While many people know that I have two grown sons and six grandchildren, many do not know that I also have a child in heaven who would be 45 now. This is my opportunity to tell you the rest of my motherhood story. While I have experienced great healing from my pre-born infant loss over the last twenty years, my opportunities for sharing this has unfolded in God’s timing.
While I was at university in the fall of 1972, I became a follower of Christ. I had been searching and praying all my life that a relationship with God would be possible. That evening, after a year of despising myself accompanied by a lot of self destructive behavior, I grabbed on to forgiveness offered through Christ like a life preserver.
I need to move my story ahead about 30 years. I was at Minot State Fair with my husband, Doug. After declining his offer to look at farm machinery for the fifth time, I decided to look at the many trade booths in the exhibition buildings. On that walk, I did something I had very specifically avoided in the past. I picked up some printed material at a booth where staff and volunteers from several pregnancy support centres were working. The next day when I started reading the material I had picked up from one booth I had a strong physical and emotional reaction that escalated into a panic attack. I was identifying so strongly with the women in those pamphlets. For the first time I was reading stories written by women who had experienced abortions. My first thought was, “God I guess this is something you want me to deal with”. I then was so distressed that I prayed out “God, please let me connect with at least one other woman who has had this same experience so I know I am not going crazy!”
Only a couple years before this, I had become reconnected with a church home and started a journey of healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Even though I believed that I had been forgiven when I became a Christian, there were so many feelings and beliefs about my experience that I had stuffed way down. I knew that God wanted me to acknowledge my abortion experience and rely on Him for a path to acceptance and freedom.
In the summer of 1971, following my first year of university, I accepted an offer to work at a fishing camp in northwest Ontario with another U of M student. The night before they were to leave the camp, one group of younger fisherman invited the two of us to come to a campfire they were having that night. We ignored the earlier warning from the camp owners not to socialize with that group and off we went. What could go wrong? There were two of us there together. A few hours later, we decided it was time to go back to our little cabin. One of the young men offered to walk me home a little later and I accepted his offer. I have to admit, I was a little flattered. They were all polite, professional young men. Of course, I was extremely naïve. That short walk back to my cabin proved to be not an act of kindness but an opportunity for him to sexually assault me. I felt so stupid and guilty for not obeying the camp owners. I could not deny the fact that I had been raped, but I thought if I didn’t tell anyone it would be like it never happened.
The next few weeks I was not feeling that great, but I thought it was because of the trauma. There was a lull in the number in the reservations so I accepted the owners’ offer to go home for a couple of weeks. I still wasn’t feeling that great, but I didn’t share what happened to me with my parents because I felt so foolish and guilty for allowing myself to get into such a vulnerable and risky situation. My mom decided it would be a good idea to see the family doctor in Winnipeg. He asked me lots of questions but when he asked me if I thought I might be pregnant I immediately answered “no”. He must not have believed me because in all the tests he ordered, he included a pregnancy test. We returned two weeks later for all the results.
When we returned, the doctor told me I was pregnant. I was stunned. Between the doctor and my parents, the decision was made that I would have an abortion. In those days it was called a therapeutic abortion. Many times later I recall thinking that there was nothing that felt therapeutic about it. Abortion was not illegal at that time, but I had to appear before a panel of three doctors for the approval. The only thing I remember was a female doctor asking me how I felt. I was just numb.
As it was a second trimester abortion the procedure was scheduled at the Women’s Pavilion in Winnipeg. My dad drove me and dropped me off and then picked me up about 4 days later. The procedure used was a saline injection where a large needle is used to inject a saline solution through my abdomen and directly into my uterus through the placenta. I know I must have signed acknowledgment that the Health Sciences Centre was a teaching hospital but I was horrified when about 10 interns crowded into the small room to witness the procedure. I felt like I was under a microscope. No local anesthetic was used. In the moments that the procedure began I felt in every fiber of my being that this was wrong. I wanted to yell “STOP” but it was like I didn’t have a voice. What I do remember was in the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain of that moment I made a vow that “no one would see me cry”. And they didn’t.
Following the procedure, I went through the process of labor and delivery of my baby. After a day of recovery in the hospital, my dad picked me up and I returned home. For about a week I stayed in bed curled up in the fetal position silently trying to process what had happened. I knew I couldn’t stay like that, so I returned to school a few weeks later and started my second year. I continued to feel so guilty and ashamed. It took 3 months for me to tell my best girl friend. A little over a year later I became a Christian, and I believed that I was forgiven and didn’t need to deal with it any more. However, when someone has a deep wound, it may be necessary for the original hurt to be revisited and healed.
Some of the lasting effects of my abortion experience were flashbacks and very detailed memories around the event. As traumatic as the rape and the resulting crisis pregnancy, the most horrific of that whole time was the abortion. Feeling I had no voice and the sense of powerlessness, the guilt and shame, seemed something that would last forever. When things were not going well later in my life or in my marriage I thought that I had that cross to bear because of my abortion.
I had told my husband, Doug, shortly after we were engaged. It was like the “acid test” of our relationship. I truly believed Doug was to be my life partner. He accepted me, including my experience. At a later time in our marriage he told me he hadn’t ever wanted to bring it up again as it was such a painful issue for me. He also told me that if I had kept the baby he would have married me anyway. I am so thankful that Doug was able to witness my path of healing before he passed away 10 years ago.
A few weeks following my prayer of desperation, God answered that prayer. Through a series of miraculous God interventions, I had a pamphlet in my hands about post abortion recovery that was available at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Winnipeg. Although it took a week to get the courage to make an appointment, I began meeting with Chris who worked in the Infant Loss Department. Using a one-on-one Bible study called “Forgiven and Set Free” she helped me work through God’s truth about my experience. Being an “all-in” kind of person, I followed up with the same study in a group setting.
I then attended a weekend group retreat called Rachel’s Vineyard. I am now part of a provincial team that facilitates this annual retreat for those who are also searching for healing following a preborn or early born infant loss. While many women attending these opportunities for healing and redemption are young and their experience is more recent, there are still many women who begin their post abortion healing journey 30 or more years later. There also men and other family members who reach out as they struggle with post abortion impact on their own lives.
Along with these opportunities to minister to others, I volunteered on the Crisis Line for the Crisis Pregnancy Centre of Winnipeg, for several years. Because of God’s expansive mercy and grace shown to me through others, the only response I know is to extend this forward. I have learned so much from others ’ stories through the filter of God’s truth and love. It is only God who could take the areas of my life that were the most painful and shameful and redeem them, transforming them into something He can use for His purposes. That is the kind of God He is!
Some believe that women choose abortion, but nearly three-quarters of women who have abortions experience some kind of coercion or feel they have no choice*. Even in my own circumstance, I feel it was not a good choice. I have often shared that a woman’s body is created to nurture life. Whatever anyone’s faith or beliefs may be, when that life is disrupted in a woman for any reason or circumstance, there are profound impacts in every area of her life and in the lives of those around her.
So the rest of God’s story for my life does not end just with an answer to my prayer of connecting with at least one other woman – I have connected with many other women whose lives have been impacted by abortion. While this is very sad, it is a privilege to share the hope of forgiveness and freedom with others. But neither does my story end with God’s initial forgiveness for what I believed was the unforgivable sin. His grace surpassed that forgiveness, and I am so grateful for the love extended to me through the Family Support Centre in Winnipeg and the opportunity to give to others. It was so instrumental in my healing. My story has now brought me back to Portage where it will continue locally. Both Mary Loewen (Executive Director, PPSC) and I were delightfully surprised that God allowed our paths to cross as I shared my story with her and she shared the dreams at that time for a centre in Portage. This is not the end. So the story continues….
At Prairie Pregnancy Support Centre we are able to offer hope and healing following abortion for those who live locally. We can also offer hope for those grieving loss following other kinds of preborn and early born infant loss. I have wondered lately about the difference having a local pregnancy support centre might have made in my own life. I know it will make a difference in the lives of many others.
*73.8%, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, https://www.pop.org/many-american-women-felt-pressured-abortions-study-finds/
If you or someone that you love is facing an unplanned pregnancy, we would love the opportunity to sit down with you and talk through your options. If you have faced unplanned pregnancy yourself and struggle with the grief of adoption, abortion or other infant loss, we want to hear your story and help you find hope and healing.
Cathy is a mother of two grown sons and nana to six grandchildren. She has lived in the Portage area and worked in the public service and not-for-profit sector for over 35 years. She has always been committed to the importance of family and walking alongside women facing challenge and change and is currently serving at Prairie Pregnancy Support Centre in the area of post abortion ministry.