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Abortion, grief, and second chances

Breaking the silence on Jewish women struggling with abortions -- a taboo issue that requires great sensitivity

I am pro-choice. I believe that ALL women should have the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies and I certainly do not want the courts to overturn Roe v. Wade. That being said, when faced with my own crisis, I determined abortion was NOT the right decision for me. I am glad I chose adoption, as hard as it was, and I am dedicated to breaking the stigma around it. You can read more about my story as a birthmother here.  

Recently, I spoke with Eliana Rachamin,* who wants to tell her story. Her story is about abortion and grief, but also the unlikely second chance she got later in life to make a different choice. Few places would publish her story under a pseudonym, so I am offering her this space. I  think it’s vital to sensitively listen to the spectrum of Jewish women’s voices and experiences concerning abortion, adoption and crisis pregnancy. This story is appropriate in the season of the New Year and the High Holidays when we all look to reconcile our past and create our future. We need to be there for each other as we go through our life’s struggles and listen to each other’s voices.

The following is Eliana’s story…

“It’s 2003 — my pregnancy is over. Abortion was a very painful decision. At the time, I didn’t want to bring a child into the world who was unwanted by his own father. I couldn’t imagine how I could handle adoption or being a single mother so far from my family in Israel. While my father had tried his best to encourage and comfort me over the phone, no one could embrace me.

Even after days and months pass, the abortion haunts me. I wonder: How would my baby have looked when he smiled or sounded when he laughed? My questions hurt. There are no answers. I yearn for my baby that would have been — I can never get him back.

I promise myself: no matter what, I will never abort again. I am still pro-choice and believe women should have legal abortion access. But I also have to acknowledge — at least to myself — that my choice has hurt me.

Years pass. I stay in the US and get married. We have a beautiful daughter together, but a rocky marriage. A few years later, we divorce. I become a single mother after all. Just as I begin to think about my future, my doctor gives me bad news. Due to a newly diagnosed medical condition, my future pregnancy prospects are minuscule — “one in a million.”

My grief hits me all over again, remembering the other child I could have had. I had wanted more children someday, siblings for my sweet 6-year-old. Eventually, I start a serious relationship with a man who seems like he could be a good husband and father. I am meticulous about using birth control. I am wary of the risks even though the chances are so minuscule.

You can imagine how stunned I am when I find out I am pregnant. After 1/1,000,000 chance plus birth control! Suddenly, I am in a familiar and awful situation. My boyfriend is pressuring me to abort.

Should I terminate? I am facing the prospect of being a single mother for a second child. I am already at risk of losing my home because I can barely make my mortgage payments. My job does not include paid maternity leave. My family is still far away in Israel. I’ve fallen in love with my boyfriend, but it’s becoming clear he won’t stay with me if I stay pregnant.

It’s my moment of truth. Last time, I felt pressured to abort, this time the stresses are even more intense. Yet despite all this — this baby feels like a miracle. Like I’ve hit the jackpot. One in a million plus.

I decide to keep my baby. I am not going to let my fear and worries make my choice, for I can have faith in myself and my future even though I don’t have all the answers to my problems yet. I’ve returned to the same challenge — but now I am a different woman. Thank God, this time, I don’t have to go it alone. After I had already decided to keep my baby, I discovered In Shifra’s Arms (ISA). ISA is the only Jewish social service organization in the United States dedicated to helping women with unplanned pregnancies. As a tough sabra, it wasn’t natural for me to ask for help. But the effort was worth it.The fantastic ISA staff and volunteers became my angels — my parachute. For every client, ISA offers services both during pregnancy and for the full year of transition after birth.

I  certainly needed all the help I could get. After I got back from my maternity leave, I got laid off. My job loss then triggered delays in mortgage payments and threats for eviction.  Step by step — the counselors and team at In Shifra’s Arms walked with me to deal with each issue I faced. They provided steady and comforting emotional support as well as practical support like baby clothes, financial aid, and referrals to partner agencies.

When I finally get to hold my tiny baby girl, I am overjoyed. My older daughter was thrilled to be a big sister. We gave our new baby a Hebrew name meaning “Gratitude.” Today, little Miss Gratitude is a friendly, sparkling delight. Although my journey since her birth has been difficult; my life has gotten much better. I now have a full-time job, and my girls go to a wonderful Jewish day school. We are all very close and have a beautiful life together.

Nobody knows how many Jewish women struggle with unplanned pregnancies and abortions each year. Clearly, this taboo issue must be discussed very sensitively while we reach out to those in need.

Every woman does not grieve after her abortion as I have. For those of us who do, however, it can be lonely and devastating. If you are hurting after an abortion, do not stay isolated and try to hide from your own feelings. Reach out for resources, including rabbinical counseling and spiritual support. In Shifra’s Arms also can also offer you a list of post-abortion therapeutic resources and referrals.

If you are grappling with an unplanned pregnancy, please know that you don’t have to take this journey alone. I cannot overstate how much the help from In Shifra’s Arms meant to me. ISA is available to assist you anywhere in the United States and will be there for you whatever you decide. Whether it’s for an hour or a year, connecting with a team who cares can grant you the compassion and practical support you need.

Even if this issue is new to you, your compassion and concern can make a huge impact.  Help me raise awareness so every Jewish woman knows she can lean on In Shifra’s Arms and our community. You never know whose life you might touch and whose world you might change.”

*Eliana is using a pseudonym to protect her family’s privacy. She is a successful professional living in the Midwest. While she remains grateful, Eliana does not currently have any formal affiliation with In Shifra’s Arms. She also is passionate about ensuring all Jewish communities are welcoming and supportive of single mothers and their children.

Eliana’s story is unique to her, but many women who grapple with the same decisions that she had to make for herself. I also had to make heart-wrenching decisions about abortion, adoption or raising children. No one can tell you what decision is right for you. Only you can decide what is best for you, but help and support are what is needed. I am glad In Shifra’s Arms is there for American Jewish women who need them. During my journey, I would have given anything to have support and not have walked my path alone.

About the Author
Lori Prashker-Thomas is a Jewish Birth Mother, who up until recently never discussed her story of placing a child for adoption because of the stigma attached to the subject within the Jewish community. She is now an advocate for Jewish women, both as a speaker and writer and her book entitled "From Mistakes to Miracles: Jewish Adoption From a Jewish Birth Mother's Point of View" will be released November 2018. Lori is also Owner and Officiant at Ceremonies by Lori and is Co-Owner of ShadowCatcher Photography with her husband, Michael.
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