Archive for March, 2015

Fetal Disability Abortions: Empty Arms and Wounded Hearts

Monday, March 30th, 2015


Cast Out Garden

 [Monday March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. The Jerome Lejeune Foundation is one of the leading organizations behind the day.  In a 2012 publication in Prenatal Diagnosis, their research calculated a 67% termination rate following prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.  This day provides an opportunity to look at the challenges couples face after abortion of their unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome and other disabilities.] 

Every year in the United States, approximately 133,000 pregnant mothers will undergo routine pre-natal tests and receive what is called “poor pre-natal diagnosis,” or PPD.  This means that their infant is afflicted with a chromosomal abnormality or a serious defect in a vital organ.  The most difficult and complicated grief that we witness on Rachel’s Vineyard Weekends for healing after abortion, involve couples that aborted a child for this reason.

With the increase in genetic testing and fertility treatments more couples are facing these difficult decisions.   Parents are often pressured by doctors, therapists, friends and family to “terminate” the pregnancy.  They are given the grim prospect of a child born prematurely who will die shortly after birth or suffer severe deformities and a brief life filled with suffering and pain.  Couples are vulnerable when confronted with many levels of anxiety, uncertainty and fear that are natural when trying to process such an event.

Sadly, health care professionals, friends and family often feed their worst fears.  Often with the best of intentions, they fail to offer life affirming alternatives that respect the dignity of unborn life, and in the long run are in the best interest of the mother and father, and especially their relationship.

Most couples only receive non-directive counseling, which means they are told only the various challenges and likely prognosis of the condition without offering other life-affirming resources.  This can be overwhelming and lead the parents in the aftershock of this news to see abortion as the best solution.

In one study, 80% of parents who received ‘non directive’ counseling chose to abort while 80% of parents who were provided with the option of perinatal palliative care chose to carry their child to term. (Autumn 2008 Issue of Perspectives, the newsletter of the DeVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research.)

When abortion is the preferred course of “treatment” not only is the baby’s life ended, but the lives of these parents are changed forever.  Like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, assuming this power over life and death has far reaching consequences beyond the decision to abort.   The fallout from this loss places a tremendous strain on a couple as they struggle to come to terms with the shock and pain of their experience.

Research confirms that women suffer years after the procedure:

Women 2-7 years after were expected to show a significantly lower degree of traumatic experience and grief than women 14 days after termination…Contrary to hypothesis, however, the results showed no significant inter-group differences. (More information and research on post abortion trauma for couples who abort due to fetal disability.)

Complicated Grief

These parents suffer from a particularly complex form of grief and guilt years after the experience.  They hunger desperately for healing and peace, but struggle to come to terms with their responsibility in the death of their child and the need for repentance, reconciliation and healing.  They feel strongly that their situation is “different” from others who abort.

Couples cling desperately to the idea that they did what was best for their child, saving them from a life, however brief, of suffering and pain.  In other scenarios they must choose among healthier embryos or multiple fetuses so that the healthiest survive.  Given the medical advice and pressure from a spouse or others, they feel they did not have a real choice.  As with any abortion decision where this is any ambivalence or pressure, they are at high risk for symptoms of post abortion trauma such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance etc.

The husband may see the abortion as protecting his wife from the pain of giving birth to a child who would have died, or would die shortly after birth or would have been born with a physical and mental handicap that sadly is seen as a burden to his wife and family.  In their efforts to establish control and take action, men are tempted to see abortion as the best solution.

After the abortion there can be considerable anger at God, whom couples often blame for putting them in this situation.   One couple expresses this struggle:

If we were given a normal child, we would not be suffering like this.  We are different from others who have aborted because we wanted this child.  God put us in this impossible situation, forcing us to make these painful decisions.  We are left without our child, and with powerful feelings of confusion, resentment anger and grief. 

Without a healing process for this complicated grief, this pain will surely impact marital intimacy, communication and trust and the relationship of parents with their living children.

Empty Arms and Wounded Hearts

It is only when these mothers and fathers come to a clearer and honest understanding of their abortion loss that they can begin to repent, grieve and heal.

An important part of this process is facing their role in that decision to abort, and the understandable fear and weakness that tempted them to embrace this solution.  When the rationalization and seemingly wise counsel of doctors and others fades away after the abortion, a mother and father are faced with empty arms and a wounded heart.  They must face the painful realization that this decision also aborted their opportunity to hold this child and offer that child love and affection for however long the baby lived.  In the case of Down’s Syndrome and other conditions, they were given a child with special challenges to love and care for, and in their rejection of that child, something in them has also died both individually and as a couple.

The healing process can never be forced.  We must be patient, especially in the early stages of healing as the wound is very raw. There can initially be great defensiveness.  It’s important to acknowledge their pain and loss, the confusing nature of the decisions and challenges that their fertility treatment/testing and medical care presented to them.

However, at some point in the process, when they are ready and with God’s grace and much prayer, they must face the truth that their abortion decision led them to make a choice that violated their parental hearts, created to love any children they conceived regardless of the challenges.  They will need to face that the abortion was a crisis of faith, one that we all face in different times in our life where we fail to trust God, and we make decisions that violate His will for us.  We must always speak to them in love, as fellow sinners who have aborted God’s will in our lives.

Lord, Please Help Me Not to Be So Perfect

Susan attended a Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend Retreat after aborting a child diagnosed with a condition that would lead to her daughter’s death shortly after birth.   She expressed a desire to leave the retreat Saturday morning.  Susan shared:

I don’t fit in with these other women and men who freely chose abortion for “selfish” reasons.  I had no choice.  The choice I made was in the best interests of my child.

One of the priests serving on our retreat team spoke with her after breakfast on Saturday encouraging her to stay though the afternoon and then if she still felt the same way, she could leave.  Because of her trust in this priest, and the help of the Holy Spirit she decided to stay.

A major breakthrough occurred for Susan following the Living Scripture Exercise of the Woman Healed of a Hemorrhage offered on Saturday afternoon.  In this exercise, the participants have an opportunity to touch a cloth representing the cloak of Christ.   Susan approached the cloak that flowed from the base of a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament, and prayed, “Lord, please help me not to be so perfect, to want everything in my life to be perfect, even my child.”  She broke down in tears and continued on the weekend receiving an incredible amount of healing and peace.

At the memorial service Susan read a letter to her child apologizing for not having the courage to go through with the child’s birth and imminent death:

Our Dearest Marie,

How are you, sweetie?  How are you doing in Heaven?  Mommy and daddy really miss you.  Your brother, Vincent, asks about you all the time….Your sister, Veronica, would have loved to have a little sister like you because you and she would have been best friends…You are our little angel, our most beautiful child.

But we are both so sorry that we denied you that chance to be with our family.  You would have loved to be with us, to hear our voices, to have us touch you, hold you, and kiss you.  Even though it may only have been a short time:  months, days, or maybe just hours, deep Down I know that it would have been worth it.  We would have learned so much from you:  how to love, how to serve, how to be humble, and how to trust in our God completely! 

Dearest Marie…  Your daddy and I both need your prayers.  I know that you are in good hands, as Jesus has shown me that Mother Mary is taking care of you.  We will not worry about you, but you are forever in our hearts.  We love you so much, with all our hearts and all our souls.  We promise that we will pray to you always, tell you about all that is going on in our family.   We thank God that He has blessed us with you, that He has given us a chance to come to this retreat so that both your daddy and I would feel closer to you.  We look forward to the day that we will meet in Heaven, in the eternal home of God our Father, where we can finally hold you close and give you hugs and kisses.

Thank you for forgiving us.  You are forever our child and we are so blessed to be your parents.

Love always,

Mommy and daddy

It may take longer to make this transition but in programs like Rachel’s Vineyard, or with the compassionate counsel of a minister or counselor individuals will experience some release of their pain and anguish.  They may still struggle to fully embrace repentance and healing.   The couple may remain attached to the idea that “we did what was in the best interests of our child” and may still wrestle with feelings of anger and resentment.  Offer ongoing support if appropriate and share any after care services that might assist them.  Offer prayers and encouragement and share with them that the grace of their healing experience has planted seeds that in time will bear a greater fruit.

For those offering the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats, it is important when couples register for the weekend sharing this type of loss, that you go over the entire weekend, making them fully aware of the process.  With that understanding, we can entrust them to the God of mercy and pray for the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to his forgiveness and healing, according to His perfect will and time.

Perinatal Hospice

Those ministering to engaged or married couples are in an excellent position to offer alternatives to abortion when a couple receives the painful news there is a problem with their pregnancy.  The type of counseling couples receive is critical to the decision to abort or give birth to a disabled child.

Fortunately there is a growing movement to provide Perinatal Hospice that supports couples who journey through the difficult birth, death and funeral of their child.  [Be sure to visit Perinatal Hospice and the excellent FAQ section of their website.] With encouragement and education they help provide the vital healing experience of embracing their child with love for as long as the baby lives. Though deeply painful, it gives parents and families the opportunity to celebrate the child’s life and to grieve this loss in a healthy way.

The couple and their family experience the natural process of grief.  With the support team of doctors, nurses, chaplains and social workers they can find healing and meaning in their suffering and loss.  Abortion robs parents of this opportunity.  While we can struggle to understand the meaning of suffering and death, especially of an infant, God’s grace and blessing abounds when life is embraced, loved and released with dignity, instead of aborted.

For those with a Downs syndrome diagnosis we must provide opportunities for parents to learn of the blessings as well as the real challenges that these children will present, to counter the negative picture presented by proponents of abortion.  It may be beneficial to have some contacts of parents who have a Downs Syndrome child who would be willing to speak to those faced with a Down Syndrome diagnosis.  Once parents get over the initial shock and fear of the unknown, their lives are filled with peace and as one mother told us, “I live with pure joy every day.  I’m learning about unconditional love from my son.”


Prenatal Partners for Life  If you have come to this site because you or someone you know has received an adverse or negative prenatal diagnosis, you have come to the right place. We are parents who have gone through similar circumstances and we want to offer support. We are here to help you. You are not alone!

National Association for Down Syndrome

National Down Syndrome Congress

The DeVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research

The Long Loneliness: Understanding Dorothy Day’s Mission in Light of her Abortion Loss

Monday, March 30th, 2015


Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day (1897-1980), Servant of God, co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper and established houses of hospitality and farming communes where she lived with and served the poor and destitute.  Prior to this time, Dorothy Day sadly experienced a pregnancy that ended with an abortion, which she lamented.

In a letter to a woman written on February 6, 1973, she wrote:

 “Twice I tried to take my own life, and the dear Lord pulled me through that darkness — I was rescued from that darkness. My sickness was physical too, since I had had an abortion with bad after-effects, and in a way my sickness of mind was a penance I had to endure…”  Read More:

Emotional Quicksand: The Hidden Pain of Men After Abortion

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015


Emotional Quicksand

Michael Addis, Ph.D., writing in  Atlantic magazine reveals a life threatening problem for men. You are probably thinking; prostate cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes?

Dr. Addis writes of a different kind of disease that can strike men. This sickness lies deep in the recesses of the male psyche that features a self inflicted shame-based silence. This silence leaves men isolated and vulnerable to choosing death rather than revealing their secret areas of pain to a family member, colleague or friend.

Cut out the BS!

Dr Addis was working in an inpatient psychiatric unit when he interviewed Patrick, a handsome successful looking man with no previous mental health history. He was surprised to read in his chart that Patrick’s son recently discovered his father sitting on a couch in his family room with a loaded gun to his head. Initially the interview skated along on a superficial level revealing little of what led Patrick to such an obvious act of despair.

Fortunately Dr Addis offered some effective tough love rather than just go through the motions of the interview…“Can we be straight with each other and cut out the BS?” Patrick revealed a series of business failures that led to an increasing disparity between his wealthy lifestyle and the reality of his financial situation which over time made it impossible to pay the mortgage for his big fancy house.

Patrick’s depression increased as he kept his family and friends under the illusion that he and his business were just fine…all the time his economic and emotional prospects were in free-fall.

Dr Addis reveals:

He couldn’t face working, but he also couldn’t face telling people how bad things had gotten. Instead, he got up each morning, dressed as if he was going to work, forced a smile for his family, and either drove around the city or sat at a local coffee shop all day reading the newspaper. Eventually the depression became so overwhelming that he saw no other way out.  (The, Invisible Men, page 3)

A Sniveling Little Boy

Why didn’t he share his financial difficulties and pain with friends or family?

I should have been able to handle it…I fell apart and turned into a sniveling little boy… ‘Oh Mommy, please help me?’ I couldn’t let people see me like that. (Invisible Men pg 4)

A Newsweek feature on male depression had this to add:

…even when they realize they have a problem, men often view asking for help as an admission of weakness – a betrayal of their male identities…. Newsweek-Feb 26 2007 Issue: Men and Depression

Clearly many men have a lot of their self esteem and identity wrapped around their professional/business life.  Men learn from the schoolyard to the boardroom that revealing vulnerability and an inability to handle emotional or physical pain is a big mistake that will lead to ridicule and shame.

Being strong and working hard to provide for one’s family is an important and honorable part of male identity. However sometimes men need to share the burden of raising their families with spouses,  and other painful life issues with other men from church or counseling groups, and supportive family and friends.  The solitary male super-hero is an entertaining and sometimes inspiring image in and adventure movie .  But in the real world it can be an intense and lonely struggle for men negotiating the personal and business challenges of modern life.

Men and Abortion-Emotional Quicksand

But financial challenges are not the only emotional quicksand that can entrap men. I have found in my experience as a clinical social worker that a man’s experience of abortion can also leave him emotionally reeling without the support and information he needs to negotiate this life changing experience.

Given the current abortion statistics (55 million since 1973) millions of men have been involved in some way in an abortion decision and procedure. Regardless of one’s moral and political position on abortion, the reality is that many men experience their participation in abortion as a confusing and highly stressful experience. For those men who have ambivalence and especially those that do not support the abortion and are powerless to stop it, the aftermath can be especially devastating.

Jason Baier writes in Redeeming a Father’s Heart of his experience after being powerless to stop his partner’s abortion:

I…would often break down and cry from depression…I was angry all the time…stricken with panic attacks…No one seemed to understand or know how to deal with my loss. ( Redeeming a Father’s Heart , Pg 33)

Jason, like Patrick isolated and despairing, decided to take a bottle of prescribed sleeping pills and “never wake up.” Fortunately he experienced a moment of spiritual grace that held back his hand and released a deep seismic explosion of fatherly grief from the loss of his child.   Strengthened by this outpouring of grief, he read Dr. Catherine Coyle’s Men and Abortion: A Path to Healing  and was now on the road to real healing and recovery.

Breaking the Deadly Silence

Dr Addis broke through the deadly superficiality and the isolating silence that nearly killed his patient Patrick. Men who have suffered the loss of a child by participating in an abortion need to a safe place of trust and acceptance but also one of truth where they can freely share their experience of abortion and find healing.

As Patrick learned, men need the support and connection with others in sharing their struggles and pain. Men suffering after abortion and other areas of grief and loss learn that in sharing their weakness and getting help when suffering, they become stronger and better men and fathers.  This is male strength rooted in humility and community. Men learn the life saving message that we don’t have to handle it all on our own.


In closing,  a reflection on the Apostle Peter by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that can be a special source of inspiration and consolation for men suffering after abortion loss:

The school of faith is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter, who promised absolute fidelity, knew the bitterness and humiliation of denial:  the arrogant man learns the costly lesson of humility. Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness.

Once his attitude changes and he understands the truth…he weeps in…liberating repentance….he is finally ready for his mission.


The Pro Life Front Lines: The Joy and Grief of an Ultra Sound Tech

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015


Mike Stack

Mike Stack, who served for many years as an ultra sound technician and Regional Coordinator with the Silent No More Awareness Campaign went home to the Lord on August 14 2014.

Here is Mike’s important reflection for our November focus in the Shockwaves Initiative.  Mike shares of the joy and deep grief as an ultra sound tech with a pregnancy resource center.  He reveals the need for awareness and support for those on the front lines of the abortion battle and the blessing of emotional and spiritual healing of the complicated grief that can be part of the experience:

A little piece of my heart

By Mike Stack

A little piece of my heart is wounded each time we are unable to help a woman turn from her plan to abort the tiny human life within her womb. As an Ultrasound Technician for the past 35 years, I have had the honor of witnessing the work of the Lord, in the womb. “I knit you together in your Mother’s womb…” Psalm 139:13.

I have seen and documented the development of tiny humans as they progress through different stages of their lives. “You were made in My image” Genesis 1:27 “You are fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalms 139:14. “Even the very hairs on your head are numbered” Matthew 10:29-31. I have watched the children jump and stretch, stick their tongues out, yawn, suck their thumb, show me if they’re a boy or girl, listen their heart beat, measure their bones and waist size.

I have been privileged to watch their growth through the various stages of human development and share that view with their parents and our Creator. I can’t help but be attached to them, because I know them; I have seen and heard them. I have watched them play.

Many Post Abortion women have commented that a piece of their heart died with their aborted child, just like any parent that looses a child. It doesn’t matter what stage of development. What matters is that those that have lost a child have a deep grief.  Grief that is made worse when it is a secret, when there is no support for your grieving, no memorial, no family gathering. It’s as if the child never existed.

The survivors of the abortion try to go on with their lives as if this child did not exist. For many women and men this causes a festering wound that must be kept secret, the pain denied, until they are desperate enough to seek healing.

I found myself in a similar, secret (hidden) grieving place and didn’t know where to turn for help.

I am certainly moved by both the joy and the sorrow of the outcome following the Ultrasound at the Crisis Pregnancy where I volunteer. The Joy part is great. When we save a little one I’m reminded of the parable of the good Shepherd, how our Father values each and every one of us (especially the lost ones). When we lose one of these little ones it is hard to express the depth of my grief. These children touch my heart as I view them on the Ultrasound screen. A little piece of my heart dies each time we are unable to help the mother see her way to giving birth.

I found the place to turn to when I attended a Post-abortion recovery weekend retreat (Rachael’s Vineyard). To my surprise the grief I had been carrying came forth in uncontrolled, sobbing tears. I was grieving the loss of so many children I had come to know. I knew the torment that they went through and I knew of the pain that their parents were dealing with. With the other participants I went through the grieving and recovery process. Representing the children who I grieve, I picked names for them and memorialized their brief life on earth. I received a certificate of Life for Tanisha, Jawan, Bridget, Lawanda, Keesha, Brendan, Anton, Thomas, Joseph and Andrew. I entrust these children to the creator of life, recognizing the dignity and gift of each and every one of them.

I join the voices of those that are Silent No More.


Mike Stack MEV


Who’s Missing from the Family Portrait? The Effect of Parental Abortion on Living Children and their Families

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015


Family Healing

I just found out my mother had an abortion.  I suspected it for a long time.  I can remember as a child my father and mother whispering about her having become pregnant and what should they do.  I was surprised when I did not get a little brother of sister but I was too afraid to ask what happened.   (Abortion Survivors, Philip Ney, MD, Marie A. Peeters-Ney, MD)

Countless men and women at some point in their lives learn that their mother or father had a past abortion.  It can be a jarring realization; “I have a brother or sister that died in an abortion procedure.” Others may have had an intuitive sense that someone is missing in the family and felt a longing for a lost sibling.

April of the Shockwaves Initiative offers an opportunity to allow their experience and stories to open our minds and hearts to this rarely considered impact of abortion on our families and society.

Abortion Survivors

Dr. Philip Ney is a Canadian Psychiatrist.  From his clinical work and research Dr Ney discovered there were some key themes in the lives of his patients with sibling loss from abortion, common with other death, disaster or trauma survivors.  In his booklet Abortion Survivors Dr Ney and his wife Marie present the case of an individual presenting with symptoms of depression, deep insecurity and at times suicidal thoughts.

In the course of their therapy the patient shares that she has an aborted sibling.  Dr Ney introduces the concept of survivor syndrome and the patient begins to make some connections:

Patient: …I realize they could have aborted me.  I was conceived shortly after my parents married, but I know they wanted me.

Doctor:  I wonder how you feel knowing that you are alive because you are wanted, while your brother or sister is dead because he or she was not wanted.

Patient: …I put an awful lot of effort into being popular.  I guess it is because I need to be wanted.  I am always looking over my shoulder to see how people react to what I do….

Doctor:  You mention how insecure you feel…this is a common feeling with people who have survived…They feel they now have to live a special kind of life to deserve their parents’ choice to keep them alive.

Patient: …I feel this enormous burden that I have to be best in everything that my parents could expect of a child as if I had to compensate for something…eventually I gave up and became bitterly rebellious….

Survivors also may struggle with a deep seated guilt that they were the one that was supposed to die:

PatientI feel I was supposed to die not by brother or sister, and now some event will suddenly kill me…I wanted to get high to escape reality.

This is not to say that all children or adolescents who struggle with these issues of depression, insecurity, drug abuse etc. have sibling survivor syndrome.  However it may be an important issue for family, ministers and counselors to consider as it may be a key contributing factor in an individual’s overall symptoms and behavior issues.

Dr Ney goes on to share that abortion survivors can have a type of anxious attachment to their parents.  Keep in mind this can also be due to the problems some parents can experience in bonding with their living children.   Complicated grief and guilt from an abortion loss can also cause parents to be anxious and over protective.

Can a child that has no conscious awareness of a parent’s abortion still experience symptoms of survivor syndrome?

In this excerpt from Janet Morana’s book Recall Abortion we discover:

“….Dr. Philip Ney…tells a story of a woman who came to him for counseling for her six-year-old child who was having nightmares, wetting the bed, and suffering from separation anxiety. Dr. Ney, in his interview with the mother, asked her about any pregnancy losses. She told him about two abortions that she had prior to giving birth to this child. Then in a separate interview with the child, Dr. Ney asked the child to draw a picture of her family. She was an only child, and yet she drew a picture with her mom, dad, brother, sister, and herself. She had a sense of the missing siblings.”

Be Not Afraid

It can be overwhelming when we begin to realize the deeper impact that abortion may have on our living children and families.

Keep in mind each person and family is unique. Any parent with a number of kids can confirm the sometimes striking differences among siblings in their personalities and temperament.

Dr Vincent Rue is the Director of the Institute for Pregnancy Loss in Jacksonville, Florida.  Dr Rue says that trauma does not impact all individuals in the same way.  He lists a number of variables that account for this:

  1. The resiliency of the individual; (2) exposure to prior trauma(s); (3) the nature, duration, intensity, chronicity and severity of trauma; (4) lack of support; (5) psychosocial functioning; (6) age; (7) coping abilities and expectancies; and (8) cultural, socio-moral context.

Some children are especially intuitive and sensitive and so may be more likely to suffer some of the symptoms of survivor syndrome, especially if there is other neglect, abuse or trauma in their history.  We can see how the patient in Dr Ney’s profile was more vulnerable to experience greater impact from learning of her parents’ abortion at such a young age.   It appears the patient was an only living child and was isolated.  He/she was understandably not able to articulate and communicate confusing feelings and fears and process these with her parents, another relative, friend or counselor.  A sensitive nature made the individual feel more vulnerable and project his/her fears on to situations and events that another child may not experience as threatening.  You can see in the exchange with Dr Ney how the patient begins to realize the deeper effect of this family secret on self-concept and the relationship with parents, authority figures and others.

Others family members may not be so intensely impacted either by knowledge of a parents past abortion and have their own less traumatic way of processing the experience.  They may not have an intuitive sense of a missing child in the family as other siblings may report.  Regardless of these differences, all family members would benefit at some point in learning the truth about their lost sibling and healing resources for individuals and families.   These programs can help family members grieve the lost child and embrace them with love as active members of the family.  This can include speaking to a trusted counselor or clergy/minister with sensitivity to this issue that can help the family begin to communicate, reconcile and heal together.

Just as each individual is unique, so too each family.  Attending to one’s personal healing is always a good idea and provides a firm foundation and the support network to take next steps in reaching out to other family members.  This will not always be possible as some family situations can be quite dysfunctional and even abusive.  This requires careful discernment and consultation with a professional counselor.

Visit the April section of our Shockwaves Website for testimonies by siblings and their parents as they share how they faced the truth honestly with love, forgiveness and healing.  You can also find additional articles, media content and testimonies on sibling survivor issues.

“My Dad Made Me Have the Abortion”: A Desperate Grandfather Opens the Door to Healing for His Family

Saturday, March 14th, 2015


Blind Man

[The Following is an excerpt from Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion.  Theresa Burke, Ph.D. with David Reardon.]

“I was hoping you could help my daughter. She needs counseling. Somebody objective. God certainly knows I’m not.” Mr. Davis’s voice trailed off as if in regretful thought.

“What’s the problem?” I asked, shifting the telephone receiver to my shoulder so I could jot down a few notes.

“Well,” he stammered, “my daughter, Gina, is dating this guy. He’s verbally and physically abusive. He is ruining her life.” Mr. Davis sounded desperate. In his voice I could detect anger and hurt but worst of all helplessness. “I can’t just sit back and watch my daughter ruin her life. This guy already has another kid he can’t support. I don’t know what she sees in him. My Gina, she’s a great girl.”

His tone changed to a hushed whisper. “I love her so much but I’m losing her.” He was silent for a moment, then his voice cracked, “Please, can you do something? Can you help her see what a creep he is? Gina won’t listen to me anymore.”

I informed Mr. Davis that I couldn’t break them up but I could help Gina examine her relationship and sort out her feelings about this man. Then I asked Mr. Davis if anything else had happened between Gina and her boyfriend.

The question itself was a threat. Mr. Davis hesitated. Finally he answered, “Well, there is something but it should really come from her. I think she should be the one to tell you. After all, it’s her life and I don’t want her to think I was talking behind her back.”

“Did your daughter have an abortion?” I asked in a matter of fact tone. The word was said. Abortion. There was silence, as is almost always the case. I had a telephone listing for Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats (For Post Abortion Healing), yet still people would often struggle to explain why they were calling.

I met his daughter that night. Gina was 19, with long blond hair and sad blue eyes. “My dad made me have it,” she explained. “He told me I could not live with them if I didn’t. He knew it might make me hate him but he was willing to take that risk. I’d get over it, he said. I was not raised to believe in abortion. In high school I even wrote a paper on it.” Her eyes welled with tears, shining like brilliant sapphires.

For three years Gina had never told anyone about the abortion; within a few moments, the memory surfaced like a tidal wave of grief. The surges of the experience came crashing against the fortress of my therapeutic composure as I attempted to steady her for the next gush of emotion.

Gina’s story came out in between distressing sobs and gasps for air. “I came home from college on a Friday to tell them about the pregnancy and what we were planning to do…. My dad hit the roof. He wanted to know what he ever did to deserve this. Dad took my boyfriend into the kitchen to have a man-to-man talk. They would not let me in. Dad tried to pressure him to convince me that abortion was the best thing.”

With much difficulty, she continued. “Two days later I was up on a table, my feet in stirrups…. I cried the whole way there…. My mom took me…. I kept telling her I did not want this…. Please no! Don’t make me do this; don’t make me do this…. I said it the whole way there…. No one listened. When a counselor asked me if I was sure, I shrugged my shoulders…. I could hardly speak. They did it…. They killed my baby.”

Overcome with heartache, Gina began to moan. Bent over holding her womb, she couldn’t believe she had actually had an abortion. After a long tearful pause, Gina continued, “Just as quickly as it had happened everyone seemed to forget about it. My parents never talked about it. They were furious when they found out that I was still seeing Joe. They never let up on their negative comments about him. Things were not so good between Joe and me either. We were always fighting. I was so depressed and did not know how to handle my feelings. I was too ashamed to talk about the abortion with my friends, and my parents made me promise not to tell anyone.”

As her story unraveled, I saw many signals of complicated mourning. Anger and hurt filled Gina’s heart. There was grief too, tremendous grief over a dead baby who would never be there to offer joy and hope. Anything related to babies made her cry: baby showers, diaper commercials, even children. Everything triggered relentless heartache. There was a wound in her soul that simply would not stop bleeding.

Though Gina’s family had been nominally Christian, religious faith did not hinder their desire for an abortion. Her parents had believed that by insisting on abortion they would save her from a life of poverty and tribulation with a man they did not believe could love or support their precious daughter. Joe already had a child whom he was not supporting. They feared for her future with such a man.

Now the future was here. Her self-esteem crumbled, depression was a constant companion, and her parents watched sadly as a negative transformation robbed them of the daughter they knew.

Gina needed permission to grieve. Her parents had deprived her of the genuine compassion and acceptance she needed from them. They had not accepted the pregnancy earlier; later they could not accept her grief. She felt utterly rejected by them.

Gina joined our support group and also came for individual therapy. Once in treatment for post-abortion trauma, she became able to express some of her feelings. She was enraged at her parents for not being able to accept her pregnancy. They just wanted to get rid of the problem. She also felt angry at Joe for not protecting her and the baby. Since it was her own parents who wanted the abortion, Joe put the blame back on Gina.

Gina had been in deep psychic pain and felt rejected. Caught between loyalties toward her parents, Joe, and her unborn child Gina was immobilized and unable to process her own feelings about the event. In a developmental sense she was stuck. She had not been given permission to grow up, have a baby, and become a mother. Her desire for independence and adulthood had been frustrated by her unsuccessful attempt to break the emotional reliance on her parents whom she loved and had always been so vital in her life. When she terminated the pregnancy, it was not only her pregnancy that was aborted; her embryonic womanhood had been aborted too.

The result of the abortion was that she had become emotionally immobilized and uncertain. The loss of her child was an unprecedented assault on her sense of identity. Because she could not carry out the role of a protective mother, she felt an extraordinary sense of failure, and a deep sense of being violated. In a state of severe depression, Gina was incapable of making decisions, powerless to assert herself, and unable to love.

Despite his abusive behavior, Gina clung to her boyfriend Joe. His mistreatment of her confirmed her low self-esteem and sense of powerlessness. Moreover, she knew her parents hated him. By forcing her parents to accept Joe, she was unconsciously lashing back punishing them by forcing her parents to accept him — echoing the way they had forced her to accept an unwanted abortion. This dynamic gave her a sense of control.  Gina was trapped in a vicious cycle by which she was punishing both herself and her father.

Perhaps most important of all, Joe signified her connection to their aborted baby. Gina feared that giving him up would destroy the only bond remaining to the child she still needed to grieve. If she gave up Joe she would have to give up the hope of recreating the baby for whom she still needed to grieve.

Gina was trapped in a vicious cycle by which she was punishing both herself and her father.

Once Gina was in treatment for post-abortion trauma, she was able to express these feelings. It was important for both her sake and her family, however, that her parents should also enter into the therapy process with her. She needed them to validate her loss and accept their responsibility for contributing to her emotional devastation. Without this recognition deterioration otherwise their relationship could never be fully healed.

In entering into this family counseling situation, I knew each parent would attempt to justify and defend their actions as they struggled with their daughter’s experience. This resistance or inability to confront and admit emotional or spiritual pain is called denial. In this phase of treatment, denial is a powerful temptation.

Gina’s mom came first. She listened to her daughter and expressed sorrow. I watched a pained expression on the woman’s face that persisted along with the inevitable but…

 I know you are hurting BUT we thought we were doing the best thing. I realize this is hard BUT you must get on with your life. You wanted the baby BUT how would you ever pay for it? BUT how would you finish school. BUT, BUT, BUT…

The list goes on and on like dirty laundry, never ending, never finished. Each exception robbed Gina of the gift of fully acknowledging her loss. Her parents could not accept the pregnancy; now they couldn’t accept her grief. She felt utterly rejected.

Father Knows Best?

 Gina’s father had no idea what she had sacrificed in order to please him. It was important for her to tell him, so Mr. Davis was invited for a session. The night before our meeting, he called me.

“My stomach has been upset all week since I heard about this meeting,” he said. “I want to do what is best for Gina.” Then his tone became more formal and forceful: “I just want you to know that this is NOT a moral issue to me. Gina had to have that abortion! I still think we made the right decision. If I had it to do again, I would choose the same thing. I know this is not what she wants to hear. Should I lie about it to make her feel better? Is that what I should do? Tell her I made a mistake? I cannot do that!”

With renewed determination, I explained, “Mr. Davis, I know you love your daughter very much. I know that she loves you or she never would have consented to have an abortion. The fact remains that your daughter lost something. What she lost was a child. Her baby; your grandchild. Gina thinks about it every day. She cries about it every night. The event is far from over for her. You need to hear how the abortion has affected her.”

Mr. Davis did not respond. With conviction, I continued, “When someone dies, the worst thing another can say is “it was for the best, it’s better this way.” This does nothing to comfort and console; it only makes the person angry because you are not appreciating their loss or grief. Worse for Gina is that you do not recognize the life that she is missing. Gina misses her baby, a child you have not been able to acknowledge.”

Eventually, Mr. Davis agreed that he would try to listen and that maybe he had something to learn. I really couldn’t hope for more than that.

“Men are not prone to emotional mushiness,” he reminded me. He honestly wished he could feel sorrow and compassion over the baby, but he could not. Nevertheless, he would listen if it would help his daughter.

 Listening and Taking Responsibility

 When Mr. Davis came in the next morning, he opened with a surprising statement. “I had no right to make that choice,” he said. After wrestling with various points in our conversation all night, he admitted that for the first time he realized that abortion was not Gina’s choice.

The session began and it was very intense. Gina expressed her anger, hurt and feelings of rejection. She also shared her grief about the aborted baby.

Mr. Davis began to face some things for the first time. He was finally able to consider the baby and to separate Joe from the pregnancy. Abortion was a way to scrape out any symptom of his daughter’s sexual activity and heroically free her from the consequences of her own actions. He began to realize that his daughter was a woman now, one he should not have tried to control. He needed to trust Gina to be capable of making her own decisions without the threat of abandonment.

As these interpretations became clear to Mr. Davis, denial could no longer sustain its powerful grip. Suddenly grief came upon Mr. Davis. He stared in disbelief, as if a light had abruptly cast shocking rays into a blackened room.

His voice broke with anguish. “Oh my baby, my sweet baby, my Gina,” he cried. “I am so sorry. I was so wrong.” He pressed his face against her cheek and the tears finally came. His tears mingled with Gina’s as they both wept. Gina put her arms around him. They embraced tightly as her father gently stroked her long hair. All the anger, the bitterness, the pent-up emotions, the grief, gave way. They sobbed in each other’s arms. He begged for her forgiveness. Between tears and tissues, he told Gina she would have been an incredible mother. In one beautiful moment, her motherhood had been validated and Gina wept with relief.

In a subsequent joint session with her parents, Gina expressed her anger, hurt and feelings of rejection and shared her grief about the aborted baby. Gina also took personal responsibility for having allowed the abortion to occur and wanted her parents to do the same. This time, her parents listened without defending or rationalizing what had happened.

Therapy helped Gina’s parents to understand the grave mistake that they had made in forcing Gina to choose between them and her baby. I encouraged them not to make her choose again between them and Joe. In bitterness and grief, Gina might permit another type of abortion: a termination of her role as their daughter.

By acknowledging Gina’s grief, and sharing it with her, Mr. and Mrs. Davis restored their relationship with their daughter. Gina’s loving and happy personality was eventually able to bloom once more. She could continue forward, was once again able to renew in her journey toward becoming a confident and capable adult. With the support of therapeutic intervention she found that she was able to identify her own needs — like the desire to break up with Joe, and to attain her own goals.

You can purchase Forbidden Grief here


Should I Tell My Parents About My Past Abortions?

Sunday, March 1st, 2015


Vineyard Home

In 2004, at the end of April I attended a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat for healing after abortion.  I had scheduled a visit with my parents for Mother’s Day weekend just two weeks later.  What was I thinking?  My mother knows me so well that I knew I couldn’t hide from her that something overwhelming had occurred in my life.  I was so raw from the retreat that I really didn’t want to tell my parents, but I knew that I couldn’t hide it from my mother.  So, what to do?

I had never told my parents about my three abortions.  Now it looked like I was going to have to break 36 years of silence.  I was afraid and nervous.  Would they judge me?  Would they criticize me for the choices I had made? Would they be angry?  Would they reject me?

I prayed hard for days.  I asked for advice from others who were walking this healing journey.  It was suggested that I make sure my intentions were honorable.  I had to ask myself for whose benefit was I breaking my silence – me or them?  After all of this, I decided to share my story with them.

On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 9, 2004, we sat down at the dining room table in my parent’s home.  I told them that I needed to tell them something hard.  Through my tears I managed to share my story with them.  I told them that they had four grandchildren in heaven – three aborted and one miscarried.  Both of them cried along with me.  My father said that he was so very sorry that I wasn’t able to trust them enough at the time of my crisis pregnancies to tell them and ask for their help.  My mother sobbed quietly and asked me what their names are.

When I could breathe again, I realized that they hadn’t judged me, they weren’t criticizing me, they weren’t angry.  They did not reject me.  They loved me even more.  And they welcomed their four missing grandchildren into our family.

My mother needlepointed a beautiful pillow with four roses on it – one for each of her grandbabies.  She gave me the pillow.  She told me that she talks to all four of them on a regular basis.  She asks them to pray for their family.

Since 2004 both of my parents have supported my involvement with the Rachel’s Vineyard ministry in Oregon.  They have prayed for every retreat that we have had here in Oregon.  They have contributed financially to our ministry.  They have told me that it is one way they can honor their grandchildren.  Their support has meant the world to me.

If they were a bit younger, I think my mother would have gone on a retreat with me.  But when I first started my healing journey she was a young 80.  Now at 91 and Dad at 93, they continue to love and support the work I do with Rachel’s Vineyard.  I am so blessed to have such loving parents and loving grandparents for all of my children.

As a member of the Oregon Rachel’s Vineyard retreat team I have had the privilege and joy of witnessing grandparents attend retreats.  Some have come with their daughter and some have come for their own healing at the loss of a grandchild.  All of these grandparents found a measure of healing and grace in their lives.  They were able to grieve the loss of their grandchildren, and were able to begin the process of forgiving their children for the abortion and themselves for not having supported the unplanned pregnancy.  It has brought me great joy to share the pain, heartache, healing and joy of these grandparents.  I always carry my parents in my heart during the retreat process, which brings me immense peace.  I share some of their stories with my own parents in the hopes that they will also find healing.

If you are a grandparent who has lost a grandchild to abortion, I urge you to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat to find the love, support and healing that will bless your life.  If your son or daughter has experienced abortion loss, please gently and lovingly share information about abortion healing programs and offer to participate in the retreat or attend the special services at the close of the retreat weekend with them.  Abortion recovery programs like Rachel’s Vineyard can help heal families and repair years of damage.

Susan Swander, Oregon