How are Children Impacted when they learn of a Parent’s Past Abortion?
[Theresa Bonapartis is the Director of Lumina, offering hope and healing after abortion. A special area of her outreach focuses on the struggle of siblings who learn of a parent’s previous abortion and the realization they have lost a brother or sister. I asked Theresa to share about her ministry and Lumina's Entering Canaan Day of Prayer and Healing October 21st 2017, for those who have lost a sibling through abortion. –Kevin Burke, LSW]
Theresa, what led you to develop a retreat for siblings with abortion loss?
I saw the impact on my own sons, when I told them as teenagers about my abortion. Having worked through the healing process with them I saw a lot of the struggles that I never even thought of before. Before you learn more about this issue, you think of telling them in relation to what they will think about you, but the truth is, it opens a whole range of issues for them. Guilt for being alive, wondering if they were wanted, anger, fear, would they even be here if their sibling was not aborted…it goes on and on.
I also began having more and more people come to me (I am next door to a high school) suffering because of a parents abortion. The more siblings I came to know, the more I came to understand all they suffered. Like those of us who are post-abortive, they often feel so alone in their feelings. They have so many questions but do not want to question their parents because they see them suffering so much already. They carry this burden alone.
They can be very protective of their parents and anyone harshly judging their moms for what they did. This confirms for us the importance of a prayerful and compassionate pro-life message that affirms our duty to protect the unborn and offer alternatives to abortion…but with words and actions that are always grounded in mercy and compassion…as Fr Frank Pavone is fond of saying, it’s about loving and protecting them both (that is the mother and child.)
What are ages generally of the participants? How do they come to awareness that this is an area that needs healing and what are some of their struggles?
The ages have varied from 20’s to 70’s. We do not take young children.
It is amazing how many of them share that they always knew someone was missing in their lives. Some were told by parents, others overheard things and their parents do not even know they know. I sense the need for healing arises because of all the issues and questions that come up for them. Think about it…here are your parents who have always loved and protected you and now you learn a sibling has died…it is all so conflicting for them.
They have questions but do not feel they can ask because they are protecting their parents. They hold the suffering and almost become the care giver with this. You have to wonder how much of it may come from wanting to be sure they are loved because a sibling has died. Of course they are loved, but with the knowledge of an aborted sibling so many questions surface.
They fear the anger they feel for their parents so they often hide it…a parent needs to be able to handle anything their kid has to voice. That is why it is so important the parent finds healing for themselves first…they need to be able to take whatever their kids dish out so that the kids do not feel like they have to protect them. They should not tell them just to ease their own burden. It is unrealistic to think it will not impact them so they need to be able to handle it.
Theresa you mentioned survivor guilt. Is this a common reaction when they learn of a parent’s abortion?
Part of them is grateful to be alive and the other feels guilty that it was their sibling and not them. They need to learn their lives are as importance as their siblings. They have dignity, importance and value and God has a plan for them. We try to help them come to see how abortion can happen, not to justify it, but to understand so they can forgive their parents and let go of the guilt to come to a peace within themselves.
It is a struggle.
What kind of feedback do you get from the participants after they have been through your program?
More than anything else, probably gratitude. Also a wonderful fruit of the retreat is the camaraderie among them that naturally develops and ongoing contact and support. This has blossomed into web sites and FB pages where they share with one another. More and more people are out there are finding them and sharing their feelings.
The dynamics between the siblings are wonderful as they come to see they are not alone and are so grateful and excited to share with one another and hear for the first time, some answers to their questions and a new way of looking at it all.
IT is wonderful, but we are just skimming the surface. There are millions and millions of them out there and many have multiple siblings lost from prior relationships of parents or within the family. Plus often it is generational.
Can you give us an overview of what takes place on one of the Entering Canaan retreats?
The weekend consists of series different conferences addressing sibling issues. It is directed by one of the Friars of the Renewal who I began the retreats with, as well as a sibling who has been through healing with us from the beginnings of EC retreats.
We address things like
Would my name be the same?
Would I even be here?
What do I do with my unanswered questions?
Various feelings they struggle with…
All in the context of conferences, time before the Blessed Sacrament and periods of sharing.
The bonding that goes on is amazing. People have attended from all over the country. One woman in her late 70’s even drove up alone from Florida…she held in her feelings for decades and was so grateful she had a place where she could finally express her pain.
How many have you offered so far. What has been the response?
We did day retreats for 4 years before offering our first weekend last year. We found the people who wanted to come were from all over the country and so a weekend seemed more logical than a day and more conducive to healing.
We are really just beginning to be known, but the response has great. So many have been waiting for this and are so grateful for its existence.
Theresa anything you want to add in closing?
I think we would all die of broken hearts of we saw the damage to so many siblings by their parents abortions. Oftentimes people who have told their children will say things like “Oh my child was ok”, but that is totally unrealistic. As unrealistic as it is to think that abortion does not hurt the moms and dads, Abortion hurts us all, and oftentimes other children on a deep level but they do not voice it for fear of hurting their parents more. I know many like that.
I know I am grateful for things like Shockwaves which is bringing this issue more to the forefront. You have to wonder, how is this impacting our society? How many are wounded because of this and bringing that wounded ness into their relationships without even knowing it because no one is speaking of it?
How can someone who is interested learn more and register for Entering Canaan Healing Weekend Retreat for siblings of aborted babies?
They can contact me at 877 586 4621 or email email@example.com
We do have a grant available to assist people to attend so money should not keep anyone away.