A Ten Year Anniversary

It was ten years ago this past week that I started my healing journey with abortion. I was at my wit’s end and knew if I didn’t deal with my complex feelings from over eleven years earlier, I would probably end up institutionalized.

There were many factors contributing to my suppressed feelings of grief and shame. The biggest factor, by far, was my Catholic upbringing. While it gave me a deep faith in God, it also informed me I had committed a mortal sin. 

My Catholic roots went deep. I attended a Catholic girls’ school for four years before high school, and a Catholic college. To make matters worse, by the time I finally fell apart, my husband was enrolled in the seminary to become a deacon. Soon there would be many more eyes upon us both, looking to our family as model Catholics. After the years of parochial education, Sunday sermons and deaconate formation training, I felt like a failure as a human being. The pressure to live up to these standards was unbearable. 

Thankfully, there is a program for healing in the Catholic Church called Project Rachel. Project Rachel changed the course of my life.

Project Rachel helped me to understand the weight I had borne for over a decade. They helped me grieve and stood with me as I released my grief and asked God and my unborn daughter for forgiveness.

As with many retreats, the confidentiality of the group was a requirement of participation. Given our purpose for being together, that made absolute sense. Unlike other retreats, however, the Project Rachel retreat required secrecy in other facets of the weekend as well. Our location was secret. No one knew where we were meeting and we were advised not to share that information, except with our spouses. Also unusual was our final instruction - not to share with family or friends anything about our abortions or our weekend together. It might not be safe, and therefore was something we should keep to ourselves. For me, there was continued fear and shame as I listened to this final counsel. 

The one thing I was not able to release, my shame, stayed with me far longer than any other difficult emotion. Even Project Rachel’s Christ-like leadership and its generous love and compassion could not do for me what I so sorely needed. They could not change the language of the Catholic leadership and populace to remove condemnation or judgment. In the end, I was able to release the shame and find freedom only by looking outside the Church.
Since my retreat, as I listen to discussions between so-called pro-lifers and pro-choicers, I continue to wonder why the Church uses the language they do. Sinful, wrong, unthinkable, senseless murder – these are all words used in Catholic sermons and dialogs about abortion. The judgment these words evoke made it very difficult for me to release the shame of my abortion and I am certain make it difficult for most others. 

It’s unusual to talk about abortion. And while it isn’t everyone’s thing to share their story with the world, I do believe it is important that we share our stories with someone. One of the most productive things we did in the Project Rachel retreat weekend was to share our stories with each other. Sharing stories healed us because as we listened, we forgave. As we forgave and understood our sisters’ pain, we were able to access and release our own pain, and begin the process of forgiving ourselves. With greater support from Church leadership, women would be able to leave Project Rachel feeling more supported in their healing and fully releasing the shame - the contradiction and tension between emotional freedom and faith tradition would dissolve.

I hope and pray that one day soon Catholic leadership will really listen to the stories the women of the church have to tell and comprehend the compassion of the Project Rachel ministry who allowed us voice to tell them. I hope they will begin to understand and accept the experience of women that compels them to make this choice. Until we are able to speak without fear or secrecy, the road to full healing will be longer than it needs to be. 

As I reflect on my ten-year anniversary this week, I realize how lucky I am to be able to share my story today feeling strong and secure in who I really am – a woman of light and love who knows all is very well with her soul.


Common Ground?

Last week, I got a glimpse of what the world might look like if the opposing sides of the abortion debate were able to truly come together - not judging or labeling - and listen to each other.

My daughter’s soccer team played their last game of the season. It was a night game, the first night game I can remember in the two years she has been playing soccer. Making it more unusual, they were playing a parochial school in our neighborhood, less than a mile from our house. 

The evening started off with a good part of the girls’ soccer team congregating at our house for pizza before the game. The girls’ laughter filled not just our yard but our neighborhood as they climbed into their cars to head over to the game. The neighbors smiled, remembering their high school days, and waved good-bye and good luck as they drove down the street. 

I gathered my boys and our dog and we made our way through the neighborhood on foot to the game. It was a gorgeous fall evening. 

I had never been on the campus of this school before that night. I was surprised to see so many families at the game. I go to as many of my daughter’s soccer games as I can, but I had never seen a crowd like this before. It was like a huge tailgate party. 

My daughter’s team (the Mustangs) had played this particular team earlier in the season. It was a highly competitive team and the coach for their opposing team was especially loud in his coaching. As soon as I heard his thundering voice, I remembered the last game we played against them. Oh yeah, I thought, I remember THAT team.

The game started and I found myself feeling very alone in a sea of home team parents. My little dog didn’t know the difference between the home team supporters or the other side, though, and it wasn’t long before we made friends with the families seated on either side of us. 

Both sides played hard. At some point during the first half, I noticed that the home team’s parents would cheer for our Mustangs when they made a good effort. “Great job, Keeper” or “Nice pass, Red” were common praise that night. When the girls collided or knocked each other down, more than once I saw an opponent help her up and back to her feet. 

We lost the game by a score of 4-1. But that didn’t matter when it was all over. Photographs taken of the team that night after the game show that spirits were high, smiles beaming broadly. We were the opposing team on foreign soil, but what the girls and those Mustang parents on the sidelines supporting them felt was not separateness but togetherness. There was richness in the spirit of the event that night that brought the community of ALL observers together I have not felt in other games before.

That night left me with a feeling of hope for what we can achieve in a world where we give support to those around us, where we don’t cut someone down because they oppose us, but where we appreciate and accept them for who they are. I believe there is common ground for both sides in the abortion debate. Maybe one day we will be able to come together, without judgment or righteousness and truly make some progress for women and children in the world.  


Homemade Applesauce and Festering Secrets

Yesterday morning I cleaned out my refrigerator. Lurking in the back was a Tupperware container filled with homemade applesauce from several months ago. Mold was growing all over it. 

I knew the applesauce was there, I noticed it at least a month ago. But every time I came back from the grocery store, instead of taking out that tub of applesauce, I squeezed in all my new food around it, pushing it deeper into the refrigerator so I could get everything else in. 

How long did I push it back, cover it up, pretend it was not there, letting it grow mold?  If I waited, perhaps one of my kids would discover it and squeal, grossed out.  Perhaps a girlfriend might stop in and find it as she reached in for a cold drink. How much longer did I think I could put off the inevitable?

I finally decided this morning that it was time to take out the applesauce and throw it away. It’s not salvageable now, not one bit of it. It’s toxic. It’s time to go. 

Secrets are a lot like that, too. We hold onto them, keep them hidden, cover them up with our “new purchases,” pretend that a new outfit, a new friend or a new neighborhood will mask the past.  

In my experience, eventually a secret becomes toxic too, like my applesauce. 

Before I was ready to release it, my own secret, held tight for eleven years, began to fester, just like the applesauce.  

The release of my darkest secret – having an abortion – went through much the same progression. Initially, I stuffed it down deep, tried to build my life up around it, pretended I was okay, that my life was perfect. Everything looked pretty good from the outside. But when I could hide no longer, when it was too hard to get up in the morning, or I couldn’t fall asleep at night, or my nerves triggered stomach pains, I couldn’t ignore the secret any longer. 

It wasn’t pretty in the beginning (and neither was cleaning out my Tupperware!). In fact, I had let it sit there so long it festered and had gotten downright ugly. If I had dealt with my angst about it sooner, it would have been a lot prettier when I released the guilt, shame and pain I had been carrying around for eleven years. 

Once the floodgates opened, the rest of the job was so much easier. After that, it took a good scrubbing, some patience and time to forgive myself. I was determined not to let this part of my life define me. Today I am like that Tupperware container, squeaky clean and with plenty of room for more goodness in my life. 

This morning as I look into my refrigerator, I see a beautiful open space where yesterday there was no room for anything new. I remind myself that with courage and determination, we can do anything, be anyone we set our minds to. Truly, life is good! (And my refrigerator is clean and spacious, too!)


I Love You - More

I believe our children have messages and things to teach us. I can tell you stories from each of my kids. My youngest son, Ryan, has given me one of the simplest, yet one of the most profound messages.

Since he was a baby, our bedtime ritual has involved reading stories and snuggling. At the end of our cuddling, I tell him I love him as I leave his room. Since he was four years old, he has been telling me in response, “I love you more!"

I remember debating him over this thought for at least a year. I told him it was not possible for him to love me more than I loved him. Until I had children, I had no idea how all encompassing, consuming and pervasive a mother’s love was. I hear many other mothers say the same thing about their children – their lives and priorities changed the moment they had children. They had no idea they could love someone as much as they now loved this new little human. I felt the same thing with the birth of each of my children.

So, how could my four year old son possibly understand that? How could he know the depth of a mother’s love at a mere four years old?


Our bedtime ritual, including our “I love you’s” continued. At some point I gave up trying to explain the depth of my love for him. Maybe he had reached the ripe old age of five by then. I decided he would understand sometime in the future, but for now, we would say the words we each felt in our hearts, and I would simply allow them to be. 

During the next few years, I would begin a process of personal transformation. My marriage ended, and I would leave my long-term job and profession in accounting, and my small town of twenty plus years, as well as the state of Massachusetts, for a cross country move to California.

As I shed each layer of who I had been, I found parts of myself that I long ago forgot. Throughout this time, my little guy would continue to tell me he loved me “more”. But now there was another voice echoing his, one I couldn’t hear in the chaos of my old life. It was my daughter, Mary, whom I had aborted almost twenty years earlier. Her presence would come at the most unexpected times, but her message was always the same. I am here and I love you. 
The messages from Ryan and Mary came full circle in 2012 when I read James Van Praagh’s book Growing Up in Heaven. He writes that our children chose us to be their parents, even children who are miscarried or aborted. These children know that they will not be born, but choose to come into the mother’s life to help them learn lessons of self-worth and self-love. 

As I read those words, I sobbed. Suddenly, I knew Ryan was right. He did love me more. And so did my daughter Mary. They are in my life to help me learn a lesson in love and self-worth. There was nothing more I needed to do to deserve that love, I was enough just as I was. 

Now, when Ryan says to me “I love you more Mommy”, I say “I know Ryan, I know”.