Sunday, November 14, 2010

Silent No More: A friend's abortion story

I know many dear Catholic women who have abortions in their past. Some have had two or more abortions. All have found healing in God's great mercy, both through specific ministries in the Church such as Rachel's Vineyard, and through the Sacrament of Confession. Some of these women speak openly about their abortions. Many others are still keeping their painful secrets and have not told more than a handful of people.
Recently, I learned that yet another friend has experienced the horror of abortion. 

Karen Williams and her husband run the Catholic Edition website (it's like a Catholic Drudge Report!). They also were co-hosts for the recent Bioethics Defense Fund event which I blogged about hereKaren is one of the loveliest women I've ever met, both inside and out. Meaning, she is truly drop-dead gorgeous, but with a gentle, humble soul. She radiates the love of God. 
I received an email from Karen last week. Arizona women from Silent No More would be marching in Washington, D.C. at the annual March for Life. As I read, I immediately hoped that Karen herself had not lived through the pain of an abortion. I prayed that perhaps she was just "helping out" with the trip. I went to the link she provided in the email, searching for her name among the testimonies, hoping I wouldn't find it. Then I saw: 
Karen's Testimony
Karen Williams
Testimony-Test ID 5577

With a heavy heart, I read her story:
Conceived: October 1986 - Born to Eternal Life: January 1987
The youngest of three, I grew up in a small town about 20 miles south of large Midwestern city.  I had a relatively happy and somewhat normal childhood and can gratefully report that, as a family, we suffered from your more mild garden variety dysfunctions that were not atypical of any middle class suburban families living in the mid 1970s. My parents, though not church-going, were strict in their child rearing and had high expectations of their somewhat precocious and rebelliously defiant daughter.  “Sit up straight, act lady-like, speak when spoken to, little girls should be seen and not heard.” These were all well-worn and oft-spoken euphemisms that peppered my mental landscape.  Later, they took on a more explicit nature: “Do not date Catholics, Do not come home with a black boy and Do not, I repeat, do not, get pregnant.”  Corporal punishment was used and my father’s temper fueled an increasing fear that festered and grew in my bosom from a very young age.  I loved my parents and they loved me.  Our relationship was stormy in many intervals due to the power struggles that inevitably ensued from the fight for control of my life: from dress, to friends, to dating, to freedom.  Much of the time, I felt trapped and tempted to run from it all and I eventually got my wish when I left for college the fall after I graduated high school.
The university I attended presented itself as a huge, sprawling, beautiful drinking party and I wasted no time getting involved in recreational sex and alcohol.  I had relatively little sex education as a girl and what I wanted to know I discovered on my own from reading tawdry little spine-tinglers from the likes of Judy Blume (“Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret”) and the little steamy handbook that I stole from my big brother’s foot locker titled:  “Taking the Worry Out of Being Close.” I was, what I recalled, too big for my britches and too small to be taken seriously.  “On the wild side” was what most people saw of me, though I had the grades and desires to really make something of myself.  Deep within, I was in agony.  Poorly-formed spiritually; lacking self-confidence and suffering from gray, demoralizing depressions that I could not comprehend; I continued to look for love and acceptance in all the wrong places.  In college, my drinking took me to places that I knew in my heart of hearts, I should not be.  I was trying to fill up the void in my life with things that were not of God.
In my sophomore year of college, I was interviewed and hired as the incoming Resident Assistant of Armstrong Hall.  To me, it was a very big deal.  I would be in charge of a floor of 60 women providing guidance, academic assistance, collegiate support, and a listening ear to my young women peers.  Before my term commenced, my girlfriend and current RA of one of the floors of Armstrong Hall, introduced me to her then boyfriend and floor resident.  His name was Anthony.  It would be a matter of months before he and I would strike up a rather torrid love affair ignoring yet again established sensibilities and that elusive still, small voice that was clamoring for attention inside my head.

Ironically, I had two contrasting experiences with abortion during my first year as an RA.  Dee was a beautiful blonde freshman with a long-term boyfriend in tow.  When Dee told me through tears one day that she was pregnant, there was no question in her mind about what she wanted to do.  An abortion was scheduled.  I sympathized with Dee and even helped nurse her back to health after the “procedure.”  The situation passed and no one was the wiser.  Andrea, on the other hand, was more of an enigma.  She was an African-American and just finishing up her sophomore year when she heralded that she would be leaving school.  When I asked her why, she told me that she was with child and was dropping out to give birth and raise the child.  I was stunned.  Why would this bright girl with a promising future drop out of college to raise a baby?  It seemed foolish and wasteful to me to throw away one’s dreams.  It would be a decision, a choice that I would be personally confronting in my second year as an RA.
I began my third year of college and second stint as an RA full of my usual gusto and enthusiasm however, boyfriend and relationship took center stage in my life.  I found myself less attentive to my floor and more distracted by the freedom and escape of Anthony’s new apartment off campus.  We spent Halloween weekend at a friend’s parent’s home.  Anthony and I were sexually active and frequently gambled by not using any form of protection.  A few weeks hence and I had missed a period.  No big deal, I thought.  Must be stress from approaching midterms.  Christmas came and went…still no period.  By this time, I was flu-ish and eating everything in sight.  When I wasn’t working my Christmas break job at the music store, I was sleeping or eating.  The pictures that were taken of me then revealed a very pale, overweight, exhausted young woman who did not like herself at all.  I resolved to go to Womancare, an OBGYN clinic not far from campus.
It was a cold, bleak, January day when I first visited the clinic, peed in a cup and tested positively “preggers.”  Life as I knew it had just changed for the worse.  I sobbed when the technician gave me my results.  It was like I had failed a test.  I would have no part of a baby-limited future.  I was not willing to consider any other options other than abortion.  It was the baby or it was me.  I simply could not be pregnant and disappoint everyone by this horrific news.  I was scared and felt utterly alone.  How could a talented, bright, attractive and outgoing girl like me find herself in such a despicable condition?  This is what I actually thought.  I was trapped by my own irresponsibility.  There were too many dead-ends in having a baby.  The tech could tell by my reaction that this was not news that I wanted to hear.  I recall telling her that there was no way that I could have a baby.  They took me to a small, wood-paneled office away from the clinic-y looking rooms, where I was greeted by a very attractive woman dressed in business attire.  On her desk, she displayed photos of her three lovely children and her husband.  She appeared calm and reassuring and proceeded to tell me that abortion was my choice and that I did not need to feel afraid or guilty.  She told me about the “procedure” which seemed to me to be very quick and painless…NO BIG DEAL.  In fact, this woman reported that she had had three abortions to her credit and had no reservations in using abortion as a means to control the size and spacing of her family.  This was the final edification.
I conveyed all of this information to Anthony who had waited for me in his car in the parking lot.  Rising to the occasion, he calmly comforted me and told me that he would do whatever I thought was best.  Heroically, he offered to drop out of school, enlist in the military and support me and the baby.  My mind frantically wandered back to Andrea and Dee.  I dismissed any such notion of becoming a parent.  I told Anthony that I wanted to abort, set the appointment and steeled myself for the “fix”.  Antz borrowed the $250 needed from our friend, John.
I returned to Womancare a few days later at my scheduled appointment time.  I completed the paperwork and waited in the lobby for what seemed to be an eternity.  I passed out, was given Valium and about four hours later was situated on a table under the supervision of a masked “surgeon.”  He proceeded to tell me that my uterus was much larger than what it should be based on the conception-date info that I had relayed.  I listened in horror as he told me that I would need to get an ultrasound.
The next day I drove to the local hospital.  The words of the technician were still ringing in my ears.  “The gestational age of the fetus is important since it will determine if and how we can perform the procedure.”  Good Lord, I might be looking at a hospital stay if I’m more than 12 weeks along.  How could I afford this?  How could I cover it up?
As I look back on all of this now, I am struck by all of the pauses and delays that I seem to have been consciously ignoring: waiting so long for a pregnancy test; waiting to return to campus to go to the clinic; waiting on the reluctance of a friend with the $$ to pay for the abortion; Anthony’s willingness to parent the child and marry me; an enlarged uterus requiring ultrasound and another medical opinion.  I had many chances to reverse my choice and think things through differently.  I cannot help but think that my choice may have been affected if there were other options presented to me.  Would the outcome have been different if there was someone else to talk to?
The hospital ultrasound revealed a nine and one half week old fetus.  “Would you like to see it?” asked the nurse.  I turned my head toward the monitor.  For the first time and for the last time I saw his tiny frame.  It was small, but it was a baby—my baby—of this I had no doubt.  I turned away with tears streaming down my face.  I could not bear to gaze any more on the life I was choosing to end.
I returned to Womancare the following day with paperwork in hand.  This time the drill was for real.  I was given Valium.  I waited in the lobby with other scared-looking women.  I wondered if they had needed to go to the hospital for a second opinion like me.  I was ushered into the same sterile room.  Took my place on the chair and positioned my feet into the stirrups.  

The rest of my memories of this moment are sounds and images:
Cold steel feeling beneath my feet
Masked, expressionless medical workers
Machine apparatus on the floor with long plastic tubes
Loud ugly vacuum sound
Tugging, pulling scraping, cramping, pain
My baby’s name is Michael…I named him after St. Michael the Archangel.  I figured if he were to live in heavenly eternity, he ought to have the very best angel of them all.  I do also believe that this archangel in particular is helping to wage the earthly battle that may one day put an end to this horrible scourge.  I do feel his presence now more than ever, especially as I see more and more courageous men and women tell their story of how abortion has affected them.
It took many, many years before I started to feel the pains of my choice.  Anthony and I married and then divorced eight months after our wedding.  I married again and five years after the abortion I gave birth to our first son; four and a half years later, our second son was born.  Between the births, I drank heavily and started to notice the inability to control my drinking.  My relationships suffered and I dealt with untreated depression and anxiety for many years before turning to the help of a 12-step program.  The Church has been a stable hope and bastion of forgiveness and healing for me.  I joined the Catholic Church on the Easter Vigil of 1996.  My first confession was my abortion.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my now 22-year-old son.  Not a July goes by that I do not think of a birthday that never was.  I am forgiven.  I am absolved.  I am grateful to know the mercy and healing of our Lord.  God be praised.  I do regret my abortion with every fiber of my being.  When I see young girls emerging from the avocado green building where I sidewalk-counsel, my heart breaks for them.  I know exactly what they have done.  I know what lies ahead for them.  For me, pregnancy was a “win-lose” proposition.  Either the baby would live and win or I would abort and win.  It could not be both ways.  In this Baby vs. Me battle, my ignorance concluded that the life of the baby would kill the life of my future; conversely, the death of the baby, would ensure my future. I was driven by many varieties of fear, polluted thinking, and the very clear and present reality that God was not really in charge.  It was all me.  I was the God of my universe.  I was incomprehensibly lost, morally defeated, and in no place to make any good decisions.  I felt deserted, abandoned, alone, and out of options.  A strong, empathic, solution-oriented woman standing on the sidewalk may have made an impact for one lost, pregnant college student.
Or maybe it is the once lost pregnant post-abortive college student who might make the difference in the lives of others.  Only God knows these details.  All I know is that I can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch men, women and children suffer through the horrors of the abortion lie.  The truth must be told.
Today I am grateful to share my story.  I am still healing from the devastating effects of abortion, addiction, and untreated depression.  By the grace of a loving God, I feel that I have been given the courage to make a positive impact on the lives of others and I will continue to show up and suit up for the opportunities that God provides.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”    Jeremiah 1:5
“When the time comes, as it surely will, when we face that terrible moment of judgment, I’ve often thought, as Fulton Sheen wrote, ‘that it is a terrible moment of loneliness…you are alone, standing before God, and a terror will rip your soul like nothing you can imagine.’  I really think that those in the pro-life movement will not be alone.  I think there will be a chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world but are heard very beautifully and very loudly in the next world; and I think they will plead for everyone who has been in the movement.  They will say to God, ‘Spare them because they loved us.’  And God will look at us and say not, ‘Did you succeed?’ but ‘Did you try?’”  —Henry Hyde, Illinois Congressman

Hoping to help other women avoid making the same tragic, irreversible decision, Karen graciously gave me permission to reprint her story here. She even agreed to make her email address available to anyone who would like to contact her:

Karen, I wanted to wrap up with some brilliant final statement, but all I can come up with is, Thank you, and I love you.


  1. Karen, thank you for sharing your story. Your pain and regret are tangible, and so is the hope that comes with finding forgiveness in the Church.

    Thank you for putting your experience in writing so that others, like myself, may better understand and have compassion for women in situations similar to yours.

    St. Michael the archangel, pray for us!

  2. What a powerful story. Such courage to have shared it!

  3. Thank you, Karen, for so bravely sharing your story.

  4. I have chills running up and down my spine and tears in my eyes. What a powerful story! I'm so glad Karen is sharing this with others and that you shared it with us!

    Our #1 fight should be that of life!
    All life is precious!

    Thanks again for sharing!!!

  5. Karen, thank you so much for sharing! You are so, so brave, and I'm so glad you're sidewalk counseling. You are a beautiful person!

  6. Wow. No words. His love and mercy.

  7. Amazing story. Thank you both for having the guts to share this.

  8. Karen, thank you for the courage to share your story. This is such a powerful witness!

  9. Thank you for sharing your story, Karen, and for having the courage and fortitude to try and help other women in situations similar to yours. God bless you.

  10. This is so, so beautiful Karen. Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. what a beautiful, sad story.

    This is a reminder to ALL that we don't know who has had abortions- and to always approach the subject with compassion and the reminder that Jesus wants to forgive!!!

  12. Karen, thank you for sharing this story. Please know that Silent No More *is* reaching people. I am one of them. I was a very strong pro-choice supporter until a friend dragged me to a Silent No More rally, and I heard all of these stories. I was finally able to see abortion as the lie that it is.

    Please don't ever stop speaking the truth!

  13. wow. Through the power of the internet I hope women who are scared and don't know what to do will read this and just stop and think.

    Thank you for sharing.

  14. Thank you for sharing this and for your work for life!

  15. Oh wow. Karen, I don't know you from Adam, but I love you, too :)

  16. I read this earlier in the morning & just read it again and am blown away a second time! Karen, you have my admiration and prayers. God bless you & heal you and all the women who have experienced the great sadness of an abortion.

  17. Karen, thank you for sharing this. I am speechless. Wow. You are so courageous!

  18. My dear sister in Christ,
    You told me of this a while ago - just not the details. You have always been such an inspiration to me of the spirit of the saintly Magdalene. May I also follow your example and make my life one of penance and reparation.

  19. Karen,
    Thank you and all others who give voice to the painful aftermath of abortion. A close friend of mine had an abortion 25 years ago and, to this day, can not say abortion and her own name in the same sentence. She describes feeling trapped and that the abortion was akin to an animal chewing off it's leg to escape a trap.
    It's knowing and loving her that led me to volunteer at a CPC and now, while no longer a volunteer, to financially support it.
    May God continue to comfort you and bless you in your work for Him.

  20. Wow! What a powerful story. Thank you Leila and thank Karen for sharing. Karen, what a powerful witness you must be to those girls you counsel. Thank God...THANK GOD for his forgiveness and mercy! Prayers are with you for your work and the joy of looking forward to meeting Michael where there will be no more tears and sorrow.

  21. I have a lump in my throat the size of the earth... How deeply touching... Deeply...

  22. I'm so glad you shared Karen's story, Leila. I needed that today...



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