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The Weight Lifted

I was a 19-year-old college freshman when I met Emeka, a 22-year-old pre-med student from Nigeria. I thought he loved me. It was early January 1978. What I’d been suspecting for several weeks turned out to be true…I was pregnant. And I was terrified. When I told Emeka, he was outraged, telling me that he thought American girls were smarter than that. He explained that he had a fiancé back in Nigeria that he had to marry when he went back in a few years. He told me to take care of the problem.

I went to the student health clinic. The nurse confirmed the pregnancy and told me that she could set up an appointment for me in Madison to have an abortion; she even smiled when she said it, telling me that it would cost $250 and that I should ask the father to help me pay for it. I nodded. She made the appointment…for January 23, 1978.

Emeka said he’d drive me there. He picked me up the morning of the appointment, and we made the two hour drive to the clinic…the “women’s health center.” He talked the whole way about his classes, like we were just going on a date or something. I don’t think I spoke at all, and I felt sick the entire drive. In my heart, I knew this was wrong.
A receptionist took our money and told us to have a seat. I was called from the waiting room and led to a lab where I was asked to provide a urine specimen. After the lab, a counselor called both of us into an office and asked whether this was what we wanted. She said I was about eight weeks pregnant, so it was good that I was getting this taken care of now. Emeka emphatically agreed; I just nodded, but it didn’t matter. She asked me to sign some papers that I never read, and she handed me some birth control pills “so this wouldn’t happen again.” That was the counseling.

Emeka went back to the waiting room while a nurse led me to an exam room and told me to undress. I don’t remember a lot of the details; my mind had shut down by then. I couldn’t deal with what was happening. I knew it was so wrong; but I was so scared and no one seemed to care. The nurse made me lie down on the table and put my legs up into the stirrups. She told me that it would be just like getting a pap smear; that I would feel a little cramping, and then it will be all over.

It was not just a little cramping; the abortion itself was horrible. I felt severe cramping from the probes that the doctor explained were to dilate my cervix; then I heard sounds like a vacuum cleaner and thought my insides were being sucked out. It hurt a lot, and I was terrified and crying. When it was over, something made me ask the doctor whether the baby was a boy or a girl. I’m sure he thought I was crazy, because he told me there was no way to tell because it actually hadn’t been a baby yet anyway…just a blob of cells.

I was taken to a recovery room where I was given more pills. A nurse came in and handed me some money. When I asked what it was for, she told me that Emeka had left and had left money for me to take the bus back home. A couple hours later, I was escorted to a cab through the back door in an alley. I remember asking the nurse why I was being picked up in the alley, she told me it was for my own protection. I wanted to tell her it was too late for that. The cab took me to bus station; I bought my ticket, and rode home, alone, in the dark…but I was thankful for the darkness. I was completely numb. I don’t remember how I got back to my room from the station; probably another bus. I just remember that I spent the next several days in bed, crying silently so my roommates wouldn’t hear, only getting up to go to the bathroom. I told them I was sick; and I was. I was bleeding, I was in pain, and I hated myself. I wanted to die.

After I’d healed, physically at least, I started going out to all the night clubs and sleeping around with any guy who asked. I barely went to my classes. I drank a lot, and even tried marijuana…anything to make the pain disappear. I no longer cared what happened to me.

One Saturday, months later, I was walking down the street, and I stopped in front of a church. I’d actually been confirmed into the Catholic Church that past summer (the other story). I felt the need to go to confession. I went into the old-style confessional, where you don’t see the priest, there’s just a little window. After a couple of minutes, I finally just blurted out the truth…that I’d killed my baby; I’d had an abortion. At first the priest didn’t say anything. Then, he told me that he could not give me absolution for that sin; that I had murdered an innocent being and would never be forgiven. I left, went to the drugstore where I bought a bunch of sleeping pills and swallowed them all. Well, I didn’t die; I just got sick. That first time, I didn’t even go to the hospital. I tried to commit suicide again about six months later, this time by cutting my wrists with a kitchen knife. However, I hadn’t cut deep enough. My roommate found me. I was admitted to the psychiatric floor for six weeks. I don’t really remember a lot about the counseling, but I guess I healed enough to at least decide that there must be a reason for me to be alive.

I went back to school, graduated, and took a job in another town. It was summer 1979. I was pretty content in my job for about a year. I made some friends and started going back to church, even joining a Scripture study group. Then I met a guy, my boss’ son, and we started dating. After a few dates, we had sex. I completely freaked out. Everything that I’d been through came rushing back. What if I got pregnant? I couldn’t do this again. So, I decided to end it. This time I stole a scalpel from work, and I made the cuts so they ran the length of the arteries in my wrists (I was a surgical tech, remember? I knew the best way). I remember seeing the blood gushing out of my arm, but not feeling anything. This time I almost succeeded in dying. By the time the ambulance got there, I was unconscious, and they could barely find my pulse. I was again admitted to the psychiatric floor.

The priest who had confirmed me found out I was in the hospital. He came to see me. I started to cry as soon as I saw him. He just sat down next to me and let me cry. Then I asked him if he would hear my confession. He was so patient and kind. I confessed my sin…that I had aborted my baby, and I knew that I could never be forgiven, but that I needed help. Then I held my breath, waiting for the condemnation, but there was none. He was so compassionate. He took my hands, raised my chin to make me look at him, and told me that there was no such thing as an unforgiveable sin. He said that Jesus had died for me so that my sins could be forgiven; that Jesus was carrying my burden, and that he was waiting to welcome me home. Then he absolved me of my sins. I felt some of the weight lift.

I  wish that I could say everything was great after that. It was a lot better, but it would take years for it to be good. I met my husband in 1981 and we married in 1982. We waited until our wedding night to consummate our marriage. He knew I wasn’t a virgin, but all I’d really told him was that I’d had a bad relationship. Within three months I was pregnant. I was ecstatic; God was giving me a second chance. But during that pregnancy, the depression that I had conquered came back full force. My husband struggled to try to understand what was wrong, but how could I tell him that I had killed my first baby.
After I had the baby, I suffered from severe post-partum depression for about three months.

Fortunately, I recovered and I was (I am) a good mother. I loved my daughter so much. When she was only eight months old, I became pregnant again. I still had some depression, but not as bad. I’d started going to daily mass and was teaching religious education, and I found that it really helped. My son was born, and suddenly I had two babies under the age of 2, but I was happy.

I got pregnant again when my son was 10 months old. This time, however, it was an ectopic pregnancy. The doctor told me that I had to have surgery to remove the fetus. I refused, even though I knew the pregnancy couldn’t survive, but in my mind that would have been like having an abortion. My fallopian tube ruptured, I started to hemorrhage, and I had to have emergency surgery. They had to completely remove the fallopian tube, and the doctor told me that my other tube was so scarred that I would likely never get pregnant again. I remember thinking: "I deserve this. I killed my baby and now God has done this to me. I deserve it." That was January 1986.

I finally realized that I couldn’t do this by myself; I needed help. I talked to a chaplain at the hospital. She referred me to a group called “Project Rachel.” What I needed was self-forgiveness. In Project Rachel, I found other women who felt like I did. So began the struggle to accept the forgiveness that I know the Lord had given me. I had to tell my husband everything. It was hard, and he felt betrayed, but we had to heal together.

I will never forget my experience, but I don't talk about it or tell people about it, because it still makes me cry. The people I know would be shocked if they knew the truth about me. Hardly anyone knows the truth. My husband knows, but he doesn’t want to talk about it either. He’s a good man, but a simple man, who just wants to make it through life without a lot of struggle. So, I keep it all inside. Everyone thinks I’m so strong; that I’m a rock. No one knows how vulnerable I really am. Sometimes I worry that people will find out; that they’ll think I’m a hypocrite. So I rarely let anyone get too close.

Every year, on January 23rd, the anniversary of my abortion, I light a candle and say a prayer for my child. I wonder what he would have been like; what kind of person he would have become. I ask him for forgiveness.

I joined a Right to Life group, and I work tirelessly to support life. I volunteer at my church…a lot. I do what I can to help those less fortunate than myself. We give a lot to charity. Do these things help? Sometimes. But sometimes the depression comes back, and I have to wait for the pain to pass. Sometimes it’s a struggle to overcome the sorrow and depression, the aching emptiness, the longing. And even knowing that I have been forgiven, I dread the day when I have to come face to face with my baby and explain why I took his life. I hope that he can forgive me.

Do I wish my life could have been different?…yes.  But I also think I am a more compassionate person than I might have been if my life had been easy. If I’d had everything handed to me, I might not have realized how good God is. If my life had been perfect, I might not have had the humility to lay myself at His feet and beg for mercy. So, most of the time, I don’t feel sorry for myself. Hardly anyone knows what I’ve lived through, but God knows, and I know that He was with me from the very beginning; I know that He loves me, and He has a plan for my life. So every morning I ask Him to use me according to his will.



Priests for Life
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