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I'm not pregnant anymore: A Story of Abortion and Post-Abortion Syndrome

by Susan Alder Boulden

I had an abortion in 1972. That was a year before Roe v. Wade, but getting an abortion was easy, even then.

I was 28, single, and a secretary. Having a good time was my main purpose in life. When I found myself pregnant, my first reaction was disbelief. My second response was fear - fear for what my parents and the world would think if I was to have a baby out of wedlock, particularly since the baby would be bi-racial. For several reasons, marriage was out of the question., I considered adoption, but I knew that once I saw the baby, I would not be able to give it up.

Two close friends who were most concerned for me assured me that I would be better off not having the baby. One said, "It's your choice, but you'd better think hard about how you could raise a child alone on your salary. It won't be easy." Most of my friends and I were supporters of the feminist movement and in favor of abortion on demand. I went to the rector of my church and talked with him. He knew little about abortion and didn't seem to have a position for or against it. He simply promised to support me in whatever decision I made. Then I called a psychiatrist for whom I had worked and whose judgment I trusted. His response was immediate and unhesitating. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Come in here to see me and I'll sign the papers. Then go see Dr. M. and tell him you want a therapeutic abortion." I did what he told me to do. I went straight to Dr. M. and told him I wanted an abortion. He accepted my request without question and made the necessary arrangements.

Like most young women in such a crisis, I had no time to think deeply about what I was doing. I was in a bind and having an abortion was the easy way out. I did stop to think about carrying the baby to term and the idea of having a little baby to care for was very appealing. I could imagine holding it in my arms. But those tender maternal yearnings were outweighed by my extreme anxiety. I decided to terminate the pregnancy and forget all about it. It seemed to be the most expedient solution - the simple and easy way to escape from an unwanted situation.

I was not really aware of what an abortion was. I knew only that if I had one, I would no longer be pregnant. In fact, when I awoke in the recovery room of the hospital, my first words to the nurse were, "I'm not pregnant any more." At the time I felt only relief.

When I left the hospital, went home to bed and cried without stopping for several hours.  I did not know why I was crying, nor was there anyone to talk with about what I had just experienced.  I felt a tremendous isolation and I just wanted to forget that the abortion had ever happened.  From that  point on, I did what countless other women have probably done: I locked the experience away, deep within myself, so that I would never have to think about it or deal with it again.

After the abortion, my life changed. I gave up dating, I lost interest in partying and I became much more involved in church. I gave my life to God -- but with reservations: I never prayed about the abortion. I tried to justify what I had done by helping other women to do the same thing. For two years I worked as head counselor at an abortion clinic. I told myself that I was helping young women just as I had been helped. I felt I was on the right side of the abortion issue; I wrote letters to politicians, urging them to support legal abortion. I belonged to NOW and joined the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. I participated in pro-choice rallies, all the time telling myself that a woman has the right to decide what she does with her reproductive life. I said that it is wrong to bring unwanted children into the world.

Now when I think about the counseling we gave those women who came to the clinic, I cannot help but shudder. We simply assumed they would terminate their pregnancy, and we never questioned their decision, just as no one had ever questioned mine.

I left the clinic to follow other pursuits, among them marriage. I had put the abortion behind me, I thought, but I now felt an enormous dread of the prospect of becoming pregnant again. I told my husband I did not want children. I felt incapable of raising a child. I have since learned that some women who have an abortion later feel that they would be bad mothers and decide they cannot risk having children. I was one of them.

One day I met a young couple with their beautiful, bi-racial baby girl. The first time I held Katy in my arms, I suddenly became aware, as never before, that I could have given birth to a baby very much like this exquisite child. The sorrow that overwhelmed me at that moment felt like a knife tearing me inside out. To my astonishment, I found myself full of an immense grief. It was the grief of bereavement.

That night, in the midst of this grief, I re-lived the whole abortion episode, from start to finish. For two days I went over and over all the events of that time. In the middle of the night, I suddenly woke up and I heard a voice - which kept repeating, "Sue, you killed your only child - you murdered your only child." I fought hard to ignore the voice until finally I realized that it was the voice of my own heart, speaking the truth it felt and knew. I became quite desperate - how could I accept the knowledge that I was responsible for the death of the one child I had ever conceived?

That night of remorse and tears, however, was a turning point. I began to see that the fetus, from the moment of conception, is truly a human life, no matter how tiny or undeveloped. This awareness came gradually. It was a year before I could face the full facts.

I determined to learn more about life in the womb.  In books I found at the library, I discovered, to my horror, that the eight-week old fetus I had aborted was an almost wholly developed human being.  Most of the internal organs, including its nervous system, were formed and its heart was beating.  Its brain waves could have been measured. All of its external organs were present -- its eyes, its ears, its nose and mouth, its hands with their miniature fingers, its little feet with tiny toes -- a tiny human life.

This momentous discovery forced me to face, for the first time, the terrible fact that I had ended that human life. I had killed my own child in my womb and I had assisted in the killing of hundreds of other pre-born babies. It forced me to remember the sight of those tiny mutilated bodies which I had seen with my own eyes in the abortion clinic - a sight I had completely denied but now remembered. I was filled with such grief and remorse that I could not forgive myself.

Finally, I asked God to help me make sense of this abortion experience. When I prayed, I knew God had forgiven me, but I could not forgive myself. I could not get beyond the pain of knowing I had murdered the only baby I had ever conceived.

I went to the rector of my current church. "What can I do?" I asked him, "I hate myself for what I did. How can I ever forgive myself?" He suggested that I talk with a special counselor, who, he believed, had the knowledge and insight to help me. With that meeting, everything at last began come together for me. The consolation and guidance, the compassion and understanding I received from that counselor brought me from his office with feelings of deep relief and even joy. I received the reassurance of God's great love, His mercy, His healing grace, and at last I could forgive myself for my act of abortion. He explained to me how I was suffering with Post Abortion Syndrome and he gave me a new perception. "Susan," he said, "You may have taken away your baby's life on earth. But don't forget that your child is living now, in Heaven, with our Lord". What a profoundly redemptive insight that was for me. He reminded me of Psalm 27, verse 10 which says: "Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will receive me". It made me think of what Jesus said about children - "for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" - and I pondered on the enormous number of children we have sent to Him in the past twenty years.

After that meeting I was able to start forgiving myself. At long last I began to understand how powerful and far-reaching were the traumatic results of that one act in my life.

This is my story. It is mine alone. I cannot pretend to speak for all the other women who have undergone an abortion. I recognize that each individual deals with, or chooses not to deal with, issues in her life in her own way. Yet I wonder if the many women - some of them children themselves whom I helped to have abortions are now wrestling with Post Abortion Syndrome, as I did. If they are, I hope they are receiving help, as I have, in working through their feelings.

I have written this story for two reasons. The first is purely selfish. I wanted to bring it out of myself and into the light, to deal with it, to lay it to rest and to be at peace with myself.  I am reaching that stage.  The grief and anguish are still with me, and even now I pray for my child's forgiveness.  But I am no longer consumed by sorrow.  I can accept the truth and live with it.   

The second reason for telling my story is to reach out to those women who may be struggling, as I did, with the painful aftermath of an abortion. I want them to know that with the right care and counsel, their anguish of spirit can be healed, and they can be consoled. I write this story for them because, as my counselor has said, "they need to know how God loves them and forgives and restores them." I thank God that 20 years after taking the life of my child, I now know that I have been forgiven and restored.

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