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Melinda Tankard Reist
In two previous excerpts from her book Giving Sorrow Words: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, journalist and women's rights advocate Melinda Tankard Reist discussed how inadequate and deceptive pre-abortion counseling contributes to the lack of authentic and fair choice, and many women's experiences of coercion, mistreatment, and the psychological and physical effects of abortion.
In this excerpt, she describes the silence and absence of help that many women face after abortion -- a further injustice that deepens their pain and isolation and can lead to prolonged suffering.
E. Joanne Angelo, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine in the U.S., has written about the importance of the mourning process:
Grief following a death in the family is a universally accepted experience. A period of mourning following the loss of a loved one is a normal expectation in every culture. It is also generally understood that if this mourning process is blocked or impacted, there will be negative consequences.1
But there is no period of mourning for a woman suffering grief after an abortion. There are no grief teams, no body for her to cuddle and dress, no footprints or photographs to keep in an album, no ceremony, no grave on which to lay flowers; in short, nothing to acknowledge that this baby ever existed.
Peta makes this point in an extract from her story, writing, "The pain and grief continues because there is no acknowledgment of death, except in my heart ... The shadow of my lost little girl or boy will always follow me."
Beatrice, who underwent a second trimester abortion, describes what this lack of acknowledgement feels like:
Katarina, a psychologist, wrote of feeling cheated because she is not free to grieve:
My sister has since had two stillbirths—as a family we have grieved and empathized with her and her husband’s dreadful pain. Inside of me I felt cheated as no one had grieved with me for my two lost children—not even me. When my mum says no one in the family has experienced pain like my sister my heart cries out silently, "But I have."
The aftermath was a numbness I hadn’t anticipated. I was numb, hollow, dead, and so very heavy with sorrow. The feelings didn’t “go with time” as my delighted mother assured me they would. I grew morose, bitter, very sad; so heavy with sadness, I can’t describe it . . .
I cried every day, I stayed as drunk as I could for as long as I could, and I hated myself and everyone else. I used to dream about the child I’d lost ... I wanted my child. I loved it, cherished it, yearned for its birth, missed it when it was taken from me, and to this day, 26 years later, feel the tragic heaviness of loss. My only consolation is that one day when I die our souls may reunite.
A grieving post-aborted woman faces a conspiracy of silence. She is expected to be full of gratitude and praise that she could access the “right to choose;” to speak badly of her experience makes her seem ungrateful.
The Absence of Help
Women often spoke of being unable to get satisfactory help for their grief from clinics or organizations connected with abortion. Karleen said that when she sought help at a women’s counseling clinic, she was told it was wrong of her to speak badly of her abortion experience. Kara told of posting her personal abortion story on an Internet discussion of abortion. She was told to “get lost”—her story wasn’t welcome.
I took a risk last year at the local women’s center and was very surprised to be confronted by the hostility of one woman present—she had every right to her opinion but I made the mistake of assuming that the women’s center would be a safe place to discuss it without judgment.
There are few “safe places” for women to share their grief. Women are made to suppress their pain and invent other reasons to explain what they are going through. A woman who shared her abortion pain in a story in The Age in 1992 described trying to get help from a pro-choice organization:
If a woman is depressed after an abortion, she is made to feel it’s her own inability to deal with sadness which is the problem. The onus is all on the woman. But, as Isabelle wrote, "[P]ost-abortion grief is a very real experience. It goes on and on. Every time abortion is debated it sounds ten times as loud and it hurts ten times as much."
The Need for Resolution
Contributors to this book described many ways of trying to understand what happened to them, searching for a place of “healing” or “resolution” or “peace.” They had in common a need to find a way through crushing grief and to give expression to their mourning and sense of bereavement. A few were able to find a pathway to resolution; others still look for it.
But many more have not been permitted expression of their pain, nor been allowed to seek a way through it. They remain locked in, shut up, shut out of the discussion. Surely the time is long due that they too be encouraged to speak, to give their sorrow words and so help resolve their grief.
Excerpted from the book Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion, by Melinda Tankard Reist. This book is available from the Elliot Institute under our Acorn Books publishing imprint. To order call 1-888-412-2676.
1. E. Joanne Angelo, “Post-Abortion Grief,” Human Life Review, Fall 1996, p. 43.