The unique pains (and blessings) of being a postabortive sibling

Renee, who lost a sibling to abortion, has launched an internet ministry to help others in the same situation. She sometimes writes under the nickname “Susi O Fanabba”, which stands for “Surviving Sibling of an Aborted Baby.” She runs an online support group for surviving siblings and also has a blog here.

She was kind enough to let me interview her. Here she talks about her struggles after finding out about her brother’s death, things that have contributed to her healing, and her outreach to other siblings. A follow up article will talk about how she thinks the pro-life movement can do more to reach out to people like her.

 What were your feelings on abortion before you found out about losing a sibling?

Truth be told, before I found out about mom’s abortion, I was basically just pro life in name only. We had been told what it was, agreed it was wrong and admittedly did not think much about how the mothers might be feeling. They were in the wrong, period. I thought briefly about the impact on siblings only once, when a classmate in college mentioned losing some that way, pretty much just in passing though.

How did you find out about the abortion?

One night in early 2006, mom called my 3 siblings and me (we were between the ages of 13 and 21)  into the living room. She said she wanted to talk to us. We weren’t too worried, obviously completely unaware of what was coming. Most of the opening of the conversation is a blur, but I remember getting a little nervous when mom mentioned that she had actually been pregnant after my dad passed away. I wondered how I could’ve missed her pregnancy, as I was 10, it should’ve been more obvious to me. Maybe she miscarried or placed the baby up for adoption. Were we to have a movie type meeting with a previously unknown sibling? One thing I ‘knew’ was that the baby was not aborted. After all she had spoken strongly against it on numerous occasions. It was incredibly hard finding out that I was wrong about that. But what was even harder was seeing her intense sadness at admitting it To this day it’s a hard memory. We immediately went up and hugged her, feeling more sadness and shock than anger. In her amazing strength, she was very open to any questions we had.

How has being the sibling of an aborted baby affected you?

You know, since finding out about the abortion, I have been through quite the emotional roller coaster: definitely some unpleasant (and unexpected) effects, and some surprisingly positive. First, I will describe a few of the negatives:

I think for me personally, one of the hardest things to wrap my head around was that I was kept and he was not. Both of us were unplanned, yet it seemed my father fought harder. As I learned more details, I realized that the situations were actually quite different, but still it stings.

Another effect, which I am so not proud of, is that it changed the way I view the ‘youngest’. He’s no longer technically the youngest, and when I hear him referred to as such, I feel defensive of the one we lost. Now this is not all the time, but has been one of the hardest to get over. While it may be hard at times to hear compliments towards him, he really is a great person very deserving of them and more. And deep down I feel that our sibling is not offended in the least by the attention given. I shared about that struggle publicly, because I know it’s something that others can relate to.

It was lonelier than I expected. Because abortion is such a heated issue, I was not free to just mention to others how my sibling died. Plus, it was almost 11 years after the fact so it felt really strange to grieve for someone who just days prior I had no idea even existed at one point.

One of the delayed effects, has been mourning the loss of future siblings. Sadly, my mom is no longer physically able to have children, so we will never again experience the joy we had at finding out she was pregnant and eagerly anticipating/welcoming our other siblings. Or gaining a new frenemy ( I used that word on purpose ;) ). I am genuinely happy for those whose moms are expecting or have given birth, but it can be a stab as well.

The last painful effect I will mention for now: the sensitivity to the whole abortion issue. I went from giving it very little thought (as mentioned above) to being very easily  hurt by any comments against the post abortive, which felt like an attack on my mom (and us) directly. Also, the pictures of the aborted, they were extra traumatizing, because I had no idea if i was looking at MY sibling. Whether that particular baby (or part of a baby) was my sibling, it still is related to some out there. These are just a few examples, but I am happy to say that while still somewhat painful I have made major progress in that area!

Now for the unexpected positives:

It drastically changed my approach to the whole abortion issue. I am more against abortion now because I know the intense and very far reaching pain it can cause, but at the same time, I am way more aware that it’s not just a black and white issue. Many of these parents are indeed suffering ( financially, emotionally, from lack of support or being forced/coerced into it, etc, etc, etc) and whether we agree with their decision or not, I truly believe we need to treat them with love. I don’t say hide the truth, but perhaps express it less abrasively. That kind of approach can change a person’s mind, and if in fact they still go through with it, may give them the courage to seek out healing in the future and share their story with others. The testimonies of the post abortive can be extremely powerful and convincing.

Another blessing: I have found the strength to overcome my shyness in order to raise awareness of our unique pain. I was shocked when I saw how little I could find about it, and how there were even less resources available for our healing. It was very lonely before, but now I’ve become quite vocal about it, getting support from many, including non siblings AND the pro choicers  even (they may not agree with it all, but they respect my beliefs, as I do theirs. Partly because of how my own views of abortion have evolved), which does my heart so good!

Amazingly, sharing my story has led to many more friendships!! With other siblings, post abortives, etc. We have a variety of political, religious and other types of views, but through our shared pain, we are able to form a close connection!

Speaking of connections, while I never met my youngest sibling, (who we believe was a boy) here on this earth, I feel a sort of spiritual connection with him. Obviously not all will be able to relate, but I feel his presence in a special, comforting way at times. So while I definitely miss him, and wish I had gotten to know him in the same way I’ve gotten know my other sibs, I feel blessed.

The last I will mention for now is that my relationship with the rest of my siblings, which was already close, has become even closer!

What was it like meeting other post-abortion siblings?

Meeting other post abortive siblings for the first time was incredible!! I was very nervous before it happened, yet was filled with excitement, gratitude, sadness, etc. Excitement that I had found people I could speak freely to and would be able to relate to my pain. This was HUGE as I am very much an internalizer! Gratitude that this meeting was even able to take place in the first place. And sadness at seeing and hearing their pain. I was able to relate quite well.  There were 5 of us that day, gathered for the only retreat that is for us siblings exclusively, and we very quickly formed a tight bond! And I have kept in contact with all but one of them to this day. While most siblings I have only ‘met’ online, I still feel somewhat similar! I seriously smile, thinking about our friendships :) One last thing I shall say on this matter for now: it means so much that to them, my lost sibling is just as much a part of the living ones. They acknowledge his life! And many have thanked me for doing the same for their siblings :)

What has brought you healing?

You know, looking back it’s been amazing to see how much healing really has taken place already, regarding the abortion! I can now share my story, in person and online, with less pain, and am less hesitant to speak up, whether for siblings, for greater compassion to the post abortive and abortion minded parents, etc. And while still not pleasant, even the graphic images and comments are taken less personally! For these things and more I am incredibly grateful. For the most part I think my healing has been kind of subtle (like more noticeable when looking back, rather than at the moment it is taking place), but I can point to some definite helpful occurrences. Here are a few examples, in no particular order:

Mom’s openness has been a GREAT help. As soon as she felt we were ready to know about the abortion, and she was comfortable sharing, she’s been very open to questions and hearing our feelings. The main question I had that night, was about the date that it occurred. And while it was hard for her to admit, I am so thankful to know. It gives me a solid date to remember him, rather than wonder: is today the anniversary, etc. Also, it was very important for my siblings and me to make sure that we were extra kind to mom that day. For 11 years she suffered in silence on that day. No more!

It also helped that by the time she told us, she felt strongly about the gender/name of the baby. Although it was a very early abortion, she felt our youngest sibling was a boy, and gave him the name: Joseph Michael, Joey for short. It was so helpful to able to think of him as a specific person rather than just my youngest sibling, the aborted sibling, etc. I felt it was easier to form a special connection with him, as well as more properly grieve his loss. Sadly, I know many siblings who don’t have that information and it can be a real source of source of pain and confusion.

Surprisingly, writing about it, I was able to get a lot out. I initially got the idea and courage after hearing of another sibling who had written one of his own. I never actually got to read it, but just knowing he did it, was inspiring. Here is a link to the very first reflection I wrote.  Little did I know what it would lead to. There have been many awesome experiences as a result, but among the top, and most healing, was getting an invite to, and attending the retreat for siblings, hosted by Lumina in New York. It was the first time I was able to share my story out loud! And in a judgement free zone! I was not subjected to comments against my mom, etc!

I have found healing from art. For a long time I’ve had a special color that reminds me of Joey, so in just about every drawing I do with that color, I am paying subtle tribute to him. I also did a drawing for myself, hanging it above my bed, so I can see it often. It was done in memory of him, and many others I know who have passed away. I have also done special memorial drawings for my friends mourning loved ones as well.

Feeling his presence in my life so many times has been more healing than painful

Connecting with so many siblings now! Close to 100! Many are in a secret facebook group I started for siblings only and inside and out of it we’ve had some awesome conversations!

Getting support from many non siblings has been so encouraging! I’ve even had 2 interviews (1 on camera, the other radio)!! So honored to be part of the one.

There are even more contributing factors, but the last that I will mention for now: Connecting with other post abortive and abortion minded women has been so healing. I am able to give them the love and support, etc that I wish so much my mom had had during the time of her pregnancy up until she finally told us. I was only 10 at the time and had no idea, but it has still been one of the most painful parts of my whole post abortion journey. I am so thankful for the attitude adjustment it brought though.

In the next article, Renee will talk about post-abortion siblings and the pro-life movement, and discuss how the movement can reach out to them and help them heal.

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