“I Became Like a Soldier Going to Battle”: Post-Abortion Trauma
by Sarah Terzo
Jacqueline Middler had two abortions and deeply regretted them. She wrote a book, White Stick, hoping to convince other women not to make the same choices. (All quotations below are from this book).
Middler became pregnant her first year of college. She didn’t know what to do but was leaning towards choosing life. Then she spoke to a friend who’d had an abortion.
The friend said there were many things Middler wouldn’t be able to do if she had a baby. She wouldn’t finish college, she would lose her scholarship, and her boyfriend, whom she wanted to marry, would break up with her.
Middler said, “But I can’t kill my baby.” (p. 30)
The friend told her there was no baby, only cells. Middler writes, “Finally, words that comforted me. I wouldn’t be killing a baby – just a group of cells.” (p. 31)
Midler didn’t know that a preborn baby’s heart is beating at 21 days, and some scientists think it starts even earlier. She didn’t know that a child in the womb was already right or left-handed at eight weeks, or that by 10 weeks the baby has fingerprints and sucks her thumb.
Middler had doubts, but she silenced them. If she had an abortion, she reasoned, no one would ever know. She could continue with her life as if nothing had happened.
When Middler told her parents of her decision, they said they didn’t agree, but they would support her choice. Middler recalls wishing they would step in and forbid her from having an abortion, or at least give her more direction. But the full burden of the choice was placed on her shoulders.
Middler says, “[I] had already hardened my heart… Once I made the decision, I never wavered. I became like a soldier going to battle, determined to win and get my life back on track.” (p. 32)
Whether in abortion or through war, it isn’t human nature to kill. People must suppress their instincts and harden their hearts to do so.
Middler bled after the abortion. She began to see her abortion as killing a baby:
[M]y constant pain and blood loss reminded me of what I had done. Within the discharge from my body were pieces of tissue, and I wondered what part of my baby they represented. (p. 42)
She suffered emotionally and became addicted to drugs and alcohol:
I cried so much. I had hoped to never think about my choice again, but now I thought about it every second of every day. I couldn’t share these thoughts with anyone… As the ugly head of my grief and pain came roaring up to crush me, I beat it back down into the small place in my heart where I let it reign. If the noise got too loud, I reached for drugs or alcohol to quiet the pain.
Outwardly, I looked the same… But inwardly I struggled to process the shame and guilt. Somehow, I finished the term and began packing for home. As I stepped aboard that plane, I was not the same girl who had come to school. My inner being was broken, hardened, and numbed by my choices and my drug use…By taking my baby’s life, some of my own life had died too. (pp. 42-43)
Middler became extremely promiscuous after her abortion, going to parties, drinking and drugging, and going home with various men. At one point, she managed to stay sober for several months, only to find out she was pregnant again. She “celebrated” her decision to have another abortion by drinking again. She got mindlessly drunk and used marijuana.
At the time, she thought that the heavy drinking and drugs had damaged her baby. She says she “didn’t want the baby to suffer in this life with physical deformities or mental incapacities, so ending his or her life before it started seemed like a good thing to do.” (pp. 52-53).
Years later, she would admit to herself:
These thoughts had nothing to do with the baby’s well-being but had everything to do with my own selfish desires not to be inconvenienced by a damaged baby. I knew my life would forever be tied to this baby’s father as well. I knew he would want to be part of the baby’s life. But I knew I did not want to be tied to any one person. I’d grown too numb to think of anyone but myself. (p. 53)
Things got even worse for her after the second abortion. She says, “I felt more than broken – I felt destroyed. In this dark place, I could see no light, no hope.”
She spent the rest of her time in college in a drunken, drug-induced haze. She says:
I alienated everyone, including good friends. I bought drugs and smoked them by myself, often disappearing into the woods to spend many hours staring endlessly into the vast forest, wishing I could disappear. I was not the same person anymore. In fact, I knew that the carefree girl I’d been before my abortions would never return. My choices had affected every aspect of my life and had now destroyed it. I sat in a dark place…
When I returned to school this time, my life felt empty. To protect myself, to be able to move through the motions, I shut down my emotions. I locked them up tight within. I felt more than broken – I felt destroyed. In this dark place, I could see no light, no hope. (pp. 52-53)
Eventually, she stopped abusing substances and began attending church, finding comfort in Christianity. When she got married, she had two miscarriages. Each miscarriage brought back memories of her abortions and thoughts that God was punishing her. She still had to face her abortion and the harm it had done to her life. She says:
As a result of my choice to murder, I made other bad decisions – one after another. Abusing alcohol and drugs, alienating friends, choosing bad partners, screwing up good jobs – the list goes on and on. (pp. 105-106)
Through church ministries, prayer, and “taking responsibility” she found healing:
I acknowledged what I did – took responsibility – and grieved for my choices. I cried. I got angry. I accepted it. Then I decided to let it go. It wasn’t easy. I still look at my abortions as a time I ruined my life. However, I no longer beat myself up for those choices. I allow myself to feel the grief and then fill myself up with God’s words of love for me instead. (p. 109)
She went on to give birth to three children.
Years later, she and a friend went to a concert by a singer they both liked. Before the concert, they were shown a pro-abortion video. The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-choice:
I had no idea that this artist’s concerts had morphed into pro-choice events. I watched and listened as many different women and doctors appeared on the screen talking about how important it was to have the choice of abortion. The main speaker talked about how she had eight abortions and how she thought abortions were just another form of birth control. Her callous remarks and hardened heart hurt me. (p. 133)
The singer yelled pro-choice slogans into the microphone, and the crowd stood up and cheered.
She and her friend were the only ones not standing and applauding. Middler says:
I looked around and saw every woman in the audience cheering for their freedom, and I wondered if they knew the shackles that would bind their souls. I wondered if there was a voice for the people like me who had abortions and knew abortion was wrong, knew that choice was life-altering, knew the depths of hatred one could have for oneself, and knew the choice would be with you forever. I wondered if there was a voice for us – someone who could tell others not to go this route…
At that moment, I told God I would be the voice for women like me if he wanted me to. I would share my story. (pp. 114-115)
Middler has the following message for women considering abortion: “Choosing abortion will change the direction of your life, but not in the way you might think. Having an abortion is not the easier choice.” (p. 114)
She hopes that her book will change hearts and minds on abortion and encourage women to choose life.
For more of our posts on personal journeys, sees:
My Personal Journey on Veganism, War, and Abortion / Frank Lane
Off the Fence and Taking My Stand on Abortion / Mary Liepold
Sharon Long: My Personal Pro-life Journey / Sharon Long
Reconstruction of a Nation: Resilience in the Face of Terror / Aneeza Pervez of Pakistan
Brown v. Board of Education and Me / Bill Samuel