According to recent statistics, when a priest looks out on his congregation, he can safely assume that one in six women and men in his congregation will participate in an abortion in their reproductive lifetime. This may occur prior to meeting their current spouse, during the dating/engagement period, or after they are married.
Those suffering after abortion will struggle to stuff their painful feelings and put the event behind them. This complicated and buried grief finds self-destructive outlets in private addictions and compulsions, eating disorders, the abuse of drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, anxiety, depression, and the development of workaholic lifestyles to provide a shield against feeling pain or to create a private fortress against future intimacy.
These symptoms of post-abortion loss do not occur in isolation and can significantly impact marriage and family life. Abortion creates a relational and spiritual wound. A healthy marital relationship is marked by a deep bonding between husband and wife with a foundational trust that leads to vibrant and satisfying emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy. Abortion is a traumatic death experience that is closely associated to relational/sexual intimacy, creating a profound fracture of trust that strikes at the heart of a relationship. Because of the nature of this wound, secrets and extra marital affairs are not uncommon for persons with abortion in their history.
Post abortive women frequently settle for relationships that do not meet their needs for love and nurturance, and in varying degrees are abusive and violent. Women report staying in abusive relationships as a form of self-punishment. They feel on some level, “this is what I deserve for what I did to my baby.”
Even when one is not the parent of the aborted child, they are often deeply affected by the post-abortion issues of their spouse. Sadly, they may not understand that their marital problems are rooted in a previous abortion loss as they struggle with intimacy, trust, communication, sexuality and parenting issues. A post abortive individual can struggle to feel worthy of the love of another person, to fully trust and accept this gift. Without a healing process, couples can experience serious dysfunction, and even divorce. For couples that have an abortion during their dating and engagement period, or early marriage, the abortion is like a radioactive seed that is planted deep in the heart of their relationship. In time, it yields its toxic fruit.
We know that dysfunctional marriages can lead children to seek love and attention outside the home. They may seek this attention and consolation in ways that are self-destructive. Tragically, these children tend to repeat some of the same themes as their parents as they struggle with rejection, alcohol and drug abuse, unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Healing abortion loss in a marriage can be an important part of breaking those unhealthy patterns and building a solid foundation of healing in Christ.
Children are blessed when their parents receive healing. With a reduction or elimination of post abortive symptoms and toxic communication patterns, parents are no longer sinking in the mire of abortion trauma and can begin the process of rebuilding their marriage and family life. Such parents will be more emotionally present to their children. The children witness a healthier, happier mother and father, leading to a greater sense of security and peace in the home.
Marriage Preparation and Abortion
Given the number of couples impacted by abortion, it makes good sense to find ways to reach out with the good news of healing in marriage preparation programs. Encourage those involved with marriage preparation in your diocese to consider the possibility of including post-abortion healing information and resources in their information packets. This can be done with sensitivity and respect for confidentiality if this is made part of the overall program that all participants learn about.
Here is a report from a Retreat Facilitator from the Midwest on a couple that recently attended their Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat:
We had a couple attend the retreat that truly touched everyone who attended. The girl had an abortion before she met her fiancée. On their engaged encounter weekend she felt a strong desire to share this with him. The priest gently invited them to consider attending our Rachel’s Vineyard retreat before they got married the following month, and they immediately signed up. It was so beautiful to see how supportive this young man was of her throughout the weekend. But it was also touching to hear some of his own story. They will have such a beautiful and holy marriage because it is rooted in the love and spirituality that they now share together.
Each situation will be unique, and this account does not suggest that all couples must follow this path. Because this couple was made aware of the healing resources available, they were able to find the healing they needed. We must always respect that God will move people in His own time, and we simply can share the good news of healing and entrust them to the Lord. Remember that in working with individuals that have experienced trauma, everything we offer is a gentle and hope-filled invitation. Nothing is ever forced. If we educate couples and make healing resources available to them, we can help them avoid some of the common relational problems that can ultimately end in divorce.
Here is a message you can share with couples in marriage preparation or place in their packets of information:
Be Not Afraid: An Invitation to Healing
Abortion is a sensitive and painful issue for those that have experienced the procedure. It is also a difficult subject for those who may have encouraged or assisted another person to have an abortion. The Church reaches out with love and understanding to you today.
You may be feeling anxious right now just to hear or read about this topic. This is understandable. Try and relax and open your heart to this message, because it is one of hope and healing offered with compassion and concern.
Most individuals struggle with two opposing reactions to their abortion. Usually they want to put the event behind them as quickly as possible and move on with their lives. However, there is an equally powerful need, often unconsciously expressed, to make sense out of the pain, find an outlet for these feelings, and discover reconciliation, healing and peace.
This hidden grief can emerge later in a number of self- destructive outlets
Private addictions and compulsions Eating disorders
Fear of Pregnancy Parenting difficulties
The abuse of drugs and alcohol Promiscuity/affairs
Anxiety and depression Workaholism
These symptoms serve as an outlet but also a shield against feeling this buried pain that may not surface until the onset of a wanted pregnancy, or may occur when another stressful life event, or relational crisis occurs. Not everyone who has a history of abortion will experience all of these symptoms. However, they may experience a more hidden and private grief that can take away from the fullness of joy, intimacy and love that God wants you to experience in marriage.
Having an abortion in your history is not reason for fear or discouragement. But it is clearly an area that requires sacramental and emotional healing. There are effective healing programs that will empower you to embrace the challenges and joys of married life with joy and confidence building a strong, healthy and faith-filled marriage.
Pope John Paul II began his papacy by declaring, “Be not afraid.” This is the most important message that the Church proclaims to those of you who have suffered abortion loss. The Diocese of ________ has very effective healing programs available to those who have participated in abortion. It is very understandable that most people are very fearful to open this area of their lives to the possibility of healing. Please know that many individuals have experienced post abortion healing in your diocese through the programs offered by ____________. The laypersons, counselors and clergy involved in this ministry understand your pain and loss; many of them have experienced abortion and know how scary it can be to take the first step or even think about sharing this secret. But those that have made the rewarding journey to healing would tell you that it is well worth the effort, and it will bring great blessings to your marriage and family life.
This could be a time to have a couple share about their post abortion healing journey if you include this is part of your marriage prep program.
You will find a brochure with information on how to find confidential post abortion healing in our archdiocese in your packets. For further information on this topic and Rachel’s Vineyard Healing Retreats both locally and nationally please visit www.rachelsvineyard.org
Couples Who Abort Due to Genetic Abnormality
Kevin Burke, LSW and Michelle Krystofik, DFC
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 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.)
Tragically, more than 90 percent of these pregnancies end in abortion. 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.)
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.
Mommy and daddy
It may take longer to make this transition but in Rachel’s Vineyard, 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.
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 abortion.
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!
A Couple Heals A Marriage Is Saved
The following article is courtesy of the Fairfield County Catholic –Diocese of Bridgeport Connecticut
BRIDGEPORT, CT – An abortion ravages three people: the child, the mother, and the father. While post-abortion counseling has usually focused on the mother, a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat sponsored by the Diocese of Bridgeport offers fathers, too, a chance to experience healing and forgiveness. The next retreat will be held September 19-21. One married couple that attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat together this year spoke recently with Fairfield County Catholic. For confidentiality purposes, in this article they are called Mary and Joe.
Fairfield County Catholic: Why don’t you begin by explaining the circumstances that drove you to an abortion?
Mary: Joe and I were both in college, and had been dating a couple of years. The first time we had intercourse, I got pregnant. I came from a large family and my parents, who were devout Catholics, made a lot of sacrifices for my education. I was too ashamed to tell them I was pregnant. There was no one to reach out to.
Couldn’t you reach out to your boyfriend?
Mary: I told Joe I was pregnant, and that I would have to get an abortion. I was waiting desperately for him to say something, to tell me we’d manage somehow. It never happened.
Joe: I knew it was wrong, but I was silent. I never stood up for the baby. I prejudged her, and decided that her mind was made up. I was angry with her for choosing an abortion.
Most couples break up after an abortion because the guilt and pain are so great. Yet you stayed together and got married. You were clearly very much in love. How did the aftermath of the abortion affect your marriage?
Mary: We still loved each other, and we were committed to our marriage. My feeling of anger at Joe was pushed down for so many years that I didn’t even recognize it. But it was there all the time. I took my anger out on him without ever recognizing where it came from.
Joe: There was a lack of trust in our relationship. I blamed her for the loss of the baby. I did things that purposely hurt her. I drank a lot, I gambled, I did a lot of things to escape into a private world where I wouldn’t feel pain.
You are both practicing Catholics, raising your children in the faith. Didn’t you talk to a priest about what happened?
Mary: After years of this, it became apparent that it was something I had to deal with. I had confessed my abortion to three priests over the years. After the fourth priest, I began to accept that God could forgive me.
Joe: There were years and years of anger and heartache and being distant from God. I did talk to a parish priest, a good man, about the abortion. But I couldn’t go to God about it. I think men are so proud, they don’t see what they’ve buried. It was all kept inside and it was destroying me. I deliberately did things to keep my own self-esteem down. I considered suicide. At one point, I remember walking Downstairs with a gun and a suitcase; Mary stopped me.
What happened when you went into the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat?
Mary: It felt confidential, safe, and welcome. There was an overwhelming sense of peace knowing that so many people were praying for us. Everybody there, although each story was different, the pain was similar. With them, we were able to let our guard down.
Joe: I didn’t want to go to Rachel’s Vineyard to begin with. I walked in there on a Friday evening thinking, “I’m going to re-live all this stuff I’ve been avoiding for so long.” I think men are reluctant to go to these things openly and be part of it.
Why was this retreat so effective, when you had both already been to Confession and received absolution years ago?
Mary: My big breakthrough came when I was able to express my anger at Joe. He had never realized that the abortion had any connection to our behavior. We were able to forgive each other, and to have our baby forgive us.
Joe: I sat there and literally cried during some of the sessions. I was able to express my anger toward myself at my total lack of courage. Once I released that, it’s easier to accept and take ownership for the acts that I did. I came out completely exhausted, mentally and physically. It’s given me confidence to be a person again. I still feel awful about what happened, still feel ashamed, and still feel the guilt. But there are no deep-rooted vindictive acts occurring. I’m able to stop and think where I would instinctively go the wrong way before. I feel reborn. I’ve been accepted by God, my wife, and, most of all, by myself.
What would you say to married couples that have gone through an abortion, either before or during their marriage?
Mary: Rachel’s Vineyard gives you the tools to expose hurt feelings. It puts you back in contact, and you can go on from there. There’s no need to suffer any more.
Joe: For married couples that are dealing with the aftermath of an abortion, if the man doesn’t come on retreat with his wife, he won’t understand what she’s been going through. He just won’t get that. And he will still carry around the shame and the guilt. It’s a tremendous loss of opportunity for him.
Where do you go from here?
Mary: We’re still in counseling. Rachel’s Vineyard isn’t a magic fix. It gives you the tools to heal, the tools to get back in contact. We can get angry when we talk about finances, or try to work out what to do with some problem with the kids. But it’s not this deep, dark anger that comes from nowhere.
Joe: I’d like us to be as close as we can possibly get. I’d like to re-kindle a courtship, to walk hand-in-hand, spend more time together – and more time together in prayer.
Behold I Make All Things New: Transformation in Christ
Michelle Krystofik of the Archdiocese of Newark shares her insights on the role of couples in post abortion healing
I have been deeply moved as a retreat facilitator watching couples attend a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend together. Even if one spouse is not the parent of the aborted child, the healing and closeness that occurs is phenomenal! If the husband was not the father, his support and understanding offers his wife the freedom to enter fully into the retreat process supported in his love. At the memorial service her husband will have the opportunity to spiritually adopt the child. The father recognizes this child as part of his wife, and recognizing their own one flesh union, he embraces this child with love as a spiritual father welcoming this son or daughter into their family. This is one of the most beautiful and touching parts of the weekend. You can feel the bond of love grow between husband, wife and child. This bond forged through that retreat experience sustains them as they continue on their journey of healing.
A husband writes: "I am very grateful my wife included me in her weekend . . . My wife really opened up with me about her experience. She's always been up front with me about it. But this weekend I was able to truly see her soul regarding her daughter. I am so grateful for her."
A wife shares: "I cannot imagine any words to describe how my life and marriage has been completely changed by this weekend. God's power was truly felt from the moment we drove through the gate! Having my husband and best friend go thru this weekend with me was also incredibly special. Thank you for allowing this post-abortion healing weekend to include our spouse if we needed or wanted him to be!"
In my initial contacts with post abortive individuals, I encourage any married woman or man who calls to sign up for a weekend, to come with their spouse and assure them that even if they were not part of the abortion, that the weekend will only enhance their relationship.