For those who would find the topic of abortion too difficult to engage with, please refrain from reading further. As well, you might find it helpful to speak to a health professional or a friend.
The topic of abortion is often discussed within the context of political, theological, or ideological belief systems but for the purposes of this discussion I would like to position it within the framework of the human experience, grief, and loss.
Regardless of the reasons for or against abortions, many people will, nevertheless, experience deep grief and loss as a result of one. This may occur around the time of the abortion or many years later, and the person, their partner, and/or friends and family members may all experience significant loss.
While this is not everyone’s experience or understanding of an abortion, in counselling, we always begin where the client is situated. We talk about grief if they are experiencing it. We talk about conflicting feelings and emotions if they have them. We talk about how to identify and integrate the ideas and expectations about abortions within relevant contexts and possibilities if that’s helpful. And for some people, we talk how to grieve when you can’t discuss it with your family, partner or faith community.
As stated before, this is a complex subject fraught with big emotions and posturing so the first step in counselling is to offer non-judgemental, no-agenda, empathic witness and compassionate presence. Listening, with the intent to hear and understand, is often the biggest gift we can offer. Often, a client will say that this is the first time they have ever told anyone about the abortion; they have had additional pain by keeping it a secret.
Generally, there has been, or the fear is that there will be, harsh judgment, moralizing, and shaming. They may be experiencing any number of emotions (e.g., shame, regret, fear, relief) that have manifested in anxious or depressive symptoms, relationship difficulties, or problematic ways of living. Listening, therefore, is an important first step in the process of healing.
After a time of supportive listening, the next step might be to enter into grief work. For this, we generally turn to the ethics of re-membering, that is, bringing the loved one back into (or beginning to bring a loved one into) an ongoing relationship. Some re-membering conversations about the loss might include the following questions:
- How did this decision protect your marriage/other children/other situations?
- What values, hopes, dreams did you hold about your child?
We then will move into co-creating practices, rituals, and remembrance ceremonies for the loss, if this seems helpful, and learn how to integrate the loss into the present and the future.
If this sounds difficult, confusing, and painful—it is! Grief work is very hard and it usually takes longer than we would have ever imagined. However, joining together with someone—who is for you and with you—to work through any kind of suffering will, ultimately, lessen the pain and bring health and healing.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this topic or if reading this post has awakened some grief for you.
Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC