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

  Newsletter Excerpts 2010 

Conversations Around Abortion

The subject of abortion makes people uncomfortable - there is a taboo in talking about it.

Abortion has become an accepted way of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy yet there is still much secrecy, stigma and shame surrounding it. Abortion loss or trauma is not well recognised nor widely acknowledged and those affected by an abortion often feel silenced.

Conversations around abortion are often heated, defensive and divisive, leading to moral debate or argued as a human rights issue. Extremes of bias are limiting and unhelpful in having open conversations around abortion. Whilst people are fighting to maintain a “position” they are unable to engage in actual conversation around abortion.

Systems and processes within health services which are largely geared towards abortion can constrain conversations needed for fully informed choice. Often risk factors for negative abortion reactions are discounted or minimised, if considered at all. In churches and some helping agencies people may impose beliefs and humiliate and judge those involved in abortions.

Conversations around abortion aren’t generally favoured around the dinner table or at parties or other social settings. Some people may admit their abortions as a matter of course and say they weren’t a big deal or even encourage others to follow suit. But often the deeper human and relational issues experienced by others are not discussed. It seems it is better to not talk about such disturbing matters as it can make people uncomfortable or it may offend.

The post abortive parent may have trouble discussing what is happening for them with those who supported their decision for fear of causing offence or upset, or being told “There’s nothing to grieve” or “It’s over, just get on with your life now”. They may feel isolated and alienated and not be able to share the reality of their experiences with others for fear of condemnation. Or they may not even associate what they are now experiencing with the abortion. It may only be sometimes years or decades later that they can view it, and work out what it has meant for them and their lives. Sometimes too there can be cultural barriers or issues around the subject of abortion and it’s not talked about. How and where are people able to talk about it in a society that fails to acknowledge the reality and possible impacts and effects?

- by Carolina Gnad

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Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat

Healing for the Grief / Trauma of Abortion

The first Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat was held on 18-19 June in Wellington. It was a humble privilege to be helping on team. The retreat centre was an idyllic spot, very tranquil with an amazing outlook, perfect for this type of soul-healing from the grief and trauma of abortion.

The weekend was a grace-filled experience where a number of post abortive parents were able to share around their abortion stories. The team provided a safe caring environment for the level of sharing needed for participants to confront the reality of what happened, and what it has meant for them and their lives. The depth of pain shared was deeply moving, but the movement from raw grief to hope very powerful.

The process participants go through is similar to the steps of healing in many post abortion recovery programme. Storying around the whole abortion and the impacts - dealing with the reality of the death of their offspring, sharing around hurts and anger, addressing the issue of forgiveness, memorialising and honouring the ongoing bond with the baby, and carrying on with life.

The atmosphere was of unconditional acceptance, non-judgment and genuine empathy. There was a Christian- Catholic focus which participants appeared to work with well. The process effectively drew participants deeper into themselves, touching on some painful places. The skilled facilitation and counsellor support provided much needed safety and containment for the work.

For some who come on the retreat this is the beginning of their healing journey, for others it is another step along the way and for others it is an opportunity for more closure.

The reality is the abortion experience will never be forgotten but the pain becomes transformed and less raw, there is greater acceptance and peace, and a readiness to embrace life more fully or in new ways

For more information contact:
Wendy Hill (Co-ordinator)
04 974 8693 or 027 733 2990
Email info@rachelsvineyard.org.nz

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P.A.T.H.S. Annual General Meeting

Monday June 14th was a wet and wild night, but for the thirty or so hardy souls who braved the weather it was a trip worth it. The P.A.T.H.S Trust held a public AGM where Jan Brodie (Chairwoman), shared the highlights of her annual report and the future directions of P.A.T.H.S .

As part of this future a small team have started working in the research arena, more specifically a literature review on the effects of past abortion on subsequent pregnancy, birth and post-partum experience (as reported in earlier editions of this newsletter). Because of this the Trust wanted to share with our supporters the knowledge and findings of a prominent researcher who happens to be based in Christchurch, Professor David Fergusson.

Professor Fergusson’s research has been well documented and is acknowledged as a leading source of information regarding the relationship between abortion and mental health. There were a large number of questions that opened up the discussion to include the experiences of those in the audience.

At the conclusion of the evening many stayed to continue their discussion and it was heartening to see so many share their thoughts and feelings.

The Trust would like to express a special thanks to Professor Fergusson for giving up his valuable time to talk to us, and of course to all of you who attended – thanks.

The research David spoke around relates to the study “Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health” by David M. Fergusson, L. John Horwood, and Elizabeth M. Ridder, Christchurch Health and Development Study, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2006.

Professor David Fergusson, Christchurch Health & Development Study, Christchurch School of Medicine & Health Sciences can be contacted

Write: P O Box 4345, Christchurch, NZ
Tel: 03 372 0406; Fax: 03 372 0407
Email: david.fergusson@chmeds.ac.nz

Editor's Note:

People frame up abortion in many different ways but if we are to respond appropriately to those who are grieving, struggling or traumatised by their abortions it needs to be looked at for what it is. Abortion is part of the spectrum of pregnancy and baby loss. The inherent loss and trauma in terminating a pregnancy for whatever reason and at whatever stage is often ignored, minimised or negated. Negative abortion reactions are poorly understood and often unanticipated but are very real when they occur. Abortion as a life-death event has the propensity to change people whether they realise it or not.

With around 18,000 women having abortions each year in NZ it is a subject we need to be talking about in every sphere of society. As long as society and those working in health and welfare circles fail to address the hidden but real impacts of abortion we won’t be able to have conversations around abortion that honour and support those affected. In our experience it can be incredibly hard for people to come forward and talk about their experiences and effects for them. This needs to change.

P.A.T.H.S. creates a safe place for anyone affected by abortion to express themselves and be supported. We understand that the process of healing after an abortion is a journey through many mixed emotions and there may be conflicts that need to be resolved. Our team are skilled and caring. We are there to listen to those who are hurting or struggling after abortion – mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings. We can provide information, training and opportunities for those involved in pregnancy decisions and abortion processes, or anyone interested in post abortion matters, who may wish to explore the issues and have a conversation.

By Carolina Gnad

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Everyone has an opinion about abortion. The problem is when the political and moral views get in the way of efforts to help those who are hurting because of a past abortion.

Just for a moment, set aside the question of whether or not abortion should be legal, and ask yourself, “Shouldn’t we all offer understanding and compassion to our friends and family members who are feeling grief or trauma over a past abortion?”

Most people would answer yes. Indeed, this is one of the few areas of common ground between both sides of the abortion debate. Unfortunately, people on each side generally believe that while they are understanding and compassionate, those on the “other side” are not.

The truth is closed to this: both sides really want to be understanding and compassionate, and both sides are blind to the ways in which they are failing in this regard.

As a result, women and mean who are struggling with unresolved grief or trauma over an abortion, are caught in a trap. They’re boxed in by the politics of abortion.

On one side, they are afraid to share their grief with friends who are “pro-life” because they fear being condemned and rejected. On the other side, they’ve learned that when they turn to friends who are “pro-choice”, their grief may not be acknowledged as truly valid.

- By David Reardon

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L i f e

At a recent pro-life conference a friend and I attended we mentioned to a lady that we’d had an abortion. We were told that she had never met anyone like me before. The truth is she had, however had never been told. I am your Sister, Cousin, Mother, Auntie, Wife, Grandma, Daughter, Friend, Workmate, Brother, Husband, Father, Uncle, Grandpa, Son. People all around us have experience abortions, however, who can speak of it?

At times when I’ve spoken of having had an abortion, there has been an attitude of blame followed by shame. The blame is never as strong or cutting as my own, yet it can still hurt.

I saw many of the people at the conference as beautiful fish in a pond. Each with their own place, purpose and position. Swimming in a school gaining understanding of a subject they were all burdened with, man’s choice of life or death as opposed to God’s creation of life and his time for death, with a need to represent a voice that cannot be heard.

I felt a ripple effect in the pond as I jumped in speaking my reality, the truth of where I have been, having an abortion. With the reaction from others I realised I wasn’t viewed as a fish like them, I felt more like a blemished warty frog. Someone to stay away from for fear of catching a disease. Maybe that is my own shame. My presence and truth upset some, and I felt I had better move to another pond, but couldn’t until the school was over. Do fish disdain frogs or frogs disdain fish, do they speak to one another, or do they each do their own thing? If this is to remain, neither will ever reach the other. They will not reach the eggs of either variety, the eggs that have no voice and need to be heard, for their lives to be protected, to have the right to live, until both the fish and frogs talk and hear one another.

- Counsellor K

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Nelson October 2010

This pro-life conference was held in Nelson at the end of October. It was a gathering of concerned people and health practitioners who spent time exploring around a wide range of social, health and life issues. It was a warm and friendly gathering and a wide range of groups were represented and shared around their work in the area of sex and relationships, pregnancy and abortion. The highlight for me was meeting and hearing Dr David Reardon speak. His extensive experience in post abortion research in the USA provided unique insights into the needs of the post abortive parent and strategies needed for groups. Churches and society to address some of the issues.

In his talk “Compassionate Strategy” David spoke of various themes that require attention.

Theme 1: Understanding the pressures that women are under to abort. For example: the legal and moral dissonance surrounding the issue, believing it is a life but that abortion is justified, how with the unplanned pregnancy a woman is first socially aborted and how often she is wanting primarily to keep people in her life so accedes to pressures of what others might see as best and a decision to not abort may be perceived as being weak in our current climate, and the choice is fundamentally between having a baby or having a trauma.

It is heartening to know that P.A.T.H.S. is on track with our work and trainings when we explore the context of abortion in our seminars and in our client work. It is hugely important to appreciate the various pressures that come to bear in the individual pregnant woman or couple’s situation but also from people around her/them and the wider political, medical and other social environment aspects.

Theme 2: The Impact of abortion on women and men. There is a need to recognise that the welfare of the mother and child are intertwined - if you hurt one you hurt both. The APA (American Psychiatric Association) continues to claim that “there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems after abortion.” and the media also promotes this idea of no evidence that abortion has negative impacts. The evidence of those involved in the healing work and in research shows levels of impacts, and knowing that the worse the circumstances the greater the risk for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

In our work in P.A.T.H.S. we are very cognissant of the myriads of ways abortion can affect a person, their relationships and lives. However, the impacts of abortion remain to a large extent denied, discounted or minimised in health and counselling circles. This effectively traps women and men in their pain and struggle after abortion. Admittedly, many women (men and families) “adjust” well enough psychologically and socially after this type of pregnancy-baby loss but often there is deeper healing needed for the real loss(es) experienced and the potential trauma that was incurred. In our experience and through our seminars and outreach in the community and medical and counselling areas we hear more and more about the different impacts that those who have had abortions recently or in the past are having. When one responds to the needs of those hurting after an abortion it is very difficult to join in with the current dominant discourses. We are heartened in our conversations with people and professionals we encounter by an increasing openness and interest in post abortion reality and the needs for help and healing to deal with the aftermath.

Theme 3: Understanding the obstacles to post abortion healing. Who can the post abortive parent talk to when she feel trapped by judgement and condemnation on the one hand and dismissal on the other. There is a spectrum or reactions for the post abortive woman e.g. if you remind me of my abortion you threaten to trigger my pain, I am trapped in self blame and fear and I become defensive to cope or I will blame others and become trapped in resentment, anger and hatred. Compassion in reaching those affected by abortion is more powerful than outrage.

All those involved in and associated with P.A.T.H.S. are deeply aware of the sensitive nature of the issues for the post abortive parent and the need for unconditional acceptance compassion - there is no room for judgement and no-one has the right to judge another. We need to know about the sorts of triggers for the post abortive women, and be willing and able to engage in non-threatening ways when they are ready to come and talk of their experiences. We cannot have preconceived ideas about them or their situations and need to open, interested, warm, welcoming and sensitive in our approach, willing to really listen and hear what this experience has been for them and means for them. No agendas just simply to be there and willing to go there with them as they revisit it in their own time.

I am aware too that sometimes zealous and well meaning Christians can put their foot in it, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes with other motivations. We need to be informed, knowledgeable, reflective and aware in our approach and dealings with people and families for whom abortion has been a difficult and painful experience. As David said in one woman’s story “It took the blood of Christ to lift my guilt, but it took the acceptance of others to lift my shame.”

I had the privilege of offering a workshop on post abortion healing with David - tricky as we had never met before the conference and did not have time to rehearse our material. But hopefully it provided opportunity for participants to reflect more deeply around the impacts and needs for post abortive parents and become curious about what might be useful for or could be applied by them in their sphere of influence.

Prior to the conference David Reardon, Dr Josef Hassan and myself were interviewed by Radio Rhema for their Talk at Ten programme (One to One: Friday 29 October 2010). If you are interested in listening to those interviews goto HERE

I hope we will all feel more encouraged and have a greater sense of our unique ability to respond and be willing to learn and discover how we might respond more appropriately in this area of need in our personal, family and professional circles.

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PMMRC Workshop

Christchurch November 2010 - Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee

P.A.T.H.S. had an information table again at this years PMMRC workshop. We had our poster from the literary review on display and it generated some good interest. It is useful having this piece of work on hand to engage with health professionals. It is always interesting hearing others’ experiences and perspectives and wonderful to have the opportunity to be present at such an event. A bonus was being able to attend the talks free of charge. There was a whole range of issues relating to perinatal and maternal health.

The Fourth PMMRC Report to the Minister of Health was presented, the role of ethnicity, maternal weight (does it matter for the baby?), maternal mental health, screening matters, support following termination of pregnancy for congenital abnormality, smoking mothers, neonatal encephalopathy and the AMOSS update (Australian Obstetric Surveillance Survey).

It’s great meeting up and linking in with familiar faces from other NGO groups. Some good networking happens with opportunities to share the struggles and delights of working in the sector.

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