Beyond Abortion's Silence

Woman tells how Rachel’s Vineyard helped her find healing

Mark Hunter

Publication Date: February 13, 2012

DENHAM SPRINGS — Elaine Matherne is “Silent No More” about her abortion.

The 52-year-old mother of three grown daughters and grandmother of two young boys is sharing her deeply personal story of pain, regret, forgiveness and healing, because, she said, it is important for women who’ve had an abortion to know that emotional and spiritual healing are possible.

“It took me at least 20 years to face what I had done,” Matherne said. “Now I am a new, washed-clean woman.”

Silent No More is a national awareness campaign by Priests for Life to give a forum to those whose lives have been devastated by abortion. Its signs were carried by many demonstrators during January’s “pro-life” marches in Baton Rouge and Washington D.C.

“The more you keep silent, the more you keep it hidden, the more depressed and isolated you become from the healing that has to happen,” Matherene said.

She marched in the Washington, D.C., event along with 11 busloads of area Catholic young people and volunteered with Silent No More to share her story.

Silent No More’s Internet site includes testimonials from people such as Matherne as well as links for getting involved and finding ministries to bring healing to those who regret their involvement with abortion.

Enter a Baton Rouge area ZIP code, and the site pulls up the Louisiana schedule of retreats offered by Rachel’s Vineyard, a Pennsylvania ministry Matherne credits with playing a key role in her healing journey.

Kevin Burke, a licensed social worker founded the ministry with his wife, Theresa Burke, Ph.D., in 1997, and named it for Rachel, the wife of the Old Testament patriarch Jacob.

In Jeremiah 31:15-17, Rachel “mourns for her children; she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more,” a passage the New Testament Book of Matthew identifies as a prophecy fulfilled in the story of Herod killing the babies of Bethlehem in an attempt to eliminate the Christ child.

Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreats, held hundreds of times a year and at locations around the world, are, according to a brochure, “an opportunity to surface and release repressed feelings of anger, shame, guilt and grief.”

“Most people have a deep sense of suffering guilt and shame, but there is usually no one to talk about it with; they suffer in silence,” Kevin Burke said. “The grief work at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is important in helping them resolve many of the emotional, spiritual and even physical symptoms people have.”

Matherne was silent for years about her struggles before reaching a place where she could tell her story of abortion. She grew up Catholic, and as the daughter of a Navy man, her family moved often. After graduating from high school in 1978, she drifted from her faith and while attending business school began to party, she said.

“I was searching for love, but I felt like I wore an invisible sign that said ‘sexually abuse me,’ ” Matherne said.

At the age of 20 she got pregnant. “When I told the father, he told me, ‘You have to get rid of it,’” Matherne said, her eyes welling up with tears. “He used the word ‘it,’ ” to describe the baby.

He took her to a Baton Rouge abortion clinic, where she underwent a surgical abortion at about the second month, but she can’t remember other details or even the exact day.

“I couldn’t cry” Matherne said. “I blocked it all out.”

After breaking up with the boyfriend, she said, “I cried out to God, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore.’ ”

She prayed to God to bring her a Catholic man who would love her unconditionally and four months later she met her husband, Gerry Matherne. They’ll celebrate their 30th anniversary in May. “He was my gift from the Lord.”

Oldest daughter Jennifer was born in 1983, Christie in 1985, and Andrea in 1991, but it still took seven years for her to tell her husband about the abortion, she said. “He was so compassionate he couldn’t stop hugging me, but I couldn’t accept his forgiveness and God’s forgiveness.”

Eventually, she confessed her abortion to a priest, but never told anyone else until she attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat in 2003 as part of her job as Respect Life program coordinator at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Denham Springs.

While at the retreat, Matherne took part in a group therapy session where a counselor had participants close their eyes and imagine walking through a dark forest toward the light of a meadow filled with children picking flowers.

“Jesus hands you this child and tells you, ‘This is your child,’ and you embrace this child and the child says, ‘Mommy, I forgive you,’ ” Matherne said, daubing tears from her eyes as she described the experience. “He (the baby) hands you flowers he’s picked for you, and then you open your eyes and they (counselors) had placed flowers in your lap.”

The women give their baby a name and write their baby a letter. Then a baptism and a memorial Mass is held for the baby.

Kevin Burke described how “reconciliation with God is essential.

“Many feel they have violated something fundamental in participating in the death of that child,” he said. “If those wounds fester, often deeply hidden for years at a time, it affects their relationships like their marriage and other family members.”

Matherne describes her healing process as a series of small steps.

“I focused on the Blessed Mother, her conceiving a son and not being married; there was a connection there,” she said. “It was like she helped me to grieve for my son.”

Matherne traveled to Alabama in 2004 with a local priest who presided over a private Mass just for her and her son with a few family members as witnesses.

She named her lost baby, Stephen Gerard, after the biblical martyr Stephen, who asked God to forgive his killers as they stoned him to death.

“There is no evidence from the abortion that I had a son, but a mother knows,” she said.

“I was able to give Stephen back to God,” she said. “I allowed the healing of God to enter my heart.”

She recommends that any women struggling to recover from an abortion find a healing ministry such as Rachel’s Vineyard and tell at least one person they can trust their abortion story. Matherne welcomes contact from such women and can be reached by email at

For information on Project Rachel, a counseling program offered by the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, call The Respect for Life program at (225) 267-4673.

“Sharing her own story is the beginning of a journey, she said, “a journey of giving away what I have received to those who need love, mercy, forgiveness and redemption of their souls from the sin of abortion.

“The message I want for women to know is that there is hope,” Matherne said. “Life can be joyful. Life can be complete in knowing that you will see this child in Heaven.”



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