By Connie Nykiel
“Sorrow makes us all children again.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
I teach childbirth education to pregnant teenagers. My job is to prepare young parents for parenthood. This includes the possibility of parenting a baby with a birth defect or being the parent of a baby that is miscarried, stillborn, or dies soon after birth.
This is the hardest class for me to teach. Young mothers don’t want to talk or think about it. It is their worst fear. I usually end up telling them that if it is too painful to think about their own babies dying, then listen and learn how to help others who have lost a baby.
We talk about the stages of grief, the feelings of those who are mourning, what to say and what not to say. We read poems and letters that mothers have written to their babies.
When I held this class during the fall of 1993, the girls, like all the girls in the classes before them, put their hands over their ears and said they didn’t want to hear about it.
Despite their protests I taught the class and before I knew it, the girls were talking about an aunt, cousin or friend who had lost a baby. They said they wished they would have known what to do and say before. They realized that they had said and done some of the things that hurt these parents.
One of the young mothers-to-be, Maria, bravely told us how her little boy died only a few hours after birth. I do not know how or why her little boy died because it seems no one ever told Maria. She didn’t get much sympathy and the only way she new how to cope was by becoming pregnant again. She thought that would make the pain go away, but it didn’t.
The girls in the class hugged her, comforted her and said all the right things. They had listened well and I was proud of what they did for Maria. They decided to have a memorial service for Maria’s baby.
There were four girls in the class who had miscarriages. They were slow to mention their miscarriages at first. It seemed they weren’t even sure that it was normal for them to mourn for their babies. We listened with horror as they told about some of the cruel things that were said to them.
They received little comfort. They were told to get on with their lives. They were told that their baby’s death was for the best, that they shouldn’t have been pregnant anyway, and that their baby’s death was a punishment from God. Few felt comfortable crying in front of family and friends. They had learned to hide their feelings and hold back their tears.
By the end of the class we all had stuffy red noses from crying. We were tired. We had shared and grown closer. At the end of class I casually mentioned that girls who have abortions or make adoption plans for their babies can also grieve deeply. Little did I know what that one statement would do.
Three girls came to my office that afternoon. Every one of them had had an abortion. Each one had a story that tore at my heart. They were all mourning for their babies and didn’t know it. Their trust in me led me to love them even more than I already did.
Tiffany was a young girl whose face full of tears I will always remember.
You couldn’t help but notice her. She was a troublemaker. She was large and loud. She caused fights wherever she went. She questioned everything her teachers said. Her own mother, brothers, and sisters didn’t want to be around her. She complained about the teachers, lousy food, being poor, stupid boys, stuck-up girls, an unfair world, and the color of the walls.
Tiffany was also a top student. She was fair and honest and she defended students that were picked on. She was streetwise. Mostly, she was angry and just plain raving mad. Her temper got her in trouble and she was always being sent to the principal’s office.
I could never figure out why Tiffany was always so angry, until she came to me after the grief class. She practically knocked me over as she came rushing into my office. “Ohhhh, Connie, have I got something to tell you. You won’t believe this, but I’ve got to tell you.”
I had always admired Tiffany for her openness and now I was admiring her big beautiful brown eyes. She looked anxious, scared and angry all at the same time. It seemed she was trying to catch her breath, and then she blurted out, “I had four abortions.”
I closed my eyes, felt her pain, and in sadness I said, “Tiffany, I’m so sorry.”
Before I could ask her if she wanted to tell me about it, she started yelling. “I was fourteen when I had my first abortion. When I got pregnant, I told my mother right away. I did what I was supposed to do. I knew she would be upset, but I never thought she would make me get an abortion. We’re Catholic.
“One morning she woke me up early and told me to get ready. She told me I had an appointment for an abortion. I couldn’t believe it. I did what she said, but when I got to the abortion clinic, I cried and begged them not to do the abortion. My mother made such a stink about being poor and not wanting any more babies in the house that they listened to her instead of me. They did the abortion anyway.
“They didn’t even put me to sleep. They said it would cost more. It hurt! It hurt, and they didn’t even care! My mother, the doctor, the nurse, nobody cared!”
A look of agony spread across her face. Catching her breath she went on again, “Dalvon was the baby’s father. I loved him and I wanted him to be the father of my children. I never told him about the abortion. I just got pregnant again with our second baby.
“I told my mother as soon as I knew I was pregnant, because I never thought she would make me have another abortion. But she did the same thing and it happened all over again. I begged her not to make me get an abortion. No one listened to me. No one cared.
“I cried all the way home on the bus and I was cramping. Dalvon and I broke up after that. I couldn’t tell him about the abortions. I felt bad because his babies were dead and he never even knew he was a father.”
Calmer then, but stone faced she said, “After that I didn’t care what happened to me. I partied. I drank. I did crack. I had sex with anyone who asked and I got pregnant again. I waited until I was five months pregnant before I told my mother. She brought me to the doctor and he said it wasn’t too late to have an abortion. Why did they keep doing this to me?
“I had to go to the hospital that time because I was further along. They put something called saline into me. It was awful. I could feel the baby kicking and fighting. Then the baby stopped kicking and I knew it was dead.
“I started having labor pains the next day. The pains were awful. I didn’t want my mother in the room with me because I thought she was evil. We fought the whole time. I told her to go home. I wanted to have my baby alone. A part of me kept hoping that the baby would be alive and then they’d have to save it.
“The pains kept getting longer and stronger. I pushed and then my little boy was born dead. They all left me alone again. No one cared. I cried for about a minute and then I wrapped him in the sheet and put on the light for the nurse. It took fifteen minutes before she even got there.
“I’m not even sure who the father of my little girl was. I was six months along before I told my mother about the fourth pregnancy, but it didn’t stop her from beating me and pulling my hair. I had another abortion by the same doctor and at the same hospital. I didn’t cry. I guess I just got used to it.”
Then Tiffany stood there in silence, with a look of hatred on her face, her mouth quivering and twisted as if she were daring me to pass judgment on her. She was ready to lash out at me. She was holding back the tears that were welling in her eyes.
“Tiffany,” I asked. “Have you cried for your babies?”
A puzzled look crossed her face, as if it were the last thing she was expecting me to say. “No one told me I could cry,” she said with surprise in her voice.
Then I realized why Tiffany had told me her story. What she wanted from me was permission to cry like the other girls did in class that day. So I gave it to her.
“Tiffany, you can cry all you want. It’s normal to cry. You have a right to cry. Your babies are dead and you miss them.”
Hearing those words, the tough, city smart Tiffany turned into a hurting broken child. She held out her arms to me and sobbed, “Hold me. Hold me.” I hugged her, rocked her and smoothed her hair. Together we wept.
I knew I had to do something special for Tiffany. She was seven months pregnant and this time she insisted on having the baby and raising it herself. I didn’t know much about post-abortion counseling then. What I did know was that if I didn’t do something soon it would affect her and her baby for the rest of their lives.
That night I stopped by the library. I took home every book about abortion that the library carried. I read pro-choice books, pro-life books, and the stories of women of all ages who have suffered from abortion. I sent for studies from professional journals and for information from organizations. I spoke with women who had abortions and women who led post-abortion support groups. This book will tell you what I learned and what I shared with Tiffany.
Excerpted from No One Told Me I Could Cry: A Teen’s Guide to Hope and Healing After Abortion, by Connie Nykiel, RN. Copyright 1997 For Teen Moms Only. Available from Young Family Press, PO Box 962, Frankfort, IL 60423 or Life Cycle Books at (800) 214-5849. Published in The Post-Abortion Review 7(1) Jan.-March 1999.