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

  Newsletter Excerpts 2008 

Continuing Bonds

Continuing bonds enables the relationship to be maintained, not as before, but in a new and different dimension..... Where there is deep mourning, anguished grief, there is also found deep unswerving love and this is the dimension which does not die.

Anne Lastman in her June/July 2008 newsletter Broken Branches speaks of the continuing bonds surrounding relationships around the death of abortion. This is something that we counsellors also deal with in our work with clients here after abortion, for it is something associated with any bereavement loss, including abortion loss.

The nature of continuing bonds arises from the reality that there exist bonds which continue beyond death and do not necessarily cause disequilibrium. Continuing bonds enables the relationship to be maintained, not as before, but in a new and different dimension. There is the belief and sense that physical absence does not necessarily diminish attachment. Where there is deep mourning, anguished grief, there is also found deep unswerving love and this is the dimension which does not die. Love changes its dimension but continues.

Love is that universal life giving emotion that ensures that no one is ever forgotten. It is love, which is responsible for the grief of abortion. It is love that ensures that the bonds remain unbroken. To forget and move on has a dimension of “use” inscribed within it, whilst to remember has a dimension of “love” and “forever” inscribed within it. To remember, means that all the aborted child was, is and could have been, has been memorialised for the well-being and happiness of those left behind, who live with the regret.

The bonds of attachment that is love goes beyond the servile attachment for security. Ongoing bonds with a deceased loved one can be viewed as a natural flow of the attachment theory but the added dimension of love is one worthy of contemplation. Sadly for many who experience abortion death, continuing bonds are complicated sometimes by issues of guilt. But abortion grief is a deep and real loss, and irrespective of “fault” it needs to be understood that whether expressed or not, the loss exists simply because the one who died, continues to reshape the lives of those left behind.

When journeying through the grief after abortion the bereaved post-abortive parent needs to renegotiate the relationship with the little baby who died in the abortion. There is a process of saying “hello” and then ‘goodbye” to the life that was, and adjusting to the new state of things, and then saying “hello” again through the love that enables those attachment bonds to continue. It is necessary to remember the short, but nonetheless meaningful life of her (or his) precious baby, let go and continue living with the memory woven into the fabric of her (or his) life.

If healing is sought, there is no escaping this process, once a person has begun to confront the reality of her (or his) abortion loss. Accepting continuing bonds can on the one hand be a huge benefit for many, but for others, believing they deserve to have them, can be difficult. With abortion grief, achieving peace may be fraught, as there often remain residual elements, for example around guilt, which some struggle with. But a good measure of acceptance and peace can be reached which enables the post abortive parent to move forward, begin to embrace life more fully once more with confidence in the future whilst retaining that very important and precious link with the little one who died.

- By Carolina Gnad

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Women's Grief After Abortion

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

Emotional trauma after abortion is treated with disdain and dismissed by many health professionals, and society at large, as an invention. Women’s suffering after an abortion is considered a figment of their imagination; their guilt and remorse a by-product of social or religious conditioning... They are an embarrassment. The topic is given scant, indifferent or often scathing consideration. Women experiencing grief after abortion don’t exist! They go unheard.

Conventional wisdom says abortion is mostly trouble-free. Because of this those who are troubled are made to feel invisible. Their stories have been disqualified, even by those who say we must listen to women’s voices and credit women’s experiences. Furthermore the politics surrounding abortion have drowned out the voices of women harmed by it.

Women whose lives are shattered by the abortion experience and for whom abortion was not a “maturational milestone” “an act of self-determination” “a positive moral good” “a source of fulfillment, transcendence and growth” are cast aside as oversensitive, psychologically unstable, victims of socially constructed guilt. Their experience is trivialised.

To hold a view that termination is really no big deal, an easy fix and without repercussions for women effectively constrains the suffering, discounts and minimises the pain of those who actually struggle afterwards.

Suffering post-aborted women feel resentment towards a society which ignores or neglects their suffering. They are not allowed to acknowledge or mourn their loss openly. The disdain for women suffering after-abortion trauma sends the message: you are only upset because you have chosen to be upset. Mocking responses in the vein of “Abortion can be an emotional subject - particularly for people who choose to get upset about it” makes them feel they are being melodramatic, attention-seeking and forces them to deny their experience of loss, or feeling haunted or tortured by their abortions.

It is not helpful when women are told “there is nothing there” or that they are terminating a “bunch of cells” because deep in their hearts many recognise that they were pregnant with a little human being. Their arms feel empty, they don’t like looking at babies, they cry often. They ask “What would my baby have looked like?” “Was it a boy or girl?” Would-have-been birthdays are quietly marked year after year.

Margaret Nicol points out in her work on maternal grief - it is a myth that a mother only bonds with her child after birth. A woman never forgets a pregnancy and the baby that might have been. When the baby is lost and there are no memories or visible reminders of the baby “the feeling of emptiness and nothingness becomes pervasive and it is this uneasy anxious void that makes women wonder if they’re going crazy”. This is true for women who experience miscarriage - it can be equally true for those who have experienced an abortion.

Previously women who miscarried were treated callously after losing their babies - some were told it wasn’t a real baby they had lost, some were told not to cry as this was all part of being a woman, and those who did were made to feel silly, that they just had to toughen up and get on. These dismissive and negative attitudes are slowly changing for those who experience miscarriages but now they are being applied to those who have had abortions. It’s not okay to talk about abortion grief.... It’s not okay to cry.... Women are forced into denial or to think about it privately. But the truth remains: where there was a baby, now there is no baby.

Society and medics use the term foetus in an attempt to dehumanise the experience, lessen the maternal attachment response and for some women this is effective in aiding their coping afterwards, but for many it feels like an insult on top of the assault they’ve felt already in submitting to an abortion. It does nothing to decrease the anguish of their mother’s heart.

It is not helpful to pit women not hurt by abortion against those who are. There is no one authentic experiential reality when it comes to abortion. Each woman’s story and experience is unique to her.

In counselling women after abortion we need to become very mindful of and sensitive to this fact if we are to be responsive and effective in helping her on her journey of healing.

Inspired and adapted from writings of Melinda Tankard-Reist, author of “Giving Sorrow Words”.

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Copy of article released by New Zealand Press Association (Wellington, 1 December 2008)

Women who have an abortion are more likely to suffer subsequent poor mental health, according to a new survey

The University of Otago study found women who had an abortion faced a 30 percent increase in the risk of developing common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Professor David Fergusson, John Horwood and Joseph Boden studied the pregnancy and mental health history of over 500 women, who took part in the long-running study from birth to the age of 30.

The women were interviewed six times between the ages of 15 and 30, each time being asked whether they had been pregnant and, if so, what the outcome of that pregnancy had been. They were also given a mental health assessment during each interview, to see if they met the diagnostic criteria for major depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol dependence and illicit drug dependence. Overall, 284 women reported a total of 686 pregnancies before the age of 30. These pregnancies included: 153 abortions (occurring to 117 women), 138 pregnancy losses, 66 live births that resulted from an unwanted pregnancy, and 329 live births resulting from a wanted pregnancy.

The study found the overall population effects of abortion on mental health were small, with researchers estimating that exposure to abortion accounted for between 1.5 and 5.5 percent of the overall rate of mental disorders in the general population. However, the findings have implications for the legal status of abortion in New Zealand where over 90 percent of terminations were authorized on the grounds that proceeding with the pregnancy will pose a serious threat to the woman’s mental health.

The study supports international research on the subject which also revealed a link between abortion and mental health.

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Mothers Day - Celebration or Trial

It’s rarely acknowledged that women who have had abortions are mothers too!

Each year in May we celebrate Mothers Day in New Zealand. It is a special time to remember and honour mothers, grandmothers and those who have been like mothers to us in our lives. As with many of these annual celebrations they are for some less a celebration than a trial, and are approached with mixed feelings. Strained relationships with mothers or separation - geographical, through death, rejection or abandonment colour Mothers Day for mothers, their offspring and grandmothers alike.

Every language and culture has a word for mother - the female parent especially human. But when is a mother a mother?

Women who have living children are undoubtedly counted in. Women who have experienced a pregnancy, baby, infant or child loss can look on Mothers Day as a day of remembering or a day of sadness. It is very personal. Losing an unborn baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or induced labour for foetal abnormality, or losing a baby soon after birth, or an infant or child does not make a mother an “unmother”. There is no disputing that for these mothers it is okay to acknowledge their loved little ones or children who have died. The death of their little ones does not change their status as mother and their right to be forever that little one’s mother and to remember their beloved offspring who have died.

For some of these bereaved mothers although their status as mother is not in dispute how they might remember or be allowed to express their feelings around times like Mothers Day for little ones who died is another matter, and very much depends on themselves and where they are at in their own grieving process and the acceptance and support, or lack of, from those around them.

The plight of post abortive women is often a different story again. Whether they themselves or others can or will freely acknowledge their status of ‘mother’ and accord them their right to remember and be remembered on this occasion is variable depending on circumstances and those around them. Abortion loss is a disenfranchised loss - neither socially recognised nor supported. So it begs the question, who supports motherhood in the post-abortive women? Do the women who have had abortions, their partners or spouses, their families or does society? If so how? If not, why not?

Post-abortive women themselves may often deny maternity as part of the head-heart disconnection that can occur through the decision-making process when they were faced with the unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. This can become problematic later. That deep rejection of the maternal relationship and avoidance of a felt connection and attachment to the life growing inside that enables her to decide for abortion effectively ensures denial after the event of that unique bond of the mother with her offspring.

For many post-abortive women then Mothers Day can be a nonevent when it comes to remembering their little ones who died in the abortion. However we know that Mothers Day for some becomes a trigger for negative emotional reactions, often unconscious, from their past abortions. We hear about this in the stories post-abortive women share.

It can become confusing for the post-abortive woman, for in having allowed herself to undergo an abortion she may have denied her maternal relationship to or attachment to the life growing inside at that time, so now how can she hope to acknowledge that life and relationship? And who around her will be interested in supporting such an acknowledgement now, particularly if friends and family were supportive of the decision in the first place? How can she think or feel she has the right to grieve or remember - her little one, and her seeming lost motherhood? And compared to those for whom the loss of a loved little one is legitimate what possibility is there for a post-abortive mother to openly acknowledge or express her love, reality or desire?

With the utmost respect and sensitivity to mothers who have lost their unborn little ones, or babies or children for other reasons, and not wishing to detract from the depth of feelings and sense of tragedy that accompanies such losses for them, there is, I think, a need to address the need for post-abortive mothers to be validated on Mothers Day - to acknowledge both their status as mother and for them to be given the chance to remember their little ones who have died. If we do not do this, do we not effectively forbid them healing and closure and a chance to celebrate their ongoing relationship with their offspring?

Some may not agree - either that in assisting post-abortive women to acknowledge motherhood is helpful or that they have a right to remember or celebrate on Mothers Day. However, we who work with women after abortion recognise clearly the need for and work in reestablishing her true relationship with the little one lost in abortion as part of the healing process. And in our experience encouraging that ongoing relationship as ‘mother’ is as important with post-abortive mothers as with others who have experienced pregnancy, baby, infant or child loss.

- By Carolina Gnad

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