When Chloe Kilano wrote “A Letter to My Aborted Siblings,” saying she missed the older brother and sister she would never know, some readers responded with love and support, but others suggested she was mentally ill. Even her father told her that grieving for aborted siblings was a bit of a reach and advised her to step back and calm down.
But Kilano and others who have shared her sense that someone is absent from their lives know that siblings, grandparents and other family members of an aborted child can suffer from what the Silent No More Awareness Campaign calls the “shockwaves of abortion.” Kilano is not alone in grieving for a sibling — and like other family members affected by the decision to end a life in the womb, surviving siblings or those siblings who come along afterward are finding ways to redress their feelings of loss, guilt, grief and anger through national ministries such as Silent No More, Rachel’s Vineyard, and Entering Canaan Ministry, a post-abortion outreach headquarted in Mamaroneck, New Jersey.
“It’s difficult to be missing someone and not even knowing who they were and to think about what it would have been like had they been here,” 15-year-old Kilano told the Register. She was 12 when she discovered she had other siblings while going through a stack of ultrasound images and noticing that the dates didn’t line up with either her birthday or her sister’s. Kilano assumed her mother had miscarried, but she later learned she had sought an abortion for health reasons and that she may have been carrying twins.
Still, as Kilano found when she wrote her “Letter,” the idea of someone missing an aborted sibling is a tough sell to a culture that barely recognizes the fact that women suffer after their abortions. Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, said this collective denial can make it difficult for relatives of aborted children to have their pain acknowledged, whether they are fathers, grandparents or siblings.
Their sense of loss is real, however, and Morana has heard in greater detail about this loss since Silent No More was started in 2003 to help women to talk about their abortions. But grieving mothers are not alone, she said, explaining that abortion affects others involved directly or indirectly with the evil procedure, including abortion workers, ultrasound technicians, friends who drove friends to abortion facilities or paid for abortions and those who remained silent upon learning of someone’s plans to abort or aided in a decision to abort. All can experience physical, emotional and spiritual fallout from an abortion. According to the Silent No More Awareness website, the thoughts, feelings and memories from an abortion are often repressed, leading to depression, anxiety, anger issues, addictions and difficulties in marriage and family relationships.
Morana herself knows the pain of being the grandparent of an aborted child. She found out after the fact that one of her daughters had an abortion while away at college and couldn’t bear to tell her mother at the time. After sharing the story in her 2017 book Shockwaves: Abortion’s Wider Circle of Victims, Morana said more and more grandparents have been saying, “This happened to me, too.”
The loss of a grandchild through abortion can be especially devastating when the aborted child turns out to be the only grandchild. “This is a deep sadness,” Morana said. “It’s sadness for the mom who can’t have kids later, but now her mom is saddened, too, because she had counted on having grandchildren.” Additionally, she said, grandmothers who took their daughters to get abortions suffer the double grief of knowing they were complicit in the loss of the grandchild.
“We know statistically that about 60 million children have been lost since Roe v. Wade,” Morana said, “and that includes chemical abortions.” Taking all the parents and others connected to each aborted child into consideration, she continued, “all of society has been affected by abortion — every one of us.”
Still, the idea of sibling grief over an aborted brother or sister may be especially hard to comprehend because most children only find out about it years later. It can also be difficult to understand how someone could miss a person he or she never knew.
“But,” Morana said, “when you talk to kids, it’s real for them. It displays itself in fear and an overachiever attitude, where they have to prove themselves because they have to feel this worth that Mom and Dad still love me.”
In addition to grief, she said, siblings can suffer survivor guilt because they were allowed to be born and the aborted brother or sister wasn’t.
Theresa Bonopartis, who has developed a retreat program for the siblings of aborted children as part of the Entering Canaan Ministry for healing after abortion, said it is not uncommon for surviving brothers and sisters to feel that someone is missing from their lives and to have a sense of a person who was supposed to be there.
Bonopartis said she knows from her experience of having told her two living children about her own abortion at the age of 17 that siblings can be affected by such a loss. Learning that their mother aborted a brother or sister, she said, can raise questions like “Would I even be here if she hadn’t had that abortion? Would my name be the same? Why am I alive and the other baby is dead? Did she really want me?” The knowledge also can result in anger or a feeling of pressure to fulfill parental expectations, Bonopartis said.
In her family, she has seen that abortion can impact even nieces and nephews.
“One nephew said he always knew something was wrong in our family,” Bonopartis said. “He just didn’t know what it was. I always say it’s the monster in the room of families and nobody acknowledges it. They walk around it.”
As a way to address sibling grief, Entering Canaan sponsors sibling retreats — the next one is Aug. 16-18 in Stirling, New Jersey — in which the retreat leaders attempt to assure siblings that what they are feeling is normal.
“The other aspect is we don’t judge the parents,” Bonopartis said. “It’s a place for [siblings] to come and freely express what they are going through without anybody saying your mother or father is a killer.”
Help for those suffering because of their own or someone else’s abortion also is available through Silent No More Awareness, which offers a zip code-based search feature to locate abortion after-care programs. The results include information about Rachel’s Vineyard, which offers an average of 30 retreats a month around the country for anyone who has been affected by an abortion.
Anna (not her real name), who made one of the Entering Canaan retreats in 2014, said she experienced much freedom and healing on the weekend — including a greater desire to forgive her parents, both of whom were pro-choice Protestants. As she moved into adolescence, she said, she had been told that if she got pregnant as a teen, she would have to have an abortion.
“It was like an article of faith in our lives,” Anna said.
But when, at the age of 11, she found out her mother had had an abortion and said she considered it God’s grace in her life, Anna was shocked and overwhelmed.
“I loved my sisters so much and couldn’t imagine life without them,” she said.
It was incomprehensible to Anna, knowing she had a sibling she could and would have loved just as much but who was not given a chance to live.
“A sibling suffers anytime a sibling dies,” she said. “You were given to the same family, the same parents. You share biological ties and a cultural heritage.”
Yet, Anna said, because her sibling was aborted, she was robbed of what she called the “dignified public grief” that would have accompanied the death of a sibling who had lived even a few hours and then died. Instead, her sorrow became inappropriate for public disclosure. Yet, she said, “Anybody who has a sibling they love knows that when that person passes, there will be grief, and the same goes for a child lost in miscarriage or abortion.”
Judy Roberts writes
from Graytown, Ohio.
For more information or to sign up, visit: EnteringCanaan.com/siblings/sibling-retreat