Clare* said “I felt resigned to silently carrying a heavy burden of shame and guilt for all time, never being able to forgive myself or be forgiven by others for the awful thing I had done.”
Clare had been brought up in a good family. In very difficult circumstances she decided to have an abortion and then felt deeply troubled for a long time.
She felt at the time she had no choice and that abortion was the only answer to her difficult situation. What she found confusing and frustrating was how the sense of loss and grief stayed around. She found no place to hide from this feeling of remorse and anger.
Clare didn’t understand what had happened or why she felt so sad and unhappy.
“The turning point for me was reading about Rachel’s Vineyard in Australia. This helped me to see that forgiveness was possible, that there was hope beyond the seemingly gloomy horizon,” Clare said.
Rachel’s Vineyard Healing Retreats are for women and men who experience grief and loss after an abortion.
Clare found “the retreat was a wonderfully liberating experience. I told the story of my abortion for the first time, publicly named my lost child and honoured him in ritual and song. I began the long journey towards healing through my encounter with the healing Gospel stories of Jesus, carefully guided by compassionate people who showed me the merciful face of God.”
Julie Kelly brought Rachel’s Vineyard retreats to Australia in 2000. Dr Theresa Burke, a psychologist, wrote the retreat because in her work with women she saw a need among those who had experienced abortion in their lives a way forward. She worked with women who had never connected their current grief symptoms with the loss of their aborted baby.
Dr Burke set about to help those still suffering from stress using Jesus’ stories to promote a new sense of self and a way of addressing the grief and loss which sometimes lingers long after the abortion.
The retreats have been conducted in most capital cities around Australia and are currently available in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.
Retreats are run regularly in the Sydney region to assist women and men who feel a need to be free of the effects of their experience of a time in their life which has remained hidden, sometimes because of shame and guilt and sometimes because no one is interested in listening to their story.
Often the story of abortion is considered unremarkable, thus diminishing its value and leaving the secret unattended.
The retreat offers women and men a way through after an abortion. They can be confused by the experience and the circumstances around the abortion. They can feel grief and loss because they have no baby and can experience guilt and shame for their part in the decision.
The retreat is designed to address this confusion and pain through a healing process that acknowledges what has happened and invites women and men into a safe space to tell their story, acknowledge their child’s life and find self forgiveness, God’s forgiveness and love.
Peter Maher, a Sydney priest, is co-founder and member of Rachel’s Vineyard Healing Retreat Team, Sydney.