My heart seemed to stop and then go on beating somewhere far away
Does a mother forget her baby? For me this has been the central question of the
abortion issue. When I was considering an abortion, I was told that the sooner I
had it the less I would feel it afterward. The idea seemed to be that the love I
felt would be killed at the same time as the child. Or, if it lived, it would
always be the same size and same importance.
The child was definitely not important to anyone I spoke to. As for me and my
love well, I was considering an abortion, wasn't I? So how large a love could
that be? And what kind of life would a child have with a mother like that, a
mother who thought of an abortion? I decided to have an abortion and forget
But I cannot forget the child. I don't want to, and after ten years, I see that
I won't. Whether it emerged as repression, anger, guilt, shame, remorse, love or
action, I have always had a feeling for that child, and I always will.
At first I did not believe I loved the child, because I considered an abortion.
Others went along with this. The idea was that I would have some other child
whom I would love right from the start.
A pro-life counselor might have shown me that everyone I knew was threatening
rejection if I did not have an abortion. Such a counselor might have shown me
that everyone was speaking of this child as an economic disaster, and in no
other way, that the abortion was their idea, that I was procrastinating -and
evading and they were making appointments and decisions, that anyone facing such
a storm might think of the unthinkable, that there were other ways of thinking
about the child and other people who would help me. But there were no pro-life
counselors in my life. I was separated from my family. I was separated from the
Roman Catholic Church.
Despite the separation, I expressed some reservations about whether a Catholic
could do this. The people I knew contacted the local liberal priests. These
priests sent an offer to absolve me after the abortion. They gave me to
understand that the Church would soon be approving abortions. Of course, I could
not wait till the Church got around to admitting it had been wrong, so I should
just go ahead.
I did not believe these priests were men of God, but I did think the Church
might soon approve abortions. The nuns had taught me abortion was wrong, but
they were screwed up, I thought. It would happen. However, I had enough of the
nuns left in me to say I did not want absolution from that type of priest.
All these things together clouded my mind. I thought I was not a mother, not
yet, not really, or at least not very much. I was just a little bit pregnant and
I would have a little bit of an abortion and afterward I would be a little bit
sorry. Then I would forget it.
So I did it. But when I came out from under the anesthetic, I realized that the
child was gone. All along on another track in my mind, I had known a child was
there and I had been glad. I did not connect this child with the abortion I was
arranging. As soon as I came to, I missed the child. I cannot describe the shock
I felt. I turned cold from head to foot. My heart seemed to stop and then go on
beating somewhere far away. I said to myself, "What have I done?" There was some
kind of an answer which was so terrible that I cannot remember it even now. And
I suppressed all memory of the entire experience right away. I said I should go
forward and at least get the benefit of what could not now, be undone.
I suppressed the experience, and the original, suggestion -- that you won't feel
much -- seemed to be true. However, I was numb with shock, not
Some women who have late abortions see their children. Then they have an image
for their mind and imagination to work on. But most women have nothing from
their senses to explain their emotional state. Does someone you never saw and do
not know, someone who is dead, someone whom the nation says was not a person -
does this someone matter? A survey would not have turned up an adverse effect.
In fact I was better suited to the world as it now is. I was afraid to live my
soul, and the world as it now is does not want people who are living their
To put it another way: would a marketing survey show the damage done to
Christmas over the last fifteen years by its increasing commercialization? Did
Scrooge know what was wrong with himself before he saw the three ghosts? The
damage done to Christmas is like the damage abortion did to me. In fact, maybe
they are coming from the same source.
I know I turned my mind away from this child who found no room at the inn; who
came unto his own and his own received him not.
Then I had an experience which influenced all my thinking. I was working in a
medical bookstore, a section of a large university bookstore. The medical
section was well stocked with books that had color plates showing every disease
and deformity medicine hopes to cure. All of these pictures were extremely ugly,
and some were indescribably grotesque. For example, the book on forensic
pathology had plates showing slashed throats and burned bodies that made you
realize how television conceals the truth of the violence it portrays.
The people who worked in the medical section became quite hardened to these
pictures. In fact, we would search out ever more ghastly pictures and leave the
books, opened at these pictures, by the telephone or cash register in other
sections of the store. There, they would catch the clerks in the- other sections
off guard as they phoned or rang up a sale. Since the other clerks had their
minds on poetry, art and college cups, you could hope for a good loud scream
These pictures were photographs of real human beings, not drawings. Most
subjects faced the camera, and you could see their faces. Their expressions
were semi-dead. The overall impression was so awful that people cried out in
horror when they were caught off-guard by these pictures.
Then one day I saw a picture of Mother Teresa with a child who had one of these
diseases. I cannot remember what it was. But whatever it was, I recognized it;
it had been one of the more ugly pictures in the medical books. But I was struck
by the fact that this picture was beautiful. You could see the same physical
facts. But Mother Teresa was holding this little child and smiling at him, and
the child was smiling back. Then I realized that the ugliness in the other
pictures had been behind the camera, in the mind that took the pictures.
Let me say in passing that there are a lot of very ugly minds taking pictures
which are used as evidence that groups or individuals lack quality of life. The
ugliness in these pictures is probably the greatest indictment against the
affluent hypocrites of our society. It's one place where the hidden hatreds are
Because of this experience, I came to respect Mother Teresa. Then in the late
'70s, I heard she was against abortion, I also heard that John-Paul II was
against it. Then I knew the Church would not change. I concluded that I was on
the wrong side of life, over with the ones taking ugly pictures. I started to
say abortion was wrong. I went back to the Church - the nun's Church, the one
the gates off hell would not prevail against, not the one where there was no
hell. I tried to straighten out my life. And I tried to find a statement
about abortion that articulated and provided a philosophical basis for my
I was not able to find such a statement. Everything I read seemed to push my
reasons for opposing abortion away. I had some reason other than what I read,
but it hovered just out of reach. Trying to touch it pushed it away like a
My brother and my sister were actively opposing abortion. Through them I became
drawn into the Rescue movement. First, I saw a picture of the police dragging my
sister away. I was conscience-stricken that she should suffer like that for a
crime I had committed. Then during a Rescue the police let my brother fall on
his face with his hands cuffed behind his back. His cheek was cut and bleeding
when I picked him up at the police station.
I resolved to be at the next Rescue, my goal being to rescue my brother. I had a
hazy notion of hitting any officer who dropped him, so it is fortunate that the
next Rescue did not happen at once. But this resolve made me think. I asked
myself many times why they saw abortion as bad for reasons; and I saw it as bad,
but seemed to have no reasons. People I respected opposed it; I myself just felt
uneasy. Sometimes as I listened to pro-lifers, I would think: "I had an abortion
and it is not as bad as you are making it sound."
Then one day as I was driving I thought to myself: "That was your own child; you
killed your own child; that's why you feel bad." Up till then I had been trying
to understand abortion-the-issue: fetal viability, the composition of the
Supreme Court, legislative versus legal powers, how much can Reagan do, etc. And
all these issues were tracking along above my feelings. In just the same way as
I did not realize the abortion was going to kill the child, so I did not realize
that abortion-the-issue was about my own child. But that day, I finally saw what
was on my mind. The whole world seemed to be frowning at me. The trees were
cold, bare and hard. I looked up at the sky which was clouded over. It seemed to
be an angry stone face.
As I looked, God put it into my heart to remember a line from Tennyson: "Every
cloud which spreads above and veils love/itself is love." I thought then that I
was looking at what had happened to my love for my child, that it had all turned
into anger at me. And I was glad in a way that I had finally found that love.
I think that before this, I had felt a fear that my wish had come true, that I
would only feel a little regret - that my child had no one to love him. This
fear was so terrible I couldn't think about it. Maybe only another woman who has
had an abortion can really understand the strange mental contortions and the
So then I knew how I felt about abortion. But I felt a terrible weakness and a
kind of despair - a moral weakness, a despair at the ugly power of the pro-death
forces, a feeling that the child was gone and there was nothing to be done.
It amazed me to see pro-lifers taking on this terrifying force. I had a feeling
about them which is expressed in the words "how beautiful on the mountains are
the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace." Whenever I saw a pro-lifer
taking on the forces of death - being ridiculed, ignored, abused, hit, kicked,
arrested - and overcoming - praying, singing, speaking the truth to hostile
taunting assemblies - I would feel the truth of those words. To see them fight
for the babies was a gospel of peace to me.
Then I was transferred to [a city where] there was no Rescue movement. And my
new job was very demanding. I told myself that I was through with abortion. I
should move on. I should succeed in the world. I should forget pro-life. And I
did. Except when I looked up at the mountains, I would think: "I lift up mine
eyes to the hills; whence shall my help come to me." Then I would think of all
the pro-life prisoners, particularly Joan Andrews.
Now and then I would hear how things were going. It always seemed that more
people were in more trouble. I became more and more disturbed by my own
inaction. Yet I did not have the power to act. I prayed for strength and it did
not come. I began to despise myself, and I thought the best thing in the world
would be to be as brave as the people I had known for awhile. But I did not want
to be like them and suffer.
Then I was transferred back east. I began to have terrible nightmares: the world
was ending and I had not acted against abortion. Or I was dying and I had not
acted against abortion. Then Joan Andrews got out of prison, and I heard her
speak. I began to think I knew what purgatory was - a sense of wasting one's
life without the power to change. For I still wanted everything I had.
Since I woke up from the abortion I had been working to prove that something
could be salvaged from the mess. Otherwise I would hear what that voice said
when I said, "What have I done?" All I could get was things; therefore I wanted
I heard a rumor that Mother Teresa had said that women who had abortions should
go to jail. I don't know what she meant or who she was thinking of. But suddenly
my own mind cleared. All this time, sorry though I was, I had been withholding
something from my living. I decided to remember my child and act.
And suddenly I had strength. I thought it would be justice for my own child if I
went to jail. Suddenly I wanted to establish justice for that one child. If this
meant giving up my career and things, so be it.
I could not forget my child, though I burdened myself trying to forget and
hating myself for trying. The day I decided to remember, I laid my burden down.
Then God stepped in to help me do this without dying of selfish fears.
So I say: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice." My child has a