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

  Newsletter Excerpts 2013 

Sibling Loss Through Abortion or Termination

What can it mean?

I was reading something recently relating to sibling loss from abortion or termination and it set me wondering more about what this might be like. I then did some research and come across some interesting stories.

“Admittedly, before finding out about mom’s abortion, I gave little thought to the the whole issue beyond feeling it was wrong, and wondering why anyone would choose it (for the most part). But after hearing her story, it made me realize how hard it was for her. It was during a very dark time in her life, and I could see that nearly 11 years later she was still hurting from it.... It hurt badly, to find out that we had lost a brother, especially in such a horrible way. But to this day, one of the things that hurts most about it, is that it took place during my lifetime, and I did nothing to help. I cringe thinking about the things I may have said or done unintentionally that likely caused her great pain. I wish I had been able to comfort her when she found out, and maybe I could’ve done more to help out and what not. Maybe she wouldn’t have considered aborting. Granted, I was 10, I know, deep down that it was not my fault, but it is still a struggle... I hate knowing that for so many years, she told just a very few people, suffering mostly in silence.
(susiofanabba http://survivingsibling.wordpress.com/)

Whether an abortion or termination loss is evident in a family story or history, there will invariably be ripple effects from mothers, fathers, others, and direct or direct effects on existing siblings or subsequent siblings. Abortion or termination is a significant life-death event and so will touch and change people in various ways. And, there will be a natural flow-on effect on relationships within families.

“…. there are psychological effects on siblings of aborted children. Dr. Philip Ney, a Canadian psychologist, has studied these effects for decades. He tells a story of a woman who came to him for counseling for her six-year-old child who was having nightmares, wetting the bed, and suffering from separation anxiety. Dr. Ney, in his interview with the mother, asked her about any pregnancy losses. She told him about two abortions that she had prior to giving birth to this child. Then in a separate interview with the child, Dr. Ney asked the child to draw a picture of her family. She was an only child, and yet she drew a picture with her mom, dad, brother, sister, and herself. She had a sense of the missing siblings.” (Teresa Tomeo http://clinicquotes.com/dr-phillip-ney-on-children-with-aborted-siblings/)

In families where there has been an abortion or termination which may be held secret, or in families where an abortion or termination was cited as a miscarriage or stillbirth, or where the family were included or knew afterwards, there are questions around what the legacy is for other family members, notably siblings. Surviving siblings may live in distrust of parents involved in aborting a sibling, they may be angry towards them or they may defend them.

If a twin loses a twin, we are very aware of the potential grief and trauma for a sibling, and longer term effects around the loss. Or if a sibling dies through illness or accident there is both awareness and often acknowledgement that there may be impacts for remaining siblings. So too there can be significant grief and trauma for siblings affected by a sibling lost to abortion or termination.

If this speaks to you, know you can speak to us about your experiences too and know it is okay to feel what you feel.

- Carolina Gnad

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Keeping up Appearances

What started off as a feeling of elation and excitement, quickly led to a feeling of utter impending doom.

I have always felt I was one of those people who started something then gave it up.

Over the years I studied various things, from hairdressing to fine arts, and even computer science. But it wasn’t until I started studying creative writing in 2010, followed by journalism the following year that I finally realised I had “stick ability” when it came to things that made me feel good about myself.

At the end of 2011 after I had finished my studies, I moved house to another city. It was a far cry from the creature comforts of my hometown, but my life was starting out well. I had met a wonderful man, I moved in with him, I was now a trained journalist and was seeking what was to be a wonderful professional life in print media.

It was a lovely summer and I was in love. My partner and I were happy and we would head out to summer music events, wander around the city on a warm night being happy we found each other. We were foolish too. I stupidly believed that, as I had not fallen pregnant since being off the pill for more than 3 years, that it would take an age for me to fall pregnant with my new partner. Less than six weeks after moving in with my partner, I found myself pregnant. What started off as a feeling of elation and excitement, quickly led to a feeling of utter impending doom. My world as I knew it was falling apart. Crying and wailing were a major part of my life…. I was afraid for my own mental state of mind and feared the worst.

What made it all harder was that I suffered from severe morning sickness. Mine last all day, and all night. I would crawl out of bed a little after 1pm only to drag myself onto the living room couch. There I would sip quietly on water and cry the afternoon away. It was during those dark moments that I started thinking of termination. A Google search later, I came to a page offering me a way out by the way of termination services at a local clinic.

It was a Friday. My friend was sitting with me at my house and she was shocked at just how much I was crying. I decided to call the clinic. A social worker rang me back and for the first time I felt that someone understood the measure of the dark space I felt I was in. After meeting with the social worker the following week, I was booked in to meet the first certifying doctor.

As the weeks progressed, my body was changing and I felt trapped; trapped in a foreign body, in a foreign mind and I desperately wanted to get out.

The final appointment was made, and I had to wait a further two weeks. These weeks were to be some of the longest weeks I have ever lived through. I felt I had run a massive race and I only had enough energy to drag me to the finish line – a finish line I could not yet even see.

The day came. For the first time in weeks, I was relieved. The procedure was very scary and painful, but I felt relief – relief that I was no longer carrying with me, a burden that I didn’t want, and relief that I instantaneously resolved any feeling of nausea whatsoever. But, I also left behind something else. It took me months of trying to work out exactly what I had left behind. But whatever it was, it left me with a massive void; a chasm that I simply knew I needed to fill.

Mid-2012, I felt awful. My weight had increased, my energy levels had waned and whatever I started, I failed to finish. I started a great job at an established newspaper, but lasted only two weeks on the payroll. I started walking for exercise, but only got as far as the local shops. My head was in a bad and foreboding place.

It was only by chance that I stubbled across a website offering support after termination. At this stage, I really had no idea that the termination was the root to my current head space, but I delved further. I found out more about P.A.T.H.S. - the Post Abortion Trauma Healing Service, and decided to go along to their monthly support group meeting. There were only a few of us in a room, but everyone there had been through something either the same, or similar – including the facilitators. We each had our own stories, and behind each story, was that same sadness and senses of loss. But most importantly, there was that little glimpse of “all will be okay”.

I had been going to P.A.T.H.S. for a little over seven months when I found out I was pregnant again. And, I am angry even writing this – because I, out of everyone I know, should have known better. Once again, my partner and I had practiced unprotected sex. Within days, I knew – and once again, I didn’t know if I was happy or sad. To be sure, I took a pregnancy test after a morning swim. I promised myself I wouldn’t take a peek until I had finished my shower, but I couldn’t help myself. TWO - FAINT - LINES. Does that mean I am pregnant though, if it’s two faint lines? My last test showed two very dark and clear lines. But thinking back I knew – I knew it was only eight days late. So, my hormone levels would only be low.

I came home and told my partner. He was shocked, but also happy. I couldn’t stop crying. I was reliving the previous year all over again. I knew that to make this real and to try and accept it as a good thing, we had to start telling people so I was less likely to change my mind.

That afternoon, we headed out to his mother and stepfather’s place. She was absolutely head-over-heels. Telling her had made me feel all sick and angry and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was floating; floating in some weird place above myself – I wasn’t there…in mind or spirit. I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out of there. I felt faint and so scared.

A trip to the doctor confirmed that I was indeed pregnant: Very early on, but pregnant all the same. I spoke with her about my earlier pregnancy, and her support was reassuring. My weight was also an issue by now, and I was told that being overweight was not an optimum position to be in. This was to be my arsenal; my catalyst, my excuse for getting what I wanted. A termination.

And here I am – three months later feeling exactly what I felt last year. Empty, detached, longing for something that I left behind, ran away from. The promises I made to myself: losing weight, getting a good job, getting on with life – they are all partially happening, but not to the extent that I had of wished, or was justifiable by having a termination.

I am pro-choice. I believe each and every woman out there should have the opportunity to decide whether to have a baby at that moment, or to not have that baby at that moment. But each woman needs support. In order to receive a termination, you need to be counselled and carefully monitored to make sure that having a termination is the right thing.

But what about after the termination? Who is there at the other end of the hospital corridor waiting to counsel that woman after one of the biggest days of her life? For those who feel that a termination does not invoke some sort of trauma: including confusion, longing, grief, sadness, anxiety and anger – as well as possibly that immediate sense of relief after a termination – then all I can say is that you need to live in her shoes to understand it. Support is essential, and a range of support that is available should be offered – it should be part of the staple diet of after termination care.

- G.R.

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Views Challenged

Feedback from someone at a recent seminar was that the seminar was great except for being too pro-life.....?
I have pondered long about what this might be about because others say how balanced the seminar and my approach is.

In the post abortion seminar that I facilitate, when talking about views and beliefs, we look at our personal positions on the continuum between extreme pro-life and extreme pro-abortion. We are invited to look at our personal views and where we might position ourselves on the continuum, and also where we hope to place ourselves in our professional role. We are acutely aware that if our desire is to respond to clients wholeheartedly and effectively after abortion and termination then we need to be particularly warm, open and non-judgmental, and to meet them where they are, and not impose our views. This is such a sensitive area of support and counselling and many post abortive people are ultra sensitive to others’ judgemental or dismissive comments or behaviour.

Therefore the counsellors in P.A.T.H.S. endeavour to maintain a broad perspective and openness to the issues. We as an organisation adopt a midway position that we term pro-life pro -choice. Because of people’s own assumptions or understanding around what those terms mean we need to qualify what that means for us.

We are pro-life in that we acknowledge the dignity worth and rights of all involved in any abortion or termination scenario, be it the mothers, fathers, the preborn baby (at whatever stage of development), family, wider circle of friends, doctors, nurses, counsellors, social workers and anyone involved.

We also believe in choice, where people have the right to make decisions that affect them and their lives. But three things need to be present for something to be a real and autonomous choice - free will, full information and an absence of pressure or co-ercion. Decisions made around abortion and termination are often not choices in the true sense of the word rather pressured pragmatic responses to difficult situations.

The approach in the healing work differs from that of the decision-making, where invariably the focus is finding a solution to the problem (the unplanned or the problematic pregnancy). In post abortion or termination recovery and healing our processes and goals tend to be more therapeutic, centering around the identified needs of each client covering mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social, relational and historical contexts and aspects for the client, supporting their processes of grief, helping them deal with trauma and personally integrating the experience.

In talking with other counsellors experienced in dealing with post abortion adjustment and healing I am aware that the difficulty for some people appears to be around the willingness to acknowledge the life and personhood of the life lost in the abortion or termination especially for earlier stage terminations. This seems to be at odds with what many regard as usual or acceptable in the decision making period. Yet it is the same reality, the same pregnancy, the same being in both situations.

After the event it seems, for some, it is permissable to acknowledge that this human being may be viewed as real child for the parent, but it seems it is difficult to grant that same permission with some terminations during the decision-making time. It does complicate and make the termination process difficult and harder. However the reality afterwards is that we are dealing with a pregnancy-baby loss event, and the significance and meaning of the loss of that life for the individual needs to be able to be acknowledged and experienced in the fullness of its reality for healing to occur.

We do not impose our views on the client. Many who come initially frame up their experience as a pregnancy termination and loss, or removal of products of conception or cells, or tissue, or the foetus.... However, through the course of their inward journey expressing grief and dealing with trauma, most clients seem to naturally come to a place where they acknowledge that this was a life, a baby, their baby who died in the abortion or termination. This can feel huge to process and a difficult and painful reality to face.

As post abortion or termination counsellors our role is to support the client’s process. For those with recent abortions or terminations we assess where they are in relation to aspects of grief and trauma, and offer emotional support to process what they can and need to right now. For those who have had past experiences, the process of unpacking the experience through the 10 Step Programme we use draws them inwards deeper into their own awareness and knowing. We accompany them as they journey to that place.

Some are ready to go there and deal with the deeper reality for themselves. Others may not be. All clients will deal with what is uppermost and go as far as they want to in unpacking and exploring issues. This is the way of person-centred counselling. It is about the client, hearing and supporting them in their journey as they uncover, explore and process material that comes to the surface through the process.

I am struck by the similarities in the way I work with clients who have miscarriages, stillbirths or other pregnancy-baby losses with those who have lost little ones to abortion or termination. However, issues for those after abortion tend to be more complex and grief and trauma more complicated. Coming to a point often of being at odds with the original decision, and feeling culpable can engender huge psychospiritual dissonance and conflict, guilt and shame. There are often major shifts in sense of self, views and beliefs through the healing journey As new awareness and healing happens for the post abortive parent, they are still required to function in a world where their grief and trauma remains unaccepted, unacceptable, disenfranchised and their reality is often minimised or dismissed. This can be painful and hard.

In my mind the loss and trauma associated with abortion or termination is natural, and can relate to a host of things for each individual. However, if I cannot accept that they key thing that has been lost is in reality a human life, that person’s offspring, their baby, then I do a disservice to those who come to me for help in finding resolution and closure after their abortion or termination.

- Carolina Gnad

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Mother’s Day Everyday

Mother’s Day has come and gone.
It can be a bittersweet day for those quietly grieving after an abortion or termination.
It is often a reminder of lost children, broken hearts, disrupted lives, hurt souls, and lost motherhood.

A mother never forgets her child or children. Mothers may delight in having their loved ones around them on Mothers Day. But some may be estranged from their offspring or may have lost them to death by illness, accident. Others may have experienced a pregnancy-baby loss, through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, abortion or termination. For every mother every day can be a Mothers Day!

From years of counselling bereaved mothers, I believe that there is a bond that lasts and a love that has the power to transcend time and space specific to being a mother. This is very important to embrace in the healing work for those who have lost their children at whatever stage in their pregnancy for whatever reason.

A mother may or may not actually feel an attachment to or maternal bond with her preborn. I wonder though at the perhaps physiological basis for such connection regardless of how it may be felt. Scientific research shows that there is a natural sharing of cells that occurs during pregnancy.

“A pregnant woman knows she is shaping her child’s future from the moment of conception. But she might not realize that the baby is already talking back. Mother and child are engaged in a silent chemical conversation throughout pregnancy, with bits of genetic material and cells passing not only from mother to child but also from child to mother.” (1)

Whether or not you would choose to believe that this has anything to do with the maternal bond or attachment, suffice it to say one can never dismiss a mother’s natural feelings regardless or the circumstances of motherhood.

For some mums knowing they may be carrying something of their little ones with them is a huge consolation, and also gives them an understanding rightly or wrongly of why they can feel such strong feelings even years later, when at the time the feeling of connection was not apparent. Looking beyond the procedure and from a counselling perspective it is worth and important to appreciate how complex the issues can be and how deep the experiences can go. The beauty and curse of being human?!

Attachment in the early stages of pregnancy when a woman is considering an abortion or termination may be debated, but how much of that is attributable to the influences and politics of those around her? Or maybe her own defence mechanisms helping her to cope in what may very well be a crisis situation? How available is she to connect to that life growing inside or how willing to acknowledge her natural maternal bond with her developing offspring hidden within the womb?

For some it may never become apparent and that is fine for them. It seems that we have become very blase in our society with regards to early pregnancy termination. It is so accepted and normalised as no big deal. But are we aware of the potential for hurt and pain and the myriads of unresolved issues that can carry through into people’s lives as a result? Certainly many take it in their stride, but for many the deeper implications only become realised over time or when they stop to explore what the loss and trauma has meant.

In working with clients post abortion it is always surprising to me how at the time of an early abortion or termination there may have been a sense of lack of awareness or sense of a bond to the life growing inside, but in the healing work the real grief that can surface demonstrates the reality differently. It is not something to be dismissed.

Those who have experienced a later termination of pregnancy are more evidently attached and bonded to their preborn babies at the time of the termination. Their issues are complicated through the process of making a decision to terminate that life prematurely. Their grief is more supported within the services, but many struggle afterwards with their own thoughts or the limitations placed on them equally by the world around them in terms of allowing grief and supporting them to work through their trauma.

Mother’s experience heartache in relation to their children for hosts of reasons. Those who have terminated pregnancies have a special heartache around parting with their own. Our hearts go out to all mums on Mother’s Day especially those who have lost little ones through abortion or termination, as we remember.

(1) Beyond Birth: A Child’s Cells May Help or Harm the Mother Long after Delivery http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fetal-cells-microchimerism

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God’s Spirit is a Spirit of Peace

Christian people and Churches often fail to offer compassion and understanding to pregnant women facing unplanned pregnancy and their plight or to those who have had abortions or terminations for various reasons or those involved in the services. Moralistic preaching or harsh condemnation does nothing to help those involved, nor in does it impart the love of Jesus. One of the biggest difficulties for Christian women, and men, who have had or are involved in abortions, is the judgement of themselves and fear or judgement of others.

In a recent commentary on the daily readings, I read: “Even after our most serious failings he (Jesus) makes us feel a sorrow that is peaceful, humble and confident, precisely because of his mercy..... it is very much to ourselves we should be practising charity in the first place. So, a spirit of peace, draws you to and brings you serenity. When you are bothered by certain thoughts, the agitation and self blame never comes from God.” God, being a God of love only desires to draw us to peace through forgiveness and reconciliation. So whatever you may think you have done wrong there is a way to peace. And if you are tempted to judge others be sure you yourself are without fault before casting that stone.

No one has the right to judge or condemn. But all Christians are called to love. Love God as He first loved us, and love our neighbour as ourselves. Maybe it says more about us than about them if we choose to condemn others. Yes there are divine laws, yes we do not condone the breaking of these by others, or by ourselves (if we have become our own harshest critic). However, we are human and it behoves us to understand that God’s Spirit is a spirit of peace.

How am I a vessel, a conveyor of that peace. With those in my family, in my workplace, in the community, in my church? How am I when it comes to the issue of unplanned pregnancy or abortion/termination an instrument of peace. How do I as a Christian impart the love of Jesus? Do others experience God’s Spirit of peace in me, or not?

- Carolina Gnad

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Often friends and family feel at a loss as to how to support their loved one after an abortion or termination.

Here are some thoughts about how to be there for someone if they are struggling or not coping afterwards.

  • Allow and acknowledge their feelings as normal. There are no wrong feelings - they just tell us what is happening and our personal response to what is happening

  • Give them time and space to grieve without expecting them to pull themselves together.

  • Comments like “get over it” “now you can just get on” “it was for the best” “you did the right thing” “it’s no big deal” “there will be other opportunities” are not helpful.

  • Accept however they choose to frame up the experience. Their perception is their reality.

  • Do not force your personal opinion on them nor impose your own beliefs around the issue.

  • Offer a warm embrace, no judgment. Small gestures to say thinking of you can give comfort and help them to know they are not alone.

  • Realise it can take time for the full impact and meaning to surface for someone. Become familiar with signs and symptoms of adverse reactions.

  • If they are particularly distressed or showing signs of depression or anxiety encourage them to go to their doctor or a counsellor who specialises in grief or post abortion healing.

  • Be aware that anniversary dates i.e. the date of the abortion/termination or what would have been the EDD (expected date of delivery), or occasions such as Mother’s Day and Christmas may be particularly difficult. Support them with ways to remember their baby.

  • When ready they may wish to name their child and have or participate some memorial process.

  • Never assume you know what they are going through even if you have had a similar experience. Your experience is yours, theirs is theirs.

  • Accept them unconditionally. Let them know they are loved and special no matter what. They may be being hard enough on themselves already.

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“Breaking Silence” by Ian Wishart.

(Howling at the Moon Publishing Lit 2011)

The book Breaking Silence is about Macsyna King’s life and journey with the loss of her twins as was portrayed through media and health and legal systems in the Kahui case. However she also discloses much more of her personal trials through her life and relationships and also in the mix a personal abortion experience.

I was deeply moved by Macsyna’s sharing. It showed how her upbringing was tough and painful with themes of abuse and abandonment. Her abortion experience was part of this saga. The pregnancy was unplanned and discovered when her ovaries were checked prior to an operation. She was an emotional wreck as her relationship was rocky at the time. She felt at the time she was detrimental to her unborn child, too irresponsible with so much going on and her partner did not want more kids.

This is some of what she shared: “I still burn quite badly. From being in the doctor’s office to going over to the hospital and having that abortion, the whole process took less than two hours. Counselling? Consoling, I think.” Her concern was not wanting “to put another child through this sort of life that I’m living right now” The nurses told me it might be best to terminate with the other health issues already there...”

Afterwards she says: “My regrets are huge. I know now what it takes to create a life. How special it is. Some babies are born with deformities and abnormalities and inabilities and yet they’ll strive for whatever bit of life they can have... And there I was at the time, young and full of myself, and a life is gone.

If I could have had some more knowledge about it, if I could have had the right tools, not just the right information but the right tools to really understand the choice I was making, maybe the outcome would have been different...” She expresses sincere regret and heaps of emotions about that decision and the awareness of now living with it.

Thank you Ian for writing such an insightful book. The authorship offers what seems like a clear factual account from Macsyna’s perspective. And there are considerations around the whole business of the Kahui twins murder case that were not accounted for in the media protrayals. It made for very interesting reading. The book is well written, and highlights for me the often complex histories and situations people find themselves in. And that facing an unplanned pregnancy in the midst of all of the chaos and stress of such lives is huge. It also shows how events can take over people’s lives and gain a momentum of their own. Sifting out the truth in any such situation can be a really difficult prospect.

My heart goes out to Macsyna and others who have similar experiences of loss and trauma. Kia kaha - stay strong and do what you need to heal and recover.

- Carolina Gnad

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