Ceremony: a personal narrative on my abortion experience

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

by mai doan

This past Sunday marked the one year anniversary of my abortion. In part with Mama's Day's effort to complicate narratives and uplift marginalized experiences, I wanted to share these reflections.

1. Language

The word abortion is hard for me. Given contemporary meaning through white, capitalist patriarchy, this word, for me, has come to dehumanize a deeply human process. For one, it’s overly surgical. This word immediately provokes images of speculums, needles, latex gloves, vacuums with teeth. Yes, my abortion was performed by a doctor, included a needle going into my cervix, and included all of these man-made tools. But I want to resist having these details define or summarize my experience. Abortion also is an overtly Political word. What’s problematic about it being an overtly Political word is that I don’t get to control the ways it is or is not political. The Political baggage of the word abortion does not leave room for me to express what was hard or how I struggled with my “choice” or how I believed what was happening inside my body to be something like life and how I held it sacred. It doesn’t leave room for how I had access to abortion services but struggled as a queer person accessing a service steeped in heterosexism to the point that health care professionals were unable to adequately support my decision-making. Some things I do not have control over. But I do have control over how I speak my experiences, how I breathe them into being and give them a life that feels most true to my body and spirit. I want to resist the pressure to intellectualize my experiences so they can be legible or fit into existing frameworks for understanding abortions. I want to speak from a place of feeling.

So I will start with a poem.


– a poem from my womb

slow churning this cavern of blood
ache and tremble these walls
causing great waves of
fury salt heat
as if my heart has sunk
into the grave of my hips
I rise crash break
I am overcome washed over red
thick pulse of a brushfire charred earth
still pumping hot

A few weeks ago, I shared this poem with a group of fierce womyn I was in a writing group with. Before sharing the poem, I stuttered around the context until finally the word abortion came out. After I expressed my discomfort with the word, one of the womyn in the group challenged me to create my own word for it, since we too, have the power of language. The word uprootion (up-roo-shun) rose its way up through my belly and into my heart where I decide to make this word home. So from now on, I will talk about my experiences using this word: uprootion. As in being uprooted. As in loosing your grounding. As in being separated from.

2. Life

A couple months prior, I had moved cities, left my job, and to top it all off, my partner and I broke up. The day I found out I was pregnant, I remember lying on my floor thinking of how strong the roses on my altar smelled, how disgustingly sweet their scent was, like pink syrup. I remember laying on my floor wondering if it was the heat or the season, and if this was why I was so tired. And then, after peeing on one of those sterile plastic sticks, it made sense. I was pregnant. I couldn’t sleep in my room that night. I couldn’t stand the stench of roses cooking in heat, how they betrayed my prayers for things to get better.

After the initial shock and added layer of heartbreak, I began to sit in witness with what was happening to me. Along with the swelling of my breasts, the pain lodged beneath my ribcage, the acute change in my appetite, and the taut plumping one hand beneath my belly button, I began to feel whole again. My heart began to mend, and in its ache, I found a sense of courage and ferocity that I can only describe as a maternal instinct. I felt highly protective over and connected to what I understood to be happening in my body—a growing, pulsing ball of light. We communicated daily. Each day, my two palms would rest below my belly as I would drop both my mind and my heart into my womb. Each day, I sent more and more light and love, all that I had in my being, into my growing ball of light. It was my responsibility as a mother for our short time together to shower them with all the light I had to give, making them that much stronger, fiercer, more loved for their next journey. Being pregnant reminded me the power and magic of my own body.

3. Ceremony

The night before the uprootion, I had a dream: I am in a room lit dim by dawn and tall candles. I am laying on a bed. Next to me, are my grandmother and my great grandmother and they are feeding me a thick black tea. It smells and tastes like dark earth and I can feel the course ends of roots in my mouth as I chew, and then swallow. After I finish, they have me lie down and sleep. I awake to intense cramping, and both my grandmother and my great grandmother’s palms placed flat on my lower belly. Their palms are radiating heat which soothe the quaking inside of me. Soon the pain is almost unbearable so I roll over in the fetal position. Palms continue to rub my back until I am lifted out of bed and placed into a warm bath that smells of jasmine. The shades are drawn and I feel as if I am in my own sort of womb, being held by the water and its warmth, by the presence of these two women who know what to do and how to care for me. The pain intensifies and I start to bleed heavily. Red washes into the pool as I shake and sweat and when it’s over, we all know—we can feel it. I am dried and placed into white silk pajamas. A white band is placed around my head and my neck, my armpits, and my stomach are coated with eucalyptus oil. I am taken into the backyard where together, we empty the contents of the bath into a deep hole in the earth. Each of us throws in an offering—a piece of jade, a thin gold chain, a jasmine flower—before we fill the hole with dirt.

That morning, May 6th, 2011, a close friend drove me to a nearby clinic. We wait in the waiting room. My name is called. I write my name next to a patient number. Inside, most of the workers are kind but not caring. I am herded from one room to another as if in a factory line, with long, uninformed waits between each step. I am shown a foreign image through an ultrasound and am told that I am eight and a half weeks pregnant. I am cold and shaky. I am prodded with needles because I am privileged enough to afford the $18 extra for mild anesthesia. Things are fuzzy enough that I am able to make small talk throughout the surgical procedure. I am grateful that my doctors are both women, and queer though I anxiously sit in what feels like invisibility. I walked out of the clinic and into the sun, grateful for it’s warmth. At this point, I feel nothing.*

4. Self-determination

Despite an intimate connection, I never for once felt guilty about my decision for uprootion. I cannot tell you that I haven’t counted the months wondering how big my belly would be at this point if I had decided to continue being pregnant. I cannot tell you I don’t wonder or that I don’t still mourn. But I promised myself that I would never let myself feel guilty or shameful. It has been necessary for me to fight and continue to fight to self-determine my own healing process, including resisting both guilt and shame, and separating them from my grieving.

It should be our right to determine what happens or doesn’t happen to our bodies, as well as our hearts, spirits, and mental well-being. We should have the power to not only access, but determine for ourselves what choices we are gaining access to. When we talk about access, it is common for people to allow our need for access to existing services and programs cut off short an imagining for real alternatives. Becoming pregnant and going through an uprootion has reminded me of the power and magic of my own body. I still grieve, for healing is not an instant, gratuitous process. And equally powerful, has been this raging passion to self-determine how my body and spirit heals, how I tell my story, and how I continue to use my power and magic towards a world more like our dreams.

*my piece is intended to first and foremost, share my experience, and second, add a narrative to complicate an often oversimplified dialogue. in no way is my intention to devalue the courage of abortion providers, like my sister, or the workers who support them. i am endlessly grateful for the people who pursue this practice and who choose to learn how to perform abortions in an increasingly anti-choice system.

mai doan is the SAFIRE organizer at Forward Together. This piece was previously published on her personal blog where you can read more of her writings.

This blog is part of Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at www.mamasday.org. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.