Getting The Help You Need - By Terri K. Reisser

Maybe you've come to this site because bad feelings about a previous abortion have recently come up and just won't go away. I'm really glad you're here, because so many women are finding help today for the pain of a past abortion, and I hope today will mark the beginning of your recovery process.

This year, thousands of women will enter therapy because they are suffering from feelings of guilt and depression about a past abortion. They find themselves struggling to turn off the bad feelings connected with an abortion that may have occurred as long as two or three decades ago. And yet the pain persists...sometimes even to the point of thinking about ending their lives.

Many have experienced a dull "psychological numbing" over the years since the abortion, and they have trouble allowing themselves to feel the normal "ups" and "downs" of life, in an effort to protect themselves from the pain.

Some women have a lot of anxiety about later fertility and childbearing. They ask themselves, "Will I be able to become pregnant again?" "Did I abort the only baby I will ever conceive?" "If I do get pregnant, will I have a miscarriage or will my baby be deformed?"

Women coming from a Judeo-Christian world view, particularly, are always waiting for the other shoe to drop--for God to punish them for their abortion choice by not allowing them to have a healthy child.

Eating disorders, substance abuse, and other forms of self-abuse have been frequently noted by the counselors who work with post-abortion women. And, sadly, many of these women have come to believe that they deserve every bad thing that has happened to them since the abortion.

Men and Abortion

Recently, therapists who specialize in post-abortion counseling have noticed an influx of men coming to counselors, expressing their grief over a past abortion. In addition to all the issues faced by the woman, a man may be dealing with incredible anger over his inability to have stopped his wife or girlfriend from aborting his child. Or he may be experiencing a tremendous amount of guilt for not having done more to express his desire for the woman to carry their child to term. Or he may be feeling endless remorse for having been the one to force the abortion decision. In any case, the sense of failure to provide and protect his child can provoke feelings of emasculation and utter defeat.

How Post-Abortion Stress Develops

First of all, I want you to understand how post-abortion stress develops. Millions of women become pregnant every year. The news of a positive pregnancy test is joyous if the couple has decided this is a good time in their relationship to have a child. But all too often, the news is bad news: the woman is unmarried, or in an unsupportive relationship, or is experiencing incredible financial hardship, or is not finished with school.

If anything or anyone in that woman's world points toward terminating the life of her child, she is immediately thrown into an incredible crisis of the soul. On the one hand, every maternal instinct within her cries out to nurture and protect the little life growing inside her. But on the other hand, her circumstances may be so overwhelming that she just can not face everything that would come with having a baby. This moral dilemma is agonizing. And every day that passes, she knows the baby is getting bigger and that the decision will become harder to make. The intense need for an immediate solution wins out, and she has the abortion.

After the procedure, she's likely to experience astonishing feelings of relief because the crisis has been resolved--for better or worse. But if, somewhere deep in her heart, she believed it was a human being that she destroyed, the moral dilemma arises again. Only now it's too late. She can't reverse the procedure. The baby is gone. All that's left is either to grieve or stuff the guilt and shame down deep inside. And most women unconsciously choose to repress the pain because they don't know how to live with the knowledge that they ended the life of their own child.

Sometimes a woman can repress the pain so effectively for so many years that by the time she finally seeks counseling, she can no longer remember exactly how many abortions she had, or what year it happened, or the father's name, or which clinic she had it in. The mind is very accommodating in allowing us to push away deeply disturbing thoughts, but a price is paid. It takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy to keep repressing these painful memories. And as that woman gets older, and as normal life stresses begin adding up, it gets harder and harder to keep everything stuffed down.

You may be reading this because you feel like you've just about run out of ways to keep the painful feelings about the abortion bottled up anymore. I've counseled hundreds of post-abortion women over the past decade and most of the time our first session begins with a woman blurting out something like, "I feel like I'm going crazy--is this how the beginning of insanity feels?" The load of guilt is a burden she can no longer carry, and the weight is making her feel deranged. She is so tired of fighting the self-condemnation. Is this woman you?

Sometimes her guilt has turned into physical anxiety, and she is experiencing irritability, disturbed sleep patterns, and even panic attacks. Above all, she has learned how to make herself emotionally numb in an effort to protect herself from ever being hurt again. This emotional "flatlining" has, by this point, greatly impaired her ability to form and maintain close interpersonal relationships--especially with a marriage partner.

She may be quite depressed by the time she finally seeks help--even to the point of thinking about just ending it all. Post-abortion women can also unconsciously punish themselves through all kinds of destructive behaviors--eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, entering into abusive relationships, becoming promiscuous, or failing to take care of themselves medically.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Are you weary of living with the painful memories of a past abortion decision? I would love to help you begin working through the ache in your heart. I want to tell you that thousands of women have already experienced healing, and you can, too.

The Tasks of Healing

The tasks of healing for the damaged emotions following an abortion include dealing with the guilt, working through the anger, allowing yourself to grieve for the loss of your baby, and finally, learning to live with the ongoing memories and feelings.

Guilt: Women who come in for post-abortion counseling talk a lot about their feelings of guilt, especially in the beginning sessions. In the past decade, science has enabled us to peak into the private world of the fetus through ultrasonography and real time photography, and many of us have been startled by the beautifully detailed pictures of even the youngest of babies inutero. The down side of this technical advancement is that it has become extremely difficult for a woman who has had an abortion to continue believing that what she aborted was not human. She is increasingly confronted by images which look suspiciously like human babies, and the knowledge strikes at her deepest terror: that she killed her own child.

One thing I have learned about people during the last 13 years of counseling is that true atheists are a rare breed on this planet. Most people, regardless of whether they attend church or not, have a spiritual part of them which believes in an afterlife, a Supreme Being, and some kind of judgment for the life they have lived. Most of the post-abortion women I've counseled live with the uncomfortable (and oftentimes unconscious) belief that God is keeping score, and that she will be punished, either here in this life or in the afterlife. She sees God as a harsh, unyielding, and vengeful Being. She suspects she has committed the unpardonable sin, and doesn't believe God could ever forgive her. A good amount of time is spent in therapy helping her correct maladaptive and dysfunctional views of who God is and how God operates. Once God can be approached again, divine forgiveness and the ability to forgive herself are not far away.

Anger: Many post-abortion women carry a rage so great that they are afraid to access any f it for fear of falling into a well which has no bottom. Some have expressed that they fear that if they begin talking about their anger, their rage will become an uncontrollable, destructive fire which they will not be able to put out. Most deliberately decide to put their angry feelings about the abortion in a box and not deal with it, but the poison continues to work like a growing cancer.

One way to begin dealing with your anger is to make a list of all the people you think had any part in influencing your abortion decision. Next, try to assign a percentage of responsibility each person on the list should carry for the abortion. As a journaling exercise only, write a "letter" to each person on the list telling them why you are so angry with them (don't actually send the letter).

Eventually, you will need to find a way to forgive the people with whom you are angry, and to forgive yourself. If you have any kind of conception of a personal God, and/or some system of rewards and punishment after life, this is really hard to do by yourself, and you'll want to be part of a post-abortion support group.

Sadly, too many people have been raised in families where unconditional love was a foreign concept, and so it it's hard to grasp the concept of forgiveness. But God's forgiveness is swift because He longs to have a relationship with you. If you were raised in a home where it took a lot of work to get back into your parent's good graces, you will probably have trouble understanding the kind of relationship God wants to have with you.

Grief: Although abortion is a pregnancy loss, it somewhat differs from the death of a child after birth; in that case, the parents have had the opportunity to see and spend time with their child, create memories together, know their child's personality, solidify and convey their love for the child. The post-abortion woman, on the other hand, may not have an image of her baby as a real, whole child.

If you are like the vast majority of post-abortion people I counsel, you will be wondering things like, "Is my baby in heaven?" "If I meet my child after I die, what could I possibly say? Wouldn't he or she be very angry with me?" "Who's taking care of my baby right now?" I believe that when a child enters God's Kingdom he or she enters into the presence of God's love and forgiveness. Your child is whole, happy, well taken care of, and certainly does not harbor feelings of resentment toward you!

Getting Help

The very best way to work on your post-abortion issues is by joining a post-abortion support group. Look in your yellow pages under "abortion alternatives" and call your local crisis pregnancy center and ask if they offer free post-abortion support groups.

If your town doesn't have a crisis pregnancy center, or if that center doesn't offer post-abortion counseling, contact one of the following organizations for help:

  • Care Net, 109 Carpenter Dr., #100, Sterling VA 20164, (703) 478-5661.
  • National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, P.O. Box 07477, Milwaukee, WI 53207-0477, (414) 483-4141 or 1-800-5WECARE.

Here are some post-abortion healing manuals on your own:

  • Forgiven and Set Free (formerly Women in Ramah) by Linda Cochrane. Order from Baker Books (800) 877-BOOK.
  • Turning A Father's Heart by Linda Cochrane and Kathy Jones (this is for post-abortion men). Order from Care Net, 109 Carpenter Dr., #100, Sterling, VA 20164, (703) 478- 5661.
  • A Season To Heal by Penny Salazar-Phillips and Luci Freed. Order from: Alternatives Pregnancy Center, 1860 Larimer St. #200, Denver, CO 80202, (303) 298-8815.
  • Our Healing Journey ~ Produced by Diocese of Lansing, Project Rachel, 1500 E. Saginaw St., Lansing, MI 48906-5550.
  • Heart To Heart (P.O. Box 7696, Bonney Lake, WA 98390-0996).
  • Post Abortion Support Group Manual by Heartbeat, Int'l, 1213 1/2 S. James Rd., Columbus, OH 43227, (614) 239-9433.
  • If you want to order my book, Help for the Post-Abortion Woman by Teri Reisser, M.S., you may obtain it from Life Cycle Books, P.O. Box 420, Lewiston, NY 14092, (800) 214-5849.