A story and a journey shared......
I started writing this for my own therapy. It gave me a place to put down my thoughts and feelings. As I continued writing I decided I would make a story out of it for possibly sharing with others. I am hoping two things come out of it. First I want people to know that abortion does hurt babies but is also hurts women. Post abortion trauma is very real and it is something that few people understand. By sharing some of the things I experienced I want more people to understand the full impact of abortion on women. Second, I want people to know they can work towards healing, but that it is a hard journey and cannot be done without God. When I first started this journey I read book after book after book that told you that you can heal from abortion. There was story after story of women that said they felt healed but none of them really seemed to convey how they healed. I was always so frustrated when I finished a book and still did not feel any closer to healing. I have come a very long way in my journey towards healing and finally feel like I might be getting close but I am not sure you ever really heal completely.
I am thinking about the beginning of my journey, where I was 9 1/2 years ago, when I told someone for the first time that I had an abortion. For several years before this time I use to sit at home and watch Mass on TV, I use to sit and think how much I wished I could go to Mass, how much I missed it. The problem was I felt so unworthy of ever going to Mass that I never attempted to go. Then one day I attended a funeral Mass at the church where I grew up. As I sat in the church, I loved being there but struggled with feeling unworthy to be there. Something about being in that church drew me in. When the funeral Mass was over the priest was shaking hands with people as they left the church. As he shook my hand I felt this intense heat go all the way up my arm. I could not believe what I was feeling; it was something you read about it books. I knew immediately that it was a sign from God, that he was sending me a sign telling me that it was OK for me to come back to church, and that this is the place for me to do it. How awesome it was that it was the church I grew up in. I knew if I told anyone that story they would never believe me. After that day I thought about that heat and how it felt for several weeks. Of course not everyone will feel such a strong sign from God, but I believe He wants us all to come back to Him.
Even though I felt that heat I still felt like I needed permission from the priest. I did not feel right about going back to church until I had a chance to talk to a priest and tell him about the abortion. After about two months I finally got the courage to call him and set up an appointment. I told him the entire story of how I became pregnant and what led me to choose an abortion. He was so kind and caring, I think I expected this mean priest to tell me how horrible I was, but that was not the case at all. He was very understanding and forgiving. I really felt like he understood the pain I felt. He suggested I make a confession and assured me that God and my baby would forgive me and that I was welcome to come back to church. Not only was I welcome to come back to church, he also told me that I would be able to receive communion again. I never thought I would ever be able to receive communion again, I was going to be happy just to get to go to church. As happy as I was to be able to go back to church, this started a chapter in my life that was quickly sending me into despair.
Telling my story to the priest was the first time I had ever told anyone about the abortion and it was the first time I ever said the word abortion out loud. For 14 years I kept this secret only to myself. No one else knew but the people who arranged for it. It was at this point that I came to full realization of what I had done. In the back of my mind of course I always knew that I had an abortion but somehow was able to keep it suppressed and not deal with it. Coming to full realization of what I had done sent me in a downward spiral for years. I realized that I was responsible for allowing my baby to be brutally murdered. I let someone rip my baby from inside of me. The grief, the guilt, and the shame were overwhelming. I cried every day for months and months. The priest met with me many times to try to help me through my grief and guilt. I could not get past what I had done to my baby and the emptiness I felt inside. The priest suggested I try to establish a relationship with my baby, so at that time I gave her a name. Her name is Alex, short for Alexandra. He encouraged me to continue to go to mass as often as possible, to receive communion as often as possible, and to go to confession regularly. He also suggested I call the local Project Rachel office for help.
Going back to church was more difficult than I ever imagined. Even though I was assured by the priest that I was allowed back I felt so unworthy of being there. I felt like everyone was looking at me and that I had this big “A” stamped on my forehead and they all knew that I had an abortion. I would sit upstairs often to be far away from the altar. I would cry every time the priest said the word “sin” or any of the readings or homilies had anything to do with being a mother or life and anything remotely close to a word associated with abortion or babies or life. Even though going to church was so difficult I kept going back. Week after week I would go back. I would ask myself why I was continuing to put myself through something so difficult, wouldn’t it be easier to just stay home. The only answer I could come up with was that it had to be God. I really believed God was calling me there and giving me that strength. I don’t know any other way that it could have happened.
Now that I realized what I had done, that I was responsible for killing my baby, my ability to function in everyday life was gone. I could barely get up in the mornings, I could barely eat. I had a difficult time sleeping and when I did sleep I would wake up in the middle of a dream, only they were nightmares to me. I knew I had to do something, the grief, the guilt, and the shame had totally consumed me. It had effected my ability to be a good mother to my other children, it effected my ability to be a good wife, and it effected my ability to do a good job at work. Each day was a struggle and I had to just get through one day at a time. There were many days that I felt life without my baby was too hard, I wished I would die. The pain of not having my baby and knowing what I did to her seemed too much for me to bear.
It took me five months to get the courage to call a Project Rachel office like the priest had suggested. Making that first phone call was so difficult; the person on the other end was so kind and compassionate, she was non judgmental. I could not talk long the first time so she said I could call back. I called back many times over the next few months and years. I was so paranoid and did not trust anyone that I would not give her my name. She kept taking my calls anyway. Being able to have that person to talk to helped me have the strength I needed to get me to the next day. There were so many days that I did not think I could make it one more day and each time I felt like that I called her. She sent me pamphlets, rosaries, prayer cards, angels, whatever she could think of that she thought would be helpful. She then encouraged me to seek professional help. After a year and a half of talking to her I was still struggling daily so I finally agreed to the counseling that she suggested. She called someone she knew that was a therapist there and arranged for me to see him.
Going to counseling was very scary for me. It meant I had to tell someone else my story and expose myself. It meant people may see me coming and going in and out of the office and at that point I was paranoid of anyone finding out what I had done. I knew I needed help and I knew I had to follow through with this. If I had not, I would not be here today. The woman from Project Rachel told me to look at it as a gift I was giving my family, to get the help I needed so that I could be there for them. That advice helped me talk myself into trying it.
Going to counseling ended up being the best thing I could have ever done. When I first started out it was very scary for me. At my first appointment I met the person who would be my counselor. I remember hoping for a women and I ended up with a man. He told me at the very beginning that if it was going to be too hard for me to talk to a man, he understood and could find me a woman. I told him that it took every ounce of courage I had to come to that office and now that I was here I was not leaving, that we would just make it work. At that point I told him my story:
When I was 24 and in college I was dating a wonderful man who absolutely loved me. I really think it was the first person that really ever loved me. He treated me like a queen. I know he wanted to marry me. After about 4 months of dating he was ready to take our relationship to the next level and was ready to become intimate. I was not ready and told him so. He agreed that he would wait as long as I wanted to. A couple of more months passed and I finally agreed that I thought I was ready. We were only intimate twice, one of which resulted in pregnancy. At first I think I tried to ignore it but I knew it was not going to go away. I was so scared I did not know what to do. I knew he would marry me if I told him and that thought scared me even more than the pregnancy did. Then one night one of my athletic coaches knew something was wrong and asked me about it. I told him the whole story. He told me that the same thing had happened to him and his wife before they were married and that they had an abortion. He told me that I had to finish college and get my life started off on the right track before I had a baby, that abortion was the best option for me. He said he and his wife would arrange it and she would take me to the clinic. I think I was so relieved to think there was a solution to this. I had never even thought about abortion as a solution. I agreed to his plan, within two days they had made the arrangements and we had gone to the clinic and it was all over. I never told the father about the baby, I stopped taking his phone calls and never saw him again.
My experience at the clinic was the most traumatic thing I have ever experienced. When you arrive they have counselors sit down with you and fill out a lot of paper work. They are supposed to be helping you, counseling you. They told me I was doing the right thing, that everything would be Ok when it was over. After you are finished with the paperwork you sit in the waiting room. The room is totally silent, everyone in there seems scared to death. You feel like a herd of cattle lined up waiting to be slaughtered. When it was my turn they called me back to the procedure room. You lay on a table and a nurse comes in and starts talking to you and gives you some type of IV medicine to try to relax you. All these years later I can still remember as clear as day exactly what the room looked like. The doctor came in and I remember crying and telling the nurse I was scared, I didn’t want to do it, she was holding my hand telling me everything was going to be fine. I can still remember the doctor’s name sewn on his white medical coat with blue thread. I remember how painful it was and what it sounded like in the room. I will never forget that as long as I live. It was a vacuum type sound; the life of my baby was literally sucked out of me. When it was over I remember how hollow I felt, how dirty, how disgusted, how violated. I left the clinic that day and never said one word to anyone about it ever again until that day 14 years later when I talked to the priest.
After telling my story to the counselor he agreed to help me work through all the problems I was dealing with. I had so many things to work through. I had so much anger, hate, guilt, and shame, and was unable to forgive myself for what I had done. On top of all of those things I had a hole in my heart that would not heal.
The counselor I had ended up being a perfect fit for me, I was very lucky. He was very spiritual and knowledgable about the Catholic faith. Without his ability to mix faith and God into the therapy I don't think we would ever have gotten this far. He also believed what I was going through was real. As I was working through therapy I did tell a few people about my abortion and some of the problems I was having because of it. None of them understood what I felt like, they seemed to think it was no big deal and could not understand why I could not just get over it. That attitude frustrated me even more. I knew the way I felt inside and no one got it. They kept saying God forgives you so what's the problem? While I so wanted God's forgiveness, I also needed Alex's forgiveness, and I needed my own forgiveness. I also needed to forgive the people at the Clinic, the person who arranged it etc. Even with all the forgiveness it doesn't take away the loss of the baby that you feel in your heart.
We started our first few sessions talking mostly about my relationship with the father of the baby and what led me to choose an abortion. In my mind I struggled so hard to understand how I could have done something that was totally against everything I believed in. I told him I had been to confession and talked to my priest; that intellectually I knew that God and Alex forgave me, but in my heart I could not get it to work. As we went through many sessions we talked about how I was raised, what type of relationship I had with each of my parents, siblings, etc. At the time we were discussing these things they did not seem important to me but I found out they are what helps form you and make you who you are. Going through a lot of that helped me realize why I made the decision I made. I did not have the ideal home or relationship with my parents growing up. They divorced when I was young and I never felt loved growing up. So when someone came along that really loved me I was at a point in my life that I was very needy and I wanted to be loved so bad that I allowed myself to get caught up in it. However, when I became pregnant, that very same childhood caused me to run from the one person that loved me. I told myself I would never get married and end up living like my parents did. Their divorce took such a toll on me that I decided I would never make a child go through that. It didn’t take away the pain or the wrongness of what I did but at least I was able to somehow understand how I was able to participate in something I did not believe in.
After working through counseling for a while the counselor ordered some books on post abortion reconciliation and healing. One of the books was a workbook from the Rachel’s Vinyard web site. The book incorporated psychological therapeutic techniques with spiritual rituals, imagery, and biblical passages that reflect the life of Christ. For me to work toward healing it was very important to incorporate the spiritual work into the therapy, a therapy without God participating in it would not have worked. This book allowed for God to be part of the process. As a Catholic I needed more than the Bible study groups and workbooks for post abortive women where I was meant to feel healed just because I read something in the Bible that said I was, it needed to be more active and involve more of my whole person.
The approach of the Rachel’s Vinyard book was using living scripture exercises. These exercises allow women to experience God’s Love by actively entering the bible stories and imagining themselves as women in scripture speaking to the Lord. The women actually participate in the rituals, prayer and the word. For me these exercises worked much better than just reading about forgiveness in a book. For it to work for me I had to actually feel the experience of the goodness and forgiveness of God and my daughter and the exercises in the book helped me feel that. Some of the exercises were so amazing and so powerful. I don’t know if I can even put it into words.
After my counselor received the Rachel’s Vinyard workbook I decided to go on line to check out what Rachel’s Vinyard was all about. On their web site I was able to find someone that would answer any questions I had or talk about any struggles or other problems I was having due to the abortion via email. I loved this idea because it felt so safe to me. I could write this person and say anything about how I was feeling and know I would never see her. This allowed me to be more honest and not intimidated by judgment on the other end. After all I would never see that person. The people on the website that volunteer for this are people who have been through the abortion experience and who have healed. They are there to help in whatever way needed. I started writing two different people to see who would answer. They both answered but I felt like I really clicked with one of the women so I stopped writing the other one and just started writing to her. It has turned out to be a great experience.
During this time I continued to make progress, but also had setbacks from time to time. There are so many things to work through, many of them cause more problems as you work through them. One of the problems for me was that as we worked on things and moved to the next step I would have a lot of dreams along the way, it seemed that depending were I was on the journey the dreams seemed to symbolize that place. Some of my dreams were very upsetting. I think my dreams were the result of the anxiety I felt about the abortion.
My dreams all seemed so real. My earliest dreams were always the same dream after dream, I had this same dream over and over. I would wake up in the middle of the night and see Alex, I could see her so clearly, she would have her arm reaching out to me and she kept calling me, mommy mommy. I would try to reach her and I kept trying, but every time I would try I could never reach her. Then I would wake and realize it was a dream (or more of a nightmare) and I would never be able to reach her. These dreams really shook me up. As I worked through counseling I would have different dreams. I think some of the dreams came depending on what we were working on at the time, what things finally surfaced that had been kept deep down inside for so long.
During one dream I was at a vacation spot with some friends by the beach. One of the friends and I went for a walk and we found a dead man on the beach. We paniced and thought the police would think we killed the guy so we cut him up into tiny pieces and buried him under the sidewalk. Many years later the police came and questioned us about it. I said to my friend, see we should not have cut him up and hid him. I knew they would find out, we should have called the police when we first found him. To me this dream was symbolic of my experience with the abortion. I felt like I allowed my baby to be cut into many pieces and then hid the fact that I had the abortion for 14 years for fear of someone finding out, and then later people found out anyway.
A few years ago I was watching the movie the Polar Express with my children at Christmas time. In the movie there is a scene where broken toys are piled in big boxes and tubs. They are there for recycling, to be repaired and used again. One of the big boxes has a bunch of broken baby dolls in it. I did not think much of it at the time but that night I had a dream that I was in the movie and when we got to that part I reached my hand to pick up some of the broken baby dolls and realized they were not toys at all, they were real pieces of broken babies. I woke up in a panic.
In one dream that I had several times, I was in this old dark cold building that had many rooms in it. I would walk from room to room trying to figure out how to get out. Every time I found a room with a door I would open it and a small dark haired man would be standing in the doorway blocking me. Each room I went in, the same man would be at every door. To me this represents my feeling that I wanted to escape from the abortion clinic, but every time I tried to leave the Dr. was in the way. The little man in the dream looking like the Dr. who performed the abortion.
Some of my other dreams weren’t quite so horrific. In some dreams there are people walking up to me asking me if it was true. They would say, "Is it true that you had an abortion?" In the dream I said yes. This dream came after years of counseling. To me it symbolized that I was finally able to admit that yes I did have an abortion.
At the time I was meeting with the priest I found out I was pregnant with an unplanned pregnancy. When I found out I was pregnant I cried and cried. Not because I did not want the baby, but because I could not understand how God could give me another child after what I had done. The priest suggested that maybe I could think of it as Gods way of saying he forgives me and he is giving me this child as another chance to be a good mother.
The ironic thing about this journey is that when I first started it I felt so unworthy to even be able to attend Mass. Throughout this journey my faith has grown with each step that God helped me through. I am to the point in my faith now that I feel like the only place I belong is at Church, being a part of my church family.
I am not finished with this story, someday I hope to complete it, until then this is what I can share.