It was a story I did not want to tell. But as Sanctity of Life Sunday approached, my pastor asked me to share my story with the church — the story I had kept secret for many years. My abortion story. And while I understood this message could help other women find forgiveness, I also knew it meant I'd have to tell my kids — something I dreaded.
My kids were ages 10, 7 and 5. Although I was their mom, I thought they'd hate me when they knew the truth. After all, just how do you tell your kids that they'd have another brother or sister if it weren't for their mom's bad decision?
John and I prayed about how to tell our children. We knew that although they'd heard the word abortion before, they most likely didn't understand what it was. Since they were still young, they didn't need to know details. We also wanted them to know why many women terminate their pregnancy — because of fear, worry or pressure from other people.
A few days later, my husband and I explained to our kids that abortion meant a woman did not want to be pregnant and had an operation to end the life of her baby. I could tell from my kids' faces that they were horrified. John shared why a woman might do this, and they expressed sadness for those women. Then, with tears in my eyes, I told them my story.
When sin is allowed to grow
With a shaky voice, I explained that when I was in high school, I had become pregnant. I said that when I visited a clinic, the workers told me it really wasn't a baby yet and that everything would be better if I had the procedure. I told my kids that I had always wanted to be a mom, but I was afraid of having a baby as a 15-year-old. I was worried about what people would think.
I told my kids that I wanted to believe that what the clinic worker said was true because it seemed like an easy way out. So I ignored the nagging voice in my head that told me I was ending a life. After the abortion, I was heartbroken and numb. It took many years for the emotional pain to go away.
John and I also explained that I had not been following Jesus, and I had wanted things my own way. I read James 1:14-15 to my children: "But your own evil longings tempt you. They lead you on and drag you away. When they are allowed to grow, they give birth to sin. When sin has grown up, it gives birth to death" (NIrV). In this case, my sin led to the death of their brother or sister. My kids listened, and I could see sadness on their faces.
Months after my abortion, I saw a woman wearing a Precious Feet pin on her sweater. When I commented about it, she told me that her pin represented the size of the feet of a 10-week-old fetus. I knew then that my baby had a body, feet, hands and a beating heart. The reality of my decision became clear. Overwhelmed with guilt, I became self-destructive and made more bad decisions.
But when I was 17, I accepted Jesus. I realized I'd been making wrong choices, and I asked God to do something with my life.
I told my kids I had asked Jesus to forgive me. I asked for their forgiveness, too, for ending the life of the sibling they'd never know on earth.
It only took a few seconds for three sets of arms to wrap around me. "It's OK, Mom. We love you, and we forgive you!" they told me.
It was like a dam broke within my soul. For so long this secret had been swelling against the wall I had built. Sharing the truth, and seeing they still loved me, made my chest light and warm. Tears spilled as I held them in my arms. As a mom, the last people I wanted to disappoint were my kids.
Their hurt was evident. But their love was even greater.
Sharing the story
Whenever my children brought up the subject, whether it was weeks, months or even years later, we would talk about it. A few times they told me about friends who asked them about what I'd shared at church, and they were able to explain my story. Later, when I told my story to other groups, I shared with my kids how my story helped those who needed to know about Jesus' forgiveness, too. We would talk about how God could use even the painful stuff in our lives to help others.
When my daughter was 16, she returned from a youth social gathering and told me that the subject of abortion came up.
"Mom, many of them said that a woman should have a choice," she reported, "but then I told them your story."
My daughter had shared with her peers about my heartache and pain. "Many women do not know what they are choosing, and they suffer for years afterward," she told them, "just like my mom."
Originally, keeping my secret seemed like the right thing to do, but sharing my experience has allowed others, my children included, to better understand decisions and consequences — and the truth about pain, loss and regret.
Should you share your secret?
Some sensitive events from the past may not be appropriate for young children. Consider the nature of the secret and the child's age and maturity. Focus on the Family counselor Daniel Huerta has written an article titled "Your Past, Your Kids: the Conversation" and addresses how to broach sensitive subjects with children.
Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to help you and your family. You can contact us during normal business hours at: (800) A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com. Or you can find resources, referrals and articles to help you right now.
Tricia Goyer is the author of 25 books and has written over 300 articles for national publications. Her book for teen moms, Life Interrupted, was a finalist for the Gold Medallion Book Award in 2005.