“The Millstone” by Margaret Drabble. The true millstone: unwanted pregnancies or reluctant abortions?

Por Olivia Dithurbide.

First and foremost it would be crucial to understand what the term “millstone” means.  According to the Cambridge dictionary millstones are stones used in grinding mills, for grinding wheat or other grains. The definition also refers to millstone as an idiom that implies a heavy burden.

Is an unwanted pregnancy a burden? In its first moments it must be something difficult. Humans tend to accept and try to find solutions to complicated situations. An unplanned pregnancy at first may seem as a burden, but as soon as the mind accepts what it will have to go through it no longer is one. Unwanted or unplanned pregnancies obviously generate questions: Will I be able to take care of a child? Will the father take responsibility? How will I be able to go through with this alone? What will happen to my career? Millions of these questions will recurrently come to mind when deciding to go through with the pregnancy or not.  But once someone has gone forward with the pregnancy, the so called “burden” will become something good. A pregnancy means life; no one on earth can deny that life is positive and must be celebrated.

There is however, another side to the story: when someone decides not to go forward with the pregnancy and resorts to an abortion. An abortion is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks.  It seems like something easy to do, almost relieving. An abortion is literally getting rid of a problem, which in this case would be the unplanned pregnancy. The problem lies ahead: What happens after the abortion? The damage is done. At first it must cause a certain sense of relief, but then the guilt will be overwhelming. The definition of abortion has the word “termination” in it, the termination of a future person who could have had a life, who could have grown up and who could have done great things.

I believe that the post abortion trauma appears later in life, when a woman meets children or adults of a certain age who provoke thoughts about the child she could have had. The images of what could have been one´s child and how different life would be with them alive must be extremely traumatic. The constant feeling of guilt because that person will never exist and one reluctantly terminated that possibility of its existence must be overwhelming. Guilt can surely drive a person mad.

A reluctant abortion means that it is unwilling or disinclined, the person is not sure if to go through with it or not. Not knowing what to do in this situation is something normal but I strongly hold that the termination of the pregnancy is not the answer. It must be very harsh to have the constant doubt of “what if” lurking in the mind.

In “The Millstone” by Margaret Drabble, Rosamund hesitates in going through with the pregnancy or terminating it. Even though her sister strongly advises her to have an abortion, Rosamund goes through with the pregnancy. This is a challenge for her. It is a tough moment in her life in which she has to take many decisions and has to break barriers within herself. When she learns that she is pregnant she feels overwhelmed and somewhat lost. This pregnancy demands facing  herself,  visiting doctors, facing her family and friends. The reader can easily empathise with Rosamund’s feelings because they are totally normal and standard emotions that any regular woman would feel in a situation like that.  “Before Octavia was born, I used to think that love bore some relation to merit and to beauty, but now I saw that this was not so.” In this fragment of the novel, Drabble portrays what the love of a mother to her child looks like. It is blind and unconditional, it has no boundaries. I strongly believe that we do not know how much we can give and expect nothing in return until we have had children. After an abortion which has been done hesitantly, these feelings will not go away. The baby has been alive in one’s body, even though it was a small ball of cells it was a person and it was a son/daughter that will never exist. The connection between mother and child is something that cannot be broken and will remain in a woman’s heart forever, regardless of whether the baby is alive or not. The idea of what could have happened to that child if the abortion had not taken place will probably haunt the person constantly. I think that the persistent doubt is much worse than assuming the responsibility of the pregnancy, raising the child and giving life a chance.

At first Rosamund has a pretty pessimistic and negative view of love, and ironically enough it is Octavia who shows her genuine love for the first time: “gradually I began to realize that she liked me, and that unless I took great pains to alienate her she would go on liking me …. It was very pleasant to receive such uncritical love, because it left me to bestow love… Indeed, it must have been in expectation of this love that I insisted upon having, or rather refrained from not having her”. Her love for Octavia hits its peak when she gets ill and has to go through surgery. Rosamund is most vulnerable and goes through a lot of anxiety and stress. Another fragment of the novel which I consider that also shows how the love for her baby evolves is when she questions if sleeping with George was a sin or not: “I could not convince myself that sleeping with George had been a sin: on the contrary, in certain moods I tended to look on it as the only virtuous action of my life …” it is obvious that this was the “only virtuous action” of her life because the outcome of it was Octavia, her daughter which certainly is the only person she genuinely loves.

Abortion is the easy way out at first, but will turn into a very heavy millstone that will be dragged around forever. Rosamund is a clear example of choosing life over abortion, taking responsibility for her actions and assuming the consequences of these. Even though having a baby is evidently not the most convenient thing for her, she works things out and discovers a love bigger than she had ever imagined within her and the baby.


Olivia Dithurbide
Estudiante de Abogacía