Lent: The Season for Habit Formation

There are two things that many of us seem to get wrong: the days leading up to Christmas, and the days leading up to Easter. In the days leading up to Christmas--which can begin as early as May--we find ourselves in a consistent rush: fixing budgets, planning trips, scheduling reunions, flying to pageants and concerts, collecting items for feasts and bakefests, and purchasing lots and lots and lots of presents. We leave very little time and room for reflection, charity, prayer, and preparation for Christ’s arrival. With Christmas now past and the liturgical season of ordinary time coming to a close, our attention turns toward Easter, and the season of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, where we follow Jesus on his adult journey of teaching, ministry, prayer, healing and suffering right up to his crucifixion and death on Good Friday. Tradition held by Catholics and Christians around the world maintains the element of sacrifice, of “giving up” something for the whole 40-day season of Lent. So how do we get the original meaning of Lent wrong? We engage in the tradition for all the wrong reasons. Like Christmas, we take Christ out of Lent. We may not do so consciously, but we often find ourselves using Lent to achieve internal or worldly goals. We give up junk food or monitor what we eat when starting a new diet, or abstain from beer to lower the cholesterol and clear the mind. We give up some TV so we can manage time better or focus on other interests. “We all have these interior movements,” said Divine Mercy University Adjunct Professor Dr. Ian Murphy during last month’s webinar titled The Power of Habit: Therapeutic Techniques From St. Thomas Aquinas. “What St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us is that these interior movements--these appetites, these passions, these emotions--are not the bad guy, but we can’t do whatever they say. If we do whatever they tell us to do, then we’re not truly free of them. We become slaves to them. But we can’t ignore them either. They’re an integral part of us, and they were originally created to support our happiness.” We may see the season of Lent as a second chance with the New Year’s resolution we missed, except with a partially structured strategy and timeline. Even in the Church, many of us confuse worldly growth or preparation with spiritual growth or preparation. But in doing so, we might become more worried about staying on track with a certain practice, instead of considering if that particular practice is helping to actually convert our hearts, allow us to analyze the depth of Christ’s sacrifice and teachings on earth, and bring us closer to God in the first place, because Lent is about re-centering our will to His and living that out in the world. “We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue,” said Blessed Fr. Fulton Sheen, “a time to pull up weeds or to plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative. A person is great not by the ferocity of his hatred of evil, but by the intensity of his love for God. Asceticism and mortification are not the ends of a Christian life; they are only the means. The end is charity. Penance merely makes an opening in our ego in which the Light of God can pour. As we deflate ourselves, God fills us. And it is God’s arrival that is the important event.” A good Lenten practice would actually be for us to take spiritual inventory of our lives and determine where we need growth. One means of doing this, especially during the season of Lent, is what’s called Virtuous Habit Formation. St. Thomas Aquinas defines virtue as an operative disposition toward the good. In other words, virtues are repeated performative actions that internalize into perfective habits that form our character according to our ultimate purpose.   “We don’t do whatever our feelings, passions, and appetites tell us to do,” said Dr. Murphy. “In other words, we don’t do whatever our ‘inner selves’ say. But we don’t ignore our feelings either. Rather, we appreciate our emotions as an integral part of us. We consult our emotions for illumination as we discern; and with a conscious receptivity to the Holy Spirit, we allow prudence to order our emotions. And we also allow emotion to wake up the powers of the soul whenever rationality and will grow cold and lose sight of their higher calling.” Those interior movements mentioned earlier can become disordered within us, and in their disorder, they can wreak havoc. Consider that person who does offer that up moderate drinking upon returning home. After a hard day’s work or a day full of stress and anxiety, that person may be looking forward to that nearly instant gratification of relaxation and stress reduction. Despite any health or anxiety benefits, the frequent repetition of this practice wires the mind to expect; that person becomes disposed to pursuing those glasses of wine or pints of lager after each hard day, and may begin to see it as a regular remedy to a lingering stress.    “All this is the key to our therapeutic technique: repeat actions,” said Dr. Murphy. “If the acts be multiplied--if you keep doing things over and over again, even a small thing, an allegedly tiny baby step--if you repeat it, a switch is thrown inside of you, and the synaptic pathways in our brains are rewired. We become inclined to behave that way. We become disposed to behave that way.”   Our “giving something up” for Lent is not merely an offering in the Lenten tradition of sacrifice, or an offering in reverence to Christ’s sacrifice, or just us utilizing the season as an annual detox, fat burner or dietary starting point. When we remove the worldly value of the things we offer up--when we apply virtue to our commitment to change our habits--we understand that we’re not just giving something up. We’re giving something over, and the less we take, the more we open ourselves to the richnesses of God’s love, filling the voids left by our bottles of our worldly desires.    “This is the key to our wellbeing,” said Dr. Murphy, “to our flourishing, to our happiness. We are created, we are fallen, and we’re also redeemed. In our fallenness, things that were created for good get disordered. But in our redemption, they can be re-ordered again.” Lent is not our mulligan when we miss our New Year’s resolution. It is not our self-improvement project, our annual detox or our new diet plan. Lent is a renewal of our promise to walk with Jesus into the desert, into the city streets, even to the foot of the cross, with our hands in His the whole way. Lent is about our relationship with God and with Christ; and that relationship, like any other, has trials, distress and joy. Sign up to learn more about Divine Mercy University's graduate programs in counseling and/or psychology.

50 Percent of Marriages End in Marriage

About four years ago, my brother-in-law (before he was my brother-in-law) said something to me that I still think about today. We were sitting in the kitchen of his home in Plainfield, NJ, with his wife standing at the stove prepping a dinner that I’ve long forgotten--except that it was delicious--discussing topics ranging from homeownership and jobs to the adventures of marriage and raising kids. A former seminarian from Brooklyn, he felt compelled to lay down some knowledge and inform me that “There are some things they don’t warn you about in marriage.” I married his wife’s sister anyway. We married knowing fully well that there are no perfect marriages. Although we would’ve loved to be like the Fredricksens from the movie Up--where the opening scenes and montage doesn’t show them arguing at all--the real adventure is knowing that that is not the reality of marriage. Meetings with our priest and our conference for engaged couples in our preparation helped us understand that, and further developed our understanding of marriage as a commitment into the unknown future that a husband and wife vow before God to take together; a lifelong journey side by side, hand in hand, towards the sunset. But like all commitments--and all ventures into unknown futures--things happen. Obstacles arise that can throw married couples into odd, difficult and even tense situations. Some couples may just need help creating good communication patterns in their marriage. Others may feel distant from each other and aren’t sure why, or find themselves in a rut and want to find a way to start over. Obstacles like finances, home and car repairs, family matters, emergencies and unexpected occurrences can lead to tense discussions, heated arguments or a distancing silence, leaving the couple frustrated, in pain, and looking for ways to heal and move forward. That lifelong journey towards the sunset is not without a lifetime of obstacles to face. On March 9th and 10th, married couples will have the opportunity to address those obstacles head on at Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center in Maryland, where faculty members from Divine Mercy University (DMU), led by Associate Professor Dr. Lisa Klewicki, will host a retreat for couples looking to reconnect, repair and re-energize their marriage. “This retreat is primarily aimed at helping couples deepen their relationship, their level of communication, and emotional connection,” said Dr. Jonathan Marcotte, a Licensed Psychologist for Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska. “It’s based off of scientifically validated psychological studies on ‘Attachment Theory’ that have been heavily researched for over 50 years.” Dr. Marcotte, a graduate of DMU’s Psy.D. program in 2017, ran this two-day workshop with Dr. Klewicki and her team last year. Modeled from the “Hold Me Tight” workshop format for couples developed by clinical psychologist and founding Director of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Dr. Sue Johnson. Dr. Klewicki and her team immersed the Catholic faith into its structure to help guide couples through the first phases of EFT and improve their ability to experience God’s love within their marriage. Dr. Kathleen Musslewhite, also an alumna of DMU, will be a part of Dr. Klewicki’s team this year. She’s a licensed psychologist who practices in Frederick, Maryland. “The purpose is to help couples who are married to recognize some common obstacles in marriage through the lens of EFT,” she said. “I’ve used EFT for three years now and find it really kind of amazing. It takes the pressure off the couple and puts it on the reactive attachment cycle.” This workshop is not a replacement for marriage therapy. According to Dr. Musslewhite, it is in the context of programs for marriage enrichment. The couples spend the weekend engaging with each other--talking to each other--and no therapeutic relationship is created. The therapists are there to present information and opportunities and help the couples with the exercises, but they do not speak with the couples. There are some couples who may end the weekend realizing that they need more extensive therapy.     “Couples from all sorts of situations have come on past retreats,” said Marcotte, “ranging from newlyweds to couples who are so distressed that divorce is on the table. This retreat is specifically for couples who feel like they’re ‘stuck’ in a constant state of negative interactions with each other. It’s for couples who feel disconnected and want to rekindle feelings of closeness with each other. This retreat certainly pushes each individual to dig deeper into their own roles regarding negative interactions with their spouse, as well as to put aside their frustrations in order to hear each other’s pain.” “I remember at the last one I attended, there were couples who expressed to me ‘ah ha’ moments,” said Musslewhite. “They expressed that they were in the middle of reactive cycles but couldn’t see the pattern. Once they saw the patterns, they felt more empowered. Another couple was able to recognize the behavior that had previously felt critical and judgemental now felt like a cry for closeness, a need for secure attachment.” In addition to the workshop being immersed in Catholic theology, the workshop is immersed in the sacraments. Confession will be offered throughout the day and Mass will be offered in the evening. “This is a wonderful reason why this workshop is so effective,” said Marcotte. “Integrating the sacraments allow more opportunities for God’s grace to pervade into the couple’s experience. It is incredibly important as couples become more vulnerable and take advantage of this opportunity to allow God’s love to give courage and solace to the one being vulnerable, as well as giving grace and peace to the one receiving and responding to the other’s vulnerability.” The workshop takes it a step further by allowing the couples, at the workshop’s conclusion, the opportunity to renew their marriage vows. It’s optional and the couples are not obliged to partake, one may think that there’s extra pressure on the couples that attend knowing that’s available at the end. “The sacraments and the renewal of vows are all offered, but certainly not compulsory,“ said Musslewhite. “Some couples don’t stay for the Mass and renewal of vows at the end of the weekend. For other couples, it’s the highlight of the weekend.”   “Well, it might!” Marcotte exclaimed when asked if couples attending may feel the pressure of the renewal of vows. “A lot of couples get into some deep places if they take this workshop seriously, and while it’s a place to do some deep healing and restructuring, it can take couples to places they never wanted to go. If a couple feels unresolved in some difficult parts of their relationship, they might feel forced to do marriage vows.” “However,” Marcotte continued, “renewing vows is also symbolic of the element of love that is a choice, and this opportunity allows them to make a conscious choice to love each other and continue fighting for a positive relationship.”           No marriages are perfect, and the world is full of obstacles that can dissuade a couple from keeping the fire of their love lit. But within that commitment to each other is the love and hope to acknowledge when those obstacles are affecting our relationship, and to make every effort toward identifying and remedying those obstacles toward rekindling that love that originally brought them together. For more information about this workshop and future workshops, click here: https://ourladyofbethesda.org/healing-your-love-tools-overcoming-obstacles-marriage#panel--2   

Our Lady Shares the Sacrifice of Motherhood

In the mountains of southern Italy, there is a monastery that shelters the iconic twelve-foot high Black Madonna icon of the village of Montevergine, attracting pilgrims from all over the world for hundreds of years. On February 2nd and September 12th--the feast of the Purification of Mary and the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, respectively--a festival takes place in celebration of Montevergine’s Blessed Virgin. Travelers from all walks and ways of life climb the 300 plus steps up the mountain to the hilltop monastery--singing, dancing, playing tambourines and drawing parade floats along the way--to adore, pay homage, pray to and praise in thanksgiving of Our Lady of Montevergine’s love. [caption id="attachment_601" align="alignleft" width="162"] The 12-foot high icon stands behind the altar of the Montevergine Monastery. Crowns were added to Mary and the Child Jesus in 1621, and the lower part of the image was added between 1712 and 1778. Image source http://interfaithmary.net/blog[/caption] The miraculous history of the Black Madonna throughout the world shows a long, loving history of the Blessed Virgin Mother watching over her children wherever she has appeared. Many miracles have been attributed to these iconic images, including the Polish icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa--known and revered as the queen and protector of Poland--and Our Lady of Montevergine specifically is believed to have interceded in the miraculous rescue of a gay couple in the middle ages who were en route to worship before her icon, but were captured by an angry mob and were beaten, stripped, tied up and left to die in the frigid temperatures. Such incredible moments in history have led millions of people to look to her as their spiritual mother and source for guidance and motherly comfort, but her life on earth itself is a testament to motherhood’s strife and sacrifice, while showing the loving path for mothers all across the world. Throughout the month of February we’re celebrating, focusing and worrying about love and finding love, and it’s almost insulting that we neglect to celebrate and acknowledge the love that moms bring to us and the world, literally with every breath they take. But many young women today feel a sense of fear at the prospect of struggling with motherhood, especially if they lacked a positive mothering experience growing up. Others may fear what the commitment entails or feeling that they may not become the great mother they had. “It’s a commitment,” said Fr. Robert Presutti, Chaplain at Divine Mercy University, “meaning you are sort of throwing yourself into the unknown. You can’t determine what this child is going to be like in any way, shape or form. How is having a child going to impact your own life? It’s a risk, and like all risks, we face it with a little hesitation. “You think about beings that are just ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’,” Presutti continued, “and don’t have much to give back. What more than babies, right? But at the same time, you realize they’re giving a whole bunch, that we didn’t even realize we needed. Very often, it’s in our own coming out of ourselves and our own false securities that we discover true happiness, true security, and the joy of sacrifice, especially in motherhood.” But we only need to look at Mary, not only for her guidance and understanding, but also to help imitate any mothering skills that fall short. As we sing her praise, we may forget that Mary was human too. Mary was a real woman on earth who faced the very same fears and struggles mothers do today. She was a wife and mother who committed herself to doing all of the things that a great parent does: preparing and cooking meals, washing and mending clothes, washing dishes, changing diapers, worrying about her child as he matured, and going to bed exhausted after each long day of hard work caring for her husband and son. “There is certainly a lot to contemplate,” said Presutti. “She is a humanly mother, like all other mothers but, perhaps, like no other mother. And talk about making yourself completely vulnerable! God was asking a lot of Mary, and Mary threw herself into it. The only question she had for the angel who appeared to her was in regards to God’s expectations for her and it would all come about. Everything else was unknown and an absolute risk. And Mary allowed herself to be shaped very deeply by her child. A child inevitably shapes the mother.” Mary’s actions on earth exemplified the virtues of a loving mother--acceptance, patience, trust, endurance, courage, and strength. She said yes to carrying God’s only son--a request that was not only daunting but also unheard of--and stayed true to her promise with her beloved child unto the very end: from giving birth in a stable, to fleeing to Egypt to protect her newborn, to standing with her son as He grew up, and being with her son where no mother ever wants to be: in His final hours, watching in horror as He was condemned, brutally tortured and executed before her eyes.   “With God’s grace and Mary’s example,” said journalist and author Marge Fenelon in her book, Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom, “we can overcome any obstacles to becoming the loving, wonderful mothers we’re meant to be. In Mary, we have a mother worthy of emulation, but who is fully human with the same experiences and emotions we have. In her life, we find example, and in her virtue, we find inspiration. Mary can show us how to be the mothers we want to be — the mothers we can be.” Becoming a mother can be one of the most joyous moments a woman will experience in her life, and the love she feels for her child far outweighs the challenges that they may face in their future. It is not an easy journey, but Mary’s example sheds light on the path to overcome the fears and obstacles to becoming loving mothers.    “Whenever God acts in our life,” said Father Presutti, “He always applies those aspects: there’s sacrifice, and there’s a bliss to it. Whatever God does for us, He makes it a gift to others as well. The gift that God gave to Mary was highly personal and individualized to Mary, in a way only in which He could do. And through Mary that gift is a gift to every one of us.”

Stigmas Still Scare People From Counseling

What happens when we’re confronted with a problem? What do we do when we have an issue we’re trying to fix at work or trying to solve a problem in our schoolwork?  What do we do when we can’t fix something at home--a jammed window, a dislodged door, a flat tire on the car? What can we do when we’re having difficulty figuring something out on our own? Clearly, the expected solution would be to look for help from the outside. We reach out to our supervisors and co-workers to help address issues or to help complete projects at work. We research online for do-it-yourself remedies, or hire a specialist to fix problems with our home or vehicle. We call upon our professors, tutors and academic peers to conquer the hurdles of education. In facing our most personal troubles, we typically call on those closest to us or people we trust for guidance and assistance. We lean on our spouse, family and close friends for support when facing a personal crisis or emergency; we look to our pastors and ministers for spiritual guidance, and mental health counselors to help overcome mental or emotional blockades.     Or we don’t. We may continue to go solo, taking breaks away from the task before returning to find the solutions ourselves, or we may give up and move on to different things. Still others may choose to endure or continue enduring whatever issue they’re facing, refusing to acknowledge the possibility of needing help facing the issues they face. For some, asking for help is difficult. For some us, admitting that we need help feels like a sign of weakness and uselessness, which can be detrimental to the individual, especially in the case of mental health issues.   [caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="540"] The hit show “The Sopranos” circulates around a New Jersey mob boss’s sessions with a psychiatrist, highlighting the perception of weakness as well as the dangerous suspicions of spilling crime family secrets to outsiders.[/caption] According to the National Alliance on on Mental Illness (NAMI), millions of people face mental illness and mental health challenges in the United States each year, and the stigma that surrounds mental health--the fear and the lack of understanding, which can lead to isolation, shame, harassment, and even bullying and discrimination from others that can turn violent--can still be felt.   “When my husband asked me to keep his secret, I didn’t hesitate,” said Carolyn Ali in her New York Times piece, Alone With My Husband’s Secret. Carolyn and her husband worked to battle his depression on their own, taking care to avoid telling their families and loved ones. But the secrecy and the severity of his depression wreaked havoc on the two. As Carolyn attempted to navigate their way through the channels of the mental health system, her husband dropped out of the master’s program he was enrolled in and spent the majority of his days sleeping. When they did tell their family, he downplayed the severity of his depression and, after mustering every ounce of energy to appear upbeat through birthday gatherings and Christmas dinners, would crash for days once they returned home, utterly depleted. For Carolyn, maintaining the secret of her husband’s depression was costly for her as well. “Because it was his illness,” she wrote, “and he didn’t want to talk about it, I felt as if I had no right to talk about it either. So outside of my family and a few close friends, I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I didn’t talk about my frustrations in trying to find him proper medical care. I didn’t talk about how helpless and hopeless I felt as I tried to lift his mood. And I definitely didn’t talk about that leaden, sickening feeling I had every day after work as I pulled open the front door of my apartment: I’d check every room one by one, not knowing what I would find.” Two years after he spoke about his depression, Carlyn’s husband began to recover from his depression and, today, he is open about his history of mental illness and challenges the stigma himself, recognizing the impact the silence had on him and Carolyn, both individually and as a family. Today, the grip that the stigma of mental health seems to hold has been loosening in the U.S. A 2017 report from the Barna Group showed that approximately 42 percent of adults in the U.S. have met with a counselor at some point of their lives, and at least another 36 percent saying they’re at least open to seeing a counselor. That being said, the fear of seeing a counselor is still prevalent to this day. Dr. Benjamin Keyes is the Director of Training and Internships for the Eastern States for Divine Mercy University’s School of Counseling, Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies, and has spent his career helping people in the U.S. and around the world recover from traumatic or stressful situations while providing organizations with counseling and training, including Charlottesville Virginia following the of the White Supremacist Rally. “The stigma of having to go see a counselor or a psychologist is the perception of being seen as crazy or psychotic,” he said. “People think this true with their family, at work or the other people they may see on the day-to-day. The reality is that there are a lot of reasons as to why people meet with counselors.” Dr. Keyes has also worked with many individuals whose jobs put them in stressful environments and situations regularly, including firefighters and members of the military and police forces. “There’s a perception of ‘going to the shrink,’” he said, “and there’s a fear that this stigma may have a negative effect on their careers or hurt their chances at promotions so they may be more inclined to avoid counseling to avoid that appearance.”     Outside the U.S., the stigma of mental health still holds an even tighter grip, causing thousands of people around the world who need treatment for mental health issues to avoid seeking treatment altogether. Mental illness has a long history of being stigmatized around the globe, from being considered a sign of demonic possession in its early history, to being seen as a shortcoming or a sign of weakness today. For instance, in Korea, the concept of mental health simply does not exist. “In Korea, there is no such thing as mental health,” said Jin-Hee, a Korean-American mental health professional in an interview with the University of Washington’s Forefront Suicide Prevention center. South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and it’s been attributed to pressures relating to conformity for those in their 20s and 30s, loneliness, cultural dislocation, and lack of social connection for the elderly. But there’s still an aversion to accepting mental health treatment. According to Jin-Hee, depression is perceived as a sign of personal weakness instead of a clinical issue in Korea. Instead, it’s seen as a burden on a family’s reputation. “One is seen as ‘weak’ if they have a mental health issue,” she said. “People with mental health issues are seen as ‘crazy’ and the issue is something that must be overcome.” In Africa, the absence of treatment is the norm rather than the exception. In the face of many other challenges like conflict, disease, maternal and child mortality and intractable poverty, the importance of mental health is often neglected or overlooked typically due to a lack of knowledge about the extent of mental health problems, stigmas against those living with mental illness and beliefs that mental illness cannot be treated. The proportion of people with mental illness in Africa who don’t receive treatment ranges from 75 percent in South Africa to over 90 percent in Ethiopia and Nigeria.   “The stigmas are very pervasive in places like Eastern Europe and Africa,” said Dr. Keyes, “but the church in these nations and elsewhere is really making the inroads to address this, with pastors and clergy receiving education and counseling training to help their congregation and countrymen. Education goes a long way in rectifying these stigmas.” Research shows that tens of millions of people throughout the world will at some point in their life experience a mental health illness or disorder. It’s estimated that only half of those people will receive treatment, and the stigma and silence of mental health is a critical barrier that holds them back, leaving the individual without the critical help they need, and their loved ones--their spouses, siblings, parents and children--from receiving the essential support they need. “There are many different reasons people receive counseling,” Dr. Keyes said. “Some may be trying to help or save their marriage. Some may need an outlet for their anxiety while others go to address and treat depression. As counselors, we try to normalize the experience as much as possible.”   “If I could go back to that fall morning in our kitchen,” Ali said, “I would tell my husband this: ‘I know what you’re going through feels unbearable. It breaks my heart. I so desperately want to make things better. But we can’t keep this between us. We need as much support as possible to get the help you need. You are not alone.’”

Sharp Divide Overrules Mental Health

Written by Eric Kambach, Marketing Associate at Divine Mercy Universtiy. Sitting in a hospital room during an emergency, waiting to speak with a doctor builds a great anxiety that makes the heart race while simultaneously petrifying the body. Words of comfort fall over and around you like acorns in autumn, and thoughts bounce around inside your head of all things that have gone wrong and could go wrong, all followed by a great fear of not knowing what lies ahead. My wife had been admitted into the hospital’s high risk pregnancy unit just a week and a half before Christmas. The day before, we had met with the sonogram specialist at the pregnancy center we were visiting to try and discover the gender of our baby. All indications showed that our child was as healthy as can be, with all limbs accounted for and all organs developing well, but we were unsuccessful in learning if we were expecting a boy or a girl. Instead, we learned that my wife’s amniotic fluid levels were dangerously low and, later, that the reason for the low fluid levels was due to a rupture in the amniotic sac. My wife was immediately put on bedrest and began to drink gallons of water every day to supplement for the loss of fluids for the baby inside. In meeting with one of the doctors at the hospital, we discussed what our situation was and what our different options of care were with this fresh, frightening setback, which ranged from remaining in the hospital under constant monitoring--doing everything possible to keep from delivering too early--to immediate induced delivery via c-section if an infection was detected. As we went over everything, the doctor reminded us: another option is termination. Abortion is one of the most hotly contested and controversial issues in the United States. An electoral candidate can rise up or fall from the political landscape depending on views and affiliation of abortion, as it’s become one of the top three topics of discussion at political election debates, and your own opinion on the matter is almost considered a battle-cry declaration of your political and social affiliation. Movements and annual marches organized by proponents of both sides of the issue are attended by hundreds of thousands of participants. On one side, it’s a highly complex and difficult choice that’s accepted as a right and a means of protecting a woman’s physical, emotional, financial and social health based on the circumstances of the pregnancy. It can even be a means of saving the mother’s life in the case complicated pregnancies as a result of rape. It’s also considered as protection of the unborn child from a potentially difficult life, especially if any complications like disability and disorders are detected early on. In our case, our child’s death would mean us avoiding the financial burdens of a potentially extensive hospital stay, as well as any hardships that our child’s premature birth could bring about, including physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities or conditions.  On the other side, the right to terminate the pregnancy is a cold infringement on the child’s right to live, a dangerous shortcut escape from responsibility as a parent or certain anticipated hardships, a naziesque means of extermination and a multibillion dollar, government-funded industry of legalized murder. For us, it meant losing an otherwise perfectly healthy child. There are hundreds of surgical and medical procedures that are standard or common, but none are without their own risk of complications. No matter what side of the issue you’re on--whether you believe in the legitimacy of the practice and are trying to stand up for women’s rights or you believe the practice is murder that was wrongfully legalized--abortion itself is not a risk free operation. According to the abortion recovery nonprofit Ramah International, the procedure carries many different health risks that could cause serious complications, including scarring and injury on the uterine wall, blood clots in the uterus, pelvic infection and cuts or tears of the cervix. The procedure can even make it more difficult for the mother to get pregnant again. But in considering risks and complications of abortion, what’s very rarely touched on are the potential psychological and emotional repercussions that can hit those who have had the procedure. According to Dr. Priscilla K. Coleman, professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University, researching any connections between abortion and mental health is incredibly difficult due to how sensitive the topic is. “Perhaps even more serious than this,” she said in her 2017 article, Post-Abortion Mental Health Research: Distilling Quality Evidence from a Politicized Professional Literature, “are the well-entrenched, seldom-discussed professional gatekeepers, who encourage agenda-driven research and ignore fundamental scientific principles in order to fill journal articles with ‘evidence’ that abortion poses no risk to women’s health.”         But studies do show that mothers who have an abortion put themselves at risk of experiencing psychological and emotional repercussions of the procedure, a condition that’s been unofficially tagged Post Abortion Stress Disorder (PASS). One report released in 2017 from the European Institute of Bioethics--The Psychological Consequences of Abortion--found that mothers may experience different states of mourning or grief as a result as a result of having an abortion. Like mothers whose pregnancies end in miscarriage, mothers who abort can experience a similar denial and anger. They’ll then experience doubt over their decision and guilt over the loss. It can then lead to anxiety and depression in many different forms, such as eating disorders, loss of self-esteem, sleep and relationship trouble, and thoughts of suicide. Both the abortion and the emotional experiences that follow can lead the mother to mistreat those closest to her, creating psychological strain on family members. "When I became pregnant at 18, I had an abortion," said Michaelene Fredenburg on her website. She is the founder of AbortionChangesYou.com, an online refuge for those trying to recover from their abortion experience. "I was completely unprepared for the emotional fallout. I thought the abortion would erase the pregnancy. I thought I could move on with my life. I was wrong. I experienced periods of intense anger followed by periods of profound sadness. When my feelings became too difficult to deal with, I reached out for help from a trained counselor. With counseling and the help of supportive friends, I was able to enter into a healthy grieving process. In addition to grieving the loss of my child, I slowly became aware of how my choice to abort had impacted my family. I was surprised and saddened that my parents, my sister, and even my living children struggled to deal with the loss of a family member through abortion." For us, in weighing the risks and complications between alleviating possible short-term and long-term hardships of delivering prematurely and the risks of termination, we respectfully declined the doctor’s proposition and were admitted for the long run. Termination just wasn’t an option.  A week and a half into our hospital stay--exactly 24 weeks into our pregnancy--our son Jude was born (pictured above at two weeks old in the incubator). It's a fact of life today: not all pregnancies go according to plan, and not all pregnancies are planned. This can create a great fear of the decisions we'll have to make and of not truly knowing what challenges wait for us along the way. We look at abortion as a decision to eliminate those decisions; a resolution to a dire moment of fear; a restoration to a pre-pregnant identity; an easy fix to complicated health or circumstances; the safer alternative to a harder road ahead. But just as a pregnancy changes a mom and dad forever, so too does abortion. I look at my son, recovering from his early entry into the world--hooked to ventilators to help develop his lungs, lying in the incubator for the long haul to his original due date in April--and my mind drifts to an alternative scenario, if we had chosen to let him go. The very thought drives wounds into my heart to depths I, otherwise, would have never known existed.
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.