Abortion as a Feminine Initiation: In Grief and Praise of Choice


I long to be a mother. I am a mother. I had an abortion.

I experienced my abortion as an urgent, terrifying, and often beautiful initiation into the power of the feminine. As a woman free and whole unto myself, I saw I was responsible for this sword I carried: the choice to give life or take it away.

I long to be a mother.

I imagine daily the place of readiness, rootedness, and the wide-open arms into which the daughter of my longing can be born.

I do not want a compulsory motherhood, or one of sacrificial love, a motherhood that will turn me bitter or dry me out or bar me from my own self.

I am a mother.

In choosing to lose you, I affirm my way of being a mother in the world right now, through writing, practicing bodywork, caring for children, and other creative joy. This work calls in community, collaboration, and a sense of fully being at home. This work conjures the beauty into which I could someday bear a child in confidence and abundant support.

I had an abortion.

Since my abortion, I’ve noticed I’m skittish, even fearful, in ways I never used to be. Loud noises, objects that clatter and fall, they rattle me. Abortion—for me—was a trauma to my nervous system and psyche. Also, it was a blessing. To be so vulnerable to the grief of losing a child is to open secret channels within the self: where that grief flows now, I know that one day your laughter will ring out. My child, my heart, my wild roar of love. I praise the loss and longing that softens the ground of my being and makes a home for you.


Recognition of my movement through this feminine initiation has come in the form of poetry. This poem feels the sensations, both emotional and physical, that arose during the moments of my abortion. The multi-layered reality of this is still one I struggle to capture or transmit, but here I share what rises to be witnessed.


                                                                    I must write this time on the table
I must tell

                           how we spoke of TV shows      fantastic heat     famished for

the coming spring        how the dr. held up three gloved fingers      1,2,3    you

          on the third finger        would be     removed        from           my body


her first finger       was three needle pricks   local anesthetic    her second finger

           the cervix dilating      I felt no cramping       no promised pain       only—

I must tell you        how I smiled through it             for whose sake


         yours                     oh my hopeful golden boy        but I was never yours—

a soft and rosy woman rubbed my hand       through all three fingers helped me

breathe         through my house          through all the doors flung open


through the instant          you were mine       and the instant      you were tissue

          pumped through a hose           picked over by gloved hands      my child

I have held  your death   my breath   in my own    trembling hands     my house

                                                                                        that would not

                                                                               hold you


Opal performs more of her own writing about this experience in "The Abortion Chronicles" at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, with two more performances this weekend at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis. As a follow-up to the show, Opal and her beloved, Matt Carlson, will host Womb Speak (Aug. 18), a healing and listening circle open to a full spectrum of reproductive experiences: abortion, birth, miscarriage, infertility, and any choice about whether/how to become a parent. Womb Speak will be a safe space for reflecting, listening, feeling, grieving, and celebrating, united across our various outcomes in making loving, responsible decisions about parenthood.

Illustration by Elena Ray 

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Opal McCarthy


Opal is a poet, teacher, and practitioner of Heartworks Lomi Lomi bodywork. She has served as a writing instructor, yoga instructor, beauty inducer, and healer in Minneapolis, Hawaii, and online. Opal's first collection of poetry, "Surge," a book of wild girls and fierce tenderness, will be available from Tinderbox Editions this fall. Opal is passionate about empowering women to speak their own true words in gorgeous voices—and especially bringing forth the wild, the un-pretty, the secrets, shadows, and splendor within. Learn more at Opal’s website.


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