Abortion grief is both similar and different for many people. For some, the grief is immediate, while for others it takes years before the full weight of the matter is felt and/or recognized. Sometimes there is a mysterious grief or depression that is not even linked back to the abortion even when seeing a counselor or therapist.
My grief was both immediate and insidious. Since I didn’t want the abortion to begin with, I had to sort of turn off my brain in order to carry myself through the motions of that day. At the same time I turned off my emotions related to that day as well. But my brain wouldn’t remain switched off over time. And over time, the sorrow I had denied began to surface and bouts of depression began to creep in.
Some people have anniversary grief on or around the due date that their baby would have been born. My anniversary grief was different. It revolved around Thanksgiving. My abortion appointment was on the Monday following Thanksgiving that year. So on that day of thankfulness, preparing and eating lots of delicious food, I instead was suffering from morning sickness that I had to hide. I had to pretend to enjoy the smells of the food being cooked all day long and then force myself to eat when I had no appetite. So now, when Thanksgiving comes around I’m not only reminded of what I did the following Monday, I’m also reminded of the act I had to put on that day and many other days following.
I’ve pretended a lot over the years in an attempt to keep my secret and even to avoid the entire topic of abortion. It’s exhausting and lonely to constantly exert that much energy to keep people at a distance from you. I had a hard time making friends, especially close friends, as a result. Healing from my abortion has relieved all of this exhausting and debilitating work of hiding my secret from my schedule. I am free to be open and honest, make friends, lose friends sometimes, but either way, to have actual true relationships.
My marital relationship suffered as well. A little known fact is that men suffer from abortion trauma as well as women. Even though they don’t of course have the physical ramifications that women have to endure, many men suffer heavy emotional trauma in silence just like women and sometimes even more so because of false public belief that the men are uninvolved in the decision, that it’s completely up to the woman because it’s her body, and that men in turn have no right to emotional trauma. Men suffer emotions like anger, anxiety, depression, feeling powerless, feeling as if they failed as a father to protect and provide for their child(ren), suicidal thoughts, and many more. I don’t want to speak for my husband here, but many of his anger issues were resolved or greatly reduced once I began working through my own healing and communicating to him what I was learning. Our communication on this and many other topics was opened like never before.
Abortion recovery is much more than just an exercise in dredging up horrible memories. It affects and transforms layers upon layers of areas that guide and affect us in everyday life, relationships, marriages, and as I’ve shared previously how we parent our children. For as long as we try to deny it, abortion grief is there, and it won’t go away on its own. I hope that you or someone you know who suffers in silence will look for and look into the resources available to you in your local area. Here are a few resources I’ve been involved with:
- Care Net Family Resource Center (Kenosha and Racine, WI)
- Care Net (National organization with over 1100 crisis pregnancy centers nationwide)
- Pregnancy Decision Line: 1-877-791-5475, call, chat or email
- Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats (International organization with 196 retreat sites in 41 countries, available in 19 languages, as of 2011)
- Forgiven and Set Free by Linda Cochrane, available through many book distributors (best done in a group setting with someone trained to lead you through it)
- Healing a Father’s Heart by Linda Cochrane and Kathy Jones (also available through many book distributors and best done in a group with a trained leader)
There are many other crisis pregnancy centers, groups, healing programs and materials that can be found online.
The five classic stages of grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are present with the loss of abortion, but they can manifest in such different and extreme ways to the loss of a family member by death caused by say heart attack, fire, accident, or any means really. What exacerbates the grief of abortion is the choosing of the act by the woman, or the choice having been made for her by someone else. Either way, at some point, it is very likely that looking back and regretting making that fatal decision on behalf of another human being carries with it heavy and additional burdens than the experience of loss where there was no decision to be made about it. I don’t mean in any way to minimize loss, as I have experienced a tremendous amount of loss myself over the years. What may be hardest for an outsider to grasp is possibly the assumption that the person who made the abortion choice does not have permission to feel grief in any stage or degree because that person chose the act. While this may seem logical, as human beings, a choice of this magnitude inevitably causes emotions no matter how dreadful the woman’s situation had been beforehand or how confident she was in her decision. Although initially strong and resilient, over time, these emotions will surface, and the hard but loving response would be to hear the person out without denying or minimizing, or especially without condemning that person for the choice made, but instead offering forgiveness, love and support.
Only when someone has walked through grief and recovery can they offer clear and helpful insight for the people around them. I pray for the many generations of women and men now, since we’ve seen four decades go by since abortion has been made legal, to receive healing so that we can talk about this thing out loud to each other and let it be known for the excruciatingly hard path it takes us down.
One last thing, I can’t miss this opportunity to talk about grieving the losses that an unplanned pregnancy creates, specifically the losses women, men, teens, families, friends, churches, schools and others feel when a woman learns of an unplanned pregnancy. There can be loss of youth, innocence, dreams and goals, financial hardship, health issues, all sorts of things to grieve as a result of this news. If we could learn to face the grief and talk about it and talk through all the ramifications of this news, and openly name and grieve the losses, then we can move forward with plans on how to best handle the news, most importantly how to support the lives of everyone involved, of course the baby, but just as important, the mother and father, and many others affected, grandparents, teachers, friends, etc. If we could learn to talk through these things and support each other instead of condemning and judging each other, all before an abortion choice is made, what a different path this could potentially lead to for everyone involved.