5 steps to keep disenfranchised grief from blocking your path to healing.
Our culture tends to confuse the legalities of abortion with the actual process of coping after a difficult decision. There is an implied message that the abortion is the closure, which is simply not true. Choosing to have an abortion and feeling okay with the decision doesn't mean that a natural grieving process won't happen.
As a licensed therapist working in grief counseling, I understand more and more the correlation between choice decisions and elevated levels of depression. Abortion choices create a situation of disenfranchised grief in a woman's life. After An Abortion: Emotional Roller Coaster
What is disenfranchised grief?
Disenfranchised grief occurs when feelings are not openly acknowledged, socially validated, or publicly observed. Dealing with abortion creates a situation of disenfranchised grief in a woman's life. The loss experienced is real, but survivors are not accorded the right to grieve by anyone around them.
Examples of disenfranchisement when it comes to grief are when a pet dies, an ex-spouse dies or even in cases of job loss. It is hard for the person experiencing a loss of this type to receive sympathy from others that match the level of pain they are feeling. The expectation is to "get on with life." You can always get another dog; you should be glad that bothersome ex-husband is gone and another door of opportunity will open for employment.
In cases of choice decisions, the paradigm is even more complicated. The grieving process is complicated by a woman's inability to talk about her experience. Very few women tell anyone they've had an abortion. As a professional, it typically takes my clients nine sessions before they will talk about their past abortion.
Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of the New York Times bestseller, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom recognizes the need for women to talk about their abortions. "If every woman who ever had an abortion, or even one-third of them, were willing to speak out about her experience-not in shame, but with honesty about where she was then, what she learned, and where she is now-this whole issue would heal a great deal faster."
The common outcome of disenfranchised grief is depression. These depressive states can range anywhere from a full-blown series of days or months where the person is unable to get out of bed to a few random blue days. Not connecting one's depression with the unprocessed grief surrounding an abortion choice is normal because there are no warnings that this grief will happen. The sadness after abortion usually catches women off-guard. Coping With Your Abortion
What are common thoughts and feelings a woman experiences after an abortion?
I believe the most common thought and feeling immediately following an abortion is relief. Unfortunately, this sense of relief is not always permanent. Every circumstance surrounding an abortion experience is as unique as the woman who chooses it.
After the relief typically comes a deep feeling of sadness. This might be immediately or even years after the decision. Because abortion choices provide no venue for openness, women are forced to stuff down the sadness and "get on with life."
It is this tension of emotions-relief and sadness-that disrupts a woman's overall sense of well-being. Unless she finds a safe place to talk and acknowledge the losses surrounding her decision, she will probably live her life with an emotional low-grade fever masking itself as depression.
We have a saying in the world of therapy. "Secrets kill." Thus is the path of the woman after abortion. Don't talk. Don't feel the sadness. Keep the secret. Get on with your life.
What's the Big Deal? What is there to grieve? Here are some possible losses that can cause grief:
- Loss of the pregnancy. Births of subsequent children are reminders that sometime in the past there was another pregnancy. Grieving the lost pregnancy is a very valid grief. A natural process was interrupted. Scientific studies have proven that our bodies remember every pregnancy that occurs.
- Loss of relationship. Statistics show that many couples involved in a key decision will ultimately break up. Many women choose abortion so they "wouldn't lose him." For married partners, the grief of the abortion may affect partners differently. The Husband may minimize the pregnancy loss.
- Loss of dreams. I've worked with many ladies who were eventually not able to get pregnant when the time became right. This can be very painful for women in this place of grief.
How does a woman walk through abortion grief? Staying silent keeps us safe, but it doesn't stop the grief. I remember the times in my life when I spent dark moments wondering why I was sad, not knowing why I was sad, yet suspecting that this sadness was possibly connected to my abortion choice. I didn't know I needed permission to grieve my loss. I realize now that I needed to give myself permission to go through the grieving process.
Grief after an abortion is real and if left unprocessed can lead to depressed states for women. Women do not need to stay in this self-imposed prison of silence. There is good news of peace, well-being and closure after a choice decision. The following are what a woman can do to help herself recover from an abortion:
1. Find a safe place to talk and share your story; even cry. There are resources available that understand that your desire to process the grief surrounding your abortion is a separate issue from you wanting to get involved in legal battles or political debates. Sometimes going to a good friend or unqualified source only brings more invalidation. I went to three professionals who did not understand my situation. Two validated my choice but not my grief. One condemned my choice and completely invalidated my grief. Make sure you go towards safety and caring, compassionate people who understand abortion grief.
2. Admit you can't keep the secret anymore. As in any path to healing it is important that you be honest with yourself and give yourself permission to re-visit your abortion choice no matter how long you’ve had it stashed away. Consider the truth that keeping the secret is requiring much more energy than you have available to give to it anymore.
3. Give yourself a break. Many times if we can't find others to condemn and punish us, we will take over the job ourselves! Understand that abortion can involve many losses even separate from the pregnancy. Give yourself permission to label the losses and feel the emotions of those losses.
4. Don't confuse the legal, political and religious debates with your own personal journey. If you listen to all the rhetoric from both sides you will become paralyzed with fear and confusion. Know that walking out of the darkness and into the light of healing will free up space in your mind and heart to put towards positive outcomes in your life.
5. Be encouraged! Process the grief surrounding your abortion and your state of depression will at least lighten, at best disappear.
Abortion is undoubtedly a hard choice to make in any woman's life, but that doesn't mean you can't come away from the grief a more positive, stronger you.