These days an elective abortion is often presented as a simple outpatient procedure. A woman goes into the clinic with an unwanted pregnancy and comes out with the problem gone. In speaking with women who have had abortions for many different reasons, we come to understand, however, that it is rarely that simple.
Few of us plan for a problem pregnancy, but birth control can easily fail or be forgotten. We often do not discuss the possibility of pregnancy with our partners beforehand, assuming that it won’t happen to us. When the pregnancy test reads positive it’s a tremendous shock — even though that nagging little voice in the back of our minds told us we were pregnant weeks ago. The problem seems insurmountable. So many other things are going on in our lives and there’s no room for a baby. The frustration gives way to panic, fear, and confusion. Sometimes a boyfriend or relative is upset and embarrassed by the situation and insists that the pregnancy end. Desperate to “take care of the problem” an abortion seems like the easiest route. We are not ready for a baby and can trust no one to be supportive in the choice to give birth.
Many of us had strong convictions about abortion prior to facing an unplanned pregnancy. Although we may consider ourselves pro-life, our own dilemma overrides our beliefs. For those of us who considered ourselves pro-choice, this is an opportunity to take advantage of our “right to choose.” Then there are others who never really thought much about the abortion issue, and in the face of a crisis pregnancy circumstantial problems take precedence. But despite our varied convictions, to most of us abortion seems like a terrible route — but the only way out.
…I was awake for the entire procedure. And I felt like my own life was being taken from me. I wanted to die! More.
The abortion procedure is never as simple as it sounds. Inside the abortion clinic, many of us weep on the inside, if not outwardly, knowing that the life within will soon be extinguished. We pay the $300, or maybe our insurance covers it, and sign the paper work without reading it. No one tells us about other options. The doctor administers anesthesia, then suctions the unknown life out of our womb with a long tube. The procedure is over. Usually relief follows, but nothing’s quite the same anymore. It’s the very rare woman who is able to put the incident behind her and go on with life as usual. Most of us try to forget, but we can’t. We have deep feelings of pain that grow stronger as time goes on. Almost all of us experience depression, guilt, relationship problems, and even nightmares, but we think we’re alone. Many regret the choice we made, wishing we could go back and do it again differently. In fact many of us get pregnant again to somehow replace the baby we aborted. When this happens, it’s called an “atonement baby,” but we just think of it as undoing the horrible mistake we made. Tragically, this atonement child may also be aborted as we face the same overwhelming problems which confronted us the first time we became pregnant. Multiple abortions drive us further into despair.
Sometimes the grief is triggered by other events — a wanted pregnancy and childbirth, a sudden death, or even seeing pictures of unborn children unexpectedly. Some of us turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort. Some struggle with anxiety, loneliness, and sense of separation from God. When we go to church we feel like fakes, so we stop going. Maybe we stop praying too. Some of us become promiscuous, sleeping with guy after guy in a desperate search for understanding and love. Others shut down completely, wanting nothing more to do with the opposite sex. Some seek therapy, but don’t connect the abortion to our problems. The grief can be so intense that some of us even contemplate suicide. Many of us have never told anyone about our abortions, even lying to the people we love to keep it a secret. Others of us have tried to express the pain but are told by others to “get over it.” We start to hate the people involved in the abortion decision, including ourselves. These unresolved feelings infiltrate every aspect of our lives, poisoning our innermost being and our relationships with others.
A few of us were damaged physically by the abortion as well. Maybe we lost a lot of blood and had to be rushed to the hospital for a transfusion. Maybe we found that our menstrual cycles were never the same as before. Maybe we miscarried a planned pregnancy. And a few of us were left infertile after aborting the only baby we could ever have. Perhaps we felt that God was punishing us for what we did to the child He gave us, and we deserve the damage done to our bodies. Or maybe we’re angry that “safe, legal abortion” wasn’t so safe after all. These thoughts only compound our guilt, anger, and self-loathing.
If this is you, the good news is that you are not alone. Help and healing are possible, but it is important to talk about your feelings with someone you trust. To facilitate this process, the Westside Pregnancy Resource Center offers help for the post-abortion woman. Call us at (310) 581-1140 and speak to an experienced post-abortion counselor — someone who knows what you’re going through. We offer a 10 week post-abortion recovery group and/or referrals for individual psychotherapy. If you do not live in the Los Angeles area, we can offer you a referral to someone near you.
More Information and Related Links
Our Post-Abortion Recovery Workshop
Local Post-Abortion Support Group: Psychologist Facilitated
Kala’s Group: Includes on-line support chat room
National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing
Project Rachel: A Catholic Program for Post-Abortion Help
The Elliot Institute
Other Pregnancy Resource Centers: Call one near you for a local referral.
Other Women’s Voices
From Our Mailbox
Before I Had Time to Think
Two Senseless Deaths
Julie’s Story: Self-Reflection, Self-Regrets
If you have had an abortion, we would like to hear your story. Please post your story to our Crisis Pregnancy Bulletin Board.
For on-line post-abortion help outside of the Los Angeles Area, please visit The National Office of Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing. If you are suffering as the result of a miscarriage or stillbirth, please call our center for a referral to Cedars-Sinai’s “Moment-by-Moment” program (Los Angeles).