Healing & Recovery

Post abortion trauma has been officially disclaimed, and that is no help for the many women who are seeking help for difficulties relating to unresolved grieving.
  • The grieving process is similar to that relating to terminal illness and death.
  • Many professional counsellors have been told that the abortion is not the underlying issue.
  • Writing memories and emotions in a journal can help the healing process.
  • Grief, anger and depression are natural emotions felt after an abortion. There are healthy ways to express emotions.
  • The healing process can take several months but, eventually peace can be achieved.
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Others have been through the same abortion experience and have received help and healing. Many of these women (and sometimes men) have helped developed the programmes that are used in helping someone recover from the psychological and emotional after-effects of abortion.

Some people are able to bury the effects of abortion so deep that they would claim it hadn't affected them badly, if at all. Dr Julius Fogel, both an abortionist and a practising psychiatrist would disagree. From his experience he says:

`There is no question about the emotional grief and mourning following an abortion. It shows up in various forms. I've had patients who had abortions a year or two ago--women who did the best thing at the time for themselves--but it still bothers them. Many come in--some are just mute, some hostile. Some burst out crying . . . There is no question in my mind that we are disturbing a life process.'
" Something happens on the deeper levels of a woman's consciousness when she destroys a pregnancy. I know that as a psychiatrist."


He does not claim that mental illness automatically follows an abortion. `Often,' he said, `the trauma may sink into the unconscious and never surface in the woman's lifetime . . . [But] a psychological price is paid. I can't say exactly what. It may be alienation, it may be a pushing away from human warmth, perhaps a hardening of the maternal instinct. Something happens on the deeper levels of a woman's consciousness when she destroys a pregnancy. I know that as a psychiatrist.'

As long as official recognition of abortion related trauma is largely denied by professionals, the needs of the women involved are not being met. Many women have sought help from professional counsellors, few of whom have been trained to walk these women through the process to healing. Unless the abortion is acknowledged as the underlying cause of the problems being experienced, healing is difficult to complete.

The main reason professional counsellors have little success with aborted women is because, since post-abortion stress syndrome is not officially recognised, they may have been taught that any problems following an abortion must have existed beforehand.
As with many conditions, healing cannot take place until the condition has been acknowledged and recovery is desired.


Grieving process
As with many conditions, healing cannot take place until the condition has been acknowledged, and recovery is desired. In her book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross taught that there are five stages a person goes through when they are faced with death through a terminal illness. These stages are almost identical to the stages a person goes through when they are grieving after an abortion. The latter stages have been named as:
  • denial
  • bargaining
  • anger
  • depression
  • acceptance
Although denial almost always comes first, the other stages can be experienced in any order, and sometimes repeat.
Mourning the loss of an aborted child may be a lengthy process.


Denial
Mourning the loss of an aborted child may be a lengthy process. Denial blocks the grieving process. During the denial process, the person may experience sadness, depression, self-hatred, anger, self-destructive tendencies and violence towards others. The woman uses denial to protect herself from having to deal with the abortion death.

Confronting denial - facing the truth - involves the following:
  1. Recognising the emotional pain and grief felt since the abortion
  2. Acknowledging that abortion is the death of a child - a family member
  3. Accepting responsibility for the death of the child
The aborted women may have avoided addressing the pain and grief and the fears surrounding her pregnancy and abortion. In order to heal she must now face the emotions she has been denying. She must allow herself to feel the anguish and allow the tears to flow.
Keeping a journal requires great courage as the woman will need to go back and bring out all the memories she has been avoiding.


Journal
One of the most successful methods for recovery involves keeping a journal. This requires great courage as the woman will need to go back and bring out all the memories she has been avoiding. A good place for her to start is to remember the person she was before she became pregnant, before she became involved with the father of her baby. She should go back to the girl/woman she was and take a good look at that person, maybe put a photo of that person in the journal.

She should ask herself the following questions:
  • How would others have described her (friends, teachers, relatives)?
  • How did she 'feel ' about herself?
  • Did she like school?
  • What activities was she involved in?
  • Was she popular?
  • Did she have lots of friends or was she a loner?
  • Who was her favourite teacher?
  • What jobs did she have?
  • Were there particular family members she was close to?
  • What were her moral beliefs
  • What was her relationship with her parents?
  • What was her relationship with her mother like?
  • When did she notice a change (if any) in this relationship?
In these early stages, it is important to delve deep into the memories as a preparation for dealing with the details of the abortion. It is the opening of the floodgates as it were.
She should detail all thoughts of the pregnancy, the fears and pressures, who she told, and the reactions of herself and others.


The next stage is to detail the relationship she had with the father of her baby. She should detail all thoughts of the pregnancy, the fears and pressures, who she told, and the reactions of herself and others. What was her lifestyle like at this time? Who was involved in her life?

While it is important for healing for her to go into as much detail as possible, i.e. the clothes she and others were wearing; season and what the weather was like; foods and scents associated with that time; music she remembers hearing, she will probably go over the same scene many times and remember other details that she can include in her journal.

The physical act of writing everything down can be very healing.

Bargaining
Bargaining is a way of trying to short-circuit the grieving process.
Bargaining is a way of trying to short-circuit the grieving process and transfer personal responsibility to an external situation or person. She may become a work-a-holic or throw herself frantically into various other activities so that she has no time to stop and think about her grief.

One method many aborted women use to bargain, is to have an 'atonement' baby to replace the one she aborted. If she has other children another way may be to try to be a 'super-mum,' doing everything for them or giving them everything they want.

Some women become involved in crisis pregnancy counselling or 'pro-life' activities, before they have completed their own healing process. The result of this is that it only puts their own healing 'on hold,' and it will still have to be dealt with at a later date.

Depression
If the depression is so bad that the woman starts having thoughts of suicide, it is advisable she seek help immediately.

It is at this time, when a woman has acknowledged, even if only to herself, that the procedure of abortion was not the 'removal of the products of conception' but the death of a baby - her baby - that she is likely to become depressed. If this happens, it is helpful to remember that this is a normal, if unpleasant, reaction and many others have worked through it.

If the depression is so bad that the woman starts having thoughts of suicide, it is advisable she seek help immediately.

Don't think that you have to go it alone, just talking to an understanding friend can help. People affiliated with a religion may find a sympathetic pastor, priest or rabbi who can help.
People have a tendency to express guilt and shame through anger, often it is directed at the people who were involved in the abortion.


Anger
People have a tendency to express guilt and shame through anger. This anger can be self-directed by the aborted woman, but more often it is directed at the people who were involved in the abortion. She could be angry at the father of the baby, her parents, friends who persuaded her to have an abortion, even at those who did nothing to persuade her not to abort.

She may be angry at the doctor who referred her, the abortioner counsellor, the abortionist, the taxi driver who took her to the clinic, the picketers outside, at God or at men in general. Sometimes she is even angry at the baby for having been conceived. Lastly, the woman is angry at herself.

Anger is a normal reaction that is experienced by a woman following an abortion. It is a way of dealing with her feeling of vulnerability and helps her to attempt to recover her emotional stability.
Since the journal is not meant to be read by a third party the woman should feel free to use whatever words that come pouring out.

This anger should be written in the journal. If the woman is having difficulty acknowledging who exactly she is angry with, she should make a list of everyone she can think of. Sometimes it can help to express that anger in the form of a letter to the person concerned and just let the words and emotions flow freely. These letters are not to be sent to anyone, but are part of the cleansing process of getting the poison out of the system. Write "I am angry with you because..."

Since the journal is not meant to be read by a third party the woman should feel free to use whatever words that come pouring out. Grammar and spelling are not important.

Forgiveness
Just as the other person cannot bring back the dead baby, no amount of anger the woman feels can make up for the loss. Holding on to the anger hurts the angry person more than the one she or he is angry at. The best way to get rid of the anger is to choose to forgive the person who has caused the pain. Forgiveness is one of the best ways to achieve peace of mind.
The hardest person for the woman to forgive, and usually the last, is often herself.

Choosing to forgive another person is one thing, actually releasing the anger may take time. Taking part in some form of physical activity while expressing (and releasing) angry feelings can help.

The hardest person for the woman to forgive, and usually the last, is often herself. She will need to look at the circumstances that led to her making the abortion decision, and release the guilt and anger she feels towards herself.

Acceptance
When the woman who has had an abortion is able to let go the pain, healing has or is taking place. The last step for most women is to give the baby a name, if she hasn't already done so, and place the baby in the family tree. This would be an appropriate time to put together a memorial package. There are countless way to do this. One way is to buy or make a special box and include some of the following:
  • a letter or a poem for the baby
  • booties, or hair bows
  • a photograph of a baby
  • photos of other family members
Some women buy an angel wall plaque or garden ornament to serve as a private memorial.
Some women buy an angel wall plaque or garden ornament to serve as a private memorial.

Now is the time for the woman to put structures in place that will replace the pain and grief she has let go. This can be signing up for classes and continuing her education; joining a special interest group or volunteering for a charitable organisation as a form of "outreach therapy" and help others who are in need.

Continued self-help
Using affirmations to overcome negative thoughts is helpful. Build up a list of short affirmations that are appropriate and use them regularly throughout the day.

"I am a forgiving person, and I forgive (name)."
"I can forgive and understand others and their motives."
"I am worthy of forgiveness and I forgive myself."
"I am a good person who did something I felt was wrong, but I am still a good person."
"I like myself and others like me better each day"
"I am lovable person and I deserve to be loved and respected."
"I am a strong person and I gain more emotional strength each day"
"I will feel good things about myself today"
"I have the ability to handle this."
"I can handle everything that comes my way"
The woman should write a list of all the things she likes about herself and read through them often.

The idea is to find affirmations that cover the areas in life that need working on, and let them work. It may take some time but eventually they will work.

The woman should write a list of all the things she likes about herself and read through them often. Additions can be made to the list as they occur and another useful source of information is to ask friends "What do you like about me?"

She should stay in a positive enviornment as much as possible and avoid people who upset her or damage her self esteem.

Write "thank-you" in the journal for the nice things in life each day.

The journal can be used as a ongoing exercise when emotions come flooding back, such as the date of the abortion or what would have been the date of birth.

Healing facilitators
While some women are able to work through the gieving process on their own, or with minimal help, others may need the assistance of a healing facilitator. This is a person who has been through a training process specifically designed to help someone walk through the stages of healing. Many of these women do not have professional qualifications, but most have experienced loss sometimes through abortion.
Sometimes, when a woman has worked through the issues involving her abortion, there may be other emotional or psychological issues that need to be dealt with.


Sometimes, when a woman has worked through the issues involving her abortion, there may be other emotional or psychological issues that need to be dealt with. Unless the facilitator is also a qualified professional she will recommend that you seek professional help.

Many women who have gone through the healing process after an abortion, are shocked to discover that there are memories of sexual abuse from their past that have resurfaced with the repressed memories of the abortion. These need to be dealt with at a professional level as do:
  • uncontrolled anger
  • self-destructive behaviour
  • eating disorders
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • sexual dysfunction
  • panic attacks and agoraphobia
A lengthy process
The time it takes to healing and recovery is different for every woman. An intense group programme held over a weekend with a qualified facilitator may work for some women, while for others it will take longer.
Working one-on-one with a facilitator may take about 3 months of weekly sessions.


Working one-on-one with a facilitator may take about 3 months of weekly sessions.

Sometimes the woman feels the emotions breaking through are too intense for her to cope with and she takes a break. This is an avoiding tactic and if healing is truly desired she must realise this and push herself to go forward.

Many women have said that working with a facilitator helps them because they have finally found someone who has heard their whole story, and does not hate them or think they are an evil person. They find this acceptance reassuring.

More on post-abortion healing can be found here. For information on physical recovery go here.

Sources: Victims of Choice Guidebook for PAS Recovery and Helping Women Recover from Abortion by Nancy Michaels