Then must you speak
Of one that lov’d not wisely but too well
I would like to be honest in telling my story. But unravelling the strands of it is an exercise that never really seems to end; they begin in different places and are almost inextricably tangled. I hated the idea and the reality of abortion, something that violated my values, my sense of meaning in life, my sense of God, if you will. Moreover, I wanted children, felt love and wonder for the baby within me and a deep desire for my child to be welcomed and for me to be welcomed as his or her mother. And yet, I agreed to abortion not just once, but twice. How could such a thing be? Was I uniquely self-destructive, incomprehensibly and tragically foolish?
The abortion ‘choice’ seemed to be all about fear, as far as I can recall, which is only very dimly, as though through the fog of a distant dream. Fear that arose when it was clear the father did not want the child or me as the mother, fear of a thousand voices of shame, failure, brokenness and anxiety that had been placed there by my parents. Fear of the suffering that, in my projection, would be visited on my child. It never even occurred to me that I could have the child alone. There must have been despair. Why did I think such tragic, almost insane things? The answer must lie in what had happened to me before I got to that place of madness – the unresolved issues and conflicts engendered by my damaged childhood – and, of course, in my own particular flaws and failings. One might say the devil was dancing with me, and he danced with particular skill.
A very damaged mother who had not mothered me, particularly when I had needed it most, a vicious and verbally abusive father who seemed intent on annihilating his children, both of them jostling for position as the most unable to care for their children’s emotional or even physical needs, must have made me fragile in a core part of myself. My siblings were distant, apart from one to whom I felt close, and all of them seemed all to view me through the wrong end of the telescope. I was open to life, to love, but had never been loved or truly seen as a child. This lack of recognition was my deepest, and most dangerous, wound.
Ready to do anything and go anywhere in my heady quest for love, romantic and spiritual, I fell into a passionate relationship with a man from another culture, some years older than me, who was technically married (although he had not lived with his wife for many years). For his own reasons, quite unconnected to me (as, decades later, I now understand), he was unable to love me, just like my parents; something in our relationship, however, seemed to seduce and intoxicate me, to call me on into a destination so beautiful it was beyond description. It was an illusion.
I became pregnant, with feelings of wonder and desire for my baby. The man, however, was not blissfully excited. Having the child would have meant facing the calumny of his family, who still believed him to be married and doubtless provoked his terror of commitment. Alone with him in a house in a foreign country, for several days he cajoled, threatened, argued and promised, insisting that I abort. I do not remember much about this time other than that, in retrospect, it has the character of a film I could not stop. I loved the child, I loved the man: he told me repeatedly I would ruin his life. For several days I wept and pleaded, saying I could not have an abortion until, one morning, I woke up and something had broken. I could not fight any more and I agreed to do what seemed to me the ultimate sin against love. I needed to be welcomed and loved; when it did not happen, I must unconsciously have fallen back into the fear and hopelessness of a childhood that had induced the sense that I, and by extension my own child, had no right to be in this world at all… None of these things, of course, made abortion morally or emotionally justifiable; it was as though a knife had been placed within easy access and, in our blindness and ignorance, we used it.
The rest of the film unfolds chaotically, feverishly – the appointment he arranged with a doctor, the operation soon afterwards about which I remember little other other than waking up in a huge room full of beds, the only patient. And then the film gains speed, rushes into an insane fast forward. Back in my own country, just a few weeks later, an old friend called on me, a man with whom I had had a brief romantic relationship when we first met that had subsequently transformed into a friendship. He invited me to spend the night at the house where he was staying. During the night I awoke crying: I had had some terrifying dream about the abortion. Comforting me, one thing led to the next and we ended up making love. Disastrously, doubtless following the imperative of my body, I was again pregnant.
The feelings of wondrous excitement had gone; I felt oppressed, locked into a terrible situation out of which I could see no way. Terrified of inflicting my childhood suffering onto my own child, caught in my love for the father of my first child and knowing that no support would be forthcoming from my family, I again – doubtless already numb with trauma – chose abortion as somehow the most compassionate option in the situation. It was a sickening lie, of course. I was at no stage told about any of the damaging consequences of abortion, quizzed about my exact circumstances or my past or offered support for keeping the child. I lost everything then: the relationship with my lover soon broke up in an atmosphere of mutual
blame and recrimination and my friend, the probable father of the second child (for even that, in this sorry tale, was not certain; it could also have been the other man’s) also disappeared in angry blame and I never saw him again.
Motherhood seemed to me so terrifying and huge, the responsibility for another being’s happiness and welfare an onerous task. I recall dream-like apparitions of a baby in a crib, a longing to hold and nurture the child, but all the reasons why it seemed better for this child not to be born overrode the pulling of the heart and soul. Abortion became a terrible duty of sacrifice that I had to perform for the good of all, obscene though that now seems to me. Death was of course not best for my child. What would have been best for him or her was what was best for me: a nurturing care and protection that would have brought us both to safety.
What was and remains true is that my child was not seen or valued by anyone around me. Something that was to me the world itself, an event of sacred import, was nothing more than a nuisance, a non-event to my family. This continues to be the case. I feel as though for two decades now I have been fighting for my lost children to be recognised and mourned, the horror of their destruction acknowledged. I fight alone. My family, many of whom have themselves been involved in abortion, remains stolidly unmoved and uncomprehending of my suffering. I seem to be alone in my sense that something morally unjustifiable occurred, the destruction of a human being. I alone seem to understand that in fact I had committed suicide.
The ensuing grief, remorse and traumatic reaction found little or no general recognition. Going to a GP for help, she told me that I was experiencing “mixed feelings” – though my feelings about the abortions were anything but mixed – and prescribed anti-depressants. Waking up and going to sleep I would see rivers of blood, had terrifying dreams, was in a constant state of hyper-vigilance, anxiety and suicidal ideation, withdrawing into myself. People said all sorts of things – it was not a baby, I should get over it – except the one thing that made sense. That abortion was a terrible mistake and I should have been supported in having a child. Eventually a doctor diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and told me, as many would, that I was no less of a woman and that I could still go on have a child.
That never happened. Driven by an absolute impulse to get pregnant again (as is so common after abortion), years later I replayed the whole scenario by marrying a younger man from another culture. My attempts to get pregnant failed and we ultimately divorced, after having adopted a baby boy together. I am now raising that boy alone, living out the very situation I had turned away from, far less well equipped without the natural bonding mechanisms and spontaneously joyful connection to life that I would have had the first time around. As in all tragedies, none of it was necessary. My child would have been a source of love and joy whose existence was never regretted, at least by me – and, I believe, even by my unsupportive family. All of the supposed problems would have shaded into insignificance; indeed, the father of the first baby told his mother of the abortion afterwards and she had cried, “But that was my grandchild!”
Everything gets shattered after such horror. Goodness seems suspect, a hollow promise; trust vanishes. One’s self-esteem is shattered to the core, a deep sense of self-loathing pervades. There is nothing to hold onto any more. The longing to go back and act with courage and self-determination is sometimes stifling. I could think it was just me but then I look around: the world is not short of violence and unjust, meaningless tragedy. Where does redemption lie? I suppose only in the attempt to bring compassion and loving kindness into these places of hell, where it is needed more than anywhere else. It is hard, an act of faith such as I would not have believed possible. Of course, like everyone else, I don’t want to talk about it. I want to bury it away under a mountain of silence. But if we do not talk about it, others will not know. They will come to it in the same ignorance as we did. And those who are grieving now will not know that there are others just like them, who fell into the same sordid trap for the same kind of reasons.
I dedicate this website to Shanti and Luke. You live in my heart forever, a symbol of all the suffering caused through ignorance. I love you and I wish with all my heart I could go back and know you. May your brief lives bring about the causes of good in the world.