“It’s this forbidden grief.”
Years ago I wrote a play about religion and sexuality. As a small part of that project I interviewed post-abortive women. Some of them had gone through Project Rachel, the Church’s ministry to post-abortive women and families. Read one woman’s story, as she told it to me here:
I had my first abortion when I was twenty.
I have no children.
The thing I think about now is,
How that was my only chance to have a child.
My parents were immigrants to this country and very strict;
they didn’t let us date in high school,
Boys couldn’t call home, my sisters and I, we didn’t go to all the parties.
When I was twenty, I met this really wonderful guy
And I really thought I was in love with him
And I wanted to marry him.
We talked about it.
I wore a promise ring.
I was so happy and I was in the best shape of my life
Running all summer training for this marathon
Then I started getting this cramping
And my doctor said it was an ovarian cyst
So he put me on birth control to ease it
I don’t remember if it did or not.
My mother, very traditional Catholic Mexican woman,
She was so upset.
Anyway, about six months later I decided to sleep with my boyfriend
The pill was like a permission slip
I felt totally safe.
He wanted to wait. He knew how important it was to me,
But I was so sure I was going to marry him
And I wanted to give him what other girls had.
That night was one of the most horrible experiences of my life.
Because my life changed from there.
When you’ve held onto a dream for your life for that long
And you decide to change it on a whim
It can have tremendous consequences.
He was leaving for the summer so we took a break.
I remember I was sitting in a friend’s basement on the couch
And the subject of abortion came up
My friend said, “Would you ever have an abortion?”
I was so adamant, “Absolutely not, that’s horrible, I would never do that.”
Not knowing that I was three weeks pregnant at the time.
My body felt different and I just knew something was up.
I went to the store to buy a home pregnancy test.
I was shaking. I waited until this gentleman left the store
And then I took it up to a lady clerk.
I couldn’t even look at the woman, and she said,
“Oh my gosh, I hope you’re results are as good as mine were.”
She was beaming ear to ear, and I looked up, and she was probably six months pregnant.
I wanted so bad to feel like she did.
But I remember my mother used to say, “Don’t you ever come home pregnant.”
I told one person that I was pregnant,
This girl who I worked with
She had bragged to me about her abortions
Like it was no big deal
And she gave me a card for her clinic.
The doctor got me in the very next day.
They’re always so good about getting you in fast.
I sat in front of him, trembling, weeping,
And it was like he didn’t even notice me.
He didn’t even talk to me.
He was so cold.
If one person would’ve said, “You don’t have to do this.”
I wouldn’t have.
It felt like my insides were being ripped out.
For the rest of my life I’ll be able to smell the smell of that room –
The cold metal table – everything –
After he was done I asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?”
Like I had just given birth, I was out of my mind.
He wouldn’t answer me, “Too soon to tell,” he said.
I truly thought I might bleed to death. There was so much blood,
And I thought that if I died it would be okay, that I deserved it,
Because of what I had done.
I went home and I was bleeding through my clothes
And my mother said, “It looks like you’ve got your period.”
Of course it didn’t look like that but I said, “Yeah.”
That was the first serious lie I ever told my mother.
We used to be very close.
The next morning I woke up and my first thought was
“I’ve gotta tell my parents that I’m pregnant”
And then I realized, “Oh my God, I’m not pregnant anymore.”
I got a letter from my boyfriend that same day
It said, “I want to have children with you and marry you.”
I never wrote back. I was numb.
The next eight to ten years of my life were hell.
I literally felt dead, spiritually dead, to everything,
My boyfriend tried for a couple of months to get back with me
But I let him go. I let several good men go.
My grades stunk, my GPA sucked, I decided to quit school.
I got picked up for a job in retail.
Some women who’ve had abortions become promiscuous, I became a workaholic.
I could have sex but I couldn’t be intimate.
The hardest thing is always to forgive yourself.
I couldn’t hear the word abortion on the news.
I couldn’t bear it.
I left the Catholic Church for about eight years
I got married, I wanted to have children
In some way, I think, to replace the one I’d lost
But my husband couldn’t, he lied to me about this,
And it didn’t last, we got divorced.
I remember I came back to Mass much later,
And this woman held out her hand to me
During the Our Father, and I just was so touched.
You can’t imagine how much that meant to me.
I went to confession, and the priest told me
The Church forgives you, God forgives you,
And I forgive you.
It was so important for me to hear that.
I drove out to the clinic in the middle of the night
And just sat outside in my car screaming and crying
“What did I do?”
I have very close post-abortive friends that I’ve met
Through Project Rachel,
It’s a blessing to see post-abortive woman have children.
These women are the only ones that can understand what I’ve been through.
It’s this forbidden grief.
You can’t talk about it.
I never know what to say when someone asks if I have children.
At least if I’d given my child up for adoption I could say that.
What, “I gave a child up for abortion”?
Sometimes I just say, “I lost a child.”
I’ve been healed, absolutely, I’ve been forgiven
I know that,
But even with all the forgiveness and healing
I will always regret it, and that’s okay.
I saw the woman who referred me to her abortion doctor a couple of years later
And she had a child, I was so angry,
I just said, “What a beautiful child,”
And walked away.