Silent No More
A story of three women and how they found hope
By Julie Conrey
Donna Augustine was 17-years-old in 1972. She attended a small all-girls Catholic high school in New Jersey, and liked The Doors. The only time she ever cut school she got caught by a group of nuns who were eating breakfast at the same International House of Pancakes where she and her three friends decided to hang out that morning. The nuns sent her back to school and called her parents. Even though she was dating, she had dreams of entering the Benedictine convent when she turned 18. Her life was the stuff of most ordinary teens. Until she found out that she was pregnant.
||From left, Suzanne Nicholas, Mary Lopez Huston and Donna Augustine, have suffered silently for many years after having an abortion. But they are silent no more as they courageously share their story of how they found hope and forgiveness through the ministry of Rachel’s Vineyard.
“My dad was pretty strict. I thought my father would kill my boyfriend and he’d end up in jail and then my boyfriend would be dead. I couldn’t burden them with this stuff,” Donna said. And so the teen, who didn’t yet have her driver’s license, did the only thing that made sense to her at the time. She decided to have an abortion.
About a year before the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, Donna Augustine walked a path which, except in a few places, had never before been legally tread by American women. It was a journey that shaped her life for years to come.
Donna’s scared, teenage boyfriend dropped her off at Park East Hospital in New York City, because abortion was legal in New York at the time. These were the years before ultrasound technology could reveal what was going on inside a woman’s uterus. As Donna was getting ready for the procedure, she remembers asking the nurse if she was carrying a baby. The nurse told her no, it’s just cells. Donna reconsidered her decision; she wanted to leave.
The physician who was to perform the abortion took pity on her, or so she thought. Let’s drive around a while in my car and talk, he suggested. She agreed. The two rode around in what Donna describes as a big black Mercedes. They came to an apartment building. He told her to come inside; he’d give her a drink of water. She was struck by the fact that there was no furniture in the apartment. That’s the last thing she remembers before he took advantage of her. “He raped me repeatedly,” Donna said.
She has no recollection of leaving the apartment, or of being taken to another hospital, where the abortion was performed. She remembers trying to tell a nurse what happened. The nurse paid no attention to her. The abortion came off as planned. When she woke up, she was hemorrhaging. “I wanted to kill myself,” she said. She walked aimlessly around the city for some time. Her boyfriend finally caught up with her and drove her home. She got out of the car, went inside and closed the door to her room. “He made up some story for my mom about where we were. I still can’t figure out how I hid it,” Donna said.
She broke up with her boyfriend right after that. He is now a born-again Christian, with a wife and three kids. And Donna, 51, a divorced mother of two finally made some sense and peace with the decision to end her pregnancy three decades ago by participating in a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat in March 1998 in the Diocese of Newark, N.J.
According to its website, www.rachelsvineyard.org, “Rachel’s Vineyard weekend is an opportunity to examine your abortion experience, identify ways that the loss has impacted you in the past and present, and helps to acknowledge any unresolved feelings that many individuals struggle with after abortion. Because of the emotional numbness and secrecy that often surrounds the abortion experience, conflicting emotions both during and after the event may remain unresolved. These buried feelings can surface later and may be symptoms of post-abortion trauma.”
“It’s a very intense and extremely rewarding retreat,” says Maryknoll Father Larry McCulloch, who has been a retreat team member for about two years. “It allows for participants to grieve for their children and also grieve for themselves in a very loving and understanding environment. People are hurting and they are there because they want to be there. They open up and start talking about things they haven’t talked about.”
A typical Rachel’s retreat starts off on a Friday evening and winds its way into Sunday. It begins with a welcome speech, a scripture reading and a film on abortion. During the weekend, participants name the child, write letters to him or her and take part in a memorial service. After the opening Mass on Saturday morning, participants may tell his or her abortion story, a pivotal experience affecting their lives many years later. Most individuals have never revealed such intimate details of their lives to anyone, let alone strangers. A licensed clinical psychologist always serves as a member of the retreat team. “People are opened on such deep levels and you have to have someone there to handle it,” Father McCulloch said.
Terri Wall, Ph.D. is there to handle the fallout of often intense and long-suppressed wounds. Dr. Wall, a licensed psychologist in private practice, focuses on women’s issues affecting relationships, parenting and post-partum depression. One of her early professional experiences was working in an in-patient hospital where a large percentage of her patients had at least one abortion in their past. Although she was young, the experience made a huge impression on her. The work she does with Rachel’s Vineyard gives her an opportunity to combine her Catholic faith with her profession in a beautiful way to help people.
|light shines in the darkness
where to go for post-abortion healing
The Diocese of Saint Augustine supports two healing ministries for those who have been involved in an abortion. Services are treated confidential and are available to men and women of all faiths. For more information, call Lorraine Allaire of the diocesan Respect Life Office at (904) 308-7474 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Rachel Named from a Scripture passage taken from Jeremiah 31: 15-17, Project Rachel is an organization that supports those who mourn the loss of a child through abortion, and offers hope and healing for the future.
Founded in 1984 by Vicky Thorn of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the program is designed to provide support and spiritual guidance for those confronting emotions triggered by abortion. Project Rachel allows men and women to grieve the loss of a child in a safe, healing environment.
In the Diocese of Saint Augustine, participants may choose to talk to a priest or counselor, or meet with a support group. The healing process is enhanced through participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, memorial services and spiritual exercises.
For information about the program visit www.hopeafterabortion.com or call the Florida toll free 24-hour assistance line at at 1-877-908-1212 or email: email@example.com
Rachel’s Vineyard Rachel’s Vineyard is a safe place to renew, rebuild and redeem hearts broken by abortion. Weekend retreats offer you a supportive, confidential and non-judgmental environment where women and men can express, release and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing.
Rachel’s Vineyard is therapy for the soul. Participants who have been trapped in anger toward themselves or others experience forgiveness. Peace is found. Lives are restored. A sense of hope and meaning for the future is finally re-discovered.
For information about this program visit www.rachelsvineyard.org or call their 24 hour assistance line at (904) 221-3232 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
During a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, she oversees the activities on Saturday, when participants confide their abortion stories to the group. “My role is to facilitate that and help them get in touch with underlying issues. All of us are very good at denial. I help them feel these emotions. When they’re pent up they begin to leak.” Inability to maintain relationships, a fight with a co-worker, or yelling at your husband may be part of post-abortion trauma. Participants are encouraged to look at what’s really going on and the areas of their lives that need to be explored as the healing process begins.
Dr. Wall also helps participants realize that the person who made the decision to terminate a pregnancy isn’t the same person who attends the retreat. “That begins the process of forgiveness,” says Dr. Wall. And while forgiveness and healing from an abortion is an ongoing process, by the end of the retreat the joy and peace on the faces of the participants is evident. “It’s the Holy Spirit,” she says.
Mary Lopez Huston, 46, attended the first Rachel’s Vineyard weekend held in the Diocese of Saint Augustine in November 2003. She had an abortion when she was 19. “A lot of people know me as a spiritual person. This was standing in the way.” Mary describes her experience at Rachel’s Vineyard as a gift from God for her marriage, her life and her relationships with others.
“Everything came to life because I could live again and my child could live again. For 25 years, I denied my child. She was patient and waited for her stubborn mother to acknowledge her,” Mary said, in between tears. “It’s a joy to be fully who I am. To be honest, both with myself and with others. God waited for me. What a good and loving father he is.”
On Feb. 2, 1980, Suzanne Nicholas aborted her first child. She was a senior studying at a Catholic college, and was dating the man she eventually married when she discovered she was pregnant. She panicked, and he panicked. She couldn’t tell her parents she was pregnant, and felt there was nowhere on a Catholic college campus she could turn to. Her boyfriend suggested an abortion. “I was alone, scared and I just agreed to go ahead with the abortion.”
During the procedure, she was numb. She didn’t cry or get angry; she just lost touch with her feelings. “A nurse held my hand and said it will be okay. I thought to myself that this will never be okay,” Suzanne said.
She married her college boyfriend and went on to have three more children. She had an ultrasound with her third child when she was 11 weeks pregnant. That’s when the couple started talking and dealing with the abortion. Suzanne attended the November 2003 Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. It opened a Pandora’s box of emotions for her. “I never really realized how abortion affected my kids. Any time you have a secret, you’re not really sharing (yourself),” she said.
||The First Coast Memorial for the Unborn is a 80-foot, L-shaped granite wall at Laura and Beaver streets in downtown Jacksonville. It is a place where women like Donna, Suzanne and Mary can go to mourn the loss of their unborn child.
Since the retreat, Suzanne has been able to talk openly about the procedure with her family. “There’s healing going on in my life and in all other areas as well. It’s amazing. I constantly see God’s hand at work in my life.” She and her husband still struggle with the abortion. “He’s not in the same place as me. We’ve had to do a lot of sorting out. The man and woman we were back then are not who we are now.”
“Even if people have gone to confession and gotten their lives back on track, the retreat’s good for them. It’s a real healing story; it’s a gospel story. It’s what Jesus is all about. It’s exciting for us as church people to have this tool to use,” Father McCulloch said.