|| POST ABORTION TRAUMA HEALING SERVICE
Breaking the silence - information, hope and healing after abortion
Newsletter Excerpts 2007
Women who share their stories with us have all suffered abortion-related grief: a depth of grief they were not prepared for and which many still carry. But they go unheard.
Conventional wisdom has it that abortion is mostly trouble-free, that it is really no big deal, an easy fix. Abortion is promoted as a procedure without repercussions and attempts to discuss it have become constrained. Emotional trauma after an abortion is treated with disdain and often dismissed, and those who are troubled are made to feel invisible, isolated and alienated.
The grief of women is documented in books such as “Giving Sorrow Words” by Melinda Tankard-Reist (Duffy & Snellgrove 2000) and “Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion” by Theresa Burke (Acorn Books 2002) and is witnessed and shared with post-abortion counsellors and pastors both here and overseas. It is not a new phenomenon.
However, attitudes towards women, and even more so men, overwhelmed by grief following abortion demonstrate a cruel indifference to their pain. Their suffering is often discounted and considered to be a figment of their imagination, and their feelings of guilt and remorse merely a by-product of social or religious conditioning. They are deemed to be oversensitive, psychologically unstable and victims of ill-founded conditioning.
The politics surrounding abortion also help to drown out the voices of those harmed by it. How free are women, or men, to share their anguish when abortion is so socially accepted and extolled as “an act of individual self-determination” “empowering” “a right for women” “ a rite of passage for women” “a positive moral and social good” “a source of transcendence and growth”? Those adversely affected, and those who speak out are viewed as an embarrassment, and are accused of being melodramatic and letting the side down.
Post-abortive women’s suffering is generally not attributed to the nature of the procedure itself or the circumstances that surround them pressuring them into a decision to terminate a pregnancy and end the life of their unborn. Rather for those who are adversely affected it is communicated to them that they are only upset because they choose to get upset. For example, it is implied that if they chose to regard the foetus as a bunch of cells and not a little human being with a beating heart and a bond with their mother they would not have a problem. So often they are encouraged to continue to rationalise their decision and deny their true heart in the experience. Because the majority appear unaffected, those who find themselves haunted, tortured or grieving after their abortion experience, are told or given the message to get over it, it was for the best and to carry on with life as if nothing were amiss. Women whose lives are shattered by an abortion find their experience is trivialised, even often by those in professional health and caring roles. Grief for an aborted baby is forbidden grief; it remains taboo.
In reality a woman never forgets a pregnancy, her baby and what might have been - she has nothing to mark that there was a baby and now there is no baby. When the baby is lost there are no memories or visible reminders of the baby but there is often a “feeling of emptiness and nothingness”, an uneasy and anxious void. She bears alone the mantle of silent maternal suffering. She needs to know hope and to know she is not alone in her grief. She needs to face what happened through the abortion, to return to herself and to restore her relationship with her aborted little one. She needs to find peace.
- By Carolina Gnad
Mother-daughter relationships are really important. A woman’s self
identity has to some extent been born of that relationship and it
remains a significant relationship in a woman’s life no matter what her
age or situation. The mother-daughter relationship can impact greatly
the outcome of a decision. Scenarios are many and varied. A mother may
A daughter’s pregnancy decision can affect or fracture that
relationship depending on the situation, history, personalities, dreams
and values of the people involved. Whilst it is easy to think a woman
can make a pregnancy decision independently and autonomously I wonder
if that is the case. In recognising the context of abortion and
understanding the wider influences there is no getting away from the
overt and subtle reality of messages and pressures that influence her
decision. A mother, by very nature of being mother is an influence,
whether an active influence or passive influence. The existence and
nature of that unique relationship makes it so.
Abortion and the Christian
Abortion is not selective - those from any walk of life and culture, rich or poor, Christian or other religious faith may opt for abortion. What can it mean for a person with a Christian belief ?
Christian belief brings a perspective to abortion and the abortion experience for those who hold the beliefs that may differ from that of those who do not adhere to such beliefs or come from alternative religious or other belief systems. What are some specific beliefs and influences that impact the post-abortive woman who is Christian? It is worth noting that for some women beliefs at the time of the pregnancy-abortion decision and the abortion may later alter, for example, where someone reaffirms their Christian beliefs or converts to Christianity years afterwards. The new perspectives can shift and initiate or impact different responses now to what they were then, to material around the abortion experience that may surface.
Scripture expresses how life comes from God, and is sacred and special from its smallest beginnings “It is you who created my inmost self and put me together in my mother’s womb” (.Ps 139:13) and offers the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13, Rm 13:9).
What happens then for a woman who holds such beliefs and opts for abortion as the solution to the problem of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? What conflicts and turmoil of mind, and heart or soul naturally ensues? What needs to happen to allow her to go ahead with something that is in conflict with her real heart and core beliefs? How does a person reconcile the assent to and action of abortion with a personal moral code that is in opposition to the underlying philosophy or current social attitudes around abortion?
Sometimes women speak of that feeling of having “no other choice”. If in crisis, she may not be thinking clearly, or necessarily able to sift through and work through all the issues and feelings, to come to an informed and considered decision and to make a choice that is consistent with their highest ideals and best aspirations. She may be subtly or overtly co-erced in a way that she may feel pressured, confused and powerless, and so allows herself to be swept along by what appears ‘reasonable’ or what most favours her situation and that of significant others at that time. The need is generally to resolve things as quickly and effectively as possible and get things “back to normal”. Often deeper values or beliefs are overshadowed by the immediate need to “sort the problem”.
When the focus is on the pregnancy as the “problem” and the aim is to find as quick and effective a solution that takes care of the problem, then personal religious beliefs or moral code can become suppressed or ignored. Key considerations such as the life of the baby, the possible risks or complications, and psycho-spiritual impacts, the long term consequences within her and in her life may receive little attention in the life-changing pregnancy-abortion decision. Rationalisation works to sort things out by a logical process, weighing up pros and cons with regards to practicalities and what seems like a good solution (i.e. that which will restore stability), without necessarily delving into the deeper issues and concerns that may later become important.
The relationship with the partner or spouse may be considered most important, whereas the mother-child bond and relationship may be unacknowledged or unsupported. This is often facilitated by distancing terminology that talks of the ‘procedure’ and ‘products of conception’ or ‘blob of tissue’. Such distancing techniques supports the maternal disconnection between head and heart-soul through the decision-making process – disconnection with self, disconnection with the life growing inside. Sometimes it is in her healing journey or in the course of her life, that a reconnection between head and heart-soul occurs, and then the abortion is seen in a very different light – grief surfaces, and the deeper issues and conflicts then need to be faced and worked through. This is often something she cannot do alone . Sadly for many Christians with a past abortion they feel unable to find the understanding and support they need in their churches for fear of condemnation, whether that is so or misperceived by them to be so. They often feel unworthy to be in or go to church and alienate themselves.
When the reality of what occurred in the abortion and what it has meant surfaces there is often an unanticipated reaction A woman may then either choose to numb out the unpleasant feelings that accompany the realisations that occur, or utilise denial or some means of escaping confronting the painful truth. For her guilt and shame may be such that she feels a deep despair - a nighttime of the soul some might say - where she feels alienated from her God, empty inside, fearful, alone with her pain and with an anguish that can seem unbearable. Her fear of judgement and punishment from people, even Christian friends but also especially from God, may be huge. She may be tormented by her self-judgement and condemnation. She may say things like “I killed my baby” “I feel like a murderer” “I can never forgive myself.” “I should be punished” “I don’t deserve anything good” “I don’t want to live.”
The interesting thing is that she may use her Christian beliefs to judge herself and punish herself, but fail, until helped, to allow her faith to draw her into the deep healing she desires and is available to her. God is a God of compassion and mercy, and God’s grace and love can restore a person’s mind, heart and soul in ways that may not be fully understood by her. To allow herself to receive God’s unconditional love, and forgiveness, will heal her from the inside out – from the trauma and grief, guilt and shame. It will change her life - not back to ‘normal’, whatever normal was supposed to be, but she will find new hope and discover a new life and fullness of life. This is the promise of Scripture and for those who are Christian it is a powerful and wonderful promise. How do I know this? Because I have seen both Christian and non-Christian open up to God’s grace and find peace.
- By Carolina Gnad
Operation Outcry - Courageous Women Speak Out
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