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Everyone Hated My Child

At the age of 24, I was engaged to a young man whom my mother hated because he was of a different ethnic and social class from ours. When I discovered that I was pregnant, I told him. His immediate response was, "Can't you get an abortion?" I hadn't even considered an abortion; aside from the fact that this was before Roe vs. Wade, I assumed that he and I would be raising a family, and that we would just be starting earlier than we'd planned. When I said so, Ron whined, "We can't have a kid yet; I'd have to give up my horse!" (We'd met at a riding stable in the Bronx, and although Ron was from a poor family, he used all his money to maintain his horse and did odd jobs around the stable to get discounts on stabling.)

I was devastated. My fiancé, who supposedly loved me, apparently loved his horse more. And he apparently had no love for our baby. In fact, he was angry with me for being pregnant. At no time did he even offer to help pay for the abortion that he wanted me to have. Then, when I told my mother that I was pregnant and would be marrying him sooner than we expected (I still hoped that I could persuade him), she exploded in anger. She, too, demanded that I have an abortion, and shouted and stormed at me almost constantly for the next two months. My stepfather often tried to calm her down, but he was hesitant to interfere, since he'd been part of our family for only six years and felt like an interloper in the situation. Besides, he was in the middle stages of an illness that caused his death two years later.

For over two months I dragged myself to work every morning, sick with the effort of holding out against my mother and trying to persuade my fiancé to marry me, and going through the constant sleepiness of nervous strain and the early stages of pregnancy. Finally, just as I came out of the stage of sleepiness and began to feel a sense of well-being and love for my child (I'd begun eating very carefully to insure my child's health, and had even picked out a name for him), my fiancé agreed to get married. One night - - I'll never forget this as long as I live-- was talking to Ron on the phone, and laughing about our plans for our home, when my mother burst into my room, grabbed the phone from me, and began yelling almost incoherently that she'd rather see me dead than married to him. My stepfather pulled her off me, but I shook with horror for the rest of the night, and I still shake sometimes when I remember the scene. To hear that your mother wants you dead isn't something you forget very easily.

Of course, Ron still wasn't happy about the baby. In fact, he always seemed to change the subject when I started talking about weddings. Meanwhile, I was still under pressure from my mother, who was now supplementing threats with bribes, such as paying my way to graduate school if I'd abort the baby and give up Ron. Finally I couldn't take any more from either of them. I agreed to have the abortion. When I told Ron, he said, "Aw, I was already planning where I'd hang my rifles in our house," but that was the extent of his protest. And he still didn't offer to help pay for the operation.

In New York, at the time, women who wanted legal abortions had to go to a psychiatrist and say that they'd kill themselves rather than have the baby, so the abortion could be done "to save the life of the mother." The psychiatrist that my mother took me to, to do him justice, seemed skeptical of my story--and with good reason, since I didn't believe it myself and probably wasn't convincing. But then my mother put on a martyred look and said, "I just don't know what to do; I've tried my best. . . . " And I was suddenly so furious that I came up out of my chair and almost punched her; I think I was growling or screaming as I did it. The psychiatrist looked very rattled, even after I'd caught myself just in time and sat down again without harming my mother. He quickly signed the paperwork, and told us that I should seek extended psychiatric care after the abortion.

What irony. If I'd been allowed to have my baby, I wouldn't have needed any psychiatric care.

One of my aunts arranged to have me put high on the operating list at the hospital where she was head dietitian. I was admitted just before Christmas (another irony). At my admission examination, the doctor announced that I was more than three months pregnant, and that he didn't know whether they'd be able to do a D&C or whether they'd have to do it by saline solution. At the time, I didn't know what this meant, and I still don't know which method they used, since I was unconscious through all of it and lost track of time in the recovery room.

As for the operation itself, everything went wrong. I wasn't allowed food or water from the night before what was supposed to be a morning operation, but the schedule was changed so that I had to wait till the afternoon, parched with thirst, especially after crying myself to sleep. Then, as I was being wheeled down to the operating room, a nurse pointed out that I was wearing nail polish, which would have to be removed before the operation. They put the open bottle of acetone right next to my face while they were doing it, and I almost choked to death on the fumes before someone noticed. And the surgeon who inserted the IV with the sodium pentathol missed the vein, so that my right hand swelled up like a balloon before anyone noticed and switched the IV to my other hand. Meanwhile, through the physical pain, I kept crying inside, and as I felt myself go under the anesthesia, I said goodbye to my baby. That's the last I remember till I woke up in the recovery room.

In the recovery room, as I woke up, my first sensation was one of choking, probably from the breathing tube in my nose. My next sensation was one of horrible guilt and grief. I started shouting over and over, "I killed my baby! I killed my baby!" and thrashing around until I started hemorrhaging. The doctor and two nurses who rushed over kept telling me that I hadn't killed any babies, but I didn't believe them. Finally, I tried to believe them, tried to push out of my mind what I was doing in the hospital. After a few hours (they were keeping me in the recovery room for observation instead of taking me right back to my room- - probably because of my reaction), I thought I'd managed to repress it all. An intern came by and started talking to me, and I joked with him the way I always do when I'm in pain, as a way of denying the pain. Finally, he asked, "What are you in for?" I stopped laughing as I remembered, and mumbled, "Therapeutic abortion." I'll never forget the look of disgust on his face. He went away without saying another word to me. (Nowadays, I find myself wishing that more people would register disgust at the killing of babies. That intern, if I'd been able to go to him for counseling, would have been able to help me more than all the falsely cheerful people who tried to convince me that I'd done "the best thing." He knew, just as I did, that I'd done the worst thing; I'd killed my child.) Late that night they took me back to my room, aching, wretched, and still parched with thirst, and the next morning they released me. I could barely walk.

When I got home, I wanted to die. I lay on my bed for a week, having made up a story about the nature of my operation for my boss at work looking down at my body and hating it, feeling empty, filthy, debased, guilty, furious with everyone including myself. The first night after the abortion I tried to call Ron, but there was no answer. When I reached him the next day, I asked him where held been, and he said held been to a party. But I'd just killed our baby, I cried; couldn't he at least have stayed home and waited to hear from me? His answer: "What was I supposed to do, sit home and cry?" I almost threw up. I was sick, sick at heart, sick in body, loathsome to myself, betrayed, wretched . . . I still can't find enough words to describe the despair and self-hatred. I heard afterward that all I'd done that week was groan and sob and refuse to answer anyone or get up from my bed except to go to the bathroom; I wouldn't even wash. I heard, too, that no one could get me to unclench my fists; I was grasping my thumbs inside my fists convulsively, and had to be fed because I wouldn't even hold the utensils. I don't remember all of it, but I do remember the grief and the rage and wanting to die.

But I finally got up from my bed and went back to work - - and went on trying to forget, trying to pretend it had never happened, which Ron was quite willing to help me do. I also moved out of my mother's house into my own apartment. Meanwhile, Ron began refusing to use any form of contraception, as though by refusing he could deny that it was possible for me to get pregnant, and thereby convince himself that the abortion was a fiction. We were constantly arguing and fighting. One night we went to the movies to see Georgy Girl, and when the heroine's roommate announced that she was pregnant again but wasn't "going to destroy this one," I started crying and cried through the rest of the movie. I still can't hear the theme song from that movie without starting to cry. Ron was overcome with contrition and apologized to me for the rest of the night - but after that the fighting got even worse, and we finally stopped seeing each other.

I'd tried going to a psychotherapist during this time, but I couldn't go on with it. I'm not sure now how good a therapist he was; I have the sense that he wasn't very good, but then again, I wasn't a very good patient. He kept trying to reassure me that I'd have other babies, lots of babies, and I wanted to believe it, but I'm afraid I'd already mentally condemned myself to childlessness. I kept a journal at the time, and I can still remember writing over and over, about people who told me I'd have other children, "Why do they torture me with their lies?" When I realized that I'd started manipulating the therapist emotionally, probably to punish him for the "lies," I stopped seeing him.

Less than a year after the abortion, I developed horrible lower abdominal pains that doubled me up and wouldn't even let me sleep. My doctor insisted that I had an ectopic pregnancy, and I was rushed to the hospital. The problem, though, turned out to be a set of ovarian cysts, one of which had ruptured; the situation was so serious that the admissions doctor had to extract the fluid and the cyst right there and then, without so much as a local anesthetic. I screamed through the whole thing. Only recently have I realized from reading accounts of other post-abortion complications that I'd probably been damaged and/or infected by my abortion.

Another year passed, and I was starting to convince myself that nothing had happened. But then one of my single friends also found herself pregnant. She was very upset, but her mother offered her help in having and raising the baby, and soon she began planning happily for her baby's birth, whether her boyfriend would marry her or not. My old rage flared up again at the contrast between Dorothy's mother and mine. I wouldn't speak to my mother for months afterward.

At last I put the whole thing behind me - - I thought. Meanwhile, I'd developed a pattern of sleeping around as a form of self-justification and a means of regaining power over men: no emotional involvements. In fact, I preferred sleeping with married men to insure that there would be no question of involvement. I hated men. The more I found myself liking a man, the more I hated him, if that makes any sense. I also became a pro-abortion activist. And I hated babies. I couldn't stand to be in the same room with a baby.

But even during those 20 hating and self-destructive years, something better was working subliminally in me: I was re-channeling my maternal impulses subconsciously. When I was an officer in the Air Force, and then a college professor, my troops and students often referred jokingly to me as "mom." I didn't know it then, but God and my dead child were preparing me for the time when I could acknowledge what I'd done, for the time when I would have to grieve, and begin to live again. For most of those 20 years, I was dead-emotionally and spiritually.

Through a series of events that would take too long to explain, I became a Catholic in 1982. 1 knew what Church teaching was on abortion, and I acknowledged that my own abortion was wrong in the abstract, but I was still making excuses for pro-abortion ideas. Then, in 1989, one of the charities I was giving to sent me some pro-life material, which included pictures of aborted infants, some of them younger than my own. I saw for the first time what I'd done to my child. I'd tortured my only child to death. My John looked just like one of those bloody little corpses that I was now looking at. And as I read more about embryology, I realized still more strongly what I'd destroyed: a baby with a beating heart, a working brain, little fingers that curled and uncurled. . .

Once again it was my mother who triggered the real reaction. One day shortly after the Webster decision, as I was talking to my mother on the phone, she angrily declared that all the women who'd had abortions should get together and march on the Supreme Court to show our strength in favor of abortion. I tentatively suggested (I try not to talk about religion or abortion to my mother, who's a militant atheist) that not all women who've had abortions are happy about them. "You mean you aren't happy about yours?" she asked, obviously expecting me to admit that I was and that therefore didn't know what I was talking about. "No," I said, "I'm not." At that point she snarled, "Oh, I can just see what that kid would have turned out like!" I couldn't answer. I changed the subject and hung up as soon as I could. And then I went to pieces.

My child died not because anyone was concerned about me but because everyone hated my child. And so long as I was carrying that child, everyone hated me. All the pain of that first year after the abortion came back, this time with my grief directed the right way: not at what had been done to me, but at what we'd done to my helpless baby.

Fortunately, this happened during the summer, when I wasn't teaching, so I had a whole week to grieve without having to face people. I screamed with grief. I cried out to my baby, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Forgive me! Help me! Pray for your mother who killed you!" I was beside myself. All I could do was throw myself on the mercy of God, of Mary, and of my dead child, asking forgiveness and promising to make up for what I'd done through my love of my students and whatever I could do for other women being pressured into killing their children as I was pressured. It took me a whole week to come through the grief and reconciliation, but finally I was able to consign my child to God's care in heaven, and to accept forgiveness for what I'd done.

Just as fortunately, I'd been contributing regularly to Human Life International, and knew about Kathy Kelly's work with aborted women. So I wrote to her and received a lot of material about women who'd suffered the way I had. This helped. Part of the pain of any kind of suffering is feeling alone in the universe. Now I know that thousands of women have gone through what I've gone through; I'm not a freak, just a sinner and a victim. That helps, helps more than I can tell. One of the greatest pains for aborted women is that no one lets us grieve, no one admits that there's anything to grieve about. What other sufferer is despised for suffering, is commanded to rejoice at her pain or, more accurately, to pretend that the pain is a joy? None. None at all.

I now wear the "precious feet" pin on my suit lapel every day, even though it's politically dangerous for me to do so at a State university. I keep hoping that some woman who needs help will see it and come to me for help, or that pro-life students (who have to keep a very low profile at our university) will take courage at the fact that at least one faculty member is on their side. I've increased my contributions to pro-life organizations of every kind. I'm consciously pouring all my maternal love into my care for my students. And I've discovered that I now like being around babies!

Only one thing still remains for me to overcome: anger at my mother. I feel, right now, as though I'll never be able to like her again; I'm not even sure whether I love her, even though she's my mother. I try to do my duty to her, and to act normally toward her, but inside there's a rage that won't go away. I keep telling myself that I must forgive her just as I prayed for my own child to forgive me, and intellectually I agree and try. But my emotions are still in turmoil and won't cooperate. I have to keep working at it. I don't know how long it will take.

My abortion left me unable to form a sane relationship with a man, and gave me an aversion to being around babies and small children. I realize now that for 20 years, I was both trying to "get back" at Ron through all the men I used (during the first 10 years, I slept with over 100 men, most of them married) and trying to deny my own motherhood by avoiding children. Also, I now realize, my pro-abortion activism was an attempt to have company in my childlessness, to reassure myself that I'd done nothing wrong by pressuring other women the same way I'd been pressured, by demanding that they be happy about killing their children just as people had demanded that I be happy about it. I was building a fantasy world for myself because I couldn't acknowledge reality.

Even now that I've managed to face my past and grieve for my child, I still have a permanent scar of bitterness at my mother, as I've said, and also at the people who continue to railroad pregnant women through the abortion mills and then demand that they have no bad reactions afterward. I know that I shouldn't feel this bitterness and hatred; bitterness and hatred were what killed my only child. But I'm still recovering; maybe with the grace of God I'll eventually be able to overcome this last pain. Meanwhile, I have no children. The line ends here. (Someday, too, maybe I'll be able to lose the last of the self-hatred that adds "Good riddance" to that last observation.)

Priests for Life
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