A woman shares her story of abortion, grief, and healing.

Editors’ note: The In Her Shoes column gives transparency to personal life experiences and perspectives that you or friends may be living with. January 22 commemorates the landmark Supreme Court Case Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in America. Presently, there are close to 1 million abortions each year. This edition of In Her Shoes interviews a woman who has experienced abortion firsthand.

Name: Tanya 

Age: (40s)

Tell us about your experience with abortion. How old were you? What led you to the decision? What did you experience after the abortion?

I regret to share that I’ve had two abortions. My first was at 16 and my second at 19. My pregnancy at 16 hit me with absolute shock. I didn’t know anything about pregnancy and reproductive health other than my monthly period and the sex myths that girls talk about at slumber parties.

My relationship at 16 was physically and emotionally abusive. My boyfriend was older and a heavy drug and alcohol user. Because of my naivete and ignorance, I thought I could love him enough to change him. Instead, I ended up pregnant and now at the door of the hidden world of abortion. In the instant of the positive pregnancy result, I tried my best to collect and bury my emotions of unbelief and absolute fear. My boyfriend was the first to tell me about abortion and said that it was easy, lots of girls did it, and that I could get one without telling my parents. At that time, I had never considered what an abortion was. I didn’t think of my pregnancy as a developing baby, it was a “situation” that needed to be undone. I needed to be “unpregnant” as soon as possible. As for my parents, I was very eager to please them by getting the best grades and being the perfect daughter. I didn’t see another option but to abort.

After the abortion, I was numb and forever changed. I had not had a medical procedure before, so I felt extreme loneliness and regret for not telling my parents. I immediately realized the severity of the decision I had just made. I felt the loss of youthful joy and innocence. I withdrew emotionally, and I felt my inner self split in two. I had to maintain the outside self for the world and somehow control the mess inside my heart and head.

My second abortion was the result of my unhealthy coping mechanisms. My promiscuity led me into another unintended pregnancy at 19.

Because I had isolated myself, burying the hurt and the pain, I continued to hold tight to the perceptions that I needed to be the perfect student, finish college without interruptions, and start the perfect career. I didn’t give myself time to think out the options and never gave my boyfriend a choice. I told him, “I’ve been here, I’ve done this before,” and with that decision made, I could continue my trajectory toward my perceived success.

Who was the first person you told about your abortion? How did that person react and what difference did that make for you?

My first abortion at 16 was performed on a weekday, so I returned to school and told my two my best friends. They seemed sad for me, but not surprised because they knew other people who had abortions. I think they even told me, “You know, so and so has had one.” I think that was their way of telling me, “You’re not alone.” But it wasn’t consoling; instead I felt I had joined the local list of “girls who have had abortions.” Suddenly I felt a chasm between me and everyone else in my life. That chasm persisted until nearly 16 years later, when I finally sought healing.

When did healing begin for you and what did it look like?

I felt my abortion experiences were the drops in the ocean of pain and all else rippled from it.

Because I had buried my first abortion experience so deeply, I really had no idea how it was reshaping who I was. I was distrustful of people, which resulted in many broken relationships.

I didn’t share my own experience of abortion with others but if the abortion topic came up, I supported it. I was very much pro-choice because I wanted to believe I had made the right decision. But in all honesty, I wouldn’t share my own abortion experience because, deep down, I wasn’t OK with it.

Sixteen years after my first abortion, I found myself at rock bottom. On the outside, I was polished and poised for success, but inside I hated myself and was far from authentic in all my relationships. A chameleon. I turned to my childhood faith and returned to church. I also started counseling, hoping to find answers to my pain.

At a women’s event I attended, a speaker shared her abortion story—about her regret and healing. I was shocked and angered that she would share such a thing. But after I calmed down, I realized I was being asked to face my own abortion experiences and open my heart to healing.

It was six months later that I saw an announcement for “After Abortion Care.” I knew it was time. I reluctantly went to the first meeting and decided to commit to finishing the study. It was there that I found hope, forgiveness, and grace. About a year later I was asked if I would be willing to help other women through their abortion experiences. I accepted the request and have now been walking alongside women on their healing journeys for over 13 years.

Through After Abortion Care, I have found a lasting connection with my two children. I have forgiven those I held partially responsible for the abortions, and instead of remembering from a place of pain, I now remember from a place of healing.

For every woman I have met who has chosen abortion, I consider it a sacred space when they choose to share their experiences with me. Sometimes our sharing can be in a fleeting moment, other times our journey will take us through months of meetings. Each time, I consider it a privilege to be a safe person for those who want to share. Each time I share my abortion experiences it gives permission to another to share. I hope by sharing my story I give another an invitation to heal.

What is the best way for a woman to support a friend who has experienced abortion? What should she say or do that is helpful? What could she say or do that would be unhelpful?

In my opinion, the best way to support a friend who has experienced an abortion is to simply be available when she needs you. Be a sounding board for her. Also, never assume or give the impression that you think she is going to have a hard time or suffer after an abortion. Every decision is unique and often the emotions experienced after an abortion-loss feel like a roller coaster ride. What she feels one day could easily feel very different the next.

A woman processing an abortion experience can feel regret and relief at the same time, and that is hard to articulate with words. For someone who may not have had a life experience with those two polar opposite emotions, it can be surprising; so, being there for her in that process is very powerful.

By telling your friend that you are there for her, with no judgement or advice, you can provide a safe place for her to share when she is comfortable. It’s best to let her guide the conversations while listening for anything that may be of concern. Statistics show women who have experienced unhealthy lifestyle choices before their abortion may turn to unhealthy coping behaviors after an abortion decision. Encourage her to visit the interactive website, AbortionChangesYou.com and walk through the “Healing Pathways.” She will soon discover she is not alone and find healthy ways of working through her after-abortion experience. There are also resources for finding professional support and groups for additional healing.

It’s important to recognize, too, that a lot of people are hurt by abortion. Men, parents of daughters, a roommate, or a friend may all be experiencing grief from an abortion of one of their loved ones. It’s important to honor that grief and walk through their journey, too.

Here at Verily, we love our Daily Doses—quotes or phrases that motivate or inspire us. Do you have a mantra or phrase that helps you to have hope in the hard days?

I love Mr. Rogers, and this story he shared—he was having a conversation with his mother and having a hard time seeing terrible things on the news. His mother said, “Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.” That’s who I strive to be—a helper. Every time I share my abortion experience, it gives permission for another to share—it becomes an invitation to healing.