|| POST ABORTION TRAUMA HEALING SERVICE
Breaking the silence - information, hope and healing after abortion
Newsletter Excerpts 2014
CHALLENGING THE SILENCE
Most anything can be talked about today yet there remains a taboo talking about termination experiences in social, health and counselling circles.
Why do termination experiences remain so difficult to talk about when they are so readily available and seemingly socially encouraged?
It takes courage for a client to contact a post abortion help service like P.A.T.H.S. and there are various reasons for this. A prime reason is because abortion is not an open topic to talk about as it can bring emotion, politics and judgement.
Emotion can be suppressed while trying to carry on with life as it was before the experience, but actually it is not, and cannot be, as it was before termination. The change that occurs is in awareness, or unawareness, that a life could have been and is not any longer. The reality of this needs acknowledging in some way. It is powerful to be aware of and express feeling around this, rather than locking emotions within, which then cause reactions in various ways. Denial of emotions creates a vacuum of silence around a person’s experience of abortion.
The rhetoric and processes around termination don’t always adequately prepare those facing decisions or having such experiences for the possible physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, or social sequelae. The polarisation of the issues both in the realms of ideas and practice means those who have terminations are caught in the middle, in a place of alienation and isolation.
Individual experiences of termination of a pregnancy are often very hushed and kept hidden by those involved. Those who struggle after the event often feel silenced by the politics and the situation surrounding them. To talk about their concerns and experiences risks judgement, makes other people uncomfortable, or it may trigger their own pain and shame; and to not talk about it may mean that they are left to live life suppressing feelings, unable to deal with the real grief and trauma from the event, and consequently being less engaged with people and life.
The politics of governance around abortion provision in New Zealand on the grounds of effects on mental health brings incongruence to those who have had a termination and whose mental health has been impacted, because the impacts are not acknowledged. Denial through politics creates a vacuum of silence around a person’s experience of abortion.
Judgement of abortion through religion or politics brings a heaviness of right and wrong which carries shame. Shame often leads to denial of what is associated to being wrong. This blocks the ability to speak of the shameful experience. This creates a vacuum of silence around a person’s experience of abortion.
There is a dominant discourse which promotes and assumes termination as the preferred choice when confronted with unplanned, unwanted or problematic pregnancies. From the stories of those who come to us for counselling and support, we are aware that the reality for many facing pregnancy decisions is that it is less about “choice” per se as it is about survival in difficult circumstances or decisions based on fear. The decision is often a termination decision rather than a pregnancy choice.
There are many factors involved in how people cope and adjust after a termination experience, including background, psychological resiliency, coping strategies, support systems. Everyone reacts differently. Some will cope okay throughout and adjust well afterwards. Our concern however is for those who were not supported to make a fully-informed, autonomous choice, or who struggle afterwards and suffer unresolved grief and trauma.
There are numbers of woman who feel pressured or coerced into a termination, and some who undergo the procedure without full information, real consent, or true awareness of the risks or full understanding of the possible implications for them and their lives, especially the possible longer term effects. This raises questions around the process of informed consent, but that is another area for discussion for another time.
The reality is that it is often only later when people begin to share the details of their stories that the deeper realities of the experience emerge and their real feelings are uncovered. How do we support and encourage people to talk about their termination experiences in families, social, health and counselling settings? We need to make it more socially acceptable for people to share impacts that they may be experiencing if we are to get a clear picture of the extent of problems after termination beyond just the clinical picture, and to enable those affected to reach out for help and healing.
What can you do to make it safe and invite someone who has had this experience to talk about it if they want to? A key thing is to become informed and comfortable talking about it yourself. Perhaps attend a workshop or seminar to learn more about the reality of termination and how it can affect people. You might also mention to people about P.A.T.H.S. and refer them to our website, or to make contact if they need support.
- Maree Stace and Carolina Gnad (Co-ordinators)
TERMINATION RELATED ANGER
Regret and anger after termination is often met with opposition, not because it isn’t real or doesn’t happen, but because it goes counter-culture and there are often political agendas around termination. Just because science or the medical profession haven’t rubber stamped a condition, doesn’t mean people aren’t truly suffering. Our experience working with women and men after their recent or past termination experiences provides us with much evidence of that suffering for numbers of post abortive people. Symptoms of negative reactions are very real for those experiencing them, whether or not the cluster of symptoms, are of the degree and significance to warrant an official clinical diagnosis. Whether symptoms can be labelled or not, in no way discounts peoples lived experiences.
Each person’s story is significant, and all who encounter people adversely affected by a termination experience need first of all to openly hear the person’s story, because as mentioned before, it is within the telling of the story that the person will connect to and understand the significance of the experience for themselves. This is in itself hugely validating and healing for someone experiencing difficulties afterwards. Often people won’t talk about it of themselves, they need to be invited to talk about it, to know that is okay to speak of it and be allowed to express what it really was like and what it meant for them then and now. Speaking it out helps to clarify feelings and untangle confusion and issues, and can be a vital release.
Some people experience a degree of anger relating to their termination experiences. Sydney Masse in her book “Her Choice to Heal:, (David Cook 2009) said: “Whenever I heard the word abortion my heart would grow angry. In the first years, that anger was directed against the pro-life movement, which in my mind would certainly have judged me. There was always anger against my mother, whom I continued to blame for not being emotionally stable enough for me to come to with the truth of my pregnancy. While trying to get pregnant later with my first son, and going through fertility issues that were possibly connected to the abortion, that anger turned toward the individuals who had worked at the abortion clinic. When I saw my son on the ultrasound screen, that anger turned against myself, and rested there until God’s peace finally broke through.”
After a termination anger may be directed at:
When looking at anger a person may start to recognise how holding onto anger can sometimes be a way of avoiding their grief. Anger needs expression to release a person from the risk of bitterness. Holding onto anger and bitterness is like drinking a position and hoping the other person will get sick from it. Anger that is not expressed can either build up and eventually will find a way to explode or it can be turned inwards upon self and cause depression and sickness.
Dealing with anger opens the way for greater resolution, letting go of hurts and setting the heart towards a psycho-spiritual forgiveness track. This can aid deeper healing.
- Carolina Gnad
APPLYING A PRO-LIFE PRO-CHOICE ATTITUDE AND APPROACH
The topic of abortion or pregnancy termination sparks often strong emotions in people from whichever viewpoint they hold. However for many the issues are not black and white and are more complex and nuanced.
There have been women and couples who have made heart-breaking decisions and are deeply grieving the loss of their babies. Not only do they face the pain and grief of baby loss but they are often confronted by the ostracism of family, friends and society because of it.
It can be really hard for someone who has a strong pro-life position, or someone who is struggling with infertility or has lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, neonatal death through accident or illness, or who opted to continue a pregnancy with a disabled child, to feel compassion for someone who has made a choice to end a pregnancy.
In an article “On Being Both Pro-Live and Pro-Choice” (http://stillstandingmag.com/2014/06/pro-life-pro-choice/) Amanda says “When someone comes to a baby loss community looking for love and support, they are past the point of where the decision has been made, so there is no benefit in berating them for making a choice different from your own. There is no going back in time to change their minds.”
Each person or couple arrive(s) at her/their decision based on their individual experiences, unique circumstance and life situation, and these may be radically different from ours. So how can we respond, holding onto our own position whilst allowing other people theirs?
Being pro-life in my view means respecting the dignity and worth of all persons, and offering compassion and understanding to all. It is about due consideration to the rights of all those involved in the scenario. Being pro-life extends to the way we think, speak and act, and how we refrain from judgement, apply compassion and understanding. Being “pro-life” in the traditional sense of the word can be a personal stand, but when worked out in our helping roles and relationships there needs to be great sensitivity to the reality of life for others.
Pro-choice does not necessarily mean endorsing abortion either. Taken out of the realm or moral culpability and bringing it into the realm of human reality, it simply means that people have the right to make decisions that affect them and their lives. It means that you believe the choice is theirs, you do not get to make the choice for anyone else, and each person gets to live with the decisions or choices they make.
The problem with termination is in the notion of choice. For many who opt for termination know they have the choice but felt they had no other choice. For many there are so many factors affecting their decision, they often feel trapped and pressured and can see no other real, viable or manageable way out, or they may view the alternatives as worse when they have considered things. They decide to terminate for what at the time feel like reasons that make sense to best solve the situation and protect themselves and those they love. There is invariably a lot of confusion and stress in making such decisions. The last thing anyone needs afterwards is people’s judgement.
Choice implies, free will, full information and an absence of pressure or coercion. Often this is not the case for many making termination decisions. In effect a decision was made but it may not have been a “choice” in the fullest and truest sense of the word.
Often the idea that it was a “choice” adds to the shame-blame cycle that some clients get stuck in, and also the judgements that others impose. The invitation here is for all of us to be mindful of how we talk about the issues, least we inadvertently judge others for the decisions they made in difficult and trying circumstances.
I often think, there but for fortune go you or I. I’ve not had to make such a decision, but if I were to have to make it could I be absolutely certain I would not make a similar choice? It is for many not so straightforward. I have met numbers of women who were staunchly pro-life but when faced with the actual reality of an unplanned or problematic pregnancy ended up making a decision contrary to their beliefs, feeling it was what they needed to do or all they could do. Views, feelings and attitudes can swing depending on what is happening.
If I have been in a similar position in my life and I made a different choice, I need to be aware I may also have the propensity to judge or resent another unfairly. It is not my place to judge and I need to deal with the issues in myself that contribute to that resentment - I need to own my stuff and deal with my own feelings, and not project them onto others.
Those who are Christians, in the community or in areas where they encounter people who have had terminations, sometimes assume a moral high ground. I am reminded here that ultimately only God can judge, for only God knows the true heart of each person and full circumstances of the situation.
- Carolina Gnad
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live in harmony together.” Psalm 133:1
The English ‘good and pleasant’ seems an understatement. The Hebrew words hold a deeper meaning of beautiful, joyful, well favoured, loving, delightful and sweet. Unity means ‘altogether,’ derived from the root word unite, to join. Holding this understanding, there is great strength, when we join together to focus on being part of the P.A.T.H.S. mission and purpose.
In whatever way each one is involved with P.A.T.H.S., whether through the Trust, counselling, various contracted and volunteer roles, prayer, supporter, past client or current client, service or health provider, we need and seek connection and unity, together with one another, within our mission and purpose.
Since being with P.A.T.H.S., I have worked alongside those who have had terminations and those who haven’t. Most people know someone who has had or is affected by a termination of pregnancy, such as a brother, sister, son, daughter, mother, father, aunty, uncle, friend or work colleague. I have experienced a termination of pregnancy (TOP) and although many years ago, the effect of it has carried through life with me. With this I empathise with those who have had a similar experience.
Those who come to us hurting in some way, like I did, have an opportunity to process their experience with someone who hears and cares, through our P.A.T.H.S. service.
Termination of pregnancy can be an isolating and detaching experience: from a life that might have been; from the person that once was in relationship with others and themselves; from a community and environmental system that judges from both extremes with emotion, power and politics.
The quiet voice of many affected by their abortions and terminations are often not heard. The power to hear another’s story is underestimated in our culture, where information is blasted through so many technical systems.
This reminds me of a favourite movie, “The Help”. Favourite because of a similar effect of isolation, judgement and shame that silences what is really happening in the community with a group of people that are viewed as being of less value, in a lower place, unheard, unspoken about, with society wanting this kept out of sight with the people prejudiced and labelled.
There are similarities to those affected by abortion or terminations. A different scenario, different times, different prejudice, yet similar effects. Their pain, isolation and judgement was felt in an environmental system held through politics and power that drove emotions. The system did not see or hear the humanity of the people within the system. Yet the people were there and risked sharing their stories. With this unity and sharing the power of humanity meeting humanity was felt, seen and experienced.
P.A.T.H.S. provides a safe place of attachment, reconnecting with the power of sharing in relationship and together with others. Something we are made for, experiencing humanity, side by side, finding a heart, a passion, a compassion for one another like no other! This brings healing together, not alone or separate. This brings strength in unity and in community, brings about a common unity.
We provide a sense of community, and common unity through P.A.T.H.S. to clients, through the Connect and clients, through the Connect and Support Groups, a private Facebook Group and one-on-one counselling with trained professionals.
Our desire and plan is to meet the needs of minorities hurting from abortion / termination, such as youth, men, different cultural communities and people in prison who have not yet accessed our service.
This will happen by our working together, united as a team, bringing different giftings, experiences, skills, and abilities. We need one another to do our work, to encourage one another to keep going. We also need funding to achieve the vision before us, and ongoing prayer to meet all our needs.
After twenty years of not sharing my story, for fear of judgement I had heard all around me, I risked telling someone. That “someone”, shared a part of their soul, a grace of acceptance with me and felt for me, where I couldn’t. Their kindness touched me to melt my heart and reach out for healing.
The wholeness of another, (not their perfection) but ability to meet me in my brokenness, in hearing what was unspeakable and unacceptable was no longer so necessary to hide. This empowered me to speak what I needed. It is a work in progress, not faultless, yet a healing came to seal enough within, holding “who I am” to meet another in their humanness, rather than righteousness. Enough to stand again for what I believe, holding a faith and experience of grace in Christ. Reflecting to those who meet me an acceptance of mine and their humanness as Jesus does for me. Knowing I am not alone, I am surrounded by those who hold the same mission and purpose to powerfully work and stand together.
United we stand, divided we fall.
This is my karakia, a prayer for every one of us united together in and through P.A.T.H.S.
Lord, bring blessing upon each soul that supports the work of P.A.T.H.S.
That we may all have the strength of unity to persevere in this work together.
That God’s purposes will be fulfilled within our work.
That Jesus grace be present within each of us and reflected to those we meet.
That the Holy Spirit will empower us to go where He leads us and know what He needs us to know.
That we will be protected and this work protected.
Maree Stace (2014)
HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND ABORTION / TERMINATION SERVICES
Talking with various staff from the various disciplines who work within abortion and termination services, we appreciate that the termination services is not an easy area to work in. It is easy for outsiders to make assumptions or judgements about those working in the services, without necessarily knowing them, their stories, their hearts.
For us it is more helpful to meet the people and come alongside and try to understand what happens in the services, the systems and processes, and how that is for both staff and patients alike.
We appreciate opportunities to dialogue and share experiences with those working in the services, so that all can work towards improving what is offered to those who are making critical decisions around abortion and termination, and those who experience negative reactions and need support and help afterwards.
It is through open discussions with staff that we are able to gain insights into the constraints staff often experience in being able to provide a service that fully supports fully informed decision making.
There are major challenges for staff in the abortion and termination services areas. It is clear that the politics of and systems within the services affect and sometimes limit what can be done, however, this is such a huge life-changing decision for many people, we need to look at every way we can ensure that patients make their preferred choice.
In conversations with service providers we can impart our knowledge and awareness, and suggest additional considerations. For example, encouraging the slowing down of the processes around decision-making. This means being able to better support and enable patients to move beyond crisis, so that they are in a state to take on board and process relevant information before making their final decision.
It is a concern when we hear from clients how rushed everything was. Although we appreciate the pressure of time from the medical perspective, the ramifications for people undergoing procedures without fully understanding the possible implications or having time to process things more extensively and deeply, can be significant.
There is for some who come to us post abortion and termination, a sense of having been caught up in the process and carried along with it, like being caught in a strong current and unable to go against it, or the feeling that it is happening to someone else. Unable to feel fully engaged in the process, upon reflection later, they speak about having felt overwhelmed, out of control and powerless. Often only later when things have settled down or they have space to process the experience more fully, do they see and uncover or discover what the abortion or termination really means for themselves, their relationships and their lives.
Ambivalence prior to abortion or termination is a key factor in post abortion distress. Helping staff to recognise and work with ambivalence is imperative. We recommend staff to caution patients who show signs of ambivalence around the risks for them of negative reactions afterwards. And we would encourage staff to refer patients to pregnancy counselling type services such as Pregnancy Help and Pregnancy Counselling Services or Rachel’s House in Rangiora for young people.... so that options may be more fully explored and help given to follow through alternatives.
Raising awareness around the factors that increase risks of negative abortion / termination reactions for patients to help with screening patients considering abortion or termination is something we would encourage.
- Carolina Gnad
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