Many people do not experience any after-effects after they have had a termination. In fact, the majority of women have positive responses to abortion, and experience a sense of relief and a feeling of confidence that they’ve made the right decision for them. But some people, even those who least expected to feel that way, do experience feelings of sadness, grief, loss or regret.
This can take you by surprise and be particularly difficult to deal with due to its unexpectedness and the fact that you may not have told many people about the abortion, or feel comfortable sharing this with them now.
A lot of people have the attitude of “this was my problem to deal with, I made the right choice for me so I should be able to handle it by myself now, right?” Well not necessarily. It is quite common to have unexpected reactions and emotions after an abortion. These can occur within hours or surface weeks or months later, and can include sadness, depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, low self-esteem, emotional numbing and re-living the pregnancy, the decision, the abortion in recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks.
In the first few days, your hormones are changing back to their pre-pregnancy state. This chemical change can cause feelings of sadness and weepiness, but if you are unable to work through these and the other very natural reactions you might be experiencing, it can lead to post-abortion syndrome, which is a form of complicated grief or post-traumatic stress.
If you recognise three or more of the following symptoms in you, it is possible you have post-abortion syndrome:
- You struggle to turn off feelings connected to your abortion, even though you tell yourself over and over again to forget about it, and just get on with your life
- You find yourself unable to look at books, magazines, films TV programs or people that deal with or remind you of the subject of babies, pregnancy or abortion
- You begin to feel very uncomfortable around pregnant women or small children
- You would not disclose having had an abortion to family or friends or your GP
- You find yourself preoccupied with thoughts of the child you might have had, what they’d be like now, etc
- You find yourself very affected or depressed at certain times of the year such as around the anniversary of the abortion or of the due date.
- You feel unable to forgive and very resentful about your partner, or a friend or a family member’s lack of support for or involvement with your abortion (even if you hadn’t told them).
- You feel anger and resentment towards the doctors and nurses who attended you during the process of arranging and/or having the abortion
- You find yourself not using birth control now and, perhaps unconsciously, putting yourself in a situation where you could become pregnant again
- You have found emotional intimacy and close relationships difficult since your abortion
- You have experienced periods of more than three weeks’ of persistent sadness or depression since your abortion
- You have had suicidal thoughts since the abortion
- You have experienced involuntary flashbacks to the abortion or hallucinations (such as hearing a baby cry when there is not one in the vicinity)
- If you have children now, you worry either that you are now smothering them with love in a overprotective/compensatory way or you worry that you cannot currently bond with them
- If you do not have children, you begin to have fearful thoughts that you will never be able to have them
- You do not feel that you could talk freely to anyone about your abortion
- You feel you are not ‘allowed’ to be happy again after what has happened
The only thing that is certain is that everyone is unique, and how you feel after an abortion is also unique. Feelings are complex, and stigma about abortion persists whatever community, religious or cultural background you have. And there is no shame in seeking help and support at this difficult time. Post-abortion syndrome is a very real thing and, with help, you can overcome it.
Here are some ideas on what you can do to start that recovery:
Allow yourself to express any sadness and grief that you are feeling, you won’t always feel this way and talking about it can help to diminish those feelings.
If you can’t or don’t want to talk it through with someone start a private diary or journal where you can express your feelings about it.
Seek out blogs, article or books in which women write about their own experiences of abortion, this can be reassuring, make you feel less alone with the experience and help you clarify your own feelings.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Talk to yourself in ways that are affirmative. You are a good person. You are a moral person. You did what you felt was right.
Remind yourself why you made the decision to have an abortion.
Remind yourself that this was a difficult decision and you have been strong and brave throughout.
Practice mindfulness and breathing or relaxation exercises to help to reduce your stress.
If you feel you would like some support or need a safe space in which to open up about your feelings post-abortion, then therapy could be an option for you. Just call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] for a confidential appointment.