A Mother’s Silent Grief: Abortion

trollinger-rosesAt “Behold Your Mother,”  Christine Trollinger recently published a story about the statue in her “Mary Garden” — and the woman who gave it to her.  She had aborted her child years before, and was still trying to come to terms with what had happened to her.

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patronness of the Americas. The Church celebrates the encounter between Mary, who appeared to a poor man named Juan Diego and gave him an impossible task: to persuade the bishop to build a chapel there.

Filling his cape with roses, which had miraculously appeared by the roadside, Juan Diego opened his cloak … and revealed a miraculous image imprinted upon it, which can be seen to this day.

On this feast day, we remember unborn children and their mothers. (The image is of a pregnant Aztec woman.) And so, I thought it would be a good day to respond to comments I’ve received recently from those who object to the idea that adoption should be represented as a pro-life alternative to abortion.

When we speak of adoption as a life-giving alternative to abortion, this in no way denies the grief and loss mothers who choose to relinquish their children exerience. In her book Because I Loved You, Patricia Dischler writes:

“Placing your child for adoption is an event that will affect the rest of your life. You won’t forget it. You will always remember the pain of the loss. But it is over. It is time to put it into your memories and not let it be the focus of your every day. In order to move ahead you may have questions you can’t answer that make you feel stuck. Voice those thoughts to your support network, and let them help you find the answers” (Dischler, 130).

There is no telling how many birth mothers also have a history of abortion (at least one commenter insisted that the birth mothers she has worked with never considered abortion for religious or other personal reasons), so that the two kinds of loss can be compared on more than an anecdotal level.

What we do know is that MANY more women have lost children through abortion than have endured the loss of relinquishment. Last year, 1.3 million women “terminated a pregnancy” and ended the life of her child.

What happened to these women? Did they simply “move on,” unscathed (as those who stand to profit most from the abortion industrysuggest)?

From the Planned Parenthood website:

You may have a wide range of feelings after your abortion. Most women ultimately feel relief after an abortion. Some women feel anger, regret, guilt, or sadness for a little while.    

Compare this to the information provided by the Elliot Institute:

Women who have undergone post-abortion counseling report over 100 major reactions to abortion. Among the most frequently reported are: depression, loss of self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, sleep disorders, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, chronic problems with relationships, dramatic personality changes, anxiety attacks, guilt and remorse, difficulty grieving, increased tendency toward violence, chronic crying, difficulty concentrating, flashbacks, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and people, and difficulty bonding with later children.

Among the most worrisome of these reactions is the increase of self-destructive behavior among aborted women. In a survey of over 100 women who had suffered from post-abortion trauma, fully 80 percent expressed feelings of “self-hatred.” In the same study, 49 percent reported drug abuse and 39 percent began to use or increased their use of alcohol. Approximately 14 percent described themselves as having become “addicted” or “alcoholic” after their abortions. In addition, 60 percent reported suicidal ideation, with 28 percent actually attempting suicide, of which half attempted suicide two or more times.

What about these women? Do we simply shrug our shoulders and let them suffer — and turn a blind eye to the thousands of women who are poised, ready to make the same damaging choice? Or is the most humane and Christian thing to do to help these women understand the full impact of their choice before they make it … and to give those who do not feel able to parent, another option?

We live in a fallen world, and suffering is an inescapable part of the human condition. Our choices have real consequences: some that touch us, and some that touch other people. Some affect our lives here and now, and others affect our long-term spiritual health and relationship with God. 

 By acknowledging the seriousness of abortion, for example, the Church teaches that this act has long-reaching affects for all concerned:

The Church…  makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society. (CCC 2272)

 The “irreparable harm” done to the child is the focus of the pro-life movement — speaking on behalf of children who cannot speak for themselves.  However, we can never forget that great harm is also done to the mother — who may feel she has no “right” to name her pain, since it was largely self-inflicted.

So she remains silent. And in the silence, evil prevails. By its nature, sin is bondage — it affects the way we think (leading us away from truth and deeper into self-deception), the way we choose (hardening ourselves against God through our habitual choice of wrongdoing), the way we live (inflicting greater suffering on ourselves and others).  Unless we bring our sin to the light, it festers until it becomes larger than life  … large enough to overwhelm us.

On the other hand (CCC #1847), “To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 8-9).

Thousands of women (and their families) have discovered the liberating power of God’s mercy and forgiveness through groups such as “Rachel’s Vineyard,” “Silent No More,” and “Abortion Changes You.”  

If you have had an abortion, and feel as though God could never forgive you … Or if you’ve pushed God out of the picture altogether, not wanting to think about the possibility that one day you will see your child again, know that there is hope for you.  God has not abandoned you, and knows that human weakness sometimes causes us to make choices out of fear, or shame, or ignorance. He is waiting for you, even now, to turn back to Him so the healing can begin.

You may feel as though you have lost your way, that there is no going back.  This is simply another lie from the evil one. In the words of concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom,  “Hell hath no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still” (“The Hiding Place.”) It was this assurance that allowed her — years later — to shake the hand of the prison guard from the camp that had killed her father, brother, and sister.

If you have lost a child … whether that child is in heaven, waiting for you; or your child is somewhere in the world, wondering about you … you have already suffered a great deal. Like many kinds of loss, the pain may never go away entirely.  And yet, God wants you to embrace life as a gift, and to offer Him your pain so He can begin to heal you.

You are God’s precious child. No matter how much you have messed up, the love of your Heavenly Father is something you can always count on. You need not remain silent in your grief. God is listening.

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9 thoughts on “A Mother’s Silent Grief: Abortion

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  1. Well, one reason why the Elliot Institute quote might look a little different is that it deals with the women who have actually sought counselling and not the abstract reality of post-abortion. I really feel for anyone who has terminated and is haunted by such feelings. I just so regret that anyone has to be in this situation, so I recommend taking contraception seriously. Really seriously. Take two.

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  2. Heidi,

    If you want to champion a pro-life/anti-adoption agenda, go for it. But, again–please leave adoption out of it. Please. Your use of Dischler’s quote juxtaposed with your following explication of the effects of abortion is, frankly, hurtful and insulting to me as a woman who lost a child to adoption.

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  3. I’m not anti-adoption. I wonder if that’s a typo. I am — and will always be — anti-abortion.

    While I do understand that women who have relinquished a child suffer for not being able to parent their own child, Dischler points to the only way out of that cycle of grief. And she speaks as someone who has both lived it, and helped others to do the same. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to read “Because I Loved You.”

    However, remaining silent about the affects of abortion is simply not an option — not for me and not for anyone else whose lives have (however tangentially) been touched by it — because there is too much at stake, on at least two levels: (a) it is far more common than adoption (1000 abortions in the U.S. for every 17 domestic adoptions) and (b) unlike adoption (the pain of which is often so overwhelming that the mother choses to parent even if she cannot realistically do so), the pain of abortion is not fully understood by the mother until it is too late to save the child.

    With adoption, the mother puts her child’s best interests first — at great sacrifice to herself. With abortion, it is the child who is sacrificed. I realize that birth mothers who are working through their grief derive little immediate comfort with the knowledge that “at least the child is alive” — any more than a woman who has miscarried is comforted with the knowledge that “one day you can have another child.” These realities are something she can embrace only when she has first grieved the original loss. I hope that one day you, too, will reach this place.

    Thanks for writing. God bless you!

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  4. I find it implausible that PP is unaware of the realities of post-abortion trauma. They simply don’t care — it would be fiscally irresponsible to do anything other than gloss it over.

    However, contraception has its own set of moral and medical implications. So many contraceptives are actually abortifacients (they prevent implantation of the fertilized egg), and have you looked at the risk factors associated with the Pill? Here’s an example — the article reads:

    A new study from the American Heart Association shows heart disease increases in women taking birth control pills by 20-30 percent for every 10 years of use.

    The “shocking” findings, reported by NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman (November 6, 2007), impacts as many as 11.7 million women who now take the Pill in the U.S.

    The study, conducted on healthy women ages 25-55, reveals that women on the Pill show a higher incidence of plaque in their arteries, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

    Condoms don’t carry the same health risks as other forms of contraception — on the other hand, contraceptive failure is among the top reasons women seek abortions. So we’re back to square one.

    If we persist in treating our fertility as a disease to be treated, rather than a sign of the gift of authentic femininity (that is, recognize the ability to nurture life is a distinctive part of the experience of womanhood), we will continue to perpetuate the disorder that has become so prevalent in our culture.

    We were never meant to be “just like men” — we have been called to something altogether different and (for us) better. If we want the respect of good men who take responsibility for their actions, we must first respect our own bodies, and take responsibility for our own actions — and teach our daughters to do the same.

    For the record, I say this not as someone who has a sexually impeccable history. I write a little about that here. Some people (and I count myself among them) insist on learning through their own mistakes. Sad, but true. It is important, however, that we recognize these choices for what they are — mistakes. And try to learn from them.

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  5. The cardiovascular risks factors for the Pill identified in that study aren’t definitive yet, but are worth watching and need to be replicated:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/CardiacHealth/Story?id=3826856&page=1

    I’m all for responsibility too. I just think contraception plays a role. I don’t quite see the grand design of men and women that you do, but whatever position people find themselves in with respect to their fertility or their kids, I absolutely agree that everybody should be responsible for their behaviour. One of the things I intend to say to my daughter as she moves into relationships is that an unplanned pregnancy for her would be especially devastating. An adoptee making an adoption plan? It would break my heart–I know that much. Maybe hers too. And I do not want to raise another child. Nor am I in a position to. My role as breadwinner in this household is the one thing that guarantees us security, so after Simone, my career has to take top priority.

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  6. Heidi–

    ONE MORE TIME: If you want to champion the anti-abortion (yes, it was a typo) agenda, GO FOR IT. I am NOT (please read this clearly) NOT asking you to “gloss over” the problems with abortion.

    I am asking you to please not mention adoption when you talk about abortion. That is all.

    This post makes it sound like adoption loss is something that can be recovered from with the right effort and like abortion loss is something that cannot be recovered from. That is INSULTING to me as someone who lost a child to adoption and as a result suffered from many of the same things that women who abort suffer from.

    Do you understand? Do I need to say it one more time? I a NOT asking you to stop writing about abortion. I am not even asking you to stop writing about adoption. I AM asking you to stop writing about them together, to stop juxtaposing them in a way that suggests adoption loss is “less” than abortion loss.

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  7. Paragraph: I’m sorry you felt your loss was minimized when I connect adoption and abortion, and say that adoption is a much better choice for all concerned than abortion. It is true that I have never relinquished a child — which is why I draw from resources such as Patricia Dischler’s, who has experienced this kind of loss herself, and counseled many women through the kind of loss you have experienced.

    It would be impossible to compare the level of suffering from one individual to the next — it’s a very subjective thing. However, OBJECTIVELY, the loss associated with abortion IS greater for the simple reason that abortion always, without exception, kills a child.

    As I said, I recognize that the fact that their child is still alive is not always a comfort for adoptive mothers. It sounds as though this would include you. It also explains why so many birthmothers insist that the “choice” is between abortion and parenting, not abortion and adoption. And it may be true that, for many women in crisis pregnancies, these are the two options that they immediately consider. What I am saying is that this needs to change.

    Not every pregnant woman is ready or willing to be a parent, and all too many of these women make impulsive choices without considering the long-term effects on themselves and their children. This is reality. The adoption option is one that should be presented to them, consistently and often — and ideally by someone who has made such a choice herself. Unless we find a way to do this, millions more children will die — and hundreds of thousands more will wind up neglected and abused.

    It is not my intention to insult you, or diminish your loss. The fact that I don’t approach adoption from exactly the same POV that you do, does not mean that I know nothing about recovering from grief and loss. It does mean, however, that I’m in a different stage of dealing with those losses. Part of how I do that is by writing — primarily for adoptive and foster mothers. God bless you!

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  8. Heidi,

    You’re still missing the point. And also not reading carefully.

    “It also explains why so many birthmothers insist that the “choice” is between abortion and parenting, not abortion and adoption.”

    No, what we’ve been saying is that the choice for mothers who relinquish is between adoption and parenting… meaning that in most cases, adoption doesn’t save children from abortion. You’ve got the concept mixed up, once AGAIN incorrectly conflating adoption and abortion.

    “It would be impossible to compare the level of suffering from one individual to the next — it’s a very subjective thing. However, OBJECTIVELY, the loss associated with abortion IS greater for the simple reason that abortion always, without exception, kills a child.”

    Once again… please do not try to dictate what’s worse for the MOTHER.

    I have suffered many of the post-abortion symptoms you listed–but not as a result of abortion–as a result of relinquishment. So ALL I’m trying to say is that it’s pretty insulting to read a post by someone who’s never relinquished a child that (a) paints relinquishment as something a mother can “move on” from and then (b) talks about how horrible the effects of abortion are on a mother. How else are we supposed to read this post–how is there any way to read it other than “Your suffering and grief aren’t as bad?”

    Please explain how this could be anything other than offensive.

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  9. Honestly, I don’t think that we’re ever going to come to an agreement on this issue. You’ll recall that in the original post, I quoted Patricia Dischler — who IS a birthmother, and who counsels birthmothers for a living — who (in the original quote) indicated that birthmothers need to find a way to move on. Again, this was her observation, as a birthmother.

    And if you’ll read my comment again, you’ll see that the “loss” to which I was referring was not simply the birthmothers, but the child’s loss of life. That is what I meant by the loss being objectively greater with abortion.

    It seems to me that we’ve reached an impasse here, and that further discussion is not likely to be fruitful. But thanks for writing.

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