The Forever Empty Crib

She was gorgeous, fun and I adored her, especially what I took for sincerity and honesty. A troubled youth – drugs and track-marked cowboy companions – she’d left all that behind two decades before we met, “got clean”, as she would say, “fixed myself”. It was that realistic self-appraisal, the candour and self-knowledge that helped her kick the needle, which I recognise in retrospect as one of the magnets that drew me to her, perhaps the greatest of them all early on. She was a woman who knew herself, or so I surmised, and that is powerful attractor.

It was Saturday morning when she spoke of it, pillow talk after the Greek neighbour had taken note of the little hand passing 8, which meant he could exercise his right under local bylaws to play with noisy power tools. For some reason the talk of coffee and which of us should make it slipped into a reminiscence of her former marriage. A less indolent sort than I, it emerged her ex would leap gazelle-like from their bed to brew the pot and brown the toast. And somehow, in the way these things do, one person’s memory prompted another’s joke.


With the SCOTUS abortion ruling in mind,
this memoir has been reprised from 2017


She was doubly blessed for not having had kids bouncing all over the bed, I said, inspired by memories of my own ruptured marriage’s child-rearing days. “Kids in the morning! I’d rather a wog with a bandsaw any day of the week.”

I barely heard her reply.


It was very nearly a sigh, uttered so quietly it came as more reflection than response, so I took a second to grasp it was children she was talking about, not a Hellene consorting with a hammer drill. At that point, in her early mid-forties, she was childless and unbothered by it, or so I thought.

“I terminated the pregnancy,” she continued, using the euphemism of clinical language you hear so often when abortion is the subject. “We were splitting up, he was into dope and cheating and … ” and there a pause “…I just would not have that man’s baby.”

She all but spat the last sentence, and the vehemence of it was shocking. I rose just then to make us brekkie. It seemed a handy moment to be doing something else, for while her ex had been mentioned at other times, never with a such loathing that spoke of passing stern judgment on him and a death sentence on his line and heir. The sins of the father visited upon his unborn child. I recall the smell of toasting bread as I tried to get my mind around what she had just told me. It seemed at first glance to be criminally unfair to have killed a child because his father no longer passed muster. Perhaps, had she been raped …. but still, even then, a life extinguished before it could begin for no fault nor crime of its own.

Abortion? A man ‘gets’ it, sort of. Pro or con, it matters not. Even the most ardent male opinions, those on either and both sides, can be no more than academic when the holder is fated never to know, not even to realistically imagine, what it is like to have a new life blooming between one’s hips. Abortion, nasty business. Best not to think too much about it. Their bodies themselves etc., and leave the girls to it. Isn’t that the shot, what the equality commissioners are always saying? They know what’s best. The comfort of evasion. The false refuge of choosing not to strike and settle on a moral position, especially about what she had just told me.

The subject opened, it emerged in dribs and drabs that she was not quite so sanguine about going childless as I had taken her. There were mentions of fertility drugs and friends who had conceived late and successfully. Just such a couple mentioned over dinner that they had some fertilised and frozen eggs left over, their IV treatments having produced a fine set of twins and that was enough of a family for them. Later that night, again in bed, she wondered if they might gift those dormant eggs to her. We took none of those steps, but nor did we employ any protection.  I remarked that, were she to fall pregnant, I wouldn’t have a problem with being a fifty-something father. Much as I’d griped in misanthrope mode about a small person in rabbit-ear pyjamas leaping on nightshift worker’s testicles at 6am, the fact is that I rather like kids, and by then my own had grown and recently flown.  I missed the Auskick stuff and Little Aths, even being called by the principal to ‘work on your boy’s behaviour’. He had turned out okay, my son, better than I’d anticipated and certainly in excess of his headmaster’s expectations. I’d take another turn with the stroller should it happen, which I didn’t think it would in light of her age, and I’d do so happily.

Well pregnant she became soon after. The cliché is that expectant mums are “radiant”, but she was that and more, lit up not at that early stage by the hormones’ flush but by the sheer joy of being pregnant. I’d never known a happier person. What I had taken for cheerful resignation had actually camouflaged a stoic and unspoken yearning to which she had never before admitted. Now she did. Sometimes, although I said nothing, I thought of the abortion and wondered if her bliss reflected a relief at a being granted fertility’s clemency.

It was good for a while, wonderful even. When I cooked there were no longer admonitions to go easy on the butter. She was eating for two, of course, and absolutely untroubled by morning sickness. We looked a thousand times at those grainy ultrasound images and tried to figure if a tiny curlicue between foetal legs was a penis or just some graphic distortion. It was really fun, even down to the nuts and bolts of planning. The nursery would be the back room and, yes, we made a note be on the lookout for a nice rocking chair, perfect for breast-feeding. A sister-in-law who was moving house took that opportunity to drop off a box of used baby clothes and there was much laughter and gratitude as romper sets were examined and appraised, accepted or rejected. There was no longer any morning pressure to make the coffee. Along with all alcohol, she banished caffeine as a hazard to the preciousness in her belly. The fine print on packaged food was pored over with a Talmudic eye for detail and downside.

At some point between three months and four months, slow disaster. Her doctor told her the foetal heartbeat was weak and fading. She should reconcile herself to loosing it, she was told. At her age these things happened, and this was the greatest comfort the doctor could offer. The foetus died in stages, day by day over the week that followed until there was nothing to be heard at all. There followed a D&C procedure at Royal Melbourne Hospital and I waited for her outside. Barely through the front door at home, she sagged against the wall and slid to the floor sobbing and beyond distraught, knees pulled up beneath her chin. She had wanted a kid for so long, she said in disjointed, anguished syllables, “and now this.”

My thoughts as I cradled her on that hallway rug went diplomatically unexpressed. She could have had the child she ached for, who by then would have been all of fourteen, if not for the abortion. As it happened that was her thought too because between the sobs she said as much. The fury directed against the memory of her ex-husband acquired a different aspect. She had killed what she now wanted most of all and someone had to carry the blame. Projection made it him. I held her tighter and said nothing because, well, there was nothing to say. Eventually, when the paroxysm of grief had passed, been drawn back deep inside and paved over, I helped her to her feet and walked her to the bed, where she asked that I pull the curtains and leave her alone in the dark. I still remember how the hallway runner had left the impression of woven seagrass upon a cheek sodden with tears.

We broke up not long after because everything was somehow  different. There was a distance and a resentment about her, a grief, or so I intuited, that she had hauled back and down after its public airing in that hallway display of absolute misery, buried it as best she was able deep inside.

The feminist texts and “pro-choice” editorials never mention that.

The above was first published as an introduction to Nicola Wright’s Right Thinking on Abortion, published by ConnorCourt and available here.

33 thoughts on “The Forever Empty Crib

  • wstarck says:

    Condolences on the recounting of such a sad experience; but, congratulations for an all too rare honesty on such a morally difficult subject.

  • IainC says:

    In my youth, I had no position on abortion – it was a minor medical procedure you asked for if required, like having a mole removed. After having two children, and loving them so much, I grew to loathe the whole concept, and could not understand the mindset of someone who could want it except under the most fraught circumstances. I wonder whether this (childless versus child-blessed) is the main reason for the great ideological divide between the enthusiasts and the horror-struck. I suspect most women of any age or circumstance take it very seriously indeed, and remember it as gravely as a miscarriage (which I experienced). Only the hard-core (and hard-hearted) activists can truly countenance abortion without a qualm. And if one is listening, it affects men just as deeply as women.

  • Jody says:

    Great comments, Iain. I shared flats with women in the late 60s/early 70s who had had abortions and it wasn’t pretty. They were miserable, especially on ‘birth days’. The rest had their children adopted out, quietly but painfully.

    The anecdote recorded here had me wondering why anybody would want a relationship with an ex drug addict (Plibersek, I’m looking at you!) and somebody who had declared having an abortion. I would have given them the short shrift from the get go. The events recorded here were always going to turn tragic; the deft skill of termination, the dead hand of addiction – these things ruin bodies and lives.

  • T B LYNCH says:

    Sounds like trisomy 16. They usually die @ 16 weeks.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    I wish I had your ability with words Mr Franklin, perhaps being able to express myself would lessen the pain after losing our middle son to displaysia, the poor little tyke had no lungs or ribcage, he was fine whilst he was “on board” as it were but would die the minute he was born.
    The choice was to carry to term or abort, we aborted.
    We did that so Mrs B did not have to carry him.
    That was more than 30 years ago it still haunts

  • Jody says:

    Rob, this is a terribly painful story and thanks for sharing it. There are good reasons for terminating a pregnancy and this is one of them. My complaint is that it’s used as a form of contraception these days. On the other hand, if a woman doesn’t want a child isn’t that child better off without that mother?

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “Abortion, nasty business. Best not to think too much about it. Their bodies themselves etc., and leave the girls to it. Isn’t that the shot, what the equality commissioners are always saying? They know what’s best. The comfort of evasion. The false refuge of choosing not to strike and settle on a moral position, especially about what she had just told me.”
    The ‘moral position’ taken by Franklin and presumably recommended for all women is left unspecified, and can only be guessed at by the reader of this piece. But the decision to terminate a pregnancy as against proceeding with it can only be the woman’s, and the feminists have won on that score, even though they are still under siege as in SCOTUS and Roe vs Wade. As the old proverb puts it: “maternity is a matter of fact; paternity is a matter of opinion.” And fathers are far more prone to quit the scene and have no more to do with the child than are mothers. All ‘moral positions’ start and end with the woman who will be carrying the child through pregnancy and early childhood, during which time the father may or may not stick around.
    For some, abortion is murder. For others, an unpleasant inconvenience. It can never be pleasant, except in a relieving sort of way. But best to remember that a foetus is neither conscious nor self-aware, and thus arguably not possessed of what the religiously-inclined call a ‘soul’. Neither is an embryo. Otherwise, every Catholic woman would be obliged to bring her used tampons and sanitary napkins to church in order to have the last rites gone through over them by the priest; just in case they contained somewhere within, an embryo with an immortal soul.
    But that somehow never happens. I put it down to theological oversight.

  • lbloveday says:

    I send this to my daughter every year
    The embedded URL in my post was for a graphically illustrated article by Larry Pickering on the horror of abortion. The article was removed after Larry’s death.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    Although the years have flowed, things stay the same.
    Everyone expects that the blokes can take it.
    Our own survived handicapped but the next two died in utero.
    However it happens, the loss remains and burns on as PTS, which means its not a good idea to ruminate on it.
    I was lucky because I accessed a men’s support group.
    The selection criteria was simple.
    You had to have a surviving multihandicapped child.
    Now such groups do not exist, all is spent on women’s support.
    Only one in ten marriages survive this.
    In our group nine out of ten did, we were all in the same boat, we were able to speak to other men in the same place emotionally and be understood.
    Men’s health is trivialised as men’s sheds and beyond blue with a dash of Viagra.
    Group support, where the sufferers and carers lift each other, is the way foreward.
    It needs a male psychologist, funding and structure.

  • Laurie Smith says:

    These stories need to be told to inform all about the reality of mothers years after an abortion. Another story rarely told (if ever) is the termination procedure itself, which to say the least is very confronting. With knowledge of these stories perhaps mothers, fathers and all abortion activists will be better informed about these life changes decisions.

  • lbloveday says:

    I showed my wife this illustration of an abortion process, She felt sick and literally ran out of the room.

  • Stephen says:

    I have no words, Sorry, no smart arse comment from me today.

  • christopher.coney says:

    A beautiful story about something really terrible; thank you for writing it.

    On the politics of the matter, the pro-abortion people have many disagreements about the point up to which abortion is permitted. The most radical say it’s up to birth, and perhaps just after birth, but they never say how long after birth. The Catholic church position is the only one with a solid principle: a human being is created at conception, so from that point onwards the being may not be killed. In cases of disability, rape, incest, the church teaches that the mother should have the baby, and if she does not want it, it can be adopted or cared for by the state or private charity. When the mother’s life is endangered, such as in cases of preeclampsia, the mother’s life is saved by ending the pregnancy, but this is not an abortion because the removal of the foetus is incidental to the goal of saving the mother’s life; in contrast, the simple goal of abortion is to kill the foetus. And in every case I know, the foetus would not have survived in such cases because the mother’s death means the little one dies too.

    Long live Dobbs, and may the truth about abortion reach everyone.

  • Brenden T Walters says:

    He’ll never stand before the gate
    and hold the bridge with pride.
    Or lose the day and, in humiliation, walk away
    and kneel down to his God
    and pray.

  • maxpart27 says:

    There are six billion excess humans on this planet at present and it gets worse every day. One reason for not adding ones that will not be supported. However the main reason for giving females the choice of maintaining a pregnancy or not is it is their body; nothing to do with anyone with beliefs that would override what she wants. Images are not the story. Visit the floor of an abattoir and you will not eat meat for a week.

  • Peter Smith says:

    Abortion is a tricky business, for me. I can’t support the Roman Catholic church’s position. It’s too extreme. Insisting that a woman carry a child conceived through rape or incest, or a child which will be born disabled, is not reasonable; in my view. How about a woman in dreadfully poor circumstances with three young children faced with the prospect of another, which she feels she can’t manage and retain her sanity? I simply don’t know for sure. I do know that the debate has to be conducted properly. That means euphemisms must be put aside. The issue is not about women’s reproductive rights. It is about the life of a separate human being and the circumstances in which that life might be taken away. And the full horror of the process involved in taking that life away must not be hidden away. I think if the debate were conducted honestly by the pro-choice side, there is a chance of getting a better outcome. I’d like to know what God thinks. As it is we have to muddle through.

  • RB says:

    Lewis P Buckingham :- I am gladdened that you have been able to find your way.

  • talldad says:

    Three miscarriages, two named, one too early to know.

    Maxpart27 you know nought of what you speak. Turn the abattoir image around and call it “an abortion facility ” and try again.

  • pgang says:

    Peter Smith, I think the church must take such a stance, because to do anything else would be to deny the innate sanctity of all human life and the direct command of God. We can acknowledge the pain without denying the truth.
    Aside from that this stance sets a distinct, hard boundary, and such boundaries are essential to providing the foundations for making moral decisions. It provides the means of taking the decision away from our selves and seeing it in the context of a much larger reality.

  • lbloveday says:

    Maxpart27 wrote “Visit the floor of an abattoir and you will not eat meat for a week”.
    Done that and had a mixed grill counter meal with my slaughterman mate after knock-off.

  • rosross says:

    Beautifully written and an honouring of the experience.

    Life is not simple and neither are abortions. I do not believe there are many women who take sacrificing the life of a child lightly. Even if they will not acknowledge that consciously, every single woman knows in her heart that is what she is doing.

    In the best of world’s every child would be born to biological loving and functional parents. But we do not live in the best of worlds. Any reading of the history where abortion is illegal makes it very clear that abortion must be legal and the woman must have the right to choose.

    All society can do is encourage abortion to be seen as a last resort and to find ways to help women bring their baby to term, even if they then give them up. However, that too is in the realms of ‘best of worlds’ and in this age of the ‘quick fix,’whether pill, potion or scalpel, few in society are prepared to embrace the harder option. It cannot be called the least complex because I know too many women who have had abortions and regretted it in later life, or buried it in a deep, ever-seeping wound as you have described. I also know those who brought their baby to term and then lost them. As a woman I feel fortunate to have never faced either trauma.

    Abortion is not a procedure, it is a sacrifice of a life. That reality is either dealt with consciously or it is dealt with unconsciously, but it will be dealt with, one way or another.

  • rosross says:

    @ Peter Smith,

    You said: Insisting that a woman carry a child conceived through rape or incest, or a child which will be born disabled, is not reasonable; in my view.

    The irony of course is that many children are born as the result of rape or incest and loved all the same. As to being born disabled, the irony is that modern medicine while surgically removing ‘less than perfect’ babies is also busy saving significantly pre-term babies, and patting themselves on the back, while knowing that many of those babies will suffer lifelong health problems or disability.

    And my question would be, why would we kill a baby in utero because it is going to be disabled when we would not kill our child if he or she became disabled through accident or illness?

    Poverty certainly drove women in the past to find ways to abort their babies. Not that such issues should exist in Western countries today.

    As you say, none of it is simple and so all we can do is find ways to honour life and support women who find themselves pregnant when they do not wish to be.

  • rosross says:

    @ Peter Smith,

    I suspect any God which could exist would have deep compassion for mere mortals as we struggle to make our way through trauma and confusion. We are all flawed and wounded and no-one can understand anything about abortion, female included, unless they have been there.

  • Dave Winefield says:

    Aged 80, and a male with three sons, I still marvel at the wisdom of He who thought to give man the dictum: “Thou shalt not kill.” And give him thanks for our three sons, now fathers themselves.

  • whitelaughter says:


    Oh, on the ‘abortion if rape’ theme, bear in mind that most rapists want abortion. A woman in danger of rape needs to use every weapon available to her, and one of those weapons is to proclaim that if she gets pregnant she will keep the child and hit the rapist with 18 years of child support payments.
    Remember, we want to *prevent* rapes, or at least punish them, not pretend they never happened.

  • Michael Waugh says:

    An excellent article and thoughtful commentary, which proves the force of the majority in Dobbs despite the powerful arguments of the minority. The gravamen of the majority is that abortion pits two deeply moral rights against each other : the right of the woman to control her body v. the right of the helpless to resist being killed. The complexities of the debate, indeed debates (because millions regard the debate changing as the fetus grows), should not be determined by unelected judges, but by the legislature, the people.

  • Brenden T Walters says:

    Didn’t the legislature decide the draconian NSW abortion laws. All this comes about because no one listens to or speaks for the child. Take God out of the Parliament and you finish up with this.

  • STD says:

    How can there be too many children?
    That is like saying there are too many flowers.
    Mother Teresa.

  • STD says:

    Oar…………..(spelling as is intended by the maker)………….perhaps this ………..please let me live.
    I am a new arrival
    I am a new arrival
    In the womb I have been formed
    Defined by the rarest beauty
    Only nature could adorn
    Although very tiny
    I am a person through and through
    And should no one render harm to me
    I will grow up just like you
    They say we all have equal rights
    From life’s beginning to it’s end
    But who can see that all is right
    And will my life defend
    If in this world I need protection
    You are the one I would choose to care
    I am your child ,you are my mother
    It is a journey we both share
    There are many gone before me
    Others trail behind
    Some arrived disabled
    We are all of a kind
    As we reach out for living
    Knowing our journey is a trial
    Please momma’s won’t you love us
    If only for a while
    We all know life is precious
    Please don’t give up on me
    There are so many things I have to do
    So much to say and see
    If my journey is a short one
    My life a moment it should be
    One kiss, a hug, a cuddle
    Would be a lifetimes love for me

    By P J Brennan

  • STD says:

    And for those bereft of ……..soul. We have the brilliance and the nonchalant humility of Spike Milligan.
    Who ,by the way, thought most people ,or more precisely, that the human race are idiots- we just don’t get it; we keep making the same mistakes, time and time again……. We keep killing each other.
    And yes, Ian MacDougall ,he does as he did, leaning on the bible as a diary/record if you like ,of man’s insane inhumanity to man.
    A friend of Spike Milligan’s was asked why he enjoyed and loved the company of children, to which he replied” I think it’s because they never hurt him”.
    Unto us…..truth supplied by God, and served by Spike Milligan
    Somewhere at sometime
    They committed themselves to me
    And so I was!
    Tiny in shape
    Lusting to live!
    I hung in my pulsing cave.
    Soon they new of me
    My mother-my father
    I had no say in my being
    I lived on trust
    And love
    Tho’ I couldn’t think
    Each part of me was saying
    A silent ‘wait for me!
    I will bring you love!’
    I was taken
    Blind, naked, defenceless,
    By the hand of one
    Whose good name
    Was graven on a brass plate
    In Wimpole Street,
    And dropped on a sterile floor
    On a foot-operated plastic waste bucket.
    There was no Queens council
    To take my brief.
    The cot I might have warmed
    Stood in Harrods shop window.
    When my passing was told
    My father smiled,
    No grief filled my empty space.
    My death was celebrated
    With two tickets to see Danny La Rue
    Who was pretending to be a woman
    Like my mother was…
    Maxpart27 Virginia Woolf described Wimpole Street in clinical terms “ it is the most august of London streets, the most impersonal. Indeed when the world seems tumbling to ruin and civilisation rocks on its foundations, one only has to go to Wimpole Street…”

    If memory serves me correctly I think it was Bartimaeus who recognised that we are all blind to our created innocence in a sense.
    Make no mistake Abortion is all about money and girls pro choice is a business proposition.
    This is slightly off track but maybe Gary Furnell’s idea of ‘the hardest path being the easiest path’- may well be applicable here.

  • lbloveday says:

    Larry Pickering’s article sans illustrations:
    It’s so dark in here, but it’s so warm and secure and comfy. I am going to give you, my mum, the best Christmas present ever. I wonder what it’s like out there. I wonder what you will look like mum. Oh, I don’t really care what you look like, I know you will love me because you have cared for me all this time.
    I’m so looking forward to resting my head between your warm breasts while I feel your hear beating like I can now. To fill my tummy with your rich milk and feel your soft lips on my forehead…oh, I know things will be great on the outside.
    What the hell is that cold metal thing? Crumbs I’m not quite cooked yet mum. Ouch that hurts, what is happening, why is it pulling at my arm? Make them stop mum! I can’t yell, I need to scream but I can’t breathe yet, so I have to remain silent and under water. It’s so hard.
    Golly mum, please stop them doing this! I have a fully functioning nervous system, I can feel excruciating pain, I need to scream, if I can’t scream it will keep happening. Mum, my arm has gone!
    Crikey, now this metal thing has my other arm. Mum, you’re not struggling at all, make them stop mum….I’m not perfect now and I won’t have arms soon. Please make it stop! I just wanted to be the perfect baby for you. Have I done something wrong? Don’t you understand that I can’t even cry?
    Oh no, now my tummy is being cut! Why? I felt so sure you loved me. Where is my dad, does he have a say? Can’t he help me?
    I think I’m being killed and it hurts. Was there something wrong with me that I did not know about? I though I was ok, and if there was something wrong with me why didn’t they kill me when I was only six weeks old, why wait until now? Are my parts more saleable at this late term?
    The water has turned red mum and I’m feeling dizzy. I won’t be feeling your warm body now, all I can feel is my heart still beating loud. I’m in pieces mum and it’s getting light, I can just make out faces I don’t know, but I still can’t cry, I can’t breathe.
    Everything is going black now. If only you could have explained why you didn’t want me, I think someone would have wanted me, I know, I think…oh well, did you have a name for me, did I have a big sister or a big brother? What were their names? Did you buy baby clothes for me? Who did I look like? I suppose it does not matter now….
    If there was something wrong with me, I am so sorry mum, I felt really perfect…but…oh well…there’s no pain now, but it does feel strange saying goodbye when I did not even meet anyone.
    Goodbye anyway mum, at least you have a black and white photo of my scan when I was perfect and happy, and….I suppose this is Planned Parenthood, sigh, oh dear…

  • STD says:

    rf ,are you able to correct spelling; council ,should be read as counsel – Spike Milligan’s, Unto Us- stanza 3.

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