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THE ABORTION CASE STUDY PROJECT

1. How did you come to have the abortion(s) and who was involved?

A birth control failure in Oct. 1984 caused my pregnancy. My husband thought abortion was nothing more than "retroactive" birth control and assumed I could not possibly want a child that was "unplanned". My doctor strongly advocated abortion because I was over 40. His nurse said: "If you do it NOW, there's nothing there." In shock, I allowed myself to be misled by misinformation.

2. How would you describe your abortion(s)?

Physically, there was no pain. Emotionally, I was completely in denial and blocking out what was happening -- until it was too late to do anything about it.

3. How did your abortion(s) affect you and others?

I am a changed person: I look at myself as the person I was BEFORE the abortion, and the person I am since the abortion as two different people. I was, within a very short time, totally consumed by all the symptoms of PAS. Though I can see that I have made some progress, there is still a great pain and void in my life that I know can never be healed.

4. Please describe what you have done to deal with your abortion. Did it help?

About 3 months after the abortion I began to see a psychologist on a weekly basis. I had come to realize I could not deal with it all by myself . This went on for about a year. I have also become an active member of a support group for women with Post Abortion Syndrome - first a WEBA Chapter, and subsequently a group similar in nature but not affiliated with WEBA. It has become a very important part of my life to be active in the group, for I look upon it as a way to make all my personal pain count for something and help others.

5. How do you think your abortion(s) changed your life?

It has given me great sadness, but also greater compassion for others. It has changed me from one who never thought much about the abortion issue, but was basically "pro-choice" to one who is vocally and actively if pro- life." It has changed my relationship with some people in my family - some who still believe abortion was the "right" choice and steadfastly refuse to see my side (particularly a sister) no longer share a closeness that used to exist.

WHAT CHOICE DO WE REALLY HAVE? The controversy over abortion laws has been raging for years, yet I had paid little attention to it until Halloween morning in 1984. My period was 10 days overdue; unusual, but in my heart I didn't really believe I could be pregnant. Just to "rule it out" I had brought home one of those do-it-yourself drugstore kits. The "ring" I saw - indicating "positive" - stunned me. At the age of 41 I was pregnant. My breathing was rapid, nearing hyperventilation. I braced myself on the dresser to keep from dropping to the floor, then slowly moved to the bed where I slumped in total disbelief. After a while I got in the car and began driving around, in a hazy daze, thinking what it would be like to have a "baby" around again, to turn the clock back 17 years and start all over with diapers, Halloween costumes, Sesame Street and wiping runny noses. Our son and daughter were both in high school one just a year away from college. Both were dearly wanted and "planned" pregnancies. All the years of birth control afterward had brought no surprises - until that Wednesday morning.

My husband took the news calmly and said merely: "Will your doctor do it?" …certain in his mind that we should "look" upon this "egg" as no different from all the others we had chosen not to fertilize in our 18 years of marriage. His male mind saw "termination" as no worse than contraception. I have no religious affiliation, and had favored laws giving women the freedom to choose, yet his suggestion hit me with a tremendous jolt. While the idea of starting over after 17 years was not what I would have chosen, "terminating" the tiny life begun (however inadvertently) inside me just didn't seem right. The other alternative, of course, meant carrying a baby to term. Thinking about this brought vivid memories of my son's birth 17 years earlier. The 28 hours of labor, in a room by myself, with a nurse occasionally stopping by, had been a source of many years of nightmares. My doctor at the time was near retirement age. Suffice it to say that he came to my room the morning after delivery and apologized for his handling of my "case," which he told me had been discussed at a hospital committee meeting, where the recommendation had been made that he drop "obstetrics" and confine his practice in the future to gynecology.

It took several years for me to summon enough courage to attempt another pregnancy, but I didn't want my son to be an only child, and was hopeful that a different doctor would mean a better delivery experience. While the second labor was an improvement, the feeling of joy that we had both the son and daughter we had hoped for, was joined by enormous relief at the thought I would never have to "do this" again. Contemplating it at the age of 41 brought sheer terror.

My mind reeled and I thought day and sleepless night about the "options" given by my doctor: immediate "termination" with or without tubal ligation, was his recommendation. I asked him if he had no moral reservations about such a suggestion, and he laughed and waved his arm, saying a woman my age shouldn't be having babies anyway. The alternatives raced through my mind every second, wavering from thinking we should "terminate" immediately and get on with our lives, and the next-moment wondering how I could bring myself to let them destroy it. My mind created an imaginary sheet of paper, folded in half, and fashioned lists -- reasons to have or not have another baby. The "no" side began with: not wanting to do something that would make my husband unhappy and be detrimental to our good marriage, continued with the dreaded fear of the child birth experience, the need to add another room to the house, and having to replace the many baby furnishings long given away and truly starting over. Lastly, it added, giving up my job, for I would do no less for a new child than I had done for my 2 teenagers, and would stay home for at least 6 years.

On the "yes" side was just the one aching lament: "but it's already there!" All the "no's" were good reasons for care in birth control and preventing conception but were they reasons enough to "terminate" a new life already begun? I can see with hindsight that I was enveloped in a state of shock and should, at that point, have sought some outside counsel. I spoke to no one but the nurse at my doctor's office She said: "If you do it now, there's nothing there!" . I didn't really believe her but the cacophony of no's swirling around in my brain said: believe her and hurry on with it before you can change your mind . The longer you delay, the less likely you will be able to go through with it. So I signed the consent forms she was holding out to me, and she booked me into the hospital for 6 AM the next morning.

It is strange how no one uses the word "abortion," just "termination of pregnancy," and "product of conception" or "cluster of cells," as though use of the words "abortion" and "baby" might make a woman stop and contemplate her action more thoroughly. I was not offered counseling, and on Friday November 9 at 6 AM, just one week after that home pregnancy test, I was hospitalized for the "termination/tubal ligation." For all I had been told, that was supposed to end my "problem." In the hospital I felt absolutely nothing, as though my mind was drifting in a vacuum. It felt like I wasn't in my own body, but on the outside seeing this person sign these papers and be subjected to a "medical procedure"; mentally I was totally numb. They sent me down for a pre-op X-ray, and the sign said: "Be sure to tell technician if you are pregnant." I stared straight at the sign, but said nothing, for I hadn't fully acknowledged to myself that I really was pregnant, much less that I was there to allow an abortion to be performed. A staff doctor stopped by the bed and asked: "Is this your third pregnancy?" I nodded yes, but thought, what an odd question; I'm not really pregnant. I felt totally "blank" - as though all emotion had been erased from me. There was no physical pain or awareness that anything was happening. A slight pinch of the anesthesiologist's needle in my hand registered at the start, but there was no pain, or even a cramp afterward, and virtually no bleeding either.

It wasn't until a few days after coming home, as my mind began to emerge from the vacuum which had paralyzed it, that I began screaming, crying and reacting to what I had endured. My nights were filled with dreams (and nightmares) about babies, and people bringing me babies in my sleep. It penetrated my emotional core, and I began to realize that this was something I was going to have to "live with" for the rest of my life. My thoughts were constantly on the child who would have known life, had I not interfered with nature.

I watched a news segment on the famine in Ethiopia and felt myself reacting strangely unsympathetically to the plight of the starving: do those children have more of a right to live than my baby? There were pregnant women and babies everywhere I went, and seeing them only increased the level of my agony and feelings of intense envy. I wanted to tell someone, but didn't know where to turn. Days drifted one into the other, and I tried to keep the usual family activities going, but there was no change in the distressing preoccupation of my mind. At family dinner, I ate out of habit, but had no appetite, and ate nothing the rest of the day. What I did eat had no taste; in fact, everything tasted like straw. Quickly I lost 5 pounds, then 5 more. My co-worker marveled that I could be so "strong" and "diet" at Christmas time. She noticed I was thinner. But how could I tell her the loss of appetite had nothing to do with the "diet"? "If only she knew how the constant lump in my throat made it impossible.

For months on end, all my private moments were spent crying. I'm surprised no one seemed to notice my swollen and red eyes. They were often so full of tears that it was impossible to read what I was working on, or see where I was driving. My teenaged daughter happily played Christmas music on the piano, and I had to run from the room so she wouldn't see the rush of tears, for all I could think of was the child who would never play that piano, or hear it played, or know Christmas, or feel life. I thought back and wondered how we could have rationally discussed "reasons" for not having another child. Couldn't we and shouldn't we have made room in our home and our lives for our mid-life miracle? Our lives would have changed quite drastically, but living with those changes could not have been any more difficult than coping with the emotional turmoil and grief that have engulfed me. Would the physical child bearing pain I feared so have been as awful as the very real pain I have had to suffer instead?

I felt a constantly increasing need to discuss all the feelings engulfing me and did try to call the nurse at my doctor's office. After all, she was the only one who knew my deep dark secret. She tried to be sympathetic, but our conversation was brief, as I couldn't keep from breaking down long enough to complete a coherent sentence. On the 31st day after surgery I awoke to a heavy flow of blood -- proof positive that there really was no more baby. Until that moment, in weeks of overwhelming anguish, I had fooled myself into thinking: maybe I really haven't done this. After all there were no memories of any physical pain. The realization that tubal ligation meant "permanent" was more than I could bear. My husband and I talked throughout that night, as I began to finally share with him all the emotions I had been struggling with. I don't think he realized the depth my feelings until that conversation., The same day had brought the bill from the hospital pathologist. My mind focused on what he was being paid to study the remains of my never-born child and my rage and anguish totally overtook me.

I knew then I would have to seek some counseling, and began to search the "pregnancy counseling" ads - something I should have done before it was too late. In the following year I spent weekly sessions with a compassionate counselor. She helped me sort out my feelings of grief, anger, pain and loss. The strain of emotional turmoil played havoc with my thus weakened immune system and I managed to catch colds and viruses with a frequency I had never experienced. Each bout I managed to recover from was quickly followed by yet another, month after month for nearly 2 years. For several months I continued to feel "phantom" signals emanating from my womb; as long as I didn't have my period at the moment, I believed I was pregnant. Each monthly flow renewed my regret and anger and made me feel my baby was dying all over again. Just as soon as the monthly flow stopped, I went right back into denial for another 28 days, until the cycle repeated itself again. Seeing pregnant women in the stores filled me with jealousy … I bought another pregnancy "test kit" 3 months after the abortion, for I desperately wanted to see some proof that my baby just couldn't be dead.

I visited several libraries and read every book I could get my hands on that touched on abortion, miscarriage, bereavement and loss. I attended meetings of "Reach-Out To The Parents Of An Unknown Child," a caring group of people, all of whom have lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death. On the first anniversary of the abortion, I placed a memorial ad in the local paper: "Mid-life surprise precious gift taken from me so abruptly the outside world does not recognize you ever existed missed and cherished forever in my broken heart." I was surprised that most of the people attending the "Reach-out" meeting had seen my ad. They were supportive and understanding, for they too had experienced that kind of grief. I have also become active in a support group called "Women Exploited By Abortion." Some people have said to me: "exploited" is such a strong word! And I answer: yes, but it's not the wrong word. In a society that makes abortion so easily available, we equate what's legal with what is right. I have met many women these past several years who made an abortion decision, as I did, because it was offered to them in a moment of crisis as an "easy way" out of a problem. They were not counseled about the devastating emotional after-effects such a decision would have on them. Society must provide some safeguards for women. An unplanned pregnancy shocks the body and psyche. Counseling must be made mandatory. Such counseling must include information on prenatal life. How many women are aware that at the moment they discover a pregnancy, their miniature unborn child already has a beating heart and measurable brain waves? There should also be a waiting period of at least 24 hours, and preferably longer, between the signing of any papers and an actual abortion procedure.

I very much want something good to come out of all my pain. While I surrendered my baby physically, there will always be a special place in my heart for my missing child. I lost a part of myself that day in the operating room. From the beginning, I have felt it was a girl, and I have named her Barbara Louise. I think of her every single day, and my arms ache from wanting to nurture her. I get people who tell me she was just a "blob" who might have grown into a person, and regret that in my state of shock I didn't see how wrong they were, and allowed someone irreplaceable and precious to be taken away from me.

If sharing my story will help another pregnant woman reject abortion, then the brief life of my Barbara Louise will not have been totally in vain.

Priests for Life
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