I am thirty and the eldest of three girls. The summer before last (2012), I found out my mother had had two abortions prior to marrying my father and having us. I would like to share this in my half-siblings’ honour, since today is the Catholic Feast of the Holy Innocents.
Our mother suffered passed away in August of 2012. Earlier that summer, she had been looking into donating her body for research. One of her sisters had helped her fill out a medical history report and somehow or another I was running errands so they gave it to me to mail. Knowing how important it was to have all the details and signatures in order, and also assuming I knew everything about my mom’s medical history since she was a pretty open person, I flipped through the packet of papers. I also wanted to see mine and my sisters’ names on the page about pregnancies and reproductive health – we’re part of her history!
“Live births: 3”
I was puzzled, as I didn’t think she had had any miscarriages, and I felt I would have known. So a couple weeks later when I was visiting the aunt who had helped her write it, I asked. She knew what I was going to ask even before I finished the question! “She had two abortions”.
I think my initial reaction was “Well, that explains a lot”, as our mother had been very overprotective of us. With me, the eldest (or so I thought!), she had had a hard time letting me grow up and leave her. She had written that in my baby book, actually – the first night home from the hospital, crying because one day I’d grow up and leave her.
Anyway, my aunt asked how I felt at hearing this news, and let me know my mom did regret them. “I told her, ‘when you’re in heaven, with them, then there will be closure’”. My aunt also told me how common it was for women of their generation to have abortions, telling me about a friend of theirs whom I know, and how she herself had driven another friend to an abortion clinic. Her tone of voice was the same you’d use to confess driving the get-away car during a crime.
I asked when they had happened, was she in college? My aunt said she didn’t remember exactly, but looked away at this point and said it the way you say something you don’t want to talk about, even though you do know the answer. At any rate, she told me they were before she had met our father.
She asked if I was going to talk to our mom about this, and I said no, I didn’t want her to worry that I was judging her. My aunt agreed that that was probably the best approach.
I don’t know if she sought counselling for this, but I suspect she did. One time, when I was seeing a therapist from our local Catholic Charities office, she told me she had seen a therapist from Catholic Charities, too, when she was in her late 20s. That surprised me, as she wasn’t a practicing Catholic at that point. But in the late 1970s/early 1980s, I suspect they were one of the few places to validate post-abortion issues? At any rate, there were other incidents and comments that, as I look back on them, assure me she felt grief and was truly sorry.
One interesting story I’d like to share:
Shortly after she and our father were married, her own father died. A few months later, she discovered she was pregnant with me. I was a surprise, as my parents weren’t planning to have children right away. My mom told me that a couple days before finding out she was expecting, she had a dream that she and her siblings and mother were sitting in their living room, and then her dad walked in and handed her a white (cloth) bundle, telling her to take good care of it. She was very happy to see him, but he couldn’t stay. Then she found out I was on the way! She always told me, “Grandpa gave you to me!” I used to think maybe he watched over me, since growing up with my mom was rather intense.
But, knowing about the abortions now, it seems like a dream of forgiveness and being given another chance. Not just a second chance to be a mother, but a second chance to accept an unplanned change in her life. My mom told me one time, when talking about her reaction when her father died, that she was aware that he would “know about bad things I’ve done”. I asked her, “What bad things? I thought you said you never got into bad things”. I don’t remember her response exactly, except that it was evasive. So I imagine that this dream was healing for her. It is healing for me, too, as reflecting on it helps me deal with the survivor’s guilt I have experienced this past year and a half (and really, have experience all of my life, even though I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly).
I don’t know if my sisters know. I didn’t tell them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of it. It’s been painful for me to know, but it has put a lot of things in perspective, and they might appreciate that experience, too – they have a right to know. I’m not sure how to broach the topic, though, especially as the middle one is very pro-abortion. I’m not sure what my youngest sister thinks about it.
Being Catholic, I am used to asking saints to pray for me, so I would ask my two little half-siblings to pray for our mother and for our family. I still do ask them to pray for us, but admittedly, I don’t have a relationship with them or feel close to them… yet. It is nice to know I have older siblings, though; I’ve always wanted that! And somehow in my heart I feel the first was a boy, Jonathan, and the second, a girl, Ellen. Those were some of our mom’s favourite names; ones she considered for us, actually. I don’t know if she ever named them, but maybe she did, and maybe those were the names she gave them.