By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness
Twenty-five years of utter grief and guilt from two abortions before the age of 16 was more than Becky Biter could stand.
So relentless was her anguish that she planned to take her own life.
“I started searching for a tree to slam my truck into, because I couldn’t take it anymore,” she recalls.
The tears come fast as she recounts the lowest points of her life, with her husband, Shawn, sitting close at her side.
“Abortion changed my life forever. You cannot take death back. I cannot get my children back,” she cried, striking at the heart of the issue. “It brought me to my knees many, many times, and there just wasn’t relief. There was so much pain and weeping; terrible feelings that I couldn’t let go of.”
Becky endured a tough childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and a gambler who often left his family to fend for themselves, leaving her mother very bitter to the point where the atmosphere at home was even more unstable and full of anguish. By the time Becky turned 13, her life turned upside down when her family became homeless. Refuge was finally found in two local motel rooms because her parents separated once again; one parent living upstairs, the other downstairs, and Becky back and forth, being forced to decide on whom she loved more. No longer able to deal with her parents, she left one night and went to live with a childhood friend.
Searching to fill the void for love that she couldn’t find from her family, Becky entered a physical relationship with a boy when she entered high school.
When she became pregnant, the boy told her she had to have an abortion. He dropped her off at a clinic and drove away.
At the time, Becky didn’t know what abortion was, so when the lady at the clinic offered to pay for it with her own money, she accepted. She was 15 years old.
The abortion procedure proved unsuccessful, and Becky had to return to the clinic to endure it again. She was offered no counseling or follow-up. No one asked her about her situation. She was given birth control and sent home.
She continued her relationship with the same boyfriend, and became pregnant a second time, so she walked herself to the clinic once again, had another abortion, and went to her after-school job at the local hospital.
“I never gave it any thought,” she told The Catholic Witness. “To me, it was the obvious answer.”
Life went on. Becky continued with school and worked at the hospital in the evenings, first in the dietary department and then in the pathology department.
On the first day of Becky’s job in the pathology department, a courier showed up, delivering what are known as POCs (products of conception).
“My job was to sort through the fetal remains and pick out certain items necessary to confirm a successful abortion,” Becky recalled, the weight of the memory evident in her sobs. “I cried over those babies. I would hold their tiny hands between my thumb and index finger, and just caress them and weep. My eyes were opened to what I had done; my eyes were opened to the horrors of abortion.”
To escape her past, Becky entered the Air Force after high school. “I just needed to get away. I buried everything in order to even function, and I kept my abortions a secret for 25 years,” she said.
A Safe Place for Healing
Becky and Shawn met during the Gulf War, and they married on Sept. 14, 1991. Yet, even as a wife and mother in a caring and committed family, and a convert to the Church, Becky found herself in the grips of despair, desperate for a lifeline.
“I was begging God to forgive me, but I couldn’t even forgive myself,’ she said.
She found that long-desired mercy and healing during a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend.
The worldwide ministry offers healing for people who have suffered because of abortion – including mothers, fathers and family members of aborted children, as well as people who have been involved in the industry.
The program gives retreat participants an opportunity to examine their experience, identify its impact on their lives, and acknowledge unresolved emotions.
Rachel’s Vineyard retreats are Scripture-based, strictly confidential and non-judgmental.
“The best way I can describe a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is that it’s a safe place,” Becky said. “No one judges you. There is only love, and you get a true understanding of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.”
She admits that she initially fought the idea of attending a retreat when she first learned of the program, for fear of shame and opening up old wounds.
While working at the Priests’ Retirement Residence in Harrisburg, cooking breakfast and doing laundry for the priests there, she was talking with Father Clarence Olszewski about his plans for the weekend. He said he was preparing to minister at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.
Becky hadn’t known about the program, so she looked it up online, but wasn’t convinced right away to attend. Soon, it surfaced again, this time when she found a Rachel’s Vineyard information card in the ladies’ room at a hospital.
“I realized it could be what I needed, but I didn’t call the number because I was ashamed and I didn’t want Father Olszewski to be there and see me,” she said.
She continued to suppress her emotions, and the Biters struggled in their marriage. Although Shawn was aware of Becky’s abortions, neither recognized that those experiences were the cause of the stress in their relationship.
“We were active in the Church. We taught CCD for 17 years. Becky was baptized into the Church at the time when her infant son was baptized. We sat up front in church, raised our children in the faith,” Shawn said. “We were doing everything right, so why would our lives be such a mess?”
Becky was jealous of Shawn’s friendships, mistrusted him, battled depression, and considered suicide.
“I was thinking, ‘I killed my children. My husband hates me. My kids don’t love me.’ Thoughts like that are poisonous,” Becky said.
A visit with her parish’s pro-life group to pray at the Hillcrest clinic in Harrisburg began to unravel all the bottled up emotions.
“Everything came back to me there outside of Hillcrest,” she said. “The wounds opened up, and I started crying right there.”
“Then at my lowest point, I dropped to my knees and begged Jesus to drown me in the sea of His mercy, and He embraced my soul and pulled me from the pit.”
She confided in a friend, who offered a sympathetic ear and suggested that Becky attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Before long, she was on the phone with Joy Crimmins, the local Rachel’s Vineyard coordinator in the Diocese of Harrisburg.
On March 28, 2014, Becky and Shawn began their weekend retreat experience together.
“One thing that men need to know is that they need healing, too,” Shawn remarked. “I had no involvement in her abortions; I didn’t even know her then. But right before the retreat, Becky asked me to spiritually adopt those children. And now, because she is my wife and because I’ve adopted the children, I’m invested too. Rachel’s Vineyard is not just for women who have had an abortion. It’s for anyone affected by abortion – husbands, boyfriends, family members.”
“When you arrive for the weekend, everyone is nervous, scared; blank faces with looks of despair. But as you get further along on the weekend, you find that the people there are probably the only people you’ve trusted, even though they’re complete strangers. And then you become very close friends,” he said. “By the end of the weekend, you don’t want it to end; you don’t want to leave the safety of it. It’s a sanctuary of love and protection.”
The Biters, members of Our Lady of the Visitation Parish in Shippensburg, are now team members for Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, helping other women and men to work through their grief and guilt and find healing. They’ve also found genuine love and a renewed marriage.
“The Holy Spirit is at work at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat,” Becky said.
“I had never felt true joy before in my life,” she remarked. “Yes, when my children were born, I was happy. But I never experienced true joy knowing that God loved me. I couldn’t fully laugh, didn’t want to experience happiness because I hated myself. I built a wall and didn’t want to share good times. But after the retreat, it’s amazing the burden that is lifted.”
Love Conquers Abortion
One in three women will be a victim of abortion by the age of 45 – a staggering statistic that crosses all cultural, economic and religious backgrounds.
You can’t tell who they are just by looking at them. But they’re in our lives – in our families, our workplaces and our churches.
This is why Becky willingly shares her story, and why she offers her time and efforts to bring awareness of Rachel’s Vineyard to women and men leaving the Hillcrest clinic in Harrisburg.
“I don’t want them to have an abortion, and, if they do, I don’t want them to have to carry the burden for 25 years like I did,” Becky said. “We want them to know that God loves them very much and that a healing retreat is available to them, even if they feel that they don’t need it.”
The “prayer warriors” and “alley counselors” at Hillcrest and at Planned Parenthood in York find sanctuary in the “Undefeated Courage” houses near the clinics. The pro-life contingencies who give prayerful witness there made efforts to lease the houses, where silent prayer, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Mass are routine. The houses also offer a safe haven for women and men seeking counsel or resources when they reconsider their decision to abort.
“Some people are receptive to our presence, some lash out at us, some completely ignore us,” Becky said. “We know we’re meeting them at a very difficult time in their lives. Women don’t just wake up one day and want to kill their children…what we know is that abortion is a symptom of other trauma, and when they show up at an abortion clinic, they’re already broken and suffering. We are ‘alley triage,’ and our goal is to connect them to the resources they need in order to choose life. Our intent is to win a woman’s heart and the baby will come along with her. She is our focus; she is the one in crisis because she is the one who is rejecting the precious gift that God is trying to give her. Women need to know that their child has a destiny and a purpose just like she does. We empower her and lift her up: ‘You are beautiful, you are special, you are loved!’ Seeing the ultrasound image and hearing the heartbeat of her child is essential and heart-changing.
“I know that not everyone is going to be receptive to us, but I want to be a lifeline for those who need it,” Becky continued. “I know that if someone would have intervened or tried to help me when I entered the clinic, I would have broken down and accepted their help. But there was no one there for me.”
The Biters stressed the importance of being acutely aware of the words they use in counseling near clinics, serving at the retreats and talking about abortion.
“We all need to be aware that in speaking against abortion or talking about healing and forgiveness, we need to refrain from judgment, name-calling or harsh words,” Shawn said. “Look around. It’s likely that someone near you has experienced an abortion or knows someone who has – a mother, a daughter, a sister or a friend. Harmful words can do even more damage to them.”
“The prayer warriors at Undefeated Courage are the hands and feet of Christ who reach out in love to those who seek abortion. This is the only way we will change hearts and foster healing,” Becky said. “I’ve walked down that road, I’m still on the journey, and that’s why I want to help others.”
“I want to be for women today the person I wish was present for me when I entered the abortion clinic.
“For Mary Grace and Joseph Michael, my precious babies in heaven, I do this so that others may live. Love conquers abortion,” she said.
(For information on Rachel’s Vineyard, contact Joy Crimmins, director and facilitator for Central Pennsylvania and Maryland, at 717-788-4959 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries are confidential. You can also find additional information online at http://www.hbgdiocese.org/respectlife/respect-life-rachels-vineyard/ or www.rachelsvineyard.org.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness