Many years had passed, and I had confessed many sins, before I finally heard a homily by Father Larry Richards that discussed the true blessing of the sacrament of Confession. At the end of the CD, he went through an examination of conscience. I nearly froze in my steps when he said, “If you’ve had an abortion, confess it—your baby in Heaven is praying for you.” My eyes immediately filled with tears as I went straight home to make a list of things I needed to discuss with my priest. Chest heaving with sobs in the confessional; I told Father Roux that I had had an abortion 12 years earlier. He smiled kindly, held out a box of tissues, and assured me that the sin would be absolved. However it was clear that I needed more than absolution—I needed healing. Father Roux told me about Rachel’s Vineyard, a ministry devoted to helping counsel women who suffer from Post Abortion Syndrome. Did you even know there was a name for what we feel? Because I had NO IDEA, and learning about Rachel’s Vineyard, coupled with the fact that clearly there were enough women suffering silently with me, seemed to lift an enormous burden.
I went home to research Rachel’s Vineyard, and sent a couple of emails to the contacts listed on the website. But I slowly started to discuss my experience more openly with my husband. I also became involved in a letter-writing campaign asking corporations to quit supporting Planned Parenthood, America’s largest provider of abortions. Eventually I felt like I had come a long way and that maybe I didn’t need to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat after all.
Practically out of the blue one day, I received an email from the Catholic News Herald asking if they could publish a piece about my efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. I hesitated, wondering if I wanted to wear that scarlet “A”, but ultimately decided that if nothing else, maybe I could recruit more people to my letter-writing campaign. Not long after the article ran in January, I received an email from a complete stranger who also attends the same parish as me and my family. She said that she had suffered silently for years from abortion and wondered if we could meet. My heart lurched. While I was thrilled at the opportunity to help someone, I felt enormously unqualified to do so. When we finally met (and wept), we had decided that we would attend a retreat together. We looked at dates, and decided that sooner was better than later, so we would attend the very next retreat available—a weekend in February in the Savannah diocese.
Knowing myself, I feared that I would get cold feet and cancel at the last minute, so I booked a flight from Charlotte to Savannah. I encouraged my new friend to do the same, but she decided it was best that she drive. In another attempt to keep myself honest, I told Father Roux that I was planning to attend a retreat (nearly a year and a half after his recommendation) so that if he saw me in Mass that weekend it would be obvious that I was too scared to go.
As the date neared, I became more and more hesitant to go. Eventually my friend told me that she didn’t feel ready to re-open her wounds by attending a retreat. My initial reaction was, “well if she’s not going, I’m not going! I only registered to help HER!” How very naïve of me! Finally it was time for me to pack up and head to Savannah. My Mom came to my house to take care of my young son, and asked me how I was holding up. I couldn’t control the tears that came in reply to her question. I hadn’t packed and was already considering holing up in some hotel in Savannah and just resting alone for the entire weekend. But I slowly packed and after much distraction, we left for the airport. I have never spent so much time in the security check point! This was when I was resigned to the fact that I would never arrive at my retreat. But I wasn’t upset. I thought about renting a car and going to Savannah, and I also thought about checking into the Ritz uptown and just taking a break from real life for a couple of days. When I finally got through security, the gate for my flight was closed. As I ran to the counter, the US Airways employee looked at me and said, “Rebecca Griffin?” I was so embarrassed at being so late and somehow he was able to ask the crew to wait for me. Just when I thought I was off the hook!
I boarded the plane and immediately saw the one vacant seat, which wasn’t mine. I had gone online the night before and paid the extra eight dollars to have a “premium” (or window) seat. But there was an enormous man in the seat I’d paid for. So I asked, “Are you 3B?” To which he said, “No.” The stewardess told me to “just sit down” because we were ready to take off. So I looked at the man and said, “I paid EXTRA for that seat, which is why I asked!” He couldn’t care less, and I was fuming. Over eight dollars. This really is not who I am. (Fortunately I was able to go to Confession during the retreat and the Priest and I had a good laugh over my ridiculous behavior.) But this is how uncomfortable I was about making myself vulnerable in front of a group of strangers about the most disgusting experience of my entire life. I absolutely did not want to go. I tried to read “Forbidden Grief” on the plane, but it was too excruciating, so instead I prayed. I prayed for the man in my seat. I prayed for my aborted child. I prayed for all of the women who might attend the retreat with me. I prayed for women who have been through abortion and don’t know that there is healing available to them. I prayed for every person I could think of, and finally I landed.
Picking up my rental car, the gentleman behind the counter asked where I was heading. I told him, and he said, “Chicken country!” Yeah, that’s what I needed to convince me to go… I was still thinking about a weekend alone in Savannah but decided to trudge forward. On the road, I reached into my purse for my sunglasses and found that one of the hinges had come undone, rendering them useless. Of course. I hadn’t printed an itinerary, so not only was I unsure of where to go, I also didn’t know what time to get there. Of course. I called the only contact number I had and went straight to voice mail. Of course. So I pulled over and had lunch. The chicken was delicious, and I figured, “Of course! I’m in chicken country!” Ugh.
I drove through a couple of very humble towns, still unsure of any landmarks and very sure that I was going the wrong way. When I finally spotted the balloons on the fence that would indicate where I needed to be, I thought I wanted to vomit. My head was killing me. I wanted a posh bed, a bubble bath and a glass of wine. But I found a sweet smiling woman on the porch. I felt like once she spotted me, I couldn’t turn back. I thank God for her.
The team was still preparing for everyone to arrive; I was a couple of hours early. Fortunately that meant I could attend Mass on Friday afternoon. I waited silently in the chapel. The Priest walked by and said hello, and asked how I was doing. Involuntarily my eyes turned into waterfalls. He smiled and said, “I know. But you’ll feel better soon. I promise.” I think I cried from my arrival at 4 pm until I went to bed at 11:00. I read the packed schedule thinking that this was immature and that I still might sneak away, but with each exercise I actually felt a little bit better.
The first night, after we had been very well fed, we had our first “Living Scripture” experience. I must admit that when I saw this on the schedule I thought it was nothing less than stupid. Except that it revolved around my favorite piece of scripture: John 8:1-11. “Has no one here condemned you?” “No one, Lord.” “Neither do I condemn you.” This was such a revelation for me: of course none of these women would judge me for having an abortion! We were all there to find forgiveness and healing, and none of us would DARE judge another one of us. This opened the flood gates and I was finally free to discuss my experience, along with the guilt and shame and regret, with a group who wouldn’t even consider passing judgment. Thank you, Lord!
We were up and going early on Saturday, which is NOT normal for me. My husband gets up with our children on Saturdays so that I can sleep. When my alarm went off at 6:30, I was startled, but I was also pleasantly surprised at how rested I felt. This might not be so bad. When I walked into the dining room, everyone commented on the “New Brice.” They told me I was not the Brice that was there the night before—bitter, arms crossed, weeping (again, this is NOT me!). I was a smiling Brice. It was a good start. I felt better already.
Saturday was our opportunity to “tell our story.” Never in my life had I had the opportunity to do this. Why would I?! From my parents’ (nasty) divorce when I was five to my present day, it all fell into place. Listening to the stories of all of the other participants (two men included), there was one common thread: each of us came from a broken home.
While I dare not share another woman’s abortion experience, I will share mine. I do not blame them in any way, but my parents divorced when I was five. It was ugly. Custody battles ensued. If I disagreed with whoever I lived with, I would threaten them with moving in with the other. Once the hormones kicked in, I spent several years seeking attention wherever I could get it. Tattoos, booze, boys, bands, whatever. I had no spiritual foundation and certainly no respect for the sanctity of life. So when I found myself knocked up by my rock star boyfriend, I didn’t even flinch when he said, “Well let’s take care of it.” Phew. Of course that’s what we would do. Because he said so. I mean, who else would I turn to? I was young and impressionable and I had the CHOICE to do whatever I wanted.
On Sunday we had a lovely memorial service for our lost children. After naming them, we had the opportunity to write them a letter to tell them anything we might be feeling. Everyone apologized to their child. Everyone begged for forgiveness. Everyone wept.
While I now feel a great sense of peace and healing, in retrospect I am stunned. Disgusted that no one ever told me that there was a child in my womb. Dumbfounded that the abortionist actually made small talk with me (his daughter liked the same bands as me and was going to see our favorite that very night). THE ABORTIONIST WAS THE FATHER OF A GIRL. This kills me today. I pray that she never became pregnant unexpectedly and he aborted his own grandchild. I am horrified that the pro-abortion movement does not acknowledge the damage done to a woman (or a man) when they go through an abortion.
Nothing in this world could ever make me feel like I made the right decision. But attending a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat helped me to realize so many things: I am not alone; God forgives me because I have contrition; and most importantly, my child forgives me. My little boy is waiting for the moment when I can hold him in my arms and tell him about all of his siblings, and how much we love him, and how I have missed him. Rachel’s Vineyard has given me so much more than healing. It has given me an ability that I never had before, to be able to vocalize exactly why I am adamantly pro-life and why I will raise my kids to be the same. I would never wish this experience upon anyone, and I want the world to understand that there is no such thing as an unwanted child.
Leaving the retreat on Sunday, I was a new woman. Finally, after 13 years, I had closure. I had peace. I felt that my God and my child had forgiven me. I had ten new friends, all of whom had suffered what I had suffered—some of them multiple times—and all of whom were now on the road to recovery.
Not a day passes that I don’t think about my abortion and about how my life would have been different if I had made the other decision. And now, thankfully, not a day goes by when I don’t thank God for Rachel’s Vineyard.