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.


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