We’re very concerned these days that everyone is given a “voice,” but one person nobody wants to hear from is the woman who’s had an abortion. One side says: What I do in bed is my business; the other side says: You made your bed; now lie in it.
The left doesn’t want to hear from the woman who’s had an abortion, because to feel remorse, shame or doubt is to betray “the cause.” The right doesn’t want to hear from the woman who’s had an abortion, because you’re going to burn in hell so why should you matter?
The priest doesn’t want to hear, particularly, from the woman who’s had an abortion because the issue is way too complex, multi-layered and potentially time-consuming; women, as we all know, get weird around sex, men, and children; the priest, being human, probably hasn’t worked out all those things within himself; and besides, you’ve been forgiven, so let’s forgo opening that can of worms and move on.
Even women, who will talk about anything, don’t talk about abortion. Women, who within five minutes of being introduced will know each other’s career and relationship status, family situation, taste in clothing, food, movies, books and men, don’t talk about abortion. I think this is because women, of all people, know that abortion is a failure of love. Women know that if the guy with whom you were sleeping loved you enough, chances are you would have had his baby in a heartbeat. Women know that no matter how superficially relieved you may have felt immediately afterward; no matter how financially, emotionally and logistically impossible having a kid just then would have been; no matter how much sympathy they may (or may not) have for you and your situation, you’ve still gone against your deepest soul: against everything in you that is most precious, most worthy, most inviolate. ...
I began to realize that there had to be legions of women — and possibly men — walking around bearing this same harrowing, isolating burden. I began, tentatively, to broach the subject to people I knew. Female friends of decades-long standing confided that they, too, had had an abortion (or more than one); they, too, had kept their feelings and thoughts under wraps. One friend with three grown children was still haunted by the abortion she’d had as a teenager. Another, though wanting the child, had had an abortion at the insistence of her partner, only to be promptly dumped, then watch the guy go off, find a hotter, younger babe, proceed to father a whole family, and by all accounts live happily ever after. Maybe the most wrenching conversation was with a man, a film critic and former junkie. He said his wife had had multiple abortions before they were married. He said she’d been to a slew of therapists since, but had never made her peace. He said he himself had never quite recovered from the unilateral decision of a long-ago ex-girlfriend to abort the child they’d conceived. “He’d be 30 now, my son,” he said. How strange, I kept thinking afterward. He “knew” the child was male.
Not every woman to whom I talked had similar feelings. A few said, in so many words, “I’m glad I didn’t have a kid. I would have been a horrible mother.” But does any woman who gets an abortion think she’d be a great mother? That I thought I would have been a bad mother went without saying. That I assumed I would have been a horrible mother — that I was incompetent, that I had no capacity for love, that the guy would bail — was the whole problem: a mindset emblematic of a life based on way too much fear and not nearly enough faith; on way too much craving for anesthesia and not nearly enough hunger for the truth. ...
The fact is you get crucified if you have the kid; you get crucified if you don’t. Fire or fire. The redemptive suffering of taking responsibility for your actions; the neurotic (because avoidable) suffering of failing to. I just don’t see any way around this. I don’t think there is a way around it: hence, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The cross — which I mention partly because as I said, I’m a Catholic (I converted, for the record, after my abortions) and partly because we claim to be a Christian nation — is a picture of the human psyche. Jacques Fesch was a Parisian who shot a cop, was sentenced to death, and had a conversion experience in prison. “It’s only a short time since I really understood what the cross is,” he wrote before going to the guillotine in 1957. “It is simultaneously miraculous and horrifying. Miraculous, because it gives us life, horrifying because if we do not bring about our own crucifixion, we have no access to life.” ...
Here’s another truth: When you do something that goes against your deepest soul, you feel guilty. I should have felt guilty. Not the sickly, self-obsessed guilt that worries about being punished, or thinks sex is wrong, but the guilt that came from knowing I’d had an opportunity to walk toward the light and I’d blown it. I’d had an opportunity to help repair the hemorrhaging heart of mankind and I’d torn it further asunder.
As the Swiss mystic and philosopher Father Maurice Zundel observed:
“We are not interchangeable. We cannot put ourselves in someone else’s place. Each one of us is unique, irreplaceable, and if human love means anything, it is because it offers the possibility of showing this unique face that we are to someone else. Each soul is unique. If it were not so, it would be terrible. The soul is not some kind of mill open to anyone, but it is a secret, a unique mystery which will never be seen again, indispensable to the world order and the obliteration of which would disturb the order of the universe.”
I had disturbed the order of the universe, and I believed that to disturb the order of the universe has eternal consequences. Faith to me was an encounter with the eternal: an ongoing event in which the tiniest thought, word, deed “registered.” At the same time, faith was also a minute-by-minute walk with Christ in the simplest, most mundane aspects of my daily life: my work, my relationships, my brokenness, my weakness, my pride. My central paradigm was forever the parable of the Prodigal Daughter/Son: that I had squandered my inheritance in the mire and been welcomed back to the table, no questions asked; that I had been shown such unmerited, infinite mercy had awakened in me a corresponding thirst for the infinite, as well as the knowledge that God was closer to me than my own heart.
To believe that our actions have eternal consequences gives rise to feelings not easily resolved by psychotherapy, or yoga, or eating organic. I’d addressed my own feelings over the years by, among other things, prayer, the sacraments and massive amounts of inner work — examinations of conscience, inventories of resentments and fears, writing and sharing with another my sexual and emotional history. And though I’d come a long, long way — toward maturity, toward healing — mentally and psychically I still often seemed engaged in a fight-to-the-death, losing, battle. I could be harsh and judgmental, both with others and myself. I often woke from sleep at war with an unseen adversary: subconsciously intent on establishing that I was “right,” on defending myself, on proving my innocence. But I could not defend myself. No adequate excuse existed. By any worldly notion of justice I was doomed: a mother who had destroyed, killed if I had to use the word, my own children.
Without grace, the door would remain forever locked. Without more mercy (and wasn’t my account overdrawn already?), there was no escape. I couldn’t hope to move forward unless I started by asking: Could I have ever been that misguided, that blind, that astray? I couldn’t hope to progress until I was willing to expose the accumulated pain of a lifetime to the light and ask for help.
Heather King is an ex-lawyer and a Catholic convert with three memoirs: “Parched;” “Redeemed;” and “Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux.” She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at shirtofflame.blogspot.com. Visit her website at heather-king.com.