There is great insight in this feminist truism from the 1970s: “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” According to Faye Wattleton’s memoir, this pithy remark was first spoken by a female cab driver as she drove Wattleton and Gloria Steinem to a feminist rally in New York City. We might think of the sacrament part of the quote as an ironic joke, an over-exaggeration for comedic effect. But I began to take the remark much more seriously after I had an abortion myself, as a 42-year old witch and a mother of two, and encountered a profound spiritual depth in the experience. It was then that I finally came to understand the complex web of will, mind, body, heart, and spirit, of family, self, and society, of future and past, that may be summoned and considered and experienced in the choice to end a pregnancy.
By the time I had the abortion, I had considered the decision deeply and—for reasons I needn’t go into here— was sure it was absolutely the right one for myself and our family. The procedure itself was smooth and painless, even beautiful. The doctor was experienced, gentle, and sensitive. The clinic was so aware of the spiritual and psychological dimensions of abortion that I was invited me to choose a lovely smooth small stone to hold during the operation and bury afterwards to create closure. It would be hard to imagine a better abortion clinic experience.
That’s why it totally blindsided me when I headed into a horrible depression soon afterwards. I’d wake up each morning with tears in my eyes and a lead weight on my heart as it sunk in yet again that I had ended a life inside me and that I was completely alone with this bitter awareness. Had I made the wrong decision after all? I went over and over it in my head, turned it over and over in my heart, but nothing changed. I felt paralyzed. It was as if I’d been poisoned. Much of the anger was against my husband. He didn’t have to wake up every morning living with the knowledge that he had killed our baby inside his body. How could he go on living his life as if the whole thing were no big deal? The family in general, the world in general, everyone else just kept moving forward with their lives as if things were fine. What looked like their callousness and heedlessness was unbearable.
And so it went for the better part of a year, as I struggled to claim my power. Witchcraft is about making use of the fullness of our Goddess-given selves. It can be frightening to embrace our more shadowy forces: fear, anger, fury, death, and grief. But that work is just as essential as coming to love. he shadow, when embraced with compassion, has great gifts to offer us. In contrast with monotheistic ideas of perfect good and unacceptable evil, the Goddess of the witches embraces day and night, death and life in one. As a witch, I try to allow each of my feelings its place, even the fierce and destructive ones— to experience each energy as much as possible without judgment. A large part of my spiritual healing and growth has come from integrating those parts of myself that had been repressed or ignored. During these hard months after the abortion, I stretched myself in new ways, aiming to come to terms with the “hard Goddess” in me; like Coatlicue or Kali, I needed to put on my necklace of skulls.
One Saturday morning almost a year after the abortion, the hard Goddess’s work with me was done. I woke up and instantly realized, in one crystal-clear instant, what my problem was. It was simple. I needed a post-abortion ritual. And it had to be a family ritual. The abortion had been a community decision —but I had been trying to handle all the spiritual work of processing and coming to terms with it completely alone. This literally wasn’t possible because, though I had had the final say, the decision had never been made for my own sake alone. I had made it for my family as a whole. So the hugely serious moment needed to be marked within the community that it affected—the community of our family. We needed a family ritual.
The ritual we used (which may be found in my epic poem about a sacred abortion, Among the Goddesses) was beautiful. Soon after we started the ceremony, a deer gave us the blessing of its company, watching us from a couple of feet away until we were finished. Afterwards we walked in silence through the woods, all four holding hands, connected with reverence for the gift of life, gratitude for each other, and grace in our humility at the endless depths we had navigated together. It was an amazing day.
The next morning, I woke up with a light heart for the first time since the abortion. My depression had vanished, and as of twenty years later, I have felt only peaceful, calm, and grateful about the abortion ever since. (About four years later, during a yoga class at the Stone House in Freeport, Maine, I felt the soul of the baby leave me and move out into the trees. Since then I have felt its spirit out in the universe as a beautiful spirit blessing me and smiling. Recently, I came across a yogic teaching saying that it takes the soul of a baby four years to leave after an abortion).
To be continued tomorrow . . .
Annie Finch is an award-winning poet whose writings embody and explore the matrix of poetry, magic, and matricultures. Her books include six books of poetry, most recently Spells: New and Selected Poems, as well as books and essays on poetry, meter, feminism, and witchcraft; verse plays; a poetry textbook; and nine anthologies including Choice Words, a landmark collection of literature on abortion. Annie teaches workshops and retreats on Poetry Witcheryfor poets, witches, and everyone in between. She earned her Ph.D from Stanford University and has performed and lectured widely at universities including Berkeley, Harvard, and Oxford and women’s conferences and spiritual venues including Emerging Women and Deepak Chopra’s Homespace. Sign up for Annie’s Spellsletter, full of news and inspiration, at anniefinch.net.
4 thoughts on “ABORTION AS A SACRAMENT: A Poet’s Perspective Part 1 by Annie Finch”
Thank you, Annie, for this frank and uplifting essay. I really like your focus on post-abortion ritual as necessary grease expressing our humanity and essential to living a balanced life.
Powerful writing, Annie. In deep honor and sharing on the divine feminine app. Love, Caryn
Thank you for this deeply honest and beautifully expressed sharing of your experience of abortion. This perspective of abortion as a community sacrament and your exploration of the many levels of meaning of abortion ring so true. I was struck by the appearance of the deer. I’ve had deer mysteriously appear and seem to be there to witness memorable moments of my life. It also puts me in mind of Judith Shaw’s post of a couple of days ago about deer as harbingers of hope.
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Wonderful moving and ever so honest accounting of what abortion does to a woman… you went through the process courageously and you were fortunate in that you had family for closure….Abortion is a choice – maybe the hardest choice a woman has to make – and trivializing it or condemning it is insanity.