The shame and silence society blankets over experiences like abortion does nothing to serve the women and girls who experience it. I believe in the power of storytelling. I believe in the power of owning our truth. My hope is that by sharing my story, one person is comforted, seen, empowered, Because if just one woman had shared their story with me, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to push through the protesters screaming Bible verses in my face; maybe I wouldn’t have felt weakened or ashamed or frightened for making the brave and healthy choice for my body.
One in four women will experience abortion by age 45. The numbers are even higher for women of color. So take a look at the ladies in your local girl gang, in your office lunch club, your Sunday Funday brunch crew. One out of the four of you will experience an abortion or voluntary pregnancy termination (VPT), if one hasn’t already.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no causal link between abortion and mental health disorders. In fact, research shows having a first abortion is not associated with an increase in a woman’s risk of first-time antidepressant use. Even one author wrote about the beneficial outcomes of abortion through reduction in the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy. Some other positive outcomes include connecting with other women who have considered or obtained an abortion, as well as an increase in spiritual growth.
However, just like any experience of loss, the emotions after an abortion will differ from person to person. There is no normal, so don’t worry if your experience isn’t what you expected or didn’t look like the post-abortion experience of someone else you know. This post is about considering the huge range of experiences women may have, knowing that you may have all, some, or none of what we discuss. And that’s okay.
Expect to be surprised
You may be extremely concerned about the after effects. It is completely normal to hypothesize how this type of decision and procedure will impact you. It is key to note that the vast majority of women expect to cope well after their abortion. A study found that the most common emotions that women anticipate feeling after their abortion are relieved (63%) and confident (52%). A significant minority anticipate feeling a little sad (24%) and a little guilty (21%); 3.4% anticipate poor coping. Women with fetal abnormalities, women who do not have high confidence in their decision, women who have spiritual concerns about abortion, women with a history of depression, women who feel that they were pushed into having an abortion and teenagers are more likely to anticipate poor coping post-abortion. This information is key to know especially if you are supporting someone who has elected to terminate the pregnancy as well. Examining your risk factors and pre-abortion feelings may help you build meaningful coping strategies.
Actually, just feel how you feel
Abortion Care Network reviewed the spectrum of emotions one may experience during this time:
- Mad that you got pregnant, or angry at someone who has disappointed you, or frustrated that birth control didn’t work.
- Sad that this happened. A sense of loss about the pregnancy or a lost relationship, or even the loss of your own “innocence” or how you see yourself.
- Shame about sex, a relationship, pregnancy, or abortion.
- Guilty that you are choosing yourself over others.
- Shock that this happened to you.
- Scared about what will happen or what others will think about you.
- Relief, or even glad that you can decide for yourself what is best for your life.
For many women, the sacrifice of ending a pregnancy makes them clearer about achieving their goals as well as more compassionate toward others. For others, voluntary termination may trigger dissonance with their moral or ethical priorities and call for some internal reorganization. However, interestingly enough, more than 95% of women don’t regret their abortions; only a handful of women who terminate their pregnancies go on to feel negative feelings of ‘regret’ and ‘guilt’. The study found that the “overwhelming majority” of the women felt that abortion had been the right decision “both in the short-term and over three years”. Every woman has the right to make the decision for her own body and we can each choose how to respond. The important thing to remember is that it’s healthy to sit with your emotions and not rush the process. For example, if you’re feeling resentment, don’t rush to feel empowered. Work through each emotion as it comes.
Whether you’re feeling remorseful or relieved or somewhere in between, you may still feel like you have some forgiving to do. Whether that’s prompting forgiveness from your deity, your partner or sperm provider, your family, your fetus, or yourself. Some women have tried communicating with the spirit of the aborted fetus – through prayer, dance, spoken word, a written letter, art, music, or whatever medium comes naturally. Perhaps you are humbled by the experience and want to apologize to your friends for having judged them in the past. Perhaps you want to go through a process of spiritually blessing or releasing this experience from burdening your psyche. That all begins with forgiveness. Treat yourself nicely. Any reasonable person knows you didn’t come to your decision lightly, but you can recover as slowly or quickly as you’d like. You’re not abnormal if you don’t feel guilty or traumatized. It’s okay to be okay with it all. It’s also okay to not be okay. Take time out for massage therapy, creative expression, and deep rest. Give yourself time just to laugh and feel at ease. It is well within your right to take this opportunity to reevaluate how you’d like to maximize your time as a childless woman – relish in your revived sense of possibility. I sure have.
If you need someone to talk to you can try out these resources, as they are non-judgmental and supportive:
Exhale is a hotline and website for women post-abortion. They are part of the ‘pro-voice’ movement, which emphasizes allowing women space to talk about their personal experiences with abortion that is free from politics or stigma. They are a national hotline and offer support in multiple languages.
Men and Abortion can be a helpful tool for your partner as it dives into three categories: the factual, the emotional and the spiritual. There’s a focus on men who accompany women for an abortion or who just want to be helpful usually do not know where to turn to get clear, unbiased information.
The Healing Choice is a book by two psychotherapists about post-abortion healing, based on a combination of research and their experience working with women after an abortion.
1 in 3 campaign builds on the success of prior social change movements by harnessing the power of storytelling to engage and inspire action and strengthen support for abortion access. They encourage women who have had abortions to end their silence, share their stories, and start a new and more personal conversation about abortion in our society.