15 Dec 2022 Abortion Healing Provider Webinar
Host: Lisa Rowe, CEO Support After Abortion
Guest: Karin Barbito, Special Projects Manager, Support After Abortion
In the December 15, 2022 Abortion Healing Provider Webinar, Lisa Rowe, Support After Abortion CEO and Karin Barbito, Support After Abortion Special Projects Manager spoke about the Abortion Healing Process and How to Remain Curious.
November Webinar Recap: Abortion Healing Referral Directory
Karin started with a recap of the November webinar where we launched our Abortion Healing Referral Directory. This directory helps men and women who are suffering after abortion find providers and the healing options they want and enables providers to network and offer and receive referrals to connect clients to their best healing options. The video and a detailed transcription with screenshots of that webinar are available here.
Healing isn’t One-and-Done
Lisa began by speaking about how healing is a process – not just abortion healing, but any emotional healing – and that clients will have different needs at different stages of their healing process. Lisa said, “The reality is that healing doesn’t happen in a one-and-done. It doesn’t have a destination; it has a journey.”
Support After Abortion often uses the analogy of peeling an onion when speaking of abortion healing – that healing happens in layers. Lisa shared, “so often we have clients who come to us [whose] abortion wound is so big that they can’t understand that there are other parts of it. That unlayering – that awareness – continues to grow deeper and deeper and deeper.“
“So, we’d be remiss for our clients’ sake,” Lisa continued, “if we didn’t understand that one healing opportunity is going to unveil another healing opportunity and another. To help support that client on that journey is really important.”
Lisa said, “We’ve been asked time and again, What is the process? How can I better serve my clients? They’re coming back and they’re saying they’re still hurting, their marriage is broken, they’re having trouble parenting. What’s next?”
She continued, “As we listen to your questions, and as we continue to grow and help provide resources for the abortion healing movement, we felt like talking about the healing process as it pertains to abortion healing would be a great place for us to end [the year] so that we can get curious as we enter into our healing groups for 2023.”
The Abortion Healing Process
Lisa voiced gratefulness for participants attending these webinars and encouraged them to be open to new ideas and new ways of approaching abortion healing programming. Recognizing that “most of us have had a one-way approach,” she spoke to the importance of expanding our options for clients saying, “We know that there are so many people that are not being served because we only have that one-way approach. So we hope that something touches your heart and mind today that might be able to help inspire you to continue to grow your healing ministry.”
How Healing Happens
Karin then delved into the heart of the topic using a chart to guide the discussion of how healing happens. She shared, “What we’ve learned along the way is that healing is not linear. The different stages of healing take different amounts of time, and they change over life circumstances.”
She shared a personal example of how she’s not the same person she was when she had an abortion at age 18. She said, “What I’m going through now is much different than it was back then. At my age, I’m grieving in a new way. I’m grieving that I don’t have living children or grandchildren, potentially even great-grandchildren to spend the last part of my life with. And so grieving – I don’t know that it ever ends. But I know that healing never ends.”
Karin continued, “When you get to a place of healing and wholeness, you can be sad and joyful at the same time, right? I never experienced that before I went through abortion healing. I’m sad that my daughter is not with me, but I so look forward to, and I’m joyful for, the day when I’m reunited with her. It’s really hard to explain the transformation until you actually go through it.”
Karin then explained the three stages of healing:
Awareness, Acceptance, and Change.
Healing Stage 1: Awareness
We’re either triggered or have to acknowledge that we suffered a trauma and that we’re not the same person today as we were before that trauma happened.
- We’re triggered in some way.
- We share that experience with someone, whether it’s a friend or reaching out to the AFTER ABORTION LINE at Support After Abortion.
- We identify how we feel. How are you really doing? How has this abortion impacted you?
Lisa added, “We all, at some level, enter into denial about our circumstances. We have to normalize them to get through them. It’s how resiliency is born. Oftentimes, if you’re raised by a substance-addicted parent, you somehow have to become okay in order to survive in that environment with their substance abuse, whatever that might be – whether you minimize it, whether you clean up after it, whatever it is. And so sometimes our awareness of what is actual is very distorted.”
“What we find with our clients is that awareness is a huge part of the process.” she continued, “So many of our clients say, I had no idea that this was causing this or that this was part of this experience. So by allowing people to explore what their connections are, and what they’ve normalized, is a huge part of the process.”
“With Awareness,” Lisa said, “it’s painful to bring that darkness up and actually acknowledge that things in your life weren’t the way that you needed them to be? It can be really hard.”
Karin shared that she didn’t become aware of how her abortion impacted her until years later. She said, “I found out I was pregnant on a Wednesday, had my abortion on Friday, was back in class on Monday, and really didn’t think about it until I got married and wanted to have children and I couldn’t. That’s when my awareness [kicked in]…because I had to really digest and understand the ramifications of my decision so many years previous. And it was very painful. Very painful.”
“It’s been my experience,” Lisa shared, “as we work with individuals who have experienced abortion that abortion is one of just a very few human conditions that awareness is really difficult to get to because our culture creates a lot of chaos around this conversation.” She discussed how abortion is trapped in political conversation and therefore isn’t addressed in the same ways as other traumas such as suicide, divorce, or poverty.
She explained that the cultural messages “have distorted their awareness about how they truly feel about their experience, so it’s often very foggy for clients to enter into that place. So, to give them that space to explore is so important, especially as it pertains to abortion.”
Karin spoke about the importance of including men in the abortion conversation. “Men have been really misunderstood,” she said, “Before our consumer research, we believed that men were the biggest influence in the abortion decision. What we found was the exact opposite. Men are also really struggling after abortion.”
She spoke about how the culture sidelines men, “Think about what society is saying to them, You have no say. It’s not your body, it’s not your choice. It’s really important for us to bring men into the conversation, because for every woman that’s had an abortion, there was a man involved in that pregnancy.”
Lisa added, “Awareness is even harder for men to reach. Because what we’ve heard from men is If I find myself hurting afterwards, and I can’t find a resource, which is very unlikely to find, I then feel like my grief is invalid because nobody’s providing services to me, so I must be wrong. So there again, the culture is fogging the real connection to ourselves and our feelings, and therefore the awareness then is skewed. We have a lot of work to do in that area.”
Healing Stage 2: Acceptance
- We acknowledge the pain.
- We reach out for help (some people do so in the awareness phase)
- We commit to healing.
Karin explained the acceptance phase as “us saying, Okay, I know that I’m going to have to go through some really intense, potentially emotional pain, but I accept that there’s no way that I can go back and change what’s already happened, that I need to move through the grief process. I need to sort through my emotions, and I need to find closure.”
“Going into acceptance is sometimes really difficult,” Lisa shared, “I see this a lot [in my clinical practice] with victims of sexual abuse and trafficking, who say something like, Oh, my gosh, I am a victim of this. I had to put on the hat that I chose this lifestyle to survive it, and now I’m calling myself a victim. I’m not so sure I feel like I’m strong anymore. I’m not so sure that I feel okay with myself.”
Healing Stage 3: Change
- Memorial Service – bringing dignity to the child’s life. It can be celebrated in many different ways. Karin described it as “where that connection from our intellectual knowledge that we’ve suffered trauma to our heartfelt place of finding closure.” For more details on Memorializing Children Lost to Abortion watch the video or read the recap of the October 2022 Webinar.
- We continue healing. Karin reiterated that healing is not a one-and-done, “Healing is an ongoing process. There are always layers of the onion to peel back.”
- We share our healing with others. “Hopefully we get to a place where there’s been such a huge transformation that we want to share our healing with others,” Karin said, “because we don’t want them to suffer unnecessarily like we did.”
Applying the Healing Process
Lisa encouraged providers to “consider applying this to every other area of your life, of your client’s life. Each one of these phases is different for everyone, but we have to go through each one.”
Lisa asked participants to consider, “However you’re leading your healing ministry or practices, are you leaving enough room for these different stages to take place?” She asked them to consider their expectation for the timing of the stages – are they “asking for each one of these stages to take place on your own time, or are you individualizing the way you care for your clients?” She spoke about how different clients may need more or less time in their healing journeys, “Sometimes it’s six months, and then six weeks, and then six years. Everybody has their own experience.”
The Healing Process in Not Linear
Karin emphasized that healing is not linear. She showed a graphic which looks at the top as if the process were linear: triggers, awareness, seek help, deeper healing, acceptance. She said, “It looks like it’s linear, but it’s really not. The graphic on the bottom shows how you can go back and forth.
Karin asked Lisa to address some of the reasons “why a person could be triggered and get to a place of awareness and then later on, maybe even get to seek help and then go back to triggered again and start that process all over again?”
Lisa explained, “So many of our stories are very unique, but we all have similar themes, and oftentimes things are buried under each other.” She shared a story about a women who had an abortion at 19 years old and didn’t understand its emotional impact on her. After the abortion, she started using drugs again. Then two years later, she faced another unexpected pregnancy, and chose to give birth. It wasn’t until that baby was born and the woman found herself unable to hold her child after birth that she become aware of the effect of her previous abortion. “That story always touches me,” Lisa said, “because it wasn’t until she had a living child that she truly understood, because abortion was so normalized in her world.”
Lisa shared further details of the woman’s story and her healing journey, “She started unpacking that. She had two other children and started connecting more dots to her story – her sexual abuse, her parents’ separation, living in poverty, all sorts of things that she hadn’t dealt with were messy and connected to all these experiences…As she unlayered through her abortion healing experience, she actually realized that the sexual abuse was part of the reason she was so vulnerable to risky sexual behavior, which landed her in unexpected pregnancies.”
“And that is a common story,” Lisa said, “But there are so many other things, like so many people have father wounds…And that opens a whole other conversation.”
Lisa shared a little about her own healing journey that included the realization that due to – and perpetuating – family patterns, she had impacted, and was impacted by, her sister’s reproductive loss.
Lisa described how she “didn’t realize the significance of my ambivalence and maybe the level that my sister looked to me when she called me unexpectedly pregnant. I was in my own trauma…I didn’t even know I needed healing at the time. When she called me, kind of excited, I was absolutely mortified and concerned for her because of the state of my life, her life, and everything involved.”
“I now can look back, because of my healing experience, and understand that there was a lot there,” Lisa continued, “I had been parentified as a child of dysfunction. And she was looking to me as a parent to affirm her experience. And I couldn’t do that for her emotionally. I didn’t believe in myself, so there’s no way I could believe in her.”
Lisa said, “And these are how family patterns exist.” She said that only through her own healing experience, “I was able to acknowledge the pain that she could be feeling as a result of what I did. And for me to be able to experience that, to grieve that, and then really, truly connect to it was something I didn’t know I needed. I’m very grateful for that experience. And I continue to pray that the way that I continue to heal will impact her life.”
Lisa added, “I think it’s important when we heal out loud sometimes.” She said that “more and more people shared their story with me” as through her healing journey she unlayered her own “loss, reproductive loss, and the experiences of those in my life that either I contributed to or I was ambivalent to. As I became curious about my journey, I felt like I was reflecting out to people their own interest and curiosity.”
The Need for Options-Based Abortion Healing
Lisa encouraged participants to think about the programs they offer in terms of the healing process and that analogy of peeling back the layers of an onion. She spoke about the importance of helping clients at the various stages of healing.
“One of the things that I really appreciated coming into this [abortion healing] space as a pregnancy center Executive Director and as a clinician…is the uniqueness of abortion healing, as it compared to other things that I was watching people heal from,” she said.
She and Karin described the common approach to abortion healing: religiously-based, small groups, usually in-person, guided by a facilitator, peer-led, often meeting for a weekend retreat or a weeks-long study. They encouraged providers to see this common approach as one component that can resonate with some clients but not others and to consider expanding their capacity to reach clients who desire other options.
Lisa said, “We always want to lead with saying there’s nothing wrong with any of these programs, except they didn’t offer an opportunity for other people who are outside of that scope to experience the healing they’re interested in. Therefore, we were leaving a significant group of people without healing opportunities.
Karin said, “It’s so important for us to meet people where they are.” She spoke a little about Support After Abortion’s research on the impact of abortion on women and men. In particular, she shared the finding that only 16% of women and 40% of men desire a religious abortion healing program, yet 95% of abortion healing programs are religious.
She encouraged providers, “It’s really all about being open to trying new things, making it convenient for the clients to engage in healing with us, creating a safe place by honoring their requests and respecting them.”
Karin and Lisa spoke about the critical need to help clients start their healing journeys – in whatever way they are open to – including without religion. Addressing the desire of abortion healing providers to share a religious message, Karin spurred providers to trust God saying, “God shows up whether we talk about Him or not. Transformation happens.”
Karin shared the background of the early days of the ministry that grew into Support After Abortion and her task then to identify available abortion healing programming. “I traveled around and started going to conferences and started listening to what the consumer really wanted,” she said. “One of the very first conferences I went to was the Pro-Life Women’s Conference. Back then, it was very eclectic. They had secular pro-life organizations there like Atheists for Life. Women come up to me and said, I’ve had an abortion, and I’m really struggling afterwards, but I don’t believe in God. What do you have for me? And at the time, I had to say, We don’t have anything for you. So we started to research that.” The need to fill that gap is what led Support After Abortion to develop our secular Keys to Hope and Healing program to offer providers an option to meet the healing needs of the majority of people.
Presenting Issues & Peripheral Healing Opportunities
Lisa discussed that often clients present with other issues, that their abortion experiences are not top-of-mind to them, but rather are underneath other issues.
“The reality is,” Lisa said, “what we’re learning mostly from men and women is that people aren’t screaming, I need healing from my abortion experience. They’re mostly saying, I’m having relationship difficulties, I feel depressed. I’m having trouble connecting with my living children. I can’t seem to maintain a peaceful existence. Everything is a burden to me. Oftentimes they come to us, and it’s not about the abortion initially. It’s underneath all of it, but they’re not aware of it yet. And so we learned early on, that it was important to offer some peripheral opportunities for healing.
Karin added, “People come to us with relationship issues. People come to us feeling deceived. They’ve had a medication abortion, and they’re really angry because they feel like they weren’t told what the process was really going to be like.”
“So we have the opportunity to listen to them and really evaluate whether or not abortion healing is the first place where they should start,” she said. “We have the opportunity through conversation with the people who come to us, to find out what really is the most urgent thing.
As an example, Karin said, “Many people learn to cope with their abortion by using substances.” She explained that an abortion healing support group would not be appropriate for clients who are actively misusing alcohol or currently have a substance addiction. Likewise, if someone is homeless, getting them housing is the pressing problem. She said, “Sometimes we have to work through those presenting problems before we can get to that abortion wound, just to get them stable and able to engage.”
Lisa spoke to the importance of peripheral healing opportunities – working with social service organizations to help them understand their intersection with abortion wounds. “I feel like it is our task. Each one of us has the ability to enter into conversations with those in our community,” Lisa said.
“If they are serving homeless needs, if they’re serving in a food kitchen, if they’re serving in maybe a parenting program or a domestic violence shelter…it’s important that they know there should be a question on their intake form to evaluate for abortion – not because they’re going to offer the abortion healing services, but perhaps after that first presenting problem is mitigated, they would then know that there are other places for them to go [for abortion healing], and that social service organization could refer them to you. So we really encourage you to go to those network meetings and encourage them to ask these questions. Some of you are struggling to fill your groups, and that’s one of the best ways – networking in your community with other individuals that are there to help people.”
Karin agreed, “There are so many organizations out there that come across wounded people, and many of those wounded people could be suffering after an abortion and not even realize it. And unless we ask the question, then we have no idea.”
I think we recognized a while ago,” Karin said, “that the conversation we were having with [abortion-minded clients] in our pregnancy center didn’t go far enough.” She encourage providers to take advantage of trainings such as those offered by BrightCourse, Care Net, and Heartbeat on “how to have that conversation with the abortion-minded client, to really get to the root causes of why they feel like that’s the best decision for them, because an abortion is a symptom of a much deeper problem.”
Healing Programs Beyond Abortion Healing
“We can’t stop with an abortion healing group. We have to have resources that either we refer to or we connect to for clients to continue their healing journeys,” Lisa said. “We need to know that this healing journey exists and that it doesn’t end when they go through that weekend retreat, or that twelve-week study, or one day opportunity for healing, or that women’s encounter at your church, or the men’s encounter … wherever they’re finding that relief initially. That’s the first step. That’s not the final step.”
As examples of further healing steps, Lisa and Karin discussed support groups beyond our Keys to Hope and Healing introductory abortion healing program that have been offered previously by Support After Abortion such as Unraveled Roots, Sexual Trauma, Miscarriage Loss, and Codependency.
Karin spoke to the value of offering Unraveled Roots, a resource that she, Lisa, and Melinda Means wrote that explores the root causes of unhealthy behavior. “If you haven’t done it as a staff and as a volunteer, I really encourage you to do it. I’ll tell you, my life changed through writing that book. I wasn’t even in touch with my own roots and what happened in my life as a young child that made me believe lies about myself that drove really unhealthy behavior and resulted in my own pregnancy and abortion,” she shared.
Lisa said, “I think our culture has it wrong in a lot of ways [with the idea] that once we have that initial relief, we’re healed or we’re done with this part of the journey. And that’s unrealistic. It’s not true. That’s just the opening of a lot more. So we’re actually doing a disservice to our clients if we don’t have follow up care.“
Lisa encouraged providers to consider how to expand their current offerings. For example, she encouraged providers who offer a one day or retreat program to have subsequent opportunities where they meet weekly for a series of months. For providers who offer a 12-week Bible study abortion healing program, she suggested they consider offering a shorter, more basic program for clients who are in a different place and perhaps don’t want to commit to three months initially. “So we’re asking you, as you develop your plan for 2023, to get curious about what you might be able to add as you consider parts of the healing journey rather than a one-and-done healing destination,” Lisa said.
“We talk so often,” Karin said, “about checking our judgments and our stereotypes and leading with compassion. When we can do that successfully – check our judgment, lead with compassion, and not make assumptions, then we open the door to being curious in a way that’s non-offensive and really helps that client realize for themselves how their abortion has impacted them and how it has changed their life.”
She continued, “I love to ask questions like, I’m just wondering ______, or Can you tell me a little more about that? We’re big fans of how and what questions, not why questions, because we’re not therapists. Lisa is, so she can ask why questions, but for the most part, our facilitators aren’t therapists. And so we ask how and what questions. And when we ask questions like that and give them an opportunity to reflect on it and talk about it and keep them talking about it, it’s amazing to see how they can come to conclusions themselves.”
Participants were given the opportunity to use the chat feature to ask questions of Lisa and Karin.
What are some of the secondary issues that might be connected to abortion struggles and how do they differ between men and women?
Lisa: That’s a great question. In our experience, it’s often early trauma, mostly sexual, and a loss of value and identity.
- One of the main ones that I see is connected to sexual abuse. So, at some level, a large part of the women we have served have experienced some sort of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation.
- Codependency is also a major part. We attribute that codependency to early childhood trauma, loots of dysfunction in the family of origin, etc. That is where we lose identity, purpose, and value, and we go looking for it in other people. You can imagine a young girl looking for that love, attention, acceptance in other people; she might find it in the opposite sex.
And he, in turn, also experienced that early trauma, and is struggling with the same things – identity, value, validation. He finds her, because we attract our brokenness, and together they create this place where they give each other what they don’t have to give – and our culture says we do that through sex. So they find themselves in a sexually-connected relationship. And they find themselves in unexpected pregnancies with no tools to experience whatever measures they need to endure and to have the ability to make good decisions.
Karin: I heard that question a little differently – as Somebody’s had an abortion and how has their life changed as a result? What are the presenting problems when they come to us? I would say substance abuse, domestic violence, codependency, like Lisa said. It could be homelessness, loss of a job or not being able to keep a job. I’ve heard Greg Mayo say that most men come angry. I can remember Greg Hasek saying that a lot of the men come to them because they’re in a sexual addiction after their abortion. So, it’s a plethora of things that people can present with – relationship, divorce, whatever. It could be that they’re coming to you with what they think they’re really struggling from.
Kylee Heap (Support After Abortion COO): Greg Mayo (Support After Abortion Men’s Task Force member) mentioned in the chat that for men, maternal attachment disorders could be a presenting issue.
Lisa: People aren’t raising their hands saying abortion is my problem. Oftentimes they’re not aware that the abortion is the problem. They’ve tried to stuff it so far down because they were never validated in their experience. And so it’s too far away to connect it. What’s in front of them is their financial difficulties, their relationships, their anger. So we have to be ready to meet their needs in that social service realm, because they’re going to show up somewhere, but it’s not likely going to be in the abortion healing room.
Kylee: Other people are starting to mention [presenting issues] that they’ve seen including eating disorders.
To what extent might the abortion wound be present in substance abuse recovery centers? Should providers look more deeply in long- term care facilities like that?
Karin: As most of you know, I became an alcoholic and a crack cocaine addict decades after I had my abortion. I was in nine different rehabs over the course of four years, and not once in all of that time did any case manager or any intake ask me a question about pregnancies. I didn’t even know healing existed. But if somebody had asked the question and I said, Yes, I had an abortion, hopefully they would have said, Well, how are you with that? I could have been directed to somebody. I might have had the opportunity 20 years earlier to get connected to healing. In our monthly webinars for licensed clinicians we talk about why it’s so important to ask that question on your intake, whether you provide abortion healing or not.
How do we share hope with our clients when we know that the journey for abortion healing is long, and they are seeking hope and closure?
Lisa: That’s a great question. I think we have to be able to be real with them and be realistic. I tell my groups or my clients that sometimes it gets harder before it gets easier because we need to face these things. Then I explain that these things have been stuffed in them, ruling their world, and until they get them out and we can look at them objectively, it’s hard to understand how they’re ruling our worlds. So I don’t ever lie or paint a picture that it’s going to be pretty or better. What I do promise them is that if they do the work, they are going to be more connected to themselves, which is going to allow them to be more connected to their freedom and their peace and who they really are. But we talk about how, if you’ve been on this path for 30 years, I don’t want you to expect that in 30 seconds you’re going to feel better. Now, the reality is just getting them to talk. If they talk about it for the first time or have a couple of sessions with you, or a couple of healing groups with you, they begin to feel the relief initially because for the first time, they’re allowing themselves to feel things and talk about them. I have appreciated the pain walking with somebody, and that’s what we try to help them understand.
What tips might you have in sharing your abortion with your children?
One individual is sharing that their deepest grief was telling their children about their abortion and having one of their children not understand – fortunately, this child has now come to understand.
Lisa: This is why we talk about healing as a journey, not a destination. In the book Keys to Hope and Healing, when we talk about sharing your story, we are specific in saying this isn’t about getting up on stage or getting on the news station in your community. It’s not about sharing with every family member. It’s about starting with the first safe person and practicing from there.
Also, we always have to evaluate our motives. Why are we sharing this? We can’t control other people, and therein lies that codependency. We can’t control other people’s grief and loss, or their misgivings, or regard for what we feel, or whatever. We cannot control those things. That’s why it’s so important for us to be connected with ourselves on our own healing journey and to really have pure motives. Because as we share our experience, it isn’t about what the other person thinks about it. It’s about our own release and our own desire to share with people.
As we think about children, it’s the same thing. All of our children are going to see abortion differently. All of our children are going to see everything differently. They’re made unique. To be able to meet them where they are, you have to meet yourself where you are, which can be very difficult for us because we can’t accept where we are. That’s why we constantly are talking about this journey, because a lot of us aren’t ready to meet ourselves.
So in an exchange that is healthy in nature between a family member who has experienced abortion and a child who doesn’t respond well, you can say to them This must be really hard for you, or You wish I didn’t have an abortion experience, or It sounds like this is really hard for you. And just let it be and let them have their own process with it. It [may] require therapy or their own healing journey. We want to be open to that.
Karin: I can tell about sharing my abortion story with my mother, which I didn’t do until just this year because I was always afraid of her feeling like she was a bad mom and asking Why didn’t she know? and Why couldn’t I come to her? At the time Lisa told me, “You don’t have control over how God affects and impacts your mom. You’re denying her of her ability to grieve what happened to you, and to go to God with that and have God work in her through that.” When we had the conversation, I was amazed at how my mom listened to me. It’s changed our relationship completely. My mom is now willing to have hard conversations with me that she never would have had before.
Kylee: There’s a lot of really great conversation happening in the chat where people have shared their fears and the ways in which their fears were calmed when they were able to actually speak about their abortion.
Talk a little bit about breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
Lisa: I’m going to use poverty as an experience for us to relate to. We often hear that poverty carries from one generation to the other, and most of us can understand and put our mind around why poverty repeats itself, right? If you are raised in a poverty mindset, you’re constantly pinching pennies. You’re unwilling to take risks with money. Education isn’t at the front and center. It’s about surviving the next day. You don’t ever learn the skills to adopt new understanding. And so then, when you become pregnant and you have your own family, oftentimes the only thing that you have to reference is your own experience. So it’s really hard to break a cycle that you don’t know how to break. And so I want you to hear that as we think about abortion.
Think of the mom and dad who talk about abortion openly – this is what they did, and it was the best thing, or they support it. And it’s constantly the message that we hear in our home. Or if you get pregnant, this is what’s going to happen – I’m never going to tolerate your pregnancy, and these sorts of things. Then we start a narrative inside the family that continues until it’s broken.
Karin: We find clients like that all the time, where their parent has had an abortion or supported their abortion, maybe pushed them towards abortion. Then the child later finds out that their parent had an abortion or was part of an abortion experience, if it’s a man. And we know that what we do in life is modeled for us by our parents, right? We either follow the model that we’ve been shown, or we go the complete opposite, right?
Karin shared that her father grew up with a father and brother who had an alcohol abuse disorder. She said that her father, instead of misusing alcohol, became a perfectionist, which she pointed out is also unhealthy. “Growing up, I could never attain his standards,” Karin said, “and I became a perfectionist myself. So we become what we see and we become what we hear.”
If a parent has influenced an abortion decision, I would be really curious. I don’t know that I’d ask my parent, but I’d be really curious – Why is it that you want me to do this so strongly? Did you have an abortion or were you part of an abortion yourself? And see if a parent would own up to that right? It can go on for generations. I’ve known clients whose grandparents had abortions. Their parents had abortions, they had abortions, their children are having abortions. If we don’t talk about the abortion wound that we’ve experienced, then that cycle is not going to be interrupted.
Lisa: It’s also important for us to know that sometimes it’s not outward or we’re not aware of it. Sometimes it’s the unspoken things. For example, it can be the mom who has no self esteem, who is constantly worried about what everybody thinks of the family, and she’s always worried about how you look and how you eat and what you present. So early on, you internalize this need to have a great image. Then at age 19, if having a baby is going to affect that image, those messages that have been pounded into you from such an early age mess with your self-image. So there’s all sorts of ways that these narratives enter into us and they’re all based in trauma and fear and unbelief, and they connect to the different ways in which we grow into this world and the personas that we create to adapt to them. As a participant said in the chat, “trauma transmits trauma.”
Karin: I had a client who told me that image was so important to her family that when she got pregnant, she didn’t want to bring shame to the family by being pregnant and not married. We hear that all the time.
Kylee: We have some other really great statements coming out in the chat, such as What we don’t talk out, we act out and When I reveal, I heal.
Are memorial services really necessary for people as part of their healing journey?
Karin: Absolutely. Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to do a memorial service. The purpose of a memorial service is to bring dignity to the life, however short lived it was. Naming a baby brings dignity to that life, brings identity to that life.
Karin made an analogy with her father’s memorial service and how all the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids came together, shared stories and memories, sang hymns, and prayed together. “What we did in that moment,” Karin said, “brought value to my dad’s life. We told everyone how much he poured into us and how much he meant to us, right? And we want to do the same thing with the children that we abort, because even though I didn’t have 85 years with my child alive, that child still matters to me. And I want to bring dignity to that life.”
The other reason we think the memorial service is so important is because that’s where the journey from intellect to heart takes place. And once something that you think becomes part of who you are, there’s no going back. Karin described the peace men and women receive through the memorial service. She also mentioned the certificates of life Support After Abortion has created that providers can use with their support groups.
Lisa addressed research on grief and loss and the application of that research to reproductive loss. She explained that reproductive loss is called disenfranchised grief because it isn’t acknowledged. “So the memorial service,” she said, “is bringing the meaning, the value, having a goodbye opportunity, and being able to say that this was a baby, this is my baby, he or she is a part of me and will forever be a part of me and my journey moving forward. And I don’t have to deny myself this experience, this loss, any longer.”
She continued, “That’s why we identified memorial in the change process, because that creates change in our journey. That creates an opportunity for us to say, I now understand how this experience hurt me. I see what this experience was for me, what I lost. I’ve allowed myself to grieve, and I’m going to allow myself to continue to grieve, and this is part of the process.”
But hear that it doesn’t have to look like your traditional memorial service. Some kind of opportunity to bring that life value and that person who’s experienced the loss of that life to some place of recognition that they have been hurt by this loss and that they can connect with the loss.
50% of the abortions in our country are repeat. So we want to help resolve that grief and loss so that the pattern doesn’t continue.
Lisa closed out the webinar with two questions for providers to ask themselves as they consider their ministries in 2023:
- How can you better serve your community?
- What is one thing that you heard today that you could bring back, that you could implement at the beginning of the year that could help you understand – and help those in your community understand – that abortion healing is a journey?
She said, “The abortion experiences that people are living with in our community need a journey. They don’t need a destination. And they need opportunities to connect with people along their path.”
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities they represent or the program host, Support After Abortion.