The late summer and fall of 1984 changed my life forever. A child was conceived. A child was aborted. My future husband was wounded in ways he didn’t begin to understand at the time. I was crushed.
And it wasn’t even my child.
My husband and I began dating in the spring of 1984 after knowing one another for about a year and a half. I knew he had been married before, but his ex-wife had had several affairs during their marriage, and she eventually left him. They remained friendly, however, and had “joint custody” of their dog, which meant they were in regular contact.
The relationship between my future husband, Paul, and I deepened quickly. He was everything I had wanted in a man. He was intelligent, highly philosophical, well educated and from all accounts, a man of integrity. Although we were both religiously agnostic, we came from Christian homes and could relate on that point as well. He said he was in love with me. I did have some misgivings about the difference in our ages – I was 22 and he was 32 – but I quickly decided that didn’t matter. I also knew that the wounds from his previous relationship had left him skeptical of the institution of marriage in general, but I ignored my misgivings. I did, however, become increasingly uncomfortable with just how much his ex remained a part of his life. Early on, I told myself that their relationship was perhaps unconventional, but enlightened, and he assured me there were absolutely no romantic feelings left between the two of them. We actually met socially with his ex and various boyfriends of hers from time to time. But she also called him frequently for many other reasons, ranging from needing help with her car to wanting him to support her during her unending crises. It got old quickly.
One day Paul’s ex called his home while we were together. She was working at a mental health facility and had witnessed the suicide of a patient. She was distraught. Paul immediately left me to comfort her. Given the extraordinary circumstances, I thought it would have been petty of me to voice any concerns and unease I had about their being together after such an emotionally charged event. So I said nothing.
Many weeks later, Paul told me that his ex was pregnant and was going to have an abortion. It appeared that she didn’t know who the father was, but that wasn’t surprising as she was seeing several different men. At the time, I knew nothing about fetal development, but I was still deeply disturbed by the idea of abortion, and I told this to Paul. He, however, seemed to be completely unbothered by her plans. When she called again saying that the doctor thought she was in her second trimester, I was truly horrified. Even in my ignorance, I knew that a second-trimester abortion was really bad news. Paul’s ex’s only concern was that the procedure would be harder on her. (She later said she had still been in the first trimester, and I took some comfort from that for a short time.) Still, I remember seeing her shortly before she aborted. She was a thin woman with a small frame, and what we now call a “baby bump” was clearly visible. That image will be etched in my mind forever. But I said nothing to her. After all, it wasn’t my body. It wasn’t my choice.
Shortly after she aborted, I was at home channel surfing and trying to block the abortion from my mind. I think my television only got four channels, but as fate would have it, I stumbled on a segment of an investigative news program that caught my attention. The host was holding something in his hand and said, “Well, this is what all the arguing is about.” The camera then zoomed in on a jar holding a small fetus.
And my world turned upside down.
I was stunned that the tiny first-trimester human was so perfectly formed. What about the phrases – “blob of tissue” and “clump of cells” - I came of age hearing? I immediately went to a local library and began researching fetal development. As I shared what I learned with Paul, I could see that he was distressed. Over the course of the next year, we both became pro-life. About a year after the abortion, Paul confessed that he had spent the night with his ex after she witnessed the suicide, and that his ex told him that a sonogram before the abortion confirmed that he was the baby’s father, based on the gestational age of the fetus.
There are really no words to describe the pain I felt. I left him for a time, but I returned, and we were married shortly after. I thought I could put it all behind me. I was wrong.
The abortion continued to haunt me. As a way of dealing with this, I threw myself into pro-life work and became deeply involved with Feminists for Life. I even began speaking on college campuses, determined that I would do something constructive with my pain. However, I never spoke of the personal circumstances that had led to my activism. Never. My husband and I became co-workers in the fight to end abortion, but we were not healed, and our marriage suffered terribly. Paul just wanted to “move on,” but I was unable to. Although I loved him and wanted real intimacy, it was never just the two of us in our marital bed. It was the two of us, his ex-wife… and their dead child.
His ex-wife also continued to remind us of the abortion. For instance, she called about six months into our marriage saying she thought she was pregnant again. She knew we were adamantly opposed to abortion, so we thought maybe she genuinely wanted help. And although we could do nothing to bring back the child she had earlier aborted, perhaps we could save this one while supporting her. So we tried, but to no avail. Paul was on the phone with her, and I could actually hear her screaming at him from across the room. She yelled, “You care more about a stupid fetus than you care about me!” before she slammed the phone down. We never found out if she was pregnant that time. That phone call took place about two years after her abortion. (I couldn’t remember the exact date of her abortion, but I have since wondered if she called on the anniversary.) At other times, she called and screamed at him for not paying for the abortion. (Even though he was not opposed to the abortion at the time, he had refused to pay for it or take her to the clinic, but he did offer to support and/or raise the child.) When we eventually had children, she called Paul at work asking for pictures of our kids. (She didn’t get them.) The list goes on, but I think I’ve made my point. That night they spent together and the resulting dead child bound them together in an obscene perversion of their natural, God-intended role as parents, and it poisoned our marriage.
It’s interesting that I was able to have such conflicting emotions during my own pregnancies. On the one hand, I was incredibly happy, but I was completely unprepared for the way that viewing my kids’ sonograms would bring such sorrow over the aborted child. And as I watched my kids grow, I would often wonder about that other child, sibling to my children. Would she have had my husband’s blue eyes? My son’s sharply honed sense of justice? Would she have been annoyed by her little sisters? Who would she have been?
I miscarried a child between the last two of my three children. I delivered that child in a toilet in an emergency room waiting area. I was understandably traumatized, but I also had a lot of anger I couldn’t clearly define. I had been pregnant for about as long as his ex-wife was pregnant. I wanted my child. I did all I could to keep from losing that child. She didn’t want hers. She just threw it away like so much garbage. I deeply resented that I couldn’t even grieve for my child without being mentally assaulted with images of how her child must have looked after experiencing such a violent death.
Paul was a great father, completely devoted to our children, but I would feel so insecure at times. Would he really be there to protect and care for us? Why hadn’t he tried to protect his aborted child? What does that say about him as a man? How could he have been so cavalier about creating that other child in the first place? Would he do it again? I also began to experience more guilt. Why hadn’t I stood up for that child? Is there a chance she wouldn’t have aborted the baby if I hadn’t been in the picture?
Paul and I were deeply wounded. Rather than deal with the pain and anger, I withdrew. For years, we were little more than co-parents. But Paul was changing.
We had begun going to church when our oldest child was young, largely for the sake of our children. Paul, always an avid reader, began to study intelligent design. Then about ten years ago, he began to seriously consider the claims of Christianity. Meanwhile, I had quietly begun my own journey back to God. Paul eventually accepted Christ’s embrace and the forgiveness he fought against for so long, forgiveness he thought could never be his.
And our marriage, which I had thought was long past hope, began to heal. For the first time ever, Paul’s defensiveness was largely gone. He listened to me and began to understand, for the first time, just how deeply the choice he made that awful night had wounded me. Paul and I were getting closer, but the pain, pushed down and largely replaced with anger for so long, was resurfacing. My pain intensified right around our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary (not quite a year ago), which coincided with the announcement from our oldest daughter that she was expecting our first grandchild.
I realized we needed help, so I made a phone call to a prolife organization and shared my story. The wonderful woman on the other end of the line, on the other side of the country, said that my husband and I needed to go to a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. We went on the retreat in June, 2011, nearly 27 years after the abortion. My husband went largely to support me, but was stunned by his own response to the experience. I have never seen him so broken, but in a good, necessary and healing way. We independently had the thought that the aborted child was a girl. I suppose we’ll never know this side of eternity, but she will be tenderly remembered as Ophelia during this lifetime.
My journey continues, and Paul and I are in counseling with a Christian psychologist. I am trusting that God will continue to heal me, but the process is not easy. I still have nightmares, but not as often. I still regret the lost years of our marriage, but have hope that restoration is possible. I still wish – desperately – that I had stood up for that defenseless child, yet I am beginning to accept a measure of grace and peace.
But I still grieve.
And she wasn’t even my child.