Why Some Parents Choose to Tell
Parents cite a number of reasons for choosing to talk with their children about a past abortion. These include:
(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 comfortable 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.
“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 child.
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 whole ‘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.
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.”
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.”
Amy R. Sobie
This is the second in a three-part series that originally appeared in The Post-Abortion Review.
Reprinted from The Post-Abortion Review, Issue (12)1, Jan.-March 2004. Se
the next issue of the Elliot Institute News for Part III.