This post originally appeared on Isabel’s blog. We are so honored to share her words here.
“wandering womb: following the words she speaks”
(also known as: things my womb has known and what she teaches me)
by Isabel Abbott
1. “what is the womb?” the professor asked me, as i was thick in the lost middle of research and writing, unable to locate myself anymore in the fern leaves that had grown wild and were taking over my apartment and the page. “it is source,” i answered back. the emptiness from which all things come.
“well then, write that,” she said. “write the source.”
“but what if it changes or shifts shapes?” i asked. “and then none of my writing will make sense anymore,” i’m thinking to myself.
“welcome to the womb,” she said.
2. myth. old, old stories. the ones about why women were created, what they are good for, what they need, what they should never be allowed. the ones about function, about rightful place, about the mystery, about shelter. there are these moments, when i am lying still outside, in grass or sand or carried on water, and i think i can feel them, the cells of them, all the thousands of years of stories about the hollow inside me, which once housed a uterus, which is still the source from which i listen and speak. the old stories, i no longer carry the weight of them, and so these days i walk lighter on this earth. but i’d be lying if i said they were not woven into everything, and to hear my womb words is to first give voice to everything told in its origins. the way you bleed a thing out, give it back to its rightful owner, and in the quiet that then comes, you hear, finally, a voice to call your own.
3. life. life force. like heat. like fire. like burning and rebuilding, as many times as it takes. to say the womb is life is not to say it creates or gives life. it is to say it is life. the way of life. the cycle of life. containing all of life.
4. the first time i felt my son move inside my body, i was sitting at the foot of my bed, and i remember i was thinking about braiding my hair, wondering if i should start again, these twenty years later, and if i could still remember how to tie my hair in the braid that wraps all the way around your head in a loop, how i did when my limbs were little and limber, my body hurling through air in a kind of flight. but i was now sick and slow, sitting at the foot of the bed, staring at my hands. and suddenly the flick and flutter of it. movement. it was terrible and terrifying, stunning and a shudder and the most perfect quiet secret.something was moving in me. metaphor would never be the same after that.
5. blood. every month, for so many months (nineteen years of months) i would bleed. the cycle of empty and full and empty again. the way the bleeding stopped when something else took root, and how it began again when it was time for the leaving. and after this was no longer, was it the blood i missed, the release of it, or was it the cycle itself, a way of keeping or watching timing, locating myself in something always in movement?
6. “Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing – instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.” – Ursula Le Guin.
i could say, then, that the womb is the dark to me. dark that nourishes. dark that remedies and repairs. dark that is wet of earth and salt of ocean. dark that is sometimes descent and death and sometimes is rest and respite. dark that grows things: like people and ideas and art and souls. a thing made powerful by its hidden nature. the womb is the dark.
7. womb words. to write without the assumed structure, the frameworks given, the language thrust down our throats at such a young age we can at times mistake it as a means of speaking true. to question where language has been dominated and dictated by misogyny and shame and subtle tremors that tell us what we know inside ourselves isn’t to be trusted. to know joy. and unleash anger. to love and speak the body. to write with freedom. to place things together because this is where they go, inside me, to wander in the dark, to trust the words as they find their own way into form.
8. growth. i love it for its muscle. it’s clamping. its expansion. contractions. transitions. the sound you are waiting to hear.
9. projection. other people’s ideas, and how it is strangely socially acceptable for other people to share their ideas about my uterus, say them to my face, with a certain expectation that i agree, that we will both nod are heads slightly as if to say, “what a shame. how sad. how remarkable. there but for the grace of god go i.” projection that presents as beliefs that i would want children or more children, that i must be sad that i no longer can become pregnant, that i must feel so lucky for having had the cancer found and the uterus removed, and especially lucky because i have one child, and here they will say things like “miracle child” and no one ever asks. isn’t that strange? no one asks. how i felt about my uterus when i had it. if i emptied it of my own volition or if i felt strange relief when it was gone? if i wanted to keep it, not for its usefulness but because it was a part of my body so i’d have liked it, for its own sake. if i felt lucky or cursed, diseased or cured? no one asks. it’s as if the very fact that you have a uterus, makes you a vessel waiting to be filled with other people’s stories, which are their projections, which they heave off their own hearts, words coming out of their mouths without thought or ever asking. i have learned now, how to be kind, but still, to let their words fall to the floor, not into me, and to leave them there.
10. birth. wanted, unwanted, chosen, coming kicking and screaming, violent, in the aching quiet of the night just as everyone else has gone to sleep, a great bursting through, a slow slipping into what comes next. birth. and sometimes, the deepest of loss.
11. the womb. a thing to feel shame for. as if it is somehow this inconvenience to have a uterus, this thing that is not seen yet still makes its presence known. bleeding onto sheets and white shorts and announcing to others that you have crossed some irreversible line that makes you now object and separate, wanted and feared. the covering up, products that are advertised as scented, hope that the line on the white stick will be a pink line or a plus sign, so you can cry in happiness or sweat in relief. womb as metaphor. and still, a thing to halfway cringe upon hearing. as if it is somehow an embarrassment to be filled, to be emptied, to be the dark. to realize that these stories are not yours and never were, even as they shaped your experience of being in this world. to know that whether it becomes a place of power for you, or whether there is always some strain of ambivalence and a wondering what you’d be without such a persistent reminder of everything ending, the impermanence of it all, that this womb and its words are yours. and you are ready to write them.
12. in ancient greece, as found in the hippocratic corpus, the womb in the female body was considered to be ravenous, desperate and devouring, always in search of fulfillment, of being filled. i always felt that as belonging to my heart, to its legion ways, how sometimes it feels hungry, feels like a hunter, feels like the terrible exposure of its pulpy beating might be my undoing. but the womb. my womb. it wanted to be left alone. and what do you do then, with all the times it was not?
13. when i went through menopause, i was only thirty years old. it was a sudden and severe loss of ovaries and hormones and the body, my body, went into shock. so many things changed. and i remember all my skin drying out and peeling off. i remember the repulsion and amazement at it all, the way things heal and the way they adapt for survival and the way they grieve. the dryness. everything was so dry, and my skin spoke of the loss no one could see. it was here that i learned the ways of the snake, of shedding and finding what lies beneath, transparent and luminous, delicate and resilient as thick ropes tethering me to solid ground. there have been a few times since then, that the snake has come back to me, and each time, the leaving and beginning is the same. so to tell my womb stories is to speak the language of serpent and skin.
14. the incredible vulnerability of sexuality. it’s exposure, making us open to all the worlds we work so hard to suppress in our civility and need to survive. its want, our want, and how it speaks a language that refuses to fit with all the words we construct to explain things, to make pretty, make nice. sex, this world of bodies and hunger and meeting one another at crossroads and in the corners and wide open plains. how it utters the pull or push that is the relentless movement towards life: wet, chaotic, regenerative life.
15. maybe it is my fascination with the womb that leads me to the love for origin myths, all of them grasping at the unknowable -how does a new reality come into existence?
16. womb as creation and giver of life. disease and source of sickness. womb as language, as cycle, as origin and source. womb as veined house we live within and break free from, grasping in the air of a world we will come to know as lover and companion, enemy and ally, and if we are lucky, as that which leaves us foreigner in a strange land and still claims us as belonging.
17. is it in an effort to distance ourselves from a kind of creative chaos that we relegate the womb, the uterus, to that of reproduction? even the words, “reproductive” organs are strange and disturbing, as if the act of growing a person or work of art is only that of reproducing: clinical, clones, assembly lines and productivity scales. let’s stop. let’s name the womb differently. regenerative, birth and rebirth, restoring that which was once taken. the womb as welcoming back to us all that once was lost, putting the pieces of ourselves back together. the womb as re-wilding, as an alter to that which is ready to leave and the dark from which we begin again, the voice which reveals itself when production is removed the equation and freedom sits at the head of the round table. to love the process, the unfolding and unfurling, the becoming and the unknown. the womb is, perhaps, the great unknown. so we can lay that one down, the compulsion to know or understand, to have definitions or explanations. and maybe this is how we learn to listen. and in the listening, we follow where the wandering leads, skin still wet from the entrance, heart at home in the dark, eyes taking in the light, choosing to say yes, i will be here in this world and write my words on the caves and pages and body that walks me through from one life into the next.
Isabel Abbott is a writer, activist, embodiment artist, and speaker. A baker of pies and a lover of learning. A doula in birth and death and love of life. A feminist and a freedom seeker, devoted to raw reality and creative liberation.
Her heart keeps beating toward the unknowable and the contradictions, movement and presence, and all the messy beautiful things. Her maps keeps taking her to the open roads and the return to salt water and the study of evolution.
She has experienced significant life events of love and choice and illness and survival, and has stories of how they came and shaped her.
Isabel writes in print and online on embodiment and medical anthropology, the sacred and profane, outlaw faith, the wandering womb, legion hearts, and the madness of mystery. And she facilitates courses on writing, the body and desire.
She is presently studying as a presidential scholar fellowship recipient at Chicago Theological Seminary, exploring intersections of embodiment and ethics, gender and presence and cartography of faith.