By Theresa Burke, Ph.D. and Kevin Burke, LSW
“For many moms with an abortion in their past, Mother’s Day is a difficult day. It reminds us of our losses, of the children we could have had. It can bring up our guilt and shame. I have had several very tough Mother’s Days.”
Susan Swander, a Rachel’s Vineyard team member in Oregon, has expressed the heartache so many women will experience this weekend.
Abortion, and abortifacient contraception that may expel a human life at its earliest stages, attacks the unique relationship between a mother and her unborn child. A woman who has experienced abortion loss has within her heart, soul and body a powerful desire to reconnect in love as mother with her aborted child or children.
Given her role in the child’s death, the circumstances of the pregnancy and emotional trauma associated with the procedure, it can be very difficult to find peace and reconciliation.
Until that bond between parent and child is re-established in an abortion recovery program, women and men may develop substitute relationships; manifest in food and substance addictions, excessive focus on work, helicopter parenting of living children, sexual dysfunction and intimacy issues, and other unhealthy ways to cope with repressed grief and the complicated feelings that often accompany the abortion experience.
Sometime these symptoms lead to the process of traumatic re-enactment resulting in repeat abortion procedures (close to 50% of all abortions are repeat procedures.)
Abortion is an especially sensitive wound for women given their unique role in pregnancy and childbirth. With conception, a mother’s body is quite aware that there is a very small child growing in the womb.
The female body is anything but “pro-choice.” From the beginning, if the pregnancy is developing normally, she begins the intimate process of nurturing and protecting the developing life that resides within her. A woman’s body is clearly pro-life.
We know that the response of fathers to the positive pregnancy test, pressure from friends and family, fears and anxieties about motherhood, and challenging circumstances can lead parents to see abortion as the only way to resolve an unplanned pregnancy.
Yet, even when abortion seems the only possible solution, (which of course it is not), and she experiences a sense of relief after the procedure, a mother is still deeply injured when she participates in severing that intimate relationship as the mother of her unborn child.
Ms. Swander shares:
“Many mothers simply stuff the grief – some (like me) for years. Mothers who have aborted a child have lost a child. But no one allows them to grieve. Yes, we decided to abort our child, but that does not lessen our loss or our grief. Only hope and healing learned through a Rachel’s Vineyard abortion healing retreat is allowing me to finally grieve my children. Thank God for this.
Thanks to the mercy of God and the physical resurrection of Jesus, our Christian faith gives mothers the sure hope that while there may have been a physical separation with the child (or children), she never stopped being the mother of her unique and precious child.
When parents go through a healing program, they come to understand and more importantly, intimately experience a new reality. The bond between parent and child, which was denied for many years, is now resurrected and firmly rooted in their maternal and paternal heart.
The spiritual relationship with their child in this life, and the hope of reunion in eternal life to come with the Lord, is a source of great consolation and peace.
The Gospel of Life
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Saint John Paul the II’s Encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae.) Paragraph 99 of this document has served as one of the foundations of the movement to bring reconciliation and healing to those who have lost children to abortion:
“I would now like to say a special word to women [and men] who have had an abortion…what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.”
Ms. Swander shares:
“This year I am choosing to celebrate Mother’s Day and my motherhood. I am going to make it a day to honor my 4 children (3 abortions one miscarriage.) There is a spot in my yard aching for a “Children’s Garden.” I will offer my Mother’s Day Mass for my five children and in gratitude for being a mother.
If you know a mother who has suffered the loss of a child through abortion, would this Mother’s Day be a good time to acknowledge her motherhood and her loss? Maybe she just needs some help from a friend like you to begin her healing journey.”
In our Blessed Mother Mary’s name, we wish all mothers a very happy Mother’s Day.
Dr. Theresa Burke and Kevin Burke are the co-founders of Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry for healing after abortion.