9 Ways to Create a Culture of Healing for Post-Abortive Women, by Michelle Schaefer
Many of you read Michelle’s story about her abortion, the shame and guilt she carried for years afterward, and the freedom she found recently. Today, she shares with us nine practical ways we can come alongside post-abortive women and support them in their healing journeys. Please feel free to pass along this article if you think it would be helpful, and may the Lord lift up the heads of millions of post-abortive women around the world and give them peace.
Reported statistics tell us that 43% of American women will have had at least one abortion by age 45. Really? That sounds awfully high. If that’s true, then approximately 2 out of every 5 women we know are post-abortive. They surround us. They are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our friends, and our co-workers. The next time you are in a room full of people, count the women. Do the math. If you find yourself saying, “But not these women, I know them. They would have told me…,” think again. Or if you find yourself saying, “But not these women. They go to my church. They are Christians.” Think again. The collected data reveals otherwise.
As a post-abortive woman myself I believe that there is a social paradigm, particularly in the church, that creates a culture of silence and secrecy on this topic, exacerbating issues of shame for post-abortive women. That shame effectively keeps them locked in isolation and inhibits God’s healing capacity through redemptive community. As we break this silence, it will open doors to transparency and authenticity that are so badly needed for women to find the healing that God wants for them. I invite you to consider the following ways you can play a role in the release of these captives.
9 Ways You Can Help Create a Culture of Healing:
1. Assess yourself. The remainder of this list won’t make one bit of difference if you have not considered and dealt with your own feelings and opinions on this topic. They will influence your attitude, your posture, and your capacity to love. What you say will not be impactful in any positive way if the person to whom you are saying it does not feel the heartbeat of God in you. Allow God’s heart for the broken women who are struggling with this issue to emerge in you prior to inviting conversations on the topic of abortion.
2. Make a commitment. If you feel a nudge of compassion towards post-abortive women, make a decision to adopt practices to be a vessel for God’s healing in their lives. It will require some intentionality in your interpersonal communication, both in close relationships and in public settings. I’m so grateful to the beautiful friends who have walked along on my own healing journey with me. The community I have experienced with others is one of the most powerful ways that God has demonstrated His love for me and His desire that I would no longer live in the self-imposed isolation I felt because of my shame.
3. Educate yourself. It will be helpful, as you invite conversations with others on the topic of abortion, to know and understand a little bit of the struggles that post-abortive women may be dealing with. Many women who have had an abortion experience symptoms of post-abortive trauma. They may not realize these symptoms are directly related to their past abortion. Often the medical community overlooks abortion as a risk factor in a woman’s physical and emotional health. Signs of post-abortive stress:
* Suppression of memories
* Relational isolation
* Self-destructive behaviors
* Nightmares or flashbacks
* Emotional numbing
* Fear of punishment
In my own experience, my greatest struggles were the guilt and isolation that I lived in. I also walked most of my parenting journey with a fear that at some point the universal justice that I intuitively believed should be dealt to me would play out in the form of one of my children being taken from me. Simultaneously, I accepted the guilt and shame as a natural consequence of my sin. I thought, “God forgives me of my sin, but that does not release me from the consequences. This way that I feel, and always will feel, is my consequence.” I did not believe it was possible that I could feel anything else.
4. Be aware of healing resources. If you are going to begin talking about this issue, please do so carefully and equip yourself with resource information such as the names of post-abortive Bible studies and groups or contacts in your local churches or crisis pregnancy centers.
* Surrendering the Secret, published by Lifeway, is a wonderful 8 week post-abortive healing study. www.surrenderingthesecret.com
* Please contact me if you need help finding resources in your area. Michelle Schaefer: firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Break the silence. Begin to gently talk in public spheres and private gatherings about abortion and post-abortive healing for women. Use your newfound education to educate others. Remove the veil of shame in the form of silence that covers so many hard topics.
6. Talk about the topic of abortion in less heated terms. Look for opportunities to intentionally have discussions on the topic outside of the context of politics or the life/choice debate and conflict. Post-abortive women often feel torn and overwhelmed about the legal aspects of the debate. I know I did. When this controversy came up in discussion, I often just hit the mute button on my own thoughts and feelings. It would have been entirely too risky to enter into a public discussion on a topic that was so emotional and sensitive for me. Sometimes I felt as if I was not entitled to have an opinion on the topic because of my choice. Try to make it a point to compassionately mention that abortion is a truly painful, difficult experience for most women. If you express love and concern for the women affected, you will become a safe, soft place for the women you encounter to experience the love and acceptance that they desperately need. Be sensitive to the truth that if this is being discussed in a room full of 10 women, approximately 4 of them are post-abortive. Believe this is true, no matter how well you think you know them.
7. Be a beacon of God’s love and forgiveness. Believe with your whole heart that God forgives every sin and that He does not rank our sins. Post-abortive women struggle with accepting God’s grace and forgiveness. Deep inside they believe they have violated a universal sense of justice that cannot go unpunished. If they do believe that God forgives them, they still have an even greater struggle forgiving themselves. Be ready to elevate the cross above all sin.
8. Honor her courage. Understand that for a woman to reach out and connect with a person to tell her story, ask questions, or ask for help requires an enormous amount of courage. So much so, that only a very small percentage of women will even take that risk.
9. If you have someone that confesses her abortion to you here are some ways you can help…
* Begin by listening with your heart. Allow your friend to confidentially pour out her story and her pain to you without interrupting. It’s important that she lets go of some of the burden she’s been carrying and that she no longer feels alone.
* Assure her of your love and support. Much as you’d like to make all her suffering go away with the right words, her grief and loss won’t disappear after one conversation. Assure her of your friendship. Tell her you will be there for her and help her find healing. The loving, accepting friendship I experienced with other women was pivotal in my healing.
* Encourage your friend to reach out to her church, a counselor or an abortion recovery ministry. My church, The Chapel, has a supportive ministry that your friend can contact confidentially at email@example.com. If she is not in the Chicagoland area, encourage her to check church resources or crisis pregnancy centers for post-abortive healing groups. Remind her that God’s love and mercy is bigger than any sin.
* Assure her again of your friendship. Promise to be there, not only today, but also in the future. Thank her for having the trust to talk with you; it took courage. Her healing journey has begun.
I do have one last word of encouragement… If you know of someone in your life that has an abortion in their past, and you have not discussed it with them in a long time, you may feel reluctant to bring up such a sensitive topic after what may be many years. I want you to know that this is a wound that time does not heal. So, if you are banking on the idea that they’re all good because they don’t still talk about it or that a lot of time has gone by, maybe even 20 or 30 years, that would be a very wrong assumption to make. Please consider lovingly asking them how they are doing with that issue from so long ago. And be ready to listen.
Thank you, on behalf of all of my post-abortive sisters, for taking the time to read and consider how you can be an instrument of God’s love and grace to hurting women.