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Coping with a termination of pregnancy

How to live after abortion

Written by Christine Webber, psychotherapist

Sadness is not an inevitable result of having a termination. Some women are so massively relieved that they don’t have to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy that they appear to get over the procedure quite quickly and easily.

I personally know two or three women who have terminated their pregnancies and not apparently suffered any great angst as a result.

But as a psychotherapist, I frequently see women who are NOT coping well after having an abortion. Sometimes, they turn up ready to talk about the termination.

More commonly, they come along and complain that they are having a hard time struggling with unaccountably miserable feelings in general. It’s only later that it emerges there was a termination in their recent or more distant past.

In fact, over the years, I’ve noticed that a surprisingly large proportion of women who come for therapy have terminated a pregnancy – and as they begin to talk about it they become very emotional and express feelings of great sorrow and confusion.

Quite frequently, such women are astonished that having an abortion has affected them so badly. Many of them say that they still believe they were right to halt the pregnancy and quite a number of them say that they have never had any moral qualms about termination.

One of my clients went through a period of feeling very angry. She told me that she had always subscribed to the view that it was ‘a woman’s right to choose’ and that women should be in charge of their own bodies.

But she felt that the women of the ’70s who had blazed the ‘termination trail’ had failed to tell the next generation that abortion can leave such a legacy of misery and upset.

So, if you’re having trouble coming to terms with an abortion, please let me assure you that you’re not unusual – even if it happened many years ago.

But what can you do to help yourself?

My belief is that in this country we’re pretty hopeless about matters of life and death. Such rituals as we have are tied up with organized religion and many people feel that these are not appropriate for them. But my experience is that women who have terminated a pregnancy frequently feel comforted by some sort of ritual or ceremony.

Some women choose to plant a rose tree or a window box. Others find it helps to mark certain anniversaries of their dead offspring. For example, one of my clients had worked out that if she had let the pregnancy proceed, the child’s likely birthday would have been on the 25th of March. So on the 25th of every month she used to light a candle and think about the life that had once been inside her.

Another client found some comfort and purpose in sponsoring a child in Africa. Another way of helping yourself is to write down your feelings about the pregnancy and the termination whenever you feel upset about it. That way you will gradually make sense of it.

Many women who are suffering after a termination feel much better for having some counseling. There’s an organization that specializes in this. It’s called the Post Abortion Counselling Service. This is not a free service but fees are charged according to the client’s means.





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