A Mother's Choice
Celebrate Life magazine May-June 1994
A MOTHER'S CHOICE by Michele Henderson, copyright 1994
Michele Henderson delivered this address at the fourth Annual Shield of Roses Mothers Day Vigil, May 7, 1988, in Glendale, CA. We have preserved her own wording.
I AM A TESTIMONY to those people who, when they come to the [abortion] clinic, look at the baby pictures and say, "Are those really real babies?Are those really real mothers that you help?" and think there is something not really real about what is going on.
My meeting with Shield of Roses a little over two years ago on February 1, 1986, was something remarkable . . . I was the hip 80's lady, I thought, a working mother with three children, working at a job I adored at an art institute. I had my circle of feminist and lesbian-feminist friends with whom I was in concurrence about the male/female dialogue. We had great discussions about that. I was also a fallen-away Catholic and New Age believer in reincarnation at the time, and my hip female 80's image kind of fell apart when I found out I was pregnant for the fourth time.
I already had three sons, ages five, three and one, and it didn't fit the image, not at all. I was in terror because with every child I had had postpartum depression that was awful, and with each child it got successively severer and was longer in duration.
So I was absolutely terrified about what was going to happen. My psychiatrist, a couple of months before, had labeled me a high suicidal risk and I just knew if I had this baby I was going to fragment into a hundred little pieces on the floor and probably end up in the institution and my kids would be motherless.
Add to that the fact that my husband didn't want any more children and was in favor of abortion, that the marriage was on the rocks and I knew if I had another child I would have four children I would be responsible for financially, nurturing, etc.
Add to that the fact we were living in a two-bedroom apartment with five people already in terrible financial stress. Put all those things together and it added up to what I thought was an insurmountable problem. I also had an arthritic condition that was exacerbated by pregnancy. The only route available to me, I thought, was abortion. I didn't see any way out. I had already had "little green men" hallucinations and I would wander the country roads at night and I didn't want to go back to that, or even worse.
So the decision was made; there was no turning back, there was nothing else I could do. And I was aware the moment I made the decision until that day I came to this clinic, of little, almost imperceptible transitions in the way I felt. I noticed myself becoming a little more brittle, a little more feminist, a little more concerned about my female rights, nobody hurting me this way again, and even before I came here, I knew the marriage was over, that I had been in great pain and here I was left stranded and alone out there, and that was unforgivable to me.
Also for me I had been defined by what I stood for and what I stood against, and this being my first abortion, my whole moral order collapsed, because abortion was the one remaining limitation of my life that I would never do, and once having committed that, I knew that fidelity in marriage didn't mean anything. But even the taking of a stranger's life wasn't quite as atrocious as the taking of your own descendant's life. If a mother [and] child's love is the purest form of human love known on the planet, then the destruction of that child is the ultimate act of destruction on the planet, and everything kind of collapsed for me from that point.
So on the morning of February 1, 1986, I had my husband drop me off here. I was going to go it alone; I was a strong woman, a take-charge sort of woman, I could handle it. We had the other three children in the back of the car and I had been warned that there would be demonstrators here and to just ignore them, and before I could get up the sidewalk here I saw them and I thought, "Oh, for crying out loud, just leave me in peace, just let me have my suffering alone. I'm sure! You just let me be a baby bearer, and you probably have 1.5 children yourselves, and a home, and everything is fine for you and yet you want me to bear children. You don't even know my story." And that is what I thought as Geri walked up to me here on the sidewalk.
My perception of sidewalk counselors and pro-life people at the time was of people screaming epithets at you as you walked by and sticking morbid pictures under your nose, and it wasn't like that at all. It was very peaceful and calm, and Geri explained to me the fetal development and the medical complications of abortion, which I wanted to remain ignorant of. I didn't want to know what they were. She explained to me the religious and ethical aspects of abortion and also told me that this abortionist was a racist, and being that my children are biracial, that did evoke a little protective maternal instinct in me that first of all, that I am a woman, and at my most vulnerable stage someone is going to exploit me for money, and that then on top of that, they want to rid the world of black and Hispanic babies, and that was double exploitation. And Geri also told me that mothers who have many children, that sometimes that unwanted child at the time of the pregnancy turns out to be the angel of the family. And I remembered that comment that she made.
And yet I chose to go ahead with it. My mind was made up. I said, "Thank you. I really appreciate what the pro-life people are doing. You are doing a good job, keep it up. But my mind is made up. My loyalties lie with the three children I already have and I want to be a mother to them. And so I started walking up the steps, and I turned to look over there, and I saw of group of people, and I saw a priest leading the rosary, and if you had come to me and I was a vampire, and you came with a cross and stuck it under my nose, that couldn't have had more impact on me than to see a priest with the rosary.
My graduate studies were in clinical psychology and I know all the theories, and yet I won't discount the fact that there could have been a spirit or two or three in attendance with me that day because I had had a lot of emotional problems and I won't discount the fact at all of the power of Mary and the rosary. And still I went on. I still went into the building.
I filled out the paperwork. I wanted to get my lab work done and there were chairs in there covered with the disposable paper that they didn't dispose of and I was aware of making sure that my gown was closed at the back so that I wouldn't pass any infection on to my baby.
When I had gone to the locker room to change into the gown and little booties, I saw all these lockers and thought, "So many lockers!" and I can't describe the feeling. I wanted to say, "But I'm Michele and this means something and it isn't just another woman passing through here."
After the lab work I went on to have my pelvic exam. I was sure I was six weeks pregnant, I was absolutely positive of it. And as the nurse practitioner did the pelvic I remember thinking, "Please be gentle, please don't hurt my baby," but yet I was minutes away from having it torn apart. And she confirmed that I was 12 weeks along. When you come in here you don't know how far along you are until just that couple of minutes before the abortion.
After that it was on to the holding room, as they call it. A holding pen for cattle, that's what stuck in my mind. There were probably six of us women sitting in there-it was a very tiny room. There was a 39-year-old woman in there who was crying because she knew that that was probably the last child she would have. And the other girls in there were giggling and laughing (they were repeat abortions).
The strangest thing happened when I was in that holding room. They had a TV and it was on and as I was sitting in there a program was on about a female character telling her boyfriend they were going to have a baby. They were so thrilled and so tender with each other talking about having the baby, and the girls were saying, "Awww," and I thought, "But you are pregnant and you have your own babies." I thought the nurse would turn it off, but they left the program on.
I was next in line and I knew there were just minutes [to go] and time was ticking along. Up until that point there was no dissonance, I was going ahead with it, and as those last few minutes came up on me I was aware of what was going on around me. On my left side they left the door open, I could see the lady was on the gurney and the suction machine was going and I thought, "No dignity there." I turned to my right-the door was open there in the recovery room, ladies sprawled on couches. No humanity there. There was such dissonance. There was no resolution. I felt, "So you go from this room to that room and then that is it? You go home?" I wanted someone to grieve for my baby. I wanted some resolution-some finality to it. And there wasn't any. And I compared [it] to what I felt outside. I felt that a bonding had occurred on that sidewalk in just those few minutes-love and compassion and kindness. And even allowing me to go in and have the abortion and giving me the post-abortion counseling part in case I had any problems.
Compared to what I felt in there, there was no camaraderie, no intimacy, no nothing. And then I envisioned within myself. . . . I thought I heard a voice that said, "Mother. Why couldn't you love me? Mother." And it was in that instant that I got up.
I thought the nurses and doctors would think I was a fruity. You don't do this! This is tacky! I'm in my surgical gown, my slippers! I told the girls, "If they come looking for me, tell them I'm in the rest room." And I told the nurses, "I just can't go through with it." And I came out of the clinic.
It was as if I was carried along despite myself, despite my decision to go ahead with it. It was as if I was powerless. Every time I turned around there was something blocking my way. And I know the bonding out here was important, but I think it was something more. I think it had to do with that little circle of people over there that was praying the rosary because there was no human reason that I shouldn't have gone ahead with it that day, no reason at all.
I came out here and Geri met me and we exchanged phone numbers. I was shaking and all I knew was that I was pregnant, I was still pregnant and I didn't know what to do and I expected that, sure, they would say they'd help, but as soon as I rode down the road, that was it, there I was, just me, myself, and the baby. And I had given her a wrong phone number because I really didn't want her to call me, but she tracked me down. She had offered help and she did help. Baby supplies and maternity clothes, and two years later, we are still friends and still keep in contact.
What Rhonda has just said about feminism and self-indulgence of women: I think there is something really strange happening in the world and in this country and without even perceiving it, so insidiously, the prince of darkness has made his way in and I think there is no longer the one, true God that is here. I think there are some false ones floating around. I see gods of eroticism and sensuality and I see gods of self-love and self-deification, and I don't even knowif people are aware of it. And I think maybe we should assess to make sure that we are worshiping the one, true God.
And there is a strange, bizarre pagan ritual that is going on as women come to this clinic here and offer their babies over to the high priest for a bloody sacrifice because in order to serve the gods they serve they must sacrifice their babies.
I am so thankful, and I would like to give thanks to the mothers who are strong and resilient. I would like to thank Shield of Roses for being the modern-day heroes. . . . People, who for the love of Christ, risk being spat upon and buffeted, all for the purpose of bringing the truth to a world that doesn't want to hear it; who for the love of Christ defend the innocent and beloved who are being led to execution through no fault or blame of their own; who, for the love of Christ, try to save a sinner from losing their soul for eternity; who for the love of Christ provide shelter, clothing, food and help of any kind to aid the distressed. Sidewalk counselors: traumatizers of women? I don't think so.
My story is as much about conversion as it is about saving a baby's life. After that day here at the clinic a whole series of fortuitous events began that never would have happened had I aborted, and I have gone back to the traditional, orthodox faith and five of my brothers and sisters have come back-one thinking of becoming a priest, and three brothers are at least thinking more about it than they were previously.
Two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law have become Christian and I can't take any credit for it because, God knows, my life was a mess. It had nothing to do with me.
I think it was the group of people who, through a simple act of faith, came here despite society and begged for the intercession to aid someone like me, and it was through [this] that the wheels were set in motion, and that God took care of everything else.
I think that's the explanation. And I would also, most of all, like to thank the mother in heaven who came to me in my distress that day,-her maternal heart came to me and saved her child and my child, me who deserved nothing, who was going in to kill one of her children, and I am so grateful to her.
[At this point, Michele's daughter was brought up and she presented her to the audience].
I have a girl now-Xaviera. I had three sons before, and now I have a daughter.
And the postpartum depression? It cleared up! And I'm so much stronger. Finally, after a lifetime of running from my problems, I met them head on-confronted them, grew, strength through adversity, all those things-pain saved lives-that's what happens!
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