Maggie found herself an unemployed, divorced mother of 2, living with a man and pregnant with his unwanted child. She had an abortion. She wasn't far along in the pregnancy. It was a hurried decision. Maggie says, "The abortion issue preys on fear — the confusion and panic of the moment. Because you don't want the situation to go on, you decide quickly. There is no one to tell you to slow down and think, and once the decision is made, you don't think about it again."She went on with her life, soon breaking off her relationship. "Most relationships can't survive an abortion. The dead child is always between you." Maggie completely blocked out the abortion for over six years.
Maggie got a good job and in the next three years met and married her husband. Soon after the wedding, she became pregnant and gave birth to a little girl. "I wanted to get pregnant right away. She was my replacement child, my atonement child."
But after the child's birth, Maggie found it hard to love her. The nurses would put the child in her arms, and she would put her in the crib. Maggie's family happily welcomed the baby home, yet Maggie hardly ever held her. For two and a half years, she would forget the baby existed, and forget to make arrangements for her. Maggie began to worry and started to sense that something was wrong.
She described herself as "very together on the surface, but beginning to fall apart inside." She coasted along until her life hit a climactic "stress point". The family moved from their hometown to Atlanta; while her children and husband adjusted, Maggie sank into deep depression. "I would sit and stare at the wall all day. A good day was getting up. A fantastic day was getting dressed." Her 3 year-old daughter "watched an awful lot of Nickelodean".
Some evangelical broadcasts followed the children's programs, and too listless to turn the station, Maggie watched and finally pulled out of the despondency. Then, though she had given it no conscious thought in years, Maggie soon could think of nothing but the abortion.
Though she had never mendioned it to anyone but the aborted baby's father, she now felt compelled to confess to her husband. He accepted her admission lovingly and without judgement. That began the healing for Maggie. Soon she began working with an organization called Birthright, counseling women by sharing her own experience with abortion.
In 1985, Maggie addressed the House Judiciary Committee of the GA State Legislature concerning the Parental Notification bill. This was her introducetion to public speaking. Since then she has shared with numerous groups on her abortion and its effect in her life. Speaking out was "very healing initially. It is amazing — when you are hiding something, it still has the power to destroy you. You live under a cloak of fear that someone will find out. Once you expose the truth…it breaks that wall of shame."
Post Abortion Syndrome was just being "discovered" in the 80s. Maggie had become aware that both her depression and her inability to bond with her daughter resulted from repressed feelings about her abortion.
When she admitted the abortion and began to talk about it, suddenly other problems began to surface. At this time, she lost all desire for sexual relations with her husband, though she loved him deeply. Her husband suggested that her mind linked sex and the abortion: "if she hadn't had sex, she wouldn't have gotten pregnant and there would have been no abortion." Together with time and patience, they worked through this difficulty.
Sometimes Maggie would discover unknown pain or feelings as she addressed a group. Before one crowd, she first admitted her need to hold her aborted baby in her arms, just one time and tell it she was sorry. This "empty arms syndrome" became a real physical pain where her arms would literally ache for the child.
Maggie was tireless in her efforts to spread the word on the devastating effects an abortion can have in the life of the mother. She felt she couldn't turn down a single speaking engagement. She always had to be there to make a difference. Then in January, she went into a tailspin. She was exhausted, burned out. "I once more became a non-functional human being. I couldn't make decisions – not even which breakfast cereal to buy. Maggie sought professional help.
She remembers that the doctor questioned her feelings about being loved. "What does it mean to you when someone loves you?" he asked. She finally realized that she felt totally unlovable, that no matter how hard she tried, she would never be able to make up for that one act eleven years ago. Without realizing it, she distanced herself from this eventual loss, number herself to the pain and withdrew from life.
Maggie has now accepted that she can't "make up" for the abortion, and that she can't be responsible for every woman yet to make their own decision on abortion. She has also overcome her feeling of unworthiness.
There is a certain sorrow that Maggie must live with, much the same pain as that of a parent who has lost a child through accident or illness. But though there is sadness, the intense anguish, guilt and self-loathing have all diminished.
Maggie advises women dealing with post-abortion syndrome: "Find somebody you can talk to — a good listener. Acknowledge the humanity of your child, so that you can grieve for him/her. You can't grieve for a lump of tissue. Admit that the abortion did kill your child. Most importantly, no matter how bad the pain is, don't shove it away, because you are really shoving it even deeper inside yourself, where you will never be free of it."
[Georgia Nurses for Life, Fall 1988, LifeSupport]