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POST ABORTION TRAUMA HEALING SERVICE

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  Associated Problems for Post Abortive Women 


ANXIETY

Generalised Anxiety

Some people experience a degree of anxiety that may be related to a recent or past abortion. Other factors may contribute to or exacerbate anxiety for a person e.g. violent relationships, existing mental health problems, extraordinary stress, another significant life event. The spectrum of anxiety may range from mild to severe, including agoraphobia or panic attacks. Generalised anxiety may include symptoms of inability to concentrate, difficulty sleeping, worry over future, increased heart rate or palpitations, tension, headaches or gastrointestinal disturbances. If you are concerned please see a doctor. Counselling may help with anxiety producing triggers.


Anxiety over fertility and child-bearing issues

A small percentage of women experience fertility problems which may or may not be related to a past abortion. Some have difficulties with subsequent pregnancies or birth. Numbers of women however, experience a higher than usual anxiety over fertility and child bearing issues. Fear of damage to their reproductive systems or a fear of punishment is often cited. (1)

Preoccupation with becoming pregnant again

It is not uncommon for a woman to have a strong desire to become pregnant again after an abortion. There is for some a sense of emptiness which is a normal part of any pregnancy-baby loss. There may be a drive for a substitute child, trying to replace the child that was lost. This may feel particularly strong if she was ambivalent about the abortion or termination in the first place, or it was a wanted child.


GUILT & INABILITY TO FORGIVE ONESELF

A woman may feel guilt from an abortion where she has violated her moral code, whether that is founded on a personal. religious or cultural belief. For the woman who has come to believe, at some point after the abortion, that she consented to or participated in the termination and death of her pre-born child, the burden of guilt can feel huge. The struggle to forgive oneself may be complicated - on the one hand it may be possible to rationalise the abortion away, but on the other hand it may be unforgettable, and so triggers may occur which stimulate guilty feelings. If you are unable to manage the guilt you may need professional or pastoral help to enable you to deal with it. (1)

For some women there may be survival guilt - where the decision for abortion felt like a matter of survival - I did it to survive, and felt there was nothing else I could do. For others there may be survivor guilt - I survived and my baby didn't.

Guilt zaps energy and motivation and causes unfounded fears. It can distance between friends, family, the world, one's God… which leads to isolation and feelings of loneliness. Guilt also can cause inaction of good deeds towards self and others. Guilt is often accompanied by anger and shame.


PARENTING or RELATIONSHIP ISSUES

Subsequent children

Some women experience undue concerns over parenting subsequent children, tending towards overprotectiveness, through a similar fear of something happening to these children. Some women have expressed difficulties bonding with subsequent children. There is some evidence to suggest that siblings, current or future can be affected by an abortion in the family. There may be some emotional impact on children who have lost a sibling to abortion. In essence, on some level these siblings of aborted children feel themselves to be “abortion survivors”. Some exhibit the same symptomatology as those who lose a born sibling to cancer or accidental death…(2)

Subsequent relationship problems

Relationship problems following an abortion are not uncommon. Those who had an abortion to please their partner often find their relationship ends within a few years, as broken trust, guilt and resentment, often underscore the existing weaknesses in the relationship, causing problems which precipitate a relationship breakdown. Others who continue in their relationships describe issues of increasing tension, resentment, arguments, problems with sex and intimacy.


ANGER

Anger may be associated with unresolved grief, hurts, relationships conflicts or it may be spiritual anger over what has happened. Often those around the post-abortive woman will notice changes, such as greater irritability or outbursts. Anger belies hurt or loss and usually won't dissipate until issues are explored and worked through. Finding healthy ways to manage anger is an important step.


DEPRESSION

Depression is worth a special mention as it is recognised as one of the most frequent recognisable abortion sequelae, particularly where it originated around the time of, or following, the event. Shame, secrecy and thought suppression regarding an abortion are all associated with greater post-abortion depression, anxiety, and hostility.(3)

Depression may be associated with impacted or pathological grief (loss of the baby, loss or a role, loss of a dream). Depression may be the result of unexpressed anger, changes in primary relationships or personal circumstances or deeper unresolved issues. Interestingly, the frequency and degree of severe depression associated with abortion is far higher than with miscarriage, even though the loss in each case is comparable.(4) Whether this is due to the fact miscarriage is generally regarded as an unfortunate accident and abortion the result of “choice” attached to it is not fully understood.

Some studies also show that the incidence of suicide is higher for abortion than miscarriage, and data suggests that abortion is more likely than pregnancy and childbirth to drive an unstable woman to suicide.(5)



SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOURS

Drugs/alcohol abuse, promiscuity, workaholism....

These are often used as a means of self-medication or a way of coping with the mental or emotional pain of abortion memories. If these were present before the abortion, they may become worse afterwards.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders may develop also as a means of control or self-punishment. Anorexia may be a way of becoming unattractive or underweight (possibly causing cessation of periods or menstruation) so as not to become pregnant again, or a hiding and reinforcing a sense of unworthiness. One woman described developing bulimia - stuffing food was what she was doing with her emotions and then purging was a way of releasing emotions. (1)

High Risk Behaviours, self harm or cutting

Numbers of people, particularly youth, engage in high risk behaviours or self harm like cutting. If and how these might relate to an abortion needs careful assessment. If related to an abortion then professional help to deal with the issues ought to be found.


References:

  1. Help for the Post-Abortion Woman, Teri Reissner, 1989
  2. The Wounded Generation, Victoria M. Thorn, Post Abortion Review, Vol 5, No.1, Winter 1997 
  3. Clinical Depression After Unintended Pregnancy Linked to Abortion, www.afterabortion.org/ 
  4. Aborted Women. Silent No More, David Reardon, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1987, 
  5. The Abortion Suicide Connection, Post Abortion Review, Vol 1, No.2, 1993; Suicides after pregnancy in Finland, M. Gissler, E Menninkin, and J Lönnqvist, British Medical Journal 313:1-11, 1996





 
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