|| POST ABORTION TRAUMA HEALING SERVICE
Breaking the silence - information, hope and healing after abortion
Newsletter Excerpts 2015
Termination, Spirituality and the Healing Facilitator
Termination loss and trauma goes to the core of human experience.
Psychological healing is incredibly important but deeper engagement at the level of the spirit
is also often necessary for fuller healing to occur.
Abortion / termination remains contentious and sensitive, even in the recovery and healing areas. People often get caught up in the moral rights and wrongs of the issues, and fail to respond or meet people in the real human way that supports adjustment and healing.
Mention of anything spiritual relating to abortion / termination can trigger intense reactions from individuals availing themselves of the procedure, workers in the health sector and people in the community. This may be in part due to the fear of judgement, attack, religious fundamentalism being imposed and strong beliefs being projected onto people. As a consequence, this vital aspect of healing is often disregarded or not spoken about, yet it is an integral and necessary part of the healing for many of those affected by their abortion / termination experiences.
As healing facilitators we have a responsibility to be willing and able to go to the spiritual depths and explore meaning in this area for clients around their abortion / termination experience, to enable and support them in their process of making sense of the experience, finding peace and coming to terms spiritually with the experience for themselves.
Cynthia Bourgeault, recently spoke at a counselling conference I attended. Although her framework is largely Christian I appreciated her acknowledgement of the varied personal spiritual views and meanings people accord to spiritual aspects of human experiences. It was a reminder of the importance of meeting people where they are, and not imposing my personal views or beliefs. But the challenge was made, to not simply operate out of our egoic operating systems, but to allow ourselves to work in the heart operating system. (by this she meant from soul to soul).
That is deep work. For some clients this is essential in order for them to come to a real peace and acceptance of themselves within the abortion / termination experience, and reconciling the loss of their child that could have been in that experience. Dealing with spirituality and death is key to being able to process the experience most fully.
This then requires of the healing facilitator to know and be able to go to those depths within him/herself. For it requires the willingness and ability to be whole heartedly present and available, and vulnerable in and with my client. It is very hard to describe how this is different from the usual attending and being available in counselling session. Maybe it is a deepening of the core conditions which Carl Rogers talks about - empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence. Or maybe it is more an openness to the energy and flow of something deeper, allowing expression and holding more deeply in that sacred place and flow between people.
I have heard some counsellors talk about divine moments in their counselling, the sense of something deep and sacred, the sense of something powerfully healing occurring in the interpersonal space that was not construed or forced or able to be theorised....
For some it may sound airy fairy, but for those who understand the nature of spiritual things and spiritual connection and healing will understand what that might be like and can mean. Care needs to be taken that the spiritual work is around what fits for the client and it is important to not have any agendas.
A termination of a pregnancy interrupts the creation of new life.
Abortion interrupts the ancient mothering instinctive life giving drive
that crosses all time, cultures and economies to bring and nurture new life.
Work in Post Abortion Trauma Healing Service, P.A.T.H.S. challenges the interrupted cycle of “creating new life”. As those we work with did not bring a life that could have been into the world. The experience of an unexpected pregnancy can bring feelings of being trapped like reaching a dead end. Often the answer or way out is through an abortion, a decision to end a pregnancy. Yet in the hope to evade a dead end, another path through abortion may lead to another dead end. This is through interrupting a deep physical, emotional and spiritual connection in the creation of new life.
That was my abortion experience. For a moment in time I hoped to attach to the creation of a new life within. Then hope faded to detachment of the same creation of life within. With it, my hope in the value of life became lost.
My experience of a, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (NIV, Proverbs 13:12) brought me to a place of lost hope that broke my heart and I was unable to think, feel, acknowledge or say this.
A piece of my story was finding myself pregnant and living away from home. I had hoped in some way to keep the new life growing within, yet didn’t know where to go or how to ask for the support I needed. I knitted a jacket, my flatmates asked me why. I replied it was for someone, unable to explain exactly who as I didn’t know how to keep this one. But I hoped by some miracle of compassion to find someone to care enough to support me to have this child that could be.
No miracle came to save me or a baby to be. I felt hopeless to survive a big world of enterprise with a baby and to not have anyone with me through the pregnancy.
Trapped in a hopeless place I shifted perspective from hope to save, to hope that all would return to how it was before the pregnancy, after an abortion.
The anxiety and stress I experienced with an unexpected pregnancy was enough to qualify for an abortion on New Zealand’s medical terms of impact to my mental health. It was scheduled, I checked in and an abortion was performed.
After my abortion I got off the table, a part of me was left behind!
I walked back to a room and took my pack of cigarettes and lighter, walked outside and smoked one after another. A cloud of confusion and conflict swirled around me. Unbelievable, how did I get here? Unable to contain the emotion I felt, I shut down. Closing my eyes to what I had left behind, I stubbed out my cigarettes and decided to move. I felt hopeless, yet hoped life would now carry on.
I got married to the father, my only hope of remaining connected to a life that could have been and found we were living another life instead. We decided to never talk about the abortion again. We decided to never have children, believing the mother in me was gone. I put the past events out of my mind and to this day cannot remember the day, date, month or year.
Then, one day I found myself pregnant ten years into our marriage, shocked I had to tell my partner who was not happy and I was not happy that he was not happy. I was terrified with being pregnant, with the medical system and with becoming a mother and had lots of medical complications but we survived and had a beautiful baby boy. Then, a little later had two more gorgeous children a girl and another boy. Life grew full and busy.
Yet I felt like I mourned inside when alone, I felt guilty like a bad mother so I kept very busy.
I found this prayer of hope, a call to reawaken what was detached, my hope of belief in myself, the world and God. “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Ephesians 1:18-21
The eyes of my heart were opened by an experience of compassion that has stayed with me to this day from one small gesture of kindness that opened my eyes to hope in humanity again. This was through the act of one person’s kindness to my children, I will explain.
It was a hot forty degree centigrade day in Melbourne. I had driven the kids to the Zoo and we had a cool time together with the animals. Needing petrol, I stopped to fill up, then went in to pay and waited in a long line of hot and bothered drivers waiting to get going in their air conditioned cars again. While waiting I got some ice blocks from the freezer for the kids. Eventually my turn came to pay and from five different bank accounts, couldn’t find any funds to pay. I excused myself and went to the ATM in the store to double check the accounts. No money in any account, what could I do but queue again to explain! My inability to pay just exasperated the checkout operator even more than the heat and queue of people and after some huffing and puffing pulled out many forms for me to fill in. As the ice blocks slowly melted on the counter, I started filling in forms, ignoring the stares from those waiting in line, aware they were being held up by me. The checkout operator served a few more customers and then stopped. She picked up the ice blocks, left the counter as everyone in the queue starred including me and took them to my children in the car. Who by now were getting hotter than we were, sitting in the car with the hot sun shining through. She helped them unwrap and hold each ice block before she returned. Her care for my children caught me and my resolve to not let anything touch me, melted and I cried as I returned the forms. More kindness came and I left feeling her compassion.
To others this may not have been much, but to me I was worried for my kids in the heat of the car and unable to reach them before finishing what I had to do to ensure payment. This raised my anxiety and I had to shutdown, to not feel anything to get through.
This was a poignant moment seeing, receiving and accepting care for my children and in turn me. Someone ‘mothered’ my children and me. The kindness of one person touched my heart enough to turn on hope in humanity where once hope had been turned off. My cycle of hopelessness had been interrupted by one act of kindness.
As my heart has softened since that time, hope has grown in the value and beauty of God’s creation of humanity in me and the world around me. A new path, way, understanding, perspective, hope opened within me. Leading to more discernment of decisions that are valuable for myself and family.
How someone copes when they reach a dead end, whether it be through abortion or any other grief and loss or traumatic experience, meeting the end of the road is life changing.
Our role in P.A.T.H.S. is in gently opening the dead end; to birth together with God, physically, emotionally and spiritually; a new day; a new way; a new perspective; a new hope. Simply by being connected to the resources available within me of compassion and hope through connecting spirituality to God who knows me, I can sit with and be with those that come to share what they need in their abortion experience. To be accepted and heard, exploring loss, hurt, shame, anger, to let go and connect to the value of a life that could have been and own value of every human being.
To know we will experience dead ends in this work. Yet to remember that kindness transcends our physical world, to touch the soul and spiritual dimension that has transformative connection to bring hope in wholeness and humanity again. Compassion can change a world of dead ends to create new life experiences, bring different perspectives and new ways.
This quote summarises all of this by Thomas Moore, “Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”
Through compassion, heaven touches earth (one meaning of the Hebrew word for compassion is womb); to co-create and bring wholeness to the wounded spirit, body and soul. Hope returns.
- Maree Stace
PREGNANT FROM RAPE
Part 1: Pregnant from Rape and Continuing the Pregnancy
Statistics vary, but studies show that conception as a result of rape occurs in around 1-5% of cases.
Because of the secrecy, stigma and shame often associated with rape, and the reluctance of people to come forward, it can be hard to get an accurate statistical picture.
There are as many thoughts and feelings around the subject of rape and termination as there are people in the world.
The situation for actual rape victims and the subsequent decisions they make concerning a pregnancy are painfully complicated
Before proceeding with the article I would like to pause and give heartfelt thought to all those who are victims of sexual violence of any description, and of rape (sexual intercourse with victim non-consent, and use of express or implied force or compulsion, whether physical, intellectual, moral, emotional).
This is an emotional subject but this article is not intended to be emotive, or to debate the values driven arguments or political agendas from either side of the abortion debate, rather to open up discussion around the reality of rape pregnancies, and the options undertaken. For the purposes of this paper I will be focusing on the experiences of women who are raped and become pregnant. Whatever a woman pregnant from rape feels in the situation is her experience, and this needs to be heard, understood and acknowledged.
Rape related pregnancy often evokes strong emotions and opinions in others. But no one should ever be pressured or coerced into terminating their pregnancy, even pregnancy in cases of rape, because of the perceptions or agendas of others.
Individual attitudes or views around rape, and pregnancy following rape are constructed by or part of legal, religious, cultural, relational, familial, personal influences and aspects. These constructs around a woman pregnant after rape can affect her feelings and view of herself and her situation. Also, although it is scientifically supported that life begins at conception, the perceived value and attachment to that life growing within a woman can differ in any case.
A positive view may embrace pregnancy as a wonderful, life affirming, overwhelming good event in her life, even in the situation of rape. This does not necessarily negate the reality that a pregnancy brings about substantial changes to a woman, her relationships and life, or that it may be physically and emotionally taxing, or even likely more so in this instance. However, there may be a clear sense that good can come from even such a horrible situation. Often a woman holds a core value or belief around the sacredness of life.
A negative view may see that pregnancy is an intrusion or harm (in a philosophical, social, psychological and medical sense) in a woman’s life regardless of the situation. Some people view any unwelcome, unwanted or difficult pregnancy as a harm, or a bodily injury. In some areas of the USA for legal purposes, a sexual assault that results in a pregnancy is seen as an aggravated sexual assault and the pregnancy is viewed as a “substantial bodily injury”. In this context the pregnancy is viewed counter to the positive constructions of pregnancy within a culture. In such cases abortion may be viewed as a means for dealing to, and even possibly healing, that injury.
The initial shock of discovering a pregnancy after rape may be overwhelming and tip a woman into crisis. She may experience horror, confusion, feel numb, lost, scared, uncertain. It can also trigger and intensify the feelings experienced in the actual rape itself. The thoughts and feelings around carrying a child conceived in rape to term can be intense and her initial reaction may be extremely emotional. The pregnancy may be considered and felt to be unwelcome in the extreme, and there is lots to process and think about. The pressure of time around decision-making can make what is already a difficult decision, even more so.
At this time she needs to be actively supported, which can only happen if she discloses in the first instance, which we appreciate is really difficult for many women.
Knowing one’s own limits and choosing to do what one needs to survive and heal is important. No-one can fully know another’s experience, feelings or reasoning. Sometimes the victim herself is compromised around her decision-making as well because of the huge emotions and duress experienced, her fear and the pressures from others. The duress she experiences at the time, may not be properly recognised even by the person themselves, let alone by those around her. The effects of trauma prompt automatic responses and defences which can make it hard to make truly voluntary and well informed choices. How family friends, work colleagues, pastors, counsellors and doctors deal with women and people in these situations is vitally important as they can unduly and inadvertently influence the outcome.
For some women being pregnant following rape is experienced as an ongoing torture, because a part of the perpetrator of the sexual violence is now inside them. The prospect of having the child grow and be a constant reminder of what happened can be crippling. In contrast, and sometimes surprisingly, just as it is possible to become attached to a pregnancy that later spontaneously aborts, it is possible to be attached to the child in an unwanted pregnancy from rape at that same level.
When trying to understand the effects of rape and resulting pregnancy one might need to look at a variety of factors around the person. Things such as: cultural norms, values, beliefs; place of women in society; perception of sexuality as taboo; presence of dominant form of masculinity; perception of sexual violence by cultural group, attitudes to the baby….
Situations where the woman is held responsible, by virtue of cultural norm or social group can make resolving pain and issues from a rape difficult. Where there is lack of respect and active stigmatisation of the survivors of rape then personal reactions may be made more problematic. One needs to determine the survivor’s own perception of the act of rape and resulting pregnancy, whether it may be terrible, destructive, and difficult to accept or whether is it considered a normal part of life. Other factors such as isolation, silence about the rape itself (self-imposed or imposed by others), and the presence or absence of psychological support for the rape survivor may, also contribute to impacts for her. Also the negative perception of, or fear of stigmatisation of, a child born from rape may influence a woman’s feelings and her decision around the pregnancy.
Where a woman opts to keep her child it may be difficult to reduce her sense of ongoing violation . Some may choose to adopt the child out. Bringing the baby to term and keeping the child or adopting the child out may be felt to be a loving act. It does not negate the rape, rather affirms her life and that of the one who is viewed as an innocent victim.
A woman intending to keep the child may think, even at a subconscious level, that if she can get through the pregnancy then she has confronted, dealt with and overcome the rape trauma and may feel it is a way of taking back her lost self esteem. Giving birth, especially when conception was not desired, may be viewed as a courageous and selfless act, a proof to herself that she is better than the rapist. While he was selfish, she can be generous, where he destroyed she can be nurturing. This may be also an attempt to heal herself as well as remain true to herself.
Factors that influence a rape survivor as the mother of a child born from rape’s perception of their daily lives following such an experience
1. The perception of the act of rape by their family or community especially where there is a sense the rape, and/or pregnancy dishonours the family. This may over time be associated with rejection and constant humiliation of the woman by the immediate family. This is marked often by a lack of compassion and even ostracism.
2. Daily life after rape and a resultant pregnancy may also be affected by how women are regarded in their society. Often women must be exemplary, behave properly, be on good terms with all in the community, should not be quarrelsome, aggressive, vengeful or bring conflict into a family. Often the rape survivor feels she no longer meets the criteria for acceptance and belonging with family or the society in which she lives or is identified with.
3. Their own perception of the experience of rape. This is often influenced by beliefs about how women are regarded in their society. Difficulties in accepting what happened and the labelling of rape as destructive or terrible correlates often closely with how women are regarded in society as mothers, if they are views as inferior to men or not and how bound they are by rules of what is proper. Sometimes a raped or pregnant from rape woman is seen as no longer capable of pursuing her dreams because of how she is regarded in her family or community.
4. The negative perception of the pregnancy and of the child born from rape also influences the survivor’s experience in daily life. Most survivors reject the pregnancy at the outset. They may see it as an additional punishment and may find it hard to feel anything for the baby.
5. The relationship between the survivor and her partner / husband where applicable may also play a part in how things go after the experience and the decision she comes to. Where there is no partner or husband this too may affect her situation greatly.
6. Where the child is kept, the reaction and relationship between the survivor’s partner/husband and child, or her family and the child will also determine her daily life experience.
For many women daily life is altered. It may now be filled with sorrow, constant worries, a sense of worthlessness or a sense of life as being oppressive. Many struggle with nightmares and other symptoms of trauma even years afterwards. Some develop significant health issues - physical and mental health problems that they need to contend with, headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation are not uncommon.
Keeping the child may raise concerns and uncertainties. Questions about what the baby may look like, and whether the reminder will be too hard, or how to respond to the child’s questions about the father as the child grows up.
Many people think that keeping the child after a rape is an impossible proposition, but it is an option. In order to proceed with keeping the child however, it is important to have metabolised and processed the trauma effects from the rape.
If there are other siblings at the time, or who come afterwards, it can be very hard to treat all the children in the family the same, and not target the child born of rape.
Some rape victims with pregnancies feel discriminated against because to keep the baby is often viewed by others as crazy… “who in their right mind wants to keep a baby by the man who raped them?” Sometimes if a woman opts to keep the child she may face queries of suspicion from family and friends. How can any woman have a rapist’s child. It doesn’t make sense to most. And then suspicion can mount… maybe she lied, maybe she really isn’t a victim of a ‘legitimate’ rape?
The assumption that surely a real rape victim would want an abortion can create a significant pressure on the hurting woman in a time of intense crisis to swallow her reservations and have the abortion if only to silence rising doubts about the rape story.
Betty writes: I was raped on my way to a professional exam. After the incident I kept telling myself that it didn’t’ happen and I had to move on. I almost believed myself…. Until I found out a month later that I was pregnant, then everything that happened came rushing back. ...I hated myself, I hated what had happened and above all I hated the baby.... My first thought was abortion. I was a young girl, struggling to better my future and that of my family. “The baby would ruin my hopes and aspirations for the future,” I thought.” I searched for funds to sponsor my abortion, but couldn’t find any. I even started taking some really dangerous drugs….. I thought of committing suicide a lot of times…. I kept my pregnancy a secret from my friends and family for 7 months…. I was highly traumatised and depressed in silence and agony before I told my family what happened. I got support from my mum and an non-government organisation in Nigeria and I had my baby....It was a difficult labour but the moment I held him in my arms I felt an inner peace… I see him as a child of Destiny, and that’s the reason I named him DESTINY.
(From article “Pregnant at 17 after a Brutal Rape and Encouraged to Abortion, Here’s How I Responded”, Deana Schroeder, OPINION, Washington DC, 22 May 2015)
And what of the child conceived in rape? The child conceived in rape may feel very sad and question their right to be here, and may be ambivalent about being wanted. Associated stigma for a child being the product of rape can be stultifying and denigrating. The child’s feelings and pain, whatever they are and how the may be experiencing them are valid. The child also needs respect, care and support.
Disclaimer: It is beyond the scope of this article to cover every scenario. The hope is to open up more and deeper thinking and discussion on this particularly sensitive and shame-filled experience.
“PREGNANT FROM RAPE Part 2: Rape and Termination - The Compounding Effects” to feature in next newsletter.
Abortion and Sexual Assault Pregnancy: Listening to Women Who’ve Been There, The Post Abortion Review, Vol 19 No 2, Elliott Institute, Springfield, 2012
Made to Fail: The Mythical Option of Legal Abortion for Survivors of Rape and Incest, Hansson, D & Russell, DEH, HeinOnLine, 4 June 2015
Pregnancy as a Harm?, Kraft, Jr RE, York College of Pensylvania, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vol 55 No. 2 Spring 2012
Pregnant at 17 After a Brutal Rape and Encouraged to Abort, Here’s How I Responded, Opinion Article by Deana Schroeder, 22 May 2-15, Washington DC
Rape and Pregnancy, Pandora’s Project, 2006, http://www.pandys.org/articles/rapeandpregnancy.html
Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths, The Elliot Institute News, 22 May 2015, www.AfterAbortion.org
Rape-Related Pregnancy and Pregnancy Loss – The Ethics of Termination – A Personal View, http://pregnancypages.webs.com/ethicsoftermination.htm
Social Consequences of Conflict Rape: The Case of Survivors in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Dossa, NI & Hatem, M, Zunzunegui, MV, Fraser, W, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 2014, Vol 20, No.3, 241-255
Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault, Reardon, Makimaa and Sobie, Springfiled IL, Acorn Boooks 2000
When Pregnancy is and Injury: Rape, Law and Culture, Bridges, KM p457-490
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