“The Great Spirit Is My Vow” by Lynn Puhle

Issue 18 / Summer 2019 / Abortion Ban Protest Special Issue


“You can have all the gold in all the hills, but I will take the smile of this tiny child.” Those were the first words my Mohawk grandfather said to my child when he first held her. Being weeks old, our papoose gurgled what I took to be her appreciation. I named her for my mother. It means, ‘The Great Spirit is my vow.’

The eldest female of my family of eight, the first to give life. The decision, a personal struggle. Taught as a child that all things had spirit–rocks, water, air, animals–the moment I realized I was pregnant, I considered the unborn child a spirit. The timing, the father, it wasn’t ideal. I was verging on becoming an adult with a future of unlimited possibilities before me, and the father had been a hormonal weakness of an exuberant youthful moment of abandon. Well, several moments, but that is youth. And yes, I did understand biology and would have taken all appropriate precautions had I thought I was at risk of becoming pregnant, but he promised he was sterile. “Look, don’t you see the scar?” he implored, enjoying a close inspection of his privates. “A childhood surgery. I’ll never have children.”

He was not the first white man to speak with a forked tongue. If only I’d known his tongue had other uses, we’d never have had a baby.

My youth circled the drain. I would have this baby; I could do nothing else.

There is a great deal of difference between unplanned pregnancy and an unwanted child. They can exist in the same situation, but in my case, it was the pregnancy that wasn’t wanted, not the child. Once I was reluctantly pregnant, tricked into motherhood, and pissed off as you might imagine, I focused that frustration on the appropriate person. My child was always wanted and welcomed.

Because she is a living breathing citizen of the original Mother Earth, I have never questioned her right to be here, but I do wonder sometimes about my choice for her. What becomes of spirits you send back? Or, possibly a better question, when does the spirit show up? She certainly never had an easy life, and mine became much more complicated than it should have been.

I suffered an arranged marriage, sometimes referred to as a ‘shotgun wedding.’ It’s used to legitimize the child’s birth and the young couple’s union as a potentially happy one that absolutely no one believes will end well. About two weeks in he was out drinking away his paycheck and lying to other women about his scar.

There were a few years of turmoil that the child was thankfully ignorant about except when he’d use her as his pawn, which was a particularly disgusting hobby of his. Hoping to reduce his influence, I tossed him to the curb before her birth. I mean, for heaven’s sake. I’d picked him because I thought he might be fun in the sack. I hadn’t screened him for fatherhood. Young as we both were, he sadly lacked at both.

Over the years, he grew as a father. He found a partner who didn’t mind living with one foot up her ass. I honestly don’t know how she hops around like that, but it seems to suit her. Perhaps he became more fun. As Karma would have it, she could not conceive. However, she did convince him to adopt five unwanted children, abandoned, neglected, abused by parents who might better have spared them that punishment using contraceptives, adoption, or even abortion.

He never quite got over the divorce, had always clamored about what a terrible parent I was, how our child was deserving of water beds and Disney trips. When our daughter became a wayward teen, she realized he was far easier to manipulate and moved to live with him.

It was while she was living with her ‘superior parent’ that I received the bill for her abortion.

Wow! On one level, I was relieved I had not known. Imagine me with all my Native American spiritual dogma trying to allow her to make her own choice. On the motherly level, sadness engulfed me. She deserved to have her mother there for comfort. And the final straw was one of being, yet again, pissed off at her father for just about everything from the war to the price of milk. You can imagine how I felt about being billed for an abortion.

I took her to breakfast, something we would often do. We’d go to the local farmer’s market, called the ‘Regional Market’ where we lived, and wander in the cold and rain for hours trying to find bargains on everything from vintage clothes to spices. Then we’d have breakfast at a diner within walking distance. She ordered juice; I ordered coffee. At fifteen, she hadn’t developed a need for a morning jolt. The waitress returned for our orders, and while we waited, I took the bill from my purse and slid it to her side of the table.

She glanced, her eyes locked on it, and she went ashen.

“Didn’t you think you could talk to me?”

She tried to maintain her composure. “I didn’t want you to hate me.” Tears filled her eyes as her bottom lip trembled.

“I could never hate you.” It was true. Yes, her father had ranted on and on and on and on and on about how I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, which to her meant I hadn’t wanted her. That was his message, and he made it very crystal clear to her that you couldn’t separate the two. And you can! I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant ‘then.’ I had always wanted ‘her.’

Later in life, my very cherished child had a miscarriage before marriage. In all our futures, the power brokers of bodies would arrest a woman for this act of nature. In these times, a miscarriage and an abortion have become one, even though the loss of her child was a direct result of the abuse she received from the father. The unborn child was a spirit who wisely took one look at that situation and said, “Fuck, no.” My daughter did have two more live births, both before she was twenty-four. Her husband at the time was a lot like her father, so that thing about patterns is probably real.

Eventually, she escaped a suffocating marriage; her children do ‘okay.’ No one is setting the world on fire. Their father likes control, so he hobbles their attempts at independence and growth. My daughter is in her first year of residency after many hard years of night classes and two jobs.

The debate about reproductive choice isn’t a political issue. The matter is meant to be between family members; between a woman and her faith; what her body can tolerate; it’s not up for grabs in the world of power brokers. The decision is tough enough without others imposing their beliefs, their privilege, their nonsense into what is a very personal, private, and sacred moment.

Now is a very uncertain time for women and girls. Our first right under attack has been our right to our bodies. Will I enter a tavern in Kentucky as I had in 1973, where I went to wait for my car to be repaired to hear the bartender tell me I cannot sit at the bar? Back then, I couldn’t have alcohol, but I could have a soda at a table. I could not play pool. A few years earlier, I couldn’t wear pants. When does it end?

What’s the very last right they can take? They’re making us have children; perhaps they’ll decide which gender. There are just not enough ultraconservative male voters, are there?


Lynn Puhle is a Native American elder, member of the St. Regis Mohawk Nation, Iroquois Confederacy. She temporarily resides in Florida. It is a convenient location from which to consider her next adventure. She spent the previous decade supporting the military overseas as a contractor. Her last post was as Security Specialist II at Pass & ID of a classified test site for the Navy.

1 Comment

  1. Rosemary Agonito

    VERY moving and right on target. Thanks, Lynn, for sharing.


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