Mother’s Day After Abortion: 6 Insights for Navigating Emotions & Healing

Mother’s Day After Abortion: 6 Insights for Navigating Emotions & Healing

Mother’s Day can be a holiday fraught with emotion for those who have experienced loss related to motherhood. People may feel stuck in the middle of roses and spa ads while they don’t have their mom with them any longer, or they suffer from infertility and cannot have kids, or have experienced miscarriages. 

Or maybe they have experienced abortion, and Mother’s Day just isn’t something they can or want to handle. Reproductive experiences such as abortion can be very complicated, and it’s not something our society freely discusses. 

Some women are not affected by Mother’s Day, such as one mom of three whose abortion was decades ago and another who had an abortion as a teen. Both said that they don’t relate to struggling with Mother’s Day. 

Other women who have experienced abortion sometimes really dread Mother’s Day, such as these women who posted anonymously in a social media group:

– When people wish me a Happy Mother’s Day, it makes my skin crawl. It isn’t a happy day for me. I have a child who makes me so happy. But part of me won’t ever be complete because of the two children who aren’t with me because of my abortions. Mother’s Day is very uncomfortable.

– My abortion was almost 30 years ago, and I still struggle with the loss on the due date, the abortion date, and especially on Mother’s Day. I was a single mom with four young kids. I had no support and just couldn’t see how I could manage another baby. These anniversary dates can be so hard.

We’ll talk here about some of those emotions and how to navigate Mother’s Day if you’re unsure about how you feel or just want to run and hide that day. We’ll also give you a few tips on how to approach the holiday with someone close to you who is struggling after abortion.

1 – EMOTIONS AROUND MOTHER’S DAY VARY WIDELY 

There are a wide variety of emotions and feelings that can follow abortion experiences. Sometimes these show up right away and other times, they take weeks, months, or years to appear. And for some women, they don’t ever appear. 

These are some common emotions following abortion: 

  • Relief
  • Grief
  • Regret
  • Anger 
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness 
  • Depression

If you’re feeling any of these emotions, it’s normal. Perhaps you feel like some of these clients:

– At first I was fine after my abortion and went back to my everyday life. But then feelings of regret and guilt hit me. I thought I made the best decision I could, so I was surprised and shocked to feel regret. I feel empty and like what’s the point of life now. – Client

– I feel regret, shame, and darkness around me. I put on a happy face, but inside I wanted to cry all day. My friends don’t understand, and I don’t want to tell my family. So I feel alone. I function daily and act like everything’s fine, but I am not okay. – Client

– I’m experiencing major waves of grief over my abortion. It’s affected me so much. I feel so depressed. – Client

– I feel empty, sad, and angry. I was dealing with a divorce, abusive ex, and single parenting two other kids. It broke my heart, but I felt I had no other choice. I still feel so alone. I don’t want to resort to substances to cope. I need to talk to someone. – Client

If you want to talk to someone confidentially about how you’re feeling or just need a listening ear, you can always reach out to our After Abortion Line by online chat, text, phone, or through Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok messaging.

2 – MOTHER’S DAY AFTER ABORTION WITH KIDS AND FAMILY CAN BRING MIXED EMOTIONS

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 60% of women who have an abortion are already mothers with “one or more children.” 

They’ve likely celebrated Mother’s Day at least once, sometimes many more times. They’ve maybe received sentimental gifts from their kids and/or partner. If they are feeling regret, anger, depression, or any other negative emotion after their abortion, celebrating Mother’s Day could end up being truly a dreaded day. 

Mother’s Day, for them, can come with very mixed emotions. They may want to celebrate Mother’s Day with their children, but feel regret about their child(ren) not with them. Whatever they are feeling is valid. Again, after-abortion emotions can vary widely. 

One mom shared:

I don’t know how to manage Mother’s Day this year. I have an older child as well, but I just feel depressed thinking about celebrating. I was going to make a cake, but I’m not sure I’m up for it. 

Another talked about emotionally challenging family events:

– The first Mother’s Day after my abortion was more triggering than I thought it would be. My family supported my decision. But that Mother’s Day, they celebrated together, and my sister announced her pregnancy. While I was happy for her, watching everyone’s excitement for her made me feel sad. I wish I had a support group to talk about how this heavy, life-changing decision stays with us.

3 – MOTHER’S DAY AFTER ABORTION AT CHURCH CAN BE CHALLENGING

Many churches have special prayers and acknowledgements for mothers on Mother’s Day, which always falls on a Sunday. One woman shared that for years after her abortion she avoided church on Mother’s Day because the joyfully-spoken request for all mothers to stand and be recognized was too painful. 

For women who practice a faith, they may feel lost when it comes time for that mother’s blessing at church. Do they stand up and be acknowledged as mothers even if they don’t have children with them? Do they want to deal with questions from fellow churchgoers asking where their kids are? 

Or do they feel sorrow about their abortion experience and inwardly cringe when a blessing is given to seemingly happy mothers around them? 

What about when blessings and prayers are given to women who have lost babies through miscarriage or stillbirth, but abortion is never mentioned? 

Mother’s Day can be a minefield for women who have experienced abortion, especially in churches on that Sunday. For women who have experienced abortion, we see you and acknowledge your emotions. They are valid. 

And for those in churches who give blessings on Mother’s Day, offering prayers for all women who have suffered reproductive loss of any kind can go a long way towards offering healing for women who have experienced abortion. They need to be seen and prayed for also. 

4 – AVOIDING MOTHER’S DAY MAY NOT BE THE HEALTHIEST OPTION

Avoiding Mother’s Day altogether may not be a sustainable solution to the complex emotions many individuals face, particularly those who have experienced abortion. While society’s attempts to be sensitive are well-intentioned, they risk perpetuating a culture of avoidance rather than encouraging healthy processing of emotions. An example of this trend is the recent surge in emails offering the option to unsubscribe from Mother’s Day content, effectively allowing people to opt out of acknowledging the holiday altogether. 

However, by offering such opt-out options, we may inadvertently discourage individuals from confronting and processing their feelings surrounding Mother’s Day, including those related to abortion. Perhaps instead of avoiding sensitive topics and times, we should strive to create spaces and conversations where people feel supported in exploring and navigating their emotions in a healthy and constructive manner.

Talking about these feelings more openly can help others realize that they are not alone. The need for such connections is evident in these queries on a chat board:

– Does Mother’s Day make anyone else feel weird after their abortion? I feel sad that I won’t be “celebrating” Mother’s day… ever… because that baby is no longer here and I am no longer going to be his mother. I feel like I don’t have the right to be sad or feel these emotions.

– Is it wrong that I want to celebrate Mother’s Day even though I chose to terminate? I still love my angel baby, but it wasn’t the right time. 

– I didn’t expect Mother’s Day to trigger my feelings about my abortion, but it did. I know I made the best decision I could, but it still hurts. Anyone else feeling a bit triggered?

– I haven’t planned anything for my mom yet and I feel guilty, but I also cry every time I think about Mother’s Day since my abortion. Honestly I just want to spend it crying in bed instead of pretending to be happy. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to cope or what I can do to honor the baby? Should I even try, or will that make it worse?

5 – IDEAS FOR COPING WITH MOTHER’S DAY AFTER ABORTION

If you have experienced abortion, and if you are going through negative emotions about your experience(s), how do you navigate Mother’s Day? 

One of the best ways to handle Mother’s Day if you are approaching that Sunday with trepidation is to get ahead of it. Make an appointment with your mental health provider. Give us a call or text at Support After Abortion. Talk to a trusted family member or friend who can just listen to you. This can all help to put you in a better spot mentally and emotionally as Mother’s Day approaches. 

One woman who experienced abortion and went through one of the healing programs offered by Support After Abortion 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.”

Some suggestions offered in online sharing forums include:

– I spent my first Mother’s Day since my abortion getting a new tattoo in memory of my baby.

– I buy forget-me-not flowers on Mother’s Day.

One woman offered coping tips like relaxing in a bath, enjoying a favorite treat, doing a random act of kindness for someone. She ended with, “No matter what you choose to do, I hope it brings you some joy and peace!”

And this woman’s post illustrates the struggle:

– Does anyone have tips on how to handle Mother’s Day? The first Mother’s Day after my abortion was really bad for me. I went out of town with a friend for the weekend, but it didn’t help. I’m trying to decide how to handle it this year. I’ve decided not to spend it with my mom because I don’t want any reminder that it’s Mother’s Day. Should I just treat it like any other Sunday? Should I turn off my phone and avoid social media? Should I spend it with friends? 

For those who have not experienced abortion but who may be close to someone who has, it’s okay to ask them how they would like the day to be acknowledged. It may be to not acknowledge Mother’s Day at all, which is absolutely fine. Or she may want to talk about her abortion experience or take a walk in the woods. You might consider sending a card. Support After Abortion offers a selection of free, printable cards. Everyone experiences abortion differently and sometimes it’s just really nice to know someone is in your corner and ready to listen. 

6 – HEALING AFTER ABORTION IS EMPOWERING

Support After Abortion offers several free resources for anyone – women, men, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends – affected by abortion and looking for help. 

Here is how a few clients described the impact of abortion healing in their lives:

– Reaching out, getting support, and finding healing after my abortions changed my life, saved my life. It was the most important thing I’ve ever done. – Client

– Support After Abortion provided exactly what I needed. They gave me the opportunity to have a safe place where I could share not only what I am struggling with, but also a place to celebrate the hard work I’ve been putting into healing. I finally feel like I am not alone. I am thankful beyond belief. – Client

– I am so grateful for the opportunity to be in the Keys to Hope and Healing group. I have been able to talk about my abortion experience with others who understand me. I was ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I was not ok. Then I found Support After Abortion and called the After Abortion Line. If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure how I would have gotten out of the darkness I was in. They listened and connected me to a virtual group. I am beyond thankful for this opportunity, for this healing journey. – Client

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 one-on-one, group, or independent; counseling or peer facilitator; virtual, in person, or self-guided; religious or secular; weekend, weekly, or self-paced, etc. Check out our website for information, videos, self-guided healing, and more for women and men.

Keys to Hope and Healing is an introductory abortion healing resource available for women and men, in English and Spanish, religious and secular versions. Resources include booklets, journals, facilitator’s guide, training videos, and self-guided healing for women and men.

DO YOU – OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO – PROVIDE AFTER-ABORTION SUPPORT?

Explore our Provider Training Center and attend our free monthly Abortion Healing Provider webinars, Men’s Healing Matters webinars, and Quarterly Facilitator Trainings.

© Support After Abortion

 

One Grandmother’s Story of Abortion: The Ripple Effect of Abortion

One Grandmother’s Story of Abortion: The Ripple Effect of Abortion

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?

NEXT STEPS:

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.

 © Support After Abortion

The Intersection of Generational Trauma and Abortion

The Intersection of Generational Trauma and Abortion

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.

Can Abortion be a Trauma?

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) describes trauma as “challenging emotional consequences that living through a distressing event can have for an individual.” 

Al-Mahdi says, “Trauma refers to stress that’s so overwhelming and severe that it impacts your emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and other parts of your well-being.” 

The experiences women and men share with Support After Abortion – on our After Abortion Line, in our Keys to Hope and Healing after-abortion virtual support groups, and at conferences and events – certainly reflect overwhelming and challenging emotional distress, as these client examples show:

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.  

Awareness

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. 

Acceptance

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.” 

Action

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.”

Support After Abortion’s Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behavior is one effective way to dig deeper and gain awareness behind behaviors, past events, and generational traumas. As one client shared: 

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.

Next Steps

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.

About Support After Abortion

Support After Abortion is a nonprofit dedicated to helping men and women impacted after abortion by (1) connecting them with healing options they prefer, and (2) equipping providers with curriculum, resources, and trainings. Support After Abortion’s free resources include an After Abortion Help Line, a national therapist and counseling directory, and an introductory abortion healing program.

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.

 

References:

Sweeney, Erica, “17 Signs of Generational Trauma, According to Therapists,” Men’s Health, 23 Mar 2023 https://www.menshealth.com/health/a43392391/signs-of-generational-trauma-according-to-therapist (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

Ensemble Therapy, “What is Generational Trauma and How Can We Heal From It?” 

https://www.ensembletherapy.com/blog/what-is-generational-trauma  (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

“Trauma,” Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/trauma (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

National Abortion Studies, Support After Abortion / ShapardResearch, 2021 https://supportafterabortion.com/resources/research/men/ (Accessed 7 Jul 2023) 

Ryder, Gina and White, Taneasha, “Inter-generational Trauma: 6 Ways It Affects Families,” PsychCentral, Updated 15 Apr 2022,, https://oie.duke.edu/inter-generational-trauma-6-ways-it-affects-families. (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

“Induced Abortion in the United States,” Guttmacher Institute, Sep 2019, https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states. (Accessed 8 Jul 2023)

Generational Trauma: Breaking the Cycle of Adverse Childhood Experiences,” Indiana University Health, 23 Mar 2021, https://iuhealth.org/thrive/generational-trauma-breaking-the-cycle-of-adverse-childhood-experiences. (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

Duke Office for Institutional Equity, “Inter-generational Trauma: 6 Ways It Affects Families,” 

https://oie.duke.edu/inter-generational-trauma-6-ways-it-affects-families (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

“Love & Trauma: The Unique Challenges of Black Mothers,” Her Plan Webinar, 28 Feb 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgAG4P73Cwc (Accessed 8 Jul 2023)

Six Dobbs Outcomes Affecting After-Abortion Healing

Six Dobbs Outcomes Affecting After-Abortion Healing

In fighting over abortion access, mental health access after abortion needs to be a top priority

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that returned abortion to the states after nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights. Our country seems more divided than ever into two camps – those who oppose legalized abortion and cheer and celebrate Dobbs and those who support legalized abortion and are angry and lament Dobbs. 

At Support After Abortion we focus on a third lane – outside the politics and ideology of the debate around abortion – dedicated to helping women and men impacted by abortion. We’d like to share with you the effects of Dobbs on abortion healing that we’ve seen over the past year. 

  1. Obstacles to healing due to pressure to keep silent

Women and men fear being condemned if they share that they’ve experienced abortion or being ostracized if they share they’re hurting after abortion rather than celebrating. This has intensified since Dobbs and is exactly what was on the mind of our staff members who were exhibiting at a pro-life conference the day the Dobbs decision was announced. They described feeling unsettled amid the hooting, hollering, screaming celebration. One shared, “We know that one in four women experience abortion, so my thoughts went immediately to the many women who haven’t shared their story and now may never feel able to. It was sad and alarming to hear so much excitement while losing sight of those around you in pain.” Another said, “I actually cried. I knew abortions would still happen, but people would be silenced and wounded in a lot of different ways.”

  1. Obstacles due to fear of criminality and concern for safety and anonymity

Since Dobbs more clients contacting our After Abortion Line tell us they are afraid to reach out for help. They immediately ask about their safety and anonymity. Some are even scared to talk with their counselors because they fear criminalization. This led us to create self-help materials and ensure that our online Client Healing Center preserves anonymity. We launched Base Camp for men, a weekly virtual forum where participants don’t need to register and can choose to remain off screen. And we added an anonymous chat feature to our website

  1. Ripple effect – impacted family & friends 

People have shared with us experiencing the impact of abortion through loved ones sharing their abortion for the first time in public forums. They felt a double whammy – struggling with how to interact with their loved one and how to deal with their feelings of loss, especially with family members. For example, the day after the Dobbs decision, an After Abortion Line client sought advice on how to speak to her sister who had posted about an abortion on Facebook. She was struggling with reconciling finding out about the abortion publicly while also recognizing she felt grief over the niece or nephew she had never known. 

  1. Healing setbacks from condemning words

People who had been through healing after their abortions returned to us for help because their healing had been set back by the way people were speaking about abortion. They were especially hurt by condemning words posted on social media or spoken in person by people close to them who were unaware or unconcerned they were talking to someone who had experienced abortion. They felt wounded, attacked, and unprepared to cope with this new, post-Dobbs intense and often public lashing out. 

  1. Giant step backward in validation of men’s pain after abortion

Often the discussion of Dobbs has highlighted that male justices and legislators make up the majority of those making decisions on abortion access. We have seen these sentiments lead to a backlash against men who speak about their emotional pain after abortion. The result is men, who are already marginalized in discussions about abortion itself, are dismissed, ridiculed, and pressured to keep silent when they share their feelings about their personal abortion losses. Some men have even received death threats and threats of violence against their loved ones when they share their grief.  We have stepped up the outreach to men, hiring a Men’s Healing Strategist, speaking at men’s conferences, and publishing our National Men’s Abortion research and white paper.

  1. Increase in medication abortion resulting in women seeking help sooner

Since Dobbs, medication abortion has grown especially through telemedicine and mail order. Our research shows that the experience of medication abortion is often more intense physically and emotionally than women anticipate. As a result many women reach out to our After Abortion Line within days of their abortions rather than months or years later as in the past. They are often traumatized by the pain they experienced and what they have seen. Some describe seeing body parts, others share that they realized they were much farther along than they thought when they saw how developed the baby was. Their need for support, compassionate care, and healing is great.

  1. Triggered pain from the rise in “Shout Your Abortion” pride 

It’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing or reading about abortion since Dobbs. This can be very difficult for those who have experienced abortion – whether that was days or decades ago. One client whose abortion was 26 years ago said, “All this talk about abortion everywhere I turn now with all the politics has brought up all these memories of my pain and regret. Seeing people out there bragging about doing this is making me even more depressed.” 

Regardless of the Dobbs decision and aftermath, the after-abortion impact is unchanged. Our work is just as needed as ever – but Dobbs has made that work even more difficult in some ways. 

  • Before Dobbs one of our biggest challenges was awareness – our research shows that 82% of people who have experienced abortion don’t know where to find help. Since Dobbs, people now feel a mistrust of the helpers and a greater cultural pressure to not admit that they’re hurting.
  • While more funds are needed to create new abortion healing resources and options to address post-Dobbs concerns, donations are down because of the mistaken belief that Dobbs brought an end to abortion and the need to support people after abortion. Yet even if abortion were to end in America, the need for after-abortion healing would continue for the millions who have experienced abortion over the past 50 years. 

As people fight over abortion access, we have to remember the people hurting from their abortion experiences. For both those striving to expand or restrict abortion access, the need for mental health access after abortion should always be an essential priority.

We invite you to join us in focusing on compassion and support for women and men in pain whose needs are often ignored or dismissed. Your monthly or one-time donation to Support After Abortion will bring hope and healing to women and men suffering after abortion.

 

 

About Support After Abortion

Support After Abortion is a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and men impacted after abortion by (1) connecting them with healing options they prefer, and (2) equipping providers with curriculum, resources, and trainings. Support After Abortion’s free resources include an After Abortion Help Line, a national therapist and counseling directory, and an introductory abortion healing program.

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.