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Sad and lonely woman's face

Secret shame keeps us isolated

My parents and I were in Las Vegas the first time I shared my abortion story with them. We were there for some fun and cheering up. I had just returned from South Korea, having traveled there with my husband to teach English as a second language after we graduated from college. But now I was home from that year, my husband was still in Pusan, and we were getting a divorce. I was feeling like a failure and hurting because I suspected my husband of infidelity. I felt abandoned—just like I had felt when my unborn child’s father had told me he wanted to break off our relationship six months after we had chosen abortion for our baby.

My parents and I sat in our hotel room, talking about my failed marriage and how I felt about it. The conversation trailed off and my mom filled the silence. “Honey, I just don’t understand what happened to you. You left our home with all kinds of self confidence, but somewhere between then and now, you seem to have lost it all.”

I looked down, not really knowing what to say. I knew what had happened to me, but I had never shared it with my parents. Abortion had happened to me. I had gotten pregnant, chosen abortion, and decided I was damaged goods. The baby’s father and I had broken off our relationship, and I had met and married a man who didn’t always exhibit the highest moral character. Now, a year later, I was getting a divorce.

“I never told you guys this, but….” my voiced cracked as the flood of emotion swelled. “I got pregnant when I was a freshman in college and I had an abortion.” My silent tears began to fall. Never once meeting their eyes, I continued, “I thought I didn’t deserve anyone better, so I married Sam.”

My parents both sat in stunned silence. When I finally mustered the courage to look up again, my mom said, “You know we don’t think any less of you for making that choice, right? I probably would have suggested the same solution. But you should have told us. You shouldn’t have had to go through that alone.”

“I was so scared to disappoint you.” I said. “You were so proud of me for going to college. I didn’t want to ruin all my chances at a bright future.”

“We are proud of you,” my dad said, “and this doesn’t change that.”

My tears fell freely now. All I could manage to say was, “Thank you.” I got up from where I was sitting and hugged them both. I had imagined this conversation in my mind so many times, and this was the best scenario I could imagine. There was no judgement, only concern and love.

We talked more about what had happened. Sharing details with them was uncomfortable, but it was freeing to no longer carry such a big secret. At least they could understand now why I had seemed to lose myself.

Since then, for the past 15 years, I’ve been finding myself again. One thing I’ve discovered is telling those you love your secrets has an amazing power to free you. We keep secrets because we are afraid of rejection and judgement. But the truth is our secrets imprison us more than someone’s rejection ever could. At the end of the day, if a loved one can’t overlook a bad decision we’ve made, that is their choice,  but we don’t have to allow that to control how we feel about ourselves. Their choice does not define who I am.

Keeping a secret could, however, prevent me from being honest with the ones I love, thereby limiting the intimacy in the relationship. If you never share your whole self, both good and bad, how can you ever fully open your heart? You might not be able to count on a loved one not judging you for your past mistakes, such as an abortion. Free yourself from the secret-keeping anyway.

~ Kyleen Stevenson-Braxton