The Brothers Grimm were the first to tell the dark tale of Rumpelstiltskin. And although it was certainly not their intention, the fairy tale eerily parallels so many women’s experience of abortion …
Rumpelstiltskin is the story of a poor miller’s daughter, locked up in a tower by a greedy king who demanded that she turn straw into gold in exchange for her release. It was an impossible task and she lost all hope. But then a devilish little man appeared out of nowhere, promising to rescue her from her desperate situation. He would be her savior. The cost? One newborn baby.
Rumpelstiltskin offered what appeared to be the only escape route. And so the desperate girl swore she would give him her firstborn in exchange for her freedom. He produced the gold for the king, and she was liberated. Soon after, she forgot about her awful promise. But years later, when she gave birth to her first child, Rumpelstiltskin came to collect.
How often it is that women facing an unexpected pregnancy feel trapped in what they perceive to be an impossible circumstance! They can see no way out of their predicament except through abortion. Maybe some women, those in dire financial circumstances, feel they are being asked to turn straw into gold. Not having resources or means to care for themselves or for a new baby, they choose to end their pregnancy.
Abortion, like Rumpelstiltskin, shows up not as a strong knight-on-a-horse savior, but as a manikin whispering in the ear of the vulnerable woman: “I can rescue you from this mess. I can bring immediate relief from your troubles.” Rumpelstiltskin’s “rescue” is not the kind that provides a safe refuge; it’s more akin to the bargain a woman strikes with a pimp. And, like the protection a pimp provides, it comes with a debt. The cost? One unborn baby.
How many post-abortive women are like the poor miller’s daughter? They hope, as she does, that the ugly exchange will be forgotten and put behind them. But then Rumpelstiltskin shows up, looking for payment. Nobody tells a woman of the cost—the grief and desperation she will feel after aborting her child. Rumpelstiltskin comes in her dreams and accuses her while she’s awake. She bargains with him, offering gold if he will just go away. But he’s not interested in her gold.
For the miller’s daughter, there was only one way to make Rumpelstiltskin go away. She had to guess his name correctly and speak it aloud. This is not unlike the post-abortive woman who, at first, cannot name the root of her anguish. Like the miller’s daughter, who kept her shameful visits with Rumpelstiltskin hidden, the post-abortive woman might hide her feelings of guilt and shame, keeping her secret—and her sorrow—to herself. Sometimes it manifests in drink or drugs, in risky behavior, or worse. Some women try to escape by attempting suicide—some of them succeed.
But one day the miller’s daughter chose to confide in somebody, asking a messenger to help her find the name of the evil manikin who kept returning to collect payment. The messenger had overheard the name of Rumpelstiltskin and told her of it.
Knowing the name of her nightmare, the miller’s daughter suddenly felt some of her power restored. She was no longer at Rumpelstiltskin’s mercy. The post-abortive woman, when she reaches out for the help of others who made the same dark journey and have been healed, can also find relief. These “messengers” come in the name of the Prince of Peace, the true Savior. They can assist her in naming her sorrow. And when she does, it loses power over her, making room in her heart for healing.
The next time Rumpelstiltskin came back for his pay, the miller’s daughter looked him in the eye and spoke his name. In a fury, he stomped his foot so hard it plunged deep into the earth, tearing him in two.
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