Abortion aftermath - what you need to know

Common symptoms of Post-Abortion Stress are:

Guilt

Emotional numbness

Depression and crying

Lowered self-esteem

Inability to forgive yourself

Inability to bond

Intense grief and sadness

Avoidance of relationships

Desire to become pregnant again

  
 

Sexual problems

Anger and rage

Anorexia or other eating disorders

Nightmares and flashbacks

Drug or alcohol use

Suicidal urges

These are just some of the most common symptoms experienced after an abortion.

Check Griefworks website for more on Post-Abortion Healing FAQ's (used with permission of Celia Ryan, Griefworks Counselling)

 

Finding Spiritual Healing: A priest’s perspective

I have been involved with Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for five years and I have learned a tremendous amount during that time. The first thing I noticed about the women and men who joined us on the retreat was that so many had been deeply wounded by the experience. I guess I expected that. What I found a little disturbing was how deeply wounded they felt by the church. Some found it difficult to find forgiveness either because they couldn’t believe in God’s forgiveness or they couldn’t forgive themselves. Often these two are connected.

We might think this could be solved simply by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and seeking forgiveness. Surely this would reunite people to God and/or the church. Sometimes it was just the opposite. People who had begun to work with the pain, guilt and shame in the many ways available were confronted with a judgemental approach by various church people sometimes from their own perceptions or that of friends or the priest himself – even in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Priests told people they were forever damned for doing such a horrible thing. Other priests responded in a matter of fact kind of way with what seemed a lack of concern. The person then felt their experience was trivialised, not being taken seriously, and they felt in some way belittled while seeking forgiveness. These approaches left people alienated from the church and sometimes from God as well.

I have found that time taken to listen to the story in some detail is all that’s needed to help make the connection. Many people may have listened to the story – although usually it is only a few – but when the person is listened to by the priest something happens to connect the person with God, forgiveness and their need for spiritual healing. While God’s healing is not dependent on a priest, it is clearly important for some to hear the priest acknowledge the pain they suffer for this spiritual healing to take place. This is especially true for those who have felt rejected by a priest or the church.

The compassion of God is available to everyone. Everyone has a right to know forgiveness and healing. Jesus came to free us from the disabling power of low self esteem and self loathing by acknowledging that each broken person who feels shame, pain, guilt and heartache is a victim in many ways. This is not to deny personal responsibility but to identify the way forward so that each person may offer the gift of themselves freely no matter what brokenness lies in the past. Everyone is graced by beauty and love and it is a pity to have this gift dulled or shaded by past hurts and fears. I have found no shortage of people dealing with the personal responsibility of abortion; but I have found the corresponding freedom offered by the gospel sometimes hidden. I am sad to say that can be as a result of the perceived or intended message of church people.

Pope John Paul II said "I would like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed ... do not lose hope ... The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord." John Paul II Evangelium Vitae, 1995, #99 This is the message of the gospel and the church. I hope women and men who suffer the effects of post abortion pain and guilt will be able to find this healing for their spiritual lives.

Fr Peter Maher

TWO STORIES:

1. I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU Isaiah 49
By Susan Gliko
It is Sunday mass and we are singing, I will never forget you, My people, I have carved you on the palm of My Hand, I will never forget you, I will not leave you orphaned, I will never forget My own. Would a mother forget her baby? Or a woman the child within her womb? Yet even if these forget, yes, even if these forget, I will never forget My own.
These words from scripture, put to music by Carey Landry, used to cause a deep ache in my heart; for I once tried to forget the child within my womb, my child lost to abortion.
Abortion is a deeply traumatic experience and was so for me back in 1989. When I was in my crisis, my mother was gravely ill. I had no one to turn to, and those I did reach out to all said abortion was the best choice. I chose abortion because I felt it was my only choice, which means I had no choice. I went against everything that I believed in thinking it would spare my mother in her fragile condition.
To this day, I do not remember the actual taking of my child’s life. It was so traumatic that I left my body. Afterward, I remember thinking that now I had to pretend nothing happened and that I was fine, when in reality something horrific had happened and I was not fine. I was forever changed.
In order to continue to function and survive this trauma, I did what most all women do--enter the phase of denial. Women literally go through a time of forgetting the child within her womb; it was tissue, it was a blood clot and it was not yet a child.
This denial may last for ten, twenty and even many more years. Denial often manifests itself in many seeming unrelated ways, such as panic attacks, nightmares, difficulty in relationships, suicidal tendencies, start of or increase of drug and alcohol use and abuse and also reenactment in the form of repeat abortions. These are all symptoms of Post Abortion Syndrome.
The walls of my denial started to crumble and fall after my mother died in 1994. I started to cry and just couldn’t stop. This deep grief was welling out of me, and I was having a hard time getting a grip on myself. I started to have panic attacks that were so bad I had to be medicated and nightmares were becoming a common occurrence.
All the denial in the world couldn’t change the underlying truth of how God created women. Children are literally and scientifically carved into the very fiber and being of a woman. There has been scientific research noting, that at the moment of conception mother and child begin to communicate on a hormonal level and this information is permanently recorded in the mother's brain.
I could no longer forget my child. I was acknowledging my longing and love for this child, who I was never able to hold to my breast, keep safe in my arms, and keep close to my heart. I wanted to dignify the reality of this precious one.
I finally found relief for this deepest pain and loss of mine through a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat. The mother child bond was reconnected and I was able to dignify my child through a memorial service and Mass. I am now able to keep close to this child in prayer because I know this child is a part of the communion of saints now living in the Lord.
So, now when I hear the song, Isaiah 49, and they ask the question, “Would a mother forget her baby? Or a woman the child within her womb? The answer is no, she might be able to forget for ten, twenty and sometimes many more years, but the truth and reality of the child is carved and recorded permanently into her every fiber and being. She will never forget her own.

Susan N Gliko is a married stay-at-home mother of four living children. She is also the state coordinator for Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats in Montana.

2. COMPASSION, FORGIVENESS AND HEALING
I need your compassion, as do many other women like me. I am a post-abortion woman. At the age of 54, I am finally confronting the damage that three abortions have done to me. I was one of the lucky ones: I did not suffer any physical damage to my cervix or womb. But the extent of the emotional, mental and spiritual damage in my life is quite overwhelming to me. Here is a bit of my story – my history, my recovery and my healing.
At 18 in the 60’s, I was sexually active and terrified that my parents would find out how I was living my life. I got pregnant and the father was long gone. I didn’t even know his last name. Now what was I supposed to do? Like many young women at the time I did two things. I got drunk, and I had an abortion. That seemed to be the answer in those days. That answer (that choice) scarred me for life. It changed me forever.
Unbeknownst to me, I spent the next six years running from the anguish going on inside. My drinking and my promiscuity increased dramatically; I discovered some of those wonderful hippie drugs we all loved; I started a deadly relationship with food and yo-yo dieting, and I fell in love a dozen times and couldn’t make one of the relationships work. During this time, I did meet the man of my dreams. He was perfect – well, almost. He had one flaw – he was married. So in 1974 when we wound up pregnant, there was only one easy choice – another abortion. I was so drunk the day of that abortion that I do not remember any of the details. That day is a fog to me except for one feeling that has remained – a deep pain.
For the next 11 years of my life, my coping tools all got worse – the drinking, the promiscuity, the food problems, and two marriages falling apart. Then, several things happened that began my long, slow journey of recovery and healing. God blessed me with a son in 1981, and in 1985, God gave me the gift of sobriety. My sobriety eventually led me back to my Catholic faith, which I had abandoned in my college days.
But my return to my faith did not occur until after I had one more abortion. In 1991, my married friend and I were pregnant again. This time I was sober. This time I wanted to keep the baby. I was given a choice – the baby or him. I was angry and hurt. But after so many years of craziness and foggy thinking, I caved in and had my third abortion.
For 36 years I was an ardent pro-choice advocate until circumstances of one fall day in 2003 again changed me and the course of my life. Neither of my vehicles was available to me, so I couldn’t go to my regular church for Sunday Mass. I went to a church closer to home, and after Mass picked up a church bulletin. There was a small box ad about Rachel’s Vineyard post-abortion Retreats that gave a web site address (www.rachelsvineyard.org). Being the good computer junkie that I am, I jumped online to the web site. I sat there reading through the site sobbing, with tears streaming down my cheeks. I knew in my gut that it was time for me to deal with my abortions.
I finally attended my Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat in April 2004. There are no words to describe this profound experience. What I write about it is fairly superficial detail. Thirty-six years of denial, shame, guilt, pain, sadness, and anger came to an end. I was shown how to look at the abortions through new eyes. I shared my experiences with 10 other post-abortion women. This was the first time I had ever told anyone about this part of my life. The acceptance and love and forgiveness offered to me began my healing. I faced my three children, named them and asked for their forgiveness. Through the miracles of this weekend retreat I know that God has forgiven me, and I am on my way to forgiving myself.
My healing is a process, a journey just begun. I made my dead children a promise, which I quote in full “I promise you that I will no longer be silent about you. I will not hide in shame or guilt. I commit to turning our pain and sorrow into something good and positive. I will find a way to honor your existence and your deaths. I will let Jesus guide me in memory of you.”
I am discovering many ways of keeping this promise. I shared my story with my family. They were all unbelievably caring, loving and supportive. Again I am blessed. Not all post-abortion women get such positive, compassionate responses. Some have families who do not want to hear their stories, who cut them out of their lives, who get angry and mean. That is not what we need for our healing. I pray that all families try to understand the depth of the pain of the post-abortion woman and find compassion.
One of the joys of my retreat was the discovery that I can use my God-given talents for writing and speaking to keep my promise and to, perhaps, help others understand the difficulties of the post-abortion journey. So I am writing letters to editors and articles such as this. I am speaking out when appropriate. I walked in a 2004 Memorial Day parade in memory of Luke, Grace and Benjamin. I proudly wore a T-shirt that says “Women Regret Abortion”. I will share my story openly and freely. I will not hide in silence, guilt or shame any longer.
Since my retreat, I am a changed person. I am different today than I was in March 2004. I am forgiven and free today. How has this happened? What is different in me today – how do I know I’ve changed?
A metaphor for the process I’m going through dawned on me one day during my morning prayers. At 18, I was a whole, beautiful mirror. My glass was totally shattered into millions of pieces when I had the first of my three abortions. When I arrived at my RV retreat, I was like a shattered mirror. I brought all those broken pieces of glass to my retreat – the painful shards wounding me spiritually, emotionally & physically. The very action of going to the retreat acknowledged how broken I was.
The retreat process helped me to lay all my brokenness at the feet of Christ. I was able to ask Christ and my children for forgiveness. The mercy and love of Christ helped me to name and claim my wounds. Christ gave me a frame for the broken pieces of glass. At the retreat, I began to put the pieces of my broken mirror back together inside that frame.
The early part of the process was really painful. I had to pull all those broken pieces of glass out of my soul and look at them. This is hard and painful work. With Christ’s love all around me, comforting me and guiding me, I was able to do this work.
I returned home from the retreat with my broken glass pieces and the frame of Christ’s love. Since then, I have been laying those broken pieces in their proper place inside the frame. This is slow work. Sometimes I get a piece in the wrong place, and have to work on it some more to find where it belongs. Christ’s forgiveness and mercy hold all those pieces in place. And the rewards for the work are splendid. Each piece that is put into it’s right place looks beautiful and makes the rest of the growing mirror that much closer to whole again.
My work on my remaining brokenness has been twofold. Honoring the promise that I made to my children to make something good come out of our pain, I have been speaking out – through my voice or my pen. Each time I talk or write about my abortions and my healing another piece of my shame and guilt is cleaned off and fit back into the mirror in the frame.
My second effort is interior work – quiet, prayerful work. This is harder for me; silence is still difficult. I am so used to living with external noise (TV, radio, computer) to drown out the internal pain that quiet is hard sometimes. As my wonderful retreat facilitator recently reminded me, “there are many quiet, personal, slow, interior steps which must be made too. These are the deep ones, which knit you together and make you
into a garment of warmth and safety for spreading God's love and forgiveness onto others.” So, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to do some real inside work.
God has been gracious enough to give me a few objective glimpses of the woman I am today. I am forgiven and free. I am free of the shame, the guilt, the self-torture, the self-loathing that I carried for so long. I am free from many of my old behaviors and reactions. I am not taking things as personally or critically. I do not worry nearly as much about my living son. I am free to love more openly than I have been able to in many years. I am free to listen, to learn and to speak my truth. I am free from the chains of my abortions.
What a blessing this journey is. I don’t think my mirror will ever be perfectly whole again. My abortions did change me forever. But even with a crack or two or a few missing pieces, I am more beautiful today than I’ve ever been. Thank you Jesus! And thank you Holy Spirit for guiding my pen, once more, as I let other post-abortion women who are suffering know they are not alone and that there is healing and forgiveness for them, too, in Christ.

Susan Swander, Oregon, USA

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