How To Forgive Abortion When You Are the Aborter – The Feminist Wire

How To Forgive Abortion When You Are the Aborter

Andria Nacina Cole

I imagine there are many feminists who would like to mourn an abortion but are afraid to do so, because to admit sadness over that decision would fuel the other side. I call bullshit. The pro-choice movement exists so that we might do what we please with our bodies and navigate the consequences–joyous or painful–on our own terms. This essay-poem is a recipe of sorts, for figuring out the pain or the lack thereof. It exists alongside other “recipes” written when I sought a plan, an answer, and none existed. Boy, do I get tired of answering my own damn questions, but it has to be done. This is an answer. 


Buy a bag of tea candles.

Two if you wanted the child, but the father didn’t want you.

Three if you can’t feel a fucking thing and want to know what all the fuss is about,

and how come some women cry, cry, cry over a hunk/wad/not even a fist of tissue,

and really, you want forgiveness for the incomprehension,

not so much the act.


Do not bother with tea candles if your daddy, uncle, brother, cousin or other close acquaintance

was the father.

Your recipe is not “How to forgive abortion”

but “How to forgive monsters”

or “How to live with degrees of sorrow so small you can’t count them or make anybody believe they are there.”


Use a half bag of candles if you would’ve kept the child were it not for poverty.

Use a fourth if the sound of the father’s voice—


or forever

or the creak women’s legs make when opening—

pushed you to it.


If you wanted to abort sooner but had to scrape, beg, holler, tap dance up 325 dollars,

and are saying, “The fuck you mean buy a bag of candles? I’m on E, bitch,”

steal them.

You think you are a criminal anyway.


Burn some of your grandmother’s tea candles if you’re between the ages 11 and 14.

Then refer to the recipe “How to be a child again.”


You’ll burn one candle if, from the neck down, you are brick and October leaves,

but are sure that at the core of you, where the glory and last dollop of tenderness live,

way past the leather once skin and the un-startled face

you are very, very sorry but unable, somehow, to know it.

You’ll burn one candle from two separate bags if this was your second abortion.

Add on a bag and the same formula for the 3rd.*


Absolutely this recipe applies to abortions guided by marriages

you yourself were not in.

I do not know how many tea candles you need

not to love him,

or to love her enough to leave him,

but to be cleansed of the child,

use sixteen.


You choose the number of candles if you waited too long

and the fetus had a neck,



or worse yet,



Use two handfuls of candles if no one accompanied you to the clinic;

an extra few if there was no anesthesia;

a few more than that if you abstained from meds altogether to punish yourself;

and then just over a half of one if you liked the pain, since that is exactly what you deserved. Remember to keep the wick in place, else it won’t burn.


Do not burn a single candle if you were washed in relief.

Relief is the gift.

For the guilt over the relief, burn one candle

every night

for six days.

Chew, but do not swallow, what’s left.


Now run a bath.

The water will run at the rate you want this done.

If you’re angry, the faucet will kick the water out, in a tantrum.

If you’re depressed and hoping this recipe will save you, the water’ll enter itself like a knife does butter. Watch this sort of water. It is the sort to drown you lovingly.

Whatever the pace, tear the shower curtain from its rungs before the tub is half full,

so you don’t disturb the water, accidentally wasting some of it.

Take the thing from the room completely.

Toss it or fold it pretty, depending on your mind.

Now wait ‘til it looks like the tub is so full the dam’ll break.

It is filled to the very rim like how sadness is bumping against even your scalp.

People smell it in your hair.


Place your tea candles in the water and light them,

even if there are more candles than you have fingers and toes together,

spilling as little as you can manage.

The water is forgiveness and you want all of it.

Kneel at the side of the tub and wait.






Consider these possibilities:

Maybe only babies that want to be here in the first place make it through.

Maybe the soul is absent until month six.

Maybe the soul is absent ‘til you decide on keeping it.

‘Til it first breathes.

Maybe God doesn’t tally up mistakes like the old ladies outside the place with those banners of crushed up, would-be children slapped on them like chicken and ketchup.

Maybe that baby will come back again, next time, when you’re ready, and you can name him Raheem or Pedro or Agent Orange or Charles Jr. or Love.

Maybe it only matters what God thinks.

Maybe you aren’t the only sinning selfish thing on Earth—

maybe there are 15 others on your block alone.

Maybe God gave you a mind to think with,

and even if your very own body is what you have to betray with that thinking,

you ought to be using your head.

Maybe you’ll be sad about this the rest of your natural life and when you get to Heaven (because you are going) it’ll be the first thing you and God discuss

(if He remembers).

Maybe killing a mosquito is as dangerous in God’s eyes and you’ll have to answer for all the bugs you swatted dead and all the pigs you ate too.

Maybe you’re just a speck of dust: common.


Then promise this:

Not gonna name that baby.

Not gonna remember its due date.

And if I did, gonna forget what I called it, when it was supposed to get here.

Not gonna let one moment be my whole definition.

When this tub water trips and tumbles down the drain, my guilt’ll be buttoned to its end like a tail.

And I will not leap to grab it,

crack my head open on the tub’s belly and bleed all over two dozen burning candles.

I’m gonna let it go,

wipe my hands of it,

trust that my ribs’ll hold together my busted up heart and that I’ll still have a soul tomorrow.

And the beautiful day after that, and the one after that too.




*If this sentence appalls you, then get off of here. This ain’t for you.


How to Forgive Abortion When You Are the AborterAndria Nacina Cole has published short stories in Urbanite, Sensations Magazine, Fiction Circus, and Ploughshares. She is the recipient of grants from Maryland State Arts Council and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. She is the founder of the Flanked Women’s Writers Conference.