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.
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