I think most people are familiar with the premise of the book "The Scarlet Letter". The main character is found guilty of adultery and is publicly shamed and humiliated. She is made to wear a scarlet "A" so that everyone knows she is an adulteress. There is obviously a lot more to the story but this post isn't about doing a book review. Its not even about adultery, although my scarlet letter is also the letter "A". This post is about abortion....not just abortion, but my abortion.
While my abortion has remained largely a secret and I have never been publicly humiliated or shamed I have carried the guilt and shame for 12 years. No one has made me feel this way, though when I hear the words and blanket statements people make about women who have chosen abortion I am so glad that it is my secret. The feelings I have about my own abortion have not been pushed on me by the church or conservatives, or even the pro-life movement. They are feelings and revelations about what I did that I have realized on my own, through personal experience and lots and lots of research.
So, why after 12 years am I sharing my experience? Honestly, because I feel the Lord leading me to do so. It's not something I necessarily WANT to share, and up until recently I have never felt compelled to share my experience. I prefer to keep it my secret. It's easier to compartmentalize that experience and I have convinced myself that since it happened in the past thats where it belongs, never to be discussed. A few months back in my women's bible study we were doing the study "Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess". One night the author herself revealed her secret. She had an abortion when she was a teenager. This is going to sound weird but I was so relieved. Up until that point in the study she just seemed to have it all together. Like she was the "perfect" Christian, the christian I could only aspire to be. She knew her bible, and she was so spiritual. She is a woman you know is spirit filled. She seemed to have the answers for everything. In my mind she was NOT the "kind of person" who would have an abortion.... My pastor once said in his message that we impress people with our strengths but its through our brokenness that we bond. I know exactly what he means now. The author went on to discuss the aftermath of that abortion and what that looked like as she grew up and matured and changed. Then when she became a Christian she talked about feeling like its not something you share with the church or your christian friends, its too shameful and you don't know what people will say. When she did finally open up and share she talked about feeling an enormous weight being lifted. In revealing her secret she could also talk about the glory of God and how he heals and restores. She mentioned the term "It is Finished" and how when Jesus declared that on the cross before he died he overcame sin and death. Coincidentally I have "It is finished" tattooed on my wrist because there is something so powerful and beautiful about that statement. In my mind its a victory cry. The bible says "death where is your sting"! Its amazing and beautiful what was accomplished that day on the cross. The song lyrics from "Forever" sum it up perfectly:
"The war on death was waged, the power of hell forever broken" "His perfect love could not be overcome, now death where is your sting" "Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated"
Ahhh, I could go on with these beautiful lyrics and what they mean. If you haven't heard the song check this link out.
At the end of the study she gave the women a verbal challenge to share the burdens on our own hearts. I literally felt that the Lord was speaking to me....maybe other women felt it too but like me were too scared to open up. I was internally wrestling with God. I mean, I didn't know the women in my group like that. I didn't feel safe, I felt terrified...what would they think...Thats the one thing about church...sometimes its easier to keep things surfacey because we are afraid to go deeper. We are afraid of the knowing looks and the judgement. As christians sometimes we feel like we are supposed to have it all together. We are really just alienating ourselves from each other and to be quite frank the secular world. And so I would challenge Christians to get comfortable sharing the broken parts of our lives. If you are scared then just remember that at the end of the day it isn't about the brokenness that you are sharing but about the restoring that the Lord does. We are walking examples and miracles proving what God's grace and mercy can do in our hearts if we allow Him. If someone can't get past the brokenness and the ugliness about past sin and struggle then they are just totally missing the point. Unfortunately, I was not obedient to God that night, my faith wasn't strong enough. I kept my mouth shut and talked about something safe and surfacey. But you know what....ever since then this feeling that I need to share my experience has only intensified. And with all of the planned parenthood scandals going on now and all the sharing of different videos via social media the abortion topic is taking center stage again. I'm sure all of the debates and discussions surrounding the Republican candidate hopefuls has helped spark all the controversy as well. In any event my heart has been stirred again and the feeling will not go away. Again, I have been wrestling internally. Trying to talk God out of His plan. I keep trying to point out weaknesses and flaws I perceived because I am uncomfortable... I talked to my husband about it hoping that if I pointed out it could embarrass him as well he would tell me not to do it. I talked to my mom who only found out the truth a couple of years ago hoping the shame and embarrassment it might cause her would be enough for her to say it wasn't a good idea to share. I told God; "Well what about my in-laws (my FIL is a pastor and he and my MIL are two of the Godliest people I know) and people in their congregation who know me....they might be embarrassed, think differently of me....or worse, what if they can't love me anymore. What if my worse fears come true? All of these arguments I know God heard, I know he knows the turmoil I am feeling emotionally. And the thing is....I'm STILL supposed to share this ugly part of my past, the brokenness that was me.
Sunday, as in 3 days ago I was still trying to find a way around it. I skipped church that day but needed something. I needed my spirit fed. So, I went to my old church's (Living Waters) website and listened to one of the recordings. There is a new pastor on staff and I was curious about what his message style was. I listened for about 10 minutes...it wasn't boring or anything it just wasn't speaking to me....I think the Lord knew what I needed to hear. I went back to the list of recorded sermons and saw that the worship pastor had spoke. She is one of my favorite people in this world and consequently one of my female heroes. She is just the real deal. She is genuine and IS one of the Godliest people I know. For her it isn't for show its WHO she is. Anyway, the title of her message was "Choices" how perfect is that! She talked about how difficult it can be to give up the comfort of the familiar for the challenge of the unknown. She was talking about the story of Peter and him placing his faith in Jesus and stepping out in faith to walk on the water. It was as if this message was meant for me to hear that day. God calls Christians to walk out our faith all the time and we have to choose between comfort or challenge and apathy or obedience. She said that when God calls us to walk out our faith we have to know no one else can take our place. No one else can step out of the boat for us. She said its okay to be terrified, wrestling with fear and faith is normal. I LOVE that she pointed out that too often we want to focus on Peter's failure because his faith wasn't strong enough. Although Peter's faith was not perfect it pleased God. Jesus did not condemn Peter, Jesus appreciates that there is value in our failures because there is opportunity to learn. The point of the story is not the failure, the point is his success. Peter got out of the boat, he experienced walking out his faith. A key takeaway for me was this; Jesus is not as concerned with our failures as we are...he is more concerned with the possibility that we may never know what its like to walk on the water. DONT overthink it, don't make it complicated, if we are being called to do something just do it, step out into the unknown. Stop analyzing, stop listing out the pros and cons, don't ask God to map out the path just obey...As I sat there listening to this message with tears in my eyes I was reminded of my Father's love for me. He knew the exact words I needed to hear to feel emboldened and comforted. I have had several really special encounters with Jesus in my life and when you experience Him you know it because it changes you forever.
So after 12 years I am finally going to surrender my secret.
I had an abortion the Summer after I graduated high school. I had just turned 18, was accepted at the University I most wanted to attend, had my roommate assignment and was just excited at what the future held. I knew I had the Summer to party with friends before the fall semester started. I was about to embark on the greatest journey I could imagine!
Imagine my surprise when I found out I was pregnant. Although, I shouldn't have been that shocked. I had gone to a party and basically had a one night stand.... Um, I don't know if ANYONE knows this because I lied to everyone I ended up telling. The truth is I had unprotected sex. I don't even like admitting that to myself. Its funny how we adopt the lies we tell others. I thought that if people believed I had tried to be responsible maybe it would make me less responsible for the abortion I ended up having. I never intended on dating or having any sort of relationship with the man I slept with. Once I knew I was pregnant it was just sort of a given that we would be together. So he was my boyfriend during my short lived pregnancy. I remember being too scared to tell my mom so I wrote her a letter which I gave to her in the car. before she even opened it she knew. I started crying and apologizing. I feel like she took it the way any mom would. From the beginning I had a LOT of mixed feelings. Mostly I did not want to have a child with the man I slept with. That seems harsh I know. He was a nice guy, a good looking guy and a hard worker. I even knew one of his sisters well. But he was older, already had a child that I knew he struggled to take care of financially. I knew that he did not have his high school diploma and I wondered about what our future would look like as a family. Me a kid, the unpredictability of what his future looked like, both of our families had their own sets of emotional baggage and to be frank I did not want to bring a baby into that situation. I was actually quite interested in adoption. I felt it was the best of both worlds. However, I did not get the family support I was hoping for. I feared that the baby would end up being raised by one of our families or that the baby's father would try to raise the baby on his own. I couldn't imagine those scenarios. I was pro-choice but for my own values and personal beliefs I wasn't sure I could choose abortion. I was in this perpetual state of limbo.... Also denial would rear its ugly head and I did things like play rough soccer hoping I would miscarry, I smoked pot a few times, I even drank alcohol a few times. I was so afraid that my baby was going to be deformed or mentally impaired because of my reckless behavior. I had no regard for the sanctity of the life that was in me. In my mind I would clearly be the worst parent. Eventually abortion was on my mind more and more. As the pregnancy progressed further and further along I felt this enormous pressure to hurry up and choose. I had already missed the point where I could have a non-surgical abortion. I knew it was going to have to be surgical. I also knew once I got through my first trimester I had no choice in the matter. I had what must of been my 12 pr 13 week appt. coming up and I remember waiting until just a few days before that to finally decide to go through with the abortion. I felt like adoption was out for me and getting rid of my baby seemed better for him or her.... I know that sounds crazy to some but thats what I had convinced myself. And a huge part of me was truly terrified that something would be wrong with my baby physically. I know now that is very unlikely which saddens me terribly today that I was so misinformed. I also want to be honest and its not like I was only concerned with the future welfare of my baby. I personally could not imagine a different course for my life other than the one I had plotted out for myself. I was determined and ambitious. A baby had no place in my college plan. A baby was inconvenient.
Never-mind this inconvenience was a direct result of my irresponsible sexual behavior. So, a couple of friends offered to drive me to St. Louis to the abortion clinic. I had no money to pay for this so I asked the father if he would give me the money. I can't remember but it was either $700 or $800. He gave it to me. I knew he didn't WANT me to do it but he supported MY decision to abort OUR baby. I want to point out that I do think fathers deserve a say in the matter, it was his baby too. We headed to St. Louis and I couldn't tell you anything about the 2+ hour car ride up there. I can tell you I was terrified. I imagined there would be hundreds of protesters outside the clinic with signs and posters. That day there weren't. I think there were maybe two or three people but I did not make eye contact and if they said anything I don't remember.
Once inside everything is sort of a blur. I know I was given an oral medication to soften my cervix to help prepare me for the surgery. I feel like it was hours of waiting. I did have an ultra sound but I was not shown the image nor did I ask to see. I know this practice is very controversial and I understand why. You can't argue the humanity of a fetus when you see that ultra sound image. I would find this out years later when I was pregnant with my son. I can remember going into what I would call a locker room where other girls were and we were given hospital gowns to change into. As I went into my stall and pulled the curtain shut I knew it was too late to change my mind. Actually, I still wonder about this. I think I assumed because I took the oral medication I had reached the point of no return. After I was in my gown I handed my personal belongings to a nurse and followed her into the surgery "room". It wasn't its own room though....It was like this big open floor with lots of procedure tables...I can tell you this, it felt dirty, almost like a factory feel. I wondered if I was just one of a hundred girls about to have this very personal procedure done out in the open. Im sure there were curtains to separate us girls from one another but this was just the impression I had at the time. Once on the table I couldn't stop shaking or crying. When I say shaking I don't mean trembling. I was violently shaking. Im not sure they would have been able to do the procedure if I hadn't stopped. My nurse was holding my hand and squeezing it. It was comforting. I was then given a shot in my thigh and told it was going to be okay. As soon as I got the shot I remember feeling nothing. I was awake but completely unaware of my surroundings. I don't remember the sounds of the machines or even the way it felt which is a blessing to me. I must have fallen asleep because I just remember waking up in the recovery room. There were other girls in there too. Some were crying, some were just sitting there calmly. I remember crying and then getting up because I needed to throw up in the bathroom. It was awful.
After, my friends took me to the hotel room we had booked. If I remember correctly that was one of the stipulations of the abortion clinic. I had to stay within a certain driving distance the first night in case of complications. Anyway, I remember telling my friends to go do something and that I just needed to sleep. when I woke up hours later there was blood everywhere. Hotel sheets are always so white and the blood was so red and there just seemed like so much of it. I was really embarrassed. I remember nothing about the next day or the ride home from St. Louis. I had previously told my mom that I was going to the lake for the weekend which was not out of the ordinary for me so I wasn't too worried about seeing her. I had already made up the story I was going to tell her. As far as she or anyone else was ever going to know I had gone to the Lake with friends and had decided to ride jet-skis. I told everyone I must have just ridden too roughly because later that night in the shower I had a miscarriage and lost the baby. I just told my mom there was a lot of blood and blood clots. She of course was worried and freaked out. She tried to convince me to go to my doctor. She said the baby could be okay. She also said that if I had in fact lost the baby I needed to be checked out for my own safety. I convinced her that I had my next appt. in the next day or two and would just stick with that. I was clearly upset so Im sure she was afraid to push the issue. I just remember going into my room and sobbing uncontrollably. I prayed to God and told him how sorry I was, I told my baby how sorry I was. I held my stomach and just sobbed for the life that I chose to end.
Several days letter when I did go to the doctor I insisted on my mom waiting outside because I knew I couldn't lie to the doctor about this and didn't want my mom in the room. The doctor was getting ready to do an ultrasound and I told her there was no point and there would be no heartbeat. When she asked why for the first time I said aloud "because I had an abortion so there is no baby". I feel bad for the doctor because I think she was genuinely shocked. She didn't seem to know how to respond. For all I know she was pro-life and just did not know what to say to me. I had her reassure me that my medical records were private and that I did not want my parents ever finding out about the abortion. I don't remember having an exam or anything else that was said. I left the office told my mom that yes I had lost the baby and I didn't want to talk about it. For me life went on....
I did not go to college that fall but did go for the Spring semester. I still got to share a room with my friend, I broke things off with the father of that baby and never spoke to him again. I don't know if his family knows the truth or not. I am sorry to them and to him. The only people that know I had an abortion are the father, and my two friends who took me to St. Louis, my counselor at the time knew, and I later told my sister. Other than that my husband knows and another one of my best friends know. I told my mom a few years ago so I assume my dad knows. So that is the background, its ugly and sad and I carry the guilt. In fact instead of being lessened over the years its grown.
These are the things I wish I would have known before I had an abortion.
1. I wish would have known how emotionally wrecked I'd be afterwards. I wish that I would have known I would immediately regret the decision. I wish I would have known that afterwards for months seeing pregnant woman and infants would almost bring me to my knees...even in public.
2. I wish I would have had actual knowledge and an understanding of fetal development. Seeing an ultra sound and having the baby's developmental stage explained to me may have been a game changer. I'm not sure how keeping girls in the dark about reproduction and how a baby develops actually helps young women make informed decisions. How is it really a choice if you don't have all the information. Its like lying by omission. There are lots of girls like me who were and are on the fence about abortion. This isn't about a guilt trip or convincing them one way or another, its about showing them the evidence and letting them decide. I have heard some say that showing girls images of ultra sounds before an abortion is like torture.....Don't people realize that more likely than not at some point these girls are going to see one some day....what then?
3. I wish that abortion clinic counselors would stop using terms like "product of pregnancy", "mass of cells", even the term "fetus" can be misleading. I don't know that there is room for political correctness when it comes to discussing the humanity of a fetus or baby. Why aren't we allowed to talk about what babies are doing in the uterus at different stages? Is it because it makes people too uncomfortable??
4. I wish that I had actually known what an abortion procedure entails. Not the cliff notes version but the unabridged version. In an effort to understand I have done lots of research. I have watched videos, seen doctors speak on the various ways abortion procedures are deformed and how that changes based on how progressed the pregnancy is. When you lay it all out; ALL of it, it's funny how suddenly its a little bit harder to use terms like product of pregnancy, its hard to pin point the exact age of viability. It's hard to know the whole truth and continue to argue that a fetus has absolutely no rights. If a picture is worth a thousand words than seeing the real and true images of aborted babies, body parts and the tissue that is recovered during abortion should not be censored from the public because it's tough to see, or because the mother may feel guilty. Shouldn't these images and discussions be happening before that decision is made? How can we make the big decisions that are being made without all the facts. The FACT that these things offend our consciences so much is pretty telling. Since educating myself with information from BOTH pro-lifers and pro-choicers I finally think I have a clear understanding of what my choice to have an abortion all those years ago means.
5. I wish I would have know that someday when I had the baby I "wanted" I would feel so guilty about even being able to conceive a child. I wish I would have know that during the entire pregnancy I would fear losing my baby NOT by choice.
6. I wish I would have known that when my doctor asked about my pregnancy past while I was pregnant with my son that I would relive the shame and regret while sitting in a paper gown and answering "Yes, I have been pregnant before and it ended in an abortion".
7. I wish I would have known that I will forever wonder what that baby would have looked like, been like, if it would have been a boy or girl. I wish I would have known that I am forever calculating the age that baby would be if he or she was alive.
8. I wish I would have known that looking at my son and knowing the love I have for him would sometimes make me feel immense guilt for not appreciating the life and the potential of that beautiful life that I ended.
9. I wish I would have known that someday I would have a real miscarriage and feel that I so deserved it for my lack of respect for human life. I wish I would have known that the only difference between the two losses were my attitude and desire to have or not have a child. Just because my very first pregnancy was unwanted doesn't mean that child was any less alive or any less important. My attitudes and beliefs are subjective not the baby's life.
10. I wish that the movie "Juno" had been out when I was a teenager. That seems silly but that movie really spoke to me and I think Juno's character is a hero. Her scenario is what I wish I had been brave enough to do. I wish that adoption was more focused on. Not that every girl has to decide that But I think in the pro-life/pro-choice war adoption often takes a back seat. I want to raise awareness about that as an option. Celebrate the gift of adoption to the child and the adoptive family. I would LOVE to see more ad campaigns and funds raised to push awareness for that. How about federal funding for that agenda. It still honors women's rights and the rights of the baby.
11. I wish I would have known that someday when I had children I would see their ultra sounds and know that the argument that fetus's don't have rights is something I could never support. When you see a baby moving and kicking around and waving and swallowing and hiccuping how can you say that fetus, baby, child, whatever has no rights. When you see the flash of the heartbeat as early as 6 weeks how can you say that baby isn't alive or a life worth fighting for. I wish I would have known what it is to feel your baby move inside your womb. I just wish I would have known my fetus was a baby. When we use clinical and sterile language we are only de-sensitizing ourselves so that we can stomach the truth about elective abortions. We are tricking ourselves into believing lies. Ignorance is not bliss. Lets stop enabling this laissez fair attitude as it concerns human life and when it starts.
12. I wish I would have known that the guilt and shame is something I will live with for likely the rest of my life. I just wish I would have known more, and understood more about the scope and breadth of the decision I made 12 years ago.
To be clear, I am not against women's rights. And I am not talking about women who are victims of rape or incest. I am not speaking about women and babies who are at severe medical risk if a pregnancy continues. In my opinion those should be considered on a case by case basis and left up to medical professionals, the women, and their families.
I am more concerned with the young women who are on the fence about abortion. I am concerned with young girls and women having multiple abortions and using them as a form of birth control instead of actual birth control. I am concerned with women who just aren't sure if the timing is right, or that they don't have enough money in their savings accounts to comfortably afford a baby. I am worried about girls like me as a teenager have their whole lives ahead of them and just aren't sure how a baby fits into the plan. Maybe it helps to think of it like "1st world problem abortions". And, trust me I know thats politically incorrect but I think it sums it up nicely. I have to wonder if providing ALL the information instead of the parts more easily sold in a pretty little packages would help change minds and hearts about abortion. Obviously in a perfect world people would just have responsible sex. But that isn't always going to be the case. Women should have all the knowledge and truth before making a life changing choice. I also want to say that the items listed above are my personal experiences and feelings I have had because of my abortion. I do not condemn women who choose abortions. At the end of the day I just want women to make well informed and educated decisions. I feel like I didn't get that. I want abortion talks to be real and honest, not sugar coated. I want adoption to be as much of an option as abortion. After researching and reading from tons of women who opt to have abortions for numerous reasons I noticed something. Most of the time the women seemed to feel like abortion was their ONLY option. On these sites I didn't see any mention or talk about adoptions, I'd love to see that change.
I think my scarlett letter will always be a part of who I am. I don't want it to consume me or run my life. I am glad that my life is so much bigger than the sum of my past mistakes. I am so glad that my Heavenly Father sees me as beautiful. He doesn't see me as broken and damaged the way the world might. He took my brokenness and restored me. He has a purpose for me and my life. Even when I can't forgive myself he has already forgotten. I want to see people the way he sees them, I want to love people the way he does. He has transformed my heart and my life and I will never be the same. I hope that other women like me who feel the guilt and shame are able to find hope and healing. Its a tough secret to bear alone. When I find myself hoping and wishing that others will show me grace it reminds me to approach people in my life with grace instead of judgement and condemnation. Hopefully I can bond with someone through sharing my brokenness. I know that other women who have allowed themselves to be vulnerable have really blessed me and that is really what I hope to do with sharing this story.