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St. Mary's Big River at W10137 570th Ave, River Falls, WI 54022 US - A new Dawn

Faith Magazine

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A new Dawn
By Cate Preston
Photography by James Luning

It’s the dawn of a new day, metaphorically speaking, for Eagle resident Dawn Smith. A parishioner of St. Mary Parish,Westphalia, and abortion victim, Dawn has found hope and healing from participating in Project Rachel, a ministry for those suffering from an abortion experience.

Dawn explains that as a part of her personal recovery process, she feels called to share her experience. “Sharing my story is the next step I need to take to know that I am forgiven and loved. I have to share my story. God is calling me to. I can’t keep my light under a rock.” Receiving counseling through Project Rachel, having a supportive network of friends and knowing she is not alone are some of the reasons Dawn is able now to share her story. “I know there are other Catholic women out there. And I don’t think I’m the only Catholic homeschooling mom to be in this situation.”

Fourteen years ago, when she was single and facing an unplanned pregnancy, Dawn made the decision to have an abortion. “I was engaged to be married when I met Ed. We both worked at prisons in Jackson, and that was a common bond. We would watch the Pistons and Arsenio Hall. He listened to me, and we had a good time together.”

Still engaged to be married, Dawn found herself spending an increasing amount of time with Ed. “We ended up sleeping together, and I got pregnant. ... We weren’t serious as a couple. I didn’t know what to do.”

Caught in a situation that demanded action, Dawn found herself frozen with indecision. “I had already called off the wedding once before. I did ask my mother, ‘What if we postponed the wedding a second time?’ She said ‘No way.’ I went to the doctor and he suggested an abortion.”

Unable to think of alternative options, and afraid to disappoint her parents, Dawn decided to have the abortion.
“I had always thought of myself as pro life, but when it came down to it, I didn’t feel there was another option. I felt compelled to go through with it. Looking back, I know if I had gone to my mom and dad, Mom would have ranted and raved, but would have done what she needed to. I know now I could have done it. I could have had the baby.”

Dawn decided to go through with the wedding and get married, but says, “It was doomed, right from the start.” Within two years, with a new baby daughter, Dawn separated from her first husband. Remembering Ed, she contacted him and they reunited.

After the divorce was finalized, Dawn married Ed. Years later, Dawn’s journey of healing led her to seek an annulment of her previous marriage, and her marriage to Ed was witnessed in the Church. Dawn and Ed have now been married eleven years, and have seven kids together.

Project Rachel came into Dawn’s life just as she was discerning the decision to become a midwife. “I’m a doula, a labor support person, and am studying to be a midwife. I got an e-mail about offering training for counselors for post-abortive women, and was interested because prior births or abortions can affect a current labor.”

Dawn contacted Wilson Perkowski, the director of Project Rachel in Lansing. “I talked to Wilson, and told her about my experience. She suggested that I might be interested in participating myself. I’ve been meeting with Wilson for almost a year now. We met weekly at first but now we meet about once a month for a half an hour to 45 minutes. When we first started, it was much more guided. She’d give me an assignment, usually three questions to think about. We’d meditate on a Bible verse to become centered. I’d tell her the progress I had made, or would unload.”

Motivated to help other women have positive birth experiences, Dawn also felt compelled to delve into her past. “It had been so many years since my abortion. I no longer would wake up in the middle of the night and deal with the guilt. That’s not how it was with me.” Even so, participating in Project Rachel proved to be a great gift toward healing. Dawn struggled with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Through counseling, Dawn found that many of these emotions were triggered by her abortion experience. “Project Rachel was a great help. When people were emotionally abusive towards me, I thought, ‘Why not? I deserve to be punished.’ I felt insecure, unworthy. I’m stronger now, self-confident.”

One of the liberating, life-affirming attributes of Project Rachel is the concept of rebirth.
When women dwell on their abortions, the program compares it to the death of Lazarus, a death with the promise of resurrection on earth. Dawn describes never having healed from her abortion, but putting it aside, repressing it. “There was a recurring theme in our discussions – this concept of birth and rebirth. It was the creation of a new Dawn, a new me.”

The “new life” Dawn has experienced applies to multiple levels of her life, both as a mother and as a professional. “Ed and I, we’ve always been open to life. We practice NFP, natural family planning. I’m much more vigilant about NFP now. My kids want us to have more children, but I feel I’m being called to study (to be a midwife).”

Internalizing the knowledge of God’s love was a source of new life for Dawn. “I knew God loved me and that I was forgiven, but I hadn’t internalized His love. Now, I know. It’s there. And, by virtue of His love, we need to love ourselves. Could He love me even though I made such bad choices? Does He love us no matter what? Yes. No matter what, He’ll love us.”

Dawn feels that the Catholic Church offers support though the most fundamental aspects of the faith – the sacraments.
She describes the sacraments as “multi-sensory,” appealing to the body and spirit. “So many women think, ‘Where does this leave me, as a Catholic woman?’ They think, ‘The Catholic Church doesn’t condone this.’ But, really, it’s so supportive. There is healing. There is forgiveness. There are the sacraments. It is truly a ‘hands on’ approach to faith. In daily life, the sacraments nourish us, feed us.”

Even in the years around her abortion experience, Dawn felt tied to her Catholic roots. Although she was lukewarm about practicing her faith, Dawn knew in her heart that she had made a poor decision and sought forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation. “I knew I had to go to confession. I knew what I had done was wrong. After my daughter was baptized, I started going to church again, but even then it was hit or miss.”

It wasn’t until she began researching the option of homeschooling for her daughter that Dawn felt the Holy Spirit at work.
“(My daughter) was almost four when I had a conversion experience. I realized I was responsible for her soul, and had better get serious. I was reading Homeward Bound, a book about homeschooling, and there was a chapter about parents being responsible for their children’s souls. At the time, it really struck me. I’ve re-read that particular chapter since, and think now that there wasn’t anything particularly powerful about it. It was a good book, but it was obviously the Holy Spirit working.”

The “new Dawn” was surprising both to Dawn and her husband. “I changed so dramatically. It was hard for Ed. The new me wasn’t who he married. I began going to daily Mass and saying the rosary. There was a dramatic shift (in our) marriage.

“Ed’s not Catholic, (but) he is supportive and prays with us. I pray for Ed’s conversion. I see it happening, but it will happen in God’s time, not mine. Being married to a non-Catholic strengthens my faith. God sends us trials to make us stronger.”

In spite of a strong, faithful marriage, Dawn describes the lasting effects of the abortion.
“It has always been there, whether it’s verbalized or not. I apologized to Ed when I got to the point where I could see that the abortion had hurt him, too. I had never acknowledged his grief and his loss.”

Dawn and Ed have decided to homeschool their children, so as to educate them with faith and morality in mind. In fact, homeschooling was something Dawn insisted upon prior to their marriage, inspired by her parents’ choice to homeschool her two younger brothers. “I told Ed he had to agree before I married him,” Dawn says. “I want the kids to be Catholic. I don’t want their peers to dictate their morality.”

Through Project Rachel, Dawn has found the strength to use her experience to educate her children about the importance of respecting the body and remaining chaste. “My oldest children know (about my abortion). They were surprised. We always pray to stop abortion. In a way, knowing I had an abortion helps them. They know they should stay pure and chaste, and save themselves for marriage. They know because I lived it. It’s been a source of grace and growth (in my relationship) with my kids.”

Dawn wonders if the abortion has influenced her desire to help other women have good birthing experiences. “I’ve thought about being a midwife for a long time, for about five years. My son Ned’s birth was healing in so many ways, because it was a home birth. It was the greatest thing in the world, giving birth at home. Having a baby is a magic time – so powerful. Most women go into labor in the night. I’d envision Mary in the stable, with the stars overhead. I’d see the same stars, walking from the parking lot into the hospital. When a mother goes to the hospital, you go away and come back with a baby. At home, it’s seamless. There is no ‘blip’ in time. I want to give that to other women.”

Thankful for the opportunity to bring new life into the world, Dawn is especially thankful for the gift of her newest client. “I have two clients. One is 18, and unmarried. She’s giving her baby up for adoption. God sent me that one.”

This spring the Smith family will celebrate their unborn daughter with a naming ceremony.
“I think of her as Jessica; Ed picked out the name. She would have been 14. Sometimes I’ll hear the kids say to each other, ‘We have another sister or a brother.’ I tell them, ‘We’ve never met her, but we’ll see her in heaven.’”


Project Rachel is an international ministry offering spiritual support for women and men suffering from an abortion experience. Named from a Scripture passage taken from Jeremiah 31:15-17, Project Rachel is an organization that supports those who mourn the loss of a child through abortion, and offers hope and healing for the future.

Founded by Vicky Thorn, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the program is designed to provide support and spiritual guidance for those confronting emotions triggered by abortion. Project Rachel allows men and women to grieve the loss of a child in a safe, healing environment.

In the Diocese of Lansing, healing retreats, support groups, counseling and mentoring are some of the many services available through Project Rachel. Participants may choose to talk to a priest or counselor, or meet with a support group. The healing process is enhanced through participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, memorial services and spiritual exercises. This program is open to men and women from all denominations and faiths.

For information about the program or to find a group near you, log onto the Project Rachel Web site at abortionhealing.com or call Wilson Perkowski toll free at (800) 968-0968. Volunteer opportunities are available.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed. (Isaiah 58:8)

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