So Grateful That I Lived
Case Study: “Julia”
I had my first abortion when I was 26 years old. I was married at the time to a successful chiropractor. We had two young children, a boy and a girl, ages four and two. You wouldn’t think I would be a candidate for an abortion; we had everything needed to bring another child in to the world except faith and a secure marriage.
When I told my husband I was pregnant he was ambivalent. When I asked if he wanted the baby he said, “No.” When I asked if I should have an abortion he said, “That’s your choice.” I felt such complete and total rejection from him. He had rejected the most important, most valuable purpose of our marriage–our life-giving love.
He had placed all his hopes in his practice and in making huge sums of money, and our family came last. This was the final straw in a year-long battle to convince him to be more of a dad and play a part in our family besides the “bread winner.” I had the abortion.
When I went to the Planned Parenthood clinic they asked me a few questions but seemed only interested in whether I was pregnant. That was the only criteria for having an abortion. They didn’t ask about my marriage, my family status, my religion, or my upbringing. They didn’t ask whether I had any support in my decision.
All they asked for was a positive pregnancy test. I had more “counseling” when I went to have breast implants than when I went to have an abortion. (At least the plastic surgeon had me fill out a personality and family history questionnaire to determine “suitability” for the procedure.)
Planned Parenthood also didn’t prepare me for the procedure. They downplayed the experience to the point of telling me I would feel some period-like cramping, and pinching like one feels during a Pap smear.
There were no warnings of possible risks, i.e. perforated uterus, hemorrhaging, sterility, breast cancer, or depression. I was told that abortion was safer than carrying a child full term. I was totally unprepared for the pain, both physical and emotional, that I would endure.
Because I had long ago left the faith of my youth, the Catholic church, and belonged to a “New Age” group, I didn’t believe I was “killing” my child. I believed the “soul” enters the child at birth. Given that belief, however, made it impossible to mourn the loss–and all the harder to come to terms with an ensuing depression.
After the abortion I felt like a zombie– I had shut down my feelings. It affected my parenting of my two young children. It affected my already shaky marriage. Three months later I was pregnant again and had another abortion. One month after that abortion I asked for a divorce. I didn’t feel any love for my husband, only resentment.
I no longer had purpose or value. I felt disassociated from my “self” and I wanted to die. I was on a course of self-destruction, all the while still not aware that these feelings had anything to do with my abortions. I never had experienced depression nor even known anyone who had. I was in uncharted territory.
During the divorce (he had all the money and friends), the only support I had was my family, who were Catholic and very outspoken about abortion. Because of my experience I couldn’t turn to them at the time I needed them the most. I isolated myself from them; expecting that I would be “disowned,” I disowned myself.
I became a very outspoken “pro-choice” advocate. It was as though the only way I could feel better about my experience was to convince others to do the same. If others had abortions and didn’t experience the pain then somehow I could free myself of the guilt I was expending most of my energy denying.
During my adversarial divorce I got pregnant again. I really was getting scared about the possible risks of abortion now that I was on my third, but again the counselors at Planned Parenthood assured me the risks were minimal. When I went to the abortionist’s office the personnel there were less sympathetic. The nurse warned me that I could have trouble conceiving or carrying a baby full-term from having had multiple terminations.
They treated us like cattle. I was rushed in and rushed out. The staff were too cold-hearted to be called “caring professionals” and they looked at me with disdain. I realize now it was probably my own shame that I saw in their eyes.
My boyfriend (the unborn baby’s father) drove me home from the clinic and that was the last I saw of him. A couple of weeks later I took an overdose of the tranquilizers my psychiatrist had given me to cope with my ongoing depression. I was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for 72 hours. I told the psychiatrist about the abortion, yet he curiously didn’t suggest any connection with my abortion even though this had precipitated the overdose.
I was released from the hospital to care for my two children. I still wanted to die and desperately needed help. I couldn’t cope with the needs and demands of my two young children and wound up kicking my six-year-old son.
I called child protective services and they put my children in their father’s custody for three months. I spent several years (and thousands of dollars) in counseling until I no longer had a desire to hurt myself or others. Never once were my abortions discussed, dealt with, or mourned.
Nearly ten years later I found myself pregnant once again. Even though we weren’t married, we had been together several years and I was excited about having this baby. The father wasn’t and begged me to have an abortion. I refused; I would rather lose him than lose the baby.
Then early in my pregnancy I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating, painful cramps. I was bleeding. The next day I went to the ob/gyn. Without even examining me or the baby, he told me I’d had a miscarriage and would have to have a D&C.
I asked him what were the chances my baby was still alive and he said “less than a 10 percent chance,” without even doing an ultrasound. I felt pressured into deciding to go ahead with the procedure, with the doctor advising me that at my age (40) there could be genetic problems, my boyfriend begging me not to go ahead with the pregnancy, and now this. To this day that small “10 percent chance” haunts me.
Days later I found part of my baby in the toilet. It looked like a miniature but well formed foot. I became hysterical. I held on to that foot as all that was left of my baby and saved it in my jewelry box. By doing so I allowed myself to feel the remorse of all those other abortions.
By seeing and holding that foot, I knew it was a baby that died, not just a “piece of my own flesh” as I’d been told. It broke through my denial and allowed me to grieve. I was even able to share the story of this “miscarriage” with my Catholic family and receive their support and consolation.
Almost 20 years since my first abortion I came back to the Catholic faith and found Rachel’s Hope post-abortion counseling. Even though with their help and support I’ve mourned the losses, received counseling, and am once again in communion with the Catholic faith, I still feel shame. I haven’t come out publicly about my abortions for the single fact that I just cannot bring myself to tell my mom.
I’m now almost 50 years old and I have a darling little grandson. He reminds me all the time of my precious little unborn children by giggling with delight as he grabs his little foot and holds it up for Grandma to kiss.
I am so grateful that I lived in spite of my efforts otherwise. I worry about women going through this who don’t know there are others that feel the way they do, that there is help and that it’s okay to hurt and mourn the loss of a child even if it’s by your own “choice.” I hope that telling my story may save not only a child’s life but a mommy’s life.
Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 12(2) July-Sept. 2004. Copyright 2004 Elliot Institute.