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Healing Abortion's Guilt and Grief

Healing Abortion's Guilt and Grief

Editor's note: This article is Part 1 of a 3-Part series on healing from pregnancy loss. Today's author, Kim Ketola, writes on the guilt and grief after abortion.

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It was just another box of old belongings to be sorted for our cross-country move. But the brightly colored cloth journal caught my eye and caused my heart to skip a beat. With equal anticipation and dread I sat down and thumbed through pages written over thirty years earlier. 

Had I saved the receipt?

Yes, there it was. 

Dated June 16, 1978, the yellowed 3 x 5 carbon noted my name and address, the name and location of the abortion facility, and a fee of $165.00 marked paid in full, in cash.

I cried softly as I read these facts I’d buried but not laid to rest so many years ago. 

This January marks the 40th Anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision making abortion legal for any reason. But the date may go largely unmarked by those abortion has impacted the most—the millions of women who chose it. One in three women of childbearing age has had at least one abortion. Yet we all feel alone as we wonder what might have been. We miss the children we thought we did not want but now wish we could have known and loved. Our hearts long to be forgiven but seldom sense it is so.

This is the ache of parental grief after abortion. 

Counselor Teri Reisser told me, “Awareness of the need to grieve the loss of an aborted child is almost nonexistent in our culture.” I found this to be true as I’ve researched the need for healing the spiritual wounds of abortion. Perhaps, because women choose abortion, Reisser says, “They do not feel they have any right to a normal grieving process . . . [yet] they do grieve for the lost child.” 

It would be much easier if everyone around us helped us grieve. Unfortunately, quite the opposite happens. Few people know words of comfort for any type of pregnancy loss. We stumble when we should be the stabilizing support for women who have gone through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. We fail to realize how responsible and guilty women may feel as the primary protectors of the life of a child who dies before birth. And in the case of abortion, we are told the new life within us is not even a child. How to grieve and relieve the guilt when we realize we believed a lie?

Jesus knew the life-giving value of grieving after death. He wept with Mary and Martha after Lazarus died, asking, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34) He went with them to the tomb—not just to remember, but to demonstrate God’s glory. After abortion, he will go with us too. He’ll help us find God in the midst of our loss and grief if we’ll risk facing the truth.

If instead we continue to believe the lie that there is no child to mourn, we may clutch the sorrow as the only reminder our child had ever existed. At the same time, as any normal parent wanting love from their child, we have this ache. The ache, somewhere deep in our hearts, is for our unborn child. Only there is no outlet, no child present, and none even acknowledged as lost. 

In our isolation and shame we think: I can’t seem to get over this, so there must be something wrong with me. Guilt and grief compete for our emotions as guilt demands we reject our sin, and grief requires us to accept our loss. I wrestled the pain of these conflicting emotions for twenty-three years until I received God’s mercy and accepted that there is truly no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and who live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh (Romans 8:1). Embracing the reality of redemption starts our healing journey.

Soon afterward a woman I barely knew confessed an abortion in very plain terms. Her simple honesty made it safe for me to speak the truth. And something amazing happened. When I confessed, my heartbreak began to be healed. I felt the love of Jesus Christ enter into the space in my heart I had always kept closed just for the memory of that day. I knew without doubt that my child is safe with the Savior in heaven. 

Such mercy! Such blessed relief and joy—as if I’d been handed a new life. And that’s just what God did for me. He assured me that my child was not destroyed forever. And he helped me receive the forgiveness he secured for me on the cross. He has made everything new.

As we confess to God our guilt is removed (Psalms 32:5) and as we confess and pray with others our grief is healed (James 5:16). Being forgiven allows us to forgive others. 

This wasn’t always easy for me—especially forgiving those who lied and said it wasn’t a baby, “just tissue.” But when we obey God and forgive those who don’t deserve it, our memories, even painful ones, minister to us in our grief. 

Remembering my deep disappointment at hearing my fiancé choose abortion; my fear of being incompetent to parent this little one all alone; how God touched my heart to try to move me to choose life, and how I had been too far gone to listen. Surely these memories, though painful, spoke of me having had a mother’s heart even though I had failed to find a way to act out of that love. This gives me hope—I know God can build on the smallest seeds of love. 

Healing continued in a post-abortion Bible study where I gave honor and dignity to my child in heaven. I gave him the name Immanuel, and he is part of my forever family.

As I look back now, I am so grateful for that receipt which witnesses my child’s all-too-brief life and devastating death. Tucked away unread for all those years, that small slip of paper helped me begin to be able to tell the story. Facing the truth of all I lost has moved the grief from my heart into healing conversations with friends and family who care. They have helped me see that I’m not who I was when I made that fatal mistake. 

And today I can say God’s grace has replaced my guilt and grief.

I’m guessing you’re different now too.

So, what’s your story? Where have you laid the past aside, but not put it to rest? 

I would count it a privilege to listen in confidence and help you remember the child you never met. I join my heart with yours to pray God will provide others in your church, your family, your circle of friends who will patiently help you to process your loss. As Jesus goes with us to grieve, he gives us peace. His love binds up the wounds of our hearts. 

I’m praying the time for your healing has come.

Kim Ketola is a broadcaster, writer and speaker. Her faith and life experience inform her understanding of one of the biggest untold stories of our time--the spiritual impact of abortion on the women and men who choose it. Her award-winning book Cradle My Heart, Finding God's Love After Abortion (Kregel, 2012) features a Foreword by Ruth Graham. Kim also hosts the weekly national program Cradle My Heart Radio with live and interactive stories of healing and hope after abortion (www.cradlemyheart.org).

Publication date: January 4, 2013