sometime late last year, someone asked me to write about Saints Perpetua & Felicity. They said they were quintessential pro-life feminist icons, so I was so excited to dig into their stories.
Then, I went down to the Texas border.
My consistent life feminist group works with a shelter in Mexico for women who have experienced sexual assault, many of whom have become pregnant as a result.
As we drove down the bumpy uneven roads in this dusty Mexican town towards the shelter, we saw women carrying babies on their backs, and small children selling gum in order to buy their meal for the day. It’s a level of poverty that many aren’t used to, but there’s also a buzz to this city. The beauty of its people radiates with life in a place steeped in so much death. And it keeps pulling us back in, trip after trip after trip.
When we finally got to the shelter this time, we quickly realized it was a very special day.
They were taking their Christmas pictures, and with the influx of babies born last month, our board member K. (who runs the shelter), had a brilliant idea for the shoot. Like, many women destined to fail before her, she’s found pictures on Pinterest to guide her vision. Little Santa hats were to adorn the babies’ bottoms as they laid on their stomachs, looking up at the camera like the cherubs they are.
It’s a level of poverty that many aren’t used to, but there’s also a buzz to this city. The beauty of its people radiates with life in a place seeped in so much death. And it keeps pulling us back in, trip after trip after trip.
If you’ve ever been bitten by the Pinterest snake, you know where this story ends. The poison of Pinterest courses through your veins, making its way to your brain where it’s only job is to deliver one simple message: “This is going to be so easy! And turn out so cute!”
LIES! Lies, I tell you.
Within minutes, six adorable little infants were lined up, and seconds later I’m pretty sure the sound barrier was broken. All of the mothers began whistling and calling out, “Look here! Look here!” in Spanish, as they surrounded the babies. Trying to get them to smile was a losing battle, because most just laid there like little lumps of cuteness. A hat would topple and a mother would quickly rush to put it back on, then scurry out of the picture. Then another hat, and another. This process continued for at least 15 minutes, until they were all finally ready to accept defeat.
It was an adorably universal circus. Babies gotta baby. They care nothing about your Pinterest poisoning. Nothing. They are the reason “fail” memes exist, because at some point you have to just laugh at the lies you told yourself about how these pictures would turn out.
The joy in the room was palpable, and as a bystander charged only with holding precious babies until showtime (then getting the heck out of the way), I couldn’t have possibly enjoyed this spectacle more.
But the trip was not all Santa hats and hilarity.
As we traveled between the shelter and the modest homes that many of you would call “shacks” — where some of the other mothers lived — K. told us the reality of their regular days.
She always does.
The tales of the caravan that came to Juárez last year, full of pregnant women, and those who’d just given birth. She told us the horrors of them being kept behind chain-link fences, under the border bridge on the Mexico side, for a week, people just passing by as if it were normal. Women with open c-section wounds that weren’t being treated. Mothers having their newborns taken away just long enough for their milk to dry up, before getting them back… with no way to feed them now.
So when I excitedly began reading the story of Perpetua and Felicity, that feeling quickly faded, and I immediately had to stop.
Here were two women, Perpetua who was pregnant and Felicity having just given birth, who were jailed for their faith under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus in the very early 200’s. They were to be put to death for this crime.
After the guards were bribed, Perpetua — a noblewoman of means — was moved to a different part of the jail where she was allowed to keep and nurse her child until the time came for her martyrdom.
A mother locked up in a cold cell, trying to soothe and feed a newborn… the last time I thought about such a thing was when I was going through images of the detainment centers along the Texas/Mexico border.
Women with open c-section wounds that weren’t being treated. Mothers having their newborns taken away just long enough for their milk to dry up, before getting them back… with no way to feed them now.
I saw pictures of women with small infants cleaving to them for warmth, as they waited in holding — as if their very existence was a threat to others. I remember thinking how incredibly difficult that must be. Anyone who’s ever taken a child on a plane has tasted a small bit of what these mothers were — are — going through. Both of these women, Perpetua and the one at the border, had nothing to entertain their children in order to keep them tranquil.
I decided to press on reading, and couldn’t help but see the similarities in almost every paragraph of the Saints’ stories, as I read the summation of the texts compiled by Vivia Perpetua.