a reason to dance
I had an abortion when I was 18 years old when I found myself in crisis pregnancy and rejected by my first love. Well-meaning adults scheduled my appointment and assured me it was not my baby that I would be killing, but rather was "just a blob of flesh". I was told I would forget about my child and that college was the next important goal on the agenda of a "successful" woman's life.
The abortion clinic was crowded and cold, and a giant cattle call of death. I was driven to the clinic by a high school friend who was as frightened and bewildered as I was. I waited in the lobby with all the other women, and I cried and cried and cried. Deep in my heart, I knew what was happening was very evil and very wrong. I was harshly scolded by a clinic worker who barked at me to stop crying. Not one staff member there offered a kind word, a tissue, a shoulder to cry on, or most importantly another option. I felt trapped, unloved and deeply rejected. I remember speaking with another woman in the waiting room who was hysterically crying too. She was already a mother and her husband was forcing her to abort their child. I will never forget her tear-stained face, as we both sat in that room our chests heaving with grief waiting for our turn to kill our babies.
After that abortion, all my dreams and self esteem were shattered. It was not the fairy tale I had dreamed of. I compensated and survived what had happened by acting out in rebellion and extreme defiance, drinking and partying. I self destructed and had another abortion a few years later. I rarely spoke about what had occured in my life, and I pretended I didn't care. But deep inside I was scarred and broken. I felt worthless and alone.
I gave birth to my oldest child at the age of 26 and I had never been so in love in my life. I held her in my arms and I was completely in awe. I would walk through fire for her and it was at this point I realized what I had done. I was wrecked in my every fiber of my being to know I had killed my children. I was mad at the world. I was mad at the adults. I was mad at the people who had lied to me and told me my babies were "blobs of flesh".
I held onto my secret for years, particularly when I was in church. If someone said the word "abortion", I would run to the bathroom to silently sob, just like I had done so many years ago in the abortion clinic. I was a mother now, afterall, happily married with three beautiful children. And I was a Christian. I thought, what kind of mother does this? I was so deeply ashamed. Of all my accomplishments - educationally and work-wise - motherhood and family was my greatest, and I could not wrap my head around the fact that I had killed my children for something as comparatively meaningless as a "career". I knew in my heart that I could have written those kids into my life with a little creativity and hard work, and that we would have been okay, whether I had raised them or someone else had through the loving option of adoption.
I finally came public with my story a few years ago when I was in my early forties when I found myself in a very unique situation in a public identity mix up when a woman with my same name who lives in my city was accused of murder. Everyone thought it was me when the story of this other "Sandy Arena" hit the news. I initially set myself apart from her in self-righteousness and claimed to be the "good" Sandy Arena, not the one accused of murder and who was all over the news. That was my initial reaction, until I honestly looked deep inside my heart and I knew this was not true. I knew that I had taken the life of others - my children - even though society did not call it as such and that I had no right to set myself apart in righteousness. I shared my heart, my thoughts and my sympathies for the other parties involved in this situation in an opinion essay in our daily newspaper and my abortion story was out. It was terrifying, but I was free.
I was so impacted by this very unexpected and public abortion confession, that I wrote a ballet to share my story. It has become my life work. It is called The Life Ballet and it is performed by the ballet company my husband and I founded in 2006. This live production is written in the form of a letter of regret to my unborn children where we share a message of life, hope and healing to the people suffering as I had suffered in the aftermath of the "choice" of abortion for so many dark and horrible years. We have performed our show around the country and also in Canada for four years now. It is my art and my heart and the best way I know to tell my story of regret and hope in the wake of abortion. It is one way I can honor my children's lives. It's the birthday party, graduation party and wedding event I was never able to throw for them. I know it's "my story", but I say it's "many women's story" with one in three women having an abortion by the age of 45. There is nothing I can say that can trump what is shown on stage in The Life Ballet through the power of music and movement. My oldest daughter plays the lead character in the show whose name is "Sarah" and for this I am humbled and grateful. My youngest daughter Anna dances the part of "young Sarah". Sarah is the name I have given to my one aborted child who I believe now lives in heaven. I have great hope that I will be reunited with her and my other unborn child again someday.
My mourning has indeed turned to dancing and I can only hope my story and our show will continue to lead others impacted by abortion towards a lighted path of forgiveness and healing. I often say that to remove from society a child deemed unwanted or inconvenient, is to release back into that same society a woman marred and scarred by the choice of abortion. I believe there is a better way for women in the great land of America. Our country was built by courageous and strong men and women who were fearless and creative and who were pioneers. I know my fore-sisters were birthing babies in covered wagons. We can certainly do better for women than killing our children when faced with fear or uncertainty in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.
Children are the greatest blessing and are our future. I learned this on my own and not from the messages that I was taught by my "elders" as a teenager - that being a mom was a drag and that careers were the way to go. These are devastating lies I once believed with devastating consequences.
I will end my story to say that abortion has far reaching consequences not just to women, but to men, siblings, aunts, uncles and the whole community. In a mother/son bonding moment I had with my son who is 11 years old, I asked him how he knew I loved him. He answered without blinking an eye, "Because you didn't abort me."
That broke my heart into a million pieces. It was certainly not a moment I ever dreamed I would have one day with my "wanted child" when I was 18 years old killing my "unwanted child". I don't always enjoy baring my soul and sharing these dark events in the history of my life, but I do it so others may choose differently and with the hope that one day legalized abortion in America will end.
~ Sandy Arena, New York