Celebrate Life magazine May-June 1994
A MOTHER'S CHOICE
by Michele Henderson, copyright 1994
Michele Henderson delivered this address at the fourth Annual
Shield of Roses Mothers Day Vigil, May 7, 1988, in Glendale, CA.
We have preserved her own wording.
I AM A TESTIMONY to those people who, when they come to the
[abortion] clinic, look at the baby pictures and say, "Are those really
real babies?Are those really real mothers that you help?" and think there
is something not really real about what is going on.
My meeting with Shield of Roses a little over two years ago on
February 1, 1986, was something remarkable . . . I was the hip 80's lady,
I thought, a working mother with three children, working at a job I adored
at an art institute. I had my circle of feminist and lesbian-feminist
friends with whom I was in concurrence about the male/female dialogue. We
had great discussions about that. I was also a fallen-away Catholic and
New Age believer in reincarnation at the time, and my hip female 80's
image kind of fell apart when I found out I was pregnant for the fourth
I already had three sons, ages five, three and one, and it didn't fit
the image, not at all. I was in terror because with every child I had had
postpartum depression that was awful, and with each child it got
successively severer and was longer in duration.
So I was absolutely terrified about what was going to happen. My
psychiatrist, a couple of months before, had labeled me a high suicidal
risk and I just knew if I had this baby I was going to fragment into a
hundred little pieces on the floor and probably end up in the institution
and my kids would be motherless.
Add to that the fact that my husband didn't want any more children
and was in favor of abortion, that the marriage was on the rocks and I
knew if I had another child I would have four children I would be
responsible for financially, nurturing, etc.
Add to that the fact we were living in a two-bedroom apartment with
five people already in terrible financial stress. Put all those things
together and it added up to what I thought was an insurmountable problem.
I also had an arthritic condition that was exacerbated by pregnancy. The
only route available to me, I thought, was abortion. I didn't see any way
out. I had already had "little green men" hallucinations and I would
wander the country roads at night and I didn't want to go back to that, or
So the decision was made; there was no turning back, there was
nothing else I could do. And I was aware the moment I made the decision
until that day I came to this clinic, of little, almost imperceptible
transitions in the way I felt. I noticed myself becoming a little more
brittle, a little more feminist, a little more concerned about my female
rights, nobody hurting me this way again, and even before I came here, I
knew the marriage was over, that I had been in great pain and here I was
left stranded and alone out there, and that was unforgivable to me.
Also for me I had been defined by what I stood for and what I stood
against, and this being my first abortion, my whole moral order collapsed,
because abortion was the one remaining limitation of my life that I would
never do, and once having committed that, I knew that fidelity in marriage
didn't mean anything. But even the taking of a stranger's life wasn't
quite as atrocious as the taking of your own descendant's life. If a
mother [and] child's love is the purest form of human love known on the
planet, then the destruction of that child is the ultimate act of
destruction on the planet, and everything kind of collapsed for me from
So on the morning of February 1, 1986, I had my husband drop me off
here. I was going to go it alone; I was a strong woman, a take-charge sort
of woman, I could handle it. We had the other three children in the back
of the car and I had been warned that there would be demonstrators here
and to just ignore them, and before I could get up the sidewalk here I saw
them and I thought, "Oh, for crying out loud, just leave me in peace, just
let me have my suffering alone. I'm sure! You just let me be a baby
bearer, and you probably have 1.5 children yourselves, and a home, and
everything is fine for you and yet you want me to bear children. You don't
even know my story." And that is what I thought as Geri walked up to me
here on the sidewalk.
My perception of sidewalk counselors and pro-life people at the time
was of people screaming epithets at you as you walked by and sticking
morbid pictures under your nose, and it wasn't like that at all. It was
very peaceful and calm, and Geri explained to me the fetal development and
the medical complications of abortion, which I wanted to remain ignorant
of. I didn't want to know what they were. She explained to me the
religious and ethical aspects of abortion and also told me that this
abortionist was a racist, and being that my children are biracial, that
did evoke a little protective maternal instinct in me that first of all,
that I am a woman, and at my most vulnerable stage someone is going to
exploit me for money, and that then on top of that, they want to rid the
world of black and Hispanic babies, and that was double exploitation. And
Geri also told me that mothers who have many children, that sometimes that
unwanted child at the time of the pregnancy turns out to be the angel of
the family. And I remembered that comment that she made.
And yet I chose to go ahead with it. My mind was made up. I said,
"Thank you. I really appreciate what the pro-life people are doing. You
are doing a good job, keep it up. But my mind is made up. My loyalties lie
with the three children I already have and I want to be a mother to them.
And so I started walking up the steps, and I turned to look over there,
and I saw of group of people, and I saw a priest leading the rosary, and
if you had come to me and I was a vampire, and you came with a cross and
stuck it under my nose, that couldn't have had more impact on me than to
see a priest with the rosary.
My graduate studies were in clinical psychology and I know all the
theories, and yet I won't discount the fact that there could have been a
spirit or two or three in attendance with me that day because I had had a
lot of emotional problems and I won't discount the fact at all of the
power of Mary and the rosary. And still I went on. I still went into the
I filled out the paperwork. I wanted to get my lab work done and
there were chairs in there covered with the disposable paper that they
didn't dispose of and I was aware of making sure that my gown was closed
at the back so that I wouldn't pass any infection on to my baby.
When I had gone to the locker room to change into the gown and little
booties, I saw all these lockers and thought, "So many lockers!" and I
can't describe the feeling. I wanted to say, "But I'm Michele and this
means something and it isn't just another woman passing through here."
After the lab work I went on to have my pelvic exam. I was sure I was
six weeks pregnant, I was absolutely positive of it. And as the nurse
practitioner did the pelvic I remember thinking, "Please be gentle, please
don't hurt my baby," but yet I was minutes away from having it torn apart.
And she confirmed that I was 12 weeks along. When you come in here you
don't know how far along you are until just that couple of minutes before
After that it was on to the holding room, as they call it. A holding
pen for cattle, that's what stuck in my mind. There were probably six of
us women sitting in there-it was a very tiny room. There was a 39-year-old
woman in there who was crying because she knew that that was probably the
last child she would have. And the other girls in there were giggling and
laughing (they were repeat abortions).
The strangest thing happened when I was in that holding room. They
had a TV and it was on and as I was sitting in there a program was on
about a female character telling her boyfriend they were going to have a
baby. They were so thrilled and so tender with each other talking about
having the baby, and the girls were saying, "Awww," and I thought, "But
you are pregnant and you have your own babies." I thought the nurse would
turn it off, but they left the program on.
I was next in line and I knew there were just minutes [to go] and
time was ticking along. Up until that point there was no dissonance, I was
going ahead with it, and as those last few minutes came up on me I was
aware of what was going on around me. On my left side they left the door
open, I could see the lady was on the gurney and the suction machine was
going and I thought, "No dignity there." I turned to my right-the door was
open there in the recovery room, ladies sprawled on couches. No humanity
there. There was such dissonance. There was no resolution. I felt, "So you
go from this room to that room and then that is it? You go home?" I wanted
someone to grieve for my baby. I wanted some resolution-some finality to
it. And there wasn't any. And I compared [it] to what I felt outside. I
felt that a bonding had occurred on that sidewalk in just those few
minutes-love and compassion and kindness. And even allowing me to go in
and have the abortion and giving me the post-abortion counseling part in
case I had any problems.
Compared to what I felt in there, there was no camaraderie, no
intimacy, no nothing. And then I envisioned within myself. . . . I thought
I heard a voice that said, "Mother. Why couldn't you love me? Mother." And
it was in that instant that I got up.
I thought the nurses and doctors would think I was a fruity. You
don't do this! This is tacky! I'm in my surgical gown, my slippers! I
told the girls, "If they come looking for me, tell them I'm in the rest
room." And I told the nurses, "I just can't go through with it." And I
came out of the clinic.
It was as if I was carried along despite myself, despite my decision
to go ahead with it. It was as if I was powerless. Every time I turned
around there was something blocking my way. And I know the bonding out
here was important, but I think it was something more. I think it had to
do with that little circle of people over there that was praying the
rosary because there was no human reason that I shouldn't have gone ahead
with it that day, no reason at all.
I came out here and Geri met me and we exchanged phone numbers. I was
shaking and all I knew was that I was pregnant, I was still pregnant and I
didn't know what to do and I expected that, sure, they would say they'd
help, but as soon as I rode down the road, that was it, there I was, just
me, myself, and the baby. And I had given her a wrong phone number because
I really didn't want her to call me, but she tracked me down. She had
offered help and she did help. Baby supplies and maternity clothes, and
two years later, we are still friends and still keep in contact.
What Rhonda has just said about feminism and self-indulgence of
women: I think there is something really strange happening in the world
and in this country and without even perceiving it, so insidiously, the
prince of darkness has made his way in and I think there is no longer the
one, true God that is here. I think there are some false ones floating
around. I see gods of eroticism and sensuality and I see gods of self-love
and self-deification, and I don't even knowif people are aware of it. And
I think maybe we should assess to make sure that we are worshiping the
one, true God.
And there is a strange, bizarre pagan ritual that is going on as
women come to this clinic here and offer their babies over to the high
priest for a bloody sacrifice because in order to serve the gods they
serve they must sacrifice their babies.
I am so thankful, and I would like to give thanks to the mothers who
are strong and resilient. I would like to thank Shield of Roses for being
the modern-day heroes. .
. . People, who for the love of Christ, risk being spat upon and buffeted, all for the
purpose of bringing the truth to a world that doesn't want to hear it; who
for the love of Christ defend the innocent and beloved who are being led
to execution through no fault or blame of their own; who, for the love of
Christ, try to save a sinner from losing their soul for eternity; who for
the love of Christ provide shelter, clothing, food and help of any kind to
aid the distressed. Sidewalk counselors: traumatizers of women? I don't
My story is as much about conversion as it is about saving a baby's
life. After that day here at the clinic a whole series of fortuitous
events began that never would have happened had I aborted, and I have gone
back to the traditional, orthodox faith and five of my brothers and
sisters have come back-one thinking of becoming a priest, and three
brothers are at least thinking more about it than they were previously.
Two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law have become Christian and I
can't take any credit for it because, God knows, my life was a mess. It
had nothing to do with me.
I think it was the group of people who, through a simple act of
faith, came here despite society and begged for the intercession to aid
someone like me, and it was through [this] that the wheels were set in
motion, and that God took care of everything else.
I think that's the explanation. And I would also, most of all, like
to thank the mother in heaven who came to me in my distress that day,-her
maternal heart came to me and saved her child and my child, me who
deserved nothing, who was going in to kill one of her children, and I am
so grateful to her.
[At this point, Michele's daughter was brought up and she presented
her to the audience].
I have a girl now-Xaviera. I had three sons before, and now I have a
And the postpartum depression? It cleared up! And I'm so much
stronger. Finally, after a lifetime of running from my problems, I met
them head on-confronted them, grew, strength through adversity, all those
things-pain saved lives-that's what happens!
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