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Monday, September 8, 2003

Yesterday's edition of Parade, the Sunday supplement, has a cover story by Dr. Joyce Brothers called "Family Secrets: We All Have Them. Should We Tell?"

When I saw the cover, I thought, "The biggest family secret in American families today is about abortions. But there's no way she'll mention that."

I was wrong.

In a section headlined "Toxic Secrets", Brothers writes:

"Keeping a secret within a family can exact a toll by generating anxiety and distorting relationships. These poisonous secrets usually concern such issues as abortion, adoption, abandonment, out-of-wedlock birth, incest, past marriages, divorce, suicide, alcohol or drug dependency and serious illness, particularly mental illness."

Shiver me timbers.

I don't overestimate the impact of this one small reference, but for a widely distributed, completely mainstream American magazine to throw "abortion" into a list of modern social ills--the kind we are ashamed of and don't want others to know about--speaks volumes about the changing perception of abortion.

That said, one of the biggest issues that weighs on the mind of post-abortive people is whether they should tell people about their abortion. I know many women who would very much like to "go public" with their abortion experience in order to help other women in crisis pregnancies make a life-affirming choice. However, they'd have to tell their own children, their spouse--lots of other people.

"Would it hurt my kids if I told them? How might they react? Do I have an obligation to tell them? Should I tell my fiance that I had three abortions in my teens? Should I tell my mom and dad that I had an abortion years ago?"

The question we balance is whether the person we will tell will be helped more or hurt more by the revelation. The truth is, it is very hard to know.

The Joyce Brothers article, although it only touches the surface, does a good job helping people start to think this through.

On the one hand, she criticizes our tell-all society, appropriately. We need to be aware that when others hear our secret, while we may feel better, it is most likely not a peaches-and-cream experience for them.

On the other hand, by keeping a secret, we are often undermining our relationship with the person who doesn't know. As Brothers writes,

"When people who are close are not completely honest with each other, certain avenues of intimacy are invariably cut off." She also points out that it takes a lot of energy to keep a secret hidden. That constant vigilance, and the energy we put into hiding ourselves, does negatively impact our relationship with our loved ones, whether we realize it or not.

Brothers also emphasizes a reality we need to be aware of: You cannot ever predict how someone will react when you tell them. You may have heard plenty of rosy stories about a husband or a mother embracing a woman who reveals her abortion secret, and offering support, love and understanding. That doesn't mean that YOUR mother or husband will react that way. You never know.

Whether to tell other people--and coping with their reaction--is an occasion to throw ourselves more completely on God's grace.

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