The house hums a lullaby as my baby girl sleeps in my arms and a seed grows ever so slowly inside of me. Wordless melodies drift from the pipes and furnace. We Jews call these nigunim – wordless music that ladders up and down minor scales. Even the house knows there are no words to say the night before my abortion.
In return, I hum a Sephardic melody my mother sang to me when I was a little girl about King Solomon’s devotion to his mother. Years later, I heard her sing it to herself in the deepest of night like a plea, when she thought my love for her was slipping away. The lyrics are from 15th-century Spain, moving along a tune that threads its way in another minor scale, deliberately offering no sharps or flats. Only memory anchors it.
My baby girl is six months old, and when she cries incessantly, I have had fantasies about hiding her in a basket of laundry to leave at a convent’s doorstep. I grew up watching nuns traverse the fields of the Catholic college across a street from my childhood home. In their black habits, they seemed to float in pairs. I comfort myself that they will be obliged to do the right thing, like accept a baby that appears to be unwanted. My daughter sleeps as my thoughts race towards a finish line that keeps moving. All I know is that I cannot allow the seed inside me to grow into a baby.
I know exactly when I became pregnant this second time. My husband and I suddenly came together in the middle of the night, a coupling to remember that we loved each other. I could not conceive my baby girl for a year, but I immediately became pregnant in the middle of that long January night.
The morning of the abortion, we leave our baby with a sweet young woman who attended another all-girls Catholic college, much like the one I grew up looking at from my bedroom window. I wonder if she would disapprove of what I was doing. Maybe she’s heard women scream for men to keep their laws off their bodies. Maybe she quietly approves. Yet, for a moment, I think I am disappointing her. Maybe I am also disappointing my husband, but I’m too raw to ask him.
My husband drives giant loops around the hospital for over an hour. It feels like at any moment, I will ask him to take us home. We are not meant to abort our seedling. But this is not a movie. It is not even drama. This is my life. And this abortion is not a termination but a restart, a do-over. In the end, this abortion is as life-affirming as anything I have ever done. Somehow, even then, through the dense fog swirling in my mind I know this is true.
I know this on the operating table where I am harshly spotlighted, and the doctor tells me to count backward from 100. I know this as I levitate to the ceiling and spy my body before I go under. I know this when I wake up to my husband holding my hand. We are in a recovery room, but I won’t recover for a long time. Thank you for doing this for us, for our baby. For our future babies, my husband says. His teary gratitude unleashes the avalanche of emotion that has been crushing me.
When he helps me from the car into the house, I can feel the anesthesia lingering in my veins, my head. I am not cottony – not at all. I’m clear-eyed, sharp. I hear the house still singing the same lullaby when I walk in. I pace to keep the cramps at bay. For the first time in my life, I have complete agency over my body, my sanity. I am law-abiding and can have a legal abortion.
This is a holy moment. I have saved myself. I have saved my family. However, I will never forget this aborted pregnancy. Every doctor I see will take my medical history and write it down in their case notes. My three pregnancies and two live births make up an immutable fact about me.
I walk in circles on the first floor and then go up and down the stairs until I’m out of breath. The house and I harmonize a tonal composition focused on a single note – focused on my life with a child and husband. There will be another child a few years later, my precious son. Just before my husband will take him away from me on the morning of his ritual circumcision, I tell my boy, you were always meant to be my son.
Physicists posit there are no boundaries between the past, present, and future. That is not only science; it is also a woman’s lived experience.
Over these past two decades, the tearful nigunim and the lullabies in every house I have lived in hummed in silent eloquence and quiet love the lullaby of motherhood.