I am a post-abortive father.
When I was sixteen, I started dating and partying with a young woman who was six years older than me. The relationship was on-and-off for two years and resulted in a pregnancy. Being in high school at the time, I felt trapped with no alternate life path and no one that I felt I could talk to. My girlfriend and I agonized for three months over the decision, and we sadly chose abortion. This has been one of the most painful experiences of my life. I am Catholic and had been taught that abortion was wrong. I knew this and felt it, but I had no idea how my part in the decision to abort my child would affect me spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically for so many years afterwards. I went to confession almost immediately after the abortion. I knew on an intellectual level that God had forgiven me, but emotionally I carried a lot of doubt and struggled to forgive and love myself again. I still had a lot of shame and guilt.
After graduating high school, I had a deeper conversion experience and thought that I might be called to the priesthood, so I applied and entered a seminary for a few years, where I received counseling and gave my aborted son the name John. The time that I spent there did a lot to help me turn my life away from the self-destructive path that it was taking.
A few years after leaving seminary, I met and started dating someone. About six months into the relationship, we found out that she was pregnant. Thankfully, we didn’t choose to abort this child, and we loved each other enough to marry. My wife and I went on to have five more beautiful children, and we will have been married for twenty-four years this month.
But throughout my marriage, I still carried pain, guilt, and shame; however, I reached a point about twelve years ago where I wasn’t sure what it was that I felt anymore. Sometimes it was just pain. During one of these times, I was kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel of my church, and I just begged God to take this pain from me. Two weeks later, my youngest daughter died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. As the days went by and the initial shock wore off and grief set in, I realized that I was experiencing a very familiar pain. It was the same pain that I felt when I would think about the abortion. I had never lost someone whom I was close to, so I didn’t know what grief felt like.
A few months later, my wife accompanied me on a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat for mothers and fathers of aborted children. This weekend retreat confirmed the fact that I was carrying grief for my aborted son. In all the years before, it had never occurred to me that I could possibly be carrying grief. After all, how could I have grief for someone whose death that I had caused? Well, I did have this grief, and I learned that some people call it the “forbidden grief”, because it’s not the kind of loss that you feel free to just talk about with anyone. I thought of all of the cards, prayers, and kind words of consolation that I had received when my daughter had died...how people had listened to me and cried with me, and I hadn’t had that opportunity to grieve like that for the death of my aborted son. It all made perfect sense.
I left the retreat after that weekend with a much deeper healing, and by continuing to acknowledge my aborted son, by asking for his forgiveness, and by grieving the loss of his life, I continue to find deeper healing than I thought possible, or that I even knew I needed. God is good! I will be silent no more!