The Aftermath


Are you hurting from abortion in your past?

“I felt pressured by society into having an abortion at 17. I was told “you are doing the right thing.” I asked if it was too late.  I tried to back away from the doctor but he got frustrated with me and said “Put her out.” He didn’t bother to ask me if I changed my mind.

“When I woke up, the nurse asked how I was; I said “I feel empty.” She replied we have sandwiches for that.

“The abortion stripped me of anything good, leaving me feeling unforgivable and unworthy. I traveled a road of depression and anger trying to cope through substance abuse and an eating disorder. I had trouble for years feeling connected to my children and forgiving myself. ” 

Are you coping with unremitting grief, guilt, or remorse?  Are you burdened with chronic anger, addictions, or relationship problems?  Do you suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or sleep disturbances? Do you have difficulty with anniversaries or other reminders of your abortion experience?  Do you feel alienated and alone inside?  Do you have a problem trusting the opposite sex?

Were you “ok”? After the abortion, and then years later found yourself coming apart and unable to recover after a divorce, the death of a loved one, or another loss (loss of fertility, job loss, empty nest)?

The choice of abortion goes against a woman’s maternal nature, and against a man’s nature as protector and provider.  Usually, both men and women make the choice against conscience, upbringing, beliefs, even feelings.  Thoughts are conflicted, and a decision is taken without full knowledge, under pressure, and in fear.  But it is a decision with permanent consequences  – a child that the body, the mind, the instincts and the soul cannot forget.  Abortion is not the worst sin, but it feels like the worst afterwards.

Each person’s situation and response is different, but there are common patterns to the aftermath of abortion.  The symptoms are usually those of avoiding, re-living, or feeling guilty about the traumatic event of abortion, an event that impacted your body, mind, and spirit.

A trauma is any event that you have experienced or witnessed, an event which involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, and during which you felt intense fear or helplessness.  Abortion qualifies as a traumatic event for most people.

   Avoiding: Perhaps you avoid people or places associated with your abortion, information or media about life      issues, or anything that reminds you of that time.  Perhaps you have avoided relationships, children, or God.        Many people try to avoid things that remind them of pregnancy, such as baby showers.  Often they will find          themselves irritated with friends who are pregnant, or with relatives who have a child around the same age,          and they feel guilty for their feelings.

Most people try to avoid thoughts and feelings of abortion, and try to deny them or push them down.  Sometimes people can’t even remember aspects of their abortion.  You can’t push down just one feeling, though.  Instead, what happens is that the emotions themselves can get blunted, so that one is numb and detached from people and things.  Many people avoid sex, or can’t even feel it anymore.

With so much internal stress involved in suppressing thoughts and feelings, people often lack energy to invest in outside interests, activities, and relationships.  Sometimes, men and women who have had abortions have a sense of “no future for me.”  They don’t expect marriage, family, career, or even a long life.

Re-Living: Deep down, we all want to heal, so we consciously or unconsciously re-experience or revisit the hurtful event to resolve it somehow.   People can have recurrent distressing thoughts or images.  They can have dreams of abortion or of the child.  Sometimes, a person might feel as if the event were re-occurring, or even have hallucinations.  Things that we connect to the abortion experience, even unconsciously (like medical exams, music, smells, even sex), can cause intense distress.  Anything that reminds you of the relationship, or of the abortion, might trigger anxiety reactions or anger.

Sometimes we try to re-do the abortion experience through atonement pregnancies.  Or we imitate the experience with bulimia or with physically abusive relationships.  Or we repeat it with repeated abortions (more than half of those who abort will have another abortion, and many of them get pregnant close to the due date of the aborted babies). Sadly, many people have trouble bonding with their children.  They are over-attached but not bonded, or they are abusive, or they are excessively demanding of performance.

Sometimes our emotions and nervous system just get stuck on “on” after a traumatic event, and we develop sleep problems, general irritability or anger, difficulty concentrating, and all of the hyper-reactivity to abortion cues mentioned above.  You may also be hyper-vigilant or over-defensive. In general. Many people have an exaggerated startle response.

This is an exhausting and unproductive way to live, and it doesn’t help you or your child.  Nor does it make God happy.

Survivor guilt: You may feel guilty for being alive when your child is not.  People may be depressed, or have thoughts of suicide. (Suicide is much higher after abortion than after childbirth). You may unconsciously try to punish yourself with promiscuity, substance abuse,  self-injury, or abusive relationships.  You may just sort of shut down your own life, feeling that you don’t deserve much fun or happiness or love.

Survivor guilt can lead to overcompensation, too.  The blow to self-esteem from abortion is such that sometimes a person can’t believe she (or he) could have done such a thing, so she works hard to prove she is good.  Perhaps you have invested everything in the education or the career for the sake of which you had (or were forced to have) the abortion.  Perhaps you became very religious, even a leader in your church community—yet inside you feel hollow.  You may have become an abortion advocate, or a pro-life advocate.  Often the strident rhetoric from either side of the debate comes from those who have an unhealed abortion wound.

Moral guilt. Try as we like, we can’t avoid guilt.  Our nature knows what happened and knows it was wrong.  This guilt can be the hardest burden after abortion, and it seems permanent, because the child is gone.

But God had a plan when He made you, and that plan includes a way to fix whatever goes wrong. God does not want you to carry the burden of guilt.  And He does not want you to punish yourself.  He wants you to come to His mercy, and heal through love.  This brings us to the central fact of abortion.

LOSS

In the trauma of abortion, a person witnesses the death of the self they thought they knew, and often experiences betrayal and injury at the hands of others.  More fundamentally, in abortion we experience the attack on the child.

The central fact of abortion is the loss of a child. That child was someone’s son or daughter, someone else’s grandchild, and was a sibling, niece or nephew, cousin, and neighbor.  This loss is not acknowledged or grieved, but it is felt nonetheless.

Grief. With abortion, one feels no right to grieve.  How can one grieve, when one helped bring about the loss? How can one grieve, when one has no remains, no name, no memories, no normal relationship?  The unfinished grief that follows abortion is profound.  But it is often avoided or delayed.

Relief. Your initial reaction to abortion may have been relief.  You were relieved that it was over, that the crisis seems to have been resolved, that the people who wanted you to abort are satisfied.  But relief may have lasted only a few hours to a few days or weeks.

Loss. Most people feel an immediate emptiness, often at the very moment of the abortion.  At that point, they know, sometimes for the first time, that a child is gone.  This fact is too much to face.

Denial. The fundamental loss is the loss of one’s child.  Often, this loss is denied because it is too painful to face the loss of a child and our part in it.  Denial lets us pretend we don’t have any negative feelings about the abortion.  It can involve all the suppression of feeling and thought noted above, or it can involve rationalization.  It can last 7 to 15 years, sometimes more.  During this time, the grief from this loss is blocked.  Sometimes people find substitutes for real grief in work or substances or relationships.  Sometimes people do grieve, but the grieving is not healthy, because they cannot resolve it.  Most people, men and women, try not to think about this loss.  Such a great loss, one that your body itself is aware of, is hard to ignore, however.  It takes effort to repress awareness of the loss, and to repress the natural grief reaction.  When you repress one emotion, you tend to repress your emotional life, so one of the main effects of blocked grieving is emotional numbness.  Eventually denial gives way.  Anger, bargaining, and depression jostle for the ruling role in our personality.

Other losses.  Soon after the abortion, you probably experienced the loss of your boyfriend (or girlfriend).  This loss may be the one you focused on.  This loss alone is a difficult one, but there may have been many more.  You may have lost a close relationship with a family member—mother, father, sister, brother, cousins, grandparents—because of the secret between you, or because one of them was instrumental in the abortion.  The abortion may have cost you self-respect.  You may have lost a sense of a close relationship with God, a feeling of belonging in your church, or a sense of worthiness to be loved.  Eventually, abortion’s effects can cause losses in the fields of work and education.  Finally, abortion can cause loss of health and fertility.

Unhealthy grief. The symptoms of unhealthy grieving are similar to the symptoms with which we respond to trauma.  No wonder you have had problems!

If you block your grief, bury your feelings . . .well, your feelings get buried.  You could self-medicate, compensate, develop eating disorders, workaholism, perfectionism, or sexual dysfunction.  You could develop phobias, dissociation, or even cast yourself in the victim or martyr role—it beats facing the death of a child, after all.

Some people are stuck in grief, but blocked from finishing the process. They focus on death and punishment.  They may have death anxiety, overreact to other separations, develop obsessive thought or compulsive behaviors, punish themselves, avoid intimacy, and be fixated on remorse.

After any death, it is normal to have disbelief sadness, anger, fear, shock, confusion, difficulty concentration, preoccupation, crying, self-reproach, and lack of energy—for a while.  But when these and worse symptoms seem to have no object, or go on and on, they are signs that there is a deeper problem.

The good news is that these traumas and losses can be resolved, and their effects healed.  Through honestly facing reality in all its aspects, and reconciling with your child, you can experience peace and freedom and, yes, even joy.