Your Family Matters - Finding healing after an abortion

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Rachel’s Vineyard retreats create a sacred space for the Holy Spirit to work

Mike’s wife had left.* Mike wanted to attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat with his wife to heal the pain in their marriage, which included a past abortion, but she wouldn’t come. He ended up going alone, and it completely changed his life and saved his marriage. In his words, “The retreat helped me heal and strengthened my faith and that also helped me re-prioritize my life, opening my eyes, ears and heart to put my marriage and the love for my wife in the place it really deserves. We are now reconciled, happier than we have been in a long time and fully committed to our marriage.”

In Western Washington, Rachel’s Vineyard retreats are offered through Project Rachel, the official post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church in the United States. Project Rachel is a program of Catholic Community Services in the Archdiocese of Seattle. I recently spoke with program coordinator Valerie Jacobs. With a voice of compassion, wisdom and deep faith, she graciously shared with me about how the Lord works through these programs to heal hearts, lives and marriages through his mercy.

The healing begins with the first call to Project Rachel. After opening up and sharing about the abortion, which has usually been kept secret, and being reassured of God’s unconditional love, most clients are directed to the next Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Referrals for counseling, spiritual direction and other support are also available.

The trauma of abortion can cause depression, shame and guilt, which Valerie sees a lot. It can cause low self-esteem, anxiety issues, flashbacks, recurring nightmares and feelings of anger and resentment. One wife wrote that after her abortion, she felt disconnected from her husband. “I was in a deep depression for the first six months,” she wrote. “Even now, I reach a breaking point. I cry, I yell. I feel so shattered.” 

On the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, a sacred space is created which allows the Holy Spirit to work to heal this pain. It facilitates a powerful experience of forgiveness and reconciliation. Valerie explained that restoration of relationships happens on many levels: in the hearts and souls of moms and dads, with God, and with the children. Through writing a letter to their child and holding a memorial service, parents acknowledge their little one’s dignity. They also find the ability to forgive themselves. The healing spreads out to marriages, as well.

Whether a woman has an abortion before she is married or while she is married, it “profoundly impacts the relationship,” Valerie observed. She noted that a woman’s first abortion typically occurs in her late teens or early 20s, when she is forming her identity as a woman. “If she aborts her first pregnancy,” Valerie explained, “it’s going to impact her in how she sees herself as a woman, as a mother and as a wife.”

Intimacy, communication and trust are essential to happy marriages, and abortion harms women in these areas also. Valerie explained that abortion impacts a woman’s ability to fully express herself in sexual intimacy. Holding the burden of this deep, dark secret impacts her communication. It impacts her trust of men, because in many cases she was pressured by her boyfriend or husband to have the abortion, against her maternal instincts.

The retreat can bring about a profound transformation. “I truly believe I have seen miracles occur,” Valerie said. The most common thing people report is that they feel lighter and at peace. They have a sense of God lifting their burden so they can walk in greater freedom to be who God created them to be.

Like Julia, the mom who was surprised at how much more peace and calm she had at home with her husband and kids after the retreat. She hadn’t realized how much the abortion she’d had years earlier caused anger and resentment inside herself that she was directing toward them. Or Amanda, who wrote, “My husband and I were able to share our grief and see the love of God come to heal us after many years of pain. Now my relationship with my husband is peaceful.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day is Dec. 12, is patroness of the unborn. Valerie shared that she asks Our Lady to “wrap her mantle around the retreat,” to be present, with the angels and saints, and to bring the souls of the little children of the moms and dads who are there. And sometimes she has felt their presence, in a way she can’t explain.  

*Names have been changed.

Contact Project Rachel: Call 800-822-HOPE (4673) or 206-450-7814 for Spanish. To learn more, visit ccsww.org/projectrachel.

Northwest Catholic - December 2015

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is www.drsarahbartel.com.

Website: www.drsarahbartel.com