The key to moving on from the pain and loss is awareness and understanding  

  Newsletter Excerpts 2007 


Women who share their stories with us have all suffered abortion-related grief: a depth of grief they were not prepared for and which many still carry. But they go unheard.

Conventional wisdom has it that abortion is mostly trouble-free, that it is really no big deal, an easy fix. Abortion is promoted as a procedure without repercussions and attempts to discuss it have become constrained. Emotional trauma after an abortion is treated with disdain and often dismissed, and those who are troubled are made to feel invisible, isolated and alienated.

The grief of women is documented in books such as “Giving Sorrow Words” by Melinda Tankard-Reist (Duffy & Snellgrove 2000) and “Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion” by Theresa Burke (Acorn Books 2002) and is witnessed and shared with post-abortion counsellors and pastors both here and overseas. It is not a new phenomenon.

However, attitudes towards women, and even more so men, overwhelmed by grief following abortion demonstrate a cruel indifference to their pain. Their suffering is often discounted and considered to be a figment of their imagination, and their feelings of guilt and remorse merely a by-product of social or religious conditioning. They are deemed to be oversensitive, psychologically unstable and victims of ill-founded conditioning.

The politics surrounding abortion also help to drown out the voices of those harmed by it. How free are women, or men, to share their anguish when abortion is so socially accepted and extolled as “an act of individual self-determination” “empowering” “a right for women” “ a rite of passage for women” “a positive moral and social good” “a source of transcendence and growth”? Those adversely affected, and those who speak out are viewed as an embarrassment, and are accused of being melodramatic and letting the side down.

Post-abortive women’s suffering is generally not attributed to the nature of the procedure itself or the circumstances that surround them pressuring them into a decision to terminate a pregnancy and end the life of their unborn. Rather for those who are adversely affected it is communicated to them that they are only upset because they choose to get upset. For example, it is implied that if they chose to regard the foetus as a bunch of cells and not a little human being with a beating heart and a bond with their mother they would not have a problem. So often they are encouraged to continue to rationalise their decision and deny their true heart in the experience. Because the majority appear unaffected, those who find themselves haunted, tortured or grieving after their abortion experience, are told or given the message to get over it, it was for the best and to carry on with life as if nothing were amiss. Women whose lives are shattered by an abortion find their experience is trivialised, even often by those in professional health and caring roles. Grief for an aborted baby is forbidden grief; it remains taboo.

In reality a woman never forgets a pregnancy, her baby and what might have been - she has nothing to mark that there was a baby and now there is no baby. When the baby is lost there are no memories or visible reminders of the baby but there is often a “feeling of emptiness and nothingness”, an uneasy and anxious void. She bears alone the mantle of silent maternal suffering. She needs to know hope and to know she is not alone in her grief. She needs to face what happened through the abortion, to return to herself and to restore her relationship with her aborted little one. She needs to find peace.

- By Carolina Gnad

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Reading a recent article on Grandmothers in “Broken Branches” by Anne Lastman, Victims of Abortion, Australia, prompted me to think and reflect more deeply around grandmothers and abortion.

Mother-daughter relationships are really important. A woman’s self identity has to some extent been born of that relationship and it remains a significant relationship in a woman’s life no matter what her age or situation. The mother-daughter relationship can impact greatly the outcome of a decision. Scenarios are many and varied. A mother may

  • actively / forcefully co-coerce her daughter to abort
  • encourage her to abort for “good reasons”
  • discourage her or actively try to dissuade her because of the her own beliefs or in the “best interests” of the daughter
  • be ambivalent and sit on the fence not offering a view or support one way or the other
  • leave the decision to her daughter not wanting to interfere or influence her
  • not know her daughter is pregnant and only find out later.

A daughter’s pregnancy decision can affect or fracture that relationship depending on the situation, history, personalities, dreams and values of the people involved. Whilst it is easy to think a woman can make a pregnancy decision independently and autonomously I wonder if that is the case. In recognising the context of abortion and understanding the wider influences there is no getting away from the overt and subtle reality of messages and pressures that influence her decision. A mother, by very nature of being mother is an influence, whether an active influence or passive influence. The existence and nature of that unique relationship makes it so.

The mother’s involvement or lack of involvement can also impact how the daughter copes with her decision at the time and afterwards.

For example:

If a mother encourages or supports the daughter with an abortion, the daughter may interpret that as love and support, or may do so at the time but later may feel resentment and anger if her own view of things and feelings about what happened has changed, as can happen as she grows or becomes a mother herself.

If a mother forces her daughter towards an abortion then the daughter may remember the role her mother played in orchestrating the death of her baby - and there can arise a deep wound and ache, which if unaddressed can disturb her and the relationship. It can also bring into question for her the role and rights of motherhood in and for herself and lead to confusion and fear, or alternatively judgement and determination to be and do things differently.

If a mother has offered all manner of help and support to her daughter to enable her to keep her baby and afford her the gift of being able to be a grandmother to the child, but the daughter chooses to have an abortion, how might the grandmother feel? To have tasted the idea of “grandmotherhood” and then to be denied it.

For some grandmothers there may be no apparent repercussions. But for some issues may surface later around her part in the abortion of a grandchild or her inability to intervene. If her daughter also later becomes distressed or issues arise for her relating to the abortion, for her as the mother then that can be upsetting, triggering guilt, hurt, self-blame, resentment, anger, and more grief. As a grandmother she may also mourn or come to mourn the loss of her grandchild. When that happens what can she do about it, where does she go, who can she talk to?

Grandmothers’ stories need to be heard too. Their pain is around issues of loss and changed relationships with both daughter and grandchild. When sharing around the abortion experience they may discover hidden hurts and issues that were important then and may be or may be different now.

After the initial grief I went through a stage of feeling a lot of guilt about not having prevented the abortion. I felt I’d let an innocent one, my grandchild, die and my daughter do something which has the potential to become extremely destructive to herself. I felt I’d failed the both of them in the extreme. For a while I had feelings of hating myself. I felt that although there was no certainty that if I’d tried harder things would have ended differently. I should have tried harder and then at least been able to look back knowing I had done my best. Now I realise I cannot undo what has been done, and can only hope some good will come from this. (Sarah - “Broken Branches” Issue 61 Dec/Jan 2008)

N.B. Although this article talks about grandmothers I want to also affirm grandfathers in their roles and experiences. There is no discounting or minimising the impact of abortion on fathers in relation to their daughters and grandfathers to their grandchildren.

- By Carolina Gnad

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Abortion and the Christian

Abortion is not selective - those from any walk of life and culture, rich or poor, Christian or other religious faith may opt for abortion. What can it mean for a person with a Christian belief ?

Christian belief brings a perspective to abortion and the abortion experience for those who hold the beliefs that may differ from that of those who do not adhere to such beliefs or come from alternative religious or other belief systems. What are some specific beliefs and influences that impact the post-abortive woman who is Christian? It is worth noting that for some women beliefs at the time of the pregnancy-abortion decision and the abortion may later alter, for example, where someone reaffirms their Christian beliefs or converts to Christianity years afterwards. The new perspectives can shift and initiate or impact different responses now to what they were then, to material around the abortion experience that may surface.

Scripture expresses how life comes from God, and is sacred and special from its smallest beginnings “It is you who created my inmost self and put me together in my mother’s womb” (.Ps 139:13) and offers the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13, Rm 13:9).

What happens then for a woman who holds such beliefs and opts for abortion as the solution to the problem of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? What conflicts and turmoil of mind, and heart or soul naturally ensues? What needs to happen to allow her to go ahead with something that is in conflict with her real heart and core beliefs? How does a person reconcile the assent to and action of abortion with a personal moral code that is in opposition to the underlying philosophy or current social attitudes around abortion?

Sometimes women speak of that feeling of having “no other choice”. If in crisis, she may not be thinking clearly, or necessarily able to sift through and work through all the issues and feelings, to come to an informed and considered decision and to make a choice that is consistent with their highest ideals and best aspirations. She may be subtly or overtly co-erced in a way that she may feel pressured, confused and powerless, and so allows herself to be swept along by what appears ‘reasonable’ or what most favours her situation and that of significant others at that time. The need is generally to resolve things as quickly and effectively as possible and get things “back to normal”. Often deeper values or beliefs are overshadowed by the immediate need to “sort the problem”.

When the focus is on the pregnancy as the “problem” and the aim is to find as quick and effective a solution that takes care of the problem, then personal religious beliefs or moral code can become suppressed or ignored. Key considerations such as the life of the baby, the possible risks or complications, and psycho-spiritual impacts, the long term consequences within her and in her life may receive little attention in the life-changing pregnancy-abortion decision. Rationalisation works to sort things out by a logical process, weighing up pros and cons with regards to practicalities and what seems like a good solution (i.e. that which will restore stability), without necessarily delving into the deeper issues and concerns that may later become important.

The relationship with the partner or spouse may be considered most important, whereas the mother-child bond and relationship may be unacknowledged or unsupported. This is often facilitated by distancing terminology that talks of the ‘procedure’ and ‘products of conception’ or ‘blob of tissue’. Such distancing techniques supports the maternal disconnection between head and heart-soul through the decision-making process – disconnection with self, disconnection with the life growing inside. Sometimes it is in her healing journey or in the course of her life, that a reconnection between head and heart-soul occurs, and then the abortion is seen in a very different light – grief surfaces, and the deeper issues and conflicts then need to be faced and worked through. This is often something she cannot do alone . Sadly for many Christians with a past abortion they feel unable to find the understanding and support they need in their churches for fear of condemnation, whether that is so or misperceived by them to be so. They often feel unworthy to be in or go to church and alienate themselves.

When the reality of what occurred in the abortion and what it has meant surfaces there is often an unanticipated reaction A woman may then either choose to numb out the unpleasant feelings that accompany the realisations that occur, or utilise denial or some means of escaping confronting the painful truth. For her guilt and shame may be such that she feels a deep despair - a nighttime of the soul some might say - where she feels alienated from her God, empty inside, fearful, alone with her pain and with an anguish that can seem unbearable. Her fear of judgement and punishment from people, even Christian friends but also especially from God, may be huge. She may be tormented by her self-judgement and condemnation. She may say things like “I killed my baby” “I feel like a murderer” “I can never forgive myself.” “I should be punished” “I don’t deserve anything good” “I don’t want to live.”

The interesting thing is that she may use her Christian beliefs to judge herself and punish herself, but fail, until helped, to allow her faith to draw her into the deep healing she desires and is available to her. God is a God of compassion and mercy, and God’s grace and love can restore a person’s mind, heart and soul in ways that may not be fully understood by her. To allow herself to receive God’s unconditional love, and forgiveness, will heal her from the inside out – from the trauma and grief, guilt and shame. It will change her life - not back to ‘normal’, whatever normal was supposed to be, but she will find new hope and discover a new life and fullness of life. This is the promise of Scripture and for those who are Christian it is a powerful and wonderful promise. How do I know this? Because I have seen both Christian and non-Christian open up to God’s grace and find peace.

- By Carolina Gnad

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Operation Outcry - Courageous Women Speak Out

"The nightmares continued, the depression became deeper.

I found myself detached from everyone and everything.

I prayed for another chance, another baby."

Theresa and myself from P.A.T.H.S., joined a small group of other interested persons at the Spreydon Baptist Church in Christchurch on the night of ‘Christmas in the Park’, to meet Karen Bodle from Pennsylvania and Kay Painter from Idaho. These two women shared their personal abortion stories and talked about Operation Outcry and its work in the USA. Karen and Kay had been traveling around Australia and New Zealand and meeting with groups of people to raise awareness of the tragedy of abortion. “I do not want any woman to go through the intense pain and suffering that I experienced. I must speak out and tell my story to encourage other women suffering in silence to seek emotional healing and forgiveness” said Karen, who is the International Director for Operation Outcry, a movement of women hurt by abortion who are speaking out about the pain and consequences they have endured. She also serves as the Pensylvania State Leader. Her heart’s cry is to see abortion become a socially unacceptable choice in the United States and around the world.

Regardless of one’s point of view around the politics of abortion, there is something moving and disturbing in listening and hearing the true reality of women’s experiences around, through and following abortion. The more stories I hear from women around the world, the more I have come to appreciate that such experiences are not isolated incidences. The growing sense is that there are inescapable consequences of abortion as a pregnancy choice, yet many women are destined to suffer in silence in a society that does not acknowledge, give voice to, understand or adequately support those hurting or harmed by abortion.

Many women continue with their lives unaware of how deeply abortion has changed them and impacted their lives until or unless at some point the grief and hurt surfaces and they revisit their experience and what it has meant. Then there is often additional hurt and anger, possibly a sense of injustice and betrayal... and other powerful emotional responses to deal with, as well as needing to journey through the grief which had been buried for sometimes a significant time.

“Lucky for you, nowadays you have a choice!” Fateful words that changed Kay Painter’s life irrevocably. The words came from a nurse standing as an observer in the examination room... I had just discovered I was pregnant at age 39. My two girls were almost grown, and I had a new growing business that demanded my time and offered recognition and prestige. What would I do with a baby? So I latched onto her words and after discussing it (convincing) my husband made the appointment. I bought the “easy” way out. My counselling was “Does your husband know?” and “Have you signed the release. Step into a gown: you’ll find it down the hall.”

I am thankful I have no memory of the abortion, but from the instant I heard my baby’s helpless body hit the garbage can I KNEW! I had just killed my own flesh and blood, an innocent life. I was panic-stricken, the nurse told me to “calm down - in a few days all will be back to normal.”

No-one forewarned me of the possible repercussions of an abortion. It was a simple procedure of removing “tissue” - so why the pain, the sudden emptiness? I awoke night after night to the sound of screams - they were mine! ... I wanted to speak with my pastor but what would he think of me? Here I was sitting weekly in the choir; and yet I had killed my baby. I considered talking to my best friend, but she was Christian. Would she be repelled and turn away? And to those I knew who weren’t Christian, they’d most likely tell me to get over it! It’s done all the time. It seemed there was not a soul to share with - I held it all in.

The nightmares continued, the depression became deeper. I found myself detached from everyone and everything. I prayed for another chance, another baby. Within the next year God gave us a beautiful healthy baby boy. I was sure the guilt was behind me.... The screams stopped but the nightmare of my “choice” was far from over. I would leave the room when abortion was discussed, terrified that people would see it on my face. I found the church community was too ‘goody-goody’ for me so I quit. Church was for people who were good.

The abortion followed me through the next 16 years bringing isolation, bad choices, a horribly ugly divorce, unspeakable shame, terrible loneliness and a depression so deep that I denied its existence.

Finally when my replacement baby was 16, God in his mercy, brought me to my knees. As my guilt began to surface while at work one day, I pleaded sick and went home. There were no words to express the deep dark hole I found myself in, no phrase to describe the depth of my despair. God placed it on my heart to drive directly to my doctor’s office, where I was rushed into a private exam room. There I took my first step of healing by “telling”. He set me up with a high dosage of Prozac and a Christian counsellor who began seeing me immediately and almost daily for the next three and a half months.

It took every ounce of strength I could muster to tell my ugly secret to my new pastor. Daily, I revisited the pain of my “lucky choice” and the “quick fix” I had chosen years before. It was during this time that I discovered God’s overwhelming grace and mercy to even me... Mountains of guilt were removed and tons of shame taken away. I was no longer alone. It was then I promised to help other women in their struggle and that I would be silent no more.

Kay is now serving as the Operation Outcry liaison to Australia and New Zealand. In the USA they have collected over 2000 signed affidavits from women about the impacts and consequences of their abortions. Part of the purpose and drive there is to create enough concern to outlaw the Partial Birth Abortion which is currently available in many states.

Like drops in a bucket, it could be hoped that these stories, and others like them, will help create a tidal wave in the wake of abortion that people and our society as a whole cannot ignore, so that abortion’s grief is no longer disenfranchised and its aftermath is no longer hidden. And with this may come better informed consent to avert such tragedy, suffering and adversity.

- By Carolina Gnad
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