Belfast woman: 'My abortion has haunted me all my life - nothing will ever replace losing my baby'
Woman forced into termination after she was raped as a child reveals how her suppressed grief drove her to drink and depression
A Belfast businesswoman raped as a child of 13 and forced to have an abortion by her Christian parents has opened her heart about the depth of her trauma which destroyed her life for 36 years.
As a child Anna had no say in what happened when she fell pregnant after being raped by an 18-year-old on a first date.
She says her parents who were church-going Presbyterians couldn't face the shame and very quickly arranged for her to travel to Liverpool for an abortion.
It was at the abortion clinic when a nurse described in cruel detail what was going to happen to her baby that she was left traumatised.
Anna was never allowed to talk about or grieve for the child she lost. She says knowing what happened to it and having to hold the pain of her "secret" inside destroyed her life and led to her abusing alcohol for many years.
Now in her 50s, it wasn't until she went through an eight-week Christian post-abortion trauma course called Surrendering the Secret six years ago that she says she finally felt healed and allowed herself to be happy for the first time since she was a child of 13.
It is because of her own experience that Anna believes abortion should not be allowed under any circumstances.
In a week when once again the emotive issue made headlines as MLAs voted against a change in the law to permit abortion in the case when an unborn baby has fatal foetal abnormality, Anna felt compelled to share her story in the hope of reaching out to the thousands of women she believes are living with the trauma of abortion.
She is now happily married with two young children who she wants to protect which is why she feels she cannot be identified and we have changed her name to protect her.
She hopes her powerful story will give an insight into the real horror of abortion which women who opt to go through it for whatever reason will, she believes, inevitably suffer.
She says: "In those 36 years before I got healing the rape never figured and it wasn't the boat journey to England either which traumatised me - it was the taking away of my baby.
"I was haunted every year the date of the abortion came round, thinking what age he would have been because I am now convinced it was a son and I have named him Michael.
"I didn't have children until I was nearly 40 years old and I spent all those years wondering what it would be like to have a child. Nothing, even having my own children, could ever replace that baby taken from me."
In her search for peace Anna did go to two psychologists but they didn't recognise post abortion trauma and couldn't help her. Even though she went on to climb to the top in her profession as a business manager and had all the trappings of a successful career woman including the big house, the expensive car and good holidays, inside she said she was never happy.
As an innocent 13-year-old who readily dated her rapist, she spent decades blaming herself for what happened and didn't understand that she was the victim of rape.
She recalls: "I had met him at a disco. Even though my parents were upstanding churchgoers there were no boundaries when I was growing up.
"He was the sort of boy about town whom all the girls fancied and wanted to go out with so when he asked me to go out I was so happy. He suggested meeting the next night and we went to his home where the rape happened.
"I didn't recognise it as rape because I had gone there with him and I thought it was my fault and always blamed myself.
"I had really bad morning sickness and was vomiting in the school corridors and my parents took me to every hospital and doctor. Then one day my mum asked me if I could be pregnant and it had never entered my head and I said 'no'.
"I went to my room and just sat on the side of my bed rocking myself thinking 'oh my goodness'. I had a friend who worked in a pharmacy on Saturdays who arranged for a pregnancy test. I never even knew there was such a thing. I had to tell my mother I was pregnant."
Anna remembers everything happening very quickly after that. Her parents took her to a house in south Belfast to meet a woman to arrange the abortion. She remembers the cost of £300 which back in 1972 was a lot of money and she remembers a warning from the woman that it would get even more expensive the longer the pregnancy was left.
Within just four or five days of discovering her pregnancy she was on a boat to Liverpool with her mum. She was never told what was going to happen or why, just that the baby was going to be terminated.
On arrival in Liverpool she went direct to a clinic inside a terrace house and straight into pre-med.
She recalls in vivid detail the trauma of the experience: "I remember going over on the boat having a sense of a person being alive inside me.
"I was lying in the corridor of the clinic when a nurse came along and said to me, 'Do you know what they are going to do to your baby'.
"She told me that they were going to cut it all up into bits inside me and then suck it out and put it in a bag and into the bin. Even though what she said was cruel, now with hindsight I realise she was the only one who was ever honest with me.
"What she told me has haunted me all of my life.
"I remember after the operation being put into this big dormitory type room with lots of other women. I felt very lonely. They were discussing their second, third and fourth abortions. One of them said to me, 'Don't worry love I've just had my fourth'. It was horrendous."
Anna had the abortion on a Friday and was back at school the following Monday. The abortion was never mentioned again.
Signs that all was not well were immediate as her school work suffered straightaway. As a child who was always top of her class, her performance went downhill drastically.
She started to abuse alcohol in her teens and continued to abuse it until six years ago when she went through her counselling.
She says: "I had loads of friends, a good social life, I went on to have a successful career, a big house, and wonderful holidays but underneath I could never feel happiness. I abused alcohol to mask the pain and I am ashamed to say that I struggled with alcoholism. I heard about the eight-week Bible study course for post-abortion trauma and that started the healing process. In all those years before, I would have loved to have talked to someone and I tried but nobody recognised post-abortion trauma which is now being compared to post traumatic stress disorder.
"It is just all swept under the carpet and you can't talk about it. For years and years I didn't equate my inability to grieve subsequent deaths with family and friends with the fact that I hadn't grieved for my child.
"I was lonely despite all the friends and parties. It is such a big secret which many people are keeping. I feel very privileged that I came through the healing process and have come out the other end and can now help others.
"The sadness never leaves me. I hadn't grieved the death of my aborted baby and one of the most beautiful things to witness was women crying tears of grief in that course. I couldn't ever cry for my son. I wasn't allowed to and it is a great relief to be able to grieve."
Anna also struggled over the years with conflicting feelings towards her parents who she blamed for her abortion.
It wasn't until she came through the counselling course that she felt for the first time that she could talk to them. It is one of her biggest regrets that they had both passed away and she never got that chance.
She says: "I didn't like them for it. Unfortunately they both passed away without me voicing that to them. I think they did it because of their involvement with the church and the shame they would have felt among people in the church and neighbours.
"It was 1972 and a very different time. I suppose I don't know what they felt in their hearts and if they went on to have any regrets but it is too late now."
Because of her first-hand experience, she has now trained in the Surrendering the Secret Programme and will be holding courses to help others.
She says: "Abortion is freely discussed in our society and is not a secret anymore yet despite this openness many women have pain and don't feel comfortable telling anyone about their abortion.
"It is all over the media, yet women are crying inside. They're suffering severe consequences which is greatly affecting the quality of their lives. After the course I felt whole again and I feel free from my secret."
Now a Christian herself she believes abortion is not right under any circumstances but especially following a rape.
She says: "I would advise women to think twice. Don't go into having an abortion because it's a quick fix - it's not. That abortion experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. It will haunt you.
"If a woman finds herself pregnant as a result of rape, she really needs to have some care. She needs compassion, she needs counselling, and she needs a great deal of support. She doesn't need another act of violence in abortion."
For those who have been told their baby has a fatal foetal abnormality, she also has strong views: "I know people who have given birth or lost their babies through miscarriage and they were able to grieve and bury their babies and I know babies who went on to live full and rewarding lives. Doctors don't always get it right."
For more information on courses to help with post-abortion trauma, go to www.surrenderingthesecret.com or www.abortionrecovery.org or www.womenhurt.ie