Forgiving Myself

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

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| This is the 285th story of Our Life Logs |

I grew up in the 1960s in Joliet, Illinois, as the second youngest of five kids. I don’t remember any meaningful interactions with my dad. Even when he did seemingly nice things like drop us off at church, he was really only doing it because it was on the way to a bar. Alcoholism ran deep in his family; liquor flowed in his blood. Mom didn’t know this when she married him. She was 19 and naive.

As I’m sure you can imagine, Dad’s absence left a hole in my heart. I tried to fill it and searched for love in other men, as they say, in all the wrong places.

And so, I met Nick in 1976. I was love struck—he was a handsome Hispanic boy who worked at a gas station nearby and was the first boy to ever seriously pay attention to me. Nick was dreamy, but he was also a compulsive liar. He claimed I was his only girlfriend, but in reality, he was sleeping with everyone in the area.

Bottom line? He took advantage of me. Never once did he ask me; it was just assumed.

I didn’t just lose my virginity with him. I lost something else, something far more precious. I just didn’t know it yet.

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I found out I was pregnant with Nick’s baby, I was three months along. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor told me.

“No! It can’t be true!” I yelled.

The doctor shrugged and sarcastically commented, “Good luck,”  and then left the room. I was left alone wondering if her reaction was a foretaste of the response I would get at home from my mother. I wasn’t sure of the next step, but after several weeks of morning sickness, I decided to tell my mother.

I ventured into the laundry room where she was folding clothes. Her eyes were tired as she bent over the machine, exhausted from her full-time job.

I cut to the chase. “Mom, I’m pregnant.”

She kept folding laundry, unfazed.

It was in that moment I saw how much my father’s alcoholism had destroyed her, and how I was feeding into her misery. Our life had stolen her ability to show emotion. No anger, no joy, just a simple response forever etched in my memory.

“You could give your baby to Susie.”

My sister Susie was married but not able to conceive. Still, I couldn’t believe that my mother expected me to go through with the pregnancy. I was 16; I was selfish and immature. I rolled my eyes at the mention of adoption. I’d still have to carry the baby for nine months. My heart was already set on the easiest solution I could think of: abortion. I knew my friend had had one. One minute she was pregnant, the next minute she wasn’t. I thought it sounded easy enough: in and out. Done. No more worries. Later that day, I scheduled the abortion.

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When I went for the appointment later that week, I realized I had forgotten my paperwork on the kitchen table at home. That moment has haunted me to this day. Now I can clearly see that God was giving me a second chance to reconsider what I was about to do. I wish I could go back in time and scream to myself, “DON’T DO THIS!!” But I can’t change what happened.

I let them take my baby that day. April 14, 1977. I remember flashes of the procedure. The charley horse in my legs from the stirrups. The tears that rolled down my face, as I laid there crying. “Just be still. Just be still,” said the doctor. The tugging, the quiet inhale of the vacuum, the pain. To this day, the sound of a suction machine terrifies me.

Some people think abortions are easy, that they don’t leave scars, that you can seamlessly move on with your life. Maybe that’s true for some women, but it wasn’t for me. The abortion marked the beginning of the darkest point in my life. Without knowing why, I became desperate to hurt and punish myself in whatever way I could. I felt I deserved everything bad that came my way. On my calendar, I even wrote: good month to commit suicide. I ditched a lot of school, began drinking, doing drugs, and running with The Outlaws, a local motorcycle gang.

These things certainly numbed the pain when I couldn’t face the person in the mirror, but the problem was that they couldn’t get rid of the anger.

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When the time was right though, God finally got through to me. One night when I was 19 with a line of cocaine in front of me, the phrase “you’re done” entered my head. It was a stunning realization that made me decide to stop that lifestyle. It was a moment of grace, and I followed it out of the bar, away from the party, and into an actual job where I could better myself.

I started working at a steel company where I ended up meeting and falling in love with Elliott. After three years of dating, despite being on the pill, I got pregnant—just when I thought I was getting my life on track! I made sure he knew from the start, “I’m not going to abort this baby.” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “I never asked you to! I’ll just marry you.”

Elliot and me, 2016.
Elliot and me, 2016.

And so, I had our baby boy Elliott, named after his father. We eventually moved to Naperville, Illinois. All the while, I felt like a horrible mother to Elliott. I was still angry and searching for answers to ease the ache in my heart. I saw therapist after therapist, each with their own theories for my unhappiness. I was told, “The root of your anger is your father and his alcoholism.” If it wasn’t my father, they said it was the sexual abuse by my boyfriends. The list went on and on.

In my heart, I knew my therapists were right to focus on these issues, yet it felt as though there was a missing piece to the puzzle. I remember the exact date when I found that piece.

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April 20th, 1987. I was three and a half months pregnant with our second child when I had a gut feeling that something was wrong. I felt awful, and I was cramping and bleeding. I called the babysitter over so I could take myself to the clinic. The doctor was quick in telling me what I had already suspected, “Mrs. Eisman, you’re having a miscarriage right now.”