Reflection: Respecting Life – inside and out

Wendy Hill, Wellington
Working as a volunteer at Arohata Women’s Prison has given me uncomfortable insights
 into how hard it can be to ‘respect life’.

I was called in to work in my capacity as a pregnancy counsellor with women who don’t qualify to keep their babies with them in the prison system.  My job is to prepare these women for the birth of their babies and for the separation which will inevitably follow.

It is work that involves deep grief and at times, very brief glimpses of hope.

I see women inmates during their pregnancy and continue with them after the birth of their babies.  In this time we look at grief and loss focusing on their separation from their newborn baby.  Inevitably the counselling uncovers in depth, hurts and atrocities often with gang and drug associations.  We often talk about bigger losses women experience – the loss of a child through abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth.  These pregnancy losses are unspoken and the silence in these women who have a history of other secret hurts such as sexual abuse ripples through all their behaviour.  Abortion often triggers an immediate escalation to drug abuse and other self-destructive behaviours—cutting, bizarre piercings or tattooing, food or alcohol abuse, repeatedly destructive relationships.  It can be a long list.

These women are brutally honest.  They speak about their regrets in life, their losses, the events that lead them to prison and their children lost through abortion.  They mostly have no hope that things could ever be different and feel this is what they deserve.  There are very few people in their lives to tell them anything different.  In our Justice
system they feel forgotten about and unimportant; punished, damaged, unforgiven and unforgiveable.

The women in Arohata are not the only ones in prison.

I work in pregnancy counselling and post-abortion counselling throughout Wellington.  This brings me into contact with all sorts of women, and men, who don’t understand what abortion has brought into their lives or how to resolve the issues of unrecognised loss that simply won’t go away.  Those hurt by abortion cannot re-write their history, but they can change their future.  Each abortion story is complex and personal; it is isolating and lonely.  To allow someone to break their silence and take up the offer of being brought to wholeness, is an act of great compassion and in my view, the Church’s greatest gift.

Thank God for faith, hope and love.  Thank God for the Sacraments of healing.  Thank God.

Wendy Hill,
Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats –

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