Abortion began, not ended, problems
Counselor found healing through faith and seeks to offer same to others
By Maryangela Layman Román
Milwaukee Catholic Herald
The Green Bay Diocese, with funding from the Bishop's Appeal, helps promote healing for all the survivors of abortion through Project Rachel. These Project Rachel opportunities are scheduled this month:
Changing Hearts: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 21, Melania Hall, Green Bay diocesan campus, evening of reflection on a culture of life presented by Vicki Thorn.
Healing Lives: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 22, Melania Hall, diocesan campus, for mental health professionals, on helping people after abortion, led by Vicky Gossens.
Understanding the Healing Process: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 22, Bosco Hall, diocesan campus, for anyone who provides medical and emotional support to those affected by abortion, presented by Vicki Thorn.
Information: (920)437-7531 or 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8310.
MILWAUKEE -- The bells jingled on the door of the south side Pregnancy Help Center of Milwaukee, Inc., as a young couple toting a baby in a carrier entered, disregarding the handwritten sign on the door which read "closed from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m."
In halting Spanish, center director Pattie Meixelsperger, 51, of St. Mary Parish, Elm Grove, asked the young couple if they could return at about 3 p.m.
They could, they said, but Meixelsperger quickly reconsidered and asked a visiting Catholic Herald reporter and photographer if they'd mind waiting instead. She didn't have the heart to turn the young people away -- even if only for an hour.
No doubt her empathy for Maria, 20, stemmed from her own experience of being pregnant, unwed and scared, at age 18, over three decades earlier.
At the time, Meixelsperger, daughter of devoutly Catholic parents, was a freshman in college at "the beginning of the sexual liberation." She said she became caught up in the culture and found herself pregnant.
The father of the baby, someone Meixelsperger expected to be in a relationship with for a long time, was emphatic that abortion was their only answer. It was four years before the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, yet the procedure was available, said Meixelsperger.
When she was about seven weeks pregnant, too scared to tell her family, Meixelsperger had an abortion in a Milwaukee hospital.
"I thought I was probably the only Catholic woman who had ever had an abortion," she said. She spent the next 12 years trying to convince herself it had never happened.
She finished college and graduated with an art degree. But even though life went on, she now knows she was suffering from common post-abortion symptoms: low self esteem, struggles with schoolwork, unexplained bouts of depression.
Abortion effects marriage
At age 25, she married, but the marriage lasted only three years. She attributes its failure to her abortion.
"I think it played a part in the choices I made in terms of a spouse, and in the kind of communication skills I brought with me into the relationship," she said. "For three years, I was completely shut off."
She didn't tell her then-husband about the abortion, but her own grief and guilt affected her marriage. She gave birth to a daughter, Jessica, now 26 and a student at Mount Mary College, while married.
"I feel very blessed that I have a daughter, because I have three friends, beautiful women who aborted their first children and could never have other children," she said. "I've seen their pain and it is so very sad."
Meixelsperger was able to work through the pain in her own life about 12 years after the abortion. She was away from the Catholic Church for much of that time, but she took a chance on going to confession.
"The compassion I got in confession from that priest, it was a big step in healing. Hearing him tell me that God forgave me and that I should stop being so hard on myself. To hear those words from a priest, it was wonderful," she said.
Shortly after, Meixelsperger's sister invited her to go to Holy Hill. While browsing in the gift shop, she stumbled on a 25-cent pamphlet that dealt with forgiveness and healing after a miscarriage or abortion.
The 25-cent investment proved to be worth a fortune, Meixelsperger said. It led to a series of prayers and encouraged her to name her unborn baby, which she became convinced was a boy. She called him John after John the Baptist who also died a violent death and had a Mass said for him.
It also led her to the Pregnancy Help Center of Milwaukee office, where she volunteered. When the Southside Pregnancy Help Center had a vacancy two years ago, Meixelsperger was eager to give up her job with Sears Home Product Services to take on the directorship.
"It's really a beautiful apostolate," she said of the center, which draws people in with the lure of a free pregnancy test. Once inside the office, decorated with a photo of Our Lady of Guadalupe on one wall, several Marian statues throughout and a sunset photo of Holy Hill on another wall, women like Maria are given a pregnancy test.
When like Maria, the test is positive, they are offered counseling, a variety of written resources, referrals, the opportunity to see a four-minute video, The Hard Truth, which graphically depicts the abortion experience, and, if needed, clothing and other baby supplies. The center sees about 100 women a month.
After learning about her positive pregnancy test, Maria asked Meixelsperger to show the abortion video to her brother who had accompanied her to the center.
Catholics need to speak up
Meixelsperger said the church and other organizations should speak out for chastity.
"Everything in terms of movies, music, the fashion industry, everything is unconsciously promoting sex and we are not speaking out strongly enough for chastity," she said, noting she relishes the opportunity her position provides to do just that.
She can not only help steer young women away from making the same mistake she did, but can preach abstinence and can warn about sexually transmitted diseases.
While admittedly the grief of her own abortion will never be completely gone, Meixelsperger said helping others heal through faith is her mission. She participates in retreats for post abortive men and women twice a year and whenever the opportunity provides, she seeks to educate others on its impact.
"It's so important as a Catholic to evangelize and to not be afraid to say the truth," she said. "In my life, I'm convinced that my faith helped me heal. The Blessed Mother never let go of me. She led me to Holy Hill and she opened the doors for me and allowed me to see what I had done and to ask for forgiveness."