Elspeth Wilson

The Happy Haunting

The body knew I was pregnant before the mind did. When I found out, it made sense in the way hearing a name you half-remember but already know makes sense. Something murmured slotted into place. When I went to confirm what I already knew to be true – because it seemed like the right thing to do – the nurse told me I must be very ‘hormone-sensitive.’ Sensitivity has always been my weakness and my strength. When I was little, I was late home each time it rained because I had to pick up every snail that might perish under a misplaced foot. Part of this sensitivity was crushed out of me over time but it was always there, inherent in my body, inescapable. A destiny written in tears. Here, sensitivity made me sick from the very start but it gave me knowledge and a way of knowing my body that was never articulable in all the sessions about ‘what to do.’ I had known the reason for my sickness from when I was just two weeks ‘gone’ (gone from where? To where?) and this power to discern felt dizzying. I was vindicated, right all along; sensitivity had allowed my mind to go through the body like a comb, emerging victorious with the knowledge that there was something wrong and yet so right.

The duality of the body to transcend and escape through technology, through medicine, through poem and to ground, in itself, in its seed, in its ability to create. The abjection that Julia Kristeva describes the realization that something parasitical with great potential beauty can grow inside you without thought, intention, realisation or agency. These things thrilled, liberated, and constrained me. To know the body will perish but it will not perish now. That it can create another perishable first and so the cycle continues. The ability to get pregnant – a pregnancy without continuity – even this made me glow at my own hidden, obvious, glorious capabilities. I was pregnant not just with a clump of cells but with hope and vitality. We all exist relationally but never is this truer than when there is a parasite, a baby, a fetus, whatever name suits your disposition, growing inside of yourself. To know that you are always dividing but that this time you divide to become more than the sum of your parts is like surveying a construction site through a timelapse camera. Nothing then everything. Pregnancy is banal, literally every day, present but not discussed and yet it is abject, threatening, and transformative.

This duality of fear, of excitement, of thrill, of self-loathing, of indecision was enabled through knowing I had possibilities. Freedom begets freedom. My mind was able to hold my body’s hand, allow it to explode and explore, cocooned in the fact that I had a choice with a capital ‘C’. Not all choices are various. Not all choices are thought through – some happen in the body. So it was with me. The mind reasoned, anguished with indecision, and then the body spoke. Quick, confident, decisive. Sure. Yes, to me this felt like a baby and yes, I was in love – with myself, my partner and with potential futures. But knowing this was not – could not, should not – be a possibility right now.

An abortion born of love. A pregnancy much enjoyed and much wanted whilst it was there. Despite the sickness and the pain, clarity, a greater definition of future and life. It might be considered gauche, vulgar or harmful to the ‘cause’ to revel in the happiness brought by a pregnancy that ended in self-directed termination. But what is choice if not different shades, perhaps not all appealing to everyone, but without which there would be gaps in the spectrum. Talking about abortion is often seen as navel-gazing, done to death, that age-old gendered charge of ‘self-obsession’. Yes, we have heard a lot about abortion but maybe – clearly – not enough, if restriction after restriction after restriction happens in plain sight. Talking about abortion not purely as something ‘difficult,’ something that has to be hard and can contain no softness, no areas of light, reduces space and puts our narrative on one narrow path.

Freedom to choose means freedom to speak. It means not thinking abortion stories are ‘boring’ because boring means settled, a done deal, static. As a writer, seeing calls for personal essays accompanied by guidelines that request these ‘come from the heart’ but state that abortion is not a suitable topic because it has been written about ‘too much’ imply that these shared stories have reached their purpose and their end. Quite aside from the impossibility of a homogenous ending, positioning writing about abortion as signaling a lack of inventiveness suggests that there is no new ground within a multitude of experience. It is conservative in the implication of a settled landscape and unimaginative itself. Abortion is as various as the people who have them. Danger lies not only in denial but in dismissal.

Judith Butler teaches us that we should be careful of what we reify in an attempt to liberate. We should also be wary of what we ossify through our boredom, our ignoring of history, our lazy thought that this fight is over and we don’t have to listen anymore. To people who are too much, too emotional, too focused on themselves. Too marginalized to have their voices heard to begin with. Many who know their history too well to rest easy never stopped fighting. But to the rest of us; be careful what can seep into your bones and calcify whilst you sleep.


Elspeth Wilson
 is a researcher and writer interested in all things gender and sexuality-related. She is a big believer in blurring boundaries between ‘art’ and ‘academia’ and always looks for innovative ways to approach research. She is very new to creative writing but feels like it has been missing from her life for some time. You can find her on Twitter at @ellijwilson or see her work on pleasure post-trauma on Instagram at @projectpleasurable.

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