Unknown to the youthful Emmies of the world, many thousands of women have suffered post-abortion trauma. They have experienced depression, guilt and shame even when they’re lives assumed outward normalcy. One reader writes in with her own experience.
I rarely talk about my past with strangers, but I feel compelled to speak about Emmie, her choice and her parents. If my past helps someone, then it will be worth my time in writing and your time in reading.
Emmie is me, only it was 1984 and I was about to turn 21 years old. I was attending college and became pregnant.
My initial reaction was that of happiness. My boyfriend’s reaction was horror along with my parents. I remember going to lunch with my parents and they each said that they would not participate in helping me raise this child, and that I was incapable of being a good mother because I had no job skills, education, or money. I went to a psychologist to help me “choose” as well as an Ob/Gyn for a physical. In retrospect, I was doing my best to try and be responsible after being irresponsible, but now I know that my parents (God bless them) failed miserably in providing a moral compass for me. I don’t blame them nearly as much as I blame myself.
My mother requested that I move out because I was an emotional burden to her. So I did. My boyfriend used my indecision as an excuse to walk out the door, telling me to “send him the bill.” He didn’t want to end up like his brother; in an unhappy marriage with unplanned babies. My boyfriend’s mother told him to run like hell (amazing, because they were Catholics.)
Through the counseling, I decided to have an abortion, and it’s haunted me ever since.
I’ve had three wonderful sons since then, but I have never felt that I could ever make up for that lost child. That’s because I can’t. Ever. Even after raising a son with autism and having a baby at the age of 42, I cannot “make up” for murder. Neither can Emmie. Maybe she will never question her decision or even grieve the life of her child, or wonder who that person would have been. God will forgive her. The question is, will she ever forgive herself?
That is a moving story. It is difficult to talk about that and I thank Kathleen for writing about it. My heart and prayers go to her.
I wonder that Kathleen’s parents didn’t support her and guide her toward adoption. I think in many cases people do not do this because pregnancy is ironically still shameful unless it’s planned. How else to explain the complete absence of pregnant women at America’s elite colleges? There should be plenty of them given the amount of sexual activity, even with contraception.
Here we see the hypocrisy of the sexual revolution. It is not about freedom from repression. Not at all. It’s just that different things are repressed. Maternal instincts are repressed. A sense of awe in creation is repressed. Hope for the future is repressed. Piety and gratitude are repressed. The sexual revolution did not free people from inhibitions and guilt. If it had, there would be pregnant women everywhere.
Here is an excellent website about post-abortion trauma and Jane Brennan’s book, Motherhood Interrupted.
A female reader writes:
What makes women think they can have an abortion and become better mothers later? How do they know they are making the right decision for future children? How do they know with such certainty there will be a good man in their future who will “understand what she went through”? I can tell you from experience how it really is for the subsequent children and the spouses of women who have had abortions because I come from a family where the majority of women had abortions before they had children they “wanted”. One of those women was my mother, who had a horrific backstreet abortion before it was legal.
You are completely right when you say the maternal instinct in women who have abortions is suppressed. I believe that it is not just suppressed for the time of the abortion, but it is compromised forever. Women who have abortions look at subsequent babies and think of what might have been. They compare the perfect infant in their imagination, the one they never had, with the imperfect child they do. I lived in the shadow of the baby boy my mother aborted and I lived with her depression over what she did. She had only girls, and cried at each of our births because we were not boys. She was not kind enough to spare us this detail, and she was not kind in many other ways. We were small children when we learned of the abortion during a particularly nasty fight between my parents. My father spit the truth about our mother out in a drunken rage then left her to explain what “abortion” meant. He did not “understand” my mother’s choice. He hated what she had done before he met her and he clearly held it against her. Her self esteem was too low to leave him and I am certain she did not think she deserved any better. As time went by, she drowned her sorrow in increasing amounts of alcohol and escaped by working many hours outside the home, leaving me feeling motherless at a young age.
We had little religion in our lives, and looking back, I think that is because my mother could never bring herself to confess in our Catholic Church what she had done. She would bring us to empty Churches to walk the stations of the cross alone with tears in her eyes. My religious life as a child ended after my First Communion, during which my mother remained seated rather than going for communion. As an adult I understand why she will not receive communion, but as a child, I did not.
There is one more way the abortion of my half-sibling hurt me. I am a patient at a Cancer Care Center because I have an autoimmune disease and am high risk for a deadly form of cancer that spreads to the incurable stage in most who get it before they know they even have it. The typical time from diagnosis to death is six months. I have blood tests for this every three to six months and if it ever comes back positive, I will be admitted for chemotherapy that day. My mother nearly lost me during pregnancy due to damage from the abortion and since there was nothing but x-rays to check babies back then, I had one x-ray after another in utero to determine if I was viable or worth trying to save. I had a lifetime of x-ray exposure before I was born but it was all the doctors could do back before ultrasound was available. No one knows what will become of me as I get older thanks to all that exposure, but my doctors are concerned enough that they will never release me from observation at the Cancer Care Center.
I have never written about this before. The secret is one that is carried not just by mothers but their children and spouses as well. Perhaps if more of us who were born to mothers who had abortions spoke up and told the world how it really was to live with these broken women, others would not be so quick to assume abortion was a guarantee of happiness for future children. Thank you for allowing me to share my story this one time.
I am sorry to hear this. What a devastating event.
Post-abortion trauma is almost never discussed in the media. The effects can be similar today when there are not back alley abortions. This woman knew of the Church’s condemnation, but did not absorb the message of forgiveness. I don’t understand why her mother didn’t go to Confession. Then she could receive Communion.
Even though the health risks today are not as grave, abortion still carries increased risk of infertility and breast cancer. The psychological consequences can persist for many years. Abortion destroys a child and some part of the mother.