Obstacles to Men’s Grief and Restored Well-Being
I don’t care about your thoughts or feelings because I don’t like what you’re saying.
You’re wrong, you have no right to feel that way.
You’re lying, nobody feels like that.
Shut up. Your feelings don’t matter.
You aren’t allowed to even talk about your feelings.
I wish you were dead. You’re a horrible person.
If you were met with this type of response when you shared that you were feeling grief, loss, sadness, depression, emptiness, regret, or other mental health challenges, would you be more or less likely to speak about your struggles? More or less trusting that someone might care? More or less likely to seek help?
Would you be surprised to learn that these real examples of comments directed toward men who share their painful emotions stemming from their partners’ induced abortions are common? Did you know that such incivility is damaging to mental health?
ARE MEN REALLY IMPACTED BY ABORTION?
Research shows that many men are negatively impacted by abortion. I didn’t know this until I started working for Support After Abortion. I also hadn’t considered that women may suffer following an abortion either, since I had heard in the media only that abortion was normal and common. No negative mental or physical health effects were ever mentioned. The truth, however, is much different than that narrative.
By age 45, one in four women will experience abortion and one in five men will experience abortion through a partner’s termination according to the Guttmacher Institute and the National Survey of Family Growth, respectively. And millions of them will suffer emotionally as a result. Support After Abortion’s research shows that 34% of women and 71% of men report adverse changes after abortion, such as depression, anxiety, anger, isolation, etc. And 83% of men and 63% of women either sought help or said they could have benefited from talking to someone. Yet only 18% had any idea of where to go for help.
We’ve heard from some who assume the study must have surveyed pro-life, religious men. In fact, I had that same gut reaction when I first saw the data. But the men in the study were split 51%-49% among those who self-identified as pro-choice or pro-life, and one-third identified as atheist/agnostic/none.
Beyond data, what really brings truth to light are the words shared by men themselves – our clients, event attendees, support group participants, and others. For example:
– I don’t think people realize how [abortion] affects men also. I’ve been so depressed since the abortion. I cry out of nowhere because of it. I have a hard time getting out of bed or doing anything. It’s so hard. I don’t know what to do. It’s like falling in a hole with no lights, spinning and spiraling, and having no direction.
– Even though I’m pro-choice, I was surprised I felt so much. I thought since I was okay with abortion I wouldn’t be affected. But [my girlfriend’s abortion of our son] just destroyed me.
– I struggled for 15 years with alcohol and drug abuse, acting out, poor decisions, and destruction after encouraging my girlfriend to have an abortion.
– Almost ten years ago I got my girlfriend pregnant. She didn’t want to keep it. Being a dad is what I always wanted. To this day it haunts me to the core. Because of it I sunk into a depression and lost who I was. I still have trouble being around babies or even accidentally walking down the baby aisle.
– She wanted the baby. I didn’t. But afterwards I went into a deep suicidal depression. No one told me the abortion would affect me like that. It was supposed to solve the problem.
Men impacted emotionally after abortion run the gamut of experiences – some made the decision together with their partners, others wanted it when she didn’t, or didn’t when she did, some didn’t know about it until afterwards. They’re pro-choice, pro-life, religious, atheist, young, older, married, single, rural, urban, and of every race, ethnicity, occupation, level of education, income, etc. What they have in common is grief and, often, a sense that they must keep silent about that grief to avoid judgment, condemnation, and ridicule.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MEN SHARE THEIR EMOTIONS?
Men are often stereotyped as not being open emotionally. Yet male clients have shared some of the cruel things their partners, families, friends, and others have said to them when they tried to talk about their emotional struggles after abortion.
More than one man said he was told “It’s not your body, so you’re not allowed to have any feelings about [your partner’s] abortion.” One shared that a woman scoffed, “It’s none of your f_ing business. How could it impact you? You’re a man.” Another was told, “You’re manufacturing the pain. It’s not real.” Yet another heard, “That’s so selfish. I thought you respected women.” And one man who shared his story publicly received two death threats within 24 hours. Keep in mind – these men weren’t challenging abortion itself or its legality or access. They merely said out loud that they were personally suffering emotionally after their partners’ induced abortions.
To no one’s surprise, this festers online as well. Fox News ran an article about men and after-abortion grief based on Support After Abortion’s research, white paper, and interviews with our Men’s Healing Strategist Greg Mayo and CEO Lisa Rowe, a licensed mental health therapist. The gist of the article is that many men experience a sense of loss, grief, depression, anxiety, etc. after a partner’s abortion. Their pain is often dismissed and stifled. But their experiences and feelings should be validated. Additionally, an oped by Mayo was published in the Indianapolis Star in which he shared his story of the impact on his life from two partners’ abortions.
While online comments are notorious for being rude, the vitriol and incivility of the majority of over 1700 comments were astounding. The incivility was all the more jarring to me because around that same time, I had the privilege of hearing men tell their stories firsthand during our webinar on men healing after abortion and in interviews with five men for an article I wrote on how Father’s Day affects men who experienced abortion through a partner’s termination. Their pain and raw emotions impacted me profoundly.
The juxtaposition of so many strident comments on the news sites against the actual lived experiences of hurting men was jolting. It’s no wonder men hesitate to speak about their pain from abortion.
WHAT IS CIVILITY?
In a previous blog, Compassionate Conversation Training, based on the experience of interviewing men for Father’s Day, I shared our four-step process for engaging in conversations with someone who has experienced abortion along with Five Tips for Walking in Compassion. So if we just talked about compassion, why talk about civility? How are they different?
A Forbes article about the difference between the two explains that civility is showing respect to others and really should be expected everywhere from our places of work to schools to homes. Compassion is showing concern for others and being empathetic. It’s a deeper engagement than civility. Neither of these mean that you have to agree with someone, but you should be respectful. Treating others with basic human dignity is what civility comes down to.
4 WAYS TO BE UNCIVIL
Many of the comments directed toward men sharing their after-abortion grief fall into four categories of incivility:
- Make it about you
- Dismiss or invalidate someone’s experience or emotions
- Hijack the conversation
- Use rude, insulting, or sarcastic language
Often one reader’s comment sets off a chain reaction with the thread devolving into taunts, name-calling, and escalating rudeness.
INCIVILITY TYPE #1: MAKE IT ABOUT YOU
With abortion grief, often this type shows up by countering the man’s grief story with your own saying basically, It didn’t affect me so it can’t affect you, or by turning the man’s grief story into a platform to say what you believe or what’s important to you. Both diminish or delegitimize the man’s experience and emotions.
Examples from the news sites:
– This happened to me at 19, and to this day I am GLAD I didn’t end up a father.
– My wife and I decided together. No grief or guilt. Just relief and gratitude. Men: It’s not all about you.
– I am pro-choice. My experience has been three kids, father skipped out on me, skipped out on child-support after divorce, and skipped out on his children’s lives. This is the norm. Men need to stay out of it. And Women – if you are going to end the pregnancy, DO NOT tell the father so he doesn’t suffer unduly, the big baby.
– Real grief is getting dragged to court and having to pay for 18 years along with being forced to deal with baby momma.
– I imagine a lot of men wish the woman they’d impregnated went off and got an abortion without telling them.
INCIVILITY TYPE #2: DISMISS OR INVALIDATE SOMEONE’S EXPERIENCE OR EMOTIONS
This goes to the heart of disenfranchised grief by completely dismissing another’s experience and feelings because you can’t relate or you have different experiences, emotions, or ideas.
A few of the online comments that demonstrate this:
– Men can shut their mouths. Their hurt feelings are not a real consideration here.
– Men can’t grieve abortion.
– Oh boo-hoo, a pregnant person having an abortion may have a negative impact on an impregnator’s life.
– It’s impossible to miss something you never had in the first place. He’s constructed a fantasy.
– I call fake news on this. It’s simply not true.
– There is no loss for the man when the pregnancy was unintended.
– Cry baby nonsense.
INCIVILITY TYPE #3: HIJACK THE CONVERSATION
With abortion, hijacking the conversation usually involves turning the focus away from the impacted person’s feelings and struggles and toward your own political or religious views. The comments on the news sites branched off into five main areas: parental responsibility and child support, abortion access rights, men’s role in making abortion decisions, costs of raising children, and birth control.
Here are a few examples:
– Let’s talk again when all men treat their women with respect and care when there is a miscarriage, and then perhaps we can talk about the men’s mental needs when there is an abortion they can’t control.
– Poor, poor men. How many men abandon their children or don’t pay child support, or even use protection so there is no unplanned pregnancy.
– NO pity party here. Have these men EVER heard of BIRTH CONTROL?????
– When pro-choice men make themselves heard in the voting booth, it will be time enough to pay attention to men’s post-abortion grieving. Until men respect women’s autonomy, I don’t respect their grief.
– As soon as the number of American abortions per year (around 600,000) equals the number of American deadbeat dads (around 9 million), we’ll talk about how hard abortion is for dads who, in all likelihood, wouldn’t be paying child-support anyway.
INCIVILITY TYPE #4: USE RUDE, INSULTING, OR SARCASTIC LANGUAGE
Mean-spirited language flows from both sides of the political divide on abortion.
Some examples from the news sites and emails directed toward the interviewees or author:
– Too f—ing bad for them.
– C’mon girly men – grow some.
– My hope is [they] suffer the rest of their life … No forgiveness from me. [Abortion is] a horrendous thing to do.
– Maybe they should be subjected to forced vasectomies to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
– She obviously didn’t want to have a baby with you. Stop thinking that you’re God’s Gift to women.
– I hope you f___ing die! I hope your entire family dies!
– I hope you have a daughter and she gets raped. Then we’ll see what you think about abortion.
– [He] is a miserable misogynist and I feel sorry for any woman in his life.
I REALIZED I NEED TO LET HIM HAVE SPACE TO SHARE AND GRIEVE
One of our volunteers created a database to catalog online comments so we can easily find and refer to them. As she was working on this project, she shared with me that she and her husband had experienced abortion a few years ago.
She said, “When I started reading these horrible online comments, I started crying and thinking maybe this isn’t the project for me. My husband asked me what was going on, so I told him the project and showed him some of the comments. It opened up a conversation between us that we had never discussed [including his feelings].”
“I’ve been volunteering with Support After Abortion for over a year already, but reading these comments showed me why we need to care more,” she continued, “When it feels like the whole world is saying hurtful, cruel things to men, I need to be the one asking how he’s feeling. I had thought it was only about me, but I realized I need to let him have space to share and grieve.”
HOW IS INCIVILITY AN OBSTACLE TO MENTAL HEALTH?
Incivility can come from both online and in-person sources. Studies and articles from experts, such as those in The New Yorker, Psychology Today, Very Well Mind, and NBC News, show that negative comments are harmful and can result in physical and mental health problems.
But none of us really need experts to tell us that mean comments are hurtful and can lead to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, or other issues – or that hearing or anticipating such toxic attacks can lead us to keep silent about our emotions.
However, not talking about emotions doesn’t mean they don’t exist and won’t make them disappear. “Emotions are not our enemy,” says clinical psychologist Angelica Attard in Positive Psychology, “they’re just part of being human.”
She explains that repressing or suppressing emotions can lead to relationship challenges; unhealthy coping strategies; becoming distant and avoidant; erupting from built-up emotions; and “numbing and escaping behaviors such as drinking and using substances, binge eating, watching tv, playing computer games, or overworking.”
“Treating all persons with dignity and respect, regardless of who they are and what their perspective might be on politics or anything else,” psychologist Thomas Plante says in Psychology Today, “is critical to a well-functioning society and community.” As individuals and as a society, we need to allow ourselves and others to feel, speak, and cope with emotions in order to be healthy.
When someone is sharing their struggles, civility and respect for mental health calls for us to focus on the humanity of the individual and make space for their pain and healing rather than focus on our personal views about abortion.
VULNERABILITY SPARKS VULNERABILITY
When one person tells their story, often others share theirs. Our white paper on our men’s research explains that “someone sharing their pain, journey, and healing offers a door to healing for others, and serves as permission to speak and seek support.”
This phenomenon of vulnerability sparking vulnerability was true on the news sites, as well. Interspersed among the uncivil comments many men spoke of their own painful experiences after a partner’s abortion. For example:
– [I’m pro-choice, yet] I am still saddened by [the abortion] 35 years later. No one ever talks about it and I am no exception.
– [I learned about the abortion] after the fact 42 years ago. I still mourn for what might have been.
– I still miss the child we never had. My wife was coerced by others to abort and regretted her decision. If you don’t think the fathers are affected, you are quite mistaken.
– Been through this myself. I was devastated and heartbroken. [The abortion was] 35 years ago and it still haunts me.
WHAT MEN HURTING AFTER ABORTION WANT YOU TO KNOW
The online and in-person comments show clearly that many people do not separate their own views on abortion from the humanity of those impacted by abortion, especially men. Yet that’s exactly what we need to do. And hurting men – like these clients – are asking us to see that they are two different things:
– This is not about politics. It’s all about getting help for us and the guys who need it.
– I don’t believe any of us here have any intention to control the woman or any woman. It’s about healing ourselves. There’s pain that is felt and it’s real and it needs to be dealt with.
– I shouldn’t have to fight to prove my own feelings of pain.
– I’m pro-choice, but it’s not about right- or left-wing. It’s really just about what we lost. Grief is grief.
By focusing on the humanity of the individual rather than the politics of the issue, we free ourselves to acknowledge the reality of their pain and free them to express that pain and seek healing to restore their mental health and well-being.
ENCOUNTERING SOMEONE IMPACTED BY ABORTION
Use civility and compassion when you encounter someone who has been impacted by abortion. Make space for their pain and be sensitive to their mental health journey.
While I’ve had both pro-life and pro-choice friends scoff at the idea of people needing support after abortion, the best experience was after I gave a quick introduction to what Support After Abortion does at a women’s event.
I had emphasized that we focus on compassion and support for those experiencing grief and emotional pain after abortion and that we connect them with healing options that meet their preferences. Two women approached me at the same time afterwards, and both said how important they saw our work. As they spoke, it became clear that one was pro-choice and the other pro-life, and yet they were united in acknowledging that some people experience grief, loss, and hard emotions after abortion and that they deserve support.
And that’s exactly the spot for all of us to sit – holding our personal views without diminishing someone’s lived experience and without being an obstacle to someone’s mental health.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED OR BEEN IMPACTED BY ABORTION?
“It is important and healthy to ask for help,” Dr. Attard says – to have someone “work with you to start to talk about your emotions, make sense of your experiences, and learn more effective coping strategies to manage your emotions.”
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 men and women.
DO YOU – OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO – PROVIDE AFTER-ABORTION SUPPORT?
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.