FOUR Brisbane women, friends of varying ages and backgrounds, greeted each other affectionately.
They had several things in common – faith one of them – but perhaps the most profound was their lived experience of and healing from abortion.
Casually seated in a lounge room in the western suburbs, their individual and collective “journeys” began to emerge.
“By acknowledging it (her abortion) I take another step towards healing,” the eldest and most vocal of them, Rosemay, said.
“You have to deal with your fears otherwise they’ll always haunt you.”
Born in Mauritius and moving to Australia in the mid-1960s, Rosemay hadn’t always found her abortion, 26 years ago, an easy topic to discuss.
“I was totally different (after the abortion),” she said.
“I had a lot of things going on in my life and it all became too much.
“One day I was hiding in a corner and my eldest son found me. I didn’t talk to anyone.”
Just prior Rosemay had fallen pregnant with her fourth child and wanted to carry the baby to term, but her (former) husband wouldn’t allow it.
“His decision was based on the situation we were in financially,” Rosemay said.
“I had no voice; I had to go along with it (the abortion).”
Rosemay also said she “had no identity” and “wasn’t in control”.
The day of the surgery “bothered” her constantly until the discovery just last year of “Rachel’s Vineyard” post-abortion healing retreats, originating from America, and Brisbane contact Lisa Demedio (featured in The Catholic Leader last year).
“I went through a journey that weekend,” she said of the November 2008 experience among four others on retreat.
“Everyone walked in and was very nervous … and when we walked out we were like a big family.
“Nobody was there to judge.”
Before the retreat, Rosemay’s aborted child remained unnamed, something that changed.
“I was asked (on retreat) if I had a name for my child,” she said.
“I couldn’t think of one … but I knew because all our family names begin with ‘R’, I wanted this child’s to be different.
“I was thinking of ‘J’ … then it just came to me … Jeremy Matthew.
“Naming my child was a closure.”
Rosemay has now secured employment, a driver’s license and a sense of independence – all new experiences in her adulthood.
She has also returned to her Catholic faith, not permitted to actively practice while married, and is a Care and Concern volunteer in her local parish on Brisbane’s northside.
Formerly “like a prisoner” Rosemay now “has lots of friends”, seven grandchildren and is loving life, while never forgetting her youngest son.
“I’m still sad about it (the abortion), yes, and I’ll never forget it,” she said.
“(But) my reason for talking (now) is to let others know there is something you can do to help yourself … don’t wait for 26 years … I wish I had done it (the retreat) sooner.”
All the women echoed that “wish”, none more strongly than Barb whose 1994 abortion was preceded by significant health issues.
“I had to choose between the two kids I had and the one I was carrying,” she said.
“I had a condition where it was going to be seriously life-threatening if I continued with the pregnancy.
“My daughter was 16 years old and I lost my mother at age 13. I didn’t want her to grow up motherless.”
Further physical complications still arose post-abortion regardless, Barb “almost dying” and “taking years to recover” with her liver “going into shock”.
It was thought “not possible” for her to fall pregnant and the abortion decision, at 16 weeks gestation, is fraught with regret.
“Every single day since then it (the abortion) has not been off my mind,” Barb said.
“I should have sought a second opinion.”
Recovering physically but needing emotional and spiritual help post-abortion amid a busy professional life, Barb turned to the Internet.
“I remember screaming, ‘There’s got to be someone out there to help me!'” she said.
“I can’t remember what I Googled … ‘healing from abortion’, I think.”
She too found Rachel’s Vineyard and Lisa.
Not able to afford the upcoming retreat, a friend assisted, after Barb, an accountant, had offered some free financial help.
Barb said she was able to free herself of the “veil of condemnation and shame” experienced by so many women post-abortion, describing the feeling like “being on cloud ten”.
“The retreat is the best thing I’ve ever done for my own healing,” she said.
Naming her unborn baby Jasmine, Barb now assists with Lisa at retreats, as part of the Brisbane team, having only first experienced it herself in May last year.
At that same retreat in 2008 was Alice (not her real name), a woman in her mid-30s who described the outreach as “a chance to let go”.
“I’d done a lot of crying before the retreat,” she said of her 2006 abortion at six weeks gestation.
“(But) since the retreat I’ve only broken down once.”
Alice named her baby “Rose”. “She’s always there,” she said.
With no other children, Alice was hospitalised early in her pregnancy due to grave sickness where she “could barely walk”.
Feeling isolated and with no one to turn to, even in her family, Alice rang a “help line” and said she was “coached” into the abortion.
“They told me where to go and what to say,” she said.
“I was on a roller coaster and I couldn’t get off.
“I was trying to say, ‘No’ but there was no volume coming out of me.”
Living in Sydney, Alice attempted to make contact with Lisa but “hung up” several times, soon staying on the phone line long enough to have a conversation and decide “it was time to move on in the healing process”.
Feeling stronger and more peaceful since last May, Alice “doesn’t trust doctors” and has “recognised” her “wrongs” amid much prayer and soul searching.
She has also begun the Rachel’s Vineyard bible study program for those in the post-retreat phase.
Lisa (Dimedio), the last of the women present to journey through the trauma of and healing from abortion – for her, over a 10-year period and naming her son Joshua – was visibly moved by what the women had shared in her lounge room.
“To hear their comments is what keeps me going,” she said.
“The retreat is really just an ‘opening up’ … and my hope is that women do that sooner rather than later.
“To hang on for so long, like Rosemay did for 26 years … I did my retreat 10 years later (after the abortion) and I wish I had done it sooner.”
Lisa currently has “50 people on the books”, including men, waiting and wanting to be healed of the pain of abortion.
“I know of five people who’d like to come to the February retreat but just can’t afford it,” Lisa said.
“It’s a common scenario that people following an abortion are in financial stress,” Barb added, having been in that same situation.
Quoting other reasons associated with non-attendance – like “busyness” and “fear” – Lisa said she’d “love to be inundated” with calls regarding the next retreat on February 20 to 22 in Manly, especially from those who may be able to help financially.
To make contact call (07) 3376 7078, email email@example.com or write to PO Box 235 Sumner Park BC 4074.
“One man anonymously donated $1000 after last year’s article,” Lisa said.
“I’d love to hear from him again, just to thank him.”