Monday, September 04, 2006

Abortion: On the Other Hand

Although I'm not staunchly democratic, as a social worker I generally lean to the left. So don’t think this is a Pro Life post. It’s not. 

This is only about mental health. That's what I write about, mental health and how to keep it, if that's possible. 

On the one hand, pregnancy is a pathological physiological condition, as is giving birth. Being pregnant is a risky condition for a woman, and being inside a pregnant woman for nine months can be risky to the fetus.

And there are financial and psychological burdens to parenthood, once the baby is out. Mothers undoubtedly lose opportunities afforded to childless females in the work force.

And being poor undoubtedly has potential to negatively affect both a woman’s physical and mental health, not to mention the infant's nutrition.

Then there’s the other hand.

On the other hand, let's say a young woman goes to an abortion clinic. She will be subjected to many things that will determine whether or not she has a good or bad experience aborting that baby: family support, financial resources, the way she is treated at the clinic, the pre-abortion counseling, where the father of the fetus is holding, her previous mental health history, how well she does post-op.

These are only a few of the things that can affect her immediate and future adjustment to that key decision. Again, this isn't about the decision.

A woman might be able to load the deck in her favor if she has social support, aftercare, a solid philosophical world view about abortion, as in it is a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, etc.

But her accommodation to her decision in the future is a still a question mark. It is impossible to know, at the time of the decision, how she or the father will feel about their decision years later.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I have seen dozens of women who still regret their abortion(s) many years later, who grieve that it had to happen and that it had to happen to them, in particular. And I’ve seen many men who report the same grief and remorse, tearfully. Men cry, too. This is one of the things that they cry about.

I’m not saying "Don’t do it" or "Do do it." I’m just saying that if you do, be prepared for the possibility, and I have no idea how remote, of backlash.

Depending upon what kind of person you are, grieving the loss may be considerable. It's never too late to work it out in therapy, so I'm pushing that on this post. Get therapy at any time with any professional, and get it early, and maybe often if you need it. Community mental health centers are generally free, still. Thank your sixties parents.

Having held the hands of so many (figuratively speaking, T.D. rarely ever touches her clients in any physical way) I have to wonder: What is it that they do say in the pre-abortion counseling? Will someone tell me, please?

If getting a therapist isn't possible, talk with trusted friends and family. Talk, talk, talk. Try to prepare yourself in case the other shoe drops.

There’s no way of knowing, is there?

A caveat to this piece is:

IF you’re in therapy for some other reason, perhaps years down the line, if you’ve had an abortion, don’t forget to mention it. Mention it somewhere along the line in treatment. Not every therapist will think to ask about it, seriously, although they should.

If you’re a therapist, ‘nuf said.

Is this a hot topic?

It shouldn’t be, but it is. As a source of potential post-traumatic stress, this doc thinks abortions are worth talking about, thinking about, and rethinking and rethinking. That type of cognitive exercise can't hurt.

Again, I'm just unloading about something that's bothered me for years. There's probably no easy way to have an abortion, no matter what they're telling you at the clinic. But talk it over in any case.

There. I've said it.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Kate said...

As someone who had an abortion at 19, I look back on it with regret, not because I'm a pro-life conservative, but as to why I did it. I did it because my father had just passed away a couple years before that, and I didn't want to upset my mother further. I regret that I didn't have the strength to just own up to it and deal with the consequences. Which poses a greater question: had I better communication with my mother, would I have not gotten an abortion? I don't know, but that question used to haunt me. And I went through a period that I blamed her for that, but have since come to realize it was not her fault. It was my own reckless behavior and a manifestation of the neglected emotions surrounding the loss of my father. But I digress... Anyway, in answer to your question, I do not recall getting any substantial counseling from the center that performed the abortion other than the medical details. Although, I don't remember much from it anyway. Which I think might be on purpose on the part of my brain.

Therapy Doc said...

Thanks for writing. We have an expression, I think a guy named Baruch Levine taught it to me years ago when I was in graduate school:

You don't take away the umbrella until it stops raining.

I almost didn't post on abortion because I didn't want to leave anyone out in the rain.

If you're not thinking about things like this, believe me, they can wait.

It's when thoughts can't wait, when they bother you too much, when they're tipping you into too much negativity that it's time to talk to someone.

aus blog said...

It's a subject of much debate, and the debate is hotting up of late with the apparent change in policies of several countries. I am a pro-lifer who has no religious convictions at all . I didn't need the fear of god or anything else to come to my decision, just a good sense of what is right and wrong.
You see we were all once a fetus. Is it beyond the realm of possibilities that when your mother first learned she was carrying you, she may have considered her options? What if she had decided to terminate? Would that have been OK?
You would not exist, if you have children they would not exist, and your (husband or wife) would be married to someone else. You would have been deprived of all your experiences and memories. In this day and age with terminations being so readily available and so many being carried out (can be harder to organise to have a tooth pulled in australia) if you make it to full term
you can consider yourself lucky. Lucky you had a mother that made the choice of life for you.Don't you think they all deserve the same basic human right, LIFE?
I'm all for contraception, prevention is certainly better than termination.
Did you know you can get an implant that lasts for three years? Just think girls not even a show for three years, wouldn't that be great? I think too many people rely too heavily on the last option (abortion), I think if abortions weren't so readily available people would manage their reproductive system far better resulting in a fraction of the number of unwanted pregnancies.
RU-486- Many people describe this as a contraceptive, it is not, it is a termination drug, it doesn't prevent a pregnancy, it is a lethal cocktail for the unsuspecting fetus. In my opinion RU486 might be acceptable if administered within a day or two of conception when all you would have is the basic ingredients of human life. After that it's just wrong. It's a human life.
I am convinced that in the not to distant future,people will look back at many of the practices of today with disbelief and horror.


Professor Zero said...

Are you implying, though, that the decision to have an abortion is one people are more likely to regret than other decisions ... or that the decision to have an abortion is always a major one, or always a difficult one?

Therapy Doc said...

I never (ha) use words like "always" or, uh, "never."

I'm saying that one should be aware, going into this decision that yes, it is likely to hurt
1) not only pre-op (emotional) and 2)post-op (physical)
but also 3) many years later (emotional).

I have heard from many women that they were not told how difficult the physcial recovery would be from the procedure.

Anonymous said...

This blog gives a lot of insight into what abortion counselors say before a woman gets an abortion.
More pro-choice and pro-life people should read it.

Anonymous said...

As a source of potential post-traumatic stress,

Thats why I had the abortion-that was 23 years ago-no after effects-best move 4 that time of my life-no big worries or stress about it-I was very unwell and would have aborted myself if the state didnt help me get one-Iam in therphy-we talked about the abortion-for around 10 minutes-I did a lot of talking before it-that helped-

Anonymous said...

I had an abortion when I was 19 and now one of my best friends is a counselor at an abortion clinic.

I had a very good counselor when I was there who wanted to make really, really sure I was sure about it, and I believe my friend when she tells me that a lot of the time she has to tell a woman that she shouldn't get one because she can tell the woman would regret it too much later.

I don't like propaganda from the religious right that says abortion clinics push women into having them when they're not ready. That certainly was not my experience, and is certainly NOT part of my friends' job. Her job is to help a woman through a difficult decision, no matter which decision she makes.

And yes, I can imagine someone regretting it later, even if she was sure at the time that she did it, but what can anyone do about that?

I don't really regret my abortion. Only that I was stupid enough to get pregnant in the first place. After that, I think I chose the least-bad option I had at the time.

Isle Dance said...

SO true. Well said.

Barbara said...

Therapy Doc,

I think your advice to women in therapy, to talk about the abortion at some point, is the best advice. I think it really has less to do with where one stands on the issue, than how the issue effected the individuals involved.

Anyone who's had an abortion knows only too well dealing with it at a social level just complicates matters. Whenever I hear the arguments, I am unavoidably returned to my own reality, whether i wanted to go or not.

I also think you are correct about the post traumtic elements. In my case, a repetition of pattern of earlier but unconscious post traumtic stress and probably a factor in subsequent incidences as well.

I have to presume that is one of the reasons you advise disclosure, whether one thinks it's a non-issue or not, whether it appears to have been dealt with it or not.

So far, I haven't told my therapist. And there are other things we haven't gotten around to. But I have a running mental list and abortion always makes an appearance there. It's really not a small thing, is it? It can touch so many important places within and without. Grief, shame, worth, etc., in some cases, the shape of your life, for it inevitably looks different adding or subtracting abortion from the story.

therapydoc said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Barbara. I think it's almost universal, not wanting to disclose, and universal wanting to. Eventually, if you stick to it, at least some of it gets resolved.

sydney said...

I recently had an abortion and I'm not sure that I will ever be able to get over the pain. I was so upset the counselors almost wouldn't let me go through with it. I feel as though I have killed off a piece of my soul and I will never get it back. In the end though, given all the information I had at the time, it was the best decision, not for me emotionally, but for the life my child would have had. It would not have been a good one, and not what it deserved. My rationality was that I would rather take the pain myself, and kill a part of myself then have to live with subjecting my child to a lifetime of suffering.

therapydoc said...

So sorry. Hope you find peace this year. It takes time.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, just came across this topic.
I had an abortion many years ago at 22. My mother was bi-polar,her brother suffered severely from OCD,my paternal grandmother had been institutionalized off and on for years with schizophrenia. I had decided early that I wasn't going to have children. (God laughed-I was parent to Mom and Uncle for years.)

The counselors were great. I was sent home with options to consider, and consider I did. Adoption seemed like a possibility in the abstract-a child might have a good chance at making it if brought up in a "normal" family. Reason set in though, and I knew I wasn't strong enough to stand up to a family that would never let their blood be brought up by strangers. I was just as certain I couldn't let that happen.

The day of the abortion, I was given kindness and opt outs, too. Oddly, I can still remember the doctor giving me a hug and telling me I was brave. This was in a clinic, never saw him again, but it was exactly right at that time.

Since then, it really has never bothered me. It's part of my deepest soul, and choices I've made since were effected by it.I made a promise to God that I would never allow this to happen again-to use the good sense I was given,and I've kept that promise.

I'm thinking that a lot of women are like me-they did what they had to do and went on. My heart hurts for those for whom the decision wasn't as clear-cut and easy. Their experiences are just as valid. This world makes it almost impossible to admit that you've had an abortion-you never know in advance what the reaction might be, and the consequences of choosing the wrong confidant are high.

therapydoc said...

Thank you so much for sharing that, Anon. What a beautiful comment, so rich and so meaningful. I really appreciate your sharing.

Anonymous said...

I was in a horrible marriage. My ex-husband hid my pills trying to get me pregnant so I wouldn't leave. Thankfully I had an extra prescription and didn't get pregnant. I had thought at the time that I would have an abortion if I did get pregnant.

Now dealing with infertility, I'm still pro-choice. I have a second marriage (healthy relationship) and have seen women desperate for a child have an abortion because it would kill her or would prevent the baby/babies from suffering.

It is a very personal decision that should be left to the woman and her doctor. Having therapy before and after is probably a good idea. If you're in a decision to think about having an abortion, chances are you have other things going on in your life that probably need to be looked at.

Anonymous said...

I just found this post. My comment is long, sorry, but I want to reiterate what you say about regrets.

I was 24, had two toddlers, was in a nightmare of a marriage to an abusive alcoholic and I was so depressed I was practically catatonic. When I found myself pregnant again, even though I had always personally been opposed to abortion, I did not believe I could survive having another child in the circumstances I was in.

That baby would have been 32 this August. I never will forget that lost child and feel terrible guilt that it was the baby or me and I chose me.

The experience itself was horrible as well. It was so clearly a commercial venture, organized with military precision, women in groups of ten at a time counseled, prepped, aborted and woken in the recovery room. No one warned us that everyone would wake up weeping. I don’t know if it was the particular drug they used to put us out, if it was relief, grief, the power of suggestion from being surrounded by crying or a combination of all of these. But the sound of all that sadness was brutal.

The ‘counseling’ they offered us, which I assumed would deal with emotional issues, was merely a review of birth control methods, theoretically to prevent the need for another abortion. But two of the girls in the group proudly announced they were having their fifth and sixth abortions respectively. They giggled and fidgeted through the presentation while I tried not to stare at them and tried not to cry.

NO ONE knows. Only my husband and a friend who baby sat for me while I had it done. My husband is dead now and I haven’t seen the friend in over 25 years. I have never told my present therapist. I want to say it has never come up, but the truth is I am ashamed and I don’t want her to think badly of me. I know she wouldn’t be judgmental, I know she would be sympathetic and supportive, but I think she would also be surprised. Maybe its time to tell her.

Thank you for your sensitive observations on an important subject.

therapydoc said...

So sorry for your loss and the terrible experience. They say, and I tend to agree, that telling people makes you feel better because they really don't shame you, really are supportive and flattered that you have the courage to talk.

You told me. Guess that's a start, right?

Anonymous said...

You are so kind. Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to write this, which I never have before. And I am a writer.

Your blog is great, I hope you enjoy your sabbatical and come back with your wit and wisdom refreshed. :)

Radboe Rackle said...

I was 15, just about to turn 16, the summer I had the abortion. My family was also in the process of moving to a new town very far away from where we were living. When I told my parents I was pregnant, they immediately told me I was not having it. I had no choice at all in the matter. There was no discussion, I was getting an abortion, end of subject. I know they thought this was the best decision for my life at the time. The only pre-councelling I recieved was a pamphlet telling me how they preformed the abortion. When I woke up, I was in a large room with at least four or five other girls. I was so embarrassed. No one told me I would be in a communal room. Like I had no rights to privacy. Had we all just had abortions? I also did not recieve any post abortion councelling and was so ashamed that I waited almost 11 years before having my first pap test post abortion. My family never talks about it. I had to pretend that nothing happened. Then I found out afterwards that I had had twins, but my doctor didn't tell me before because he thought that might affect my decision. But I had had no choice. I've often felt guilty though I know my life and my family's life would be completely different now.I'm sure we would be living in poverty as my boyfriend at the time family was very poor and they wanted me to live with them. I'm 34 now and often think how old my children would be. And every Mother's Day I think of them. And every time I see a pregnant woman, how can i not think of them? And every time a woman talks about her pregnancy I must stay mum, how can I say, "yeah, morning sickness, the worst!". I can't contribute to that conversation either. I've gone back and forth on wanting children over the years but I feel like I wasted my one big oppourtunity to have children, even though it would have been incredibly difficult at the time being so young with twins and still in high school. Sometimes I just want to scream, "I had an abortion!". Sometimes I go days without thinking about it but it's always there. Then, this past spring, my boyfriend at the time raped me. I want to scream that out to people too but it is just another thing to add to the list that I must keep mum about.

therapydoc said...

Oh, Radboe, this is TERRIBLE! I feel your pain, and I think anybody who reads this does, too. I'm hoping you can find some kind of mental health services where you live. It would be good to scream it out with a supportive person there to hear you. Thanks for sharing.

Radboe Rackle said...

I did find councelling thank goodness. I saw a film recently called, "I Had An Abortion, Speak Out", featuring about 15 women telling their stories. It was the first time I have ever seen anything to do with women openly speaking about their experiences. It was very helpful for me to hear those stories and see the faces, knowing I'm normal and not alone. Unfortunately, my family still does not talk about the abortion or the rape but that may come in time, I don't know. I don't know how important it is to me to want talk about it with my family anymore. Thank you for posting my story and thank you for sharing all of the other women's stories as well.

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts