- “No one will help me; I will be alone in raising this baby”
- “I have to get this abortion done secretly because no one must know about the pregnancy”
- “My baby’s father doesn’t care enough to take care of me”
- “My baby’s father doesn’t care about our baby”
- “We need to abort because the baby has a birth defect”
- “The happenings in the world are too crazy to have a child right now”
- “It’s not a great time to have a baby for us right now; we’ll wait until we can accept a baby with open arms”
- “I was just going to start a new job”
- “I don’t want to have a child with someone who doesn’t love me”
- “The father of my baby is abusive, so I can’t have his child”
- “I didn’t want to get an abortion, but my boyfriend told me I had to or else he’d break up with me”
- “If I have a baby out of wedlock, my family will be so ashamed”
Depending on her situation, a mother might think some or even all of these thoughts when she is making the decision to abort. And there are probably many more hopeless thoughts that are individual to her situation. You might even be thinking that some of these thoughts seem reasonable to have. Coupled with the highly charged events of intimacy, abortion, and perhaps relational breakdown, these hopeless thoughts then become the beliefs that lodge themselves into a woman’s emotional paradigm.
Intimacy, pregnancy, abortion – these are all highly-charged, high-stress events. Research into neuroscience is shedding greater light on how highly emotionally charged events like these, which deal with life and death itself, have the power to organize our mental and emotional universe. Have you ever heard of the saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together?” In a very simplified explanation of a complex process, this phrase describes how the thoughts associated with certain highly charged events become deeply ingrained into our neural wiring; these thoughts become fused with the memories of the events that prompted them, and will surface in any future situations that evoke memories of these events.
Therefore, a mother won’t only have the thoughts I listed above with an unwanted pregnancy; in fact, she will probably have them with anything that reminds her of that unwanted pregnancy, such as any future pregnancies, any intimate relationships, her subsequent children, and even her own body and self. The emotional ecosystem which was formed to rationalize and support the excruciating decision and process of getting an abortion surfaces, even when circumstances change.
Now, as a sibling of a child who was aborted, whose mother had an abortion, you may not have had an abortion yourself: but how many of the thoughts listed above do you recognize as your own? Look at the list again, and see if you recognize yourself in the italicized statements:
- “No one will help me; I will be alone in raising this baby” (I am and will always be alone in my struggles)
- “I have to get this abortion done secretly because no one must know about the pregnancy” (I have to hid my struggles; no one will care or understand)
- “My baby’s father doesn’t care enough to take care of me” (The most important person in my life won’t care about me)
- “My baby’s father doesn’t care about our baby” (I can’t entrust the person closest to me with important things)
- “We need to abort because the baby has Down Syndrome” (You must be perfect to deserve being alive; otherwise you’re better off dead)
- “The happenings in the world are too crazy to have a child right now” (The world is fundamentally dangerous and will eliminate the weak and vulnerable, so I must be strong.)
- “It’s not a great time to have a baby for us right now; we’ll wait until we can accept a baby with open arms” (You must be wanted by someone to deserve to be alive; otherwise, you’re better off dead)
- “I was just going to start a new job” (You must not take risks for people, they will ruin your life and security)
- “I don’t want to have a child with someone who doesn’t love me” (If someone doesn’t love me or support me, I will hurt myself and others to get even with them)
- “The father of my baby is abusive, so I can’t have his child” (I must control what is not in my authority to prevent being hurt)
- “I didn’t want to get an abortion, but my boyfriend told me I had to or else he’d break up with me” (I must go against my own instincts to appease the ones I love or else I’ll be abandoned)
- “If I have a baby out of wedlock, my family will be so ashamed” (The regard of others close to me is more important than my own principles or self-respect)
How many of you siblings of aborted children identify with the italicized statements? Have you perhaps always had these beliefs, and not known why? Perhaps your parents were loving, and you are a capable, talented adult. Or, perhaps you were a child with promise, but was never able to translate that potential into adulthood. Deep down, have you always felt an irrational, fundamental fear of the world and a doomed sense of its lack of love that you could not explain?
As a sibling of an aborted child, I know I identified with every single one of those statements. I grew up with a heaviness, a burden, that people could actually see, a sadness that everyone picked up on and drew away from. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that my mother told us about her abortion (and multiple miscarriages), and going on a Sibling’s Retreat with Theresa where I met others with such unexplained sadness, that I started putting the puzzle together, and the healing started to unfold. One of the facets of that healing is untangling yourself from the unhealthy facets of your mother’s emotional paradigm—one which you unwittingly took on in order to attach with your primary caregiver.
After all, it’s only natural that a mother, a child’s first educator who mediates reality for him/her, passes on her deepest emotions to her child while attempting to bond with her child in the way she knows how. Researchers have noted that maternal emotions have a much greater influence on their child than, for example, paternal emotions. For example, if a mother’s predominant emotional motivation is fear, she will show her care by stressing dangers and validating cautious, inhibited behavior; and vice versa, her child learns the behaviors and emotional displays that will draw her validation and attention, even if they are maladaptive.
I hope it goes without saying that this is not an excuse to blame or demonize mothers; rather, it is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your mother’s emotions, or what some psychologists have called “emotional field”, by developing empathy and compassion for what she went through. In doing so, you are recognizing her as a separate person, who has had naturally very different experiences from you. You are creating breathing room between you and your mother: her natural responses and emotions come from a specific set of experiences that you (hopefully) have not had to experience; they are her own unique wheelhouse that only she has familiarity with, and ultimately, only she is capable of dealing with. Children do NOT have a mystical assignment to bear their parents’ miseries, especially ones that they have created for themselves.
Even if you have yourself had an abortion, the willingness to heal and develop self-awareness, as well as the fact that you are individuals living completely different lives, also makes your experience and emotional field distinct from your mother’s.
In short, your world doesn’t have to be defined by the beliefs that your wounded, post-abortive mother adopted in order to survive any difficult experiences or circumstances that she had. By leaning into your baptism and with the help of the Holy Spirit, your thoughts and beliefs can align more with the fundamental security you deserve as an adopted child of God! -MR