“The procedure only takes a few minutes and it doesn’t really hurt,” the hasty nurse explained, barely looking up as she jotted notes on a piece of yellow paper. Her indifferent attitude told me that she must have given that speech hundreds of times.
My left hand clutched a wad of wrinkled money. It was the only act of support that my boyfriend could muster. Tears cascaded down my already crimson cheeks as the nurse continued to explain the abortion procedure. “You see,” she said, “you’re lucky. You are catching it early, and there is no baby yet. Right now, it is only a mass of tissue.”
Hypnotized by the lights, the dirty carpet, and the rows of empty-faced women awaiting their turn, I signed the form.
To pass the time, my unfocused eyes stared at the brightly colored pamphlets that the receptionist placed into a neat little bag and shoved into my hand. Not much registered, but I do remember the booklets describing side effects and possible long-term health risks. The booklets told me not to feel guilty; many women have had multiple abortions. Most are risk free and the women go on to live healthy normal lives.
In lieu of my name, my identity was a number, for privacy’s sake. I wondered about this long after, since many of us were emotionally vacant at that point. Who would remember, or even care about a name?
“One-eighty-seven! 187!” The voice shrieked loud and long. Methodically, I stood up, and entered a small closet draped with an orange flowered curtain. After removing my clothes, I put on blue paper slippers, a thin grey and white gown and walked to the procedure room.
Thin, from worry and angst about the pregnancy, my 19-year-old body was the focus of the middle-aged, robust nurse. “Well, honey, at least this way, you’ll keep your nice figure—no stretch marks!” Her dry, irritating laughter felt inappropriate, but I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t understand my feelings of sadness, either. Nothing in the pamphlets mentioned sadness.
Seeing my tears, the nurse said, “Oh, don’t cry now, you’ll feel fine once it’s over—everyone does.”
A broken heart
With legs in the stirrups, the vacuum machine whirred. I felt sheer horror, as I knew for the first time what I had really done. Nothing that the nurse or doctor said at that point could convince me otherwise.
I had authorized the killing of my own baby.
The days that followed were a blur of numbness and despair. I cried constantly, but kept my feelings secret. No one except my boyfriend knew that I had done this, and he didn’t seem to care.
No one helped me. No one understood. I felt so alone.
My parents didn’t understand my sadness, and I wasn’t able to tell them. After all, they were the ones I was protecting from the shame. In our family, saving face was the most important lesson of all.
Although raised in the Catholic faith, circumstances in my family made it difficult for me to believe. Therefore, it surprised even me, when I began seeking God and attending church. At times, I thought I could feel Him tugging at my heart. I kept busy hiding from myself, and trying to look like the perfect polished Catholic. I never really paid much attention. In my own erroneous way, I felt that if I proved to God that I was good and honorable, He and, hopefully, I might forget the shame of my sinful past.
One Sunday, well before Mass, I was kneeling in a pew. It was the twelfth anniversary of my abortion and the emotional pain gripped me as intensely as the day it happened. I prayed fervently to God that He might rescue me. I felt evil and hypocritical. I almost ran out the back door of the church.
At the front of the church sat a young ginger-haired priest. Each Sunday, before Mass, Fr. Ed offered personal confession to members of the parish. I watched as week after week, men, women and teens sat and cried with him. They always left looking brighter and happier.
I never went.
That day, I heard a gentle voice. “I have always loved you,” it said. I was perplexed. “What?” I asked out loud, looking around for the owner of the voice. No one was there. Suddenly I felt something lift me to my feet. I felt a hand on the small of my back and it seemed as if I floated to the front of the church.
Not realizing how I got there, I was sitting with Fr. Ed.
He looked up and grasped my hands. “You look so troubled,” he said. “What can I do to help?” His compassionate eyes melted my soul. I saw such a loving, almost familiar look in his gaze. Instantly, the walls around my heart tumbled down and what remained was raw pain and unworthiness. For the first time, I shared my experience. I cried and told Fr. Ed everything, how I felt condemned, lost and unforgiven.
He placed his arms on my shoulders, praying over me for a long time. He asked me to pray aloud an Act of Contrition. After explaining that I didn’t remember the words, he told me to speak the words my heart was telling me.
I did pray, with all my heart.
Warmth, love and compassion oozed like lava through my soul. Replacing years of sorrow and pain were feelings of love, mercy and absolution. My body felt lighter and almost radiant.
Continuous moist tears flowed warming my heart. More and more I realized my longing for my son.
A scripture passage entered my mind. “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they may be crimson red, they may become white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
For the first time, I felt white as snow and knew the depth of God’s love and forgiveness. It was the first step of a long journey, and shame did not travel with me.
Through all the vicissitudes in my life, God’s love and the hand of Jesus Christ continue to guide me through all darkness into the light.
And I am so grateful.