May 26 2019 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I am a convert to Catholicism. When I was younger I led a wild, reckless life, became pregnant outside of marriage and, because I had no means of supporting my own baby, I decided to abort.

In later life, after marrying my husband, who is a wonderful man and a Catholic, I decided to embrace his faith. We are now the parents of two lovely and healthy young children, who are the joy of our lives.

The trouble is that I sometimes feel like a murderer. I believe that this is the cause of the serious insomnia that is creating problems in my everyday life. This happens because some evenings, before going to sleep, I feel this third child’s voice speaking to me, and then I can no longer sleep…


Thank you for your courage in writing. I want to begin by assuring you that God loves you, that the Church welcomes you, and with the right support, healing is possible for you. That said, the process of healing from the emotional trauma of abortion can offer some unique challenges.

Dr. Theresa Burke, in her book, Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, describes the challenge of seeking healing for the emotional trauma caused by abortion. She argues that when a woman gets an abortion, she is told that she is making a good choice, a responsible choice, a choice that will allow her to live without being saddled with unwanted responsibilities. In light of this, many women feel surprised and ashamed to feel anything but ‘free’ after their abortion. In fact, millions of women experience significant emotional pain after their abortions.

If you have not done so, I would encourage you to begin by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive God’s forgiveness and the Church’s welcome. You deserve to hear the words of absolution and know that nothing, not even abortion, can separate you from God’s love.

Of course, even after confession, many post-abortive women struggle to accept God’s forgiveness. If you find yourself in this situation, I would ask you to reflect on this moving passage from St Augustine’s reflection, On the Creed: “Let none say, ‘I have done this or that sin. What if I am not forgiven?’ What have you done? Name any heinous thing you have committed, heavy, horrible, which you shudder even to think of. But, I ask, have you killed Christ? There could be nothing worse. What a dreadful thing it is to kill Christ! Yet many of those who killed him came to believe in Him and drink His blood. Even they were forgiven the sin which they committed.”

In short, nothing can separate you from God’s love and mercy. You are and always will be his beloved daughter.

In addition to accepting the forgiveness God has in his heart for you, you will need to give yourself permission to grieve your child. Grief is not the process of letting go. It is the process of reconnecting to the person who has gone before us. Right now, because you have not been encouraged to seek healthy, conscious ways to maintain a meaningful connection with this child, your mind is attempting to create a connection through the voice you hear keeping you up at night. When we lose someone we love, we often find ways to stay connected to them through the lessons they taught us, the interests or memories we shared, or the positive impact they have had in our lives. This can be harder to do with a child we never met.

Christians have an advantage here, because we believe that those who sleep in Christ – as your innocent child certainly must – are, in a sense, more alive than we are. We can still talk to them in our prayers and ask for their intercession along with the communion of saints. I would encourage you to begin speaking, or even writing, to this child. Do it in a spirit of prayer, asking God for the grace to see yourself through his and your child’s loving eyes.

Finally, I encourage you to seek support from post-abortion healing ministries like Rachel’s Vineyard or Project Rachel. Getting help from women who have been through what you are going through is critical to navigating the turbulent waters of guilt, shame, and self-recrimination that often accompany the process of healing from any kind of sexual trauma, including abortion.

I hope you will find the courage to continue walking this path. I can promise you that if you do, you will find the love of God, forgiveness from your child, and welcome from your Church. Please be assured of my prayers for your journey.

Updated on May 26 2019