Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 17, 1999
Healing the wounds of abortion
Project Rachel will help women overcome lasting traumas
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The first time Jeannette Nixon was pregnant, her father called her a whore and didn't talk to her for three years. Her mother broke down and cried. And they both gave her one option - have an abortion.
The abortion itself was traumatizing enough for Nixon, who was in her final year in high school at the time. The after-effect was worse.
"Support was non-existent," Nixon said. "I had no one to talk to. I was told to keep it a secret; I was not to talk about it. And believe it or not, my parents never mentioned it again.
"I felt that my guts were ripped out, the pain was immense. I never once asked for help nor did I receive it. I walked around like a wounded animal."
Nixon had a second abortion a few years later while studying at university. This time the decision was her own. "It was so easy to have an abortion. I can't even remember the father's name."
Numbness and forgetfulness are part of abortion's aftermath and need to be overcome to heal the trauma of the experience, said Father Blair Raum, who heads Project Rachel in the Baltimore Archdiocese.
Raum and Nixon spoke to 40 therapists, pastoral and pregnancy counsellors at a May 6 workshop introducing Project Rachel to the Edmonton Archdiocese.
The archdiocesan Family Enrichment Centre, along with Catholic Social Services and the Redemptorist Centre for Growth, are launching Project Rachel.
Project Rachel is a ministry focusing on reconciliation and healing for women and men who have had post-abortion experiences. Many of the woman are looking to be reconciled to themselves, to God, to their lost children and to the Church.
The program takes its name from Jeremiah 31:15-17: "Rachel mourns her children: she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of mourning. Wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward. There is hope for your future."
Raum began his workshop trying "to get you as depressed as I can" and ended by trying "to make you feel better."
"I want to get you depressed because I want to talk to you about the problem."
The problem is abortion. Despite the reasons women choose abortion - social acceptability, circumstances of the pregnancy, lack of parental readiness, external pressures or lack of education - it's all a hodge podge which boils down to one explanation, "that somebody has a problem with her being pregnant," Raum said.
"Sometimes the person having the problem is the women herself. The second most influential person . . . is the father. If he doesn't want the child, there is a 75 per cent chance she will abort."
Raum said the after-effects of abortion include feelings of deep emotional pain and denial. "Most women decide not to grieve the loss because to grieve the loss she would have to admit she'd taken the life of her child."
The aftermath can include eating disorders, obsessive compulsive behaviours, depression, paranoia, shame, and repeated pregnancies and abortions.
Raum warns that these are symptoms to look out for if counsellors already know that a woman has had an abortion. However, if the symptoms are evident, they cannot be assumed to be results of a post-abortive experience.
He advises counsellors and therapists to ask "How many pregnancies have you had and how were they resolved" rather than "How many children do you have," to determine if symptoms are due to an abortion.
Since many post-abortive women, particularly those of faith, seek acceptance back into the Church and reconciliation with God, Raum said it is imperative that health professionals work with clergy in the healing process.
"There's a spiritual dimension that clergy can hit," Raum said, "and a psychological dimension (health professionals) can hit."
The healing process has no time limit, but "you know she's healed when you begin to see that what was her greatest struggle now becomes her greatest gift," Raum said.
When all her energy is focused on the celebration of the child rather than mourning the child, the healing is complete.
John MacDonald, director of the Family Enrichment Centre, is among those working to start the program in the archdiocese. Although pregnancy counselling services are available, few services deal with the post-abortive trauma, said MacDonald.
Project Rachel has been operating since the early 1980s in the U.S., but Calgary and Edmonton are the only two Canadian dioceses which Raum knows have initiated the program.
"It's a genuine Christian ministry," MacDonald said. "It's addressing an issue that has been around for a long time."
For more information call 424-4538.