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This Article is a copy of what was reprinted at W.I.G Mag This was originally published in local alternative papers in Seattle, if i understand correctly. Update: I found a published copy of her essay in Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation . I found a portion of the essay on the website listed above, then went looking for the source, and found it in Listen up, and added the part that was left out of the origional posting on Wimmag.
Abortion, Vacuum Cleaners, and the Power Within By Inga Muscio
The first time I got pregnant, I was 19 and lived in the agricultural community on the California coast, where I'd lived all my life. There were a mere two weeks between me and my move away from home to Seattle. It was very depressing to find out I was pregnant right when I was journeying forth from the culturally blighted town I grew up in. I felt like it was trying to keep me there, orchestrating this evil maneuver to pervert my destiny. Making such a major move with a tiny human growing inside my body seemed a pretty contradictory way of setting off on my own. The thoroughly unsavory "option" of hanging around town for nine months, then giving my child to an adoption agency, didn't hold my attention for more than two puffs off the continuous cigarette I'd had in my mouth since I found out I was pregnant.
So I went to Planned Parenthood for a clinical abortion. In the waiting room there always seemed to be 15 or 20 other women, no matter how many left with the nurse. Evidently, it was "abortion day." We shuffled through the clinic like beef cows. All of the women had the same horror-stricken, empty look on their faces.I sat there for an hour and a half, nervously leafing through People magazines in a desperate attempt to give a rats ass about the lives of Darryl Hannah and Princess Di. When they called my name, I probably would have shit my pants if there had been any digestion going on in my intestines, which there wasn't. It's hard to eat when you're pregnant with a child you do not want. My boyfriend accompanied me into the exam room. I was told to strip and lay on the table, feet in the stirrups. I still remember the ugly swirl designs and water marks on the ceiling. After a while, the nurse came in and explained what would be happening.
She referred to the machine used for clinical abortions as a "suction device," which is a more professional way of saying "vacuum cleaner." In theory, if not design, this machine is quite like the Hoover Upright, the Dust Buster, or the Shop-Vac in your closet at home. The nurse forgot to tell me how vacuum cleaners are useful for cleaning up messes, and in our society, a pile of kitty litter on the floor is treated much the same as an undesired embryo. The main difference (though hardly recognizable to Western Science) is that kitty litter is sucked from cold linoleum and an embryo is sucked from a warm-blooded, living, being's womb. Instead, because I was crying like La Llorana, she said, "Are you sure this is what you want?"
What other goddamn choice did I have? I muttered, "Just do it, please." She shot something into my cervix with the ugliest needle I'd ever seen. (I don't think my cervix was residing under the belief that it would someday have a large needle plunged into it, and so protested accordingly.) The pain was overwhelming; my head swam into the netherworld between intense clarity and murky subconscious.
Then I heard a quiet motor whirring. The lady told me to recite my ABCs. "A, B, C, D, E. " Something entered my vagina, deeper, deeper, deeper than I imagined anything could possibly go. "F, G, H, I, O, W. " The walls of my uterus were being sucked, it felt like they were going to cave in. I screamed "O, P, X, X, D, VOWELS, WHAT ARE THE VOWELS? R? K? A! A's A VOWEL!" And then my organs were surely being mowed down by a tiny battalion of Lawn-Boys. "S, did I say S?" My boyfriend who was crying too, didn't tell me whether I said S or not.
There was a two-inch thick pad between my legs and blood gushed out of me. The motor has stopped whirring. I was delirious. I asked, "What do you do with all the fetuses? Where do they go? Do you bury them?" The lady ignored me, which was fine, I had to puke. She led me into a bathroom and I vomited bile, green foam. Then I went to a recovery room, laid down and cried. There was another nurse woman in there, she patted my hand, reassured me, "I know just how you feel." I said, "You've had an abortion before, too?" She said, "No, but I know how you feel." I told her to get the fuck away from me. For two weeks, there was a gaping wound in the center of my body. I could hardly walk for five days.
Then, stupid me, a couple of years later, I got pregnant again. I lived in Seattle still, but was just about to move to Olympia, to begin school at The Evergreen State College. This time, I didn't feel like the city was trying to keep me there, but I certainly wondered if this was going to be some kind of new trend in my life-every time I'm about to move, Hades sends a soul my way. I couldn't really see myself having an academic edge with a bun in the oven, so I had to face the reality of going to that machine once again. This time I was more terrified than before. I knew all too well what that rectangular box and its quiet motor had planned for my reproductive system. Have you any idea how it feels to willingly and voluntarily submit to excruciating torture because you dumbly forgot to insert your diaphragm, which gives you ugly yeast infections and hurts you to fuck unless you lie flat on your back, anyway? I was to withstand this torture because I was a bad girl. I didn't do good. I fucked up.
I had the same choice as before, that glowing, outstanding choice we ladies fight tooth and nail for: the choice to get my insides ruthlessly sucked by some inhuman shitpile, not invented by my foremothers, but by someone who would never, ever in a million years have that tube jammed up his dickhole and turned on full blast, slurping everything in its path.
After this, I studied different kinds of medicines and healing methods. One thing college was teaching me was knowledge helps me transcend anger at all the injustices in the world. Therefore, upon self-examination over why I had the desire to physically mutilate individuals whose convictions were in direct opposition to mine, I delved into histories and applications of medicines far and wide.
I found one thing that was a constant: Healing starts from within. It appeared to be some kind of law, no, more than a law. (Is breathing a law? Is waking up a law? If so, maybe the notion of healing coming from within is a law as well.) This concept is completely alien, even deviant, in our culture. In this society, we look to the outside for just about everything: love, entertainment, well-being, self-worth, and health. We stare into the TV set instead of speaking of our own dreams; wait for a vacation instead of appreciating each day; watch the clock rather than listen to our hearts. Every livelong day we are bombarded with realities from the outside world, seemingly nonstop. Phones, car alarms, pills, coffee, beepers, ads, radios, elevator music, fax machines, gunshots, bright lights, fast cars, airplanes overhead, computer screens, sirens, alcohol, newspapers. One hardly has the opportunity to look inside for love and peace and other nice things like that. Western medicine, that smelly deaf dog who farts across the house and we just don't have the heart to put out of its misery, is based on a law opposite the one the rest of the universe seems to go by, namely, Healing Has Nothing To Do With You, Just Follow The Directions On The Label.
In America, we don't (and we're also not encouraged to) look inside ourselves for healing, finding truths or answers. If you want to know something, you find out what The Person In Charge Of This Area says. The weather is not to be discerned by looking at the sky, the mountains in the distance, or by listening to the song of the wind. You will find it in the Report of the Meteorologist. And likewise, if you are pregnant and don't want to be, you don't look to yourself and the your immediate, personal resources in your immediate, personal world, you pay a visit to the Abortionist, who will subsequently predict the climate in your body for two weeks, guaranteed. And so, la dee dah, once, twice, three times a lady, I got pregnant again. It was the same boyfriend as the other two times only now we were breaking up. It was the most fucked one of all because I didn't want to be with this man and I shouldn't have fucked him, but it was his birthday and he was fun to romp with and blah dee blah blah blah. No force on earth could make me feel like I wanted this child, and furthermore, I promptly decided there was to be no grotesque waltzing with that abhorrent machine.
So, I started talking to my girl friends. I was living in a small town with a high population of like-minded women, so that was one thing in my favor right there. Against me was the fact that I was eight weeks along, which is too advanced for an organically induced miscarriage, according to most sources. I made an appointment at the Women's Clinic as a back-up in case my way didn't work out.
My dear friend Judy, the masseuse and scientist, was my biggest resource. She and Panacea found some herbal tea recipes a Boston Anarchist-Feminist group printed. (I tried to contact this group, but they seem to have disbanded.) She came to my house almost every night and massaged my uterus where you are not supposed to massage pregnant women who want to keep their babies. She also did reflexology by rubbing either side of my Achilles heel on both feet. I knew a naturopath in Olympia, who was one of my inspirations for learning about healing from within. She taught me this thing called "imaging." It may sound terribly new-age, but through imaging, I got rid of this weird bump I'd had on my labia all my life. Since imaging goes on in your own head, I can't tell you how to do it specifically. The basic idea is every night, when you are falling asleep, imagine the part of your body that's giving you problems, changing. For the bump on my labia, I imagined all this beautiful soft flesh growing over and absorbing the bump. When I was pregnant, I imagined the walls of my uterus gently shedding.
Eight days passed from when I started inducing miscarriage to the morning my embryo plopped onto the bathroom floor. Judy's consistent massages and me imaging the lining of my uterus away every moment of my days, I feel, were the most crucial elements of my success story. I was absolutely focused on miscarrying and I felt Judy's gentle, yet firm prodding moved things along quite nicely. It was an incantation. Me and my women friends did magic. Esther's love made magic. She supported me and stayed with me every day. Bridget thoughtfulness made magic. She brought me flowers. Possibly most magical was the fact that, after the first couple of days, I possessed not one filament of thought that filled me with glimmers of self-doubt. With that core of supportive women surrounding me and with my mind made up, I was pretty much invincible.
Many women I know have tried to induce miscarriage and failed because they drank the tea and went about their life as if everything was normal, waiting for the herbs to work their wonders. If you want to successfully induce miscarriage, plan on devoting Your Entire Life to the attainment of this goal. Breathe, eat, shit, and sleep thinking of nothing else but the lining of your uterus shedding.
The herbal teas and other oral and topical applications I prescribed to myself were little helpers. They served to further direct my own focus and aid me in achieving my goal. Herbs are particularly good little helpers because plants easily and synergistically jive with one's own magic and are quite willing to work with you if you respect them. The herbs I chose were Blue Cohosh Root and Pennyroyal Leaves. Blue Cohosh is an abortifacient. That mean is brings on contractions and makes your body think it's time to give birth. Blue Cohosh is a serious fucking plant and is not palatable. Before even looking at it in your local herb emporium, read up on it. I suggest doing so before there's even a need. Pennyroyal is a much tastier herb, but don't let that fool you. It ain't messin' around any more than Blue Cohosh. If you swallow Pennyroyal oil, chances are you'll keel over, but we're not concerned with the oil here, so just put it out of your mind. Think about the leaves. Pennyroyal is a member of the venerable mint family and tastes just fine. It is an emmenagogue, which means it greatly encourages the lining of your uterus to shed it's monthly juices, but it's a powerful abortifacient as well.
One way to let your herbs know you respect them right off the bat is by never letting them touch metal. Store herbs in glass, boil water for tea in either glass or enamel pans and steep your tea in ceramic or glass pots. I used quart Mason Jars for steeping, and a wooden spoon for stirring. (Stir all herbal teas moon-wise) The reason for all this hoopla is metal has negative ions which draw out and absorb the beneficial properties of herbs. You aren't supposed to take these teas for more than five days, but by my fifth day, I knew something was happening. I also knew I wasn't hurting my body. If you have none of the symptoms of miscarrying (sharp, jabbing pains deep in your uterus or blood spotting) by the fifth day, or, if your body is somehow telling you it is terribly unhappy, stop taking these herbs. They can fuck you up (See "Does PennyRoyal Kill").
When I bought the Blue Cohosh and Pennyroyal, I also purchased a tincture of Shepherd's Purse. If I were to start hemorrhaging, which is always a possibility when messing around with either of these herbs, the Shepherd's Purse would abate the bleeding until I got to a hospital. Since it could save my life if the need arose, I never went anywhere without that little brown bottle.
To make the tea, I cupped my hand and filled my palm with equal amounts of Blue Cohosh and Pennyroyal. I put each herb in a separate Mason Jar. I never let the water come to a full boil. When the bubbles were just about to roll, I poured it into the jars, about 3/4 of the way to the top. Then I stirred, screwed lids on and let it brew for about fifteen minutes. I poured half of each in a cup with some honey and drank it. Sometimes it took me an hour to finish it all off. I ate a bowl of rice or couscous (any bland, easily digested carbohydrate will do) while I drank the tea. This was the only time I ate. I did this tea ritual in the morning and again at night. Along with the tea, I ate copious amounts of Vitamin C, another abortifacient. Vitamin C will not harm you in any way, but it does cause the runs.
That's it for the oral applications. Topically, I used regular old parsley, which contains progesterone, the hormone present in the body right before starting your period. Also an abortifacient, the active ingredient in parsley was once used by pharmaceutical companies as an abortive compound. I got me a nice bunch of organic parsley. Organic is important because you don't want anything that's soaked up god-knows-what poisons lurking around in your pussy for hours. I washed it, wadded seven or eight sprigs into roughly the same shape as a tampon and slipped it on past the ol' rubyfruit canal. Don't be shy with the parsley, shove it on up as far as it will go. You want it as close to your uterus as possible. I put fresh parsley wads in at eight hour intervals.
After a week of non-stop imaging, massages, tea drinking, talking, downing Vitamin C, inserting parsley tampons and concentrating, I was brushing my teeth at the sink and felt a very peculiar mmmmbloommmp-like feeling. I looked at the bathroom floor and there, between my feet, was some blood and a little round thing. It was clear but felt like one of them unshiny superballs. It was the neatest thing I ever did see. An orb of life and energy, in my hand.
And Jesus H. wasn't I the happiest clam? It hardly hurt at all, just some mild contractions. I bled very little, felt fine in two days. I wore black for a week and had a little funeral in my head. Organically inducing a miscarriage was definitely one of the top ten learning experiences in my life thus far. You know its like when Germany invaded Poland. I once read how in the ghettos of Warsaw, the people fighting the Nazis were amazed at first that a Nazi soldier would die if you shot him. They suspected that Nazis could die, but felt like they were somehow superhuman.
That's how I felt after I aborted a fetus without paying a visit to that sickening vacuum cleaner. I felt like I imagine any oppressed individual feels when they see that they have power, and nobody - not even men and their machines, nobody - can take that away.
I learned that the fight for human rights does not take place on some bureaucratic battleground with a bevy of lawyers running from congressional suite to congressional suite, sapping resources into laws. The war for peace and love and other nice things like that is not waged in protests on the street. These forms of fighting acknowledge the oppressor outside of yourself, giving that entity yet more life. The real fight for human rights is inside each and every individual on this earth.
While traversing along this line of thought, I realize that I just might sound like a young women who has never experienced the unspeakable horror of back-ally abortions, and I am. I also realize that it might seem as if I'm ungrateful to all the women and men who have fought their hearts raw for equal rights and legal abortions, but I am not. I think of it like this: The fact there now exists a generation of women who can actually consider clinical abortions to be an oppressive diversion to one's own power is based wholly upon the foundation that our mothers and sisters have built for us. I sincerely thank the individuals who have fought so hard for themselves and their daughters. I thank the people who bent over backwards so that I have the luxury of experiencing the beliefs I now hold. Evolutionarily speaking, however, it is quite natural for this fight to progress into a new arena, since by no stretch of the imagination is this fight over. The squabble between pro-lifers and pro-choicers serves only to keep our eyes off the target? patriarchal society.
Concentrating on the power within our own circle of women was once a major focus of the women's health movement. I think we would benefit from once again creating informal health collectives where we discuss things like our bodies and our selves. If we believed in our own power and the power of our immediate communities, then abortion clinics, in their present incarnation, would be completely unnecessary. Let the fundamentalist dickheads burn all those vacuum cleaners to the ground. If alternative organic abortions were explored and taken seriously, there wouldn't be much of an abortion debate. Abortion would be a personal, intimate thing among friends.