The title is not what you think. I had no idea a meeting in 1994 would change my life and eventually, be written into my debut novel in 2016.
“Getting stoned” is a common saying that implies “getting high,” but for women in my first post abortive support group (PAS), it meant something else.
In 1994, I was given an address by Monsignor Regan, my priest in Carrollton, GA to report to Anniston, AL to a post abortive support group for women of faith. At that time, we didn’t have a Catholic post abortive support group for women of faith (later, Project Rachel and even later, Rachel’s Vineyard, would be developed). I was terrified, because I was not out about my abortion, then three years and two months before. I was a 21 year old graduate student and I was terrified in even discussing the subject.
Imagine what it is like being an abortion survivor and a woman or girl of faith. Today, with social media and the years of training I have, enables me to filter out the negative and sow the positive to help post abortives. But focus on the 1990s. Throw in what we use to see on TV and radio and print. The pro-life side made us feel horrible and like sluts or baby killers. The pro-choice side said it was our bodies and we could do with them what we wanted. I always state that after the door slammed on me at Northside Women’s Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia on March 9, 1991, not one group cared if I lived or died. Note that all protesters are in the front, trying to save the babies. Once the mother exits, stage back door, they just watch us pull out, yelling “Baby Killer” or “You Go Girl!” Nobody cared about us. I was right – until I met a priest who saw I was meant to live and be helped. Until then, not one person understood me – from my local minister to my parents to the very doctors that pressured me into terminating my daughter because she had birth defects. My daughter is named Lorelei – and she would be 26 years old this year.
But I went – encouraged by Monsignor Regan that I would find a home to vent, to cry, and people to pray with me. Maybe… People who understood. It took him two months to encourage me to attend a PAS meeting – and I finally submitted because he was very persistent!
The woman who founded the group welcomed me – without questions. She was a trained therapist that specialized in Post Abortion Stress Syndrome – or Post Abortion Syndrome. The very community who seeks to help women can’t settle on a name to give us credibility – and the AMA/APA is our greatest enemy. But it was a community that welcomed me. Dr. Padgett, our counselor, welcomed me into her home and gave me ten rocks in a cup. I thought that rather odd, but she said, “Go with it, Anne.” And then, “Monsignor said you attended seminary on your undergraduate…” I was fearful she was judging me until she said, “I am so glad we have someone with a Bible background to help us. Would you like to be a reader some night?” I mumbled and stared at my Doc Martens – I was not sure what I was getting myself into.
I can only explain my first PASS meeting reminded me of an AA meeting I attended with an old friend. I stood up when I spoke and people would answer “Hi, Anne” when I said, “I am Anne and I had an abortion on March 9, 1991” and felt compelled to justify myself before I got judged. No judgement came. The women and girls sat not in a circle, but in her living room. Some sat on floors, some sat on the couch, or in chairs. If you ever saw the women’s meeting in JERRY MCGUIRE, you can get a mental picture. There were new women there, like myself, to older women. I was not the youngest. I sat next to a 19 year old girl who had been date raped and her parents forced her to have an abortion. I found myself holding her hand often, because she cried a lot.
Many of us cried. Our group had Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, In-Betweens (as I was – since I was converting to Catholicism), Mormon, and even a Jewish girl. We had about 19 total, from all walks of life. We had professional women, older women, women who had their abortions before 1973, and many college or graduate students like me. Black and white: we were a rainbow of women. We all had one thing in common: we suffered from post abortive emotional or physical issues.
The rocks, I learned, were to keep, collect, or share if someone judged us. Yes, you read that correctly. If I judged someone – and I did (to my lasting regret), I was given a stone. Our reader of the night, similar to my own reader in A WOMAN’S CHOICE, would quote Scripture as we dealt with a topic pre-selected at the last meeting. That night’s theme was how to tell a new boyfriend about our abortions. Too soon? Should we? What if the young woman married the new boyfriend… in say a year? What then? Did we have a right to privacy? Could we hide it in our past? Did people have to know EVERYTHING?
The girl with the dilemma had had two abortions in two years – and she was very regretful of her choices. Before I, “the new girl,” could keep my fat trap shut, I asked, “What are you? A repeat offender?”
The silence in the room was deafening. I deserved a punch in the nose. But this kind and forgiving girl handed me my first rock… And on it, it said, “Thou shalt not judge.” And I got my first lesson about being a post abortive in a Christian post abortive group. By the end of the night, I had ten new rocks – and they use to joke I had set a record.
Now as to the rocks I collected – many were to myself from myself. Because I not only judged others, I judged myself. In time, I would become the Scripture reader, be trained as a mentor, and spent years in this group. We would go out for supper afterwards and people looking at our diverse group of what seemed “normal women” would ask, “Do all of you work together?”
We would just smile or nod. We had good times, my first PAS group. We cried, laughed, swapped recipes, talked about college and career, talked about men, but most of all, we talked about regret and what could have been…If we had made a different choice.
A life choice.
To all my PAS friends from as far as Montgomery, Alabama to Atlanta Georgia to Pensacola, Florida to Nashville, Tennessee, thank you for supporting “the book that would someday be written” and thank you, to our late leader, Dr. Suzanne Padgett, for teaching us, with our rocks and reading the same Scripture over and over… Until we knew it by heart.
“So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said to them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7).
Stop throwing rocks – at others and at yourselves, my sisters.