Forgiving Myself

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| This is the 285th story of Our Life Logs |


I grew up in the 1960s in Joliet, Illinois, as the second youngest of five kids. I don’t remember any meaningful interactions with my dad. Even when he did seemingly nice things like drop us off at church, he was really only doing it because it was on the way to a bar. Alcoholism ran deep in his family; liquor flowed in his blood. Mom didn’t know this when she married him. She was 19 and naive.

As I’m sure you can imagine, Dad’s absence left a hole in my heart. I tried to fill it and searched for love in other men, as they say, in all the wrong places.

And so, I met Nick in 1976. I was love struck—he was a handsome Hispanic boy who worked at a gas station nearby and was the first boy to ever seriously pay attention to me. Nick was dreamy, but he was also a compulsive liar. He claimed I was his only girlfriend, but in reality, he was sleeping with everyone in the area.

Bottom line? He took advantage of me. Never once did he ask me; it was just assumed.

I didn’t just lose my virginity with him. I lost something else, something far more precious. I just didn’t know it yet.

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I found out I was pregnant with Nick’s baby, I was three months along. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor told me.

“No! It can’t be true!” I yelled.

The doctor shrugged and sarcastically commented, “Good luck,”  and then left the room. I was left alone wondering if her reaction was a foretaste of the response I would get at home from my mother. I wasn’t sure of the next step, but after several weeks of morning sickness, I decided to tell my mother.

I ventured into the laundry room where she was folding clothes. Her eyes were tired as she bent over the machine, exhausted from her full-time job.

I cut to the chase. “Mom, I’m pregnant.”

She kept folding laundry, unfazed.

It was in that moment I saw how much my father’s alcoholism had destroyed her, and how I was feeding into her misery. Our life had stolen her ability to show emotion. No anger, no joy, just a simple response forever etched in my memory.

“You could give your baby to Susie.”

My sister Susie was married but not able to conceive. Still, I couldn’t believe that my mother expected me to go through with the pregnancy. I was 16; I was selfish and immature. I rolled my eyes at the mention of adoption. I’d still have to carry the baby for nine months. My heart was already set on the easiest solution I could think of: abortion. I knew my friend had had one. One minute she was pregnant, the next minute she wasn’t. I thought it sounded easy enough: in and out. Done. No more worries. Later that day, I scheduled the abortion.

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When I went for the appointment later that week, I realized I had forgotten my paperwork on the kitchen table at home. That moment has haunted me to this day. Now I can clearly see that God was giving me a second chance to reconsider what I was about to do. I wish I could go back in time and scream to myself, “DON’T DO THIS!!” But I can’t change what happened.

I let them take my baby that day. April 14, 1977. I remember flashes of the procedure. The charley horse in my legs from the stirrups. The tears that rolled down my face, as I laid there crying. “Just be still. Just be still,” said the doctor. The tugging, the quiet inhale of the vacuum, the pain. To this day, the sound of a suction machine terrifies me.

Some people think abortions are easy, that they don’t leave scars, that you can seamlessly move on with your life. Maybe that’s true for some women, but it wasn’t for me. The abortion marked the beginning of the darkest point in my life. Without knowing why, I became desperate to hurt and punish myself in whatever way I could. I felt I deserved everything bad that came my way. On my calendar, I even wrote: good month to commit suicide. I ditched a lot of school, began drinking, doing drugs, and running with The Outlaws, a local motorcycle gang.

These things certainly numbed the pain when I couldn’t face the person in the mirror, but the problem was that they couldn’t get rid of the anger.

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When the time was right though, God finally got through to me. One night when I was 19 with a line of cocaine in front of me, the phrase “you’re done” entered my head. It was a stunning realization that made me decide to stop that lifestyle. It was a moment of grace, and I followed it out of the bar, away from the party, and into an actual job where I could better myself.

I started working at a steel company where I ended up meeting and falling in love with Elliott. After three years of dating, despite being on the pill, I got pregnant—just when I thought I was getting my life on track! I made sure he knew from the start, “I’m not going to abort this baby.” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “I never asked you to! I’ll just marry you.”

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Elliot and me, 2016.

And so, I had our baby boy Elliott, named after his father. We eventually moved to Naperville, Illinois. All the while, I felt like a horrible mother to Elliott. I was still angry and searching for answers to ease the ache in my heart. I saw therapist after therapist, each with their own theories for my unhappiness. I was told, “The root of your anger is your father and his alcoholism.” If it wasn’t my father, they said it was the sexual abuse by my boyfriends. The list went on and on.

In my heart, I knew my therapists were right to focus on these issues, yet it felt as though there was a missing piece to the puzzle. I remember the exact date when I found that piece.

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April 20th, 1987. I was three and a half months pregnant with our second child when I had a gut feeling that something was wrong. I felt awful, and I was cramping and bleeding. I called the babysitter over so I could take myself to the clinic. The doctor was quick in telling me what I had already suspected, “Mrs. Eisman, you’re having a miscarriage right now.”

Words I had not planned flew off my tongue, surprising even me, “What are you going to do with the remains of my baby?” The doctor looked completely stumped. I filled the silence. “I want it.”

He put the remains in a container and handed them to me. I instinctively knew I had just miscarried a baby girl. I don’t know how. I just did. I named her Emilie. I drove home with her next to me.

My miscarriage happened a mere week from the anniversary of my abortion. I reflected on that along with the three-month-old fetus in the container the doctor had handed me. I wondered if maybe life didn’t start the moment a baby was born as I had thought. I wasn’t looking down at a clump of cells. I was looking at a tiny human, and seeing her partly-formed tore me up. My husband and I buried our baby girl in our backyard, devastated that we’d never get to know her, never see her eyes open, never see her grow up.

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The loss of Emilie exposed the old wounds I’d had from the abortion. And with the memory came the need to talk. Unfortunately for me, the therapists I had didn’t think this was an issue for me. I was left alone with my pain and no one to reach out to for the proper help.

In 2000, we moved to Minnesota, which brought a new group of friends that I’d found through the Catholic church. In time, I opened up about how I’d been feeling, and they said to me, “Mary, I think you’re depressed. You should go see someone new.”

I took their advice and made an appointment with a Catholic psychologist who listened to me and asked, “Have you gone to post-abortion healing?” I was stumped. I hadn’t known it existed. She handed me a card with a list of organizations that I had never heard of before. “Come back after you’ve gone through that healing.”

The healing group was named The Conquerors and met at a Christian church. Before my first meeting, I sat in my car and yelled at God. “Why am I here? This is pointless!” But by the time I drove home, I was crying and yelling for a whole new reason. “Oh my gosh. I found my soul sisters. They are all hurting just like me.” The companionship and the sharing drew me to come again and again each week, and in time, the anger and guilt I felt began to wash away. I found a way to forgive myself.

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I wish I could say that every day since then has been a walk in the park, but I would be lying. Every year, I struggle around the time when I had the abortion. In the past, I did not know how to grieve or take care of myself when I felt depressed. Now I have a better idea. I take a day off, I journal, I spend time with God. Since these experiences, I’ve had five other beautiful children and learned to better cope with my losses. Today, I’m always open to hearing other women’s experiences.

Many people wonder how I have been able to heal when so many haven’t. I tell them that God reminds me that I am loved and that my baby is in heaven with him. At the end of the day, this gives me the courage to love my story.

 

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This is the story of Mary Eisman

Mary currently lives in Owatonna, Minnesota, with her husband Elliott. After having an abortion at 16, Mary encountered immense guilt and anger that she didn’t get the proper help for until after a miscarriage later in life. She is now working to heal and forgive herself for the abortion. Now retired, she spends her days traveling and visiting her extended family. She and her husband have six kids and seven grandchildren. She considers herself a bonified, “church lady” helping out in every parish she goes to, rousing congregations and pastors to work of pro-life. She is part of a movement called Silent No More–a group of women who chose abortion and are now voicing their regret. These women are like sisters to her and the ones she texts on the anniversary of her baby’s death each year. There is not a day that goes by that she doesn’t reflect on what her first child (whom she named Thomas) would be like if he was alive, but is comforted by the fact that he’s in heaven.

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Me speaking at one of our rallies.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on October 17, 2018.

| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |

 

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