Mother's Day, 2002

By: Trishula Oswald

Trishula is a genderfluid philosopher and digital hospitality professional.

They know a lot about beer and wine and treating others with

kindness.Trishula eats ice cream with their partner in the East Bay.

I volunteer as a counselor for a post-abortion talkline. I listen to people from all over this country talk about their complicated lives and relationships and feelings. People who felt their abortion was the right choice also feel guilt, grief and shame.

I am sharing my abortion story with you because it’s not easy to talk about. Abortion isn’t as simple as lawmakers and religious leaders allow us to admit. I’m sharing my story because I found the language to describe it.

I know you will, too.

I was 20, a sophomore in college and in a relationship with a cynic who defined love as attachment when the nurse at the Citizens for Citizens Family Clinic told me I was pregnant.

She asked, “What are you going to do?”

I never wanted children. As a teenager, I dreaded parenthood. As a queer kid with an exotic name in a small town, I dreamed of a glamorous future free of other people’s expectations.

Parenthood would eclipse those dreams.

I had trouble articulating the conflicting and complicated emotions I felt. People would ask, “Don’t you like children?” This never felt like an invitation to really dig into who I was and what I wanted. Instead, that question always felt shaming.

The implication was clear: Wanting a childless adulthood me a bad person.

To shut down that shame, I needed a clear reason that would demonstrate why not choosing a family made me a good person.

I discovered that reason in English class.  In high school, I wrote a position paper. about overpopulation that gave me a rational argument for why I didn’t have to have children.

Overpopulation has a negative impact on the planet and our own future generations. Retiring my womb at 16 was a noble gift for the benefit of all life.

This was the easy reason to tell people why I didn’t want to be a parent. It was easy to discuss what I thought about big world issues. It was impossible to discuss how disconnected I felt about being a “mother.”

So much of my gender dysphoria is rooted in obligatory motherhood. The view that a functioning womb is a responsibility to produce children. The estrogen in my brain will switch into Nurturing Mode and I’d pump out children like a nanny-bot. Being a woman, being a “good girl,” meant that the responsibility of the womb and the desire of the estrogen brain would unite, and I would fulfill my destiny to create at least two humans. The clear message is that the “female” body and mind are in service to others. Nothing else I could do would be of value to my family or to society.

I never wanted to be a mother . The belly. The birth. The baby. My body and identity sacrificed to an uncertain future filled with tiny humans.

Even in my family, it was a spoken assumption that I would bear the next generation. My mother held onto my childhood toys, “for when you have a daughter.”

My brother, older than me, was never assumed to marry or have a family.

At 20, two possible futures branched from my womb.

“I can’t have this kid.”

My best friend, Megan, was the first person I told. I cried to her in the women’s bathroom just before Poli Sci. I blamed myself. I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was out of birth control. I didn’t ask him to not have sex. I didn’t ask him to ejaculate anywhere else. I acquiesced. I blamed myself for not protecting myself. I could have prevented this pregnancy. I blamed myself for having to choose the life I wanted or the life of a child.

Some people know the sex of their unborn child.

Mine was male.

I also know what he’d look like.

Black hair and blue eyes

like his father, like my mother.

In the four weeks before my surgical abortion, I imagined what our life would be like. My son, growing up in apartments, an innocent, quietly playing on the floor,  a witness to his parents’ unhappiness. The angry phone calls to his father. The strained interactions stretched over a lifetime.

I chose to protect my child from that life.

In May, Megan drove me to the clinic.

The following day was Mother’s Day. Bleeding and woozy from the local anesthetic, I stayed in bed. The sun shone through the bay windows of my dorm room. Wrapped in a comforter and “Extra Heavy Flow” pads, surrounded by books, studying for Japanese Art History finals.

My parents called me from their brunch table with my dad’s mother.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma!”

It wasn’t until a year later, studying abroad in Japan, that I really started to grieve. That boyfriend continued to be a terrible person. I was relieved that I could walk away from him forever. I knew my abortion was the right choice for all of us, but I still blamed myself for what felt like an innocent and avoidable death.

That spring, I climbed the paths of Katsuo-ji in Osaka. In a sunny clearing, I met a towering woman draped in stone robes, children at her feet and one in her arms. Jibo Kannon stood in a lotus-shaped pool before a flowering mountain. The placard read: the Bodhisattva of Mizuko.

Buddhists understand the gestation period of pregnancy as a liminal time when body and soul coalesce into a person. The Japanese word, “mizuko,” literally translates to “water child.” Mizuko is the  word used unabashedly for all unborn children: miscarried, stillborn and aborted. The loss of a mizuko is mourned regardless of the reasons that lead to its passing. Neither the mother nor the mizuko are moralized. The mother grieves as Jibo Kannon carries the mizuko soul through purgatory into heaven.

Jibo Kannon gave me visibility and validation.

I finally had the language to express my grief and my right to choose a childless life.

Abortion is normal and natural.

Abortion is not wrong.

Abortion is an affirmation of our agency.

But it is not cruel. It is not murder.

It is protection.

I was a parent for seven weeks. I did the difficult calculation of all of this or none of this and made the best choice for my child and me.

I saved my child from a troubled life.

It was the best parenting I could do.