Mother's Day this year, as it is every year, was bittersweet for Michaelene Fredenburg. She has two sons she adores and a husband she describes as her rock of strength. But her joy in them does not keep her from grieving for the child she lost to abortion 23 years ago.

At 18, Fredenburg moved into her boyfriend's home in another state. When she became pregnant, he dismissed her idea of placing the child for adoption and continuing her dancing career. He demanded she have an abortion, then threatened to kick her out when she tearfully resisted.

Fredenburg had the abortion, but she walked out of the clinic knowing she had ended a life and violated her core belief in nonviolence.

"To me, you went in and erased the pregnancy, and that allowed you to move forward," Fredenburg says.

Instead, the abortion turned her life upside down. Unable to overcome her sadness, Fredenburg broke up with her boyfriend, quit her job and moved from the Midwest to Hawaii. These changes did not stop a cycle of self-destructive behavior that included an eating disorder.

"I felt I should be punished, that I ought to forfeit my life because I had participated in destroying another's," Fredenburg says of the suicidal thoughts that drove her to seek help several years after the abortion.

A public platform

As she worked through the long healing process, Fredenburg started thinking about others who, like her, felt isolated because of their abortion experience. She wondered if telling her story publicly, letting them know they weren't alone, would give them hope for healing.

It was only at that point, seven years later, that Fredenburg told her family of the abortion.

As Fredenburg shared her abortion story publicly at colleges and other venues, fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents and friends shared their stories with her. Zack, a young man tormented by guilt over his girlfriend's abortion, inspired her to develop the Abortion Changes You outreach.

"Tens of millions of people like Zack have been touched by abortion. Abortion Changes You seeks to communicate that they are not alone and that they can find healing and wholeness," she said.

Catholic praise

Through her book, "Changed: Making Sense of Your Own or a Loved One's Abortion Experience" (Perspectives, $22.95), and the Abortion ChangesYou.com website, Fredenburg offers a safe, private space for reflection about the personal impact of abortion and access to after-abortion resources. They include heartbreaking stories of women and men haunted by their abortion experience.

"It's not so much like an educational environment," Fredenburg explains. "It's more like we're sitting in a room together and I'm listening."

The outreach's unique focus on those touched by abortion has received praise from Catholic leaders, including Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Diego and Christopher West of the Theology of the Body Institute. But Fredenburg, who attends a nondenominational church in San Diego, took pains to make both book and website inviting and nonthreatening to people of all faiths and on either side of the abortion issue.

"Zack told me, 'I can't talk to my friends who support abortion, because they just dismiss it; the people on the other side are just scary. But I can talk to you,'" she says.

Fredenburg cautions those who have not participated in abortion to be especially sensitive in discussing the issue:

"One out of three women will have an abortion by age 45, so the odds are that the person you're talking to or the people overhearing you have been personally impacted by abortion. Even hearing that word can bring up a lot of pain for them."

Lisa Ferguson writes from Ohio.