Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Is There Something Missing in Me?

I recently read a comment from a woman who says she just does not regret her abortion at all, and she wonders, rhetorically, I supposed, if there is something wrong with her.

It caught my attention because I have often wondered if there is something wrong with me because I do have such sorrow over the choice I made myself. In this day and age, we are supposed to be comfortable with whatever we do simply because we have done it. I’m okay, you’re okay. Do your own thing, and if it feels good, do it. As long as you are happy, then it’s a good thing. Relative morality – it it’s right for me, then it’s just plain right. We can justify all kinds of immoral and criminal behavior if we believe that right and wrong are in the doing.

True, I had some of the best coercion possible – when your mother drives you to the clinic telling you it’s for your own good and that you have merited the punishment to follow,’s a bit powerful. Sure, parental influence in adolescence only stretches so far. She wasn’t in the room when I chose to have sex and create that child. She made sure that mistake wouldn’t be repeated with the abortion, and personally escorted me. She had no regrets about my abortion. But what about her own?

Years later, when I was in my early twenties, Mom and I had us a conversation over a few dozen beers and a couple of boxes of wine. My goodness, how alcohol loosens the tongue. It was then I learned for the first time about the little brother or sister I had lost when my mother had an abortion. She was a single mother and would certainly have lost her job had she continued the pregnancy. She had to choose between the children who lived with her and needed her financial support, and the child not yet born who would endanger supporting those children. Or did she?

No, she didn’t - not in reality, only in her perception of it. She believed she had difficulties because she believed she was on her own. She made herself that way. She had family to whom she could have turned for help. All she had to do was swallow her pride and go home. This was less acceptable to her. So she went to California, where it was legal at the time, and had an abortion.

Her story came out while we were sitting at the table that night, both of us drunk, when she asked me for the first time to tell her about my abortion. When I told her I had sodium pentothal, she laughed, her mouth and face twisted with bitterness. Tears were in her eyes, but she would not shed them. She stared into the distance, lost in horrifying memories, and told me she had had no anesthesia. “It took two nurses to hold me down, one on each arm. I screamed the entire time. The sound...I’ll never forget the sound.” And when I recall her speaking those words, my memory ends. Recalling the sound – forgedda about it. That’s as far as I can go before denial shuts down my thought processes.

My mind having gone into sleep mode, I don’t remember what else she said about her abortion experience. Part of that is probably due to the revelation she hadn’t intended. I was distracted by the thought that not only did she know what I was going to go through, she thought it was going to be so much worse – and she did it anyway. I was trying desperately to find the motherly love in that, and failing. My abortion was my punishment. I had known it at the time because the baby’s father was forced to go along to the clinic, “to teach him a lesson.” So, of course, I was supposed to learn a lesson too. But this way? Mom, why didn’t you lock me in a closet for two weeks without food and water? Take a belt to me? Use your fists, even? For heaven’s sake, if you wanted me physically punished for getting pregnant, why didn’t you have the guts to do it yourself? Perhaps because those things would have been illegal, but abortion was not?

But why punish the innocent child who had nothing to do with my actions or yours? And this must be where her quite bizarre expression of motherly love comes in, because I do remember some of the conversation that followed about whether or not she had done the right thing by insisting I have an abortion.

Either she had convinced herself that she felt it, or she truly felt at the time that nine months of pregnancy would have derailed my entire life. What bunk. An hour in the abortion clinic derailed my entire life instead. But she desperately wanted me to tell her it was okay. I think she might even have wanted me to thank her. In her own experience, she convinced herself that there were no regrets to be had about either of our abortions. She thought she had done the best thing possible and had even been protecting her children.

The problem is that she was wrong. She was so wrong, and I believe that on some level she knew she was wrong, or she wouldn’t have been looking for validation from me. I can’t answer the commentator I mentioned above because I cannot see her face when she says she has no regrets or sorrow. But I could have answered my mother, who was asking the same question whether she knew it or not, because I saw her expression. It isn’t polite to tell people they are in denial, so I have heard. But denial is what she was in. No one who feels neutral about a subject, or good about it, should look the way she did when she described her choice. I’ve seen that look since then – in the faces of the women who are Silent No More, and in the mirror. Grief-contorted mouths, tear-filled eyes, and deeply furrowed brows say, without words, “Oh, God help me, what have I done?”

She said she had no regrets even as her face belied the words. There are women who will tell you they have no regrets, and who will assign their sorrow to something more ephemeral than a real, living child – “I mourn the perfect child I should have had,” was the comment by a mother who aborted her baby after tests revealed he was defective. But she wouldn’t say she regretted her abortion.

At times, regret takes the form of the “If onlies.” “If only I had already had my career started when the baby was conceived,” or “If only the baby’s father had been there for me,” etc. So it was the child’s fault for choosing a really inconvenient time to be conceived. “Come back later, when I have more time, more money, more love, more of myself to give.”

Sometimes regret takes shape in the plans we make for the future, where we hope to make it right. “Next time I get pregnant, it will be planned and I will have the child.” That’s a good one. Some women get to do that. For others, the perfect moment never arrives, and suddenly, we’re past child-bearing, and “some day” has come and gone.

When our regrets and sorrows stem from our own actions, we often displace or deny these emotions in order to protect ourselves from the fact that who we think we are doesn’t match with what we have done. When we say “yes” to abortion, we say “no” not just to the child who wants to share our lives. We say “no” to selflessness. This is hard to accept about ourselves if we feel we are otherwise good people. I wouldn’t take food from the mouths of children. I think I’m a decent woman. I wouldn’t pass a dog shivering alone and cold in the street without taking action to help. But this image of myself as a compassionate and caring person who loves the young and helpless is not just tarnished, but completely obliterated, by the image of myself on the abortionist’s table failing to cry out with everything I had for him to stop, and let the baby live.

My mother died seven years ago this December. We never had a chance to finish that conversation properly. I simply could not continue discussing it with her, because I could not tell her what she wanted to hear – my life had not been made better. Drs. Burke and Reardon have found that post-abortion sorrow may not be fully realized until years after the fact – sometimes decades. Often there is a life-altering event that brings the abortion into a woman’s mind, and it seems she suddenly discovers grief. It isn’t that she suddenly feels it – she discovers it was there all along, because something has happened to bring it to mind. In my own case, it was my mother’s death. Because she was so wrapped up in it, even directly responsible for refusing to hear of alternatives, when she died, I had to face all of our unresolved conflicts.

Her ghost haunts me in every word I hear from women who say they cannot regret their abortions because if they had not had them, their lives would be too different. I am plagued by my own case of the “if onlies.” If only we could have this conversation today. If only I hadn’t run from her and her cancer, leaving her alone to contemplate her own mortality and robbing us of the chance to talk about death. Perhaps we might have come to the heart of her sorrow, and we would not have parted in this life with so much left unsaid. Her regrets were there, just under the surface where anyone else could see them, but not so close that she could put her own finger on them because she was deliberately pushing them away by thinking them through. It isn’t hard at all to convince ourselves that we are good if we think about it long enough. We know all the facts, so we can find all of the excuses for ourselves. What is hard is acknowledging our own shortcomings and trying to come face to face with the woman in the mirror who has killed her child to further her own interests.

The commentator who is not sorry wonders if there is something missing in her. I wonder how she can be so certain she has no regrets considering how much she wonders, and whether the answer lies in her having asked the question. Go ahead, call me rude if you like, but if you have no regrets, spend a few minutes saying it to yourself in the mirror. Look at your expression as you say out loud, “I killed my child, and I am not sorry,” and try to ascertain if there is more truth than wishing in that statement.


At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you really think that just because you feel this way that everyone who has had an abortion will feel this way at sometime. What a fool you are. I'm happy for you that you are so in touch with your feelings but so am I. And I know that I did not only not want a baby but I did not want a pregnancy. Think what you want but there are tons of women who are thankfull that thay had a choice. My mom was one of them. I'm a mom and I'm one of them. My son will be pro choice.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Bharati said...

I happened to browse into your blogs. I did some reading which has effected my thinking and will continue to for some time. I am post abortive. I am married and mother of 2 lovely boys. My abortion was 10 years ago. Most of the time I felt if my catholic upbringing had anything the way my life turned out. But reading your article on PITS has helped me understand that I might have been like this even if I were not catholic. We were just 3 months into marriage when I was pregnant and my husband suggested aborting my child. Even though I have always strongly felt against abortion I complied with it as I loved this man. I cried for the baby a bit and I thought I was moving on with life as any modern free thinking woman would do. But there were these moments of anger and rage towards my husband.(he is generally a nice guy and many women would find it lucky to have him as a hubby)I think most of the times the rage I felt towards myself got translated into rage towards him. So this generally kind and loving me would have this once in a month rage attack and throw the most outrageous of allegations at my husband. But I was so loving the rest of the 26 days of the month that my husband chose to forgive my 4 days of insanity. In the last 10 years I have told him a few times in the moments of my rage that he is the one who is responsible for making me abort my baby. Then 2 years ago I did something totally unexpected of me, I tried to seek affection from another man and I ended up kissing him. This hurt my husband deeply and he suffered from severe PTSD. He lost all love towards me. So here I was the most hated person by the people I loved the most. My life was nothing like I had meant it to be. Through therepy and contemplation I have come to realize that my cheating on my husband was like all the acts of rage and anger I have afficted on him in the past except this time he did not see the loving me. I told this other man that "I am not a good girl I had an abortion". So all through 10 years in some deep pocket of my brain I felt was not a good person as I killed my baby. I realized post abortion I was a changed person and that I have suffered emotional pain not understandable or explainable to anyone else whis is not post abortive. Sometimes when I am deeply pained I feel there is nothing else I can do in life and that I should end my life. I have cut my hand a couple of times now. But the pain has lessened in the last year. Whenever I can connect to God and Mother Mary I feel better but times when I feel "he abandoned me, he just stood watching when I was messing my life" my pain becomes unbearable.

At 4:41 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

Dear Bharati,

Thank you so much for writing. Your sharing has touched me deeply. The first thing I need to say is please don't cut yourself anymore, or hurt yourself in any other way. You are already hurt enough. We can be good people, still - good people who have made mistakes and done bad things. Understanding this with remorse and sorrow doesn't require us to punish ourselves or others. It seems from your comment that you are learning this, too. I also see that you've considered writing a blog - good idea! If you feel up to it, I encourage you to continue to share and explore your feelings, and I hope you continue in therapy as you do this. This can be the most difficult time, as we try to come to terms with the past without living in it as if it is still happening. I pray you have help, and hope you will stay in touch with me, too - email me anytime at

I have a question about your once-a-month episodes of rage. Do they happen to coincide with your menstrual cycle? PMS can be aggravated in PTSD, and I think particularly so when PTSD is induced by abortion. Our bodies build up hormonally during our cycles in preparation for that fertilized egg. The "poofiness," hormone levels, and cramping can be triggers that remind us of being pregnant and/or of the pain associated with our abortions. Knowing this has helped me to recognize what is happening at certain times of each month so I am better able to overcome what used to be monstrous anger.

So often I have, like you, felt that God abandoned me when I needed Him most. One of the hardest things I have had to face in the last year as I've tried to remember that time in my life is that He was there, waiting for me to turn to Him, the whole time. And He was there after to pick up the pieces. There were "outs" available to me to freely choose; there were choices available to those who aided in the abortion decision. We are stuck with this free will that allows us to go the wrong way, because He doesn't want us to be slaves or automatons, but He is always there. I hope, with all my heart, that you continue to turn to Him and especially to Our Lady.

You don't mention whether you and your husband are still together, or if you have considered returning to the faith. I agree with you that it isn't Catholicism that imposes guilt on us - these feelings stem from within - but it is in our Catholic faith that we will find absolution and healing. If you haven't already, I would like to encourage you to speak to someone in the Church - go to Confession and pour out your soul to the Lord.

Please know that I am praying for you and share your pain and sorrow. This morning, I prayed the Memorare for all of us who have been hurt by the choice, and hope you will revisit here to say it with me:

"Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen."

She helps - always - and leads us to her Son. Thank you again for sharing with me and others who may read here. Godspeed!


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