Walking with Moms: Hope and Healing, Post-Abortive Support for Women and Men
She was 19 years old when she found out she was pregnant. Afraid of disappointing her parents, Sarah (name changed to protect identity) and her boyfriend decided to abort their child. “We were in quick and then the baby was gone,” she said, “and it was something I never talked about.”
Sarah and her boyfriend later married and had two more children. “I realized I had done something wrong. I took my first baby away.” The reality brought a heavy burden to her heart and relationships. “Having an abortion is not a crime, but I imprisoned myself without bars,” she said. Sarah explained that her heart hardened as she realized the gravity of her abortion.
She separated herself from friends and her merciful Father.
“I was functioning and doing all the right things; raising a Catholic family, working. I became very busy and didn’t have time to feel the shame and guilt,” but life was like a flatline, Sarah said. She felt no highs or lows. “I just existed.”
Her experience of pregnancy, abortion and pain remained buried for 22 years. “I never told anyone. I never discussed it with my husband,” she admitted.
Sarah knew about Project Rachel, a ministry for those suffering after abortion where people extend compassion to mothers, fathers and any others affected, without judgment. Though her relative worked with the ministry, it was only after his passing that she felt compelled to attend a support group. Immediately she felt the peace of being received and understood, “I felt a hundred-pound weight lifted from my shoulders. It was God saying, ‘I’ve been waiting 22 years for you.’”
Becky Schoenfeld, Associate Director of the archdiocese’s Respect Life Ministries, has witnessed Project Rachel’s powerful impact on post-abortive women. “I was able to facilitate my first weekend retreat in April. On Friday of the retreat, two new participants showed up, and you could tell they felt uneasy and unsure about what the weekend was going to entail. They looked sad, tired and very closed-off. By Sunday morning, they were radiating with the love of Christ in their hearts. They were laughing, smiling and experiencing the joy of the Holy Spirit. This is a perfect example of what Project Rachel does. It allows post-abortive women and men to finally break down those walls of guilt and shame and fill their hearts with love and joy.”
Often unconsidered by society, post-abortive dads struggle differently than post-abortive moms. “It’s a different loss,” said Kara Ross, former Associate Director of Respect Life Ministries. “They feel they had little control or maybe they didn’t know it happened. They come from a place of powerlessness and feel they lost the chance to be a dad for selfish reasons.” These men often seek counsel from the Project Rachel priests. “They need to hear they can still be good men.”
In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Project Rachel has 30 priests who attend retreats and days of reflection. “They tell the men and women who come, ‘You are welcome, you are wanted and forgiven.’” These clergy received special training from licensed counselors for helping others address the trauma of abortion. “They are human and honest,” Ross said. “Every single one has been an instrument of mercy and love to these people hurting.”
“Project Rachel not only serves women who are seeking healing after an abortion, but also other women considering making that same choice. We give our information to local pregnancy centers, so sometimes we get calls from a woman who is contemplating an abortion and wants to talk to someone who knows how she is feeling,” said Schoenfeld. “It’s so impactful because they get to hear first-hand the experience of someone who has walked that path. The women in this ministry are our best pro-life advocates because they have gone through the pain and suffering of an abortion. They don’t judge a young woman who calls the helpline wanting to talk through her options. We get to point her in a direction so she can receive the help, resources, and support that she needs to choose life for her baby through parenting or placing her baby for adoption.”
Ultimately, Project Rachel is a means for suffering souls to be restored in love. Suffering opens an opportunity for transformation, enabling all those affected by abortion to become better people.
Such was and is Sarah’s case. In addition to attending a Project Rachel support group, she went on a bi-annual retreat. “I went in broken on Friday and came out loved on Sunday,” she said, smiling. “The Project Rachel women loved me until I could love myself.” Sarah was able to move forward in her life, embracing her past, and asking forgiveness from family and God. After years of silence, she and her husband were able to process together their experiences from decades ago.
SPREADING LOVE AND MERCY
The love and mercy continue to flow through Sarah’s emotional scar. Because of her healing, she was able to reach out to a young woman who planned to have an abortion. The young mother chose life for her child, and Sarah was able to meet and hold the newborn girl who was saved. “I saw my little girl when I held her, and I thought, ‘I didn’t save your life, but we saved hers.’”
“Please pray that more mothers would be open to Project Rachel,” Shoenfeld said. “Pray for the mothers and fathers affected by abortion. Sharing your story of abortion in Project Rachel can bring intense healing.”
“I want people to understand that having an abortion isn’t solving a problem,” said Sarah. “No one told me that I would have bigger problems when I walked out the door. No one told me it was a baby.”
She added, “I want people to know that they’re still loved by God. It’s so important to know that you can reconcile and accept forgiveness.” Sarah also mentioned speaking mercifully about post-abortive parents. “There’s so much judgment. Calling post-abortive mothers murderers doesn’t call them to return to God,” she said. “If you know someone who is post-abortive, be present and listen. Love them and help them to get healing.”
Call 513-784-0531 for the Project Rachel helpline or email [email protected] for help. You can also visit projectrachelohio.org.
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This article appeared in the July 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.