Healing After Abortion
Children She Got that She Didn't Get
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD
***As healing abortion trauma (as well as forced adoption trauma) is necessary in order for a woman
to have optimal ground for prenatal bonding and freestanding, instinctive birth, this article from
Dr. Estes, a beautiful soul, is provoking and empowering cultural & personal transformation. -
Because I am a book author, I sometimes see thousands of people at a single venue. Afterward, if I
open the conversation about abortion and childbearing loss, as I often do, many men and women
stay to tell me their stories. Thus, I’ve become a confidante.
I am aware of some who have had abortions who say they have no regrets. And in terms of sister
book authors, I know some who say they are proud to have had an abortion, and sometimes ask
those in their audiences to stand up and admit publicly they’ve had an abortion and to be proud of
it. I know one woman author who says that were abortion something men had regarding their own
bodies, abortion would be a sacrament!
All that aside for the moment, I have a tiny corner of the post-abortion, childbearing-loss world that
I would like to show you... one that I began in ministry four decades ago, to try to help mend those
who suffer so. This is only my two cents’ worth of anecdotal evidence... if I, after my reading or
lecture, or “evening with Dr. E,” open a discussion about post-abortion trauma in safe environs, the
number of women and men who attend (that is, those who are hurt and still unhealed) far
outnumbers those who say they feel no post-abortion effects.... by about 1,000 to 1. That’s a lot of
wounded and untended to souls. That’s also very few persons who have had an abortion who say
they feel little or no effect after.
I don’t mean to, but sometimes I draw the ire of a certain kind of person who has a large stake in
not looking at the underlying realities of abortion, and only glossing the topside realities. I think all
the realities have to be given respectful and generous thought. I have a sense that were that to
become a new norm, that there will also be far less severing of new life, and much more familial and
social architecture built to support new life in ways that do not exist now.
Nonetheless, I’ve been catcalled, yelled at, ridiculed, hate speeched, shouted down and screeched
over when, in certain settings, I try to explain my holding of life as sacred...
How is it that literally millions of walking wounded living with post-abortion trauma, who are right
now present on earth, are made invisible instead of being tended to? Though the numbers of those
who have had an abortion are in the millions? There are even more hurt by abortion, as other family
members learn of that loss; partners, sisters, aunts, uncles, brothers, friends.
Some think that because people often do not speak of these matters, post-abortion, that all is well
with each person who carries such knowledge of life lost. That is not so. The psyche records all
events, all choices a person makes, and has a higher mind that weighs them all, and judges them...
even as the ego alone has its own nattering mind that also weighs all matters... often too trivially or
The truth is, actions undertaken by ego, based on a broken scale provided by not the wisest and
most loving in culture, but by those interested most in expedience and social carving of other’s lives
that conform to their own earnest extremes... that encourages serious life decisions based on the
least far-seeing function within the psyche, rather than the most visionary aspect given to every
soul on earth.
While Freud wrote about the death wish, a sort of pull to be against the life force via sloth,
disregard or other means... there is more so in most of us a strong Life Wish, a pull to be for Life in
any and every way we can. The drive toward Life, is protective, thoughtful, vulnerable and invested
in living love. It is this last, that marks the difference between a wise heart muddy with real life
experiences in the trenches, and a dry heart that functions on rote concepts alone.
I’m no Pollyannista. I do not underestimate how most pregnancies are seldom “the perfect
pregnancy” with the perfect mate, the perfect finances, and health insurance. I know firsthand that
the “perfect circumstances for bringing children into the world” are seldom available for most, and
the “imperfection of circumstances” increases dramatically the more impoverished one is
economically, and how one’s immediate culture sees such matters, and how the over-culture sees
women, or else invisibilizes them, their lives, their healthcare...thereby cutting them off instead of
offering them viable options.
But, and, yet...
Here, look through this little window: My view of those suffering at the side of the road took shape
in many ways long ago. This is one I’d like to tell you about...
Many years ago I sat next to a small black women on an airplane ride into O’Hare. She had great big
eyeglasses and a tiny face. Her name was Gwendolyn Brooks and I knew her work as a poet. I had
read Miss Brooks’ poem, ‘The Mother,’ which had this one line that meant so much to me -- for I
had lost my first born child to forced surrender for adoption. That very poem meant a great deal to
other surrendering mothers I’d read it to also, those who also had been unsupported in their
pregnancies and forced/frightened into relinquishing their children. This one sentence of the poem
that was so poignant to us for it was a cry, a lamentation, like our cries,
“You remember the children you got that you did not get...”
That was us. We remembered our children, even though older people had told us we would forget.
No dice. We remembered deeply and with fullest sacred heart of love, our children “we got,” we
carried, we loved, we sang to, we spoke to, we petted through our bellies, we named, we
cherished, we ate for, we protected, we understood as new and real Life, we fearfully but gladly
suffered to bring into the world alive... but we did not get to keep our own children, our precious,
precious children....we did not get to keep the Loves of our lives, most often our first born children.
Instead because of the time of the times, instead we were led into a narrow gauntlet that carried
each young and most often impoverished mother to the same place: lifelong loss, lifelong laceration
of the heart.
Forget our own children? Never! You remember the children you got that you did not get...
Miss Brooks and I spoke for two hours on the plane ride, and it was clear, and she was so gracious
and kind. Though I was young at the time, and she was the age I am now, in her seventh decade,
even though her situation was different than mine, she understood that life was Life, for reallies
and for certain...
Long before there was an anti-abortion movement, long before the church began to put in it’s
public two cents worth, long before people carried placards showing what an abortion of an embryo
actually looked like ... Miss Brooks understood what most mothers who have aborted or been forced
into surrender, understand; that this child who was severed from its source, is and was Life itself,
blessed and creative and filled with love... and that so much of everything dear was shattered when
that Life was turned away...or forced away from its loving source... by whatever means.
I've had permission from Miss Brooks these many years to use her poem in any way to help others
see and/or heal from child loss. It is the strongest, most raw writing I know about choices made, and
perhaps more than once, that were guaranteed to cause life-long suffering... for no one was there
to help. No one. Not enough.
In her poem, written in 1945, you see yet, all the unresolved issues for Miss Brooks all those many
years after abortion, all the questions asked with no one to help her answer, no one’s help to mend,
to minister. There’s a reason poets often say, ‘Poetry saved my life,’ for often the blank page is the
only one listening to the soul’s suffering, the only one registering the story completely, the only one
receiving all softly and without condemnation.
By Gwendolyn Brooks
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine? --
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly,
and I loved, I loved you
Here, in this little corner of the world, far from the gabble and gyre of people hashing out who is
right and wrong, far from Catholic bishops’ conferences at which, regrettably, no woman “who
knows,” is allowed or invited to speak and thus inform those who can never know the intimacies of
childbearing what’s what... far from secular culture where only the same old drones are given the
microphone and their predictable words show no progression of thought... far from screechers and
verbal assaulters on public sidewalks, and far from people who draw energy by shouting at those
they consider sinful, who confuse standing on spiritual principle with slapping the souls of others
As I write this article, I keep thinking I wish there were a way to convey this all with such precision,
and I am afraid, I am only able at this time, to toss out raw material that I know to be true. Though
I’ve never had an abortion, I most definitely see well defined parallels in the shattering that takes
place in heart and spirit when a person is driven to believe she/ he cannot care for her/ his own
child, when all resource is withdrawn or out of reach... and thus the child is taken, forced away, or
else not allowed to come to life.
I’d just say for now I hope we all can say much more on the subject of post-abortion wounding, and
child-bearing loss... that we can tell the stories of our lives with insight and inquiry and not be
afraid. Or be afraid, as I often am, and leap into the unknown anyway... because one senses in doing
so that at least one more soul might be freed from a prison of torment.
Although some will only emphasize the protection of life in formulaic ways, I think we can now begin
to, insist on telling our actual stories, “the real deal,” all our stories no matter what they are, that
have remained hidden for so long....out of fear of retribution; out of being shamed so indecently
and thoroughly long ago; out of being stigmatized; disenfranchised; exiled; out of being looked
down upon; out of being spoken of in vile whispers behind one’s back; from being seen as a bad
person; from fear of disappointing or being sent away from family; from being seen as not worthy to
be a mother or father; not worthy of respect; not worthy of life itself; from being patronized;
exploited; from being called out specifically for others to heap scorn upon. And all these attacks,
too often led by those who held themselves out as scions of culture.
Those depersonalizing and inhumane opinions toward other human beings in their times of travail,
are exactly the attitudes that brought us to the place we are in culture now, the place where
millions of the scorned and thus unmended suffer, the place of overwhelming numbers exist
regarding “the children I got that I did not get.”
It seems there is a strong need for protection of a new and different way of thinking about other
souls. And I believe that can happen. With your voices and my voice, I believe matters about
protection of life can change, evolve for the better.
But consciousness rather than the same old contentiousness will, I believe make the greater
difference. Mercy instead of mockery. Understanding instead of understating. Stories that are real
instead of stentorian grandstanding. Whatever is genuine with immaculate heart attached, will help.
Even semi-immaculate heart goes farther than no heart for each human at all.
Yet and still, the greatest legion of human beings existent on earth who know a stark and strong
awareness of the true preciousness of life -- for they or someone they love have lost a life through
abortion somewhere in time -- still wander untended. They are the ones who are most able to speak
of cherished life deeply and authentically. They know it at the cellular level, not just the cerebral.
Silencing them by ignoring post-abortion trauma and not tending to them, is wrong.
What if the Good Samaritan had left the injured man to die by the side of the road... instead of
ministering to him? The injured man would have no story to tell to encourage others to care for