I know, because I never thought to ask that question. It never occurred to me to even contemplate asking it, and looking back over our 29 years of marriage it is probably the one thing from both of our pasts that has affected our marriage more than any other.
It was not until we had been married a little over two years that I discovered that little secret that remained hidden from me by my beloved. We were at one of those self-help seminars similar to EST. During one phase of the seminar, in order to strip yourself bare of any encumbrances, you had to tell someone you loved about something about yourself that was never revealed before. Well, she came up to tell me her secret and said, “Before I met you I had an abortion.” I remember being a little shocked, well maybe more than a little. I replied, “It doesn’t matter.” How wrong I was! Because, you see, I never realized how much it would matter. I just pushed it into the back of my mind. We continued our married life together, had a baby, and continued our life as a family
We had met much like any other couple, through an acquaintance. We dated and fell in love, decided to get married. But there was always something that made me feel that she was holding back. Having worked in the field of counseling for many years I assumed that the ‘holding back’ was due to the family’s alcoholism. I would discover much later that it was due to the alcoholism, and so was the decision she made to abort her first child.
We made many visits to her parents’ home with our child and I would notice how she would become unusually quiet and sullen as we approached their home. We had a long conversation about the situation and I suggested that she get involved in ALANON. She followed the suggestion, and we both felt that this would be the cure-all. But there was still that nagging unmentioned thing that always haunted us.
Then one day we heard of a pro-life conference, it was actually more like a rally, at a local park. She decided to go and asked me if I would go with her. Not knowing what to expect, I reluctantly agreed. When we got there I was shocked. There was nothing but rhetoric about the evil women who had abortions. According to many of the speakers, these abortive women are worse than murderers because they killed their own children. There were many pictures of aborted babies in various stages of gestation. There was never once a mention of forgiveness, or God’s mercy. When we returned home I will never forget her reaction – she threw herself into a chair, curled up in a ball and screamed, “I am a murderer! I killed my baby, I killed my baby!”
I did not know what to do or say, but I reached to her and held her without saying a word. After some time of reflection and many conversations between us, I remembered something that I had heard about during some studies for an advanced degree at a seminary. It was a program called Project Rachel.
I contacted a priest friend who referred us to Project Rachel. We made an appointment with the priest who ran the program in our diocese. He spent a great deal of time with us and then focused on her and her reasons for the abortion. It was the first time either of us heard of God’s mercy and forgiveness for women who had had abortions. As part of the healing process she was asked to name her child, write a letter to him, and have a Mass said for him. She also for the first time in many years availed herself of the beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. During these phases of the beginning of the healing process I became involved. Not so much helping with the decisions, but being there with her to listen, offer support, and to try not to be judgmental (After looking back, I never once imagined to say or think, ‘How could you do that?’ After all, I had enough garbage in my own background. After some time I realized that if we were to make a clean slate of it all, I would have to be upfront with her and tell her of my past, with all of its warts).
Despite her involvement with Project Rachel and being referred by them to counseling, both private and couple, there was still something drastically wrong. There would be the times I would reach over to her looking for a moment of intimacy, only to be rebuffed and pushed away as she would recoil from me. Oh, there would be times of holding hands and intimate dinners, but the one thing that was missing was the total fulfillment of our relationship as a married couple. One day while discussing this she confided that after realizing what she had done to her first baby, she could not bear the thought of fulfilling that part of our marital relationship. Imagine the feelings of rejection and hurt that I felt!! After some time and more conversation I finally started to understand! There it was – she still did not feel God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Then by what I consider to be a miracle, a very dear friend of ours, who did not know anything about her past, invited her to go to a day of recollection and reflection conducted by the Sisters of Life. Because of the love and caring of the Sisters, for the first time, in a very long time, she seemed to be making a breakthrough and started to finally be at peace. She began to feel the all merciful forgiveness of a loving God. At one of the days of recollection with the Sisters she heard an amazing woman, Theresa Bonapartis, tell her story of her own abortion. She became involved in Theresa’s organization Lumina. She seemed to feel, ‘you know, I am not alone,’ and the healing process finally began in earnest.
You may say this is all well and good, but what does this have to do with you, a husband who took no part in her abortion? Well, my answer to that question is – everything. If you remember, at the beginning I mentioned that her abortion is the one thing that has affected our married life more than anything else. This is a journey of healing, understanding and loving that has to be made by both of us. She said she never felt so alone in her life. She told me the whole story of the abortion. How she drove herself to the hospital alone, how the nurses treated her like a vile individual and told her that her baby is a boy. How when she drove herself home on a particular road she wanted to drive herself into a bridge abutment and kill herself (then I understood why when we drove on this road she would get unusually quiet). How she could not confide in her parents because of their drinking and coldness. I read the letter she wrote to her son and we attended the Mass together that she had said for him. I attended the counseling sessions to which I was invited. I have attended some of the Lumina activities with her. I have tried to be loving, understanding, and supportive.
It has not been easy. I needed my own outlet, my own confidante. I found what I needed in a spiritual advisor who is a friar with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. It has been through his spiritual guidance that I am able to be there for her and for us.
One thing I have discovered during these 29 years of marriage is that one thing that affects one us affects both of us. This “thing called abortion” that occurred before we even met has had more of an affect on our marriage relationship than anything else. Once it was let out of the closet it could not in any possible way be stuffed back in nor did we want it to be.
I had a choice. Confront this together or separate forever. I made the decision that this was part of what was brought to our marriage “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health . . . to love and honor . . . all the days of my life.” I take that vow seriously. We had to make this journey together. This journey continues today, and will continue for the rest of our married life together.
I now look upon it that I have two sons, the one who she conceived before we met, and the one we conceived together. Would it be any different if the child had lived and this child was here present in our lives? No!! The only real difference is that we have a child who is with God and who is working and praying for us. If you find yourself in this position, a few suggestions:
- Do not be judgmental – we all bring our own garbage to the relationship, and we never know what may have brought someone to make such a radical decision.
- Be there for her – be supportive and listen, listen, listen. Often she does not want answers, which we most likely do not have anyway.
- Do what she asks of you – if it is to go to counseling sessions with her, go. This affects both of you and your relationship.
- Encourage her to become involved with Project Rachel, the Sisters of Life, and Lumina. They are non-judgmental and express nothing but healing and God’s loving mercy
- Find a support system for yourself (counselor/spiritual advisor)
- Take your marriage vows seriously. Nothing is more important than your marriage.
- Pray together, pray together, pray together.
I tell this story from a different perspective. We usually hear the story from the post-abortive woman or man. We seldom hear how an abortion conducted prior to a marriage can affect the marital relationship. When I was asked to write this article, how could I refuse? I was not in the least hesitant. I feel it is a story that has to be told, because if it helps a husband who finds himself in the same situation as I it is worth it.
(You may have noticed that I refer to my wife as ‘she’ and ‘her.’ This may seem cold or uncaring, but believe me that is not my intention. I can honestly say that I love my wife more today than I did the day we married. I use these terms with affection and love, but I have to respect her and my anonymity – Thank you).