BACK in 1974, a year after abortion was fully legalised in the United States, Katherine White (not her real name) was enjoying her senior year of college. Her parents were proudly anticipating her graduation; she would be the first college graduate in the family.
Then she started throwing up, and eventually missed a period. So she walked into a clinic for a blood pregnancy test. It was positive.
“When I found myself pregnant, I was in denial,” she said. “I was frightened. I was too ashamed to tell my parents.” Yet White assumed her boyfriend would support her. They would get married and have the baby.
“He didn’t want anything to do with it,” she told The Catholic Accent, newspaper of the Diocese of Greensburg.
White recalled that back then abortion “was billed as a simple procedure that would get your period restarted – back to normal”. She underwent the procedure at a clinic in Pittsburgh, and there was never any mention of the word “baby,” she said.
“I think deep down I probably knew, but in order for me to do that, I told myself that it truly wasn’t a child. Nobody convinced me otherwise.
“I remember coming home back to my college dorm, and I just curled up in a ball for two days,” she said. “It forever changed me. I never ever spoke to anybody about that awful day – ever.”
For 40 years that she kept the painful experience inside herself, long after her college graduation.
White said that for a few years, she stayed away from the Catholic Church because she felt shame and estrangement from God, believing He no longer loved her. Fearful of God’s punishment, she abused alcohol and suffered from depression for many of those 40 years. And at all costs, she avoided reading anything about abortion; it was simply too painful.
During a bad time in 2015, she had an inspiration partly because she was spending time with pro-life advocates and also hearing compassionate Year of Mercy messages. She realised that her problems stemmed from her inability to face what she had done decades ago.
“I just faced it,” White said. “I realised that I had truly taken a life. I knew I wanted to confess it.”
SHE sought a wise, compassionate priest and received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “It set me on my healing journey,” she said. “It was just beautiful. When I was with him [the priest], I saw the hands and voice of Christ.
But healing didn’t happen overnight, White said. She struggled to accept God’s forgiveness for her deed.
She continued to seek advice from her confessor, who helped her realise she needed to humbly accept the unmerited gift of forgiveness from God who forgives all sins, even abortion.
He helped her to begin seeing her child in God’s loving arms and also recommended that she attend a Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend, a retreat that gives women and men an opportunity to accept and grieve their loss from abortion and ultimately move towards reconciliation and peace.
“I never thought I could discuss something so personal and painful with others,” she said. But, ultimately, she found the courage.
“I wanted to grieve for my child, but I felt like I didn’t deserve to,” White said. “Rachel’s Vineyard allowed me to share my sorrow with other women who have experienced the same loss of a child through abortion ... Not only do we deserve to grieve, it’s a needed step in our recovery, our healing.”
That special weekend allowed White to fully accept she was a mother who had a child. “Before, I referred to it as an ‘it,’” she said. “Now ... I ask him [her child] to pray for me.”
Referring to the Year of Mercy, White said, “I know what mercy is. I truly, truly get it.”
White attributes her healing to a combination of confession, ongoing discussion with her confessor, prayer, the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, and her ongoing relationships with the women she met at the retreat.
“I know that there are women out there in our churches who are suffering silently, as I did, and are in terrible pain,”
White said. “You are not alone.”
She encourages women to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “It will start you on your healing journey, and, more importantly, help you connect with your child.”
But the path is different for everyone, she said. “It takes time, just as with any other loss,” White said. “You go through stages, but each day gets better. But you have to go forward.” n CNS
To contact Rachel’s Vineyard in Singapore, visit www.rachelsvineyard.sg or contact Rose Boon (9818-5102). The organisation is conducting a retreat from Sept 23-25.