My name is Marianne and I grew up in the sixties, a time when it was still more the parent’s than the school’s responsibility to educate their child about sexual relationships. As a rather rebellious child, I remember my mother saying to me again and again through my teenage years; “sex is not a game or something to play about with” but to be honest, the more she said it, the more curious I became. I had my first serious boyfriend when I was about seventeen but looking back on it now, I think I had totally confused sex with love.
My dad had walked out on my mother, brothers and I when I was just six years old. He went to work one day and he just never came back. My father was my hero and I believe that feeling of rejection and abandonment stayed with me throughout my childhood and into my adult life. As a teenager, when I met my boyfriend, I see now that I was really looking for that unconditional fatherly love and I thought I had found it in that relationship.
At eighteen I became pregnant with this same boyfriend and we had a little girl and then, three years later I became pregnant again, this time with twin boys. It was a traumatic birth and I was rushed to hospital for a cesarean section. My boyfriend tried hard to help and care for me and for the children, but he was still living with his mother and I with mine. We spent time together at each other’s homes and did our best to look after our little ones but about six months after the birth of the twins, I suddenly realised I was pregnant again. I was still young and struggling to cope with the children I had, my boyfriend was upset and worried when he found out I was expecting another child, so I just told him I’d take care of it. I went to the doctor’s and told them I wanted an abortion – and it was just so easy . . . I tried not to think too much about it. I had the abortion and put it behind me. For medical reasons I cannot take the normal contraceptive pill so my boyfriend was using contraception. Nevertheless, to my disbelief, I soon became pregnant again. I didn’t want more children. I actually felt angry and frustrated that I should fall pregnant so easily when other women, who desperately wanted children, struggled to conceive.
I went back to the abortion clinic, thinking it was the quickest and easiest way to solve my ‘problem’. After I had my second abortion I went home but became extremely unwell very soon after. On returning to the clinic to be checked, they found that there was another baby still inside me. I had been pregnant with twins. So they aborted that baby too. I was sent home, struggling to recover, never telling my mother about either abortion and just trying to carry on with my life as though nothing had happened.
I got pregnant for the final time a few years later. This time I struggled on with the pregnancy. I didn’t abort the child but neither did I feel I really wanted it. Unknown to me at the time, it is not an uncommon problem that a mother struggles to bond with a baby after having had an abortion and I just couldn’t understand or believe the way my mind was working. There were times when I actually punched myself in the hope that I would miscarry the baby. I had instantly felt a motherly bond with my other children when they were born, but for my last little girl, I felt nothing but resentment. As soon as she was born, I begged doctors to cut and tie my fallopian tubes in a procedure known as tubal ligation. Though hesitant at first because of my young age, they finally agreed. When I awoke from this procedure, my little girl was in a crib by my bed and a woman was staring at her. I found out later that this woman’s baby had died, a baby she desperately loved and wanted and I felt such shame and guilt about the negative feelings I had for my own child. I had to learn to love her and it was a gradual process that was hard and took time.
After the tubal ligation I returned home but I was in tremendous pain. I have honestly never felt anything like it. The physical pain from the procedure was awful but I was also suffering emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It was a terrible experience, I had suicidal thoughts, was addicted to pills that would help me sleep and I kept asking myself why I was still alive. Everything became too much for me and I could no longer cope. I just started to scream and scream. My life at this point was an unbearable struggle.
When my daughter was about three months old, I started to bleed heavily. I was rushed to hospital and became convinced it was all my own fault and that I had done some sort of internal damage to myself when I had punched myself while I was pregnant. I felt terribly guilty and didn’t dare tell the doctors what I had done. That’s when I saw clearly the mistakes I’d made and the disrespect I had shown to my own body. Not just from this final pregnancy, but from the abortions I had had before it. I felt so low and desperate that in my misery I turned to God and told Him how sorry I was for everything. In my heart I gave myself to Him and shortly afterwards the bleeding stopped and I began to recover.
I decided I had to turn my life in a new direction. I felt sure my boyfriend was hurt terribly by the abortions too. I remember him crying many times and I knew they had damaged us both. We had never married and our relationship was no longer right. I left him and eventually married another man. I went to university, took a degree and got myself a job in social work. I knew I needed to change myself spiritually too and although God and religion hadn’t meant a lot to me during my life, I remembered that as a child, while at a Catholic school run by nuns, I had always felt a great sense of peace in the school chapel. I decided to become a Catholic and it was with profound emotion I was baptised into the church that Easter with tears of joy.
It was actually over forty years since my first abortion that I attended a church prayer meeting one evening and a lady called Rachel was bravely talking about her own abortion experience. She ran a group called ‘Rachel’s Vineyard’ offering support to women and men who have experienced or been affected by abortion. I could hardly believe she dared stand up in front of a group of strangers and speak publicly about her abortion. My family, my children, my own mother, knew nothing of what I had done, but the more she spoke, the more I realised how deeply affected I still was and how much I was still struggling. What I had thought was a quick and easy solution at the time had given me over forty years of heartache and pain. I had locked everything far down inside me and I had not ever really dealt with my past.
I joined one of Rachel’s retreats and the experience was so healing. At last I got to talk everything through without feeling judged or condemned. I got the help and support I had needed for so long to enable me to deal with what I had done and all that I had internalised and struggled so intensely with for such a long time. It has made a huge difference to my life and finally I have been given back the peace that I lost so many years ago.