NORTH PORT, FL–As the 36th Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month begins October 1, the research and education group Support After Abortion is urging the mental health community to recognize that pregnancy loss also includes abortion loss.
“Nearly one million women experience abortion each year,” said Support After Abortion CEO Lisa Rowe, a licensed therapist and social worker. “Yet many suffer its adverse issues silently, unable to fully acknowledge and work through their loss because abortion is too often viewed as a political or religious issue instead of appropriately as pregnancy loss.”
Support After Abortion’s nationally representative research shows that one-third of women who experienced medication abortion and 71% of men who experienced abortion through a partner’s termination suffer grief, loneliness, anger, and other issues. This included 78% of men and 55% of women who identified as pro-choice. Yet just 18% of women and men know that after-abortion healing resources exist.
Rowe said acknowledgements of pregnancy and infant loss help families feel supported – which makes the absence of abortion mentions even more conspicuous. “Our culture needs an entire shift,” she said. “Popular medical websites,federal agencies, andelected officials acknowledge the tragedy of pregnancy loss, as well as the emotional difficulties women may face after losses such as miscarriage or stillbirth. But that acknowledgement is missing for people who suffer after abortion experiences, which causes women and men to unhealthily suppress their pain.”
Support After Abortion provides a number of anonymous, professional resources to assist women and men who experience pregnancy loss through abortion:
Anonymous after-abortion helpline for referral to one-on-one or group support.
A national directory of providers familiar with Support After Abortion’s philosophy of care.
“Support after pregnancy loss is really about meeting hurting parents where they are and letting them know they’re not alone,” concluded Rowe. “But healing is much harder when people feel ignored, condemned, or stigmatized.”
About Support After Abortion
Support After Abortion is an abortion-healing organization that promotes compassion, collaboration, and capacity to create gold-standard care for women and men suffering from abortion’s adverse impacts.
That sunny, summer Sunday began with joy, hope, and excitement for Linda and her family. It ended with anguish, devastation, and wounded relationships. The pain was one they never anticipated would happen in their family. The light at the end of their dark tunnel came months later in the form of a Support After Abortion tagline scrolling along the bottom of the TV. Linda was the first to step onto the road to healing and restoration.
Emotions after abortion can affect, and even feel overwhelming, for not only the woman and man involved directly, but also their parents, siblings, friends, and others. For parents, the struggle is often two-fold: helping their daughter or son and coping with their own emotions and grief about the loss of their grandchild(ren).
This is the story of one grandmother’s experience of the abortion of her first grandchild and the keys to her hope, healing, and recovery.
In reading Linda’s story, keep in mind that everyone has their own story. Parts of her story may resonate with you, others may be far from your own. Our stories are all unique, yet hearing about others’ lived experiences can provide insights and understanding, or we may simply benefit from knowing we’re not the only one struggling to cope with this type of loss.
THAT FATEFUL DAY: LEARNING ABOUT OUR DAUGHTER’S ABORTION
The family has a tradition of joining together for Sunday dinners. Linda’s young married daughter, Sarah, was in her senior year at a Christian college. Just one Sunday before “that day,” Linda suspected her daughter was pregnant. As the family went back-to-school shopping, they enthusiastically pointed out baby furniture, strollers, car seats, and baby clothes, eagerly anticipating the arrival of their newest family member.
Linda and her husband spent the next week excitedly making plans to welcome their first grandchild by Easter. But, unbeknownst to them, rather than excitement and joy, their daughter Sarah’s week was filled with fear. Sarah received confirmation of her pregnancy on Tuesday, but was worried that a prescription she was taking could cause birth defects. Although her doctor tried to reassure her, the information she read online greatly troubled her and her husband. They decided to travel out of state for an abortion that Friday to avoid the mandatory waiting period in their own state.
Two days later, the family had Sunday dinner together as usual, but Linda felt something was off. She had an odd feeling all week during phone calls with her daughter and with her sudden trip out of town. After dinner, Sarah and her husband left, but Sarah quickly came back inside. She was crying. Linda said, “My mind was going through a list of what it could be.” When Sarah said, “I did something,” Linda thought, “No, that can’t be the truth.” At the same time her husband said, “You had an abortion, didn’t you?” Linda said, “I’ve never screamed or yelled before, but I did that night. And my usually calm husband went outside and destroyed the backyard. Our youngest flowed with tears. I’ve never seen so many tears as we all cried that night.”
Sarah told them that she was scared something would be wrong with the baby, but that once she was on the clinic table, she tried to get out of it. She asked for her phone to call her mom. But, the clinic worker told her it was too late to call her mom, that the procedure needed to start now. She was not allowed to have her husband with her, either. So, he didn’t know she was struggling with second thoughts. She was all alone in the room for the first time for any medical issue, having always had either her mom or husband with her before. She thought she had no right to stop it. “After all the emotion and pain and everything,” Linda said, “thinking of Sarah going through that experience on her own, by herself, hurts us all so much.”
THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF ABORTION IN THE FAMILY
After that Sunday, every person in the family was in pain. The following weeks were full of crying, anguish, anger, and feeling empty for Linda. Sarah had been Linda’s own unplanned pregnancy while she was in college and working full-time. Linda thought, “If I chose Sarah’s life, how could Sarah choose abortion?” Linda said she wondered how this happened when she had always been pro-life and raised her daughters that way. She kept thinking about the grandchild she would never see or hold. She didn’t want to speak to her daughter or son-in-law. “I will always remember that week, Sunday to Sunday,” she said.
Linda’s younger daughter was devastated. Linda explained that because they’re so close in age and did everything together, it was very painful that one sister did something major without talking with the other sister. She felt that her sister didn’t trust her and kept saying, “Why didn’t you tell me, I would have been there for you.” After that they didn’t speak to each other for half a year. “It really hurt me to see their wounded relationship,” Linda said, “but I had to pause on that, so I can be a mom to both my daughters.”
After several months of thinking there had to be a way to heal for herself, as a family, and to help her daughter with her emotions, the days were just getting worse as her grandchild’s due date approached. Linda even asked her doctor about going to therapy, but didn’t tell him that her depression was about an abortion. “I wanted to protect my daughter, and I didn’t want them to think I was a bad mother,” she said. Linda felt she had nowhere to go and no one to turn to.
HOW DOES PREGNANCY LOSS AFFECT GRANDPARENTS?
In addition to short-term psychological impacts such as grief, emotional distress, feelings of isolation, and changed family relationships, grandparents may have long-term psychological health effects and poor health outcomes after the loss of a grandchild during pregnancy, according to a study led by Jane Lockton, RN, psychology Ph.D. candidate, and grief researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia. While the study was specific to “miscarriage, stillbirth, and medically-indicated termination,” the findings are relevant to other induced abortion situations.
ABORTION GRIEF SUPPORT FOR GRANDPARENTS
“A key overarching finding is that grandparents must be recognized as grievers in their own right when a grandchild dies in pregnancy,” Lockton’s study says. “Our study also recognizes the importance of support at all time points in grief processing to prevent long-term distress, poor health outcomes and family disruption.”
The study emphasized the value of counseling and peer-facilitated support groups in “reducing complications of unresolved grief” where “bereaved individuals can share stories … being there to support each other and talking about their feelings and experience” and helping to “process and integrate the loss.”
One grandparent in the study said, “It would have been helpful to know that counselling was available, and that it was ok for me to have it … My own experience didn’t help me, I didn’t know what to do with all this.”
“I found all kinds of mental health resources,” Linda said, “but nothing for grandparent abortion grief or for other family members going through this, who are greatly affected by abortion.”
STARTING THE HEALING JOURNEY: FINDING SUPPORT
One day in January, as she watched the March for Life on TV, she saw www.SupportAfterAbortion.com scroll across the screen. She immediately grabbed a piece of paper, scribbled down the information, and hurried to the computer to read everything on the website. She felt an overwhelming sense that this was the help she needed. She sent an email and connected with the After Abortion Line. Linda said, “It was the first time I was able to say, My daughter had an abortion, and we need help healing as a family.”
Linda joined a Support After Abortion support group based on a book called Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors. “I wanted to get to the root of how this came about – for myself. Was it me? Was it something I did when Sarah was younger? Unraveled Roots made me realize it wasn’t my fault. It opened my eyes to what happened to me when I was younger and how I am as a woman now, and that I’m not the only one who went through things as a child.”
Linda later participated in another Support After Abortion virtual support group called Keys to Hope and Healing (KHH) for people who have experienced or been impacted by abortion. Listening to others’ points of view, and hearing someone share what she went through as a college student who had an abortion, “helped me understand and forgive Sarah and start asking how she was doing physically, mentally,” Linda said.
“Just being able to know I’m not alone out there. I’m not the only grandparent that grieves for a child they never met,” was such a helpful part of the group,” Linda said.
One meaningful activity from the KHH program for Linda was the participants’ memorializing their children lost to abortion. “I wear a necklace that has a little pearl in it the size my grandchild was when she left this world,” Linda shared. “I bought one for each of us. My youngest wears her necklace all the time. She was looking forward to being an aunt, and it really means a lot to her to carry the pearl next to her heart. Sarah also wears her necklace, although not every day.”
PAYING FORWARD: HELPING OTHERS FIND HEALING AFTER ABORTION
Later that year, Linda became a volunteer with Support After Abortion. She worked on the After Abortion Line listening compassionately and connecting hurting women and men with healing resources that best meet their needs in the same way that she was helped when she reached out.
“As I listen to them,” Linda said, “I think that could be my child calling, and I want to show love, and be there to listen to them.” She continued, “After a few minutes, their whole voice changes, you can hear that hope breathe into them. I’m so thankful I have the opportunity to be on the After Abortion Line for them.
HOW IS THE FAMILY MONTHS LATER?
“When our granddaughter’s due date came around,” Linda shared, “there was just quietness in the family. It hurt. She would have been there for her first Easter.” Linda texted her daughter, “I love you very much,” and Sarah texted back, “I love you, too.”
Sarah keeps very busy trying not to think or talk about it. “She can’t even say the word abortion,” Linda said, “It’s very tough as a mom to see her in such pain.” Linda shared that her husband is still struggling with his grief and never talks about it.
“I’m sure it’ll impact us this Christmas, too…it would have been her first Christmas,” Linda said. “I believe we’re not done mourning her or being sad, but we’re slowly reconnecting as a family.”
HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE CHANGED YOUR PERSPECTIVE OF ABORTION AND ABORTION GRIEF AND HEALING?
“Absolutely!” Linda said. She described her previous work volunteering with a pregnancy center. “Women would tell us they’d had an abortion before and didn’t want to do that again. While I never judged our clients, our focus was on the baby, not what the woman who had previously experienced abortion(s) was going through during this pregnancy.”
Linda explained that after her daughter’s abortion and volunteering with Support After Abortion, “I realized pro-woman means taking care of the woman in her needs at that moment. The baby is important, of course, but we need to also consider what can we do for her? What is she going through?”
Linda also shared that now she better understands “that women don’t just have an abortion because their baby is unplanned or unwanted. There are fears, emotions, and suffering behind that decision.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE AN OPEN DIALOGUE ABOUT ABORTION AND ABORTION GRIEF?
Talking openly about abortion and abortion grief “is important for healing,” Linda said. “To start healing from anything for any reason, you first have to voice what happened.” She explained that for abortion, “we need people to say it. We need to be able to tell our story of what we went through. That helps the healing.”
DO YOU THINK ABORTION GRIEF AND HEALING ARE MISUNDERSTOOD?
“Absolutely, because it’s not talked about,” Linda said. She explained that before her experiences, “I just thought a woman went to Planned Parenthood and didn’t grieve at all. I had never heard that a woman can experience emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety after an abortion or that for some it can go on for years. I think most of the public is like I was and doesn’t understand that.”
WHY IS GETTING HELP FOR ABORTION GRIEF SO HARD FOR SO MANY PEOPLE?
“Sharing your abortion experience can be very scary,” Linda explained. “It’s something that’s not welcome in our society because it’s not seen as something that people need help with afterward.” Linda continued, “We should allow someone to share their story without jumping to a conclusion or judgment.”
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER GRANDPARENTS AND FAMILIES COPING WITH ABORTION GRIEF?
Linda shared that she felt as a parent her next step was to be a grandparent, and “when that step is gone, the first thought is there’s no hope,” Linda said. She encouraged people to give themselves permission to mourn. “Even if I wasn’t the one who had the abortion,” she said, “it was okay for me to grieve, cry, get angry, get help, to say this is my story, this is what I went through, this is what my child went through.”
“If one in four women have abortions, what about the grandparents?” Linda said. Sharing her story, she said, might help others to “know they’re not the grandparent who’s sad, who’s going through this.”
She suggested asking yourself, What do I need to do for my healing to begin?
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED OR BEEN IMPACTED BY ABORTION?
Whether you are the woman or man involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion or their parent, relative, or friend, and you are experiencing emotions such as anger, regret, grief, depression, guilt, anxiety, etc., know that this is common. Whether it was days or decades ago, your emotions can bubble up and become an obstacle to your emotional health and well-being. Your pain is real. You matter. We are here to listen and help.
Reach out to our After Abortion Line by online chat, phone, text, email or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect you to the healing resource that best meets your preferences – that may be counseling, support group, virtual, in person, religious, secular, etc. Check out our website for information, videos, self-guided healing, and more for women and men.
DO YOU PROVIDE AFTER-ABORTION SUPPORT, OR ARE YOU INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT AFTER-ABORTION SUPPORT?
Through our research, curricula, training, and resources, Support After Abortion educates and equips abortion healing providers to meet clients where they are, assess what they need, and offer a safe space to provide that service and impact their healing. Explore our Provider Training Center and attend our free monthly Abortion Healing Provider webinars.
* It’s not uncommon for people who experience early pregnancy loss to attribute a gender to the baby.
About the Author
Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.
Every abortion experience is unique to the people involved – the reasons that led to the termination, the emotions of the woman and man involved, who they tell or don’t tell, and the response and emotions of their family, friends, and others. We refer to this last part as the ripple effect of abortion.
Holidays can be challenging for anyone coping with hard emotions, even when the holidays aren’t that well known, like Grandparents Day, which is coming up on September 10. While Grandparents Day doesn’t have the same level of national celebration as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, it may still trigger intense feelings for those who are grieving the loss of their grandchildren.
GRANDPARENTS’ AFTER-ABORTION PAIN
These words from our clients show the struggles that grandparents may go through following a daughter’s abortion or a son’s experience of abortion through a partner’s termination.
For some, the struggle is often two-fold: helping their daughter or son and coping with their own emotions and grief about the loss of their grandchild(ren):
I’m worried about my daughter. She had an abortion a few months back, and it’s making her mental health struggle from an old trauma worse. I want to help her, but I don’t know how. I’m hurting for my daughter and hurting from the abortion she had and the loss of our grandchild. – Grandfather
I’m not sure where to get support. My grandchild was aborted yesterday, and I’m absolutely shattered. We offered to support her if she wanted to raise the child. My son begged her to let him raise it if she didn’t want to; we begged her. I don’t know if my son will ever be okay. Please tell me what to do for him and for us. – Grandmother
My wife and daughter arranged the abortion without saying anything to me. I only found out when our daughter starting having severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts because of her abortion. I’m so hurt and angry about what happened, scared for my daughter, and sad about the baby. We’re helping her get the therapy and care she needs, but I need to talk to someone to help me deal with my thoughts and feelings. – Grandfather
Some are only focused on helping their children for now:
I’m not calling for me; I’m calling for my daughter. She has been suffering and struggling after an abortion for a long time. – Grandmother
I’m calling to get some information to help my daughter who recently had an abortion. She’s very emotional. I want to find help for her. I’m not yet dealing with my own feelings about the loss of our grandchild, right now I just need to help her. – Grandmother
Some grandparents struggle with the role they may have played in the abortion:
My adult daughter is struggling horribly emotionally after her abortion. Now I am living with the regret of not helping her see other options. I want to help her and also deal with my own grief. – Grandmother
Do you have any resources to help me? I’m struggling with my involvement with my daughter’s abortion. – Grandmother
Some grandparents feel isolated and alone in their grief due to their daughter’s or son’s desire for privacy.
I can’t talk to anyone about my feelings about losing a grandchild or anything about the situation. I have to grieve in silence because my daughter doesn’t want anyone to know. – Grandmother
I’m calling to get help dealing with my emotions after my daughter’s abortion. My husband doesn’t want to talk about it, my daughter doesn’t want anyone to talk about it, but I’m hurting. She’s hurting. Our whole family is hurting. I can’t keep it bottled up. I need someone safe and anonymous to talk to. – Grandmother
SUPPORT FOR GRANDPARENTS IMPACTED BY ABORTION
Grandparents’ emotions after their daughter’s or son’s abortion experience(s) can be further complicated by parent/child relationship stressors, how they learned about the abortion(s), their own role in the abortion(s), whether or not their daughter or son is open to talking about it, whether they’ve been asked to keep it secret, whether or not their daughter or son is experiencing physical or mental health issues, and many other factors.
Regardless of what factors may apply, if you are a grandparent impacted by abortion, we’re so sorry for your loss. Know that YOU MATTER. While you weren’t the person who experienced abortion, you may experience depression, sadness, anger, regret, and other strong emotions. You deserve to get the support that you need.
WHAT IS AFTER-ABORTION HEALING?
Grief is simply a part of being human that impacts some people more than others and some people benefit from help working through their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. That’s exactly what abortion healing provides – an opportunity to work through emotions, grieve loss(es), share stories, and find closure.
The way that looks is completely up to each individual and the options they prefer. Sometimes it’s talking one-on-one with a trained abortion healing provider or counselor. It could be a support group led by a peer facilitator using a structured program, curriculum, or book. It could be a self-guided online program. You may want anonymity, in-person, virtual, religious, secular, etc. All these options are available so that each person can receive the type of support that works best for them. Abortion healing is not necessarily one-and-done, and a person may prefer different healing options at different stages of their personal journey.
Whether you have experienced abortion yourself or have been impacted by someone else’s abortion, if you are struggling emotionally, you matter. You deserve support.
HOW DO I FIND SUPPORT AFTER ABORTION?
Reach out to our After Abortion Line by online chat, phone, text, email, or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect you to the healing resource that best meets your preferences. Check out our website for information, videos, self-guided healing, and more for women and men.
While each person’s story is unique, sometimes it helps to hear what others have gone through. Click here for the story of one grandmother’s experience of the abortion of her first grandchild and the keys to her hope, healing, and recovery.
About the Author
Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.
Just like passing down the hurt, we can pass down the healing, and help prevent future pain.
Oh wow, that was just like my mom (or dad)! We often hear our parents echoed in our words, thoughts, and behaviors. It might be a phrase we say, a focus on good grades, or a career choice like following in the footsteps of a parent’s and grandparent’s military service. It might be behaviors we copy because that’s what mom or dad did – like the way we fold towels, let people enter traffic ahead of us, keep food and water in the car to offer homeless people we encounter, or run five miles when we’re stressed. We may not even be aware or consciously think about these things. Often they can be endearing signs of family unity. On the other hand, we can also pick up and repeat negative or harmful traits and behaviors.
What is Generational Trauma?
“Generational trauma is a pattern of behavior that follows from one generation to the next,” says Lisa Rowe, licensed mental health therapist and CEO of Support After Abortion. Rowe named some of the more commonly known generational traumas such as substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, anger, depression, homelessness, and poverty.
Psychologist Bertrina Olivia West Al-Mahdi, Ph.D. offered other examples of repeating behavioral patterns in Men’s Health magazine, such as having “frugal or overindulgent spending habits,” or “eating unhealthy food because it’s more affordable.”
Family patterns of seeing “discussing feelings as a sign of weakness,” being “emotionally numb,” or being “anxious and overly protective even when there is no threat of danger” are listed as examples of “how trauma affects multiple generations” in a blog by the Austin, Texas counseling group Ensemble Therapy.
I’m dealing with miserable depression, mood swings, and very paralyzing, intrusive thoughts since my abortion.
I feel so depressed, and I’m struggling massively to sleep, eat, or even think properly. It’s getting worse. I am seriously struggling with my mental health.
I started using marijuana to cope with the emotions, anger, grief, anxiety and depression after my girlfriend’s abortion 10 years ago. The abortion has affected my ability to form and maintain relationships.
I struggled for 15 years with alcohol and drug abuse, acting out, poor decisions, and destruction after encouraging my girlfriend to have an abortion.
I’m full of regrets and thoughts of suicide because of how much I’m hurting after my abortion.
CAMH explains, “the same event may be more traumatic for some people than for others.” This is true for abortion, as well.
While media outlets regularly tell stories of people who share they had no negative effects from their abortions, our research shows that 34% of women and 71% of men report experiencing adverse changes after abortion.
Can Abortion be a Generational Trauma?
“It seems that teenage pregnancy is generational, as well as abortion,” one former pregnancy center director told Support After Abortion. She said they frequently saw pregnant teen clients being pressured to have abortions by their mothers who said they had also gotten pregnant as a teen and experienced abortion.
She described family patterns such as older siblings who also got pregnant young. Sometimes they had abortions. Other times the current client is under pressure to have an abortion because “my mom’s already taking care of my sister’s kid(s), and doesn’t want to deal with more.”
She described the impact of other generational traumas on client abortion decisions. One common variable she saw was the impact of absent fathers. She said some clients felt overwhelmed by the idea of repeating their mother’s and sometimes also grandmother’s single parenting. Other clients – both male and female – would say, “I grew up without a father and I don’t want my child to experience that.”
Rowe said some families are overt in talking about abortion – both family members’ experiences and viewpoints on abortion. In other families, parents and siblings may be silent about their personal experiences, “yet make influential statements such as don’t go to prom and get pregnant, make sure you use protection, and we don’t need any babies around here.” Rowe also said it’s not uncommon for personal stories to be unspoken until another family member is facing an unintended pregnancy or shares their abortion experiences.
Support After Abortion “regularly hears stories of generational traumas and specifically abortion from participants in both our Unraveled Roots and Keys to Hope and Healing virtual support groups,” said Karin Barbito, Special Projects Manager. “In all of the groups I’ve facilitated, clients have shared experiences such as “When I got pregnant, my mom encouraged me to have an abortion because she had one and didn’t think it was a big deal” or “I knew my mom had an abortion, but it wasn’t until I had one that I learned my grandma also had an abortion.”
One Client’s Story of Generational Trauma and Abortion
Jane* shared with Support After Abortion that she grew up knowing her mother miscarried as a teen. “She told us it was a blessing,” Jane said, “and that if we ever ended up pregnant, we’d have to have an abortion.” She learned later after her abortion that her grandmother had told her mom the same thing.
Jane said even though she had argued with her mom and told her she would never do that, when she got pregnant at 15, she immediately had an abortion. “I was scared, confused, and her words penetrated me more than I thought.” She said she never wanted to do that again, so when she got pregnant at 17, she chose to parent.
However, Jane described her family as “dysfunctional,” and said “my mom was codependent and my dad had an addiction problem. I grew up looking for validation and love, and started having sex at 13.” She said those repeated patterns of behavior included marrying a man with addiction struggles just like her dad. “I had no support and no money, so I panicked when I got pregnant again, and I had another abortion.”
Years later when her daughter got pregnant as a teen, Jane was the main influencer in her having an abortion. “Now she’s struggling with the same hurt and pain as my mom and I did,” Jane said.
“It was a long time before I realized how much my abortions and generational traumas had affected me,” she said. As a clinical counselor now, she sees the same patterns with her clients. She says, “We only know what we’ve been taught, what we’ve seen, what’s been modeled. We think I don’t want to be like my mom or dad, but we end up in that same place and don’t know how we got there or how to get out of it.”
Even after going through years of therapy, Jane said entering after-abortion healing helped her “explore areas I had shoved down for years. And that brought a level of healing also to my mom, my husband, my siblings, and my kids.” The result was “where once dysfunction was embedded in my family, now healing, hope, encouragement, and support is what defines my family.”
What is the Impact of Generational Trauma?
“Generational trauma may affect one’s day-to-day life,” said Al-Mahdi, ”by causing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and other trauma-related symptoms.”
Generational trauma “can affect both your mental and physical wellness,” Psych Central says in an article medically reviewed by Matthew Boland, PhD, “including detachment, impaired self-esteem, estrangement, neglect, abuse, violence, chronic pain, certain illnesses, and behaviors that impact wellness.”
The article states that these effects of generational trauma may be more pronounced among “people from marginalized groups — such as People of Color and those in lower socioeconomic classes.” This finding is connected to abortion-related generational trauma, as the Guttmacher Institute reports that unintended pregnancy and abortion rates are significantly higher for Black and Hispanic women than for white women and that 75% of abortion patients qualify as poor or low-income according to federal poverty levels.
How can the Cycle of Generational Trauma be Broken?
Having “adequate mental health and addiction care delivered to the adult population – especially those who are having children and raising them – is the best possible way to disrupt [generational trauma],” says Indiana University psychiatrist R. Andrew Chambers, MD in an article in IU Health. The article states that breaking generational cycles involves “understanding the issue, preventing and treating the root issues.”
Rowe advises applying the three-part process of change, often called The 3 A’s – cultivate awareness, which evolves into acceptance, that allows us to take action and make change.
Rowe explains that awareness “helps you understand where this came from, why you have these certain beliefs, why these behaviors are part of who you are, why you’re in the relationship you’re in, etc.”
“It’s not about going backward to blame or shame,” Rowe says, “it’s about going backward to raise an understanding of awareness.”
In the Men’s Health article, licensed mental health therapist Chase Cassine says, “Treatment starts with acknowledging what caused the trauma, and how it has negatively affected you and others in your family.
An example of acceptance, Rowe says, may be recognizing “I was a victim of that experience, I didn’t have an idea of another way, I was afraid, or I didn’t have courage enough to stand up for myself.”
Taking action often involves “entering into recovery, forgiving ourselves and other people, and engaging in experiences to create new understandings and mindsets,” said Rowe.
“Treatment can help you develop coping skills,” Al-Mahdi says, “and learn to replace outdated or unwanted behaviors.”
Recently in my Unraveled Roots group I had an awakening, so to speak. I have been so focused on healing from the aftermath of my abortion that I neglected the trauma that came before it – the abandonment I felt, the abuse I endured, and the dysfunction I grew up in. Unraveled Roots helped to put the pieces together as to why I even got to the point where I was facing the abortion decision in the first place. My trauma was so much deeper than I imagined.
Supporting People Working through Generational Trauma
“People working through generational trauma need support, compassion, and empathy, as well as grace for mistakes and relapses,” Rowe said.
Often this support must come from outside the family unit. A discussion by the Duke University Office for Institutional Equity about the PsychCentral article previously mentioned states, “A parent or grandparent who never truly healed from or explored their own trauma may find it very difficult to provide emotional support to a family member suffering from his or her own trauma.” They explain that many families use “unhealthy coping mechanisms” such as denying or minimizing the trauma, which can “set the precedence for younger generations.”
“Creating space and supporting the coping needs of people who come from lineages of trauma is often the best move,” according to PsychCentral, “rather than attempting to ‘fix’ or remove the pain.”
In dealing with the intersection of generational trauma and abortion, “we need to be able to see the person and not the word abortion,” Rowe said, “It’s a human issue – we have to see the woman or man.” She continued, “Learning and understanding their why is important. It’s about helping them find healing to break the generational cycle.”
In a webinar on generational trauma and Black women, Jerrilyn Sanders of the Chalmers Center, which focuses on addressing broken relationships at the root of poverty, advised, “Don’t overlook what’s below the iceberg. There are layers of things below what you see.” She also emphasized the need to “understand that how people got here is so often not a result of their own individual decisions. They’re trapped in cycles without power or ability to make choices for themselves.”
Shay Basset, also of the Chalmers Center urged people, especially providers, to “create an atmosphere of safety and community” and to “Hear me first before crafting this narrative about me. Know me and my story before you form an opinion about who you think I am. Hear me before you help me.” Some tips she offered:
Remember and use the person’s name.
Share a meal with them, it helps tear down walls.
Be willing to be uncomfortable together.
Work through your own biases and ideas of the other person.
Share your own fears and vulnerabilities – not just hear their plight.
Discern and acknowledge the person’s strengths so they can feel valued, seen, and heard.
Toward a Healthier Future
Generational trauma impacts self-perception, relationships, parenting, communities, and abortion decisions. For those who are negatively impacted, it’s important to acknowledge and understand their experiences, and provide access to mental health care and healing resources to help them restore well-being.
“As with any form of healing or intervention, there is no one path to healing intergenerational trauma and no set definition of what it means to heal,” says PsychCentral. “Through examining what intergenerational trauma you may carry, you have the opportunity to pass along new healthy coping skills to the next generation.”
“Women and men facing unintended pregnancies are making a monumental decision in a cloud of trauma, fear, isolation, and grief,” said Rowe. “Many have generational trauma, previous abortion experiences, codependency, and other risk factors themselves, as well as within their families and circles of influence.”
Working to identify hidden patterns, behaviors, and significant past events that may be impacting today’s thoughts, actions, and decisions is crucial to breaking cycles of trauma, including abortion, and paving the way for different choices in the future.
* Name changed to protect privacy.
Our resource Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors helps individuals identify the root causes behind damaging choices and patterns to change their life and legacy by establishing new, healthier patterns one small step at a time. Resources include book, journal, client videos, facilitator’s guide, and facilitator training videos. A self-guided course is available for those who would like to explore on their own. And virtual support groups are available for those who would like to dig deeper along with others and a trained facilitator. There is hope. Change is possible. Life can be different.
Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.
Licensed mental health therapist and Support After Abortion CEO Lisa Rowe says people – families, church leaders, and others – need to have awareness of women who have experienced reproductive loss and show compassion on Mother’s Day. “My overall message to women on Mother’s Day who have experienced reproductive loss – miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, adoption, loss of older children – is that it can be an emotionally packed day.”
The celebration of Mother’s Day is a cultural connection that is everywhere – cards at Target, promotional emails from retailers, recognition at church. “The bittersweetness is that it’s a joyous day for so many people – they’re going to dinners and having celebrations,” Rowe said. “Yet it can be an overwhelming and triggering experience for those with strong feelings connected to it due to reproductive loss, especially abortion.”
Rowe has spent nearly 20 years helping girls and women from at-risk teenage girls to women experiencing unintended pregnancies to women escaping sex trafficking. She described three stages of change that apply to a multitude of situations including coping with grief after abortion: awareness, acceptance, and action.
“Some women avoid Mother’s Day not knowing why they feel off or why they avoid church that day,” Rowe said. “Undealt with grief can come out as avoidance, anger, sadness.” She described how one mom related that she struggled for years to go to church on Mother’s Day after her abortion. Now she stands up to be recognized as a mother to honor her daughter’s life. Other moms have shared that they want to stand up, but don’t out of fear of being asked about their children.
Rowe explained that acceptance is being able to say this hurts, I need healing. She said the day can be particularly challenging for women who have a mixed experience – celebrating with their living children while feeling the loss of children who aren’t with them. Some of the day might be really good, and some of the day might hurt. Rowe suggested, “Maybe on this day I need to take the first hour to myself to experience the grief, so I can enter into the joy of the moment.”
One mom, decades removed from her abortion, shared with Support After Abortion, “My two living children made the day special, but there was a deep sadness in the back of my mind thinking what would it have been like if my other child were here, too.” She shared that one trigger has been going to church on Mother’s Day when her pastor recognizes all mothers and includes those who miscarried or whose child died, “but abortion is never, ever mentioned as a loss.”
Rowe explained that action involves facing these things with tools, resources, and help. She said it might involve calling a person who is supportive, making a counseling appointment right before or after Mother’s Day, or reaching out to Support After Abortion.
“Healing actions are unique to the person and help them embrace their feelings and the present moments, perhaps in ways they may not have before,” Rowe said. Another woman, who doesn’t have other children, shared that Mother’s Day “is a little weird.” In the four years since her abortion, she hasn’t done anything particular to mark the day. Yet she said, “Every Mother’s Day there’s a part of me thinking about it and my baby.” After going through Support After Abortion’s healing program, she said, “A part of me would really love to do something to celebrate Mother’s Day, but I don’t know what that would look like exactly. Maybe this year I’ll plant a flower or do something to memorialize my baby in some small way.”
“These are the experiences we’ve journeyed through with women and it’s taught us a lot,” Rowe said. “Working through emotions after abortion is already hard enough, but on Mother’s Day it’s like a spotlight is on it.” Rowe encourages friends, loved ones, and church leaders to show love and compassion for the women in their lives who are navigating Mother’s Day after experiencing reproductive loss, especially abortion. Be aware of the potential for the day to stir up a lot of emotions for them. And, don’t just avoid mention of abortion loss.
Consider asking your loved one how she would like to be acknowledged on this day rather than assuming that she would or wouldn’t. Engage her in conversation. Some women may want to just survive the day. Others may want to go on a nature walk and talk about their abortion loss with you. Others may wish to have a brunch or have a seat set at the table to honor their missing child. Recognize that her experience may be different each year, so if you have talked about it in the past, ask how she would like to approach it this Mother’s Day.
About the Author: Michele has experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. She lives in Greenville, SC with her husband and three daughters.
In a recent conversation on our AFTER ABORTION LINE, an international hotline women and men contact for support after abortion experience(s), a woman shared the shame and loneliness she felt in having told her friends she had a miscarriage when she actually had an abortion. She was immediately wrapped in the comfort, attention and care she so desperately needed. But, each kind word, story, meal and gift of remembrance created a bigger gap – a greater emptiness. Out of fear of judgment, she had hidden the truth of her loss experience and her complicated feelings of relief alongside regret, sadness, guilt and anxiety.
As a licensed clinical social worker, I have heard versions of this story more times than I could count, yet it never ceases to tug at my heart. While our culture is growing increasingly more supportive of women who suffer a miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, it is still a type of disenfranchised grief forgotten or ignored by others. Therapists recognize the trauma miscarriage(s) can induce and are prepared to offer help to work through those feelings and emotions with clients. But if a man or woman has abortion experience(s), that conversation is entirely different.
Some in our culture are pushing to destigmatize abortion, citing statistics that one in four women will have an abortion by the time they are 45, that abortion is normal “healthcare,” that women don’t suffer any negative mental or emotional side effects afterwards, and that women need abortion to achieve their dreams. The only accurate statement here is how commonly abortion happens. Everything else is not true. Yet this is exactly what women are reading in most mainstream media outlets, all over social media, at their schools, and even in some churches.
Because of these voices, many women who are feeling anger, resentment, shame, hopelessness, fear, or even despair following their abortion don’t seek healing. They don’t even know help exists. At Support After Abortion, where I serve as CEO, offering resources for hope and healing after abortion and connecting those who need healing to those who provide healing is our goal. We equip healing providers, counselors, clinicians, and other leaders with the tools they need to help women and men heal from abortion experiences. We offer religious and secular healing resources and have commissioned research studies to understand what people who need healing are looking for. We create curriculum, resources, webinars, training, and anonymous self-guided healing options – all with compassion and without judgment.
One of the common denominators of people in need of healing following abortion experience(s) is their desire for secular healing programs. While many identify as Christian, almost three-quarters don’t attend religious services regularly and only 16% want a religious healing curriculum. While our faith guides our passion and work, we are here to connect individuals to whatever healing options meet their needs now. As one of our board members said, “It’s possible that farther down the road of their healing experience they may be drawn to God or a deeper faith. But, our role today is to help them begin to find hope, healing, and peace at this stage in their journey.”
The other common denominator amongst people who are looking for help following abortion(s) is that they have no idea where to turn, or they didn’t know after-abortion healing resources existed. Our published research revealed that 82% of people impacted by abortion don’t know where to go for healing. That’s a vast number – millions of hurting people. We don’t know why this is exactly, but we believe it is because they have been told that abortion is so normal that there is no need for healing. A client shared that their reason for seeking healing a decade after this abortion experience was because they felt alone between people who judged them and others who said there was no life at all to mourn.
Why should women and men who have experienced abortion seek healing in the first place? I think the biggest reason is that, of the number of abortions that occur in this country, almost half involve women who have already had at least one previous abortion. We know from our research that more than 34% of women suffer adverse mental and emotional side effects from abortion. And, I see in my clients everyday that hurt people make trauma-informed decisions they may not otherwise have made. What if we reached them and helped them to heal from their abortion experience? Would we be able to prevent repeat abortions for men and women who desire to break cycles in their life? I think so.
There are ample resources for emotional healing from trauma, as there should be. But abortion is also trauma-inducing, and while resources exist for abortion healing, most people have no idea they exist. Sometimes they don’t even recognize they’re hurting. Sometimes, they also don’t feel they have the right to seek out those healing resources for many reasons: some feel guilty, some feel that they made their decision and have no right grieve, others listen to our culture and believe that their feelings don’t matter after their abortion. Everyone deserves a chance to heal from trauma. Everyone. Support After Abortion was founded to establish the gold standard for a readily accessible network of compassionate and evidence-based care that includes giving women and men permission to grieve their loss(es). This is the entire reason we exist and it’s my deepest hope that the stigma around talking about the need to heal from abortion is broken and people feel the freedom to seek out that healing.