Thursday, 12 July 2012

Herbal Abortion – An Alternative

While I had selfishly wanted to keep the addition to my story for myself, having shared before, after reading an article of the closure of an abortion clinic in Frederiction NB ( I decided it was crucial for woman to share knowledge of alternative means to less traumatic abortions. With slut shaming, victim blaming creating guilt attached to the procedure our support networks are quick to be non-existent and we cannot reach out for help when we need it the most.  We need “abortion on demand and without apology”.  Women have controlled our own bodies and choices until recently in human history by using plants to help control fertility, regulate our menstruation and terminate unwanted pregnancies.  This knowledge is now hardly accessible, seen as dangerous or just the stuff coming from those quacks.  When the majority of us are without this traditional knowledge we have ask for a procedure controlled by men and face the very real possibility that the answer could be no, as women in New Brunswick are experiencing.  We are left disempowered, without options and our human rights debated over.  Women die from childbirth.  We get maimed from childbirth.  Our lives and bodies are altered and at risk with every pregnancy. Abortion has and will continue to save women’s lives.  

I have had three abortions. The first was mechanical and the last two have been both herbal. For all of them I had those mixed feelings of glee and grief - a war within my mind when I started feeling the tell-tale signs of pregnancy.  It came with the constant nausea triggered by the heightened smell and sudden aversions to food I had normally enjoyed.  I could sense the budding life inside of my womb and I was looking forward to what was to come, coupled with nervousness and hesitation.  I had known I was pregnant by feeling the implantation take place: it was sharp, intrusive and beautiful. The last abortion was the hardest and for weeks I struggled with what would be the right thing to do; while it was heartbreaking, like everywoman facing this decision, I made the right choice for me and my situation. 

Herbs that shed the lining of a uterus wall are called: abortifacients, [which] had been in use, as a matter of common knowledge, since ancient times, and was certainly well known in the 16th and 17th centuries, for instance, the scurrilous lines in Middleton’s play, A game of chess, act 1; sc.2:

To gather fruit, find nothing but the savin-tree,
Too frequent in nuns’ orchards, and there planted
By all conjecture, to destroy fruit rather.”

For my first herbal termination I had chosen a combination of:

Ginger – “one of the strongest and fastest acting of the emmenagogues.” Susan Weed, Childbearing Year, pg 7.)

Black Cohosh Root – is known as a helper herb and will soften the cervix to release the contents of a uterus.  

Mugwort – “Mugwort has an affinity for the female reproductive system and is used as a uterine stimulant that can bring on delayed menstruation and help restore a woman's natural monthly cycle.” (

Sweet Flag – abortifacient

Blue Cohash - has two properties that encourage the uterus to contract. One creates an oxytocin effect, which happens during pregnancy when a woman is about to go into labour, and caulosaponin which triggers uterine contractions.

I really had to overdose on the herbs in order to make sure that they were effective.  I am approx. 135 pounds with a strong build so I had to up the dosage to affect my body weight.  It is recommended to make tinctures out of these herbs or strong infusions. I decided it would be easiest for me to put them into capsules.  This in itself was quite the process - I had to grind up all the herbs, which were hard roots, into a fine enough powder and then put them into caps.  It was long and monotonous and in that gave some time for contemplation and meditation.

I took them pretty much every time I thought of it and by the handful.  More accurately, I usually ate 4 at a time and I managed to take them 3 – 4 times a day totalling on average 12-16 capsules a day.  The process took 2 weeks to complete; for a successful termination the herbs must be taken until the end of your menstrual cycle.  I started noticing the hormonal effects within a day or two and really felt it by the end of the first week.  The cramping kicked in pretty close to the end of the second week and then a flood came on. 

Physically, my body ached, and my hormones felt out of control. I was crankier than a pissed off hornet, I wept at monumentally silly things and my uterus felt like it had been doing sit ups for weeks on end.

 Because of my first herbal termination I had stocked my arsenal of herbs with some plants that are have proven to be more effective.  So I was able to make a tincture of pennyroyal herb (DO NOT INGEST PENNYROYAL OIL), black cohosh, blue cohosh and mugwort. Had I the herb on hand I would have also included tansy. When making tinctures most herbalists suggest letting it sit in a cold dark area for up to 6 weeks, I was concerned about time so had heated it in a glass pot (to approximately scalding temp)and transferred the herbs and the 26 oz of vodka into a mason jar to sit for two days in the suns warmth so the infusion was sped up. Once complete it was strained and the dark brown liquid carried an earthy root fragrance, and tasted bitter leaving a harsh, unpleasant taste in my throat.   

The tincture was incredibly intense and coursed through my body in waves.  On the first day I started taking it by a tablespoon in a cup of warm water for every four hours.  I could feel the effect of the herbs entering my womb, cradling it the promise of an imminent shedding, it was uncomfortable and tugged on my heart.  Even my limbs were affected down to my toes and I was bathed in an eerie calm. That night my body had gone into shock and I had an anxiety attack – my heart was beating so fast that I was sure it would stop, I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t stop weeping, I was an utter wet, sloppy mess.  In combination with not eating much, my sore heart and the intensity of the herbs I believe is what had created the environment for me to panic.  Every woman is different and understands her own body so it is important to adjust as necessary.  To make myself more comfortable I had cut down the dosage to ½ tablespoon every 4 hours and I was able to cope better while still being able to feel the effects in my body.

This also seemed to work quicker than the capsule version. I started taking it on 14th of July and had started feeling the cramps on the 17th of July.  They were very powerful and painful, it felt more like contractions than menstrual cramps; they visited in waves throughout the day and night and I was laying on a couch wrapped around a pillow for most of it.  The next day I started bleeding.  The blood was thick and heavy for the first two days and evened out to my regular cycle after that.  It took 5 days in total for my cycle to stop, I had felt empty and had taken another pregnancy test to confirm the feeling - it had come back negative.  

While any form of termination is incredibly unpleasant, herbal or mechanical, I have found the experiences of abortion using methods my ancestresses’ had used was one of the most empowering things I have done as a woman and as an herbalist; it was a freedom that I could never have expected. Hearing stories from women and their experiences of fear of being denied or guilt given by their family and friends is a huge reminder that yes we have come but not nearly far enough.

Though using herbs was less traumatic and freeing, I also want to emphasize that they should be an addition to our access to abortion, not a replacement. We need to re-empower ourselves, work together with conventional practices to provide every woman with access to support and solutions related to her reproductive health. I firmly believe that any reason to terminate is a good reason and I will always fight for our power of choice.