I’ve often heard people speak about the torment of losing a child. The indescribable feelings of loss and grief. The birthdays not celebrated, the graduations, weddings, the hugs, laughs and tears shared But, there is an added torment for some of us, the torment of being a parent who was responsible for their child’s demise.
On November 15 of 2001, I aborted my daughter because we were told she had severe mental and physical deformities and was not going to have good “quality of life”- whatever that means. My baby was full term when she was killed. After the abortion, she was actually given to us to see and hold. She was just a baby, not the monster they said she would be. A baby we wanted and loved immeasurably. However, this love was twisted by evil, and we were convinced by doctors and others we trusted that the best thing to do for her was to terminate her life. Even as I write that, it seems at odds with common sense. We needed to end her life so she wouldn’t have a bad life? It makes absolutely no sense to me right now, but at the time we were compromised and easily led astray. What a waste.
There are many aspects to be considered in the very short life of my daughter. When faced with the news of her condition, the doctors informed us that in order to have an abortion, we would have to fly to Kansas. Their explanation was that abortion wasn’t legal in New York at thirty – six weeks, but I later found out that abortion is in fact legal in all 50 states at any time before birth. However, there are only a handful of doctors willing to perform abortions that late in pregnancy. In addition, from a legal standpoint, there is supposed to be a valid reason for aborting a baby at 36 weeks, and fetal anomaly isn’t one of them. The catch phrase for an abortion this late in pregnancy is “health of the mother.” What most people do not realize is that this includes mental health, so if a mom says she is depressed or stressed, she is free to abort. Thinking back, I never felt my health, mental or physical, was in jeopardy. Moreover, I would venture to say that my mental health was essentially threatened after the abortion. Talk about irony!
One of the things that needed to be addressed once we returned home was the burial of our daughter. Our baby was cremated and her ashes given to us. Imagine, we saw and held our daughter who we aborted, and then were given her ashes! In retrospect, I see how the clinic spent so much effort in making what happened appear normal, but as time goes by we saw more and more how it is anything but normal. The clinic accomplishes this, in part, by taking pictures of the babies and making arrangements for burial. It is as if these deaths were a natural occurrence and the parents need to grieve and we no part in the death.
Even though I was engrossed in the lies, I still knew in my heart that what we did was wrong. I was embarrassed to have my family come to the cemetery to bury my baby. I felt like a hypocrite because after all, this was a choice that was made- our choice. How could others sympathize if this is what we seemingly wanted to do. It was all very bizarre. Even the simplest thing was shrouded in secrecy and lies. We had to have a friend who is a funeral director make arrangements with someone he knew in the cemetery because we weren’t sure if we could bury our baby there. Apparently, the only way to bury her was to have her buried with relatives. I tried to take comfort in that, but in my heart I resented the fact that she couldn’t have her own grave and headstone. Then, while making the arrangements, our friend made us the customary cards found at funeral homes. I was mortified. I know he was doing it out of love, but I didn’t think we deserved that because WE HAD KILLED OUR OWN BABY! It always led back to that fact in my mind and heart. You cannot escape truth.
All of this culminated on the actual day of the burial. A trusted priest came to pray with us, as well as our family, including our other young children. I couldn’t deal with the emotions and feelings of guilt and shame. I became numb, much like the way I felt when we were told our precious baby was so sick. I didn’t cry or show any emotion. I just stood there watching. My husband, on the other hand, broke down. I couldn’t even help him. Our friend, the priest, consoled him and let my husband cry on his shoulder. I was absolutely without feeling. Looking back, I am horrified. I know that it was probably a defense mechanism. I just could not face what we had done, but at the same time, I was recognizing how incredulous the situation was.
After the leaving the cemetery, I invited all our family back to our house for coffee and bagels! Another attempt at normalcy. Do you believe it? We all were playing a part pretending it was not what it was. They came, but I will never know what they thought. It is perverse if you ask me. But at the time this is what I needed to cope. I desperately needed to feel “normal” to make it all “normal. I would soon find out that no matter how I tried it would never be normal. My baby was dead because of me.
Burying my daughter was a shameful experience. It is so hard to grieve for your child when you consciously chose to end her life. I felt dishonest. I perceived myself as a phony, a fake. There was a tape playing in my head that kept reminding me that I didn’t deserve the sympathy I was getting. So many family members and friends sent us flowers and mass cards. While I appreciated each and every kind gesture, I felt unworthy of such sentiments. I kept thinking, “Are these people crazy, I killed my baby!” When I wasn’t chastising myself, I would try to allow all the good wishes and sentiments of others legitimize what I had done. I could fool myself for a while, but not forever. I lived with that guilt and shame for a long time.
Eventually, in desperation, I reached out to Jesus. He showered me with His mercy and forgiveness. Slowly, I became open to the truth of what we had done. In the beginning, the Lord gently carried me, showing me things a little at a time because that is all I could handle. Now, He walks beside me on this journey of healing. I know I will be fully healed, but not without a permanent scar, and I will never forget, nor do I want to. I am so grateful to God for allowing me to finally see the gravity of what I did. He showed me He wasn’t ashamed of me- He loved me and offered His forgiveness, and He assured me of my daughter’s forgiveness and love. Ultimately, although in human terms our daughters life may be considered a waste, it was not a waste. “All things work together for good for those who love God.” He brings good out of evil, even our worse sins. Having had this experience,with God’s help, I pray we may become, as Pope JP II said in the Gospel of Life “one of the most eloquent defender of human life.” In the end our daughter may not have lived on earth, but through her life, countless can be touched.