Trigger warning: This article discusses abortion

Many years ago, I heard a statistic that one out of every four people sitting in church has had a personal experience with abortion. I don’t know how relevant that statistic is today, but that number always stuck with me. 

One out of four. 

Could that be right? Could one out of four of us be sitting here with this controversial word as a part of our story? How many of us in this room are silently guarding our hidden shame with a fortress of internal walls that we’ve created to keep the judgmental glares and words from shattering our already tattered and bruised hearts? 

I learned that statistic when I was attending a study for women who had experienced abortions. It was a support group of sorts. Every week, we would come into the small room in the basement of the church and sit in the tight little circle of folding chairs that had been created just for us. 

For our stories. And for our secrets. 

We would walk in with our studies prepared and with a mutual understanding that the walls we had carefully constructed around our hearts were slowly about to be torn down. With every meeting. Every story. Every tear. 

RELATED: To the Baby I Didn’t Keep

At the first meeting, we were given a list of rules to follow to make the support group function at its highest level. Don’t interrupt. Don’t dominate the conversation. Don’t try to solve someone’s problems. Listen. Engage. Respect. Or something along those lines. 

With each meeting, I would find my voice and enter into my story. I would talk about the choice I made and the grief I had experienced since that moment when life was taken from my womb. I talked about the ache I felt knowing I would never see, or hold, or comfort my unborn baby. I said those words quietly, like a child confessing she had colored on the walls of her bedroom to her parents. Eyes down. Don’t make eye contact. Whispered words. Loud enough for everyone to hear, but quiet enough they didn’t cut through the silence with too much force. 

The grief was so heavy. The shame, a thick and weighted blanket I had worn for so long. 

I chose to take the life of my child. How could I grieve something I chose? What right did I have to mourn? To cry? Didn’t I know what I was doing? I was selfish then, and I’m being selfish now by shedding these tears. 

Right?

Wrong. So very, very wrong. 

A large portion of our society suffers under this hidden blanket of shame that goes by the name of abortion. Our circumstances. All different. All unique. All our own. Have brought us to this place. I can’t imagine that people set out trying to get pregnant because they want to have an abortion. It isn’t an endgame. But it is a choice. A choice that people make for a variety of reasons. 

Some move forward without consequence. 

And others, like me, suffer silently for a long time. Afraid of what will happen if their secret is discovered. Afraid of the judgment. Afraid of the retribution.

They pay a price over and over in their minds for the choice that was made. 

Stay quiet. Don’t let anyone know. Nobody can find out. 

But in that room, in that circle, every week, as pieces of my story began to be revealed, and as I listened to the stories of other women, stories of rape, incest, unplanned pregnancies, the agony of making the choice, the relief, and the guiltI found my voice. I found forgiveness. I found grief. I found peace. I found solace. And companionship. 

God met me in that church basement in a way I had never experienced before. I was forgiven. And I was set free. 

A year later, I walked into that same room again. I grabbed the folding chairs and created a small little circle. And one by one the women walked in and took their seats. Some walked in with heads high, others with their heads bowed low. I understood. I had been there once myself. I introduced myself as their facilitator. It was my turn to pay forward what had been paid for me. 

They were one of the four. I was one of the four. And you may be one of the four. 

If you are someone who struggles as I once did to accept forgiveness. If you are hiding under a blanket of shame. If you feel like nobody can ever know what you have done for fear of judgment, I hope you know there are so many of us who have walked this path you once walked. You are not alone in this struggle. I pray the weight of shame can be lifted and that you can find at least one person to share your truth with. 

RELATED: I’m a Christian Mom of Four, and I Considered Abortion

Don’t be fooled by the images you see of picketers and protestors at abortion clinics. Yes, they do exist. But I have to believe that there are more of us who want to love you through this. Who want to see you move from condemnation to freedom. From shame to grace. 

Sadly, abortion is a part of many of our stories, yet it is rarely talked about. What if we started to talk about it? What if we found space at the table for these hard conversations? 

You can be against abortion and still for the mother. You can still love her. And hold her. And help her to let go of that shame that binds. 

Because ultimately that’s what we all want, right? To know no matter what we do, we can be forgiven. To know our choices will never exclude us from the table. To know we are worthy of love, regardless of what we do, or don’t do, in this lifetime. 

To find our circle of acceptance. 

To feel fully loved. 

Fully forgiven. 

And fully set free. 

Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson is a freelance writer, preschool art teacher and mother of four with a heart for Jesus. Her work can be found on a number of blogs and parenting publications. Recently relocated from Indianapolis to Nashville, Tennessee. She is a passionate storyteller and believes every person has an important story to tell. We grow when we share. And even more when we listen.