My Connection to Abortion

abortion fear grief health Aug 10, 2022
Charis Santillie's Mom, Diane, when she was 18, including when she was runner's up in a local town pageant
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🎧 👉 Prefer audio? You can also listen to me share about this in podcast episode #012 here.

This is my Mom’s story, which is now mine to share. 

She passed away 8½ years ago on Thanksgiving Day of 2013 due to liver disease from alcoholism. 

The first time I got her into rehab (more on that another day—I have a strong history of codependency and trying to save people, especially her), she wrote some journal entries.

This was rare; my Mom did not write or keep any other journals.

She also did not frequently express or process her true emotions. She and her family would jokingly share how when she was a child, she would go into her room and shut the door, and I think at one point, had a sign on her door with some kind of keep-out message.

As her life journey continued, I think she put her emotions in rooms deep inside of her and shut those doors too.

Only recently was I finally emotionally ready to read every word of the three journal letters about her pregnancy and what happened when she was pushed into traveling across the world to a foreign country by herself for an abortion when she was 18.

My first thoughts after reading them:
Holy crap. I have so much compassion for her. 

I’ve had these letters for about 10 years, and yet I have never fully read them—I just couldn’t bring myself to read them all the way through until now.

As I finally read every word, not only was I feeling emotions that I think she never got a chance to fully process, I was struck at how well written they were. She used words that I don’t remember her ever using.

I feel like these writings show me she was way more emotionally aware than I thought, yet she couldn’t be that way regularly—it was just too painful and scary. 

That realization brought me to tears.

I think I was in my early 30s when she told me for the first time about her abortion experience, yet the version she told me was so brief and nonchalant—it was skimming the surface of any emotions and vulnerability. 

My Mom was extremely generous, thoughtful, kind, and loving. And she was always worried about everyone and everything around her more than she was about herself. 

Knowing what I know now about fear, emotions, trauma, and this human experience in general—she was scared to death to feel her feelings. So she stuffed them away. And eventually, she drank them away.

Here are excerpts from Mom’s journal when she was 51 and in rehab for alcoholism:

Her letter to ‘John’ 

(I’m calling him John, as in John Doe)

Thirty-three years ago, you threw your responsibilities in the garbage, and as far as I’m concerned, your self-worth is spoiled.

Not at any time were you committed to our relationship. I thought I truly was in love, looking towards our future together. 

How could you leave town without a word?

I was alone, frightened, and ashamed, and I had a sense of terrible guilt. You got what you wanted, and you hurt me!

I accept responsibility for the decision I made—I was terrified and insecure.

When I visited your father behind his large office desk, he made me feel powerless, pressured, and with all his authority as an attorney. The result; this was the only answer.

I had the gut feeling he knew where you were all along. He had everything planned in a neat little package to solve another big problem that his stupid son did!!!

Did you ever wonder, just once, what I was feeling? 

Do you ever have thoughts of guilt?

And what about your baby I lost?

I’m sure the stress, anxiety, and despair played a part in my loss. But these sad circumstances did save my life.

I want you to feel how frightened I was to be alone, traveling to a foreign country, knowing I was going to have an illegal abortion that I was questioning.

All the suffering and hurt my parents went through and the terrible embarrassment and shame I felt.

The pain you have caused me is unforgettable, but I will not let this affect my future of love and happiness.


Her ‘Letter to Baby’

You didn’t get to come into this world, but I want you to know that doesn’t mean I didn’t love you!

I was not healthy emotionally, and I feel was too quick to abandon my responsibilities. 

I let someone else make my decisions for me. 

I want you to know you were conceived out of love, and I was very excited and had visions of our future together.

But I was angry, hurt, and confused.

I went along with someone else’s ideas with which to evaluate life. 

I knew I was a good person, and my heart was full of love and compassion.

But I am responsible for the decision, and with an aching heart, I ask for your forgiveness.

Sometimes I think my Higher Power knew I was sick and directed me in making my choices, and the results saved my life. 

I will never forget you, and remember absence does not diminish true love!

I love you,

Her journal entry about Japan

Around 18 years old, after 4 or 5 boyfriends, I thought I was deeply in love with John (who was 22?) Living at home–his father was an attorney in town–They had a home on the golf course, and his parents traveled a lot. We spent a lot of time at his house, at parties, etc. 

I got the shock of my life! I ended up pregnant. I wasn’t sure (if I was pregnant), and I didn’t want to hurt my parents, so before I told them, I went down and had a test and (confirmed) I was. I don’t remember much, except I didn’t want to hurt them.

I told John and then my mother. I don’t remember her being mad. We just worked it out. 

I was very independent and thought I was super strong. We decided to get married.

We planned the wedding, gown, bridesmaid dress, etc! 

4 or 6 weeks before the wedding, no one could find John—He had left town! 

His best friend lied to me and said he had no idea where he was, but he did!!

I was devastated (and) waited for days for him to call. 


I went into his father’s office. I asked him if he knew, I’m not sure if he did because they really didn’t get along, and John was not a dependable guy, I found out later. 

I don’t remember the details, but his father called me and had me come down to his office, and he had arranged an abortion for me in Japan.

This was thirty-three years ago and was illegal.

Everything was set (for me) to fly out of Seattle. Someone would meet me at the airport in Japan.

I couldn’t believe how long the flight was. (It) seemed like a day and a half on the same plane.

I was in the middle of the airport (in Japan) and saw my name on a sign a cabbie was holding.

Just before I saw the sign, a couple that knew Mom & Dad saw me and came over. I couldn’t believe it—(out of) hundreds of people in the Japan airport.

I told them some story that I was there for school or something.

I remember going down alleys. (They were) one way, skinny and dark and scary.

I thought to myself, ‘just get this done, and everything will be alright.’

I went into a small office with 2 rooms.

It didn’t look like a doctor’s office.

He told me to undress.

There was an operating table. They did an IV. I had no clue what that was, and I went to sleep.

I woke up in 2 or 3 hours.

They were very nice and told me I was a very lucky girl—The baby was dead, and said in probably 2 more days, I would have died of blood poisoning. 

They gave me antibiotics and a different prescription.

A cab picked me up and took me to a huge hotel.

It was beautiful!

I was still groggy and felt like I was floating on air.

I changed money into Japan money and went shopping for souvenirs—I must have been pretty drugged up!

I bought 3 or 4 items and walked back to the hotel, went up a walkway to a lounge, and ordered a cup of sake—I wanted to see how it tasted!

Then I went up to my room. There were 2 beds about 4 inches thick on the floor. (It was a) very crisp and oriental design.

I crawled into bed.

(The next day I) got into a cab and went back to the airport, and flew home to Seattle, where my Mom met me, and we drove home to our town that same night.

I can’t remember too much after that, except John called out of the blue—I had no idea where he was at.

He didn’t have any excuses or say he was sorry.

I yelled and cried and told him he almost killed me!

I never saw him again.

I’ve heard over the years he dropped out of college (and had) 2 or 3 divorces.

That’s the end of what she wrote about this.

It breaks my heart to know she went through what she did.

And then, when she was 45, her whole world crashed down with our hot air balloon accident.

I saw her lose so much—and yet, at that time, I had no clue how scary loss must have been for her.

I’m immensely grateful she and I did have each other for my beautiful childhood. It really was idyllic. I know she treasured that time with me, and I hope—I think—that it did help heal her a little from the loss of my sister.

So here I am. I am breaking the cycle, and I know she is beaming about that, how I’ve learned how to navigate my fears, and what I’m doing now to help others navigate theirs.

My Mom had locked away her feelings. 

She didn’t allow herself to experience or express her emotions. 

She didn’t know how to get her needs met and how to replace guilt and shame with self-love.

She often gave her power away.

These very significant life events, combined with her unhealthy coping mechanisms, ate away at her over the years and ultimately took her life at only 64 years old.

My family's hot air balloon accident happened when I was 19—and that trauma had a lasting effect on me. 

To think that when my Mom was a similar age, she had a big trauma too—I know deep in my heart and in my gut that she’d want me to tell her story.

If you’re now wondering what my stance is on abortion, let me say, first of all, that I really do have compassion for all “sides” of this issue. 

I believe that a part of our evolution as a collective and as individuals is that we need to open our minds and hearts so that we are not so judgmental of things and others.

I have a very dear friend who, if we consider how we’d each vote on this issue on a ballot, we know we’d vote differently, and yet she and I respect and honor, and love each other to the core utterly and completely. 

In fact, I told her I was going to do this episode, and she wholeheartedly agreed that I needed to do it. We had a powerful, thoughtful conversation about the topic, and we also agreed that this, like so many things in life, is not black and white. 

It is not simple. It is extremely complex. 

And more stories need to be told about all kinds of life experiences. 

More people need to unlock the doors of the rooms inside them where they’ve locked away their feelings. 

More forgiveness and understanding will result. And then we won’t feel so divided.

I am not pro-abortion, yet I am pro-choice.

The shame of getting pregnant can be enormous and take a huge toll on a woman—as it did on my Mother. 

The shame and fear of doing something illegal should not be something else that can be piled on top of that.

What my Mom didn’t write about was that she and her family were connected to a very strict church during her childhood that I’ve been told really shamed her family for her becoming pregnant. 

She did not have any people supporting her to have that baby. She was in a small town in the 60s, barely 18 years old, abandoned by the baby’s father, and then being told by a powerful man how she was going to take care of this situation.

Something I would love to come out of you hearing this today is that you become more aware of when you start to judge anyone for their decisions or values. (I'm working on this too.)

Remind yourself that you don’t really know about their experiences and what led to them making various choices, just like they don’t really know about your experiences and what led to your choices. 

And yet, at the core, we are each dealing with the same inner challenges fundamentally; we’re dealing with our fears and the feelings we’ve locked away in our own inner rooms.

Please also remember that life is FULL of paradoxes.

And this story is just one of many examples of that.

It turns out that because my Mom went to have an illegal abortion, her life was saved, and then just 8 years later, I was able to come into this world as her daughter.

So had it not been for that experience, you wouldn’t be reading my words right now.

Yet here I am.


I love you, Mom

Black & white photos: my Mom when she was 18, including when she was runner up in her town pageant. Archery was her favorite sport; she was the girl's Northwest champion for two years and Washington state champion for two years. She also liked sewing and painting.

Framed color photo: my Mom when she was in her early 40s, on vacation a few years before our hot air balloon accident

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  courage to change the things I can,  and the wisdom to know the difference. ” 

– Serenity Prayer

🎧 👉 Prefer audio? You can also listen to me share about this in podcast episode #012 here.

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