I recently interviewed Donna, who struggles with feelings of loss, sadness, and guilt over an abortion her mother had before she was born. Her testimony is raw and honest, and she is still struggling with the death of her sibling. Even though neither her testimony nor her views fit neatly into the typical pro-life narrative that some people may expect, I feel she deserves a chance to be heard. May her story raise awareness of the pain that siblings of aborted babies often feel.
What were your feelings on abortion before you found out about losing a sibling?
I had always been pro-life, to varying degrees. I went through a “personal pro-life” phase around middle school – I would never make the choice, but it doesn’t necessarily mean no one should have the right, you know? But it got to a point where I couldn’t justify anyone making the choice, ever.
How did you find out about the abortion?
I found out about the abortion by accident. My senior year of high school I was looking through a closet in my room for costumes to wear for my school’s spirit week. I stumbled across a box that one would have used to keep records in, but it was full of papers and such from when my mom was young. I was so excited and contemplated getting my mom to go through it with me – she had shown me similar stuff before – but it was late and I figured she was asleep. So I went through it myself. There were magazine clippings, newspapers, postcards. Lots of letters. I glanced through them. I never even thought about it as a breach of privacy – it was a closet in MY room after all. One letter especially stood out to me because it wasn’t in a real envelope. It was in a piece of lined paper, intricately folded to be a makeshift envelope. And it was from a name I didn’t recognize, strange because I thought I was familiar with all my mom’s friends, even ones from her youth. I thought, “Wow, someone really wanted to send this letter. And they seem to have a sense of humor.”
But the letter wasn’t funny. I kept convincing myself the letter wasn’t about what I thought it was. The vague language had to mean something else. But then it was confirmed with the words, “$100 is not too bad for an abortion.”
I confronted my mom two days later because I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know any longer.
How has being the sibling of an aborted baby affected you?
This is hard to explain. It’s still affecting me. And yet it’s hard to remember who I was before knowing because I feel like it is so much a part of me. My life was reshaped. What I thought was reality wasn’t quite truth anymore. My oldest brother wasn’t actually my oldest sibling anymore. I was experiencing such grief over someone I didn’t even know. Someone who I wanted so desperately to know, but also understood I never would have. Had my mom not gotten the abortion, her life would have been completely different. My brothers and I wouldn’t have been born. So I was also overcome with guilt, accepting that I was the result of death. I had this 40-year-old baby brother (I don’t know the gender but to me he is a brother) to thank for my existence. And I would have given anything to give him a chance to live instead of me. It was also of course difficult with my mother. I was angry at her for a long time. Sometimes I still am. She is still pro-choice. And I am still not. We don’t really talk about it because we have unrealistic expectations of each other. She expects me to have no emotions over something because it’s old news to her. I expect her to express raw emotions over something that happened 40 years ago.
What was it like meeting other siblings?
Meeting other siblings has been an interesting experience. It took me a year to find Susi and the group [on facebook for aborted siblings], because there really is so little out there for us. Our voices are not heard. Hell, before I knew I had an aborted sibling, I had never once thought about the fact that having an aborted sibling was even a thing. It’s nice to have people I can be honest with. People who understand at least to some degree how I feel. But it hasn’t been all good. I don’t at all mean to sound ungrateful – believe me, I am – but finding other siblings was also isolating to me in a way. I found that my story doesn’t quite fit along with others. I’ve found that most people’s mothers are now pro-life. There is also such a heavy emphasis on religion and religion simply does not play a big role, if any role really, in my life.
What has brought you healing?
I would say the biggest thing that has brought me healing is time. And writing. I write a lot, journaling and poetry has played a big part in this journey. Also having trusted people to talk to, in particular my best friend, is greatly helpful.
How can the pro-life movement reach out towards people who have lost a sibling to abortion?
Honestly I don’t know how I feel about the pro-life movement in general, other than knowing that just on principal I agree with them. But that doesn’t mean I always agree with their tactics which often seem violent, controlling, and unhelpful. It’s a rather defeated state of mind, but I guess at this point I am just accepting the reality that the world is pro-choice. And I don’t believe I or anyone else can change that. It seems to me the only help that’s available for siblings is religiously based. As previously stated, that doesn’t help me. I’m hoping therapy will, for a number of issues, the abortion just being one of them, and I’m starting that soon.
I guess the most helpful thing is recognition of our existence. More opportunities for us to speak. Which is difficult, because many of us have to be anonymous on our mother’s behalf. That’s one thing that I hate. Having to keep this huge part of me a secret for my mom. I wrote a post for Susi’s blog that was shared on Facebook like 500 times or something. And as a writer, that was super exciting to me. But I don’t get any credit, because I have to be anonymous for my mother.
Can you give any advice to other siblings?
My advice to other siblings would be to let yourself feel whatever you feel. Don’t let the opinions of others make you feel your grief and sorrow aren’t real things. I’ve often felt my emotions were written off on this subject. Because he was never actually alive, I didn’t ever meet him, etc. Those attitudes are hurtful. And you shouldn’t let those attitudes make you questions your feelings.
Can you give any advice to mothers who may want to tell their surviving children that they aborted their sibling?
My advice to all mothers in this position is simple. Tell your kids. Tell them when they are young. Don’t hide it. Don’t think they will never know. Be honest. Don’t wait until they are “old enough”. That’s waiting too long. The child is their brother or sister. A part of their family, their life. And they have the right to know the truth about their life.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
One of the most frustrating things about this whole thing to me is identifying as a pro-life feminist. Many people believe such a person could not exist. To be a “real” feminist you have to be for reproductive rights. Which I AM. I think birth control should be easy to access, the Hobby Lobby case outraged me, and I think women should do whatever they want with their bodies. However, abortion is not about the woman’s body. It’s about the child’s body. That’s a distinction I can’t see past. Something that haunts me. Something so obvious to me that it confuses me that so many people don’t equate abortion to murder. Abortion basically tells us that what makes us human is being wanted. And I firmly believe that that has nothing to do with it.