The Hidden Part: A Journey of Healing
Reprinted with permission from L.E.A.R.N. Inc.
by Dr. Karen Stevenson
"Behold thou desirest the truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part, thou shalt make me to know wisdom" (Psalm 51:6).
Who am I? I am woman, nurturer and sustainer of life. I am fearfully and wonderfully made--a magnificent work of God's creation. I was created with a divine purpose, a mission to uplift my people. I am friend, lover, sister, daughter, wife, and I am mother. I usher in each succeeding generation and with my blood, sweat, and tears I help to transmit my culture, my values, my spiritual connection to God.
In this increasingly complex society I have become troubled on all sides. My loving relationship with my spouse is now adversarial. Where we once labored together to prepare our children to live victoriously, I now too often labor alone. My nurturing relationship with my children is now one of constant struggle and rebellion, because society and the peer group now dictate what is right and wrong. I am buffeted by a society and culture that denies even my womanhood. It seeks to destroy that which makes me unique, my ability to bear and nurture a child.
I speak to you today about an issue like no other, which has placed a woman in conflict with her very essence - the bringing forth of life. America is similar to most western cultures that have placed the needs of the individual above the needs of the group. We speak of the individual liberties and freedoms without realizing that all privileges come with responsibilities. Our African cultural heritage was based upon the needs of the individual within the context of the community; We know that it takes a whole village to raise a child because in doing so we transmit common moral, ethical, and spiritual values. Our homes, our churches, and our schools at one time transmitted common values. We knew who we were as men, women and children in a world infested with the plagues of racism, hatred, and evil.
I have now been encouraged to "find myself' and to seek that which will make me happy at the expense of my family. I have been told that I can have it all, now, and that I can be a superwoman! What I have discovered instead is that I am tired, depressed, overworked, unappreciated, and struggling to maintain my many relationships and obligations. Society has encouraged me to "find myself" and to seek its version of self-esteem, but this has resulted in the loss of the realization of my divine purpose. In my struggle to shield myself from pain, I harbored secrets. My deepest secret, tucked away so carefully, became my hidden part.
I have now been encouraged to "find myself' and to seek that which will make me happy at the expense of my family. I have been told that I can have it all, now. and that I can be a superwoman! What I have discovered instead is that I am tired, depressed, overworked, unappreciated, and struggling to maintain my many relationships and obligations. Society has encouraged me to "find myself' and to seek its version of self-esteem, but this has resulted in the loss of the realization of my divine purpose. In my struggle to shield myself from pain, I harbored secrets. My deepest secret, tucked away so carefully, became my hidden part.
This crucial issue attacks our very womanhood. It grips us more hauntingly than the gang violence plaguing our neighborhoods. It destroys more lives than crack cocaine. It is the new holocaust, more devastating than AIDS. In this country it has destroyed thirty million souls, more American lives than all the wars that we have ever been involved in. This silent killer is abortion.
Abortion impacts not only the woman involved, it impacts families. Although proponents say that they want it to be safe and rare, it is quite common. It affects one in four pregnancies and almost forty percent of women who have had an abortion have had more than one. Over 1.5 million abortions each year are performed in this country alone. It interrupts the special bond between mother and child just as it is beginning to form.
When a child is torn from his or her mother's womb, it triggers a tragic chain of events. Because a woman was created to be a giver of life, she now must justify her actions toward her child. Denial allows her to initially feel relief and she thinks that her problem is solved. Yet her denial slowly evolves into anger and rage. When it is directed toward herself it becomes depression, anxiety, fearfulness, and lack of motivation. She vividly relives the event through intrusive thoughts or through nightmares. It becomes difficult to see babies, to hear their cries, or to view anything relating to them. If her anger is directed outwardly, she lashes out in rage toward her husband or other children. She has difficulty forming trusting relationships with others, especially men. Since she has already broken the initial bond between mother and child, her relationships with her other children may be affected. Her children may be smothered and overprotected and not allowed to attain their full maturity, or they may not be nurtured in a loving relationship with her.
The rates of child abuse have risen sharply over the past twenty years. Is it possible that abortion can make a woman more vulnerable to abuse her child? Both Susan Smith, who drowned her sons in a North Carolina lake, and the woman who threw her children off a California bridge, had recently had abortions. The rates of alcohol and other substance abuse are three to four times higher in women who previously have had abortions than in women who have never had them. These women may be trying to numb their pain. Others develop an attitude toward life in which they are chronically numb or unhappy. They stop crying in response to pain; they cannot experience joy; and they cannot enjoy sexuality within the context of loving marital relationships.
African-American women are at higher risk for complications following abortions. We have higher rates of infection, hemorrhage, miscarriage, difficulty conceiving in future pregnancies, and sterility. Breast cancer among women has also seen a precipitous rise over the past few years. There have been numerous studies that have noted a correlation between abortion and breast cancer. Of course, the rates of breast cancer, like many other illnesses, are higher for Black women than White.
Grieving for the lost child is not the exclusive domain of the woman. The man in her life suffers because he is told that the "choice" is the woman's. This is especially poignant for the African-American male who is again faced with another example of a society that emasculates him. Other men actively encourage their mates to abort their children. They state that they are not ready for the responsibilities of parenthood. It is quite painful to live in a society which encourages the gratification of one's desires without encouraging people to take responsibility for their own actions. Young men are being raised by women dealing with past hurts often relating to the men in their lives and they emerge from childhood sparsely equipped to form positive, loving relationships with the women in their lives.
Conflicted grandparents have, on many occasions, driven crying and confused daughters to abortion clinics. They wrestle with their own values as they make what they consider the best decision for their child. No one realizes the toll it takes until they are haunted by the demons of the past. The abortion may alter the course of the relationship between parent and child. Other grandparents grieve for the child who was never born. They immerse themselves in a silent world of pain because of the grandchild that can never be talked about.
Children learn about abortion from overheard conversations, by being directly told, or by sensing their mother's pregnancies that do not bring forth a sibling. It evokes fear and anxiety in them or it produces anger and rage. Sexual promiscuity is said to be rampant among our youth as is the explosion of violence. Are our children trying to reconnect with, yet lash out at a society that has so devalued them that they are not even safe in their mothers' wombs?
Women have been told that the fetus is just a lump of tissue, yet by three weeks gestation the baby has a heartbeat; by seven weeks brain waves can be measured; by nine weeks he withdraws from pain; and by ten weeks all of his organs are formed and the baby just needs to continue to grow.
Since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, thirty million babies have perished. Ten million, approximately one in three, have been African-American. If there is ever a question of genocide in our community, let me share with you some facts. In the United States, for every three Black babies born, two are aborted. Every month 133,333 abortions are performed, 41,667 are Black. Every week 30,769 abortions are performed, 9,615 are Black. Every day 4,384 abortions are performed, 1,370 are Black. In Tennessee, Blacks comprised 38.2% of the state's 17,821 abortions in 1992. We make up only 16% of the state's population. Memphis is home to 45% of the state's Blacks and it boasts the largest number of abortions. Of the 6,420 abortions performed there, 4,389-- 68% were performed on Black women. Black women are two times more likely to abort their babies than White women.
The statistics from many other states are just as appalling. Women of African descent are more likely than any other women of color in this country to abort their babies. In our pursuit of education and careers, often with relationships in which there is no equal sense of commitment, we have sacrificed our most precious commodity, our children. Every minute of the day an African-American youth quits school; every minute and a half a Black child is born into poverty, every ten minutes a Black child is arrested for a violent crime; and every four hours a Black child is murdered. Does abortion cause these problems? Abortion breeds an attitude, a cultural response that devalues our children. Our children have turned society's attitude upon themselves, and the results have been devastating.
Let us, in pursuit of who we are, recognize that God created each of us to fulfill a divine purpose. I must reconnect with my Creator in order that He might reveal to me my life's work and give me a vision to fulfill it. I must seek His forgiveness for those past hurts and painful choices. I must also forgive myself and allow His healing to truly liberate me. Then forgetting those things which are behind and reaching toward those things which are before, I press toward the high calling God has given me.
There is hope and there is healing for women who have been traumatized by abortion. The other victim is the mother who has not been allowed to grieve for her lost child. Yet she must go through each day, whether it be as a successful career woman, college student, or adolescent, struggling to fill a void which resulted from a pivotal moment in her life. She must be allowed to grieve and to acknowledge her pain. She can be silent no more. She must gently unlock the door of her hidden part. For it is in the hidden part that the Lord will reveal His wisdom, and her inward parts can begin to heal. And only when the healing journey has begun, can she truly answer the question, who am I?
Dr. Karen Stevenson is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist