Theresa Bonopartis vividly remembers the day, more than 20
years ago, that she phoned her doctor for the results of her
pregnancy test. She was 18, unmarried, and scared. The doctor”s
words confirmed what, despite months of denial, she already
knew. She was almost four months pregnant.
She and her boyfriend decided to marry. But then her parents
kicked her out, telling her to forget she was their daughter. She
and her boyfriend broke up. Her father urged her to have an
abortion, which she initially resisted. But without a job, housing,
or any support, she felt she had no choice but to give in.
For years, she tried to forget about the second-trimester abortion.
a grueling experience involving 12 hours of labor and seeing the
body of her unborn child.
After marriage to an abusive husband, the birth of two sons, a divorce, and a semi-reconciliation with her parents, she went back to school to earn a counseling degree. But within a year of starting her first job, she was burnt out, struggling with depression and suicidal
Finally, feeling she had nowhere else to turn, she sought counseling… For the first time in ten years, she began to feel a sense of peace and healing. But one question still nagged her: should she tell her two sons about her abortion?
“I felt that God was calling me to speak about abortion, but I knew
I couldn’t unless my children knew first,” she said. “I was
concerned about how it was going to effect them and I thought
they would never forgive me. I was terrified they would hate me..”
To Tell or Not to Tell?
Abortion is often a deeply guarded secret, surrounded by silence
and shame. Even parents who may feel comfortable sharing their
story with other adults may hesitate when it comes to telling their
children. They may worry about fracturing their relationship with
their children, especially young children who tend to see Mom
and Dad in nurturing and protecting roles. Many parents fear that
even their adult children will react to news of a past abortion with
condemnation and disgust.
The parents. questions and concerns are many: “What if my
children hate me? What if they don’t forgive me? Will my children
still believe I love them and would never hurt them? When is the
right time to tell them, and how much do I share with them? Should
I even be telling them about this part of my life at all?”
Some experts, like Dr. Philip Ney, a psychiatrist who has done
extensive work with abortion survivors and siblings of aborted
through Hope Alive ministries in Vancouver, Canada, say that
children need to know about the parent’s abortion because of the
effect the abortion can have on the family.
“In some respects, the decision to talk or not talk about your
pregnancy loss, particularly an abortion, is academic,” Ney said.
“There are very few real secrets within the family. The facts seem
to indicate that the loss that has affected you will be communicated
in one way or another, and children guess at what happened. You
cannot not communicate. You will show that something has
changed you, especially something as disturbing as an abortion.”
Ney said that children often sense that there are “pseudo-secrets”
within the family, and even very young children may be aware that
their mother was pregnant but a baby never arrived. This may
cause young children to question their own security and lead to a
sense of mistrust and lack of communication with the parents.
Some children may become withdrawn, angry, and uncommunicative if the issue of the abortion is not addressed.
“Parents need to remember that the pain of an abortion is never private, so resolving the pain and conflict cannot be private,” said Ney. “It is better that the issue be dealt with as carefully and clearly as possible. It may take time to help your children work through the conflicts, but it is vitally important that you do so. The outcome will be much better than you might expect during the period of turmoil.”
Kevin Burke, who holds a master’s degree in social work and runs
Rachel’s Vineyard post-abortion ministries with his wife, therapist
Theresa Burke, suggested that parents talk to a trusted counselor
or therapist before making the decision to divulge news of an
abortion to their children.
He said that parents need to think carefully about how, what, and when they should tell their children. “The burden must fall on us as parents to justify the benefits to the child in telling them this information,” he said.
He suggests that before parents talk to their children, they ask themselves the following questions:
. How will this benefit my children?
. How will this affect their development now and in the future?
. How will this contribute to or interfere with their own emotional
maturation and development?
. How will this contribute to or interfere with their relationship
with me and my role as a parent?
. What is the benefit to telling them now rather than waiting
until they are a young adult or adult and can more easily
integrate the information into their adult minds and understand
the issue and the parents’ experience?
“I was afraid my sons would hate me if I told them of my abortion.”
Dr. Theresa Burke agrees that parents need to carefully weigh the possible benefits and harms to their children before telling them.
She is concerned that some parents may feel driven to tell their
children from a “desire to ‘vicariously’ reconcile with one’s aborted
child.” For this reason, she said, parents need to develop a
relationship with their aborted child before they consider telling
their living children about the abortion.
Bonopartis said she tried several times to speak with her sons, but
each time she held back, unable to utter the words. Finally, when
they were in their early teens, she felt she was being “given the
grace” to tell them.
“I never overcame the fears,” she said. “I think I just moved forward
in spite of them…I told them the basics…I did not go into details of the abortion. They cried, and as is often the case, they went through
very different responses. One was very angry and the other wanted
to protect me.”
Why Some Parents Choose to Tell
Parents cite a number of reasons for choosing to talk with their
children about a past abortion.
(1) If the abortion is publicly known because the mother and/or
father have shared their testimony in public settings, or feel called
to begin speaking out about their experience; or if there is another
reason to believe that the child may find out about the abortion
from another source.
“No one has the right to know about an abortion before family
members,” said Bonopartis, who waited to speak publicly about
her abortion until her two sons felt comfortable with her doing so.
“I believe family members have a right
to their time of grief and
working it out. They also have a right to give their input, including
the children, as to whether they are comfo
rtable having the post-
abortive person speak publicly about their experience.”
(2) If the parents suspect that their children are aware or have
guessed that an abortion took place in the family (for example, if
the children were born before the abortion and may have guessed
that the mother was pregnant).
Cecilia Brown, who had an abortion at 18, had planned to tell her
daughter about her abortion herself someday. Instead, she was
dismayed to learn that someone who was angry at Cecilia had
already told her daughter.
“When my daughter found out I don’t know, but I do know that
she dwelled on it for a while,” Brown said. “Then she got mad at
me one day and started to blurt out angry words. I waited until she
calmed down and then talked to her about it…She was more
angry at the fact that I had not been the one to tell her.”
(3) If the abortion has resulted in serious consequences for the
parents, such as severe depression, substance abuse, divorce,
or violence in the home, that have impacted the children and
the parents’ relationship with them, and the parents feel that
telling the children will be a step toward healing the wounds
within the family.
Tips for Talking With Your Children About a Past Abortion
1) Make sure you have worked through the grief process
first. Parents need to be far enough along in their own healing
to be able to cope with their children.s emotional reactions.
2) Pray and discern before deciding whether to talk with your children about a past abortion. Seek the advice of a trusted counselor, minister, or priest.
3) Think about your motives for telling your children. Go
through the list of questions suggested by Kevin Burke. Parents need to make sure they are acting in the best interests of their children rather than seeking to resolve issues in their own lives.
4) Think about your children’s level of maturity and ability
to handle such information. Are they experiencing personal
or family conflicts that might be worsened by learning about
the abortion now? Are they emotionally mature enough to
handle such information, or would it be better to wait until
they are older before telling them?
If you choose to tell:
5) Be age-appropriate in discussing past abortions with your
children. Teens or young adults may be able to handle details
that would not be appropriate to share with young children.
6) Reassure your children that you will always love and
accept them no matter what, not only through words but
through your willingness to listen and spend time with them.
Make sure teens and older children know they can always
come to you for help if they are experiencing a similar crisis.
7) Have outside support in place — a trusted counselor or
pastor, knowledgeable family friend, etc. — who can help
the children process this information and serve as an
additional means of support. Children may hesitate to share
some things with their parents if they perceive the parents
are still hurting from the abortion experience.
8) Respect your children’s right to grieve, and assure them
that they are free to express their feelings and take the time
to work through them. Parents should try not to place a
burden of “needing to forgive” on their children or insist
that they move on from the situation before they are ready.
9) Answer questions honestly and openly, giving your
children as much information as they seem able to handle.
Parents should never force children to hear information they
don’t want to hear. Children will usually stop asking
questions when they have received as much information as
they can cope with at the moment.
Parents need to let the children know that they can come back to discuss information later, but be prepared to monitor your children’s reactions and address issues as they arise.
“I believe that many children are living in situations that are a
direct result of the mother’s abortion – single family homes,
abusive families, etc.,” Bonopartis said. “The children may feel
that they are to blame for the emotional struggles of their parents.
I know my sons felt that so much of their lives made sense once
they knew about the abortion. Explaining how the abortion affected
me cleared up the picture for them, and no matter how painful, I
think it helped them.”
The Importance of Discernment
Theresa Burke emphasized that parents should consider their
child’s level of maturity and ability to handle the situation. “Only
a parent is qualified to discern whether or not their child has the
emotional stability to deal with this kind of information,” she said.
“The decision to tell or not to tell is highly individual, personal,
and should be considered only after deep discernment and prayer.
No one knows your child better than you.”
Some children simply may not be at an age where they can keep
discussion of the abortion within the family.
“One child I knew was nicknamed ‘The Times Herald’ because
she was such a blabber mouth,” Burke said. “Such a child could
be tempted to broadcast this personal information to teachers,
babysitters, and neighborhood friends.”
Valeska Littlefield, who often speaks publicly about the abortion
she had as a teen, said her nine-year-old daughter sometimes
asked questions about her abortion at inopportune moments.
“I would simply tell her that now was not the time to talk about it,”
Littlefield said. “Parents need to be prepared that this might happen,
especially with younger children.”
Lisa DiFillipo, who had an abortion 11 years ago, said her family
knows about her abortion and she is fine when her young daughter
brings it up with relatives, “because this fact will always be a part
of my life and I’m not trying to hide from it anymore.” Parents who
are concerned about privacy, however, should keep this in mind
before talking about the abortion with a very young or talkative
One mother, who asked not to be named, said that she has decided
not to tell her young children about her abortion, at least for now.
“I could never disappoint my children by letting them know that I
went against everything I have taught them,” she said. “If my
daughter is ever in a position to need my input – she’s eight now –
I may have to release this information to her. But I really hope to be
able to lead her in the right direction without having to share this
information with her or anyone.”
The Importance of Healing
Another important thing for parents to consider is how much
healing they themselves have experienced, said Trudy Johnson,
who went through an abortion and now works at Focus on the
Family’s Crisis Pregnancy Ministry.
“I have counseled women who have just ‘come out of the closet,’
who are barely out of denial themselves and think they need to immediately tell their other children,’ said Johnson, who holds a
master’s degree in
counseling. “In these cases I always tell them
no…If you are not really healed, I believe the news can come
across as ‘dumping’ on them or being condemning. The
‘telling’ process shouldn’t be a matter of dumping your grief or
guilt, but rather, sharing your heart tenderly for truth’s sake.”
Johnson said that while telling one’s child can be a step in the
healing process, she doesn’t recommend it unless the parent has
gone through a post-abortion counseling class and worked
through the pain.
10) Stress that this is a “family issue” only, and not one to
discuss with others outside the family – especially with
young children who may be tempted to broadcast such news
or ask questions at inappropriate moments.
11) When the children are ready, find a way that you as a
family can acknowledge and memorialize the child lost to
abortion. This might include a healing service or Mass for
the family, visiting or placing a marker at a memorial for
unborn children, planting a tree, etc.
Philip Ney and Theresa Burke both agree that unless telling a
child right away is absolutely necessary (such as when the child
has already guessed or discovered that an abortion took place),
parents need to resolve their own conflicts and mourn the loss of
the aborted child first.
Otherwise, they will not be prepared to deal
with the children.s reactions in a healthy manner, and may
communicate their own fears and unresolved issues to them.
.No one should ever tell their children about their abortion until
they have experienced an intense healing process themselves,.
Burke said. .The most important thing children need to know is
that they are loved and that the parent is stable.
If a grieving parent went to a child with an abortion confession, it could be very threatening to the child if the parent has not been through a healing process themselves..
Many parents also say that the timing of an abortion confession
is important. They say parents shouldn’t “rush” the process, but
carefully consider how and when to talk to their children, as well
as how the children might be impacted by such news.
“I’ve run across many women who end up telling their daughters
when they are facing the same experience of an unexpected
pregnancy,” Littlefield said. “Often the daughter will think that if
mom did it and she is okay, then I need to do it too, or it is okay for
me. I’ve seen other cases where there is a deathbed confession of
abortion, which leaves the family with the aftermath and nowhere
to turn to have their questions answered.”
The Post-Abortion Review
Page 6 Vol. 12, No. 1
Bonopartis said that she has known of cases where women speak
engage in public speaking about their abortions without telling
their families or tell their families simply because they want to
engage in public speaking.
.I think this can be a selfish motive.a way they are looking to
.make up. for their abortion or ease their own guilt,. she said.
.This is a great injustice. Women also have to be prepared to
allow their children to feel whatever they need to feel and to work
through it, allowing the children to express
themselves with no fear that they themselves
will then be .unwanted.. In this way, the
children can feel that no matter what they
say, they are safe and loved..
Sharing the Past
Lisa DiFillipo, who had an abortion 11 years ago, said she chose
to tell her daughter at a young age because of her involvement in
“When my daughter was about six years old and I was speaking
regularly about my abortion, I really felt that I needed to tell her,”
she said. “Many think that is way too young, but I didn’t want her to
hear about it from someone other than myself.” DiFillipo’s daughter is now eight, and her mother said she seems “to feel very comfortable” with the abortion issue.
“I tried to give her as much information as she wanted and then
that was it until the next time,” she said. “She would think about it
and let it sink in and then come back to me with other questions. I
was always honest with her without giving her more than I felt like
she could handle. I am happy and comfortable with the way I have done this. I plan to do my best to keep these lines of communication open so this never becomes a stumbling block for her.”
Sometimes children have already guessed or sensed that there
was an abortion in the family, perhaps after having overheard a
conversation or guessing that the mother was pregnant without a
When Janet Hurguy told her teenage daughter
about her abortion, her daughter responded by saying that she
had often thought that there had been another child in the family.
“She did not understand why she would think this but for some
reason she did,” she said.
Another woman, Shelia, said she felt at first that telling her children
about her abortion “put distance between us,” but she knew that
her children needed time to work through the grieving process.
“At first it was very painful, but today I have absolutely no regrets
about telling them,” she said. “I knew that the truth needed to be
spoken; that I wanted them to understand what hell these abortions
had caused me and to know the truth about what abortion does to
a woman. I wanted to share about the redeeming love and mercy
Parents need their own healing before telling their children.
Christine, who has told her teenage children about her abortion,
acknowledges that while telling her children about the abortion had painful consequences, she is glad she took that step.
“My children are coping with the knowledge of what I did, yet not
without a struggle,” she said. “They sometimes asked me
questions, which I answered to the best of my ability. But my
second child still sometimes avoids the subject, looking away
from me…My children and I still need more restoration. But at
least a very important step has been made. An openness has been
created and I’m very grateful to no longer have this terrible secret
from my children.”
Other women, like Trudy Johnson, have chosen to wait until their children were adults before telling them of a past abortion.
Johnson shared her story of telling her two grown sons in an article she wrote for Focus Magazine last January. Although she struggled with fears about telling them, she wrote, the letter she received from one of her sons in response was .probably the most loving thing he has ever done for me.”
“Dear Mom,” her son wrote. “Thank you for being honest about
this terrible thing…I know it must have been hard for you to share it with me, but honest, Mom, I hope you don’t think I would hate you… I feel so sad for our family. When I read your words, it was like all the puzzle pieces of my life fell into place. . . . I always felt our family had a “missing piece” …Our home had an emptiness, an inexplicable sadness. Now I know why.”
Valeska Littlefield feels is it important to give children
opportunity to grieve the loss of a sibling and make some tangible
connection to the aborted child. She and her husband are planning
to honor the memor
y of Littlefield’s child with a marker at the
National Memorial for the Unborn in Chattanooga, TN, which has
a “Wall of Remembrance” where grieving parents and family
members can honor children lost to abortion. They have decided
to let their oldest daughter choose the inscription for the marker.
“I’ve had the opportunity to grieve; this is her opportunity to
make that connection,” Littlefield explained. “If I would have had
a child who died after birth, I would have had photographs,
something to allow our children to make a connection with her, but
she doesn’t have that. This will give her that connection.”
Many parents say that prayer – both before and after talking with
your children, if you choose to tell them – is key.
Christine agreed. “I would strongly recommend that those mothers
who need to tell their children make sure to be surrounded by
prayer, and also, if they are very much afraid to tell, that they
would ask a very skillful person to be around so they can talk
about how things went as soon as they can.”
Theresa Burke said that if a parent chooses to disclose an abortion,
“it should be done within the framework of … forgiveness
and mercy; that even though something awful has happened, God has forgiven the person, and forgives all of us if we are sorry
about what we did.”
Cecilia Brown said parents should tell their children that they can
always come to you if they are facing an unplanned pregnancy.
“I told my daughter that if she became pregnant she could come to
me; that I do understand, I have been there,” she said.
Bonopartis believes that in the end, telling her sons about her
past abortion ten years ago has been healing for her family. “I
know it was very painful for them, and although they support my
work I know at times they still do not want to read things I have
written or look at it too closely,” she said.
“Sometimes I still feel concern, but not very often. I am very
proud of them . . . they can get sad, but I believe their reactions are
healthy. It has also made them more effective in their own lives in
speaking about abortion. They understand the impact . . . they
have lived it. I think in the end it brought us closer together. It took time, and a lot of talking, but we worked through it. So much of their lives now makes sense to them. They understood finally why things were the way they were, and why I spent years crying.”
Bonopartis recently received an award for her work in post-abortion
ministries. She said that she was nervous about her son attending
the banquet with her because it was the first the time that he was
to hear her share her abortion story in public.
“From what I heard, my son was the first one on his feet clapping
after I spoke,” she said. “To know my son was giving me a standing
ovation after I had gotten up in front of 300 people with him in the
room and I had spoken about my own abortion and work; how
can you beat that?”
Talking With Your Children About Your Abortion
Amy R. Sobie
* * *
Comments from Dr. Philip Ney are excerpted from the booklet
“How to Talk With Your Children About Your Abortion: A Practical
Guide for Parents,” by Philip G. Ney and Marie Peeters-Ney. For
more information, contact IIPLCARR/Hope Alive by phone at
(250) 391-1840, or email [email protected].