||The key to moving on from the pain and loss is awareness and understanding|
Newsletter Excerpts 2019
Terminations and the New Law
By Carolina Gnad
Although not engaged in the politics of the abortion law changes that have just happened in New Zealand, we are acutely aware of what these changes might mean for women, couples and families in times to come.
To have the situation where abortion can be performed up until birth, for no reason or any reason, does mean that women will be potentially opening themselves up to complex pregnancy baby loss experiences, and associated grief and trauma which can precipitate significant mental health, relationship and social issues.
There are many things that influence a decision for terminating a pregnancy. We understand that taking into account the degree of intendedness and wantedness of a pregnancy, current circumstances, the relationship situation, life plans and goals, health reasons, can contribute to a decision to terminate a pregnancy.
Termination in any stage of pregnancy, can carry with it natural grief and trauma from what is effectively an unnatural death experience. Earlier stage terminations are sometimes rationalised as miscarriages, and it would not be hard to imagine that later terminations could become rationalised as stillbirths. But that is not what they are – not naturally anyway. What will happen for women who avail themselves of later term abortions, if numbers of these increase, is yet to be realised.
Every abortion is an intentional cessation of a pregnancy that involves the destruction of a developing human embryo or foetus.
It is a death event in the life giving aspect of womanhood. It is an unnatural death event, but the potential grief and trauma from the experience is natural. Also, there is a complexity of issues surrounding the experience, that are not always well recognised, and which can complicate the experience of possible grief or trauma.
When looking at the decision making time, various influencing aspects are often compounded by the crisis experienced by many women, or couples, trying to make a pregnancy decision, where the brain’s executive functions are offline, and they may be driven by a range of emotions. The sometimes fear, confusion, anxiety, panic, sense of internal and external conflicts…. can lead some people to even act contrary to their own deeply held beliefs and desires. The pressured time frame for decision making and sometimes lack of fully informed consent, particularly around possible impacts, can draw people into decisions which they may later regret, or struggle with because of the suffering effected by the process and/or the outcome.
In our experience, those with pre-existing mental health issues, who make decisions for mental health reasons, may find that these are worsened after a termination experience. That is not unusual. An abortion experience, especially if left unresolved for a person, can cause depression and anxiety, so for someone with pre-existing depression or anxiety issues these may become heightened or worsened.
Dealing with grief and adjusting to the changes from an abortion experience can be fraught, and some people use drugs, prescription medication, sex, work or other addictions to numb the psychic pain. If these issues were present beforehand, they may worsen afterwards.
One cannot escape the reality of intentionality, and possible sense of culpability, that can accompany abortion. Many women who avail themselves of an abortion can carry a sense of guilt, which if not imposed from without, often comes from within. How much more will that be the case in the more advanced pregnancy termination scenarios? The termination experience in later stages is potentially more confronting, and the ability to avoid deeper realities can become harder.
What might the effects be for relationships, for families? When terminations happen later in the pregnancy, for example, and there is greater visibility of a women being pregnant and then not being pregnant? What are the stories that then develop around situations in people’s narrative and in their lives? How do these experiences and stories go on to affect others in their sphere, possibly a partner or spouse, other children, parents, wider family? And how does a post abortive woman’s emotional reactions to what has happened get played out in those relationships over time?
Another development is that during lockdown, because abortion has been regarded as an essential service, some DHBs are contracting out to providers like Magma Health Care, which has three clinics in Invercargill, Palmerston North and Masterton. This company also provides medical abortion for women who cannot or do not want to come to clinics.
At-home abortions are possibly going to become the way of the future, but are not without risk. The normalising of at-home abortions could potentially pave the way for women opting to access the necessary medications on line, and there have been warnings around this, as some products procured online may not be the real deal, increasing the risk of possible complications.
Whilst inducing a miscarriage may to some seem no big deal, for women who avail themselves of such a procedure, the physical, mental, emotional experiences of going through such a process and dealing with any possible after effects remain.
Aspects of concern are there too where women have been pressured or co-erced to abort, and where there is a lack necessary or appropriate supports. If a woman choses to self-abort, without the knowledge of a partner or husband, this too can have lasting implications for her and her relationship.
It will be important as all this unfolds, that we become more willing to be open to hear, and to share, the experiences of those who have had abortions, to continue to raise awareness of the sometimes deep and long lasting impacts that can be experienced, and talk about the help and support available in our communities and country.
Abortion Services in NZ have free counselling available at hospitals and clinics where abortions are provided. This is usually for the time soon after a termination if people want to return for help. Some however do not wish to return to the hospital and clinic, or are needing support years or decades after the event. For them there are other supports available and the P.A.T.H.S. website has links to a range of groups and supports
Please help promote these services where you are able, by way of alerting people in our churches and communities to the fact that people can be negatively impacted by abortion and letting them know that they are not alone.
And always as we reach out to support those affected by abortion, may we remember to do so with unconditional acceptance, nonjudgement and love. Their stories, their suffering, their pain is real and we are invited to respond with deep compassion and caring.
Abortion and men: ‘It’s traumatic for everybody’
Stuff Reporter: Brittney Deguara, Mar 09 2020 - REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
For John*, talking about his experience with abortion is difficult, but he wants to help.
He’s in his 60s and somewhat of a social recluse, but he’s telling his story, not for his own gain - he asked to remain anonymous - but for men in similar situations.
“I know what I’ve been through, I know how hard it’s been, how hard it still is, and if something I can do or say can help somebody else, then that there is the highlight of my life, to be honest.”
‘A HELL OF A TOUGH CALL’
“It was [a scary time] ... it was just a bloody nightmare.”
Both pregnancies were a surprise.
After both procedures, his relationships fell apart and he bottled up his feelings for almost two decades. Even talking about it now is difficult.
“It’s always there, just under the surface, and it doesn’t take much to tip it.”
Each time, the decision was made by John and his partner together, based on various circumstances. But that didn’t make it easier.
“It’s a hell of a tough call, whichever way you go. It’s bloody traumatic for everybody.”
“It should never be one person’s decision, if possible … When you’re in a relationship with somebody and they get pregnant, it has to be discussed … because it’s a hell of an emotional time.”
‘A BURDEN SHARED, IS A BURDEN HALVED’
In the year ending December 2018, 13,282 women in New Zealand experienced that trauma, and potentially the same amount of men. But previous international studies have shown it isn’t always common for couples to make the decision together.
A 2013 study surveyed 30 couples having abortions. Of these, half of the women decided to have the procedure before their partner knew of the pregnancy, but most thought it important to decide as a couple.
“Two thirds of respondents viewed the decision to have an abortion as being made by both partners, one quarter viewed the decision as being mostly the woman’s choice, and 5 per cent viewed the decision as being mostly the male partner’s choice.”
It also found men were more unhappy with the discussions that took place and would have liked to talk about it more.
But instead of talking, some men stay silent. John kept to himself, turned to alcohol, and didn’t even have “faith in counsellors”.
Clinical psychologist Lisa Cohen has been in the profession for almost four decades, and in that time she has never had a man sit on her couch to talk about the effects of an abortion.
She encourages men to speak out about their experience to friends, family or a professional, if necessary.
“Any burden shared is a burden halved.”
TIME TO TALK
Abortion laws in New Zealand is on the verge of change. A reform to take abortion out of the crimes act passed its second reading in Parliament last week.
But men say they are often left out of the conversation when it comes to the lasting impact of making those tough decisions.
A spokesperson from Post Abortion Trauma Healing Service (PATHS), says men’s experiences are valid but under-recognised and less socially supported than women.
“Issues for men need more research to be better appreciated, as numbers of men also suffer in silence and struggle, either with their involvement in, or exclusion from, the decision and abortion process.”
She hopes the country’s approach to the mental health crisis will be replicated in this space.
“Only when we can speak about experiences, and normalise the potential trauma and grief associated with abortion, will it become easier for people to reach out for the help and support they need.”
There has been little research done into the effects abortion can have on men, according to a study published in The Internet Journal of Mental Health.
From a review of previous studies, the authors found there was a common theme - men didn’t see abortion as a “benign experience”, even when it was the right decision.
“While abortion seems to bring a sense of relief, other emotions including anxiety, grief, guilt, and powerlessness are also reported consequent to abortion.”
It categorised the partners of women undergoing elective abortions as “a much neglected population”.
It was years before Marina Young, founder of The Buttons Project, a post-abortion healing initiative, understood how her husband, Peter, felt about the abortion they had over three decades ago.
“I worked through it a lot earlier then he did. He just wanted to … move on.”
While she struggled with it for a while, her husband compartmentalised it. It wasn’t until he heard someone talking on the radio that he opened up.
“Hearing another guy share [his abortion experience]… He started to unlock his emotions to even talk about it more and have more understanding of me, and me have more understanding of him and how he dealt with these things.”
That’s why she started collecting buttons. She created a judgemental-free way for people to heal.
“[It helps them] start the journey of healing, [and] it's also validating their story.”
In 11 years she’s received over 20,000 buttons from all around the world, mostly from women, but she’s noticed an increasing interest from men. The buttons are usually accompanied with a short message, most of which are “quite moving”.
They are going to be used in an artistic display, but for the time being, a handful of them are on the website.
Cohen said time doesn’t always bring closure.
“I’ve never met a client yet who even … may have had an abortion 20-something years ago, who is just blase about [it].
“They still have emotions and feelings. That indicates the significance of doing that.”
PATHS said it is important men and women know there is help available, even if they don’t take up the offer.
That’s why John is telling his story. “I hope it does help somebody, even if it only helps one person, it's still a worthwhile exercise.”
*John’s name has been changed
Mother’s Day During LockdownMothers’ Day this year fell in the midst of Covid19 Lockdown so it was a different experience for some. Many mothers and their adult children were separated from one another by: being in different bubbles, Rest Home and hospital restrictions on visiting, geographical distance and closed borders internationally. Under such circumstances Mothers’ Day is bittersweet. There is grief that families are unable to be together.
As I reflected on this, I thought about those mothers whose preborn child is always absent and never known. Their pain and grief go unacknowledged and unrecognised.
However there is hope, as woven through the 14 Guideposts for post abortion trauma healing is the theme of grief and loss. There is an opportunity, through this counselling programme to acknowledge the life lost, to name the child and mourn for them, to make peace with oneself, the child and any higher power, and a chance to integrate the loss into their lives.
My hope is that next Mothers’ Day there will be more women who have experienced post abortion healing who will, perhaps for the first time, be able to think about their lost child and acknowledge them on Mothers’ Day.
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