Abortion has always been a polarising issue. Everyone has a view on the subject and are rarely shy in expressing it. But when you move beyond the argument of choice vs. ethics, not much else is generally said of the matter. The thought that women might have to overcome something such as depression barely registers as a footnote.
Having an abortion can be an incredibly stressful experience, bringing on feelings of fear, confliction, shame and guilt to name a few. It can be isolating and lonely. Some women do make the choice and never look back, but we’re all at the mercy of our own unique disposition, so each of us will react according to our own thresholds and tolerances.
The Reasons Matter
The reasons for seeking a termination can be multiple and complex. It could be an unwanted pregnancy, financial or personal issues can play a part, and in the most challenging cases, it could be due to the consequences of sexual assault.
Each of these comes with its own set of variables that colour the decision-making process, serving as a potential catalyst for future emotional hardship. And as with any issue of this nature, it is by tracing the symptoms back to this point that relief can be found.
The Common Mis-Conception
The assumption is that once the procedure has been completed and the physical effects have subsided, this brings with it closure. And of course, this can be true. Many women feel a sense of relief, and move on with their lives, unhindered. But for others, it opens up an emotional wound that requires a process of grieving and of coming to terms.
As you may have found, there’s no guarantee of empathy on the day itself, but not necessarily out of judgment. Most medical practices are inundated with patients, meaning a quick turn over is needed to remain on schedule. However, this doesn’t escape the fact the level of compassion you’re afforded can be a significant factor in you how well you’re able to move forwards.
The Causes of Abortion Depression (Post Abortion Syndrome)
A degree of sadness is an expected part of the termination process, as hormone levels fluctuate and the body returns to its menstrual cycle. It’s a natural response. However, it’s when the signs of grief, anger, and regret linger over a prolonged period that it points to the onset of a deeper-rooted issue taking hold.
Depression can certainly be a large part of this, but a much more inclusive term is post abortion syndrome (PAS), or post abortion stress syndrome (PASS). Both refer to the same condition, and acknowledge there is no single, defining factor, but a number of causes and resulting symptoms. Here are some of the most commonly experienced.
Pressurised or Forced Abortion – Many times, it’s the male that will push first and push hardest for an abortion. Hearing the words, ‘what are we going to do,’ when breaking the news of pregnancy may appear innocent, but the subtext is usually, ‘we need to get rid of it.’ Experiencing this type of pressure can lead to feelings of anger at being manipulated, especially if it causes you to act against your values; it can be disempowering. It can also expose flaws in what you thought, was, at its core, a loving relationship, leading to a profound state of sadness.
Conflicting Emotions – Partner pressure can be one factor that contributes to feelings of confliction, but it can also extend to other influences, such as social, religious and political stigma. Conflict often stems from feeling obligated to follow a particular action vs. doing what you feel is right. But no one else has to live with the consequences. It is your decision, your moral code; your ethics, and if you feel you’ve been forced to act against them, there can be deep feelings of regret, which will impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing.
A Lack of Proper Support – As we’ve already discussed, post abortion syndrome is not yet as widely accepted as it could be; hence, a lot of people just aren’t aware of the emotional weight that can be associated with it. From the male perspective, there is often a self-centredness in pushing for the procedure; the desire to escape the responsibility of fathering a child, meaning empathy can be in short supply. And that’s not to cast all men in the same light, but should you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to speak with some who can provide support.
Suppressed Emotions – This follows on from the previous point. Where there is no support, there is often no outlet for expression. In a way, it is as though permission needs to be gained in order to facilitate the healing process. So when this is absent, it can result in what is termed as ‘disenfranchised grief,’ which is the suppression of those emotions surrounding a traumatic event. These repressed feelings may lie dormant, and later manifest as displays of anger or other behaviours, which you may not immediately connect with the abortion.
Abortion Connectors (Triggers) – In many ways, PAS can function much like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). When encountering situations that remind you of either the abortion itself or anything associated with parenthood, they can act as stressors, causing involuntary bouts of emotion. These triggers can also be linked to the suppression of emotions related to the event. It is entirely possible that you may successfully manage put aside your feelings, only for them to be brought back to surface through these ‘abortion connectors.’
Underlying Mental Issues – If you’re someone who already has a history of mental instability, it’s possible a difficult abortion could increase your chances of developing PAS. For example, if you’ve suffered abuse from a controlling figure in the past, this trauma could resurface if you were then pressured into having an abortion. It can sometimes make the recovery process slightly trickier, as, if it is a preexisting issue that has been triggered, initially, it can be hard to discern where your current symptoms are rooted. Though, by no means does this make a full and successful recovery impossible.
Open Up/Find a Support Group – The most important thing you can do to move on from an abortion is to open up, especially if you’ve been repressing your feelings. In the first instance, a close family member, such as your mother, auntie or grandmother would be ideal. It will be much easier to relate your challenges and find solidarity with other females, being it’s such a gender-specific issue. However, if you do you have a strong male figure in your life, who you trust will listen without judgment, you should absolutely seek their help. In addition, you could also find a support group in your area. Not only is telling your own story cathartic, but providing emotional support to others can serve as an incredible source of healing.
Acknowledgment and Acceptance – This is potentially a huge hurdle, depending on the exact circumstances surrounding your termination. If you were the subject of much shaming from family members, friends or even the professional you sought out for the procedure, it can leave deep scars. What’s important to remember though, is, the decision was a finite one, and no amount of regret will ever change it. You can, however, change your perspective and how you view the experience. Freeing yourself from the judgments of others is a vital step in returning to a place of mental and emotional stability, allowing you to bring closure to the episode.
Be Kind to Yourself – This dovetails with the previous point, but is a little broader in scope. If you’ve found yourself in a depressive state, the chances are you’ve already suffered quite enough. Breaking the cycle of imposing guilt and shaming oneself can be difficult, so I certainly don’t mean to discredit an already challenging situation, but you must show yourself kindness. It can tough at first, so no one is expecting you do anything that would feel inauthentic. Start with small gestures; treat yourself. Plan small things to look forward to throughout the week, and express gratitude when they come around. Cultivate positive thoughts in any way you can, and go on like this. Set yourself a challenge to do one nice thing for yourself a day.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT ABORTION DEPRESSION?
If you’re struggling to come to terms with a difficult abortion experience, one of our specialists would be happy to provide you with a free initial consultation to help you decide on the right course of action.