November of 1980

farmhouse porch with sage on it

Submitted by: Marilyn Clayton

I had an abortion in November of 1980. I thought I was 8 weeks pregnant at the time. The doctor said it was more like 10 weeks. We were using natural birth control, i.e. the rhythm method or the mucus method. Obviously it wasn’t reliable.

I was not in good mental health at the time. I felt very isolated at the farm and inept as a person, without any real direction to my life or confidence about myself. I was jealous of Tom for his sense of purpose at the farm and his general confidence. I was still vulnerable to depression as I have been much of my life. I was especially vehement about not wanting to bring a boy into the world. I felt rage about maleness vs. femaleness. I pictured myself throwing a baby boy at Tom’s feet.

We went to see a well-respected psychic in Durham. I wanted in particular to know if a spirit was already attached to what was growing inside me. She said the spirit was hovering above, trying to decide whether to come in while we were trying to decide whether to abort the pregnancy. All trying to decide. That calmed me. I would look up at the night sky and see a bright planet with a bright star near it. I would think of them as both of us, close but not connected, trying to make a decision.

I did not have a support network locally. We had been at the farm not quite 18 months, so I knew a few neighbors and a couple of people in nearby towns. Sue W. was my closest NC friend, and I hadn’t known her very long. I didn’t feel like I was part of a community that would help me become a good parent. I didn’t really want to be a parent yet; I was still so busy trying to find myself even though I was already 30 years old. I felt so isolated at the farm, and we were living hand to mouth. Family was eons away, geographically and emotionally.

In my calmness and meditation, I felt more and more sure that an abortion was the best decision for this situation. Tom followed my lead. On the day we were to go to the abortion clinic, I dressed all in white as if I were performing a sacrament of some kind. I felt centered and nervous at the same time. Not nervous about the procedure per se, but about the enormity of the decision and its consequences.

I remember walking up to the clinic and entering it. Fortunately there were no protestors there. Inside, I expected someone to sit down with me and make sure I really wanted to go through with it. That didn’t happen. It still feels wrong to me that it didn’t. I don’t know if that means I wasn’t sure about my decision.
The main thing I remember about the procedure itself was that Tom almost passed out. There was a vacuum cleaner sound sucking. I don’t remember pain or discomfort. I just remember him by my side with his head hanging down. I don’t know what he was going through – was it just seeing me having a procedure, or was it unhappiness about the decision?

That evening I went to a department store in a mall with Sue W. who was spending the night with us. We passed the infant department, and I went straight for the baby clothes, touching them and thinking about what I had done. That evening Sue and I were lying down in the living room of the farmhouse, and I started crying, big heaving sobs that went on for quite a while. I felt as if someone had taken my baby away. I’m pretty sure it must have been a hormonal reaction to the experience and the whole situation. I grieved for quite a while that evening, deep down. She was very comforting to me. I haven’t cried about it since.

I have often thought that the person I might have brought into the world then would have been a daughter. She and I might have shared some interests and talents. But if she had been born, I would probably have never met Michael. He was born when I sincerely and with no uncertainty wanted a child. I was stronger then, we had community at the farm by then, I had a role model for natural childbirth and nursing on demand. I was also 35 years old, and I wanted to be no older than that when I had my child. And I welcomed him regardless of his gender. He was my soul-child.

Once, at my parents’ house, we were going over the names and ages of their grandsons – John 20, Tom 16, Andrew 12, Michael 4 – and someone commented that it seemed that someone was missing who would be about 8. I immediately thought about the abortion and how that child would have been that age. It was unnerving.

I still wonder about the person who might have been born, what gender, what talents, what appearance, how my life would have been touched, one way or another. At the same time, I almost believe the concept of spirits barging into people’s lives through unplanned pregnancies and wreaking havoc. I know of numerous examples.

Tom and I married around the time when the aborted being would have been born. It felt so much more acceptable and comfortable to invite Michael into our lives after we were married than it would have been to have a child before marrying or having to marry quickly beforehand. I can just imagine the disapproval all over my mother’s face. She had such disdain for the sudden necessary marriages of my cousins due to pregnancies. I don’t know to what extent my choice arose partly from fear of her disapproval.

In so many other ways, I went forward with my life unbothered by what my mother would think. But an unexpected, out-of-wedlock child would have been a biggie. I still remember when I called and told her we were going to get married. She responded accusingly, “Why?” I knew what she was thinking. I wonder how she would have felt to know that we had already aborted her grandchild, possibly her only granddaughter…

This is such a quagmire of feelings, memories, imaginings… I don’t expect to ever come to complete peace about it. It hurts to know that we purposefully lost a child we made together. That had occurred earlier when I had a miscarriage in early 1978. But losing a child to abortion is an entirely different matter. We could have done a halfway decent job of raising the child, but there are so many red flags… No support system, no role model, poor finances, my emotional instability, uncertainties about us, our location, and our lifestyle. There was no stability I could count on other than our love. And it was strained.

When I compare that situation to the one in which I found myself in 1985, there is no comparison. I was ready, eager, relatively stable emotionally, grounded, had more support and a live-in role model, and our finances were good at the time that we invited Michael into our lives. I breathe deeply when I think about the contrast. I think we made the right decision. I don’t think anyone was harmed, as I suspect that the spirit who was also trying to decide made the right choice as well. I hope s/he found a more welcoming access point to the world.


When I think about our one-year-old great-nephew’s sudden entrance into our lives 30 years later, I contemplate the abortion, pondering whether that challenging childcare year was karmic payment for letting the other being go. I was willing and loving toward him, but I also experienced the feelings that come with an unexpected child in the home – fatigue, resentment, sense of being used. Fortunately, that foster situation was short-lived – just under a year. An unexpected pregnancy brought to conclusion would have cost me much more time and stress than that. I hope I have paid my debt and can someday put this to rest. Amen

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