I was 22 years old when I stood in the bathroom, wishing the pink line did not clearly state the news I didn’t want to believe.
At that time I had just graduated from college and I was in love with a gorgeous, smart, funny man of Irish descent, running an alternative newspaper, managing the Experimental College at UC Davis which offered alternative classes to students and the public, performing around town with a Congolese drum group, and just starting to teach small groups of women. I was also facing the large amount of baggage and unresolved emotions I’d been dragging around from my childhood. It was a beautiful, messy, emotional, creative, expanding time.
And then I found out I was pregnant.
As a writer even then, I documented my journey through my journal. Below is that journey, re-typed 26 years after my words were published, followed by one more entry from a few days ago.
Do I regret my choice to have an abortion? Read on.
This article was originally published in Matrix Magazine, November 1991
A Journey Alone to Myself: Journal Pages from An Abortion
While the political battle over abortion rights escalates and pro-choice and anti-abortionists continue to angrily argue theory in the streets few people speak openly about their own experience and personal reasons for choosing abortion. When I became pregnant two years ago I was forced to honestly scrutinize my life and decide what I truly wanted for myself. This is my own personal and spiritual story of pregnancy and abortion.
October 11, 1989
I don’t want to believe it but it is true, it is true. I am pregnant. I have been feeling sick for the last three weeks, but kept thinking it was the flu. After rushing around for so long in my external world of school and work and scheduling too many things at once, suddenly I have been thrown back into myself. The rush, demands of the external world have faded and I am suddenly deep inside of myself, questioning, listening. Do I feel ready to have a child?
I’ve spent so many hours talking with friends, talking with Tom. He will support me in whatever decision I make. “It is our child, but it is your body, so I think you should have the final decision.” Last night I went over to a friend’s house and cried and talked with her for a long time. She saiid, “If you sincerely wanted to you could bring this child into the world. You are a strong woman. It would be very difficult. I think the main thing is to ask yourself: Are you really ready to have a child, to devote your life to someone else, to immerse yourself in nurturing another being?”
I am not ready for these things. My own healing process, the beginning of reclaiming my spirit, of discovering who I am rather than who everyone wants me to be, is so fragile, so new. I want to nurture myself, strengthen myself. How can I raise a healthy child without truly knowing who I am? I have so much to learn, so much to explore.
Under a great-grandmother of an oak tree on a still summer night I met the spirit of this child growing inside of me. A friend talked me through this trance journey, and I went down a hole in a oak tree, deep down until I could feel his spirit. He was such a strong presence, and I cried and told him: I am not ready to have a child. I am not ready.” Despite my pain and uncertainly I was filled with a sense of peace, and knew in my bones he does not feel the need to be born through me. He says, “Do not worry about me, Heather.” And I sense that he is ancient, I sense the power of his spirit, his autonomy. And I know that I must choose to live for myself, to find my own power. This is the only thing he asks of me, to be true to myself. The cells of a potential human are growing inside of me, but the spirit, the soul of that being is not attached yet, and I could gently feel him leaving my body, feel his compassion for my struggle.
I have decided to have an abortion. I am scheduled to go in on October 27. I don’t want to wait that long, and to be dependent on someone I don’t know to perform the abortion. I wish I had the knowledge of my ancestors about abortive herbs, that I had control over carrying through with my decision.
October 23, 1989
Last night I went to a Davis City Council meeting with a group of people to support the council’s proposal to name Davis a pro-choice city. There I was, six weeks pregnant with my abortion scheduled in four days, surrounded by many anti-abortionists. I vacillated between wanting to say to the crowd, “Hey, I’m six weeks pregnant and I’m going to have an abortion, what do you think about that?” and feeling so protective of my body.
I argued with them in my head, running through my political reasons for believing women have the right to decide for themselves about abortion. But for me it comes down to this: I am not ready to have a child. I don’t even know who I am. In the end I am the only one who can make this decision. The anti-abortionists may have my best interests in mind; I know many of them care deeply about the life within me. Yet I am responsible for myself and this child. Ultimately my body belongs to me, and the fetus within me is part of my body. The decision must rest with me and my knowledge of myself. No one else understands my struggles, my dreams, my pain.
November 2, 1989
It has been a week since my abortion. After many days of feeling so nauseous that I could only nibble on Saltine crackers I am finally beginning to feel like myself again. I feared before the abortion that the sickness would go away and I would begin to enjoy being pregnant, and find myself torn again over my decision. And two days before the abortion I woke up filled with a kind of radiance, fullness. How to explain it? I know many pregnant women have felt this, the incredible wonder and awe at having a human being growing within one’s body. And while I had feared this joy, afraid that it would make it even more difficult to go ahead with the abortion, I was able to welcome it. To allow myself feel a glimmer of the fullness of a truly wanted pregnancy. Even this did not change my truth, my emotional inability to have and sustain a child.
I found myself filled with both radiant joy and incredible sorrow that I am unable to have a child right now. From this I learned that I can hold such vastly different emotions at once; the joy of life within’s one body and the grief of death. And while I mourned having to let go of potential life, I am so grateful not to be pregnant anymore.
The abortion itself wasn’t as difficult or painful as I anticipated. Tom held one of my hands, a woman from the clinic held the other and reminded me to keep breathing. Afterwards I asked to look at the embryo, and was allowed to see the brilliant strawberry jam-red lining of my uterus, with a tiny, flat sac the size of my pinkie finger. It looked completely empty, but somewhere there still naked to the human eye was the potential for a child. What an inspiring thing! My body actually has the ability to create new life. I can take the incredible energy that went towards the growth of this child and channel it into my own growth, my own healing.
November 14, 1989
After I went through my own abortion I fully understood the possibility of losing the legal right to have one. I believe in the sacredness of a woman’s right to choose. It is nightmarish to imagine women forced to have children they do not want because abortion is illegal, or to think about the many women who would die during illegal abortions. Each person has a right to choose their own morality. This right ends when it interferes with another person’s right to freedom and happiness. I will not allow anyone to dictate what is best for me.
Ultimately, only I can decide my own fate, and the fate of the cluster of cells that was growing inside of me and was part of me. A fetus within a woman cannot survive on its own — it is an intimate and completely dependent part of her being. I alone have the sovereign right over my being. Only each individual woman knows if she is ready to nurture, feed, teach, and protect another human being intensely for the next 20 years. Who else can make that decision for her?
I know I made the right decision. Though sometimes I fear, will I regret this in two months? In two years?
July 29, 1990
When I choose to end my pregnancy eight months ago I made a commitment to myself, to my own emotional and spiritual development. A journey towards myself. Since I was 15 I have been in a romantic relationship, always leaning on someone else to define who I am, what I want. Now that Tom has moved to New Mexico I need to learn to rely on myself, to set my own goals and determine my own values. I am terrified at the thought, and excited. I am so used to relying on others to fill in who I am, what they want me to be. But I want to discover my true core, to see what comes from within me, to let the self I thought I was die, to see what remains after I clear the ashes away.
August 21, 1991
It has been almost exactly two years since Tom and I conceived, and today I am sitting on the hard found in front of the pear tree we planted after our abortion. So many thoughts run through my head. It is now August, the month my first child was conceived. A child conceived in the fire of Leo. We named him Colm.
As I sit here and water the tree and watch the sun cast a glow on the mountains to the west, the spirit of Colm is so tangible I can almost see him smiling, walking towards me through the tall blonde grass. When I think about my spirit child, it is often with a mixture of great joy and some sadness, with no regret. He has taught me many things — how to love intensely and let go, how to acknowledge the importance of death, what it feels like to have a being in one’s body, the fullness of pregnancy. And each day I am thankful for his spirit and my freedom, the space that I have in my life to heal and grow into my full inner power an nurture the things that are important to me: my art, drumming, writing.
I am frightened by the news regarding the erosion of abortion rights, by the thought of Bush nominating a new Supreme Court judge who is not pro-choice, by the diminishing rights for safe and legal abortion in some states. It seems so ludicrous, yet it is happening. It is now illegal for federally funded family planning clinics to even mention abortion. What happened to freedom of speech, how can this be happening? What can we do to stop it? We need to gather together to share our experiences, to draw strength from each other, and to fight our inalienable right to make our own decisions about our bodies.
October 2, 1991
Today B. (the 14-moth old child I babysit) and I lay on the floor laughing at each other. He looks at me, grins mischievously and then throws himself on me, laughing and laughing. At times he looks so solemn and serious, especially around strangers, and now he shines, so alive and silly, and we are enjoying being silly together. As I look at his little fingers, at his smile filled with a handful of tiny teeth, I think about Colm, who would be nearly the same age as B. It strikes me so strongly — I could have a child this age. It has been almost two yeas since my abortion — do I regret it? I look into his blue child-innocent eyes, the sleepy smile under his tiny nose and think to myself: Was it the right decision?
And as I walk home alone, I know it was.
April 8, 2016
Who would I be today if I had chosen to birth a child? I would have been a 23-year old mother who had just started her spiritual and healing path. Today I’m a 49-year old pre-menopausal goddess who feels no regret or guilt around my decision, just gratitude for the choice and support I had. I am deeply content with my life, with the freedom I have, with the beauty of living my dreams and birthing books. They are my children, and I am so happy to feed and nourish them and share them with the world.
Whatever our choices are, they are simply a choice; I don’t believe there is a right or wrong. I have no doubt that having a child would have been incredibly rich, powerful, and expanding. But I did not choose that path, so that possibility line collapsed, opening up other doors in my life.
My prayer today is that all woman may have a choice of if, when, and how they want to birth children. It is incredulous to me that in our “modern” country women’s reproductive rights are still being threatened.
My prayer is that abortion or adoption or creative parenting options will always be open for women, along with tons of support and praise and honor for women who choose to have children. What we need is more conscious, loving, kiss-ass mothers: mamas of children, mamas of art, mamas of books, mamas of other people’s children, mamas of the earth, mamas of creativity. And fathers who also parent consciously and are papas to their children, papas to their spiritual path, papas to their vision, fathers for healing. There is so much to be parented and guided and loved fiercely; starting with ourselves and rippling out to everything we birth. May it all be in beauty, without regrets, and with full, present participation.
There is no right or wrong, only choice. May we all choose well in spreading our mama / papa love balm wherever it is most needed, over and over again.