Alden Boon

By 19, Jennifer Heng Already Had Two Abortions. This Is Her Story of Secret Shame, Self-forgiveness and Triumph.

14/02/2018

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Jennifer Heng abortion lakeside safe place
Jennifer on a mission trip in 2001.

The ensuing guilt in the aftermath of an abortion… you can suppress it but it never actually goes away.

A revelation came to me years after I had my second abortion: By dehumanising my unborn babies, I was dehumanising myself. The guilt manifested in many ways. I disliked being around children. I was paranoid whenever I was around children: When I looked into their eyes, it was as if on some level they knew I had killed two of their kind. The guilt would return whenever someone had a conversation about children or abortion. I was living in secret shame.

As a society, we have developed and become more understanding towards unplanned pregnancies. At the clinic, we now have brochures and pamphlets for patients to read so they can make a more informed decision. There is also access to a counsellor. However, no one ever talks about the regret that comes with having an abortion. It is a haunting memory a woman has to live with for the rest of her life.      

Your personal breakthrough only came seven years later, when you were twenty-six years old and attending the Discipleship Training School organised by Youth with a Mission. Tell us about it.

During the final week of the School, a guest speaker came. He began praying for us, and when he did so for the classmate seated beside me, his words pierced my heart. Where I drew the strength from I do not know, but I said that I’d like for him to pray for me. Right there and then, before forty people whom I had known for only five months, I talked about my dad’s abandonment, my destructive relationships, and revealed my darkest secrets: the abortions.

I could sense my classmates’ shock. The speaker then sat me down, placed a towel on his shoulder, and pressed my head on to his shoulder. A floodgate opened, and I wept and wept and wept. He then told me that God loves me, and has forgiven me. For the first time in my life, I felt acceptance, love, forgiveness and compassion. Instantly, the guilt and shame I had lived with for so many years were lifted.

You were able to forgive yourself because of God’s grace. What about girls or women who do not have a relationship with or believe in a god? How can they achieve self-forgiveness?

Forgiving ourselves is the hardest thing to do. I know exactly what I have done; I know exactly the selfish intention that compelled me to do this very thing. I cannot run away from the truth. To that I say, if you flip it around, forgiving yourself is easier than forgiving someone else. You cannot control someone else’s behaviour, but you can squarely face what you have done, and then choose to move on. Don’t let the rest of your life be determined by the mistakes you have made.

Jennifer Heng abortion Lakeside Safe Place
It gets better: Today, Jennifer is happily married to a great man, and has a beautiful daughter named Alexis.

You tried reconciling things with Boon, but were met with hostility when you told him you forgave him for not being there for you, and also cheating you of your money. What have you learnt about forgiving others?   

That forgiveness is a choice: Between forgiving and forgetting, the former is an easier option. It is also a fine line between forgiveness and trust; many people grapple with the two. It does not mean that you have to trust the person again if you forgive him.

We often use forgiveness as a condition to impel someone to change. “Why should I forgive him? He would still be the same.” Forgiving a person who has wronged us is something we must do for ourselves. It is not just a one-off thing; it has to be a way of life. Forgiving is like exercising — in the beginning you hate it, it hurts like crazy, but you get better and stronger at it as you commit to doing it over time. It frees you.

Through it all, after all the sneaking about, dating men for the wrong reasons, the secret shame from the abortions, how did you manage to not only extricate yourself from the chaos but also make a new life for yourself?

One of the key things is learning to be accountable. As I got older, I made it a point to have at least one person in my life whom I’m very terrified to go to when I make a mistake. Terrified to face that look of disappointment. Yet this person loves me enough, and will protect me from my own stupidity. Not many people embrace this, because it means being very vulnerable. Building this support system of trusted companions is the best thing I have done for myself, other than building a family with my husband and daughter.

Find this someone. It could be a relative, friend, teacher or neighbour. There is definitely someone in your circle you can lean on.

Like a cactus that survives the harshest conditions, you became inured to your hardships, and now use your own experiences to reach out to girls and women in crises. What made you decide to embark on this path?

I had a father figure when I was younger; his name is Robert Yeoh. He and his wife were leaders in my church. I would rant to him about my endless problems, and he was always patient, and would always wear the same stoic expression.

He gave an analogy then that I still remember to this day. He used the example of Westin Stamford (now the Swissôtel The Stamford), billed at that time as the world’s tallest hotel. He said, “Jennifer, you’re currently on the 16th floor, whereas I am on the 50th floor. If a storm is coming, who do you think will see it first? From your perspective, everything still looks peachy and nice. We have been where you are; we see things from a much higher vantage.”

It made the arrogant teenager in me realise that there were in fact people who were wiser than I. His words never left me, and they became a form of protection. I truly believe that if not for Robert, I would have gone down worse paths in my life. I think many people are searching for their own Robert Yeohs — someone who would sit with them and wait out the storm. Through my work, I hope to be a Robert Yeoh for someone.

Hope is very important. For some people, that sense of hopelessness can be so overwhelming that they take their own lives. If you find yourself in such a situation, think about the people you love and the things you care about. Find the one thing that is good in your life. Stay alive for one more day. One more moment. What if? What if something comes along? What if you miss it by just a day?

Wish to get in touch with Jennifer? Write to her at [email protected]

To purchase a copy of Jennifer’s autobiography “Walking out of Secret Shame”, click here.

Find more inspirational stories here. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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