Abortion's Spiritual Dimension
After publishing an article supporting the protest against the Polish government’s proposal for increased abortion restriction (this in a country where it is already practically illegal), I was asked by several people to translate the article into English. It is commonly said that a person should not translate their own texts, but here it is.
Over a year ago, I was playing a concert with a choir in a church in Arizona, where I was living at the time – where the sun toasts the earth merrily and severely in turn, the cacti sting, coyotes giggle, and abortion is legal. While on break I found a leaflet on the floor of the women’s bathroom – one of many scattered round the toilets and the sinks – about a Catholic foundation for traumatized women post-abortion who seek healing. Do you want to return to God?, the leaflet asked, seemingly friendly but grinning in a decidedly hungry way. Various women were quoted – one, I remember, wrote that for ten years, she felt guilty. 'Nobody understood me,' she mourned in retrospect, 'I could not get myself together for years. It was only when I came here and asked God for forgiveness that I started to feel better.'
(I quote, of course, from my not-the-best-of-memory, but I recall the sentiment very well.)
Other women told similar stories – abortion was not something they had spent too much time thinking about before the fact, but after their abortions they could not break out of consuming and distorting states of anxiety, guilt, and cycles of depression and anger. In the end, they wrote, only the priests of the Catholic Church could support them in forgiving themselves. According to this leaflet, it was there, in this special center invented and masterminded by an organization that considers women to be nothing – there, these aching women finally found relief and understanding for the spiritual trauma that they carried within themselves. There they returned to God.
Reading the leaflet saddened, angered, and troubled me. I do not deny that these were real women writing about their experiences, their one and only life, and how the churning, life-giving cycles of healing came to a terrible, teeth-gnashing halt at the moment when they encountered that monstrous and necessary thing that abortion is. I do not believe that these were invented stories, because I do not know a single woman after an abortion (and I know many) whose experience was easy. A woman who ‘just has an abortion’ (in the stench of glib veneer coming off of the phrase), is a myth.
Abortion is a battle on the field of the female body, and every woman who passes through it, finds herself on both the winner’s side and that of the loser. She has won herself. She has won her NO, her courage, maturity, body, health, soul, and that deep, mysterious knowledge of Mother Earth regarding life and death. What has she lost? Her innocence. Her sense of security. Her position in a shame-free bracket of society. Her hope that there are things she can count on. That someone else will know better. That someone will tell her what to do, and how. That God will not put her in this situation. Maybe before this event she did not have to wonder – not in a bone-rattling-deep way – what kind of God allows sick children, rape, violence? What kind of God creates a world where I have to pull my fetus out of my body with my own hands, in order to survive? What kind of world is this? What is this life? Will there be anything better for me? Will I have children later or will I never get pregnant again? Will I succeed in not getting pregnant again? Will the next fetus be healthy? Where did I err? What is wrong with me? Am I a bad mother? Will I be a bad mother? Is it bad, that I do not want to be a mother?
These are not questions that live and feast in a person’s head alone. This is the roar of a wronged body; it is the pulse of an energy that wants to create; it is a daughter's cry (because every woman is a daughter). Perhaps questions can be classified as a kind of symptom, but in this case they are aspects of trauma, of an unfinished ceremony – a ceremony of cycles, lunar spindles spinning, a ceremony of endings and beginnings. After all, abortion has existed from the very beginning, and through all of this time women have helped each other through it, climbed together this existential mountain – through ceremony. Ceremony is a circle, it is death and it is life.
Abortion absolutely is a physio-bio-energy-psycho-spiritual matter, and that is why all priests – from the Roman Catholic Church to shamans of every cut and creed – should support easy and free access to it, so that everyone can focus on the healing process. Because abortion is not easy, and every woman experiences it differently. Every woman who undergoes an abortion deserves to live; she should be invited to take up – to claim – life, again and again, by all around her. She needs support in every process that she may need, because abortion – pre, during and post – is neither easy nor pleasant. Slogans such as 'Abortion is OK', are perhaps useful in matters of law and politics, but the women I know exited their abortions with deep scars, and they do not feel like talking about it much, though, as one of them told me, 'I think about it every day.'
This is not just about sick children. It's about rape, violence, disease, abuse, bad timing, a deep-seated NO, and your own life. It's about women's intuition, and about the fact that a woman knows, in the depths of her soul, what to do and what is good.
Society, (shockingly), is afraid of this knowledge.
One woman had an abortion when she was in a toxic relationship. She feels that she had to kill something of herself in order to survive. We have no compassion for her. Another woman had two abortions while with a partner addicted to drugs, one who beat her. She feels a great sadness when she thinks about it, even though it happened twenty years ago. She always wanted to be a mother, she says, but in this situation something in her screamed NO. She tried to save herself. She did save herself. The man overdosed. She cried for him truly and honestly, real tears for who he could have been, who they could have been, for the hope in their love that died in the abortion. We have no compassion for her. A woman had an abortion because the man beat her regularly and she was quite simply, afraid. She wanted to run away from him, but he terrorized her. He suspected something, confronted her – in the end he threw himself on her, reaching out, clawing, with hands grabbing, craving (don’t we know this so well?), her destruction. Fleeing, she kicked him and broke his hand. She regrets that it had to be like this, but he would have killed her, she says. We have no compassion for her. The singer and artist Amanda Palmer writes openly about her abortion in her book, 'The Art of Asking'. Abortion was strongly recommended by medical doctors, based on information about medications that Amanda took before she found out she was pregnant. They told her that the fetus was probably already damaged. For a month, Amanda could not get herself together. As she recalls, she crumpled up in herself, with a new, wildly unfamiliar and painful hollow, and had no will to sing. There is nothing you can say about it. There are no words.
We have no empathy for these women – no compassion, no support, no respect.
Of Abortion it is said that women should have the right to. It is declared either that it is murder or that it is nothing – like swallowing a pill. Nothing is said about the right to heal on every plane. Nothing is said about the trauma carried out on a woman's body, about pain, about the spiritual dimension. And because of that, we now feel the specter of a huge, unnatural silence – which fortunately is starting to crack. Over and over and everywhere, I hear the same story: women who knew that this is not it, that this is not how it should be, that there is something wrong. Women who had to do something terrible to save themselves. These are the women we do our best to erase.
Soldiers at war are not erased in the same way. What they do and how, we do not want to know, but they must kill for good reason. A woman who knows that she must do what is most terrible, and that this battle will take place in her body – in her soul – she is not rewarded with medals, nor provided help for recovery. Society does not give her money to rest, does not send her to ceremonies, or invite her to the Forest. On the contrary. We honor soldiers for killing people. We build them monuments. We agree that what they do is important. For women who kill, who transform death in their own bodies for us – death for life’s sake – for them we save no congratulation. We sneer at them, we spit on these women, we refuse to see them. In ancient times (and now), in mythological times (the times that have always been, are, and will be), women came with their cracks and breaks and wounds to ritual, to the circle, to ceremony. There, people could say goodbye and welcome – there, they could transform.
A woman should have the right to abortion, and – what is also wrapped up in unnatural silence – she should not be blamed for miscarriage! Women should not be comfortable scapegoats for a society that blames them for everything. Miscarriages are often treated in one form or another as conscious abortions, because maybe a woman did something wrong, maybe she thought badly, she breathed improperly, she allowed herself to get stressed, she ate something unhealthy, she exercised too much or did not go for a walk ... etc. How to win? It's not possible. In her book Radical Acceptance, the meditation teacher Tara Brach describes how when she was a young woman her guru publicly trashed her for having miscarried, a heartbreaking event after which she turned to him for emotional support and an attempt to understand what had happened. 'It's your fault, bitch,' he told her at an ashram assembly in California, 'it's your selfishness that killed your child.' Maybe this story strikes us as extreme, but is the position of Pope Francis – that women should be forgiven an abortion if they show remorse – is it not similar? Forgiveness on the condition of admission of guilt. Mea culpa, Padre! In Zimbabwe, I met two shamans who considered abortion to be the worst evil. One told a woman who asked him for help that she was crazy. "What would my spirits do to me, if I helped her in murder?" he snorted. The other shaman said that, of course, God can forgive everything, but abortion is murdering un-born children, and it is awful. Everywhere, it seems, spiritual institutions are, with great satisfaction, lasciviously drinking women’s guilt, like vampires sucking blood. They cast round their paranoid gaze, looking for spells. On all sides, they are terrified by specters of powerful witch-women who rule over life and death. (Fascinating, really, because it’s True.)
The spiritual Patriarchate, which exists not only among Christians, but also Jews, Muslims and Shamans the world over, should learn from and of the intuition of a Woman, who knows (this is her BODY, her SOUL, her MIND, her SELF), what must live and what must die. What opportunities to feed and what needs to end.
We need ceremonies led by women that give life and end life and that are deeply familiar with an honest and organic and powerful NO. In Ceremony people learn to respect life, face death, and that is where transformation takes place. We must also cultivate a society that develops and respects the intuition of women (men also, of course, but they are not the ones getting pregnant) – so that a woman can be respected for that hardest of decisions, for what she goes through, those dark and mysterious and creative worlds through which she passes. How a woman learns to listen to herself, her body, how she glues herself together after the shattering event of choice, this is spiritual heroism.
A woman who decides to have an abortion should not worry about where she can do it, or if she can afford to. She should be able to channel all of her energy towards survival, towards feeling, towards the process of fashioning death into life. One potential into another. And end into a beginning. A split into a whole. Society should give her space for her Ceremony – so that she can go to the forest and learn from Mother Earth the wisdom of hard choices. A conscious choice (however difficult) requires space, kindness, love, acceptance, and an absence of fear. Fear is blinding, and despair deceives. Afterwards, a woman sits with this kind of undigested decision swallowed quickly, in shame and uncertainty – and the church maliciously bullies her, names her feelings by their own paradigm. Your fault, they croak. And shaman-men announce that it is a pity and a sin.
The Church and Politicians are trying to claim and appropriate a space of knowledge, action, decisions – a space of wisdom, courage, necessity. A creative space. The female body.
They will not succeed. After all, it is Mother Earth who has created and taught us to be as we are, because it is She who is the first dreamer of anything, She who colors in the empty pages, She who greets and says goodbye to everything that is. She knows that the straight-forward-linear-momentum approach which leaves a ceremony unfinished and incomplete, spits out zombies – something that can neither die nor live. This duty, the duty to know, to feel, to love, to grieve, to close, and to grow strong and tall in our Selves in the process – this is a burden, and it is a pain, but it is a strength also, and a deep well of courage. Mama Earth, that warm loving soil beneath our feet, she knows this very well because she does it every day.